Nov 28, 2010

Fundraising Oops of the Week: Dull Opening Sentence

The holiday appeal letters continue to stream in. And here, I'm sad to say, is an opening sentence that was good for an instant yawn:

Right now, hundreds of dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens in our shelters are awaiting adoption into new homes.

What's wrong with it, you ask? I can name at least five reasons that the average reader wouldn't be inspired to read any further.

1) It says nothing new or surprising. Anyone could have written that sentence, with no access to inside information. In fact, it confirms many of our sad suspicions that we're up against some long-term, insoluble problems.

2) It's mind-numbingly general. The word "hundreds" doesn't evoke any images in my mind, and "dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens" sounds more like part of a children's book rhyme than a reference to real animals. Where's the unique story, perhaps of an actual, named animal waiting to be released from its cage into a loving home, or a volunteer who works with them? And while we're at it, what does "our shelters" mean? If it had named the city or neighborhood I live in, I might have felt a greater sense of connection to the issue.

3) It doesn't reach out to the reader. The voice of the writer is completely absent, and there's no reference to a connection with me, the reader. It could have been a public service announcement. (Just a reminder of why many appeal letters are written from "I" or "we" to "you.")

4) It lacks any sense of urgency. Why should I pay attention to this now, rather than later? By the sound of it, the shelters are accustomed to housing these animals.

5) It doesn't give me a reason to believe I can be part of bringing about change in the near future. Dropping another donation into the endless bucket of need isn't very satisfying, and there's ample evidence that the appeals people respond best to are the ones that tell them, "All we need is $X amount today and we can find homes for xx animals tomorrow!"
I don't mean to say that every one of these things should be encompassed within an appeal letter's opening sentence. But if none of them are, that's trouble -- a guaranteed free ride to the recycle bin. But hey, at least it's grammatically accurate!