Say Less, Earn More: The Power of Brevity in Planned Giving Marketing

We welcome back a special guest: Stelter’s Content Director, Katie Parker, to share the benefits of being concise.

In a blog about brevity, let’s cut to the chase. Thousands of brands compete daily for attention. As a fundraiser, your job is to inspire your donors to solve a problem—they want to do more good, their estate is disorganized, they want to avoid a tax hit—while recognizing that they have other priorities fighting for their time.

To break through the noise, your message should be simple, clear and friendly. Keeping your message concise is a smart way to hit all three.

The #1 Secret to Brevity

Here’s the key: Write like you’re talking to a friend.

When you chat with a buddy you don’t sound like a thesaurus. You use short sentences. And run-on sentences. And sentences that start with “and.”

Jeff Brooks recently shared his process of diagnosing fundraising writing. He advocates for writing at a reading level no higher than 6th grade. Sound low? Let’s test it: Which sentence do you prefer?:

SentenceReading Level*
It is often assumed that sophisticated writing is best achieved by being verbose and eloquently stating your point through a succession of explanatory sentences.Grade 10
A common assumption is that high-quality writing is achieved through the use of additional words and supplementary sentences.Grade 9
It’s a misconception that more words improve your writing.Grade 5
*Run through the Hemingway App

Why We Get Off Track

When we write too much, usually we’re trying too hard. We info-stuff to save money or simply to sound more confident.

Three reasons we get long-winded:

  1. We want to be seen as experts. This happens when we present hard-to-digest information, like stats, to show that we know what we’re talking about. (Result: The message isn’t compelling.)
  2. We’re motivated to include an overwhelming amount of information. Here we tell our donors everything in one sitting, because of budget (put more in the envelope!) or because we’re afraid that a donor won’t interact with our marketing material again. (Result: The donor is overwhelmed by too many asks.)
  3. We write from our point of view. This error over-emphasizes introspection (we were founded in 1922) versus a donor-focused point of view (here’s how you make a difference). (Result: The donor is disengaged and uninspired.)

Often at the heart of each of these mistakes is time. Mark Twain famously said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Yes! It’s faster to put it all down and skip the revision stage. We miss the step where we put a critical eye on our message to consider the reader and the action we want them to take.

5 Tips to Say More Faster

Here are some helpful ways to tighten your appeals:

1. Write with an active voice. Ensure that the subject of your sentence does the action. The opposite is a passive voice, where the subject receives the action.

For example,

Our donors attended the luncheon. (active)

The luncheon was attended by our donors. (passive)      

2. Trim the stats. Pick one or two strong statistics that support your case. Too many numbers become white noise, diluting the story’s impact. (Psst: Remember to get specific to get results.)

3. Include visual breaks. Headlines, subheads, graphics and images provide an outline. Include a hard-working headline, support it, then move on. Use images and graphics to help explain complicated points or invite emotion that you can’t replicate in copy.

4. Edit your work. Take a break and clear your head, then read your “finished” piece. Watch for redundancies and phrases and words like, “I think,” “very” or “just.” Here’s a helpful list of unnecessary words.

5. Remember these guidelines on ideal length*:

  • Tweet: 100 characters
  • Facebook post: less than 40 characters
  • Web headline: 6 words
  • Blog post: 7 minutes or 1,600 words [this blog post is half that; know your topic]
  • Email subject line: 28-39 characters

*These aren’t ironclad rules but recommendations for optimal reader engagement.

What’s The Goal?

Brevity gets to the point. It treats donors like a friend, asking for a personal connection. It respects their time and helps your message cut through the clutter.

What’s your writing strategy: Any tips for writing with brevity? How about editing your work; do you do it yourself or have others read it? Please share your thoughts below.

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