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We recently received a great question from one of the followers of this blog.  She works for a large, nationally well-known organization and was questioning the need to include pictures, quotes and captions in her direct appeal letters.  Here’s how Steven Screen, our BFFA expert on direct mail, responded.

                    For the most part, appeal letters are about presenting a Problem and then asking the donor to Solve the problem with their     gift. Over time, direct mail fundraisers have found that letters (without photos) get higher response. You can absolutely use photos, captions and headlines in letters – but they have to be done really well so that they add to the letter and not take away from it.

Three details to note;

1) Often times organizations will send out a letter presenting a Problem and asking the donor to solve it – but they will use a photo of someone who looks happy or healthy. That sends a mixed message to a donor and because of that mixed message the responses are almost always lower.

2) A good letter does have headlines — they are just formatted differently than a newsletter. A good letter uses underlining, bolding, “handwritten” text in the margins, a P.S., etc to draw readers’ eyes to certain sentences. Those are the headlines! (Which is why, by the way, it’s so crazy when an organization doesn’t want to underline or ‘call out’ any text. They are, in effect, saying to the donor that “we are not going to tell you what’s important about this letter, you have to read the whole thing for yourself to find out.” Good design, on the other hand, makes it easy for a donor to scan the letter and still know exactly what it’s about and exactly what the letter writer wants them to do.

3) Not all direct mail to Major Donors needs to have a photo. We’ve done tons of letters to Majors that didn’t have photos but still worked really well.

A good friend of BFFA, Chris Davenport from 501c Videos, recently posted a video entitled, “The four rules of good fundraising writing.”  Take a few minutes to watch the video. It is chalk full of great insights.

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Jim Shapiro
Jim Shapiro

Jim Shapiro is the fundraising coach you always wanted, the proven Sherpa who can help you get to the top of the mountain. He has 20 years experience raising money, including serving as the VP of Development for a $300m nonprofit. He then co-founded The Better Fundraising Co. to help small-to-medium nonprofits raise more money. Jim is married, serves his community by coaching high school football, and has three children.

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