Frequency & Length: Solicitation Letters Interview

All this week I’ll be talking with Geoffrey Peters and Steven Maggio experts in writing excellent solicitation letters and direct mail.

How often should you send a solicitation letter?

CDR Fundraising Group:
It varies by charity but for most the optimum is 10-11 times per year for the house mailings. Beyond that it depends upon your objectives – optimizing net income or cost of fundraising. It also depends on what other channels you are using to communicate with that donor.
Geoffrey Peters, President,

DaVinci Direct:
That depends upon the organization and the nature of your donor file. Some smaller non-profits we work with do four or six appeals per year and think that’s a lot. Other clients send out an appeal every month plus a number of “special appeals” and make a good return on each. One client I worked with in the past had 17 appeals per year!

If you’re mailing too often, one appeal will tend to cannibalize another. If you see revenue declining in certain time frames – or if you get a large number of complaints – you may be mailing too often. One way to find out for sure if you’re mailing too often is to take a segment of the file and mail one group a fewer number of appeals over a one-year period and see how that affects overall revenue vs. a control group that gets all of the mailings.
Steven J. Maggio, President,

Is it important to make things “short and sweet?”

CDR Fundraising Group:
It depends. Straight letter appeals tend to be a bit longer and advocacy appeals tend to be much longer. Charities that have a well-known brand are often better off with “short and sweet.”
Geoffrey Peters, President,

DaVinci Direct:
Not necessarily. The length of the letter depends upon how long it takes to state your case. The key with all letters is to use relatively short sentences and paragraphs — to give the letter plenty of “air” and make it look like an easy read. Don’t be afraid of one-sentence or even one-word paragraphs. This is especially important with longer letters. I also sometimes use special indents, underlining and “handwritten” passages to make letters easy to scan quickly and allow time-challenged readers get the main idea without reading every work of the letter.

Avoid fifty-cent words. I prefer to write in a conversational style, but sometimes a letter needs to be more formal if that’s the tone the client wants. A letter for an animal welfare organization may have a different tone than one from a Comprehensive Cancer Center with a scientist signing the letter – or a religious organization with a clergy member signing it.

Of course, if your organization is a household name, for example, the American Cancer Society, the rules are a bit different. Organizations with very high awareness and a strong brand image can often send small format appeals – simple buck slips or double buck slips — without a full letter – and still get a strong response at a lower cost.
Steven J. Maggio, President,


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