So, Literary Arts, you sent an appeal letter to me. Thanks! NOW I get to critique you!

YEP. You’re so lucky, really. I’m just telling you how you can be better.

This particular appeal letter is from Literary Arts. Tagline: Find Your Story Here.

Literary Arts in Portland

Literary Arts Appeal Letter 2017

OK what does it actually say?

“Dear Mazarine,

If we asked you today to share your story with us, what story would you tell? What language would you tell it in? Would you begin your story here in our city or set it in a distant, imagined future? Who would you be?

Our mission promotes creative expression as a catalyst for change. For 33 years, we have invited the most influential writers and thinkers to Portland to join us in a dialogue around stories. Our 2017/2018 schedule will feature an exceptional diversity of voices such as Reza Aslan, Joe Biden, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Claire Messud, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Claudia Raskine, and many others. In these urgent times, we believe it is critical that our nation examine itself and stay engaged with the issues that profoundly impact our communities and youth.

At Literary Arts, we believe that storytelling is essential to recognizing who we are and defining who we want to become, individually and as a society. Writers often determine how we view the world, with all of its occasions of joy, error and grief. They help us to gain perspective and grow empathy, to address the complexities of society’s wider concerns. At their best writers have the ability to guide us in making decisions nuder difficult circumstances, and presenting new possibilities for future generations.

Our story depends on you. When you make a donation to Literary Arts, you ensure that our programming remains accessible to readers and writers of all ages and backgrounds. Now, mroe than ever, everyone must have a chance to find their story. Give today.

Thank you for your support,

Andrew Proctor

Executive Director

P.S. Make your donation today and help us make sure everyone is a part of the conversation.”

My critique of the Literary Arts 2017 appeal letter:

  1. First sentence is actually good, because it’s a QUESTION! I like questions! It means they actually want to hear what I want to say.
  2. Font colors. For some reason, designers of word processing programs decided to make the writing light gray. AND my name is in black and the formatting is different than the rest of the letter. The rest of the letter is in gray. It’s so obvious what was inserted into this letter, and it didn’t have to be this way. This could have taken 2 seconds to fix.
  3. Two sentences began with our in the second paragraph. And one was our mission. COME ON. I can read your mission on your website. The point of a letter is to make me care! This could have been so much better. This could even have had donor centered language, like, “You know our mission helps writers change our world.” That would speak to me as a writer, and as someone who cares about writers!
  4. This is WAY too heady in paragraph three. Did anyone actually read this out loud before they printed this? Nobody talks like this. Its grade level just shot through the roof. What this REALLY tells me is that this literary nonprofit is not investing in writers to write their appeal letter for them. I am sensing too many fingers stirring the pot here. It’s 8.7 on the readability scale, mainly because of the first paragraph. 3rd paragraph, you lost me. Literary arts reading level
  5. It’s ONE PAGE long, WHY? Totally blank back page again. What’s with the short letter? It’s not to save money because they had a full color full bleed letter here. They had the money. What’s the deal babe?
  6. This is a nonprofit about storytelling. And there was NO Story in the letter. When I read an appeal letter like this, I know the nonprofit did not invest in help to write their appeal. PLEASE nonprofits. INVEST in a professional writer. You will make back their fee ten times over. TRUST ME. Instead we had:
  7. Statistics with no context. There was, again, a preponderance of famous names and a bunch of meaningless statistics. 200 Authors engaged more than 20,000 readers of all ages. 43 Local writers and publishers supported and celebrated through awards and fellowships. 4,000 students participated in our Youth Programs. Did these numbers go up? Go down? Again, I feel completely disconnected from this cause. I DO NOT CARE if 4,000 youth or 40,000 youth got served. Because… you didn’t help me CONNECT WITH THEM!
  8. OPTIONS TO GIVE ARE CONFUSING: OK but then WE GOT HERE-the red part of the letter-AND I was like WAIT A MINUTE-What is going on here? I have 3 options of giving to them, and… none of them was explained in more detail in the letter.

It says, “YES! i want to make a gift to the Literary arts Annual Fund. Please apply my gift to where it’s needed most.

I want to donate to the Brian Booth Writers’ Fund. I want to provide permanent funding for the Oregon Book Awards and Fellowships program.

Please have Literary Arts contact me about a future gift, such as appreciated stocks, multi-year pledges, and IRAs.

So, I just… see these options as bringing up more problems than they would solve. Why not just let people give you money, with your year end appeal, and then have a separate appeal for people in your database that would actually HAVE appreciated stocks, or I don’t know, be interested in making a planned gift?

Want more appeal letter advice? I can help you make your appeal letter better.

Here are some more articles that can help you edit your appeal letter more effectively.

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Brutally Honest Appeal Letter Critique 
What makes a good story for your nonprofit appeal?
Getting your donor to give more in your year end appeal
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Rewriting an appeal letter: Cut out the gangrene
A tale of two cities (in your appeal letter)
11 tips on how to write original appeal letters
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