8.25 Seconds

8 seconds.

Let me share two numbers with you:

  • 8.25 seconds — the average length of time a human can focus on a single task.
  • 3 minutes — how long it takes to read the average appeal letter from a nonprofit.

Makes you realize why most fundraising appeal letters don’t work well, doesn’t it?

(By the way, you may read the “8 seconds” stat and think the same thing I thought: wait a minute, people concentrate for longer than 8 seconds all the time.  You and I have watched movies from beginning to end, and we’ve read entire books.  But movies and books are in a category called “preferred activities” – and it’s hard to argue that “reading an appeal letter” is a preferred activity for a donor with a full mailbox.)

So I’m not here to argue that your appeal letters should be 8 seconds long.  But I will argue that making your appeal letters understandable in 8 seconds makes your fundraising more inclusive and opens your organization up to gifts from far more people.

Here’s how to make your appeals “understandable” in just a few seconds:

  • Get to the point quickly.  Do NOT slowly build your case and then make your point (usually the Ask) at the end of the letter.  Save that approach for grant applications.
  • Use visual emphasis (underlining, bolding, arrows, etc.) to draw attention to the most important information.  The ideas you highlight should summarize the letter.

The most successful appeals are two letters in one: a person can glance through your letter and “get the gist” in just a few seconds, and then get the fuller picture if they choose to read the whole letter. 

Writing and designing your letters (and emails) this way is not what your English teacher taught you.  It’s probably not a style that’s preferred by important people in your organization.

But if you can write and design your appeals to remove the barrier of “a person must read the whole thing to get our point,” then you’ve opened up your organization to a new world full of supporters.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

One comment on “8.25 Seconds

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *