Does your year-end appeal pass the "trash can test"?

Small confession: I rarely read fundraising appeals that are mailed to me. I have a little trash can on my front porch, and I pause there when I sort through the mail. If something doesn’t get my attention right away - into the trash can (or recycling bin) it goes. And it doesn’t take long — by my estimation, I take about 20 seconds per piece to open it and evaluate whether it makes it into the house.

I’m not alone. In surveys of donors, the biggest hump is sometimes the first one — passing the trash can test, and getting in the door. Here are a few things that can help your letter pass the trash can test:

  • An engaging first line. Is it bold? Is it interesting — or funny? Grab readers attention right off the bat with a first line that pulls them in.

  • Type you can read (without your glasses): Like many of us my eyesight is getting worse by the year — and it wasn’t so great to begin with! Give your readers a break — use an easy to read font, and make sure your letters are printed in dark ink and sized for easy reading.

  • What’s in it for me? A successful appeal letter isn’t about you or your organization. What’s in it for the reader? Why should she rescue your letter from the trash can? It’s up to you to draft a letter that answers that question.

What kind of mail passes your “trash can test”?

Ready to create appeals and donor newsletters that pass the test? Get in touch at