Published on December 5, 2013 by

Why you should use repeated asks in your fundraising letters

First, I’ll clarify what I mean by repeated asks. I mean the parts of the letter, usually highlighted in some way, that ask donors for a specific dollar amount for a specific purpose.

“June, your $50 gift means we can provide emergency food and shelter to a needy person this winter.”

Such an ask is repeated several times, depending on the length of the letter. The longer the letter, the more asks.

Here are two good reasons to use repeated asks.

1. The rule of seven

You’ve probably heard it said that a person needs to hear an advertising message seven times before they buy? This idea is known as “effective frequency”.

Well, the same thing applies in fundraising. Your donor needs to hear the message multiple times before they act on it.

If the only channel you use for your appeals is direct mail, then it’s doubly important to use multiple asks. Because your donors won’t be hearing your fundraising message anywhere else!

2. The “at a glance” rule

Basically, this means donors should understand “at a glance” what you want from them. No matter what piece of your pack they’re looking at.

This involves understanding how donors read a direct mail pack.

First, they glance at your envelope. If it looks sufficiently interesting, they open it.

Depending on what falls out first, they look at the headline and first couple of sentences of your letter. The signature and PS. The wording at the top of the coupon. Photo captions. The headline on your insert.

Sometimes, they only look at ONE of these bits of your carefully crafted pack before making the decision to keep reading or to re-route to the circular file.

Think about that for a bit… if the donor only reads ONE bit of your pack, then what do you want it to say?

You want the donor to see your ask, preferably expressed in an emotionally engaging way. (That doesn’t mean being clever, abstract or poetic.)

If donors ONLY read your headline, what do you want them to see?

If donors ONLY read your PS, what do you want them to know?

If donors ONLY skim the pages of your letter, what parts of the copy should catch their eye?

You want them to see an ask “at a glance”. No matter which bit of your pack they read.

So how many times do you ask in a fundraising letter?

In a 2-page letter, I usually write 3-4 asks. One in the headline, two in the body copy (one on each page) and then another in the postscript.

In a 4-page letter, that goes up to 6 asks. The extra two come from an additional ask on each extra page.

Of course, all those asks are intertwined with copy about how the donor’s gift will be used or make a difference.

Then there are asks on the coupon, other inserts and possibly on the outer envelope. I may also hint at an ask in photo captions.

Phew! That’s a lot of asking. It may seem like overkill... but it really does work.

By the by, I know many people complain fundraising letters are too pushy. Especially when it comes to asking for funds.

“Why do you need to ask so many times? A short letter outlining what you want and how much you need is all that is required. Not pages and pages of asking for money.”

I’ve heard that or variations on it numerous times. I used to try to explain. After much disbelief and indignation, I no longer bother. I just nod and say nothing.

But they are wrong. I wish it were not so. I’d love to write delightfully short fundraising letters with only one ask that make more money than long letters with multiple asks. But this is not borne out by actual results.

So I continue to write “offensive” letters with repeated asks. It’s  true... if you ask, then you will receive. If you don’t ask (or ask very little), then you don’t.

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