It’s 3 am. Your eyes are closed, but your heart is pounding and your mind is racing.
Your appeal is due to mail and you’ve got…
Try to rest. Because when the morning comes, you will get started on your next appeal.
Maybe I can help. Here’s what I do.
Set aside some uninterrupted time. Don’t answer the phone, don’t check your mail. Just think. Don’t think about words yet. Just think about ideas.
Think about a donor – maybe one of your actual donors, maybe a profile you create from what you know about your supporters. (If your organization is like most, you’ll be picturing an older woman.)
Think about what you want to say – who will a donation benefit? What will change – what would be better, or what would be worse without her help? How much will it take? Then think about what you’d say to your donor if you were talking face to face.
Think in terms of stories. Do you have any stories you can share?
Now you can start writing. But don’t think too much. Let your emotions guide you and just write. No editing, no worrying about grammar or even whether you’re making sense. Just do it.
At this point, I take a break. Do something entirely different – crunch some numbers, check those email messages, get up and get a drink. Set your appeal on the back burner.
Because here’s the really cool thing: your mind is still at work, even though you’re not aware of it. Let it do its thing – often the best ideas happen away from your conscious and logical thoughts. (You know, in the shower or at 3 am?)
Cut and paste
After a while, come back and review what you’ve written. Start moving things around so they make more sense. Look for emotion. Probably, somewhere in the middle of what you wrote, you’ll notice it. Grab that and move it to the top. Now you’re on your way!
OK. So you’ve done all this, and still… it’s not there. That important first line just isn’t singing. If it helps, some of the better letters I’ve written have started this way. Don’t despair!
When I get stuck like that, I look for some external inspiration. Go to your swipe file. Read some pieces you think are great. Is there something there you can adapt? (Someone once told me there are no really new ideas – so take a great idea and make it your own.)
Quotes are also great. Google some connected to your mission. See where that takes you.
You might find a perfect quote that provides the right start to your piece. More likely, you won’t. But that’s OK – because it really wasn’t about a quote, it’s about getting you to think in a different way.
Walk away… again
Now that you have things basically organized, walk away. Completely away. Resist the urge to look at it again yet. You need some distance before you can see it with objective eyes.
Then congratulate yourself. Because when you come back to it – at least hours, maybe a day from now, you’re going to move on to the fun part:
I know you’ve been there too. What are your tips? Share them in the comments, please!
Photo thanks to Jim Linwood