Monday, July 2, 2007

Donor Letters - Using Emotion and Images in Persuasive Writing

Appealing to Emotion

The goal of persuasion is to win acceptance of one's ideas. In fundraising, of course, the idea is to get people to accept an organization's specific ideas regarding their cause so they will donate their hard-earned money—not just once but over again. How is this done in writing? Well think about it. When speaking to someone you always get the visual benefits; hand gestures, facial expressions, voice inflection and the feedback of those you are speaking to. With writing you don't have these things so somehow you must compensate. The best way to compensate is to appeal to people's emotions with the use of image. How do you produce images in writing? Description, description, description. In order to get the reader to sympathize with your subject matter you must describe just how dry that village in Africa is. Describe how far the women have to travel several times a day and back again to get to the nearest stream. Describe the poor quality of the water. Describe the need for wells and what your organization will do in detail when these wells are built. Describe why you need financial help to do these things. State the situation but use positive words such as "will happen" and "we can". These appeal to the potential donor's sense of hope for the outcome.

Ask Questions

Asking the reader questions is another way to trigger emotion. Ask them to imagine their own lives in these situations and how they would cope. Remind them of their own proximity to running water, for instance—but do it gently. The last thing we want to invoke is feelings of guilt or to overwhelm. Follow up your questions with positives like what their financial support will do and use specific situations where possible. Ask the reader to remember a past situation or emotion; "Do you remember the last time you felt very thirsty?" or "Do you remember a time when you were ever struggling to make ends meet?" "How did it make you feel?" "Overwhelmed?" "Stressed?" "Depressed?" These questions force the reader to stop and put your message into perspective. They will then relate on an emotional level to what you are writing.


Keeping your words simple is another key to keeping your readers feeling your words. Think about when you read fiction in particular. Any good piece of fiction will flow seamlessly with image after image—like a movie playing in your head. You should strive for the same idea in your writing. Avoid jarring sentence structure and large words. You don't want readers to have to go back because they didn't understand a word or were distracted by phrases that impeded the rhythm of the piece. Your goal is to make a movie in their head that captures their undivided attention and their hearts.

So remember, keep those images going for your readers. Allow them to see the vision that you have for your cause and to feel the urgency of those that need help through your words and you won't be disappointed.

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