How to Write Direct Mail for Donors Who Don’t Read Direct Mail 💌

Here at Good Works, we’re passionate about sharing emotional stories with your donors. But we also know a little secret about direct mail donors…

Lots of them decide to give without even reading the letter!

(If you love writing stories for donors as much as I do, that last sentence probably broke your heart a little too!)

Some of your donors will absolutely read every word in a letter. You carefully craft your story, using all the right tools of persuasive writing for these folks.

But if you don’t ALSO craft your letter for the busy skim-readers and scanners in your donor list, you’ll be breaking their direct-mail-loving hearts. Not to mention risking their short-term response and long-term loyalty!

In the 1970s, direct marketing researcher Siegfried Vögele used eye-scan tests to study how people read letters. Ever since then, smart fundraisers have been using his conclusions to more effectively engage and cultivate direct mail donors.

Based on Vögele’s research, here are the three questions you need to answer to craft a direct mail letter that will inspire skim-reading donors to give:

1. Who Is This From?

One of the first things people look at in a letter is the signature and name of the person writing the letter (yes, even in 4-page letters!) Illegible signatures and confusing job titles won’t bring a donor closer to sending in a gift, but a feeling of human connection can! Consider adding a smiling photo of the signatory next to their signature to deepen that personal connection between the storyteller and the donor.

2. What Are They Asking Me To Do?

One of the next things donors look at – before they’ve read anything else – is the P.S.! Maximize the power of the postscript by repeating your strong, clear, compelling fundraising ask here. That way, if your skim-reading donor reads nothing else, there’s still a chance they’ll send in a gift – because they know exactly what you’re asking them to do.

Bonus corollary: Don’t use your P.S. to share the URL of your latest petition or newsletter, or to sell tickets to your next event. Use this prime real estate to clearly restate your fundraising ask only!

3. How Do I Do It?

You can answer this question both literally (“Use the enclosed form and postage-paid envelope to send your gift in today!”) and figuratively (“You can solve this urgent problem by making a gift today!”).

Either way, the next thing your skim-readers will do is scan the body of your letter, looking for the copy that stands out. Fight the urge to highlight the background parts of the story, or any facts you’re using to support your case. Instead, use bold, underlining, italics and even colour to tell your donors how they can make their gift and solve this problem.

Remember, just because some people don’t read every word of your fundraising letter doesn’t mean they’re any less responsive to direct mail, or that they care any less about the problem you’re asking them to solve.

So the next time you finish writing a fundraising letter, take a moment and look at just the signature block, P.S., and highlighted body text. Do those pieces give your skim-reading donor enough information to send in a gift right away?

(…and then take a look at these 3 tips for a great thank you letter!)