Cynics Need Not Apply
"Act as if you have faith, and faith will be given to you."
In the film "The Verdict," Paul Newman says this to a skeptical jury and, because it's him, convinces jury members to award millions to his client who was wronged by corporate evildoers. The line has such a ring of truth, everyone assumed it must have been from the Bible or some traditional religious prayer book.
Nope. Actually, David Mamet made it up for the movie. Talk about verisimilitude.
One reason it has such a ring of veracity is that the writer puts his heart into what he writes. You can just feel it. (Having your lines read by Paul Newman doesn't hurt either, but still ...)
As fundraising copywriters, we all write from the heart. In the beginning. But as time passes, and we pound out letter after letter, e-mail after e-mail, and package after package, it can all become a little too routine.
And somewhere between writing to the formula that's proved successful for your organization and spending your days talking strategy, style and technique with development people and colleagues ... well, it becomes easy to focus on what we're writing and kind of forgetting what we're writing about.
Every once in a while, though, it's good to step back and remind ourselves why we're writing this stuff at all. It's because the organization we're writing for does big and important work. And because, in the best part of our hearts, we're deeply committed to the work that's being done.
So, despite the attitude of detached irony that sometimes seems to pervade modern fundraising, this is really not a good career for cynics.
Just as people can sense when they're being handled, they can also sense when someone is being disingenuous in communications. It's not always something they can put their finger on, but you'd better believe they know it when they feel it.
And they respond accordingly.
I know it's not always easy to "feel real" when you're concentrating on deadlines, messaging keywords and figuring out how to get your writing through the Byzantine approval process.
But there's a simple way to get your writing back where your heart is: Keep writing.
I promise it works. John Wesley once had a crisis of faith and considered giving up his ministry, until his friend Peter Bohler said to him, "Preach faith 'til you have it. And then because you have it, you will preach faith."
Or as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, "Fake it 'til you make it."
Or, "Act as if you have faith and faith will be given to you."
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 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, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.