Tuto­r­i­al 21: real­ly, it just doesn’t sound like me’.

Once upon a time I wrote a let­ter for the pres­i­dent of a non­prof­it organ­i­sa­tion and I thought it turned out rather well.

Written by
Jerry Huntsinger
February 08, 2019

Once upon a time I wrote a letter for the president of a nonprofit organisation and I thought it turned out rather well – that is, until she sent me this crisp critique:

I really don’t like this letter because it just doesn’t sound like me.’

Sigh. How many times have I heard that? So, dutifully, I called her and asked: ‘What do you sound like?’ She paused. ‘What do you mean – what do I sound like?’

Here’s what I discussed with her:

1) You should sound warm and personal.

The alternative is to sound cold and aloof. Sounding personal is a universal trait that should characterise the personality of absolutely everyone who signs a letter requesting financial support.

2) You should sound involved.

In order to motivate a person who is not intimately connected to the organisation, you must communicate the image that you are writing from firsthand experience. You’ve personally been close to the agony of the people you are trying to help.

3) You should sound energetic.

The individual reading the letter is not energised unless you are energised and unless your energy comes across through the words on the page.

4) You should sound qualified.

As the spokesperson for a charity, you must write so the reader is convinced that you know what you are writing about. You are an authority. You have credentials.

5) You should sound powerful.

You have the power to help make things happen. You have the power to shape decisions. You speak with the voice of authority. You can use your power to change lives. Communicate that power in a gentle way. This gives the reader confidence that you have the ability to carry out your mission.

6) You should sound like you are competent.

As the president of a charity, you are organised and detail conscious. You and your staff have shaped a plan to solve certain problems. You must convince the reader that your plan is well constructed and organised, moving forward and capable of achieving positive results.

7) You should sound like you are financially responsible.

You must convince the reader that you feel a keen responsibility for effectively collecting, managing and distributing the donations that you request from the donors. You have a budget. You have financial goals. You have a board that monitors your budget and you are open and free about sharing with the donor the financial transactions of your organisation.

When I read a successful fundraising letter, many of the above characteristics come through loud and clear. But for my client – that was the problem. She wanted to sound different, unique, unusual, uncommon – and I can understand this desire on her part.

But successful fundraising letters pretty much sound the same. My client just doesn’t like raising money by mail.

© SOFII Foundation 2010-2014.

About the author: Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger was revered in direct marketing circles as the ‘dean of direct mail’. Many years ago, Jerry gifted his archive of direct mail tutorials to SOFII. All 57 of them are gems. Together, they add up to a complete ‘how-to’ guide that covers everything you need to know about direct mail fundraising. Sadly, Jerry passed away in August 2023. 

These tutorials were edited and presented to SOFII by Gwen Chapman. Gwen is a passionate advocate for donor-centric fundraising. She is a senior consultant with international experience in the non-profit sector in Canada, the United States, the UK and South Africa. She explains the importance of these tutorials here.

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