I received a letter I itched to fix.
It was sent on behalf of my elementary school by an organization that seems to be doing the same appeal for Catholic elementary schools all over NJ.
Not exactly a warm and fuzzy start, right?
It opens with a lot of talk about how important the fund is because it provides much-needed financial support.
Yes, I imagine it does. But “You should give us money because we need money” isn’t all that compelling. And it’s definitely NOT the way to open a letter!
(Full disclosure – there was about zero chance I was going to respond to an appeal like this, no matter how wonderful it was. But I’m sure there are people who would respond if they were given half a chance.)
I thought a rewrite might be a fun exercise.
Below is the original and a first draft from me.
Here’s what I tried to fix:
There’s little in the original to bring me back to the school, or my childhood, or any good memories I might have of elementary school. I’m guessing most people have at least some warm memories of those years. Why don’t they even try to summon them?
I also tried to appeal to a desire to give other children the experience the reader had. “Look what you learned. Why don’t you pass that on?”
The original is made of three long blocks of type, broken up by two shorter ones.
It’s not indented. The sentences are long. It’s written at a grade 13 level – way, way, too high.
Even some of the grammar is a bit iffy. (And I was just preaching to my kids about diagramming sentences in grade school – something they never learned to do.)
I also had to include some explanation for the unwieldy name of the appeal. I’m not sure who thought the name was a good idea.
But I’ll bet you it was created by a committee.
A clear ask
The ask in this letter is both omnipresent and unclear.
It talks about supporting the mission. It also suggests making this first gift an annual occurrence.
But the language is distant. When I read “we invite you to consider a gift” I feel like I’m hearing some ancient duchess talking.
This should be one to one communication. That “royal we” sticks out in a bad way for me.
Why not just make the case and ask for a specific amount? (And if I’d known more about exactly what the money would do, I could have made the ask even more specific.)
I’m not trying to pick on this one appeal. But it’s full of mistakes I see in my mailbox every day. And they’re mistakes that can be fixed!
Besides, it’s good practice.
The next time you come across an appeal that doesn’t work for you, try a rewrite.
Your next appeal will be better for it!