The Watergate Guide to Straight Talk
“Currently, we’re very excited about our newest program … We’re giving all Americans the opportunity to understand … To thank you for joining promptly, you’ll receive … with your continued support we can remain vigilant … ”
There’s nothing really wrong with this language. But don’t you think it’s missing a little, you know, liveliness?
Here’s what I think happens: In our heart of hearts, we know that casual, conversational language gets results. But when we’re proofing copy, all sorts of other concerns crowd into our heads:
* “What if some people think we don’t know how to write any ‘better’ than this?”
* “Will the board understand that it’s supposed to sound this way?”
* “It’s just not the way I was taught to write in school.” (Never underestimate, by the way, the power of a teacher to live in your head forever!)
All legitimate concerns. But as a fundraiser, you also have to ask, “What kind of language has been proven to have greater emotional impact and bring in more money?”
Maybe this will help. If people lean on you about the grammar or structure of your sentences, try using this story. It’s one of those gazillion Winston Churchill/Lady Astor anecdotes that people use to illustrate points just like this.
This one has Lady Astor scolding Churchill for ending sentences with prepositions, and Churchill replying archly, “Madam, that is precisely the kind of insult up with which I will not put!”
Getting back to Watergate, here’s my favorite part of the Nixon quote: “We’ve got to — we’ve got to keep our guys flying out there. It’s all we can do. We have no other choice.”
Hear the urgency? See how the repetition intensifies his point? Except for the redundant first three words (oh yeah, don’t forget there’s a BIG difference between repetition and redundancy) it’s a perfect direct-mail sentence.
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.