Let's find out.
This week, a snippet of radio caught my ear. Here it is – a woman called Anne Karpf is speaking on a programme called Fry's English Delight.
"We basically like people who sound like us...It's partly about wanting other people's approval so we change our voices to make them sound more like other people...
...There was a famous study done in the United States on the Larry King Show on CNN. And they found that when Larry King was talking to A-List guests like Bill Clinton, or Elizabeth Taylor or Barbara Streisand, he adapted his voice to theirs in terms of the pitch, the tempo and the volume. He sort of in a way mimicked them. And when he talked to B-List guests like Dan Quayle, the politician, the opposite happened and they adapted their voice to his.
So through looking at the adaptation - who was adapting their voice to whom - you could almost map out the power relationships..."
Naturally enough, this got me thinking about how we write or talk to donors. Do we treat them like ex-president, Bill Clinton, or potatoe-speller, Dan Quayle? Do we adapt to them or expect them to adapt to us? Because there's more than pitch, tempo and volume to consider. There's the very words we choose.
From time to time, when you read letters from charities, you find strange words, expressions and turns of phrase. Damian O'Brion of Ask Direct has a great example, which I've quoted once before. He's taken a real thank you letter from a charity and given it a tiny tweak or two to show just how absurd it is.
Why do we do this? We're definitely treating our donors like B-listers, so here's a few suggestions on how we can avoid it.
If you don't know how your donors speak, listen to your next telemarketing campaign or make a few calls yourself. Alternatively, get your donors to write to you and show you, like this example where supporters of children's charity, Barnardo's, sent messages to a project, which were also featured in their supporter magazine.
Go places where people are discussing your cause and your charity. For medical charities especially, it can be useful to visit online forums and see what words and phrases they use, what emotions they express - in order to better know your donors.
Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things...
...or so Dan Quayle advises. I'd add avoid jargon. Be careful though – it creeps up on you. Check and double check that terms that are used within your charity, but not in the outside world, are turned into plain English.
Think like a donor
When you approve copy, try and read it like a donor does. That means without a pen in your hand. And here's another tip from Tom Ahern's update from the end of July:
"We write (and review) these letters at 1 mph. Readers, though, read at 100 mph. Things that are said just once tend to be overlooked. When you read direct mail at 1 mph (listen up, reviewers!), it can sound choppy. That choppiness disappears at 100 mph."
And of course, treating your donors like A-Listers doesn't stop at the way you speak to them. It means rolling out the red carpet and treating them well at every touch point they have with you.
So what's at stake here? Well, this is probably the only time in history that not just one, but two Dan Quayle quotes appear apposite because, as he put it, "If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure."