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Fundraising Writing tip: "layers of simple goodness"

Published 5 months agoΒ β€’Β 5 min read

Feeling some kind of way? It's okay. Let It Be. This is the 107th issue of the Fundraising Writing Newsletter. If you find value here, please tell your lovely peeps. (Your lovely peeps can ​subscribe here for free.)​

In this issue:

  • Fundraising Writing tip: "layers of simple goodness"
  • Randomly yours: to inspire and recharge you
  • Win It in a Minute

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Hi Reader,

Brett here:

The other day, as Julie and I were driving to my Mom's place in our beloved 2012 black Honda Odyssey (relatively irrelevant ... but to set the scene), The Beatles' "Let It Be" came on the radio and as usual I cranked up the volume.

(Is there anyone who doesn't love this song?)

The roadway flew by beneath us, my mind peacefully drifted, and I began to muse: What is this song's magic secret?

Okay: it's The Beatles β€” a 4-horse race of competitive- collaborative, push-pull, magical secrets incarnate.

Also: those timeless, evocative McCartney lyrics crooned in that inimitable honey-gold voice.
(E.g., just to start: "When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me...")

But: what struck me as we cruised south down Route 12 on a Friday afternoon was this one simple secret:

"Let It Be" stands tall in the pantheon of universally loved pop songs in large part because it's built on...

"layers of simple goodness"

And this informs today's fundraising writing tip.

But first, let's look more closely at those simple layers of "Let It Be" goodness.

  • Layer #1: A simple piano melody featuring simple chords played at an easy pace.
  • Layer #2: Paul's simple, straightforward vocals coming in at the 12-second mark.
  • Layer #3: Simple, soft, church-like background Beatle ooh-ooh-oohs and organ coming in at the simple, repetitive "Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be..." chorus.
  • Layer #4: A simple, metronomic high-hat tick-ick-tick-ick-tick-ick sound in the bridge.
  • Layer #5: Then a simple bass line.
  • Layer #6: Followed by a simple drum flourish and beat accompanying the next chorus, with Paul's rising conviction, at the 1:12 mark.
  • Layer #7: A simple horn arrangement flares in at 1:32.
  • Layer #8: A simple keyboard transition comes in at 1:45.
  • Layer #9: A simple, searing, 30-second guitar solo begins at 1:57.

And the rest of the song jams and riffs around these simple elements in a beautiful ebb-and-flow of layered goodness.

Of course, all this simplicity is deceptive.

It takes hard work to reduce a storm of decent ideas to a gorgeous breeze of simple, layered goodness.

So: How can you apply this insight in your fundraising writing?

The main thing is to be aware of the layers you ought to be refining for simplicity. You won't arrive at simple if you aren't aiming for it.

So pick up your pen and point it toward the outfield bleachers, where you intend to smash a donor comms home run...

For your consideration, here are 9 layers of simplicity to aim for when crafting an appeal letter β€” usually the highest of stakes in fundraising writing.
(This appeal we wrote last year for Faith's Lodge, who reported: "Our year-end campaign increased 50% in returns and was up 28% in the number of donors.")

  • Layer #1: The Johnson Box.
    (Simple = short; clear; right to the point; focused on impact; connected to the offer.)
  • Layer #2: The first sentence.
    (Simple = short; clear; right to the point; intriguing.)
  • Layer #3: The hook.
    (Simple = short; clear; right to the point; urgent.)
  • Layer #4: The story of need.
    (Simple = focused on one person; clear; dramatizing the need with at least one relatable, emotional, preferably visualizable moment.
    ​Note: this often comes after the first ASK. In this case, the story is so powerful that we focused on one moment and needed only one paragraph ... so the ASK came after.)
  • Layer #5: The first ASK.
    (Simple = framed by an offer β€” e.g., matching funds; contextualized β€” e.g., "this holiday season";) urgent β€” e.g., "grieving families need your help right now"; personalized β€” e.g., "You've been such a caring friend...".)
  • Layer #6: The glimpse into future impact.
    (Simple = short; clear; right to the point; emotional.)
  • Layer #7: The closing.
    (Simple = short; impactful; timely.
    Note how the final sentence of the final paragraph, below, connects logically to the closing sign-off phrase.
    In other words, if you were to combine them as one sentence, they'd still make sense β€” like this:
    "It's perhaps the best gift you can give ... for grieving families." This is a simple trick to make your closing a bit more impactful.)
  • Layer #8: The signature.
    (Simple = includes an image of the signature.​
    Ideally, includes only one signatory. Then, you can write the letter from the first person, "I", perspective, which is more traditional, natural, and authentic-sounding than a letter coming from multiple people and using the third person, "we"
  • Layer #9: The P.S.
    (Simple = short; clear; urgent; reprising the gist of the whole letter; containing an ASK / the offer; with a touch of emotion and impact.)

Okay, yes, it's a lot.

Easy? No.

Simple? Yes.

Keep in mind: other elements should be included in your appeal letter (especially: multiple ASKs and repetition of the need, the urgency, and the potential impact), but they are more easily written once you've nailed down the layers above.

For your reference, so you can see the full picture...

Below is the section from the appeal letter that came between Layer #5 and Layer #6 ... that includes an extended ASK ... that need not come in this spot.

The other stuff:

Last thought β€” One sure-fire way to ruin simple layers of goodness is to allow "too many cooks in the kitchen." If you are writing by committee, you'll lose the authenticity of a single human voice and its focused perspective.

So, if at all possible ... write from the ❀️, 🎯 for simple, and use your πŸ‘¨β€πŸ’ΌπŸ‘©β€πŸ’ΌπŸ§‘β€πŸ’Ό to fact check and find typos, not to rewrite to the point of erasing your simply compelling voice!

Randomly yours: to inspire and recharge you

For your brain, heart, and funny bone...

  • Fundraisingly Informative β€” Three Rules For β€˜We’​ by Steven Screen (a blog post that features helpful examples illustrating why the use of "we" in donor comms can be problematic and what kinds of alternatives you might consider using instead)​
  • Imaginationally Unlimited β€” Side-by-sides of DALLβ€’E 3 and Midjourney​ via Nick St. Pierre (an X, aka Twitter, thread in which you can see how powerful AI image generation has become, with fidelity to complex prompts such as: "A middle-aged woman of Asian descent, her dark hair streaked with silver, appears fractured and splintered, intricately embedded within a sea of broken porcelain. The porcelain glistens..." β€” scroll down to see this image)​
  • Finally Revealed β€” People Whose NDAs Have Expired Are Exposing The Secrets They Were Forced To Keep, And They Range From Kinda Funny To Utterly Terrifying via Syd Robinson (a Buzzfeed article collated without verification, so take it with a grain of salt, but some of these have to be true, right?)​
  • Perspectively Useful β€” Create Value by Seth Godin (a 4-paragraph blog post about creating your own job security by finding ways to create unexpected value)​
  • Majestically Aloft β€” Thousands of kites fill the sky at Danish island festival via AFP News Agency (a 1-minute YouTube video featuring a host of large, colorful, elaborate kites riding high on the coastal winds of Denmark)

Until next time: May you always aim for simple, build goodness one layer at a time, and write from the heart so your donors will read from the heart. πŸ’—


PS: Here's the latest in our weekly video series, Win It in a Minute. You can (and maybe want to?) subscribe here.

In this video, Tom Ahern, Jeff Brooks, and Julie Cooper reply to Freddy, a webinar attendee who asks, "How impactful is having a match campaign with an appeal? Is there such a thing as doing too many match campaigns in a year?"

video preview​

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Hi! We're Julie Cooper and Brett Cooper, fundraising copywriters for great causes. Does your fundraising bring in as much money as it could? You can send donor communications that stir hearts to action. We'd love to help. πŸ’› Start by subscribing to our FREE weekly newsletter.

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