You really should write to your grandmother more often
One of the first tasks that I give to trainee copywriters is to write an appeal letter to their grandmother.
Not people like their grandmother. They write the letter to their grandmother – by name.
It doesn’t matter if the appeal is for overseas aid, medical research, animal protection or anything else. What the writer needs to do is build an emotional connection with the reader.
And to really understand what that means, you have to write real letters to real people.
To my my mind, too many appeals allow brand guidelines, broad demographic target audiences and lists of statistics get in the way of the emotional link necessary for great fundraising. As a result, we end up with communications that are little more than fact based justifications of a charity’s existence.
When people talk from the heart, these elements are jettisoned. That’s why I prefer, when writing an appeal, to speak to people with real experience of the issue in question. What can be gleaned from these interviews is far more important than anything I find in reams of project reports.
An example of this type of apeal comes from one of my favourite books on fundraising. Asking Properly, written by George Smith, is required reading for anyone who works or wants to work in our industry – you can get a copy fromAmazon or, even better, straight from the publishers, The White Lion Press.
On page 92, George includes a brief excerpt from an appeal written in 1987 for Oxfam. To me, this short piece gets over values such as honesty, care, the need for justice and importance of child rights far better than any brand guidelines.
Dear <supporter>Doesn’t it upset you to walk among people who have lost everything? Doesn’t it distress you to see small children dying in their mothers’ arms?
I am often asked these questions when I return from a disaster zone. Quite frankly, it does and it doesn’t…
It doesn’t because I’m busy when I’m visiting the scene of a disaster. I don’t feel the helplessness you feel in front of your TV. Just the opposite, I have the privilege of being able to do something to ease the suffering.
But of course it hurts when someone you’ve got to know dies.
In the civil war in Uganda I was visiting camps for people fleeing the fighting. We picked up a very sick mother and her starving children to take them to hospital in Kampala. In the crowded jeep a little boy of five or six sat on my lap. We smiled at each other as the jeep bounced along the rough dirt roads. He died before we reached hospital.
That evening I just dissolved into tears. I have a child about the same age.
That’s the sort of organisation and, perhaps more importantly, person I’d trust with a donation.