Thursday, 2 February 2012

How to break the rules of grammar for writing an excellent fundraising appeal

Why do you think donors respond to your fundraising appeals? They respond to your appeals because they feel a personal connection with your work and that starts with how you write to them, how you get their attention and involve them in your work.
When I am asked to write fundraising appeals for my clients I try to make sure that my letter feels like a conversation – and in doing so I do indeed break the rules of good grammar. Why? Because, I don’t want my fundraising letter to sound like an essay, a theoolgical piece or an editorial filled with big or empty words.

In short, here are some of the things I edit my fundraising appeals for in search of conversational writing:
1. Frequent use of ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ – because a letter is meant to be a personal communication between two people and not between one person and a whole group. ‘I am writing to you today….’ ‘I am asking for your help….’ ‘I am inviting you to make a gift to our work…’
2. Beginning sentences with ‘and’ - one of my all time favourite connectors that encourages the reader to keep on reading. Think about it - when you speak to a friend - how many times do you start the sencences with ‘and’ to encourage your friend to listen.

3. Sticking to short paragraphs without worrying too much whether the sentences belong together or not. As a rule of thumb my paragraphs don’t’ have more than six lines. The reason for this is that people find it difficult to read long paragraphs. And, they are often reading your charity’s appeals quickly, giving them partial attention.

4. Incomplete sentences – missing either or both a noun and a verb. We don’t talk in complete sentences. Really. We don’t. So, next time you write an appeal your computer screen should be full of red lines  warning you of bad grammar… if not, you haven’t written a fundraising letter.

5. Liberal use of dashes – they are very useful for linking phrases together - helping the reader to jump quickly from one thought to the next in a natural way.
6. Repeating key reasons for giving and arguments over and over again. I remember how when I was at school I was taught to organise my thoughts and arguments in a logical manner from beginning to conclusion.

As I already mentioned before, most people read fundraising letters only with partial attention so we can’t afford to present our main argument to them only once. In addition to this, most people don’t read fundraising letters in a sequential manner so in that sense every paragraph needs to convey the main argument – and be clear and succint enough to stand alone.

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