Do long letters in fundraising still work?
Direct MailDonor PsychologyMajor and Mid Value Donors

The Weird Power of Long Fundraising Letters

Long letters work better.

But don’t just take it from me.

Dr Barnardo wrote a four-page appeal letter in London in the 1880s using classic direct mail techniques: Underlining, urgency, dollar handles, specific ask and a clear reference to what YOU could do to help. The winter had been ‘the severest and most arduous, so far as work among the children of the poor is concerned.’ So the good doctor needed to raise £100 a day for food.  He told readers ‘unceasing demands upon our resources’ were having an unprecedented impact on his charity.

The four-page Dr Barnardo letter from the late 19th century.

Dr Banardos Long Fundraising Letter - it was very long!

Years later, another children’s charity, Starlight, had a rough year and they had decided to go public about their shortfall. Unceasing demands upon their resources were tough too. They asked for funds but also had a refreshing degree of honesty. The donor learned that part of the shortfall was because Starlight funding strategy relied too much on events and companies. After reading the press stories about their plight I pulled together an ’emergency’ appeal to their donors and met up with them. The emergency appeal was only developed to show how I work, but they decided to mail it immediately anyway.

Starlight Crises Letter

The opening paragraphs of the Starlight letter

It would never win awards for graphic design beauty. But the appeal raised over target. It more than doubled the amount raised from the same donors the previous year.

At the heart of the appeal was a four-page appeal letter.

Despite the rise of other media, direct mail is still the biggest source of new one-off donors.  So it is important we maximise revenue from mail donors.  And longer letters will tend to do that for you.

I really don’t like long letters, by the way. They are a pain in the butt to write, check copy, get client approval, print and mail-merge. And someone important in most of our (Pareto’s) clients doesn’t like them. And they don’t look great in my portfolio. Though the results do.

In focus groups, donors say they dislike long letters too. In Hong Kong, one client ran focus groups which all concluded that donors would be more likely to respond to a pack with a two-sided letter and tear off coupon than a four-page pack (actually eight pages – English and Chinese) with lots of additional information. The two pager raised HK$1.5m (AUD$220k) – the big pack raised over HK$7.5m (about $1.1m).

Long letters work.  As you can see from the test results below.  These are from a revolutionary pack National Heart Foundation did more than a decade ago.

I know longer letters tend to work better, but not because they are long. I think it is because, to tell a good story with a beginning, middle and end and ensure the right fundraising tactics, it simply takes more words.

These tactics include target, what the target is for, deadline, establishing need, demonstrating the solution, demonstrating why that charity is best placed to solve etc.

A dreadful four-pager is worse than a good two-pager: If a story can be told more quickly then tell it. As Mal Warwick says ‘A fundraising letter should be as long as it needs to be…’

Long letters tend to work better with mid-value donors too. Maybe it is just about respect – good donor care to take the time to explain why the donor’s support is so important.

Ready to learn more about how to get the most from your mid-value donors? Check out my Mid Value Donor Super Course. It’s available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

CFRE Points:
Donor LoveDonor Psychology

Why Do You Do What You Do?

As I was working on some articles about story-telling, copywriting for your website and making your direct mail great I found I had to come back to the absolute fundamentals about why we in charities write anything at all.

It is important that everything we write – in fact, anything we do – has a clear purpose with a fundamental outcome linked to our mission. And it needs to be measurable too.

Ninety percent of my work is in fundraising and marketing – which is often easier to measure.  Do x instead of y.  Measure: did x raise more net income than y (whether immediate or long-term).  For fundraising that is always the ultimate measure.

Where it gets tricky is in the charitable outcome.  The purpose of our charity.  The impact. Unfortunately, that is not my area of expertise.  It can stretch from quite objective outcomes such as saving the Tasmanian devil from extinction over the next twenty years to big and subjective outcomes like reducing poverty in Africa.

Despite the challenge of measuring charitable purpose, we do need to make ongoing, measured assessments of why we do things.  Often things we do are done because they always were.

I think absolutely everything we do in charities comes down to: how does this demonstrably help us achieve our charitable purpose/mission?

That can then be broken down into:

  • Demonstrate how this is implementing our charitable purpose or mission, better than a different, known use of time or money that is not being done.
  • Demonstrate how this will raise more funds to be able to implement our charitable purpose and mission better than a different, known potential use of time or money that is not being done.

Every activity costs the charity money or time.  Even volunteer work is work done by volunteers who could be doing something else.  Unless your mission is to help your volunteers themselves, your volunteers’ work must contribute demonstrably to purpose and mission.

Otherwise, you are probably wasting your charities’ resources.  We know, as charity workers or volunteers, that these resources are not actually the charity.  They are resources we hold in trust on behalf of our donors to help our beneficiaries, that is, delivering our mission.

So when we write or produce anything, we have a serious responsibility to make that time and effort either directly help us achieve our charitable purpose or indirectly, for example through fundraising.

Our Mid-Value Donor Super Course will teach you that perfect formula to get the most out of your charities’ time and money. It’s available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

CFRE Points:
Two Doves Christian images Sean Triner blog e1515396409974
Direct MailDonor LoveMajor and Mid Value Donors

The Odd Line From the Bible Increases Response Rate From Christians, But What About Non-Christians?

I have read many a post, article or heard words of wisdom that people who partake in religious activities tend to be slightly more generous than those that don’t.  It is hard to get concrete data to back that up in Australia, but a quick look at any big picture giving data from the USA (like Giving USA) certainly backs up this theory.

In Australia, the USA, UK, and Canada by far and away the largest majority of donors who worship are Christians. But those countries have all got substantial non-Christian communities as well – atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and more.

The odd line of scripture or quote from the Bible is said to increase response rate from Christians, but how do you do that without putting off non-Christians?

One approach is to look at some of the Bible lines or sayings (or interpretations of sayings) that have come into everyday use.  Many Christians will relate to the sayings, but non-Christians are unlikely to recognise the saying as a quote from the Bible.  Provided it is a good quote, in context, and helps the appeal it is therefore likely to have a net positive impact.

I have never seen this tested but it all makes sense.

Here are ten such sayings that you should be able to weave into copy without causing problems.  Note, they are not all direct quotes – some are alluded to.

“It is like the blind leading the blind!” (Matthew 15:14).

“Going the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41).

“Wash my hands of it” (Reference to Pontius Pilate at Jesus’ trial. Matthew 27:24).

“Salt of the earth” (Jesus’ words at Matthew 5:13).

“Written in stone” (Moses and the stone tablets – the 10 commandments at Exodus 31:18).

“Turn the other cheek” (Jesus’ words. Matthew 5:39).

“It is better to give than receive” (Jesus’ words recorded at Acts 20:35).

“It’s like feeding the 5000!” (Reference to the miracle of Jesus at Matthew 14:13-21).

“Nothing but skin and bones” (Job 19:19-20).

“United we stand, divided we fall” (Matthew 12:25).

For more Bible sayings that could be useful click here.

Find out how you can communicate effectively with any type of donor, whether they are Christian or non-Christian, by checking out our Supporter Connection Survey Course. It’s available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

CFRE Points:
A Great Way to Boost Donations in Your Next Appeal
Direct MailMajor and Mid Value Donors

A Great Way to Boost Donations in Your Next Appeal…

…And Build Awesome Relationships With Major Donors

I have a little story about Jason Smith, a quiet and unassuming Quebecois guy living in Melbourne, Australia.  In 2016 he worked as the fundraising manager at Burnet Institute.

The Institute is a charity dedicated to researching diseases that cause harm to people in less developed countries.  It is one of my favourite charities, partly because Jason works there and is an easy guy to get behind and support, but also because of it’s unique mission.

However, the Institute’s fundraising is relatively small with a database of just around 7,000 people who donated in the past year or so.

For their mid-year appeal, Jason and his colleague Asther Creo ran a classic direct mail appeal to their donors.

Shortly after the appeal had been mailed Jason met with a ‘mid value’ donor – someone who had, with their partner, donated $4,000 in 2015.  I’ll call the donor Bernadette because of it kind of works with the charity name.

Bernadette told him she was keen on ‘stretching’ her (and her partner’s) donation to have more impact.  So Jason and Bernadette agreed that a special communication would go out to donors.

The message was simple ‘One of our supporters has offered to match your gift up to $50,000.’

With time short, the campaign was run as part of the second ‘wave’ of mid-year appeal.  Basically , follow up letter to the original appeal.

Jason told me; “the matched gift offer boosted results and the campaign raised an extraordinary $326,000 (including the $50,000 donation).  About $150,000 came in after we went out with the offer – it definitely got a lot of traction out there.”

Although the matched offer would have done better as a letter earlier, this is still a great study of delivering what a mid value donor wanted – and lifting them into the major donor zone.

Because Jason is so nice he is also happy for me to share the full copy of the direct mail letter, second wave/reminder (with the matched gift ask) and response coupon.

Just click here for the PDF in un-merged format, showing you all those personalisations.

If you are struggling to find an offer for your mid value donors, but want to try and lift them up then this is always something available to you, and very attractive to many donors.

Want to know more about how you can dramatically increase revenue and transform relationships with your mid and major donors? I cover this important topic in my Mid-Value Donor Super Course. You can find out more in The Fundraisingology Lab

BurnetInstituteDM SeanTriner

CFRE Points:
AMREF Holland Mid Value Whole Pack Photo 3 e1514453977164
Direct MailMajor and Mid Value Donors

The Easiest Case for Support

Bas, a new fundraiser at a Dutch charity decided he needed to get out and meet some donors.
He looked at those donors who had given by direct mail since that was most of them.  The third donor he spoke to (of a dozen he tried to call) agreed to meet him. Indeed, she sounded excited. Her name was Jeanette.
Every Christmas for four years Jeanette gave €250, and for the big fistula appeal last June, a year ago, she gave €1,000. 
She also gave €500 last February, but this time to a young girls’ education appeal. All were in response to letters she’d received from Bas’s charity, like the one below, which was their upcoming appeal.
Bas had been to a few conferences and knew he needed a case for support.  But that seemed like it would take a lot of time to develop from scratch.
Now that Jeanette had agreed to meet, Bas had a look in more detail at her giving history.  She seemed to respond really well to issues about children and young people.
And the next direct mail appeal was all about fistula – something she had given very generously to in the past.
He decided the easiest thing to do would be to take the personalised direct mail she would be getting in the post and deliver it by hand.  The brilliant communications team in the charity had researched the topic really well. 
They had lots of photos for the direct mail campaign (much more than were used) and videos too.  They were running the videos in posts on social media and on their website.
He printed the photos out on good photo paper – like one of those envelopes of photos we used to get before photography went digital.  He also got the videos transferred to his Samsung tablet.

He had a good, long chat with the communications people, who had met the people featured in the appeal. Now he had a great – albeit second hand – story of the project from someone who’d been there.

He would love to have taken one of those ‘witnesses’ with him, but he knew he would be visiting lots of donors, and dragging a communications or programs person to everyone would not make financial sense.  He had to make this work on his own.

Now he had a great case study – basically the next direct mail appeal – and some extra material.  All at hardly any cost of money or time.

Jeanette loved it.  She loved the time he gave her, the videos and the photos.  He made her feel special.  And she really cared about the young people he talked to her about.  She used to be a nurse and knew all about fistula – a horrible but easily cured condition, which without treatment causes lots of problems for victims.

She gave him €20,000.  More than either expected.  Which actually allowed him to raise €100,000 more.  (But more about that in another article.)

Don’t use the lack of a case for support as a reason not to ask your direct mail donors for more.

They really care already, or they wouldn’t be donating. And you’ve got great material already!

Find out how you can become great at direct mail by joining The Fundraisingology Lab.

CFRE Points:
Soi Dog Foundation
Digital FundraisingDirect Mail

What Works on Facebook: Old Fashioned Direct Mail Offers

It is great to see that the techniques we learned in direct mail seem to apply in the digital space too.

I reckon that in direct marketing, nothing has actually changed in how the ‘offer’ works. Just we deliver it differently with different technology.

Soi Dog Foundation – a dog pound in Phuket, Thailand – is leading the way in Facebook direct marketing. Raising nearly $8,000,000 through Facebook so far AND achieving amazing advocacy goals they are one to watch.

Here I have just a few of the ‘direct mail on Facebook ads’ and posts they run.

1. The Soi Dog Facebook page today. No messing, straight in with a strong offer.


2. Classic strong headline, ‘person’ in need looking straight to camera, a clear offer of what you can do.


3. And again, strong headline, ‘person’ in need looking straight to camera, a clear offer of what you can do.


4. Make the donor the hero. Literally.


5. Consequences of not giving made very clear. Great before and after imagery. If you dig through archives you’ll find an ad like this somewhere in a magazine, direct mail or newspaper in the 1960s.


6. Classic two-step. Get a lead and convert them. Not dissimilar to the long-running ‘improve your memory’ and ‘free investment guide’ that appeared in newspapers 1950s-1980s.


Zooming in on the live Facebook page, I noticed 1,008 people reached within 31 minutes of posting this. Amazing.


If you are serious about raising money online, read the old stuff – all of Mal Warwick’s old direct mail stuff, Ogilvy on Advertising and more.


CFRE Points:
Soi Dog Foundation Landing Page
Digital Fundraising

Some Quick Tips of Fundraising Landing Pages

There are lots of good tips on landing pages when you search the web but it seems not enough. Lots of people are wanting specific tips on fundraising landing pages.

So here is a six-minute short video for you…

The landing page is not the end of the journey for a potential supporter, it is part of the journey. And it needs to work really hard to ‘close the deal’.

In the end, the most important thing is the brilliant proposition or offer.

After that, you can improve conversion rates with some simple techniques featured in the video.



CFRE Points: