When my oldest was just a little boy, he insisted that I tell him stories while in the tub.
After a full day at work and several hours running after a little one, it was a rare night that I could summon the energy to make something up. So I relied on fairy tales – stories that even a little boy, smelling deliciously of baby shampoo, would already be familiar with.
Fair enough, right? But I didn’t stop there. I cut those stories down. I mean, to the bone. If we’d had Twitter back then, they would have been the Twitter version. Something like:
“Ok, a big, bad wolf. And three pigs with three houses: straw, wood, brick. Wolf blows down the straw house, blows down the wood house. But he couldn’t blow down the brick house.”
But here’s the thing: the stories didn’t need to be any longer than it took to soap him up and rinse him off.
I knew my audience. And I knew my goal.
And that’s what you need to know when you’re writing for donors. What’s your goal? What action do you want your reader to take? And what do you need to do to make that happen?
Let’s look at Scheherazade. Her stories are legends themselves. Night after night, she’d begin a story, then keep the king hanging, eager for her next words. She had a pretty motivating goal. Keep him interested, and she could stay alive.
You may not be facing death. But every time your donor reads something you’ve written, you’re facing the recycle bin or the delete button. You have seconds to grab your donor’s interest. And then you have to keep it until that donor is ready to take action.
But back to Scheherazade. She had a goal, but she also had a plan. Hers spanned one thousand nights and several children. She knew what it would take to persuade her audience.
So when you sit down to write, know your audience. And then do two things. Have a goal. And have a plan. Your story needs to be just as long as it takes to persuade your donor to take action. And you need to know just how you’re going to do that before you begin.