When I first started to write fundraising appeal letters, it was really hard. I’d never written anything like it before, and I struggled to see how anyone would find the letters interesting to read, let alone respond to.
To help you become a better fundraising writer I want to share a few ideas that I learned early on. My hope is that they’ll help you become a better communicator, too.
Now, let me preface these ideas by saying that while there are oodles of tips out there for you to follow, these are the tactics that have worked for me. You need to find what works for you. But these methods helped me avoid writer’s block (yep, that’s a thing), helped me to think about the donor, and above all, removed my ego from the process.
So here are three different techniques that I’ve used to help me stay on-track and write more compelling, donor-focused appeal letters:
1. Write to Judy
I have a photo of Judy on my desk. She’s smiling at me as I write you this blog post.
Judy’s my mom. She’s religious, makes great soup, and gives to a bunch of different charities. And when I write a fundraising letter, I write to her.
Why? Because Judy is the target demographic for fundraisers. She’s older, has a higher level of disposable income, is passionate about helping others, keeps an address book in her purse, and sends grammatically perfect text messages.
I also write to Judy because it helps me to keep the letter personal. If I don’t look at Judy during the writing process, it’s easy for me to drift into writing copy that I’d want to read. Judy won’t read that.
2. Write Everything in One Sitting
One of the biggest mistakes a copywriter can make is writing the various elements of their fundraising packages at different times.
Now, there are exceptions. But it’s a good habit to write your outer envelope, reply device, receipt copy, and insert (if you have one) at the same time you write your appeal letter.
The reason I try to do this is rather simple: I get distracted. And if your nonprofit is anything like the ones I’ve worked for, then you’ll know that distractions happen all the time. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been focused on writing an appeal letter only to be told there were donuts in the kitchen.
You may not notice it, but if you separate your packages and write the components at different times, your donor will notice. I receive a lot of direct mail, and it’s a tragedy to see a compelling appeal letter hidden inside an uninspiring outer envelope.
3. Keep it simple
I often struggle to keep my own ego in check when writing.
As someone who loves to write, it’s tempting to introduce a beneficiary in an appeal letter with the same detail a novelist would use to introduce a character. But it’s an ego-filled waste of time! To avoid that trap I always write to Judy – because I need to remember my audience!
And to that end, I write my fundraising letters, emails, and every other piece of donor communication as simply as I can. I’m not submitting a college essay; instead, I’m writing a deeply personal letter from one person to another.
Someone once told me to write copy at a middle-school level. That doesn’t mean adding the word “like” before every sentence, but you should avoid using words that aren’t used in normal, everyday conversations. And please, please, please – don’t use jargon.
Instead, keep it simple and personal.
Take this example from an organization providing food for the hungry:
In our city, a lack of nutrient-rich food is causing children to become malnourished, and leaving them highly susceptible to the spread of preventable disease.
It might be true, but your donor doesn’t speak like that. Instead, be personal, and use short sentences and simple words…
Little Mary is very hungry. Her tummy is sore because she hasn’t eaten a proper meal in days. And her body is so weak she’s in danger of getting sick.
This is called writing donor-focused copy; when you do it well, it’s magic.
I’d encourage you to find what works for you… and practice it. It will make you a better writer, and your donors will love you for it.