Now let’s get down to brass tacks. How should you write your appeal letter? Why not take a page from Paul Simon?
“The easier it is for people to understand, the better it is, I think. If you can capture something that you feel is real and express it in a way that a lot of people can understand, that’s rare and there’s something about that that makes a piece have a certain kind of life. And if it enters into popular culture and it’s not just about popular culture, then from a writer’s point of view, that’s a satisfying achievement. ” -Paul Simon
So how can you write something simultaneously real, and lively, and on a level that most people can understand? How can you, in short, create the appeal letter version of a hit song?
Well, let’s start with your story. It’s going to be ONE STORY, and it’s going to be a good one. Look at your anchor. Maybe it’s a crayon from a girl in your program for developmentally disabled children. Think about a good story that comes from this girl, and perhaps a couple of other children. Anonymize it. You want to respect her privacy. Start with the conflict. Make it visceral. If you work at a nonprofit for developmentally disabled people, how can you engage your donors and make this story compelling, even if they don’t know anyone who is developmentally disabled?
Give the protagonist a name. Say,
“Sally was excited. Today was a special day. She was going to graduate from elementary school. She started out the day, tied her shoes, put on her jumper, and went down to breakfast. But instead of mommy and daddy, a new person was in the kitchen, talking to her about the home. The home she had to go to, because mommy and daddy couldn’t take care of her anymore. Sally has Halal syndrome. This is a rare disorder characterized by microcephaly, cleft palate, and other medical challenges. Because of enormous medical bills, her parents can no longer afford to have only one parent working with one parent staying home to take care of her.”
And ask your readers to put themselves in her shoes. Describe her shoes. Is she carrying a doll? Describe the way the stranger acted towards her. Describe her feelings. Open up all of your senses. Can you talk about the way things looked? The sensations on her skin? The smell in the kitchen? What sounds came through her ears?
Your story is about a life-changing day. What happens next to Sally? Does she find a new home with your nonprofit? Or does she go to an institution and fail to thrive? It doesn’t have to be like a choose your own adventure, with donations equal she thrives and no donations equal she is in trouble, but it should be poignant. Make us feel your pathos.
If you have favorite writers, and they can make you cry, think about how they do it.
Do you have a way you get yourself in the space to write? Do you have special techniques that you use to write your appeal letter? I would love to read about them in the comments!