Worth Considering: Go long! (with long letters)

Worth Considering from Matt HuggEver notice what people say is often very different than what they do? What seems logical and “intuitive” can be completely wrong. In fundraising you only need to look as far as the mailbox.

Time and time again, from volunteers and staff alike, I hear the mantra “I don’t have time to read a long letter.” Yet my experience and other direct mail experts will tell you, long letters can get results – especially in “acquisition” mailings, when you want to attract someone as a new donor.

Think of it this way. When you meet someone for the first time, do you say “let me make this short and to the point: give me money”? No, you have a talk about your mission and why they should take part. You paint a picture of your organization’s vision for a better world. You invite them to join you in the cause.

But who has time to read all of that?

You do. I do. They do…if it’s important to them. Each of us makes space in our day for issues that are important to us – in our jobs, our families, our dreams for a better world. If you’re mailing to the right people – the ones that have an affinity for your cause, they will read.

Of course you make the reading easy for them. You use bullets, you bold and underline worlds, and you write in an engaging manner.

Of course, I’m biased. Writing letters – short or long – is my work. I would be happy to write letters for you and your cause. But more than that, your success is my success, so if a longer letter gets more donors and more dollars – that’s great for both of us.

So once in a while – go long.

Hugg’s Monthly Tip: Have you planned for planned giving?

Hugg's Monthly TipHave you planned for planned giving? I’ll go out on a not-so-long limb and say that most nonprofit managers (even fundraisers) wake up in a sweat when they hear the words “planned giving.” Too bad. Planned giving can be your best friend, especially if you have any kind of track record in direct mail solicitations. Planned giving isn’t about understanding complicated tax law, it’s about understanding how to relate to people at a deep enough level so that they trust you with their eternal legacy. And you know who usually makes planned gifts? Long term annual fund donors. Time to check your pledge cards and web site. Do your donors know that your organization can go in their will?


Worth Considering: Write it right: When typos count

Worth Considering from Matt HuggDid you knwo that the hunam brain can olok at a sentnece adn desipte the typos, read the txet?

English is a tough language to spell. With its roots in German and French, in addition to words that sound the same but are spelled differently (to, too and two – to name a few), it’s no wonder that one of Teddy Roosevelt’s pet projects was the adoption of a universal simple spelling system for the language. Besides, standardized spelling wasn’t a reality until the last 150 years, and even then, it varies between dialects (consider American’s “behavior” vs. the British “behaviour”).

So if it’s so easy to read with typos, and it’s difficult to spell anyway (so much so that influential people saw the need to simplify the standards which at that time were only a few decades old) then why is there such an obsession with typos?

For many people, writing correctly is a sign of education. For others it means that you cared enough to review your work. Some people are simply offended – almost like the typo was an attack on their senses. Any way you look at it, typos count against you.

What does a typo – or heaven forbid two or three – mean to your direct mail campaign, a case statement or web site or brochure? Deadly. For example, my wife gets a perverse joy out of finding typos in web sites. She says “hey, I can do better than that,” and probably won’t respond to the appeal. Typo free copy is a baseline standard. But if you read your work several times, your mind plays another trick on you: it fills in words that aren’t there and “corrects” letters so that you don’t see the typos.

How can you not fall into the “typo trap?”

1) Read aloud. I find that reading aloud is a great way to “purge” my work of typos and other demons – like awkward word usage.

2) Let it sit. I found that if I walk away from a project, I come back to it with “fresh eyes.” This was confirmed to me a while ago when I read about an author who said he did the same. When he wrote longhand on a tablet, he could come back to his work in a few hours. When he typed on a word processor, he needed to let his writing rest at least a day.

3) Electronic spell check. This is a good baseline, but depending on the sentence, a computer program won’t flag the difference between “to,” “too,” and “two.” Turning on a grammar check can help with this, but not completely solve the problem. Always use the spell checker, but don’t depend on it.

4) Get someone else to read it. This is a great way to get rid of your typos. Another set of eyes won’t fall into the traps that you will.

Of course, I’m biased. Whether you use me to create your work, or do it in-house, remember that typos are just part of the game. Probably the best piece of advice I can give is do your best and don’t lose sleep over them – that’s my job!

Worth Considering: 12141

Worth Considering from Matt HuggThat’s an effective appeal.

Maybe like you, I feel like I’m programmed to pick out things in odd places that relate to fundraising. So when I was reading a book called Traffic (Tom Vanderbilt) not long ago, something grabbed me. Vanderbilt touched on a point that I discuss in my fundraising classes: appeals that focus on the needs of one person – one student, one starving child, one cancer patient – are almost always the most effective. He went on to cite studies that tell us that the effectiveness of a solicitation letter goes down when even two people are discussed instead of one. He made clear what we know in direct mail fundraising: talking about groups of people or things simply dilutes the letter’s effectiveness.

Some of you have heard me talk and write about what I call the “Ed McMahon Factor.” (see http://www.pgtomorrow.com/archive/summer2009.pdf) In short, it says that forming a direct relationship between ONE signatory of a letter – not two or three, but one – consistently and over time, builds confidence in the organization. The letter writer – whether it’s the president of the organization or the board chair or a client that was served – is writing directly to the donor. It’s a personal correspondence, not from “us” but from “me.” But it needs to be the same person for a while. That builds a brand and loyalty – and response.

Rounding out this picture is the most important element – the person to whom you’re writing. You typically don’t write to a group, but to a person. So when you write to a person, you address that person by name, not “Dear Friend” or “Dear Hugg Family,” but “Dear Matt.” People pay much more attention to something written to them, even though they know that it’s not likely to be a personal letter.

So, what’s the formula? 12141. The best fundraising letter is from one person (1) to (2) one person (1)for (4) addressing the problems of one person (1)!

Of course, I’m biased. I can write 12141 appeals for you at any time. But whether you have me help you, or do it in-house, I hope this little memory trick reminds you of what’s important to say in every appeal out the door.