Is Letter Writing Really About Good Grammar?
Grammar is the curse of direct-mail fundraising — and for several reasons.
First of all, those who sign fundraising letters often have the unfortunate conviction that the words they put on paper to describe their mission rank far above the words associated with selling a product.
So their letters tend to follow what they consider the basic rules of grammar, in order to give them a higher state of dignity than one they might write if they were selling women’s underwear.
In truth, there’s no such thing as grammar, unless you’re learning English for the first time and need to know that singular stuff needs to agree with other singular stuff in a sentence. That’s grammar.
Keep it conversational
The words you assemble to create a fundraising letter — or any kind of sales letter — are based on usage and, more precisely, verbal usage.
Let’s forget fundraising for a moment. If you read aloud the letters you receive that are selling products, you’ll quickly notice that they read like you talk. Why? Because when you test letters written in oral style versus letters written in grammatical style, the former wins handily.
But meanwhile, back at national headquarters, the president is grumbling about the latest fundraising letter submitted by his writer. “It just doesn’t sound like me,” he says. Well, what does he really sound like?
For starters, he’s an articulate speaker, a great one-on-one persona. But when you tape his speeches he sounds exactly like, well, a marketing letter.
And he has Ms. Jones by his side, his secretary for 20 years. Even before a letter gets to his desk, Ms. Jones, whose sole purpose in life is to protect her boss from those who desecrate the King’s English, has made a few changes.
She knows that a paragraph should not be indented. She knows that a letter must be short and to the point. She knows how to punctuate and how to marshal the power of colons and semi-colons, subordinate and insubordinate clauses, and perfect and pluperfect verbs. Duh.