Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.
“This appeal letter doesn’t get to the point until the fourth paragraph,” said the development director.
Oops … she was right.
Your first few sentences rank up there as one of the most important elements of an appeal (along with the carrier teaser and the P.S.)
If it takes several paragraphs or even pages to get to your point, you have what's called a "delayed opening."
By that time, you’ve lost your reader. And likely a gift.
A delayed opening is one of the easiest appeal letter traps to fall into.
Fortunately, when you’re aware of this potential minefield, it’s not too hard to fix. Here's how.
There’s a good reason the opening of a letter is called the “hook.” Those first sentences need to pull in your reader and spell out the reason you’re writing. Look at the first paragraph of your letter. Could it stand by itself to make your point?
Find a sentence or two that summarizes your problem and what you want the reader to do about it. Move that text to the top of the letter. Be ruthless with cut, copy, paste and delete commands.
Once you’ve got the big promise at the top (“with your help we can fix such-and-such”), you can go on to paint a picture about the need with statistics, offer proof that your organization is a good investment by sharing an anecdote or story, and finish with a strong push (“Ask”) at the end.
“The at-risk children we serve need a place to go after school today in order to be safe. Will you help us with a gift right now to keep this program alive until school lets out in May?”
Bottom line: if your reader could only see the first line or
two of the letter, would he know what you want him to do and why? Make sure
your answer is yes.
More on writing fundraising letters that engage your prospects
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