Size Matters – When to Write Long, or Short

Eureka! The sharp folks at Marketing Experiments have shared this crystal-clear matrix to help you determine how long your fundraising or marketing copy should be for greatest impact.

As with all marketing “formulas,” there’s a lot of “it depends” here. But these are the three main elements that should guide the length of your copy, says researcher Bob Kemper:

  • What’s motivating your reader
  • Her initial level of anxiety or discomfort about your ask, service or product (from not knowing your organization, having to make a tough decision where to give or participate or the like)
  • The level of cost and/or commitment associated with her conversion.

It’s not surprising to see that, in most cases, short copy works better for low-commitment, low-risk actions that are emotionally- and/or impulse-driven (I want). Shorter copy is the way to go for asks like these:

  • Supporting a friend for $25 or less in a fundraising run or walk
  • Answering a 3-question online survey with an attractive incentive (raffle)
  • Liking your organization on Facebook
  • Participating in an inexpensive fundraising event with a group of friends.

Longer copy works well to motivate actions that are tougher to move on and dependent on a rational analysis as resources are limited. Examples include:

  • Registering for an in-depth training program
  • Giving at a significant level
  • Volunteering over an extended period of time.

So position your ask (for a donation, volunteering, program registration, signing a petition) on this matrix to get an idea of how long your copy should be. Caveat — The two axes on the matrix aren’t always aligned and I recommend you test various combos in your fundraising and marketing copy. For example, begin with short copy that will connect immediately on an emotional level, followed by longer copy that addresses to potential anxieties once a reader is engaged in the decision.

How do you ballpark the length and depth of your fundraising or marketing ask? Please share your approach here.

P.S. Get peer guidance on strengthening your organization’s marketing impact with the free Getting Attention Guide to Nonprofit Marketing Wisdom.


Nancy Schwartz on September 14, 2011 in Copywriting | 4 comments

  • Anonymous

    Great post Nancy – clear and keeping the opportunity for email still alive. I shared my own thoughts about the place of email in a world of increasingly short communications within an organization (, and definitely see many parallels. One point that I think is also worth mentioning is that even for big donors, creating many smaller touchpoints can be equally if not more valuable than drafting a nice long letter once or twice a year.

  • Thanks for sharing your post, Josh. I’m with you 150% on the importance of small touchpoints on an ongoing basis to “feed the fire.”

    But why not AND (small touchpoints plus a couple of more in-depths letters or conversations) for the higher-risk, greater commitment copy, rather than instead?

  • Anonymous

    Certainly didn’t mean to imply ‘instead,’ but I think that’s how many dev professionals approach it – they try to find one strategy for each sub-group of donors and work from that. It’s easier to manage when you have lots of donors across a wide scale, but even with a small staff, the attention to detail and efforts in creating a more holistic and “AND” approach is so key. 

  • To the “AND” approach!

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