I was helping a client with an appeal the other day.
I found myself explaining some of the choices I made in the letter. At this point, they were almost automatic for me.
I realized not everyone knows there are some simple changes you can make that will improve your appeal. When I get a rough draft, these are some of the first things I do.
Simple is not always easy!
It’s harder to write short, clear sentences than complex ones. It’s easier to rely on terms that make sense to you – an insider – than it will to your reader.
Simplicity is good because it makes the letter easier to skim. (And that’s all most readers will ever do.)
Simplicity is also good because to get it you have to fight. You’ve got to work at being clear. You’ve got to struggle to say what you mean economically. It’s a good exercise.
And it makes your appeal more effective.
I’ve spent a good amount of time the last 27 years explaining formatting.
No, we can’t get the letter on one page by decreasing the font size.
Yes, I did mean to have those short paragraphs.
Yes, I wanted to end the page in the middle of a sentence. It was intentional.
Mostly, this is about formatting the letter so it can be skimmed quickly. Highlight important points by giving them lots of white space. Use underlining or bold as well.
You want to create a road map through your letter. This way, you increase the chances your reader’s eye will go where you want it to go. She’ll get the points you want to make even on a quick read.
You’re not going for professional here. You’re not seeking to impress the reader with your superior grasp of language.
The aim is to make your writing almost disappear. It’s about getting the stories and need right into your donor’s heart. If she’s stopping to admire (and look up) that five dollar word you used, you’ve missed.
So ignore some rules. Do things your grade school teacher would never have allowed. Sentence fragments. Ellipsis… And – sometimes – dashes do the job.
You want to sound like one person talking to another.
Finally, I take a tip from Tom Ahern and highlight all the instances of “you” in the letter. If it doesn’t look like it’s got a disease after that, I rewrite.
Because an appeal isn’t about you or your organization. It’s about the donor. Focus on that and you’ll get read.
Photo credit: MGDboston