How to get more donations with longer fundraising copy







How long should your fundraising copy be?

Probably much longer than you think.

Numerous studies have been conducted over the years to resolve the thorny question:

Short copy or long copy?

Today, the results are in and the commonly accepted answer is that long copy works best when a ‘product’ is:

  1. Made by a well-known company
  2. Expensive
  3. Complex with many features
  4. Part of a specialised sector
  5. Not unique
  6. Not sought after

And because your ‘product’ – i.e. your charity, its programme, etc – fits into at least one of these six categories, then longer copy should be the proverbial no-brainer.

If you are a big charity (Well-known), then people are generally keen to read more of what you have to say because you’re seen as a trusted source of advice and news.

If you’re a smaller charity (Not sought after / Not unique) you’ll have a lower profile and many people may not know you at all, or confuse you for a competitor. What makes you different needs spelling out, quite literally.

If you run a Major Gifts, Corporate or Trust fundraising programme this involves an (Expensive) ask. Your high-value donors need to know you will spend their money wisely. A longer Case for Support will tick more boxes than a shorter one.

But the stand-out reason for producing longer copy regardless of charity type or size, is that longer copy is pretty much guaranteed to convert more Prospects into donors than shorter copy will.

Consider this…

Prospects don’t know a fraction of what you do about your charity. They’re probably unaware that no one else is doing what you do, or know what would happen (or not) if you weren’t there to do it. Therefore, to convince prospects to donate, a long list of reasons why you need to stay in business (to serve your beneficiaries) will go a long way.

Blogs with longer copy are a great way to convince and convert prospects

Not least because they provide an ideal platform for filling-in gaps about your charity. What for you may be a pretty minor thing about your charity’s work, for prospects could be the ‘clincher’ that persuades them to come off the fence and donate.

If prospects visit your website because they like what they’ve read in your blog, they are just a step away from signing up for your newsletter, making an online donation or setting up a regular gift. That’s got to be worth investing a little extra time in longer blog copy.

So how long should your blogs be?

An analysis by SERP IQ of the top 10 search engine rankings for a variety of key words and industries has shown that longer blog posts (between 2,000-2,500 words) tend to rank better than their shorter counterparts.

Yes, you did read that correctly – 2,000-2,500 words.

You may be thinking: “Hold on. I would never read anything that long!”

Perhaps not always. But the evidence suggests that you would – if an article piques your interest.

When that happens, we do in fact read longer copy, sometimes very long copy indeed.

Imagine that you’re sitting in your dentist’s reception waiting to be called. You start looking at the different magazines laying on the table in front of you.

You lean over and begin thumbing through the stack, flipping through old copies of Autocar, Take a Break, Slimming World and Good Housekeeping.


You start skimming the headlines looking for something interesting to read. You eventually find an article entitled

“Mobile Apps that keep busy people fit and healthy – without going to the gym”. 

Your interest is piqued, so you read as quickly as you can through the lengthy 5,000-word feature article. Just as you finish, your name is called and it’s your turn to see the dentist. You put the magazine down and go in.

Did you notice what happened in this story?

You skipped past magazines and articles that weren’t interesting until you found something that did catch your eye. Then you took the time to read a lengthy, well written article on a topic which promised something valuable – in this case, keeping fit without the hassle of trekking to the gym three times a week!

This happens all the time. We read articles that are interesting and ignore others that are not. The same is true with books, sales copy, fundraising copy or whatever else might come our way.

That’s not to say that we read every word.

Hopscotch Theory

Few people read everything you’ve written, starting with the first word and ending with the last.

Just watch someone as they open and read their post. Their eyeballs are everywhere, darting from bottom to top, flipping the page in less time than it takes to read a full sentence.

They bounce around, skipping entire sections, reading other parts more than once.

In fact, it’s just like watching a child play at hopscotch.

This phenomenon is not new. Back in the Eighties, German academic Siegfried Vogele (below) noticed it whilst conducting pioneering eye-tracking research on direct mail advertising.

Vogele was able to pinpoint precisely what types of things attracted a reader’s interest (and what things didn’t). Vogele found that:

“If readers don’t spot something to interest them in the first 20-seconds of opening advertising mail [or charity mail appeals], it’s destined for the wastepaper bin.”

To avoid this fatal 20-second throw away phase Vogele devised the Dialogue Formula.

He called the things which encouraged reading ‘Amplifiers’ and the things which didn’t ‘Filters’.

For a prospect reading your charity appeal, a Filter might be an incorrectly spelt name on the envelope, or ‘missing’ information which is needed to convince her that your appeal really is as urgent as you say it is.

An Amplifier might be large, clear text which make your copy easy to read. Or it could be something which shows that you are trustworthy – like a testimonial from a well-known celebrity.

Understanding what type of things amplify your prospects’ interest and what things filter it away, is of course, incredibly important.

The more “amplifiers” you can pack into your fundraising copy the more objections you’ll overcome, and the more reasons you give your supporters to donate. A longer fundraising letter has more entry points. More calls to action. More chances for the reader who isn’t following your logic to get pulled in.

Each positive answer embedded in your appeal letter is an Amplifier to which the reader says to herself ‘Yes’. When your copy triggers lots of yeses, a tipping-point is reached resulting in a ‘Big YES’ … the decision to donate.

This is what Vogele in his classic 1992 book entitled Handbook of Direct Mail (now sadly out of print) termed the ‘Dialogue Formula’.

Dialogue Formula: The Big ‘YES’, the cross on the appeal reply card, is the sum of all the small ‘yeses’, minus the sum of all the small ‘noes’. 

Vogele said there are around 150 ‘unspoken’ questions which prospects – including charity prospects – may want answers to. A good number of these questions apply across the board, whether you’re selling ice-cream or a charitable cause. Questions like:

“How did they get my name?” “Are they any good?” “Can I trust them?”

In tests conducted by Vogele, direct mail packs containing answers to people’s ‘unspoken’ questions out-performed those which didn’t by a factor of 5-to-10 times.

The point to keep in mind is that long copy allows you to answer more objections.

Every time prospects consider a fundraising offer, different objections pop into their head and stop them from giving. Potential objections include:

  • The charity may not seem trustworthy, so the potential supporter decides not to donate
  • Prospects and existing donors may not understand the campaign or project you’re running and walk away out of confusion
  • The Amount you’re asking/suggesting to donate may seem too much, and the donor/prospect may feel like he can’t afford it

Whatever the case, there’s a long list of objections for every ‘product’. Supporters or potential supporters aren’t ready to ‘buy’ for one reason or another. The copywriter’s job is to identify these objections and help get the prospect over the barriers.

Website Homepages / Landing Pages

One of the most important benefits of long copy is that it allows you to answer more objections, which eventually can lead to more donations. The Crazy Egg homepage provides an example of this.

This leading online marketing firm used copy extensively on its homepage making it around 20 times longer. The result? Conversion rates increased by a factor of more than 3.5 (363%)

Here’s a visual comparison of the two pages:

Why did the second version work so much better? The most likely reason is that it allowed Crazy Egg to answer more customer objections.

With so many extra sections and with all of the additional copy, Crazy Egg has more of a chance to answer their prospects’ questions at one point or another. This enables them to convince prospects, no matter what their different reasons for not buying are.

So, does this mean that copy should always be extra-long? No, not necessarily.

Sometimes short copy is better

 As with anything, there are two sides to the coin.

Generally speaking, longer copy is best for technical products or specialist areas of work – such as charitable work that need a lot of explanation, and for higher value items – making it an indispensable tactic for Major Gift, Legacy and Corporate fundraising programmes.

In the first case, longer copy is needed so donors understand the cause and learn why they need to support it. In the second case, longer copy is helpful to provide more reasons why donors should make higher value donations.

But sometimes short copy is better, or at the very least necessary.

The question to ask is whether there’s enough information provided to convince people to take action. If yes, then more copy isn’t needed and could possibly distract people from taking action.

Groupon is a great example of this. Here’s what their homepage looks like:

With this kind of offer, more copy would likely just get in the way. People for the most part know how the offer works and don’t need to be convinced to take advantage of an opportunity to save 50% to 90%. It’s also easier to ask people to hand over their e-mail to obtain discounts than it is to convince them to pay £100 per month for a service.


  1. Donors and Prospects will read long copy about topics that interest them
  2. Long copy is often better than short because it allows you to answer more objections
  3. Longer copy allows you to answer more of your supporters’ ‘unspoken questions’ (objections) so helps you avoid the fatal 20-second throw-away stage which sounds the death knell for charity appeals.
  4. But short copy is better when the offer is simple and clear and the organisation is already known. More words will only distract supporters in these cases

Consider these tips when writing long-copy:

  • Write between 2,000-2,500 words for blogs
  • Write between 3-4 sides of A4 for direct mail appeals
  • Before you start writing think about what your prospects’ problems might be. List solutions that answer these problems. Build your whole appeal around these points.
  • Write so it can easily be understood by the masses, preferably with an “Easy” readability score of 80-89 which can be read by an 11-year-old. The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease test is a means of assessing the comprehension (reading) difficult of English text.

  • Use paragraphs of 3-4 lines with a new subheading after every three or four paragraphs. The white space creates contrast, whereas large blocks of text can cause the reader to lose interest and stop reading
  • Highlight key words or phrases by italicizing, boldfacing, or font changing. This also helps the skimmers, which make up 79 percent of readers on the Web
  • Utilize bullet points as this will help readers digest information easily
  • Avoid jargon and speak your supporters’ language

Why Direct Mail fundraising is flourishing today

If you found this post helpful, you may be interested to read about the phenomenal resurgence in charity direct mail of late, and what’s behind the highest level of response in DM in over a decade.

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