Do copywriting formulas help you write an effective appeal letter?
On the surface, a formulaic approach may seem
counterintuitive to telling the story of your organization in a unique voice.
Yet what may be disguised as a mechanical tactic can actually provide a proven framework
to make your case … and get the gift.
A writing formula provides a handy outline to follow as you write an appeal. Dozens of copywriting formulas are out there. Here are three of the most popular ones to use in appeal letters (and letters of all types, for that matter.) Each has similar elements. But the three different approaches inspire writers in different ways, whether by listing concepts, listing a series of tasks, or listing elements as a word picture. Try these copywriting formulas as a starting point to helping you write the best appeal letter possible.
AIDA is one of the most enduring letter copywriting formulas – and with good reason. It works! You can use AIDA as a template in sales letters, appeal letters, and even cover letters.
The acronym stands for four conceptual elements that are crucial to an effective letter: Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.
Attention: Grab the reader’s attention with an interesting fact, story, statistic, or startling statement about your cause.
Interest: Keep the reader’s interest by explaining the need further – and why your organization is the answer to the problem. Here is a great place to unpack a beneficiary’s story further and show how your organization helped her solve the problem.
Desire: Build the reader’s desire to alleviate the problem by showing what she can do to make a difference.
Action: Move the reader to in a call to action with clear instructions about what she should do, when she should do it, and what will happen if she doesn’t do it.
American Writers & Artists Inc. (AWAI), the world’s leading publisher of direct-response copywriting home-study programs, has helped thousands of people learn writing skills using this simple formula, first made famous by Henry Hoke. The 4 P's format is similar to AIDA but breaks down the four parts of a letter into concrete tasks.
Picture: Paint a picture in the reader’s mind that grabs his attention and explains the problem your organization addresses. As always in nonprofit copywriting, focus on the human element – the people whose lives are impacted by the problem. Use strong facts as well as descriptive s
Promise: Point out the benefits your organization offers as it solves the problem. Readers need to see that you offer a solution to the problem.
Proof: Demonstrate credibility for why and how your organization can keep that promise and solve the problem. Do this by offering both anecdotal evidence as well as data to back it up. For instance, describe lives that have been changed as the result of your organization, and then share your program’s success rate in those lives using hard numbers. Offer testimonials.
Push: Make an Ask with urgency to get readers to take the next action now.
Years ago, Dr. Frank Dignan of the University of Chicago Press created this lovely word picture as a guide in crafting a letter or advertising message. It prescribes the same elements as in AIDA and the 4 P’s, but uses the metaphors to explain how to set up these parts of a letter.
Star: start with an attention-getting opening that is positive and upbeat.
Chain: create a chain of convincing facts, benefits, and reasons that transform the reader’s attention into interest and interest into desire. Each word and paragraph is a link within that chain. Links of the chain must be strong in order to lead the reader through to the desired outcome. Only the strongest, most effective words, facts, stories, and images create an effective chain.
Hook: entice the reader with a powerful call to action, making it easy to respond. Even if one or two links in the chain are weak, a strong hook at the end will compel the reader to act … reeling him in.
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