Why would anyone keep reading these letters?

Unclemaynardttdmk

I was digging through Uncle Maynard’s Treasure Trove of Direct Mail Knowledge, looking for a great story I could use as an example of effective storytelling.

It was discouraging, because it took a long time to find what I was looking for. I eventually found an incredibly wonderful story, I’m glad to say.

But I found quite a lot of letters that started so un-promisingly all I could ask was this: Why the heck would anyone keep reading this?

Here are three beginnings of letters:

Dear Friend in Christ,

Children are our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. As we work to embody their humble and loving qualities in our daily lives, we also have a responsibility to help protect them as they grow.

How many people will be drawn in by philosophical speculation on our responsibilities toward children? Answer: Almost none. Remember, direct mail is a quick-hit medium. It’s often read with the recycle bin at hand. To survive that harsh reality, your message has to engage readers with action.

Dear Neighbor,

Our Meals on Wheels Program was created around one central idea: our neighbors here in Seattle and King County should not be left alone and hungry as they grow old.

Do you really think Uncle Maynard has been wondered why your Program was created? He’s more likely than most to give a rip. But even Uncle Maynard is far more interested in what he can do to make the world a better place.

Dear Friend,

Even in the most difficult situations, hope can overcome despair.

That’s not just wishful thinking — it’s the daily experience of over 31,000 Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) staff who act to deliver lifesaving emergency medical care to people trapped in desperate circumstances.

Most people probably agree that hope can overcome despair. That’s nice. But why would that mild commonplace wisdom engage anyone. Even more, why would the number of MSF staff be of any interest at all?

These three letter beginnings share a quality that’s all too common in fundraising: Navel gazing.

They assume people want to be told about themselves and their thoughts and speculations.

They’re like that guy we’ve all encountered who starts the conversation with something like, Let me tell you about my trip to Belize….

Sometimes the trip to Belize turns out to be interesting. Usually not. But the problem, either way, is he thinks the purpose of the conversation is to fill your head with information about him.

You know that guy, right?

Don’t be that guy in your fundraising!

Start your letter by talking to the donor about the donor. About the problem she can help solve. About the difference she can make. About her values and her importance in the world.

Don’t tell her how cool your organization is. Don’t try to lead her into your wandering thoughts on why we should care about your cause. She already cares … it’s up to you to show her why and how she can take action.

That’s what will give her a reason to keep reading. And why she just might respond.

More from the Trove

(This post first appeared on August 17, 2017.)


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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