If you write fundraising appeals, chances are someone else will sign what you write. So how do you write in a way that’s both compelling and believable?
The most important thing is not that the letter sound like the person signing it. The most important thing is that the letter is effective. So resist complaints from your executive director or board chair. It doesn’t matter whether he sounds like that. Or would never use contractions in a business letter.
You’re not writing a business letter!
Your job isn’t to bolster someone’s sense of self. Your job is to connect with your reader. Your letter needs to feel personal, informal. Does he use contractions when he talks to his best friend?
And if he doesn’t sound warm, well, maybe he should! Your letter needs to feel that way – regardless of the signer’s personality.
Here’s the thing: write for effectiveness, not style. Even if the person has a distinct writing style, you can still finesse it.
I had a boss once who was very talented. But not at all warm and fuzzy. (Intimidating might be a better word.) But on occasion, a letter needed to come from him. So warm it was. And people who knew him well? They felt flattered when they were treated so nicely!
I do read anything my signer has written. It gives me a sense of the person. She may use particular phrases. She might talk about experiences or places unique to her. You can put those tidbits to work without sacrificing the effectiveness you need. They’re part of building a relationship with the reader.
But use those as condiments, not the meat of your letter.
Can I share a story that really tickled me? Years ago, I wrote a letter for our artistic director. It was a little cheeky. Maybe not exactly the way he might have written it. (He writes beautifully, and our audience was familiar with his writing.) A week later I had lunch with an old school friend. He mentioned how much he enjoyed the letter. I thanked him and smiled. He knew me well. He knew what my job was. But he was shocked when I confessed who had written that letter. I celebrated a little.
When you write for someone, you help shape their public persona. To many of your donors, what you’ve written IS them. Your words are the relationship.
Remember that and stick to good writing, not “sounds like me” writing.