Whether you are reviewing copy for a fundraising letter or an eAppeal, or writing one yourself, this is quite the responsibility. You are putting a message in the hands of others with almost no idea how it will be received. Will they understand it? Will it move them? Will it lead them to take action? Or will it simply be forgotten almost as soon as it is set down after a brief glance?

When marketing products, there are certain words that trigger sales – sale, new, best-seller. While these may not apply to fundraising, other powerful words do: you/your and thank you, for example. This points to a critical rule of copy in fundraising: it must be focused on the donor, not the organization. If your letter is all about “we,” “our” and “us,” there’s no room for the donor to put him- or herself into the scene as a significant participant.

Stories can add value to a letter, especially if there are actual quotes from a person needing assistance, but even the best story is nothing more than a mini-novel if the potential donor doesn’t feel the letter is painting a picture where he or she is included.

It’s also important to remember to ask. This is not something you bury; it’s the reason for the eAppeal or letter, so don’t be ashamed. You are making a great offer – you can help solve this problem! Let the reader know what he or she can do by deciding to give. The decision may still be “no,” but that won’t be because of a lack of knowing that I really can have an impact by giving.

Finally, how long? This is probably one of the first things most people bring up when they are describing the letter or eAppeal they want to see written. “No one reads more than a few paragraphs today,” is the statement made. But the truth is, no one reads anything that is boring and not relevant to him or her, whether it’s a billboard with 10 words on it or a thousand-page novel. Your goal is to make the copy as long as it has to be to capture attention and make a case for responding. Don’t simply write more to fill space, but don’t stop before you have said what needs to be said to be effective.

For emails, short is typically better as studies show that more than half of all emails are viewed for 0 – 15 seconds. But “People need help. Give now” is probably not enough to convince people to make a donation to your organization.

The best answer for length of both letters and eAppeals is TEST. What is the sweet spot for your donors? (Be aware that asking donors is not effective; people say one thing and then do another when it comes to letter length, research shows.)

There are many helpful resources if you want to sharpen your skills for reviewing fundraising copy. But remember, if nothing else, make the letter about “you, the reader,” not “us, the institution.” Your job? Paint a compelling picture of how the reader can be part of the solution so they fall in love with the idea of being a change-agent.