Tuto­r­i­al 47: answer­ing ques­tions I wish some­one would ask

Some ques­tions are almost nev­er asked. So, I’m going to take the lib­er­ty of ask­ing them myself – and then shar­ing the answer with you. It’s a lit­tle crazy – but then, men­tal well­ness has nev­er been a prime cri­te­ri­on for sur­viv­ing in this business.

Written by
Jerry Huntsinger
January 13, 2019

Rarely asked question 1

I have written a letter that turns out to be three pages long. Is it okay to use larger type and spread the copy over four pages, so that I won’t leave a fourth page blank and waste it?’


What a great question! You’ve answered it yourself. There’s no such thing as a three-page letter. There’s either a two-page letter or a four-page letter, or three pages of copy with the fourth page illustrated with photographs. A donor rarely gets motivated from staring at a blank page.

Rarely asked question 2

‘Why do men say, “I never read more than one page of a letter”?’ But then copy tests show that letters that are two, four and even six pages out pull a one-page letter?”


Because men rarely admit that behind their gruff, business-like exterior lives a little boy anxious for excitement and involvement. And once that man/boy starts reading something that interests him, he forgets his vow of being a one-pager and turns decision making over to the little boy who reads on and on and on...

Rarely asked question 3

‘What is an Eddie box?’


Crazy Eddie, my former gardener, who later became a website consultant, was intrigued by the Johnson box at the front of a letter and came up with the idea of putting a similar box at the bottom of a letter just below the P.S. I humoured him by using it on several occasions and discovered it worked, so I named it the Eddie box. (And no, Crazy Eddie is not my imaginary playmate. He really was my gardener for several years.)

Rarely asked question 4

I heard that you dictate your copy. Isn’t that a rather outdated technique?’


Not really. A letter is actually a very interesting oxymoron in that it is the spoken word in a written format. It’s oral communication using type as the medium.

But if you write a letter that sounds written, then you are not communicating in an oral fashion. Dictation gives you a smooth flow and you sound on paper just as you sound in voice. But alas, there are those among us in this business who are either embarrassed or too hung up on their own self-image to allow themselves to speak to donors on paper. Thus, their keyboard becomes a filter for the real personality of the individual.

Rarely asked question 5

‘What’s wrong with trying to attract a younger donor?’


This question is rarely asked, because executives are afraid it will become an admission of defeat, in that they are not being successful at attracting younger donors. And there is a reason for this lack of success. Each charity has its own peculiar magnetism that attracts certain types of donors. For example, sponsorship organisations attract younger donors than overseas refugee appeals. And so if you have a donor file that is elderly, it’s probably not just by accident.

Why would you want a younger donor? Younger donors give a lower average gift, with less frequency. The theory that you can attract a younger donor and then carry that donor with you through the years as the donor matures simply has never been proved. A younger donor is less dependable than an older, mature donor. If you want to attract a younger donor, then you’ll probably need to change the nature of your programme. But just be careful. Mature donors give faithfully because they have the assets and are less subject to changing economic times.

Rarely asked question 6

‘Is there a secret word that will motivate a donor to renew for another year?’


Yes, actually there are three secret words: ‘renewal notice enclosed’. Test if for yourself. If you tiptoe around that word ‘renewal’ then you thoroughly confuse the donor. They understand the game. They understand the vocabulary, perhaps better than you. If you want them to renew, then just say it.

Rarely asked question 7

‘What can I put in my prospecting package to make it feel nice and fat?’


I love this question! I see a lot of packages that test very, very expensive formats. But I don’t see many tests of low-cost formats where the content is broken up into many inserts and ends up becoming a fat package. Open one of your mail order packages and notice how many inserts fall out on the floor. You wonder how they could cram all that material into a single envelope. But to understand why a fat package works, you have to understand readership and involvement, which leads us to the last question that is rarely asked ...

Rarely asked question 9

How do I go about writing a long letter?’


A most delightful question. Everyone wants to know how to write a successful short letter. But let me tell you how to write a successful long letter. It’s simple: develop an outline structure before you start writing copy. Use headings and sub-headings. Use numbered items. Use all of the reader-friendly techniques you would incorporate in a short letter, only just keep using them page after page. Number your pages at the top, so that the reader can follow along. But I repeat the secret: develop a strong outline before you start writing a single word – and then stay with the outline.

© SOFII Foundation 2010-2014.

About the author: Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger is revered in direct marketing circles as the dean of direct mail. 

Some years back Jerry gifted his archive of direct mail tutorials to SOFII and we’ve been serialising them ever since. All 50-plus are gems. Together, they add up to a complete ‘how-to’ guide to everything you need to know about direct mail fundraising.

These tutorials are edited and presented by Gwen Chapman.

Gwen_Chapman.jpg#asset:8990:urlGwen Chapman is a passionate advocate for donor-centric fundraising. She is a senior consultant with international experience in the non-profit sector in Canada, the United States, the UK and South Africa. She explains the importance to these tutorials here.

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