Posted August 1st, 2011

Do You Have It Covered? Part II in a Series

The cover letter that accompanies gift planning information can in large part be a key to the response you receive. What the letter adds to the package can depend largely on its appearance, its content and tone and who signs it.

The letter’s design, of course, helps determine its visual appeal and level of readability. The typeface used, line length and other factors can enhance readability for older donors. In addition, here are a few of the many factors to consider in composing your letter.

Is the letter heavily cause related?

A message that appeals to a reader’s commitment to the cause he or she is supporting will draw a certain amount of response. A message that appeals more to a reader’s self-interest, e.g., how to save money, taxes, etc., may draw more impressive rates of response, but those responses may well be of lower quality. While you may be overwhelmed with sheer numbers, you may have a lower conversion rate to gifts. As in so many cases, the key is balance.

Who signs your letter?

There is often nothing more convincing than the words of someone who “has been there.” In other words, someone who has already made the type of gift discussed in the letter can most easily ask others to consider doing the same.

The chief executive, or chairman of the board, can also be an effective choice for a letter’s offer, especially if he or she is well known and/or can write of long experience with the organization or of a long-range gift included in his or her own plans.

Even if they do not tell of a personal gift, great commitment to the cause and the importance of gift planning can sometimes be expressed best by those serving in a staff or volunteer leadership role.

How personal is your letter?

While conventional direct mail wisdom may suggest that the more personalized the approach, the better, consider the issue carefully when estate and/or financial planning is part of the giving process.

Where highly personal information is covered, a less individual approach may be more effective. While you may only intend to build familiarity with your donors by addressing them by name, that approach may be perceived as inappropriate by some recipients in light of the highly confidential nature of the content. Especially when older people are recipients, remember that a high value is placed on a respectful distance. Be especially careful when using first names with older persons who have not invited you to address them in that way.

Track your response rates to different types of letters to determine the best choice in your case. You may also want to vary the types of authors and other components of the letter over time. The cover letter can have a powerful effect on the response to a particular package. This fact should be uppermost in your mind when planning communications.

Next month: Part III examines ensuring your communications materials are opened.

The publisher of Give & Take is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Give & Take may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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