First, an explanation of the question.
Look to the right and you'll see a far from exhaustive list of books I think are helpful to creatives working in our field. It hasn't been updated for a while but, soon, I'll be making an addition.
For over a year, Stephen King played with the idea of producing a book about writing. What stopped him was the thought that, somehow, a popular writer like him had no place talking about the craft of writing.
Now, if that were true, it would only be a million times more so for someone like me who writes Direct Mail. Except, of course, there are some very useful things we can learn from a man who has written over fifty best-sellers. Because the skills you need to do one kind of writing often transfer well to another.
So here's a Stephen King idea that, with a tweak, works well for fundraising – the ideal reader.
'Someone – I can't remember who, for the life of me – once wrote that all novels are really letters aimed at one person. As it happens, I believe this. I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, "I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this part?" For me that first reader is my wife, Tabitha.'
Charity fundraising copy is certainly best written to one person. In this post, Mark suggests it's your grandmother. But really it's the individual you visualise once you've taken on board everything you know about your target audience. And it might suit you to write a person you know who fits the bill.
You've probably heard that advice before, but how does it actually help?
Well, for a start it should stop you writing a sentence like this:
Which is an awful start to a letter any way, but you'd start by at least changing it to:
Stephen King explains another role that the ideal reader has:
'IR will help you get outside yourself a little, to actually read your work in progress as an audience would while you're still working. This is perhaps the best way of all to make sure you stick to the story...'
Or in our case, not a story but an objective to raise money.
Thinking about how your IR/donor will react to your writing is a great way of editing your work.
Stephen King again:
'Try to imagine if he or she will be bored by a certain scene – if you know the tastes of your IR even half as well as I know the tastes of mine, that shouldn't be too hard. Is IR going to feel there's too much pointless talk in this place or that? That you've under-explained a certain situation...or over-explained it.'
Stephen King is lucky. His ideal reader is real, and can also become his first reader. The person who gives you feedback on what you've written. Choose them carefully – they could be another writer, another fundraiser, a donor, but not just anyone. You need someone who is likely to tell you something useful.
"If you're writing primarily for one person besides yourself," says Stephen King. "I'd advise you to pay very close attention to that person's opinion...And if what you hear makes sense, then make the changes. You can't let the whole world into your story, but you can let in the ones that matter the most. And you should."
And that's a good way to sum it up. If you're writing fundraising copy, you're writing for your donor. Pay close attention to what they say. Let them into your world.
There's actually loads more useful stuff in Stephen King's book, so I'm planning a second helping sometime soon. If you can't wait, you can get a copy here.
PS In answer to the question above, this blog started out being for the person I used to be – working charity-side without an agency. But along the way, it changed mainly as a result of exchanging ideas with a few people via twitter. So, dear reader, this is what I think I know about you:
- Fundraising is far more than a job
- You ask questions
- You seek answers in places other people aren't looking