I live on a cul-de-sac. Or as we used to say back in NJ, a dead-end. Every once in a while I watch a truck driver pull into the end of our street, hoping it will be a shortcut to another neighborhood. Then the driver has to perform truck gymnastics to get back out.
It’s easy to find your writing in a dead-end, too. It happens to all of us!
Read through the pile of appeals you receive at home one day. You’ll see plenty of them. Or listen to television ads. They’re everywhere!
You’ll hear and read meaningless words or phrases that sound good at first. Until you realize they take you nowhere.
You know the ones I’m talking about: phrases like “make a difference”. Or one of my current favorites, taken from a car ad, I think:
“And sometimes? The road that’s less traveled is the one that surprises you.”
As any self-respecting teenager would say, “No duh”.
When you find yourself cornered, stop. Back out of there and start again. When I write myself into a dead-end it’s because I don’t know where I want to go. I’m unclear about what it is I’m trying to say, so I rely on cliches or jargon to say it.
“Make a difference” is a great example. Admit it, we’ve all tried it. It saves us from really getting specific about what we want our reader to do. Sometimes it’s an excuse to avoid getting emotional. Either of those isn’t likely to result in action.
To generate action, you’ve got to think about exactly what you want your reader to do – and why.
Do you want her to send $100 because that will feed a family for a week? Or $435 to help buy art supplies for your free afterschool program?
Then illustrate the “difference” she’ll make with a story. Make it real and make it emotional. Connect the dots between your ask and a tangible outcome that will affect real people.
Give your reader some street signs so she doesn’t end up in that dead-end with you.
(One caveat from Jeff Brooks here – don’t be afraid to use something that sounds corny or cliche if your donors respond to those words or phrases! Go here for more: http://www.futurefundraisingnow.com/future-fundraising/2010/03/lists-of-banned-words-can-weaken-your-fundraising.html)