The First Thing You Say
When you’re a ministry marketer, writing to the donor about the donor is hard work.
The first question to ask about every appeal may be the hardest: Is the lead (the first paragraph) about me?
Sometimes it seems impossible to do — but when we realize that the reader is busy, and not necessarily interested, and she subliminally considers reading a challenge, we go back to the drawing board and find a way to connect the reader to the appeal from the very first moment.
Here are some hits and misses from our own files:
- “The nightmare happening in Lawrence, Kansas, today could soon be happening in your hometown.” (That’s about me.)
- “Today the federal government is over $4 trillion in debt.” (That’s somewhat interesting, and only somewhat about me.)
- “I am sending this important communication to you because our May 15 Matching Challenge deadline is fast approaching!” (That’s not about me.)
- “Where were you 35 years ago?” (That’s totally about me!)
- “Two hundred eighteen years ago, our Founding Fathers signed their names to a document that made them criminals.” (Yes, but how is this about me? I might be enough of a history or justice buff to continue — if you’re lucky. Otherwise, sorry.)
- “You and I are not even safe in our own homes.” (That’s about me.)
- “Our parents and grandparents came to this country from all over the world.” (That’s sort of about me, but only tangentially.)
- “Do you believe Americans have a right to take a Bible to work with them?” (This is about me — because you want my opinion.)
- “We are facing a crisis of character.” (Hmmm. Who’s “we”?)
- “I am alarmed and heartbroken to have to write you this letter.” (Good transparency — I might be intrigued enough to go on reading — but it’s not much about me.)
- “If you’ve ever seen an unsaved loved one come to Christ, then you know how Alexander feels.” (That’s only vaguely, potentially about me.)
- “Please read the enclosed fax I just received from Russia. It’s from my son, who directs our ministry campaign worldwide. He explains the situation in Russia and the Ukraine.” (Yeah, but it’s not about me.)
- “The spring campaign is underway in Mexico — Children, teachers, families, and entire communities are being impacted! We’re strengthening local churches through our efforts.” (But you’re not writing to me about me.)
- “What would you do if your entire month’s salary wouldn’t buy a month’s worth of food for one person in your family?” (I’m with you. This is about me.)
- “You’ve got the ticket in your hand — passport in your pocket. The plane is powered up, and they’re calling for rows 10-27 … That’s you.” (Wow! This is about me!)
If, in that first moment, as I read the lead, you make a connection to me, I am far more likely to open up a channel to you.
The more intertwined we become over the course of the letter or email — the more I can see myself in your picture — the likelier I am to keep that channel open — where communication can occur, where persuasion can take place … a path along which I may respond to your request.
If in that first moment there’s no connection to me, you’re making a huge assumption: that I’m fascinated by you, that I have time for you, that I feel some urge to stand with you. But those are definitions of the “seller,” not the buyer.
- Even with my closest friend, when he comes to me and reports some wonderful exploit, I’m not delighted simply because of his success.
My delight comes from the jumble of our mutual past and future: how we’ve interacted in the past, how I expect we’ll interact in the future.
I’m delighted by what happens to him because he’s already established his relevance to me.
(We can’t assume our relevance to our donors because they’re busy, bored, and bad readers. Only the most loyal and generous donors — practically members of the board — can be trusted to see us as automatically relevant to them.)
- If my best friend only ever reported his wonderful exploits when we got together, we wouldn’t form a deep and lasting friendship. At best, we’d be a couple of those friendly acquaintances — or I’d be simply a “fan.”
Some ministry leaders seem to want fans instead of friends — and some have more fans than friends — but fans don’t last as long, don’t get as much out of the relationship, and don’t satisfy as deeply as friends do.
Jesus made Himself relevant to people. He started where they were and drew them to Him.
- He met a woman at a well; He talked about water.
- He was approached by Nicodemus, a man consumed with issues of bloodline; He talked about the birth process.
Jesus could have made the Gospel a philosophical treatise and demanded that we memorize it. But He loved us enough to relate to us.
He put it all on our terms.
He practiced relevance.
We should too.