Just Slightly Contrarian: This Ain't Literature You're Writing
But I do care about writers of fundraising letters and packages, many of whom consider themselves to be stylistic wordsmiths.
“That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?” they say.
The truth is, the ones who give up that nonsense early in their career usually are successful. The ones who continue to be wordsmiths struggle, if they survive at all, and just never understand why their carefully crafted letters fall short when compared with letters from sloppy writers who don’t know the difference between the singular and the plural.
You gotta dumb it down
Here’s the point: Referring again to the gentleman I just quoted, he also said, “Huntsinger, this sounds like something my seventh-grade daughter would write.”
Actually, most successful letters in control packages are written at an eighth-grade level. Read it and weep, wordsmiths.
Furthermore, another common characteristic of successful control packages is that they are written in an “oral style.” By that I mean, the copy flows just like you were talking. Or are talking. (See how you can get hung up on grammar?)
Even worse, another common characteristic of successful fundraising letters is that they use precisely the same techniques as commercial direct response marketing — commonly and, oft times, unfortunately called “junk mail.”
Ask yourself, “Exactly what is the mission of my charity?” Is it to improve and/or raise the literary level of fundraising letters in our society? Is it to set a high standard of communication excellence and be numbered among those cultural leaders who protect and preserve the grammatical heritage of our nation?
Or is your mission to raise money for your organization at the lowest cost possible? Don’t confuse the two goals.
Don’t forget to study
I hope you can accept this basic premise, and then take the next step. Emulate (now there’s a word that will never appear in one of my letters) successful marketing patterns. Start by reading several control letters aloud. Feel the cadence. Feel the underlying beat. It’s there.