You’ve probably heard you should write fast and edit slow.
And so you should. But how do you turn that rambling first draft into an effective appeal – fast?
There’s definitely an art to writing a great appeal. It takes time to learn. Time, and lots of trial and error.
But don’t despair!
There are things you can do right now that will improve your letter.
What’s your call to action?
Before you can edit your appeal, you need to know what the problem is and how your reader can solve it. (Better if you did this before you began writing, of course.)
Why does what you’re writing about matter? What will a gift accomplish?
What do you want the reader to do?
Move (or remove) your paragraphs until they make sense
Chances are, your opening paragraph – or the first few – is your warm up. Not for your reader, but for you, the writer.
Look for the place the letter REALLY begins. Cut the throat-clearing stuff.
Then look at the rest… does it flow? Do the transitions work?
Are they in the most effective place? The top of the second page is something of a dead zone. If your most powerful writing lands there, rearrange the order.
Cut out any paragraphs that don’t fit
At the same time, get rid of the stuff that doesn’t make sense. Or that doesn’t help your case. Remember that you need focus here. Your appeal is NOT the place to describe all your wonderful programs. It’s not the place to invite people to your next event.
Your appeal will be more effective if your ask is focused – specific.
Jonathon Grapsas says you should focus on the SMIT: the Single Most Important Thing. Decide what that is (probably why someone should make a gift). Then be heartless about getting rid of anything that doesn’t help that focus.
Identify your asks
Look over your letter. How many times have you asked? If you’ve been saving the ask for the end of the letter, you’re missing out.
Remember that most people don’t read in order. They jump around. Chances are, they’ll look at the P.S. so you definitely want to ask there. But sprinkle some, like a chorus, throughout the appeal. Some can be softer. Some quite direct. But ask more than once.
Shorten sentences – conjunctions are your clue
Shorter words and shorter sentences are easier to understand. Complex and run-on sentences are not.
You want to be understood, right?
Break some of your complex sentences into two shorter, simpler ones.
And you can start a sentence with “and” or “but” (or other conjunctions). In fact, it can be a great way to keep the flow going, while not losing your reader.
Look for “to be” and make it not to be
So “be” is a great little verb. Short, simple. But not very active. And what you’re looking for with this appeal is action. Passive doesn’t win gifts.
So look for where you’ve used a form of “to be”. Could you use a more muscular verb? Something with more oomph?
Keep your adverbs and adjectives under control
I’ll bet at some point, you were told that adjectives improve your writing. And the right ones were magic.
You were told wrong, really.
Strong, easy to comprehend writing depends more on your verbs. Adjectives, and especially adverbs are decoration. Sometimes – not often – needed for clarity. But usually extraneous.
Count your YOUs
“You” is a powerful word. Why? Because our eyes go right to it. When we read something, our first (even if not conscious) thought is “does this affect me?” You is the clue that it might.
You invites the reader to pay attention. It brings the reader into the writing. It says your reader matters.
Is your appeal lacking the word? Chances are you’ve spent too many words talking about your organization, not your donor. That’s a big mistake (one even some of the largest organizations make).
Your appeal is not about your organization. It’s about a problem your donor can solve.
So find “you” in the appeal. Circle or highlight every one. Your letter should be crawling with them. If it’s not, rework it.
“That” can go away – almost always
That is a word that you can usually lose. It won’t hurt your writing and it may help. Try it!
Run it through a readability tester
There’s one built into Word, or you can use this one.
Hemingway will point out any complex phrases or words you might have missed. It will track your adverb use. It will give you a grade, based on how easily understood your writing is.
I use it constantly.
Run it through. Then rewrite everything you can. You’re aiming at a grade level between 4th and 6th here. Say it simply!
Improve your formatting
This is the fun part. And the easiest thing you can do to help.
What’s the font you’re using? If this is a mail appeal and the font isn’t serif, change it. (I don’t care about your brand guidelines.)
Then look at the size. At least 12 point. Better at 14 point. Yes, that may look huge to you. It will look “legible” to your readers – who are likely to be older.
You can’t make them work at this. Either it looks inviting and interesting, or it goes in the recycling bin.
If that larger size pushes your letter beyond a page, GOOD. It’s nearly impossible to create a really effective appeal on one side of one page. Spread out. Go to a second piece of paper if necessary. Two pages usually do better than one. And four pages usually do better than two.
Are your paragraphs indented? That’s another easy way to make the letter inviting. Our eyes are drawn to that indent – it helps us move along with the letter and stay with it.
And speaking of paragraphs… how long are yours?
I rarely write a paragraph longer than 5 lines. Like this blog, most of my paragraphs are short – 1 to 3 lines. And the opening paragraph is almost always one line.
Ask someone who doesn’t know your organization to read it
Does it make sense to them? So often, we know our own programs and mission so well we don’t realize we’re talking inside-talk. Make sure your meaning is clear.
You’ve done your best. You’ve taken the time to review the easy stuff and get the appeal into shape. Now, remember that done is often better than perfect.
Mail your appeal. Cross your fingers. And wait for some great responses.
Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire