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Shorter Is Better: How To Create Donor Communications That Break Through the Noise

Do you want to know the best way to get donors to read your communications? Make it brief. Shorter is better when it comes to communications. Bust out the red pen and make those wordy messages short and sweet!

In today’s world, time is short and people’s attention spans are shorter. The average human adult’s attention span is 8.25 seconds. If you don’t capture their attention in that amount of time, they’re off to the next, more interesting thing. Think about how you take in content and what draws you in. If you see an email that takes you more than two scrolls to read, do you dive in or do you get tired and save it for another time? When you see that post that is multiple bullet points long, do you stop or keep scrolling?

This one fact means we need to rethink our communications and how we package them. There is still a place for longer pieces, but they should be the exception — not the rule — and depend greatly on what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you stewarding a family that established a large program at your institution, and they want a detailed recap of their impact? Then yes, by all means give them a multiple page report with photos, testimonials, and a recap from the director of the program. However, if you’re trying to communicate with the masses, shorter is sweeter. Here are a few suggestions to keep your communications short and effective:

1. Use snackable content to draw people in – We have so much we want to share with our constituents, but we can’t fit it all into the email, post, or one-pager. This is a great problem to have — break it down into bite-sized stories or updates and spread it out over a period of time. This way you’re still getting the story or information out there, and it’s not overwhelming for the reader — a win win! UC Davis does a fabulous job of this by sending donors emails with "One Good Story" instead of a newsletter filled with dozens. It's a brilliant way to keep donors engaged and share stories in a more digestible format.

2. Videos, videos, videos – MTV may have killed the radio star, but TikTok killed the long video. However, that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t be creating video in all forms. Think organic, genuine, and what you would want to see. A quick 30-60 second video — a thank you from a leader on campus or at your institution, a thank you and/or an update from a student or recipient of funding from your organization, or a quick tour of a new location or space — will do wonders. Visually experiencing the impact of philanthropy can’t be replaced , so we need to think about it a little bit differently. A short video recorded on your phone will go a long way to engage your viewers and bring them back again and again. These videos from Tulane University and Emory University demonstrate how effective a short video can be — whether it's professionally produced or filmed on a cell phone:

Tulane University Giving Day Thank You Video - 49 seconds

Emory University ThankView - 45 seconds

3. Use photos and infographics – There are times when you need to tell a larger story or provide an update to a donor, and that may require creating a longer report. When doing this, break it up with images of your organization’s work and beneficiaries, or include infographics on the amazing things that philanthropy has made possible. Insert testimonials in boxes within the report and even add in small facts or stats in the footer to keep the reader engaged. There’s a place and space for stewardship reports, but that doesn’t mean they have to be boring or full of text. Make it aesthetically pleasing and bring the reader along on a visual journey of their giving. This online impact report from Colorado State University is a great example.

Just remember, when you create any sort of content, start thinking about how you can repackage it for use on social media, email, print, or in talking points. Do you need more tips for writing for social media? We dedicated an entire blog post to this very topic: Goldfish! Tips for Writing Social Media Content.

Have you already started shortening communications at your organization? Do you already use these tips in your work? What might be something your organization produces that you can repurpose or utilize in a multi-channel approach? Please share with us in the comments!


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