One of the things I love about my job is the chance to be creative. People often complain that direct mail letters are formulaic, and yes, there is certainly a well-tested format for them that can easily make them feel stale. But like a sonnet, within that strict formula, your letter can range as far and wide as your imagination will take you.
But there are two things you must have in your fundraising copy -- the two "U"s of fundraising.
I've talked about this before, but a direct mail letter is a personal letter from one person at your organization to one donor. Ideally, it's the opening (acquisition) or continuation (renewal or special appeal) of a critical conversation about your organization and your cause.
And when you're having a conversation with someone, you use "you" a lot.
In fact, it's the most important word in your letter (unless you're personalizing, and then the most important word is the donor's name)! It tells your donors that you know who they are, that you're talking directly to them and that you care about their thoughts and opinions. It makes them feel important.
Use your "YOU"s!
Life is busy. This week, in fact, two of my children start soccer practice, all three children have piano lessons, my husband starts a new job, and I have five conference calls, two playdates, school supplies and soccer cleats to buy, and a kid's bedroom to finish painting. And all that is on top of working, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, exercising and spending quality time with my family.
Your donors have full lives, so you need to give them a reason not to set that fundraising piece down on the "I'll get to this later" pile.
Make your asks urgent. Tell your donors you need their help NOW. Better yet, give them a deadline by which to act. And make it sooner rather than later. Plaster that deadline on the outer envelope, on the reply form, in the letter and on the reply envelope. Explain to them why it's so important that they act fast.
If they're anything like me, your donors' "I'll get to this later" piles probably morph pretty quickly into the "Let's just recycle all of this" piles. Use urgency to get them to act immediately, and you'll receive more gifts.
Use your "U"s!
Using you and urgency will give you better results in your fundraising letters -- and make your creativity in the rest of the letter pay bigger dividends.