Writing a fundraising letter is tough. Making it sound original and compelling is even tougher. Sometimes you can become stuck, too afraid of writing something that is stale and boring to get anything done. If this sounds like you, you have DMWB: Direct Mail Writer's Block.
Here's 5 steps you can take in about half an hour to break through your writer's block and get a draft completed ASAP:
Step 1: Understand that some words are better than no words.
The most important thing about fundraising is THAT you ask. Sending some mediocre letters out will generate more money than sending zero perfect letters out. Once you realize this, it is a liberating feeling. Something is better than nothing. So, don't worry so much about it being super-compelling and perfect at this point.
Step 2: Find a white board (preferably a big one)
On the top of this whiteboard, write what you are raising money for. This might be "OPERATING FUNDS" or "SCHOLARSHIPS" or something else.
Now go one level deeper and take that (in just a few words) to what it means for people. How will lives be changed because of raising money for this designation. So, it might say, "Funds to allow more students to study abroad", "more meals for the homeless" or "students able to graduate with less debt".
Next, you need to make a short list of 3-5 possible signatories for your letter. Do this step even when you think you've already decided who will sign it. Sometimes a traditional "dean's letter" or "president's letter" isn't the way to go. The best letters I've ever written were signed by students, the recipients of the support.
Step 3: Generate reasons to give
Add a list of 3 EMOTIONAL reasons that your constituents should want to give and 3 ANALYTICAL reasons that they should give.
You need a mix of both of these. Most people tend toward one or the other. For example, I'm wholly analytical. I like to know things like the percentage of the cost of an education that's covered by tuition. I like to know about challenge grants and alumni giving percentages and whatnot. The data makes a rational argument to my mind and that style is much easier for me to write.
If you are like me, you're not great at coming up with the emotional reasons to give, but an exercise like this forces you to work with both kinds of case making. The emotional reasons usually include a story of a grateful recipient of the support and can include nostalgia for the organization or pride in past work that the donor participated in.
Step 4: Evaluate
Based on what you see on your whiteboard so far, can you take the story or voice of one of those possible signatories and work in several of the analytical AND emotional reasons to give in one letter? (If yes, go to Step 5.)
If no, return to the top of your whiteboard. Do you need to re-address what you’re fundraising for or do you need signatories with more authority or better personal stories?
Step 5: Write without self-censoring
At this point in the process, you have a focus for your pitch (your designation), a signatory, emotional reasons to give, and analytical reasons to give. Now, get out of your own way and WRITE, without self-censoring. Don't judge. Just get enough text down in written form. Later, with the magic of cut and paste, you can remove, move and juggle all the juicy bits of language. But you can't get to that point until you generate all the phrases and sentences. Don't forget to think about customizing the language for your different segments along the way.
This is the best method I've used for snapping out of a direct mail writer's block: get your psychology straight, focus on what you are raising money for, the reasons to give and how that matches with who should sign the letter. Then get out of your own way and get it all down in words.
Happy writing! If you try this, let me know how it works out for you.
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Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.