Direct-Mail Writing That Raises Funds, Part 1
So, that brings me to the crux of this article: Can you afford to hire a professional writer? Before you answer, ask this question: Would a professional writer’s copy raise enough additional income to cover the cost of the copywriting? In other words, are you “leaving money on the table” by not using a professional to write your copy? Yes, some writers are rather expensive, and deservedly so. Others are less expensive; it’s generally a function of experience, overhead costs and reputation. But it’s worth thinking about. After all, raising the most money possible—after expenses and in an ethical manner—is our goal as fundraisers.
If you can’t afford to hire a professional, or if “the powers that be” refuse to even consider it, I understand. I really do. After all, I would not have been able to develop my own skills if the nonprofit for which I first worked hadn’t asked me to write the copy so it had one less bill to pay.
But that puts the onus on you as the direct-mail writer to do the best job possible. Most of what you learned in your college English classes won’t apply. You won’t need the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, The Chicago Manual of Style or AP Stylebook. You won’t be worrying about split infinitives and semi-colons.
But you will be communicating a vital message—one that is essential to the survival of your nonprofit organization. So stick with me over the next few weeks and I’ll share the practical “ingredients” of direct-mail copy that I’ve learned over the years. As time goes on, you’ll develop your own style, but when you’re starting out, it helps to know the best practices that can guide you as you write fundraising letters (and e-appeals as well).
American author Jack Kerouac wasn’t talking about direct mail when he said this, but he could have been: “It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.” The way you write it will be what this old dog will focus on over the next two weeks.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.