Your donors are skimming — here are 11 things you can do to make sure they get the message anyway

We work so hard on those direct mail appeals, it’s heartbreaking to hear the truth, even though we suspected it all along:

Most of your donors aren’t reading those letters you write. If you’re lucky, they’re skimming.

That’s depressing, but important.

What should you do about it?

Here are some thoughts from the Good Works blog, at Don’t Go Breaking My (Direct Mail Loving) Heart.

Refering to an important eye-scan study done years ago by marketing researcher Siegfried Vögele, we know some important things all direct mail letters should do:

  • Who Is This From? A very common behavior is for readers to turn to the end of the letter to see who signed it. There are some things you can do to help turn that curiosity into a donation:
    • Don’t show an illegible signature (take a hint from smart celebrities: their “autograph” is readable).
    • Avoid confusing job titles that don’t clue the donor in to who this person is.
    • Consider including thumbnail photo of the signer smiling.

  • What Are They Asking Me To Do? Since many readers are looking at the end of the letter already, the next place they are most likely to look: the P.S. It may be the only part of the letter many of them read. Make it clear, powerful, and say the one thing you want them to know! The P.S. (or just below it) is a great place to put a donation page URL.
  • How Do I Do It? Be very clear and directive about what you want to donor to do — both the specific action steps (“Use the enclosed form and postage-paid envelope to send your gift in today!”) and what their giving will do (“You can solve this problem by giving now!”)

Here are some other things you should do to capture all those skimmers:

  • Use bold, underlining, italics, and other ways to draw readers’ eyes to the elements you most want them to see.
  • Keep paragraphs short.
  • Use a large font — 12 point at the very smallest.
  • Use a serif font.
  • Write at a 6th grade reading-ease level or lower.
  • Include photos if they tell the story you want to tell. Otherwise, don’t use photos!
  • Make sure your reply device stand on its own. Many donors will see it and not the letter.
  • Same with any other lift items you include. They should all have some form of the call to action.


Comments

4 responses to “Your donors are skimming — here are 11 things you can do to make sure they get the message anyway”

  1. Jerold D Kappel Avatar
    Jerold D Kappel

    My earliest influence in direct mail was Jerry Huntsinger, and this sounds very much like him. But I have had to fight board members, CEOs (when I wasn’t the CEO), clients, and other development staff during my entire 40 year career on the most effective direct mail. I can cite research, testing, results…it has little impact on their opinion. Of course, now, it’s “can’t we just send another email?” No. No you can’t.

  2. Jerold D Kappel Avatar
    Jerold D Kappel

    My earliest influence in direct mail was Jerry Huntsinger, and this sounds very much like him. But I have had to fight board members, CEOs (when I wasn’t the CEO), clients, and other development staff during my entire 40 year career on the most effective direct mail. I can cite research, testing, results…it has little impact on their opinion. Of course, now, it’s “can’t we just send another email?” No. No you can’t.

  3. Thanks for sharing my blog, Jeff! Great additions too!

  4. Thanks for sharing my blog, Jeff! Great additions too!

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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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