Every time I sit down to write a fundraising letter, or one of these posts, I suffer a period of anxiety. I’m worried that readers will reject my writing. Reject me.
At first my writing is flat, a collection of information and phrases with no life or meaning.
But after a little while I get over myself and start thinking about my reader: You!!
Of course, I don’t know you yet, but I can imagine you because I know so many people working for nonprofits and facing the challenges of fundraising.
Chances are that you are generous, intelligent, curious and conscientious. Also, probably, pressed for time, short of resources and at least a little less knowledgeable than me about direct mail. (If you know more about it than me, then I want to read your posts!)
Now I’m feeling better. We care about some of the same things and we’re here together so I can help you. You’ve made a little bit of time to hear me out, but I need to get to the point.
And the point is “You.” It’s the most powerful word in the English language, the word that names us, the subject of most of our waking thoughts.
You’ve heard the advice that inserting the word “you” into copy makes it more engaging to readers. This actually works, but the practice may strike you as a rather mechanical, even a Pavlovian trick.
But, the interesting thing is this: it’s a trick we play on ourselves as writers as much as on our readers. We can’t address our words to a person called “you,” without imagining that person.
If I’m writing for an environmental organization, I’m likely to imagine “you” as a healthy, active older married woman with an advanced education and broad interests in addition to a passion for sailing.
Now that I’m holding an imaginary conversation with an imaginary reader, my writing starts to read like speech, the words I would use to inform and persuade someone at my kitchen table.
You don’t know me, I think, but I know something you’ll be interested (perhaps shocked) to hear. I see my reader looking at me skeptically over her glasses.
But she’s listening, so I keep talking, building my story and showing how her informed monetary support can make a big difference in the outcome of my story. She’s nodding. Now I’m feeling persuaded and passionate myself.
It can take many more hours to complete final revisions, but that’s the beauty of imaginary conversations – unlimited do-overs. Meanwhile, I’m on my way to a complete first draft.
Thanks to “You.”
Next Week Tony Poderis discusses … Who Should be an Organization’s Rund Raisers.
Jon is Vice President of Cause & Effect, Inc.
He has helped nonprofits develop successful direct response strategies and
effective donor communications for more than 25 years.
Contact Jonathan Howard or
visit the Cause & Effect website
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