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

MailboxesNotes 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.

This post originally appeared in the Ahern Donor Communications newsletter.

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Tom Ahern
Author of four books, Tom Ahern is considered one of the world’s top authorities on donor communications.
Tom Ahern

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