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Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Direct Mail Fundraising Letter

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

I’ve written hundreds of direct mail fundraising letters.

Avoid these 10 mistakes in your direct mail #fundraising letter with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips #Copywriting

Oh, it’s so gratifying when those letters help my clients pull in plenty of gifts!

But I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, too.

Those mistakes meant lost opportunity and lower return for the ministries and organizations I serve.

Yes, it’s frustrating. 

I've created a direct mail fundraising template you can use to help you get started (download yours here). But I hope you will also use this list of boo-boos to learn from what I have done wrong and avoid those mistakes.

10 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Direct Mail Fundraising Letter

1. No Goal

If your campaign has no goal, then why would a reader give? A clear goal shows demonstrates that you’re serious about your work and you’re committed to using your donors’ resources wisely. No goal means no thought and no purpose.

What are you trying to accomplish with your direct mail fundraising letter?  Write out one measurable goal you want to achieve. Then share that goal with your reader. 

Key word: measurable!

2. No Story

“Just the facts” may work for a police investigation, but not in direct mail fundraising. You must include a story. People are persuaded to give or buy when you move their hearts. Readers respond when they read about a person who used your product or benefited from your service. Key requirement: your story must address a reader’s emotions. 

3. No Facts

Story with no facts: that’s a mistake. 

You’ve heard objections. You’ve probably had a few of your own when you read content from other causes: “Well, that’s a feel-good story, but how do I know that this cause is providing real solutions?”

Avoid making the mistake that others do – the mistake that just appeals to your reader’s emotions. Back up your story with statistics and facts. (Here's how.) This way you’ll face down your reader’s objections right out the gate. 

4. No "You"

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in your direct mail fundraising letter is to ignore your reader as you write. By “ignore,” I mean talk only about yourself (read: your organization.) Or worse, you ignore your reader when you’re unclear about who is reading or write to the wrong audience in the first place.

Your letter is not about you. It’s not about  how great your ministry is. It’s not about the work you do. Your letter is about your reader and how she can feel good, be fulfilled, or be a part of something that is meaningful to her. 

5. No White Space

Long copy and short copy both have devotees. 

Yet both sets of fans agree: keep sentences and paragraphs short.

6. No Clear Call To Action

Another huge direct mail fundraising fail? Not telling the reader what to do. Give your reader clear instructions (these tips can help.) Walk her through the steps she should take: “Click here and give by Thursday.” 

7. No Urgency

Don’t assume that your reader sees the same urgency in your direct mail fundraising letter as you do. Give her a deadline. Tell her what will happen if she doesn’t respond. Include words like now, immediately, urgent, critical, and vital to move her to act. 

8. No P.S.

That space after the signature? It’s valuable (and often wasted) real estate. Today’s readers are pressed for time, so they conduct a quick skim of a letter before deciding to read the whole thing: the letter’s salutation first (they want to see their name), then the signature (“who is writing to me?”), and then the P.S. In other words, the P.S. is the campaign’s first paragraph, not the last. Don’t leave that opportunity on the table.

9. No Follow Up

Your readers receive lots of mail and online solicitations. They need reminders in order to act. Send a recap email, postcard, text, letter – or all of them. Your follow up can also include a campaign status, such as, “We’ve reached 59% of our goal. Can you help close the gap?”

10. No Tracking

Include tracking codes on your response device and tracking mechanisms on your email and website links. Ditto if you split test mailings or appeal elements, such as subject lines. Use a unique tracking code for each point of contact. This way what worked and what didn’t – and you can improve next time.

More Direct Mail Fundraising Letter Writing TIps

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