“How do you feel about putting the first page of the appeal letter on the org’s usual letterhead?”

…someone asked on the Fundraisingology Lab’s private, members-only, exclusive, secret, you’re not probably yet part of it, did I mention “CLOSED,” Facebook discussion group:

So I REPLIED to the question…

(and today, at this moment, I knowingly violate my Fundraisingology Lab “Bat Oath of Secrecy”…by sharing my answer w/ you)

“If I can,”

I said,

“I create a fresh letterhead that’s not gummed up with irrelevancies like a board of directors’ list or other such visual distractions.”


Which in turn led to this reaction, from that inquiring mind:

Basically agree … but DO help us clarify to the board (when we’re asked) why they aren’t there on the letterhead … without using the word “irrelevant”? 😀

Jessica Frost quickly offered her help: “I’d tell them it’s to keep the letter ‘single focus.'” And she was exactly right.

This is about “eye control.”

This is about “mind control.”

This is about keeping ‘them’ [insert your target audience here] focused on exactly one thing: Saying YES to your appeal for help.


I’m talking about putting the first couple of seconds of your letter to their best use.

We LOOK before we read.

Initially, EVERYthing on that page — the logo, the board list, the paragraphs, long (bad) and short (good) — exists merely as a visual element … an element shouting to your brain “LOOK AT ME!”

As a professional copywriter paid to make sales (or for my nonprofit clients, generate gifts), I want to/need to/must reduce noise to a minimum, to a backdrop, to a reassuring whisper … to nothing, if possible.

In direct mail appeals, the letter is the HERO.

In fact, it’s even more narrowly focused than that: the OFFER is the REAL hero in direct mail appeals.


Here comes the punch line and the learning moment:

Anything that ISN’T the offer is, by my definition, secondary or tertiary information and is therefore a candidate for exclusion.

If you’re waving in front of my sensation-hungry eyes/brain something OTHER than the offer in those first few seconds of my encounter with your appeal then you’re wasting/slicing/dicing my precious attention span.

Your board list? Come on: why does that merit my first glance?

Don’t get me wrong….

Board members, as people, are NOT irrelevant. They are fine, upstanding, caring and compassionate contributors and volunteers who are giving of their time, talents and even some treasure.

If I knew them personally, I am pretty sure I would LOVE your board members unconditionally. I am a HUGE, unrepentant fan of those incredible nonprofit people I meet by the scores … who do amazing good and ask/get absolutely nothing in return.

However, that said: the LIST of their names IS irrelevant in a direct mail appeal.

Why? Because the list is a distracting visual element that’s NOT the offer. It’s just that simple. Never give my eye two things to look at … if you really want me to focus on just one of them (i.e., on your offer).

There was a revealing test conducted by Steven Screen and Better Fundraising (I believe).

They sent out two versions of the same appeal. One version had JUST the org.’s logo and the letter; it was the minimalist approach. The other version had more decor, all dolled up; probably including a board list.

The logo-only, minimalist approach did WAY better, breaking records for response.



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