The human attention span is short. That you're reading this at all is actually a huge compliment to me. Or maybe an indicator that you're just really interested in the topic but either way I'm flattered! You have a story to tell in your fundraising campaign. And it can take a hot minute to get to the point, right? So how long is too long? Let’s take the next 17 min and talk it through.

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Hosted By
Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer

Is your giving ask too long or just right? Here’s how to tell.

The human attention span is short.  That you're reading this at all is actually a huge compliment to me. Or maybe an indicator that you're just really interested in the topic but either way I'm flattered!  

You have a story to tell in your fundraising campaign.  And it can take a hot minute to get to the point, right?  So how long is too long?  

Let’s take the next 17 min and talk it through.

When we recently ran our Craft Your Ask Challenge - where for three days we work together on the Marketing with Purpose Facebook Group to craft our year-end fundraising asks - a lot of us were reading each other's work and going…

“Whoa, that is really long.”

And then I had a lot of people ask, “Well, how long should it be?” So I wanted to address that in this blog post. 

Your story matters.

First, I want to let you know that all the things that you have to say, and the stories that you have to tell, I realize that they take time, and they're important. They're important to you. And they're special. And they should be told.

But we also have to put ourselves into the shoes of our donors and understand that their time is very valuable too. The most important thing and the first trick to getting people to donate is to get them to read or to listen to the message.  If we can be respectful of their time, then we're much more likely to get the outcome that we want - which is a donation. 

Now, I know that there has probably been a time in your life, in your professional career where you have emailed somebody, and you've given them a list of six things that you needed from them, and they're all kind of living in paragraphs. 

And they only responded to one thing, like the first or the last thing on the list. 

This is an example of an email that was probably just a little bit too long. It's not that you didn't need all those things from those people, it's that they didn't pay attention long enough to be able to pick out those individual elements and deliver them back to you.  To be fair it could have also been a formatting challenge. 

On the flip side of it, we've all gotten those emails or letters. Like you know, those year-end letters that your aunt sends you that are in like eight point font and are single spaced, so she could get it all on one page. 

You're like, oh my gosh, you actually want me to read this thing? Then you get out a ruler so you can go down line by line to actually read this cotton pickin’ Christmas letter. 

And I have gotten messages on Facebook Messenger, where they were so long that I had to copy them out and paste them into a Word document and format them to even read them because it was just so incredibly overwhelming. 

That my friends is absolutely not the way that we want our donors to feel. 

We want them to want to read the message that we're sending them to be willing to do it. Because like I said earlier, that first trick to getting people to donate is to get them to read or listen to our message. 

So here are my general guidelines, and also some tricks to help you judge if your giving ask is too long or just right.

Who are your donors, really?

Back to our first email example, the ones where you ask people for 6 things and they only do one.

Sometimes in our office we break a super long email into multiple emails. So we can keep each specific thing separate and focused, especially if somebody has a super short attention span. 

Now, there are also people that we work with that have an amazing ability to work through a to-do list. And if we give them a to-do list, they just work from top to bottom, and get it all done.  So we just keep it all in one email.

My point is send the same message to client A in one way and communicate with client B totally differently. Why? Because in the end the goal is to communicate your purpose effectively and get the job done. And part of doing that is really knowing your audience.

I know already said this once (well, maybe twice) but I'm totally gonna say it again. The first trick to getting people to donate is to get them to read or listen to your message. 

We need to put ourselves in their shoes. This is where it's really important that we understand who our donors are, because they are our audience. 

So we need to consider them:

  • Who are they?
  • What are they doing right now?
  • What are they going through?

Many nonprofits are trying to reach a younger audience and people with kids, and those people are very busy human beings. And so when you're communicating with busy, successful people realize that to them, time is their most valuable asset. They will do anything for time. 

Well, I shouldn't say anything. That's a little, you know...grandiose.

But we need to be respectful of their asset of time, by making your ask a length that they're willing to dedicate the time to read. 

For example, I know that right now, I'm really busy. And so I'm not even listening to a podcast that's more than 25 minutes long. Like if it's 15 minutes long, I'm all in. If it's an hour long, I have no interest, I'm not going to do it. It's just because this is a really busy time of year for me. 

So think about your donors: Do they have kids? Are they buying Christmas presents and getting ready for the holidays? Even just the changing of the seasons, and cleaning out kids closets, and then feeling like you've got all these leaves to rake. All these things that they're doing in their lives.

But do they know you?

The next thing to consider about your audience is:

  • Do they know you?
  • Or do they not know you? 

People that you know will allow you to have a longer conversation with them. Those are the people that are going to come to your galas, they're going to spend hours with you, and they like to hear your message. 

Then there's the people that you might not know yet. 

And within every set of donor data contains multiple different types of people. You have the people who are very invested in your cause who know you, you have the people who don't know you as well. Maybe they just went to an event. Then you also have people who volunteer with you, but maybe haven't donated yet. 

All those people have a different degree of knowledge about what you do and why they should be giving to you. So think through what you're saying to each one of those people and ask yourself, “is this something that will stick with this human being?”

Have unique asks for each type of audience.

You may have multiple different asks. 

One way to see it is if you have them segmented in your email list, you can look at your email open rates to understand what email subject lines are going to catch the attention of your audience.

You can also look at who is interacting with the Facebook posts that you're making and see whether they’re mostly volunteers or mostly donors.

Cool, cool. But how long should my ask be?

Now my general length rule (and you can totally take this with a grain of salt): If you know people really well, they're willing to have a longer conversation with you than the people you don't know. 

Emails

If you're just gonna sit in the middle, I'd say give them three paragraphs, maybe 90 seconds or less worth of content to consume. And that is a good length to try to hit with your emails especially. 

Letters

Your letters can be a little bit longer. Limit that letter to a page if you can. 

If you need to continue telling the story, you can invite them to go to another place to read it or watch it. You can also give them a supplemental piece of content within the letter that you send to them. Just because you send them a letter doesn't mean it just has to have one piece of paper in it. You can have one piece of paper that tells a story and has some pictures in it and is fun to look at and read. 

For example, I got a year-end donation letter from Alternative Community Training (ACT), who is in my community. They had a letter, and then they also had What Your Donation Can Do. 

So they had two different pieces of paper. 

The What Your Donation Can Do was this pretty, designed piece of paper explaining to me what each level of donation could do for their organization. They didn't try to just put that all in one document. They separated it out and you can do the same thing with your year-end giving letters as well. 

Questions to ask yourself

So after you've gotten your letter put together, ask yourself: If you receive this letter or if you receive this email with that much text, would you take the time to read it? Does it look overwhelming? 

Make sure that there's space in between the lines and it's not super teeny tiny. We do not want it to be like that Christmas letter that you don't want to read right? 

Next step. Read it out loud.

I do this with everything I write. But it's especially important if you plan to present this ask on video or if you are going to be saying this to people - like if you're calling them on the phone.

If you go through the exercise of reading what you wrote aloud and stay present and really listen to yourself say it, then you will find all kinds of things that could be done better or differently to better communicate with your audience. For example, if you stumble on a sentence it might not be right yet.

Then I want you to record yourself and look at how long it takes you to say it. People are probably gonna read slightly faster than what you speak. But that's another gauge to understand the amount of time you're asking people to invest in listening to your story. 

When you’re reading or listening to it, ask: 

  • How do you feel in your gut?
  • Does it feel too long?
    Now, as you're reading it, think to yourself, do you feel like you're reading for a really long time? Because if you feel like you're reading for a really long time, then it's just too long! Or if you feel impatient to finish reading that's a very good indicator your ask is too long.
  • Is it easy to follow? 
    I find there are times when my pitch makes more sense when I'm reading it then when I listen to it. Especially if I'm using statistics to make my point (like using data to tell my story). When I listen it doesn’t have that same impact. I don't feel it that same way. I can get lost in the numbers, because when I can't see them they just feel mushy, not nearly as concrete. But I'm not a great numbers gal so...there's that!
  • Does it resonate?
  • Is your mind drifting? 
    As you're listening to your recorded voice saying it, be cognizant - did your mind drift? Or did you stay engaged? Because sometimes, even though I know the content that I'm talking about (because I just said it), I find my mind drifting when I'm listening to these pitches that I'm making for my products. 

So keep that in mind. Again, be present as you're editing your own content. That will help you be a really good judge as to whether or not your content is too long. 

Phone a friend.

Another thing I like to do is to ask somebody who will give an honest opinion, and ask them the same questions I ask myself when editing. 

So I'll call up Stacy on the phone and I'll say, “Hey, here's my pitch”, and I read it to her. And she goes, “Okay, that's too long”. 

So that's awesome. I'm so thankful that she's willing to say that to me. 

But just talk through it with them. Are there things that they found more valuable or less valuable? Are there things that weren't clear to them that maybe you could take out because it might not be the best example that you could use with your audience?

If you do feel like it's too long - don't just hit delete!

Then if you do find yourself drifting (or you feel like it's just too long), your next step is to make sure that everything that you have in your ask is on topic, because sometimes we want to have multiple types of examples. And sometimes when we do that we're kind of drifting away from our original point. 

In that case, what you may have done is just created two asks instead of one. 

So you can take that thing that you've created, and you can roll it into a different conversation with somebody, a different way to ask for a donation. Remember back to those audiences that we talked about at the beginning: There are going to be different ways to ask for a donation that will work best with each of them. 

So if what you're finding is you're trying to cram all of the amazingness you do into just one ask (because you need to make examples for everything), then what you really need to do is just break that ask apart into smaller ones, and deliver it to each of your audiences individually. That way you can capture your audience's attention and speak to the thing that is most interesting to them. Instead of overwhelming them with too much stuff.

Bringing it home.

There you have it. These are my general guidelines and tricks that I use to judge if a giving ask is too long, or just right. 

Really, really think about those people that you're talking to:

  • What are they going through right now? 
  • How long is their attention span? 
  • What is their relationship that they have with you - Do they know you? Do they not know you? Do they know you a little bit? 

Look at data that you have at hand like your email open rates and your social media, to make sure that you understand what information is going to catch the interest of what part of your audience. 

In general, you're going to make it 90 seconds, and no more than three paragraphs long — give lots of space. 

When you look at the letter or the email, ask yourself: Would you read it? Does it seem overwhelming? 

Record yourself and listen to yourself. 

Give that same talk to somebody that you know that will give you an honest opinion. 

Then if it's too long, just look for the times where the topic breaks where you start swaying from the original topic, and then break that into multiple different asks. 


Check out the video we made about this very topic!

EPISODE GOODIE BAG

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