Apr 13, 2009

Fundraising Letters: How NOT to Write a First Paragraph

I just came across a fundraising letter that -- with apologies to the sender, who shall remain unnamed -- seems like a good lesson in how NOT to write a first paragraph.

It goes like this: "During recent months, our world has been experiencing swift and constant change. The challenges of our current times are, however, underscored by a feeling of hope for the future. While the weight of the global financial crisis presses upon us, the generosity of our supporters encourages us to continue our efforts..."

Are you excited by reading this? Did you learn anything new? Were any questions or mysteries raised that the rest of the letter will solve (other than the mystery of what effort or cause the writer will eventually ask your support for)?

To me, this opening sounds generic, like a speech that any political figure might give. It's not at all conversational, and therefore impersonal. What's more, it doesn't give any clues about the relationship between sender and recipient, why exactly the sender is writing, or why we should keep reading.

A good fundraising letter starts with a strong personal message, and preferably a hook that draws people in. You're dealing with nanoseconds here -- that's all the time you have before most readers say, "Just another fundraising letter," and aim yours at the recycling bin. For examples of catchy, interesting fundraising letters and more details on how to write one, see the lengthy discussion in Chapter 4 of my book, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits.