You’d think a simple one-page package would consistently outperform a longer letter since it’s cheaper to produce and mail. It’s also a lot easier and faster for a donor to read one page than 20.
Testing shows a long letter will get higher average donations than a short one. Despite the significant increase in cost, a long letter allows you to make a detailed and personal plea to your donors. And the more details you give -- the more personal you can make your letter -- the better. Anything you can tell your donors about your cause, why it’s important, and how their help right now will make a difference.
Knowing that, why wouldn’t you only send your donors long fundraising letters?
A long letter is a great format for telling stories -- about the importance of your cause, the impact it has made, the people who have worked hard to make it a success, and the milestones and challenges your group has faced with the help of faithful donors. These personal appeals prove time and time again to be what keeps donors interested and inspired. And when donors are inspired, they give more.
On the other hand, longer letters tend to have a much lower rate of response. Donors just don’t have the time to sit down and read 20 pages. This is where an effective short letter can excel.
A short letter with a strong message and sense of urgency can be just as effective as a long letter. Where long letters are successful because they are rich in detail, a one-page letter conveys only a dire need. A brief letter with a strong ask can leave a donor curious for more -- and the brevity of the letter increases the likelihood that your donors will read it from top to bottom. Often short letters demonstrate a higher donor response rate.
My advice? Rather than focus on the length of your letter, think about what your message will be. Don’t worry about format until you’ve finished your letter. After you’ve finished, you can decide which format will best support your message.
How long should your letter be? As long as it takes to convince me.