As a follow-up to Lynne’s recent post in support of brevity in your writing, here are some other things to take in to consideration in your writing:
1. Know your audience.
Are they close to you? Can you skip the boilerplate? The tone of writing of my colleague in gift planning is very differently than that of the annual fund gift officer soliciting young alumni.
2. Make it about them.
No doubt you’re familiar with the acronym BOY: Because Of You. A great letter is not “here’s what we did last year” but “because of your support we were able to…” Run your communication through a word counter. How often do you use the words I and We in contrast to You. Consider the difference between these two phrases: “We fed 5.4M children last year” versus “With your help, we fed 5.4M children last year.”
3. Be conversational.
I advocate using contractions in acknowledgements and solicitations. You’re writing to a friend, ideally a true believer to your cause. Resist the urge to fall into academic-speak!
4. Be unique.
I cringe at the letters that begin “Fall is here, the leaves are changing, and students have returned to campus.” I think it’s safe to say that sentiment is true of every educational institution north of the Mason-Dixon Line. What is unique about your institution? Try instead something more like this: Dust off your ga-ga ball and pick out your Shabbat outfit, because spring is in the air, and for us at Camp Young Judaea that can only mean one thing: it’s time to great ready for CAMP!
5. Be direct.
You don’t have a lot of time to connect with your reader. Supposedly you have 20 seconds to grab your reader, and that includes the eight seconds it takes to open the envelope. If you’re making an ask, make it at least twice, once at the beginning (but not necessarily the opening paragraph) and again at the end.
6. Tell a story.
I call this putting a face on philanthropy. People give to people or causes, not for the simple reason that you need money. The best example of this is the well-known Charity: Water story of Helen Apio.
In four short paragraphs the reader learns that Helen doesn’t have water in her village, and she must make the long walk each day to fetch water. Once she has it, she faces the difficult decision of whether to drink it, clean clothes, or water her garden. But thanks to your gift to Charity: Water, you’ve changed Helen’s life for the better. Charity: Water has composed a mini-Shakespearean tragedy albeit with a happy ending. Problem, struggle, reader empathy, happy outcome.
7. Show impact.
Be specific about how their support will make a difference. At Skidmore we often use the statistic that last year we provided 20 full-need scholarships from the collective impact of gifts of less than $100.
8. Have a call to action.
There’s a reason why late night infomercials insist you call within the next 15 minutes. Give your reader a task and a timeline: Make your Presidents Society gift by May 31!
9. Rest and edit.
Once you’re written your solicitation or acknowledgement, put it aside. Good writing, like good wine, benefits from an opportunity to breath. Then edit the heck out of it!
What principles do you follow in your advancement writing?
Thank you to Mary Solomons for her fantastic addition to the donor relations Guru blog this week!