You've heard the objections. "Our executive director would never say that." "She'll never sign this." "It doesn't sound like our president at all."
All of that might be true, but that's not the point. For most nonprofits, donors more than likely have no idea who the head of the organization is, let alone how that person "sounds." Think about it. Can you name the presidents or executive directors of all the nonprofits whose names you know? And of the presidents or executive directors you can identify, do you know what each of them "sounds like" in person or in print?
The only voice we should be concerned about is the voice that works — the voice that raises the most money. And the great thing about fundraising is that we can test one letter versus another, one style or voice against something very different, to find what works best. We can prove to signers and the guardians of their preferred copy styles that what they want might be hurting response significantly. And that's true no matter how educated your donors are or how "different" they are from any other group's.
Copy should speak to donors in everyday language donors use themselves, and it should be about what matters most to them — not you. Direct-response fundraising is not the place for $10 SAT words, no matter how much a letter signer might love them or use them "in real life."
And that's all good counsel for almost every piece of direct-response fundraising.
Voices that raise expectations
Sometimes there are cases, however, when a letter's signer is someone who is not only a household name but also has a very recognizable "sounds like" quotient. Someone like, say, Sarah Palin.
The day her letter arrived in my mailbox I thought, "This is going to be good." In anticipation, I made myself a martini and sat down to savor it.
A No. 10 ivory outer envelope with her name in the corner card, a nonprofit stamp with a mailer's cancellation mark and the "PERSONAL" teaser held great promise. The Republican National Committee's name and address were printed on the back flap in teensy type. Inside, a two-sheet, two-page personalized letter begins:
"Dear Ms. Seville,
Millions of Americans are expressing their frustration with the state of our government. I join them and seek to return our country to greatness. To accomplish this, working within our two-party system, I join the RNC — the political home for "Commonsense Conservatives" who want to re-take governance — and I ask you to join me. Let's bring our new brand of Reagan conservatism to our party and the country!"
Wow. That's a mouthful for the lead paragraph of a letter.
After that, the letter about "Victory 2010" and a survey to "take the gavels out of Nancy Pelosi's and Harry Reid's hands" reads like it could be signed by anyone at the RNC. Nothing about hockey moms or mama grizzlies or any of her colorful phrases.
About two weeks later I received another letter from Palin, this time in a white No. 10 with the same personal stationery look and an "URGENT" teaser.
The one-sheet, two-page personalized letter begins with the same five-line lead paragraph, interestingly. And it's also about "Victory 2010" but without the survey. Like the first one, it could have been signed by any Republican.
A voice that rings true
Out of all the political mail I received about the midterm elections, the most martini-worthy was from Nevada U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle. It's really well-done in so many ways.
First, it's written in a voice consistent with Angle's public image. It delivered on every expectation I had with fabulous lines like, "Defeating Reid is like cutting off the head of a snake — it will spell doom for Obama's agenda!"
The letter repeatedly asks me to take the "Dump Reid" pledge because Reid is the "ringmaster" of "Barack Obama's far-left agenda." The word ringmaster is underlined by hand three times in blue ink. "Obama and Reid are joined at the hip" is underlined with a blue swish a few lines later.
And that brings me to the package's second success. It takes a state race national and makes a solid case for why someone like me several thousand miles away from Nevada should give Angle money. The package is all about Reid and Obama and the liberal left, not Angle.
There's only one sentence buried on the third page where she talks about herself to prove she's nothing like Reid. "I'm a fiscal and social conservative, a former citizen legislator with a strong record of fighting for the Constitution, and a grandmother of 10 wonderful grandchildren." And she wants to save them from becoming "tax slaves."
I also applaud the package's little touches, like the title "Official Republican Nominee to Defeat Senator Harry Reid" under Angle's name in the letterhead. Reid is identified as the Senate Majority Leader once, but most often his title in this package is "conservative's #1 foe." And while the signature line repeats the title below her name, the letter is signed informally, "Sharron." The package does everything right to build rapport with potential donors.
It also strikes the perfect balance of sounding enough like Angle to feel credible and at the same time speaks with the voice that works.
No matter what your politics, I think it's wise to make a little gift here and there all across the far left and radical right of the spectrum. Just so you can get delicious mail like this. Cheers! FS