How your common sense leads your fundraising astray

I read a blog post a while back that was written by a young blogger, apparently new to fundraising but already pontificating on what we should and shouldn’t be doing in our fundraising messages.

Some of the points the blogger made were on target about how fundraising copy ought to be but often isn’t. But one of the points went like this:

I got a 12-page appeal letter in the mail. That’s ridiculous! Edit your copy!

The blogger apparently thought that the folks who sent the 12-page letter haplessly wrote a ridiculously long message and then neglected the important step of editing it down to a more reasonable length.

That blogger’s common sense says that a short, tightly written message will be more effective.

It makes sense.

But it’s wrong.

Longer messages do better, almost all the time. If you’ve been in the business (and paying attention), you’ve heard this. If you’ve tested it, you’ve seen it for yourself. I can almost guarantee you that the 12-page letter folks tested into that, and it works better than the tightly edited messages the blogger values so much.

I’d write 10 and 12 page letters all the time, but for one thing: Cost of paper.

Common sense tells us that precision is valuable, that one of the skills we should cultivate is saying a lot in a small space. But knowledge tells us otherwise.

Your common sense matters. But you can’t always use it as a guide for fundraising.

(This post first appeared on April 24, 2013.)


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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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