There are hundreds of books out there that can teach you about the principles of great copywriting. But I find there are three simple rules -- The Three R's -- that I turn to time and again when I need a little creative jump-start. Make Your Writing Relevant
Nobody wants to be mailing an issue-based appeal on the wrong issue. So if you are an environmental organization mailing on conserving public lands, you don't want your letter to hit two weeks after a major oil spill.
Chances are, you're already paying attention to news relating to your mission (and if you're not...well, you should be!). So make sure to apply that news to the copy you're writing for your donors. Because if they're interested in your mission, they're probably paying attention -- at least in a small way -- to that news, as well.
If you know a relevant vote is coming up in Washington DC, try to time your mail to hit when news about that vote hits. If you have a newsletter featuring an issue you want to mail on, let the newsletter hit first so that your issue is already in the minds of your donors. And if a major news item happens to hit just as you're preparing your letter to go out, make sure you acknowledge it (at the very least) in your communication with your donor.
Above all, make your mailings relevant -- to your organization's mission, your donor's hopes and fears, and to the world happening outside your front door.
Make Your Writing Readable
Most of us have heard -- and some lamented -- that newspapers aim for their reports to be written at an 8th grade reading level. That's probably a pretty good rule of thumb for direct mail fundraising letters, too. Use simple, short sentences and easy to understand vocabulary.
But it's not just the way the piece is written that makes it readable. It's also the way you put that text on the page. Short paragraphs rule in direct mail -- normally no more than 4-5 lines. Toss in a couple of one-line paragraphs.
Try double indenting paragraphs you especially want people to read.
And I've said this before, but it bears repeating. Highlight your most important points, including your Ask. Use bold, italics,
strikethrough or underlines to add emphasis. Ask your graphic artist to circle deadlines or other points that are tremendously important.
Anything you do that makes your letter easier to read is going to help push your donors through the letter and on to the reply form...and to their gift.
Make Your Writing Relatable
Remember, direct mail letters are personal letters from one person in your organization to one donor. Sure, many donors get that same letter, but you should always have one specific donor in mind as you're writing. One copywriter I know keeps a photo of Edna, "his donor," above his desk to remind him to always write specifically to her.
Sprinkle lots of I's, You's and We's into your copy. Remind your donor that we're all in this together. Reveal a personal hope or dream of the signer's that relates to your organization's mission. When donors see that there are real people behind the curtain, people who share their values and aspirations, they are more likely to give the first time and to stick with you for the long haul.
These personal touches, making your organization and the people who run it relatable, draw people in. Remember, it's much harder to say "no" to a friend than to a faceless organization.
Remember these Three R's as you're drafting your fundraising letters, and you'll have letters that work harder for you and your organization.
Need more examples? Have more questions? Post them in the comments!