Have you ever felt, “Geez, I work hard, but my writing muscles don’t want to flex today! Especially now, I’ve got to write this appeal letter, and it’s just not FLOWING man!”
So, how do you get in the groove to write this thing?
What does Leonard Cohen say about this?
“The mental physique is muscular. That gives you a certain stride as you walk along the dismal landscape of your inner thoughts. You have a certain kind of tone to your activity. But most of the time it doesn’t help. It’s just hard work.” -Leonard Cohen.
You have to cut through the voices in your head that might say, “That’s not a good line” or “Why don’t you go back to your old admin assistant job? You’re obviously never going to make it in Development.” You know, THOSE voices. Screw ’em.
You can start by breaking up your writing into chunks.
You know your first paragraph has to be about the URGENCY of your story
Your second paragraph can give more details.
Your third paragraph can be a bit about your nonprofit. This can be the easy part. Write for people who don’t quite know you yet. Say how you’re different than other nonprofits. Show your impact.
And your fourth paragraph can be ways people can give, with a quote from someone who has been helped by your program saying thank you.
The back of your letter could be pictures of community leaders, and quotes from them saying nice things about you.
“I have to penetrate this chattering and this meaningless debate that is occupying most of my attention. I have to come up with some one thing that really speaks to my deepest interest. Otherwise I nod off in one way or another. So to find that urgent…(thing) takes a lot of version and a lot of work and a lot of sweat.” -Leonard Cohen
So you’re having a hard time starting your appeal letter. Hate to break it to you, but most writing in the world happens because of a deadline, not because of a magical inspiration process. This is what Leonard Cohen knows. It’s about hard work. It’s not about fairies flitting around your head and whispering ideas into your ear. So don’t worry if you feel completely uninspired as you sit down to write. The important thing is that you start.
Once you’re writing, you have to keep yourself interested. How do you keep yourself interested? Start by visiting your program site for a day. Talk with people who are doing the work. Go through each program and do this and start to understand why your volunteers are there, why your program staff are there, and feel what a person who goes through your program feels. Talk with people who are in a position to feel grateful for the presence of your nonprofit. if possible, take back to your desk a token from one of these people. Maybe it’s a crayon they had. Maybe it’s a shoelace. Something to remind you of that day, of that time, and to anchor your writing.
How do YOU first sit down to write your appeal letter?
Do you have a separate process for your e-newsletter appeal than for a physical letter? Please share your experience in the comments!
Check out this sample appeal letter that really works! Thanks Gail Perry for the link!
Want 43+ more tips on how to write successful appeal letters? Just go here!
Even if we don’t dictate our letters, it’s not a bad idea to read them out loud to ourselves after they’re done, to make sure they sound as warm and inviting as we want them to be. Better yet, read them to a colleague and invite feedback. They may not come out sounding like “Dance Me to the Edge of Love,” but we do our best!
Great! I have been using several articles to help my grad students understand how to divide up their letter writing task. This is a great idea.
Thank you for such a wonderful comment Mary! I am FLOORED. this is beautiful. I have never thought about dictating the appeal letter, but I think I’m going to have to start!
Thank you for the tip!
Deadlines do an amazing job of focusing the mind, don’t they?
Sometimes you just have to write it. Even if what you write sucks. Just keep going – get something on paper (so to speak). Usually a few good things will peek out. Follow them around and see if they’re keepers.
I learned a long time ago (though I keep learning and learning – always more to learn!) when I subscribed to Jerry Huntsinger’s newsletter. A real one, on paper, in the mail back then. They’re no more… but luckily his wisdom can be found at SOFII (http://www.sofii.org/node/342)
I remember him saying he dictates his letters. I’ve never been able to do that, but I can see how that works. And that the meat of it, the real emotion, is often found lower in your original draft. Find it, and put it at the top, and then go from there.
Newsletters are a little different for me, because of the melding of photos and words. I often start with headlines, look for photos, and the the stories are the last thing to get written. Though it’s not entirely that organized – more like fits and starts and a bit of this and then that. Somehow it gets done!
Thanks for this.
It’s good advice and I appreciate the Cohen quotes.
Thanks for sharing. I usually have to “compose/kick around” the letter for a couple of days in my head. Then compose it. Sit on it for a day or so, go back and look it over, edit, add, delete. Repeat. It all boils down to working on it every day. Some come easier than others.