I am doing what you do, sitting at my computer, trying to get my thoughts out of my head and into a written form that will help you make a decision. In this particular case, I am trying to write a few intelligent remarks about sounding conversational on paper. You know, how to write a fundraising letter that sounds like it came from the mind of a person and not an institution.
I suppose the first thing I can tell you is that you should write the way you talk, unless, of course, you talk in halting sentences punctuated with “ya knows” and “like, you know what I mean?” And if you usually write fundraising letters that are signed by someone else, your executive director, for example, then you need to write the way that person speaks.
The secret to sounding personal and conversational on paper is to imaging that you are actually having a conversation with your donor. A back-and-forth exchange where your donor asks questions and you supply answers. That way, your letter sounds like it is written by a living, breathing person, since it addresses issues that are important to the donor, and does so in a warm, lively style.
Which reminds me, try to keep your sentences short. Not like the one that ended the last paragraph. What else can I tell you?
Rhetorical questions are one device at your disposal. Rhetorical questions, as I am sure you know, are questions that are asked for rhetorical effect, not expecting an answer. You can use one or two in your letter if you like. Rhetorical questions create the sense that a conversation is taking place between you and your donor.
I don’t have to tell you that another way to sound conversational is to use the first person a lot. That means you say, “Your gift today means a lot to me,” instead of saying “Your gift today means a lot to us,” or, even worse, “A gift from you designated towards our Annual Fund will be appreciated at this time.” Remember, people give to people, not to establishments, so you want to sound like a person, not an organization when you write your donor appeal letters.
I just thought of another one. Without being fake or insincere, mention that you thought of your donor today, or yesterday, or recently, showing that there is a relationship between the two of you. Naturally, only say “I was thinking of you this morning” if you actually were. Otherwise you will be making stuff up.
You may be relieved to know that that you can be colloquial, too, which is a humdinger of a way to establish rapport and sound genuine. If your donors know what a humdinger is, then by all means throw one into your letters at least once a year. You goal, if I may say so, is to sound authentic without being overly familiar or coarse.
Another way to sound conversational is to be open in the way you talk about things. Give your donors a glimpse into what life is like at your organization. You probably want an example of what I mean, so here it is (here are two examples, actually):
Institutional: “Your membership is about to expire.”
Conversational: “I see from our records that your membership is coming up for renewal soon.”
Institutional: “Prayer meetings were held today at head office about Hurricane Katrina.”
Conversational: “All of us here at the office in London met this morning to pray for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.”
Another sure way of avoiding “bureaucratic-speak” is to say everything in the active voice. Don’t say “funds were raised” when you can say “we raised funds.” Avoid writing “100 scholarships will be created” when you can instead write “we will create 100 scholarships.” See the improvement? Passive voice sounds institutional. Active voice sounds conversational.
I suppose if you went back to the start and began reading this message again, you’d pick up a few methods that I did not mention (using parentheses like this, for example, which look as though you are lowering your voice and whispering a piece of inside information to your donor). I hope that these tips help you write effective fundraising letters. Ones that come from your heart, and are effective mainly for that very reason.
Alan Sharpe is a professional fundraising letter writer who helps non-profits raise funds, build relationships and retain loyal donors using creative fundraising letters. Learn more about his services, view free sample fundraising letters, and sign up for free weekly tips like this at http://www.fundraisingletters.org.
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