Tutorial 37: creative letter writing for non-creative people.

I want to help you write successful fundraising letters and raise a whole lot of money.

Written by
Jerry Huntsinger
January 23, 2019

Let me share a secret with you. This is a secret that could make you extremely successful in your position. It has put bread on my table for decades.

To be a successful creative person, you must be disciplined.

A contradiction? Maybe you think that being creative is being undisciplined. You think that creative people lack discipline and that’s why they are creative, don’t you?

Now it’s true, there are some people in the industry that are extremely creative. But these people are not the norm and they are not the ones who are turning out good letters year after year. The real creative people are those who are disciplined.

So let me try to tell you, step by step, the discipline you need in order to put yourself in the frame of mind to create a letter.

1. First of all, don’t look for a new idea – at least in the beginning. Look for obvious ideas. Ideas that have already worked for you. Ideas that have been successful in past mailings. Write them down.

You’ll feel good because a lot of ideas have been successful for your organisation and you begin to realise that you really don’t have any shortage of good ideas.

At the same time, you are programming your mind so that it can go to work for you and eventually come up with some new ideas.

2. Then, just let your mind stay positive and open while you go on with your other responsibilities. And suddenly, it may happen: a new idea will occur to you.

Quick, write it down. Don’t lose it. Regardless of how ridiculous it may appear, capture it. If it’s a wild idea, you can tame it later on.

3. When you are performing some mundane task, such as exercising, driving to the office, or taking a shower – think about the letter. Think about the positive ideas you have. Force yourself to think about it. Discipline yourself to think about it.

And you’ll be pleasantly surprised because, more often than not, a new twist on an old idea will occur to you.

Remember, rarely will you come up with a brand-new idea. Rarely. Most ideas already exist and have been already used.

4. As you start to collect ideas, remember that logic is not a criterion for success.

5. Don’t filter out the emotion as you think about new ideas. Donors send you funds because they become emotional. If you think they are sending you money because they are logically agreeing with your appeal, then you probably aren’t raising much money.

6. When you finally come up with an idea that you think will work, don’t discuss it with anyone else! A new idea or a revision of an old idea is threatening to most non-creative people. Write it down on paper.

7. Eventually, of course, you must write the letter. And this can happen suddenly and spontaneously when your mind is miraculously full of that new idea. Quick. Write it down. Draft it out. Make an outline or write down key words and phrases. This usually happens to me at inconvenient times. But again – back to discipline – regardless of how inconvenient, the thoughts must be captured. Stop whatever else you’re doing. And draft that letter.

However, there may be times when the flash of insight fails to happen, but you still must write the letter. Again, discipline yourself.

Have a place to go to for your creative writing. Most non-creative people do their best creative work when they are away from their desk. The desk and the office are usually full of little minor emergencies or projects that need to be done and it’s much easier to solve the small problems that are on your desk, rather than tackle a big issue like a fundraising letter. You must learn your own weakness. Can you do creative work amid distractions? If not, then go somewhere else.

8. Okay, it’s time to write the letter and let’s say you don’t have that big idea, but you’ve been thinking about the letter and you know rather vaguely what you want to do.

Some people sit down at the computer and start writing. This never works for me. If I can see the words on the screen in front of me, my mind starts to focus on what I’ve already said instead of what I’m going to say next.

So, I always dictate my letter to someone, or record it. And if I’m not totally sure of exactly the direction I want to take, then I’ll just ramble on and on and on.

But again, it’s discipline! You must get words down on paper. The words in your mind will not raise any money.

After you’ve put your words on paper, then read what you had to say. And nine times out of ten, you’re going to find a captivating sentence or thought somewhere in that mess of words. From then on, it’s just a matter of editing the letter, eliminating the garbage and reorganising your thoughts into the appropriate length and format.

9. Many professional writers say they write fast and edit slow. And many writers will edit a letter, then let it cool off and go back and edit again, and let it cool off again and go back and look at it. This is the time when you can be reasonable and logical. And, once in a while, you may even need to discard a creative idea that doesn’t quite work out. Or you may need to compromise with your boss or committee and restructure one of your creative ideas.

But, believe me, your letter is going to be much more successful if you have four interesting ideas and are forced to edit out two, than if you write a letter that doesn’t have one good idea!

Now that you understand the basic process involved in programming your subconscious mind and searching for both old and new ideas, it may be that you need to keep your mind stimulated by reading more nonprofit letters.

That’s why I recommend that you set up a creative sample file and start working with a wide variety of letters. This can help you in two ways. First, it can stimulate your own thinking; and, second, it can keep you up to speed on the techniques and ideas that your competitors are using.

© SOFII Foundation 2010-2014.

About the author: Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger

Jerry Huntsinger is revered in direct marketing circles as the dean of direct mail. 

Some years back Jerry gifted his archive of direct mail tutorials to SOFII and we’ve been serialising them ever since. All 50-plus are gems. Together, they add up to a complete ‘how-to’ guide to everything you need to know about direct mail fundraising.

These tutorials are edited and presented by Gwen Chapman.

Gwen_Chapman.jpg#asset:8990:urlGwen Chapman 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 to these tutorials here.

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