Some of you may get upset with me for this. I’ve avoided watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy all these years. To be honest, fantasy adventure movies are not my favorite, and I thought they would be too long.
Now that I’ve enraged some of you, I caved and finally watched. They’re really good.
I’ve noticed some parallels between directing a movie and writing good fundraising copy.
Here are three things I’ve heard various directors say in interviews that we should keep in mind when writing our fundraising material:
1. Telling the story well is more important than a predetermined length.
There are good movies of all lengths. Each Lord of the Rings movie is easily three hours. And some people actually watch the extended versions!
I’ve never heard a director say, “In making this movie, my main objective was to make it under two hours“.
In fundraising, we tend to lead with how long of a letter we want to write. That becomes the primary goal. The story becomes secondary. It should be the other way around. A well told story will keep the reader engaged even if it’s longer.
Which have you prioritized in the past? What’s driving your next piece? Are you more concerned about length or storytelling?
2. Every detail matters.
I love hearing how detailed directors are making a movie. Everything in each and every scene is on purpose. As I’ve heard many say, there’s no room to take the audience down a path that leads nowhere or isn’t important to the story.
“Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame AND what’s out.” – Martin Scorsese
When writing fundraising copy, we have to decide what stays in and what gets cut. Each sentence should be additive in telling the story or giving the reader something they can do.
One of the best ways to tell a story more effectively is by closing gaps. Here’s a common gap I see in fundraising letters:
“Once Bobby enrolled in our school, he was placed in the Bright Futures Program.”
The gap, or missing detail, is that you’re assuming the reader knows what the Bright Futures Program is. Also consider that the reader may not need to know the name of the program. A better version of that sentence could be, “On his first day of school, Bobby went to a class designed specifically to help kids who have fallen behind through no fault of their own, just like him.”
Is the sentence longer? Yes. Is it better though? Also, yes.
3. Where’s the focus?
In every scene, directors know what they want you to focus on. They use focus, difference lenses, camera angles, and other tactics to draw your attention where they want it to be.
As you write, think about where you want the reader to focus. You don’t want to throw so much at the reader that they don’t know what to focus on. And, you don’t want to bounce back and forth so much that the reader doesn’t have time to focus on anything.
Try this. Take out your last fundraising letter, review each paragraph, and ask whether the paragraph had a clear focus or purpose.
It’s kind of like watching yourself on video. It can be tough but you’ll things that work and you’ll uncover areas of your writing that can be tweaked to help tell your story more effectively.
Trying to pull off a successful year-end campaign? We can help!
As always, THANK YOU for reading. Have a great day!
All the best,
Kenny Sigler, CFRE