“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinion, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” -Oscar Wilde
So how can you come right out and be more original with your appeal letters? How can you be brave and stand up and write something different than has been tried before? Follow these 11 tips. I found them at James Altrucher’s blog, then rewrote them for a nonprofit fundraising perspective.
1. Be Honest. Tell people the stuff they all think but nobody ever says. So, what is the big thing that people think but never say about your cause? Maybe they’re thinking, “I don’t really know what you do” or “I don’t know why I should care about this” or “this problem is hopeless. Why don’t you just give up?” So say, “Should we give up?” that’s honesty.
2. Take out the first three paragraphs you write. See if it makes your story more immediate, more clear. Recently I did this for a nonprofit client and it INSTANTLY improved the story. Often your first three paragraphs are just a warm-up to the story. Your reader doesn’t need a warm-up. They need to be thrown into that story.
3. Read before you write. There are some benefits to having the biggest indie bookstore in the US in your town. For example, in the last three days I’ve read three novels, two by Dick Francis, and one by Lee Child. They are masters of suspense. Everything is urgent, and real. They help you write in short sentences, and write like your character’s life depends on it. If you’re a human services nonprofit, this is especially easy to see how it fits. But even if you’re an animal nonprofit, you can make it urgent and real. If you’re an environmental nonprofit like Columbia Riverkeepers, talk about how people are connected to the river. What happens when a river gets polluted? Who gets sick? And what can we do to help them?
4. Steal. Have you seen a good headline in a newspaper or magazine or on a blog post recently? HOW could you apply that to your appeal header? BTW I know a nonprofit consultant who swears by looking at the headlines in O magazine.
5. Numbers and facts are not intriguing – They’re confusing and people gloss over them. So, put them in only when absolutely necessary. People don’t talk about statistics as much as they talk about stories. A good story can travel around the block before you get that first statistic out of your mouth. 60,000 were killed in Pakistan in an earthquake last month. 6,000 were killed in Pakistan in an earthquake last month. Neither statistic has a punch. It’s as dull as your dullest history class back in high school.
6. Short sentences. People speak in short sentences. Don’t write like you’re making a grant proposal. Seriously. a lot of appeal letters read like grant proposals. Pretend you’re a gunslinger in an old western. They didn’t waste words. They made their sentences as short as possible. Like a gunshot. Speaking of which.
7. End with a bang. What will happen if your reader does not give to your nonprofit right now? Do they truly understand the consequences of not giving to you? Can you make that real to them?
8. Begin with a bang. How can you put your reader right in the middle of the action? “She started running through the forest. She could smell the pine boughs crushed under her feet. A wind blew up and threw her hair in her face. She kept running, her breath coming in ragged gasps. She knew she couldn’t go back. But where could she go?” I just made that up. Might be applicable for a domestic violence nonprofit.
9. Start in the middle of the action – I know, stories are supposed to have beginnings, middles and ends. Blah blah blah. Throw the reader in the fire with you right from the beginning.
10. Be specific – Vague stinks. Use the boring down technique. It’s not a gun, it’s a revolver. It’s not a revolver, it’s a Smith and Wesson revolver. It’s a pearl handled S&W revolver, It’s a loaded, pearl handled S&W revolver. Etc.
11. Write at a 6th grade level (pupils are usually 11–12 years of age). Here’s a free tool for you to determine if your appeal letter is readable at a 6th grade level or below (that’s where most people are)
Horrors! I looked at many of my blog posts here and they are on the 7th and 8th grade reading level! I’ve got some work to do!
Read some more tips from James Altucher here.