Letters to friends should be easy to read

This solicitation for donations from Seven Acres is basically typical. It includes a branded outer envelope, request for money, simple response form and business reply envelope (not scanned).  The text of the letter talks to the history of the assisted living residence, the reason it is important to the community, and why the recipient should donate.

There are different ways to improve the content of the letter to improve persuasiveness, however I find myself motivated to write about simply the layout of the letter. The creative Fail is that the letter is hard to read. Simply put, it is not scanable.

• If you glance at the letter quickly, you will see two phrases: “Friends Campaign” and “Friends”. These are the words that are in boldface italics buried in the body copy. These are key words, but not the only ones a reader should take away from a request for money.

• The paragraphs are full justified. This makes the text difficult to read. Only newspapers and legal documents should be full justified. A successful direct mail letter will have text that is flush to the left column, e.g. left justified.

• The paragraphs are too long, especially the opening paragraph. (Long-form paragraphs can be successfully used in letters, but not one-page letters.) Lacking a Johnson Box or some other attention grabber to open the letter, the opening paragraph should be no longer than 2 sentences or 2 lines. It could be as simple as “Your support is desperately needed to help the elderly here in Houston.” Or consider leveraging the friends theme: “Houston area elderly citizens need a friend. Will you please help?”

The issue of timing is minor but also relevant. The letter is dated “February 2010” however it arrived in home in mid-March. The date on this type of letter does not add value under normal circumstances, and loses value when it arrives much later than dated.

My recommendation to the generous Friends Co-chairs at Seven Acres is to pick up a copy of Breakthrough Fundraising Letters by Alan Sharpe.

Learning: Your letter should be easily scanable so the reader can quickly ascertain the purpose. When using a typical letter format, always left-justify body copy. Don’t overload paragraph length on a short letter.

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