What a Heat Map Should Teach You About Thanking

Heat Map

I want you to think about the graphic above the next time you look at your Thank You/Receipt letter.

Why?  Because let’s make sure you’re not accidentally hiding the main message you’re trying to send a donor right after they’ve given you a gift!    

Heat Maps

The graphic above is what’s called a “heat map.”  It tracks where reader’s eyes looked as they read this piece of direct mail fundraising.  It also tracks the order in which the Reader looked at each area.

Not all heat maps look the same, but they generally look like this one.

And if you look at any of them, you quickly see that donors tend to read the beginnings and endings of your messages, and not much in between. 

A Question for You

I want you to visualize your organization’s Receipt letters and Thank You letters.  Better yet, print them out and put them on your desk.

With this heat map in mind, do your receipt letters and Thank You letters actually communicate what you are trying to communicate?

Is it easy for a donor to read that she is being thanked, and that your organization is full of gratitude for her?

Or have you accidentally hidden the main message in places where your donors are less likely to read them?

My advice is to make sure that there is a clear Thank You in two of the following three places:

  • The first sentence
  • The last sentence
  • In the upper right corner

Why two of the three?  To increase the chances that a “skimmer” will read one of them.  Because you don’t know what part a donor is going to read!

Your Assignment

I could go deeper on all this.  But I’d rather you spend your time looking at your Thank You and Receipt letters.  Same thing goes for the email versions.

Make sure that your message of gratitude is easily seen at just a glance – because that’s often all you get! 

Does the rest of your message need to be well-written?  Of course (I talk about it in this post).  But a surprising amount of Thank You success is dependent on getting the top and bottom correct!

Lessons from a “Heat Map”

Heat map.

The graphic above is what’s called a “heat map.” It tracks where reader’s eyes looked as they read this piece of direct mail fundraising. It also tracks the order in which the reader looked at each area.

There’s a LOT this can teach an organization about how to succeed in fundraising through the mail and email…

The “Heat Map” Lessons

Not all heat maps look exactly the same. But they generally look like this one, and they all teach the same lessons:

  • Most donors don’t read the whole thing
  • Most donors don’t read your letters in order – they “skip around”
  • Large type, and type in the upper right corner, will get more attention
  • They tend to focus on the beginning and the end
  • They are more likely to read words on the left side of the page than on the right side of the page

Many people at nonprofits find this news distressing.

I find it powerful.

Because once you know how direct mail works, you can use it to raise more money for your cause than you’re currently raising.

The Big Takeaway

So what do you do with this information?

Write your next appeal with the knowledge that you’re writing two letters in one:

  • One complete fundraising appeal needs to fit in the green areas (more or less). Because most people will scan your letter and decide whether to give a gift – or not – only by looking at the green areas. Your ‘letter in the green areas’ needs to contain everything a donor needs to know to decide whether to give you a gift today.
  • And the entire letter, from start to finish, needs to make sense for the minority of people who will read the whole letter and decide whether to give a gift or not.

The big idea here is that even though you only write one letter, it’s written and designed to work for BOTH groups of your donors.

The most effective direct mail appeals are written and designed to get the main message across in both the green areas and in the rest of the letter.

To do this well requires a particular style of writing. It’s a style that can be learned.

The tricky part – in my opinion – is to get people who don’t prefer that style of writing to see the reason for it and the benefits of it.

What To Do Now

So here’s the question: are your organization’s letters written and designed to get the main message across to both groups?

If your organization is writing and designing only for donors who read the whole thing, you can be raising a LOT more money.

If that’s you, here are the steps I’d follow. Make sure that the “powers that be” at your organization know about:

  1. Heat maps and the lessons they teach
  2. How you have two groups of readers
  3. How it’s more inclusive to write letters that work for both groups
  4. And how writing for both groups will raise you more money because you’re multiplying how many people receive your message.

In the next post, I’ll talk about how to write an appeal that works for both groups.

If this were a normal post, I’d go ahead right now and share how to write this type of appeal. But I find that it’s not the “tactic” of writing for both groups that holds organizations back from doing it.

What holds them back is either the belief that it doesn’t apply to their organization, or that they don’t like that style of fundraising letter (or email).

So let’s just sit for a couple of days with the idea that there’s a style of fundraising appeal that’s written only for people who will read the whole thing. And if that’s the style your organization is using, in my experience your message is not reaching a very large percentage of your donors, and you’re not raising as much money (and doing as much good) as you could be.

The Choreography of Donor Attention

Donor Attention.

Superfast, three-part tip to help you raise more money with your appeal letters.

Part 1 – Here’s How Your Donors “Read”

This is what’s called a “heat map” – it shows where donors’ eyes go as they look at your direct mail letters.Heatmap.Your donors will scan your letter to decide IF they will read your letter.

And not everyone will decide to read your letter.

But you still want everyone to receive the message you’re sending, right?

Part 2 – So, You Need To…

Knowing where your donors are likely to look, you need to “choreograph” your letter to put the most important information in the places where a donor is most likely to see it.

Part 3 – And You’ll Raise More If…

So you might ask, “What’s the most important information I can share with my donor?”

Here’s what our experience says. The most important information to share quickly with a donor in an appeal is:

  • Why their gift is needed today
  • What their gift will accomplish

Note: this is just one of the reasons why having a great fundraising offer, and knowing how to Ask powerfully, are vital to success. Great offers communicate very quickly why a donor’s gift is needed, and what it will accomplish.

Once you know all this, you’ll make different choices about what you say in your letters, and where you say it. You move away from the demonstrably poor-performing “share a story of success and ask for support” approach, and toward a direct mail approach that raises lots of money.