Ineffective opening lines for fundraising messages

In a fundraising letter, the opening is probably the third or fourth most important bit of copy you write. (The carrier envelope is the most important, and the P.S. is probably second.)

I’ve found fundraising writers are often tempted to start their letters with some not-so-great approaches. Let me save you the pain and trouble by talking you out of these popular but ineffective openings:

Ask a question. Very dangerous. So many fundraising messages start out asking a question that’s like this: Have you ever ridden a unicycle in the rain? The answer to that type of question is ummmm…. An effective question is one to which the reader’s answer is Yes — but even more important, it’s yes in a provocative, interesting way.

Warm up. Public speakers do this: Talk about the weather or the season, or recent news. They’re trying to make a connection, maybe get a laugh, before they start in on the topic at hand. Don’t do that in writing. Just start in with the topic at hand.

Use numbers and facts. You are likely to be tempted to start your message with a big fat fact. Don’t. Facts don’t win the day; they usually cost you significant response.

Tomorrow we’ll look at some effective letter openings.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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