A while back, one of my colleagues read a blog post that challenged appeal writers to take out their latest appeal letters and go through them, circling all references to “I,” “us,” and “we” in blue ink, and highlighting all references to “you” and “your” in yellow. Intrigued, I took out my fiscal year-end appeal letter that had recently gone out and tried this exercise. While I thought it was a very good letter, I was shocked at the results of the exercise (see the letter on the left below). The references to “us” and “we” greatly outweighed references to the donor. For my next appeal letter, I worked very hard to correct this situation (see the letter on the right below).

appeal letter comparison

This was a valuable exercise for me, not just in terms of improving the quality of my appeal writing (an ever-evolving process) but also in terms of reminding me of the donor’s need to make an impact.

Donors, especially younger ones, need to see exactly how their giving will make a difference. The use of “you” langauge is calculated to communicate to the reader that (1) there is a problem, (2) he or she is the only one who can solve that problem, and (3) what it means to not respond. That is, what will happen or not happen as the case may be.

By shifting the language to a donor-centered focus, the letter reads like a much more personalized appeal and it puts the donor’s mind closer to the heart of the matter—his or her ability to effect change.

Question: Have you ever tried this exercise and, if so, what was the outcome? Please leave a reply below.

Posted by Mark Zobel PhD, CFRE

I help nonprofits accomplish their missions and achieve their visions for a better world through donor-centered fundraising and comprehensive development work.

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