How long should the first paragraph be in a direct mail appeal?
[ ] A single line long
[ ] Two-to-four lines long
[ ] Any length will do; it all depends on the appeal
Answer: A single line long
Notes and assumptions....
Brains aren't warmed up when they first look at an appeal letter.
The fastest way to discourage the reader from going any deeper is to insist they bushwhack through a dense opening paragraph.
Much preferred: a single vibrating sentence surrounded by white space. Something so simple and clean it enters the brain without any extra effort.
Consider these teensy openings from four successful appeals:
This Memorial Day, you and I will share something special...
Will you join this important celebration?
You can hear the wicked glee in their voices.
Welcome ... I hope.
Expect resistance from the untrained
Simone Joyaux watched a fundraiser proudly hand her proposed new direct mail appeal to a board member, hoping for approval.
The appeal began with a pointed one-word paragraph: "Help...."
The board member hastily handed the letter back, her lips curled down. "Is this how we plan to represent our organization," she said with disdain, "as the 'grammatically incorrect' organization?"
Was this board member right to worry?
Absolutely not. She was applying rules from a world she knew well - the classroom - to a world she didn't know at all: fundraising through the mail.
Her objection was well-intentioned, of course. But it was based on utter ignorance.
The above material was adapted from my forthcoming book, Donor Communications 101: The Test. Subtitle: For boards, bosses, and fundraisers: to promote a common understanding of profitable best practices in appeals, newsletters, and thanks; both printed and digital. Coming in the fall from Charity Channel Press.