I might not have opened the letter yesterday. It’s from Covenant House, a charity I supported only occasionally and long ago. But I did open it. And though I planned a different post to share with you this week, I knew I had to share this instead. You see, I don’t cry easily. But this one got me.
I first heard about Covenant House as a teen. Vin Scelsa was a DJ on WNEW in New York. He did the late night show. This was in the days when DJs could still choose what they wanted to play and say. I clearly remember him talking about this organization that helped homeless kids in NY. (I think he ended the conversation by playing Springsteen’s Meeting Across the River. So you know he was my kind of guy.)
So why did this appeal grab me? The storytelling is striking. We’re drawn in immediately. From the start, the narrator has us seeing things through his eyes.
But it’s soon clear the protagonist isn’t our narrator. We meet Jeremiah, a scared, lonely kid. He’s afraid to come in out of the cold.
We’re carried along as the narrator persuades him to come in. That succeeds, but we’re quickly taken to the next critical moment as we learn about Jeremiah’s story.
The narrator keeps us hooked with small successes followed by new revelations. We understand Jeremiah is every kid who needs a safe home. But it’s not until the end of the story that we realize Jeremiah is US, too.
It’s powerful stuff. And especially effective at Christmas time.
Covenant House has a target audience in mind. This is a letter intended to resonate with a religious audience. There’s a card enclosed, with a painting of Mary and baby Jesus. But that’s a good thing – it will really resonate with the intended audience. (Although, even with the religious language, I don’t know anyone who this story wouldn’t move).
One last note: there’s a dime and a penny glued to the letter. I did open the letter because of them – I had to remove them before I could put the mailing in the recycling bin. So I assume their purpose is getting the envelope opened. The P.S. references them. But it does interrupt the flow of the letter for me.
So. Here for your perusal is a great example of an effective appeal. Your mission might not be as immediately moving as homeless kids. But there’s something… and it’s your job to find it. Click on the text below and read this letter. Then go find your message and share it.