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  Create Suspense with a Problem, some Conflict, a Goal Potpourri

Canadian FundRaiserCreate suspense with a problem, some conflict, a goal

How would your next fundraising letter perform if Agatha Christie wrote it?

“Alan,” you're whispering, “Agatha Christie is dead.”

“I know,” say I. “But I’m trying to make a point here. So bear with me.”

Agatha Christie was considered by many to be the world’s best-known mystery writer and, apart from William Shakespeare, is the all-time best-selling author of any genre. Christie knew how to write novels that hooked readers right to the last page. The tool she used was suspense.

Include some suspense in your fundraising letters and you’ll make them more powerful.

To add suspense, you need a problem, some conflict and a goal. You begin your letter with your problem. You show how this problem is in the way of you and your organization reaching your goal. During your letter, you introduce some conflicts (difficulties) that your donor must help you resolve.

Don’t ask for a donation

You don’t ask for a donation in your opening line. Or even in your opening paragraph. That would spoil the ending.

Instead, you hook your reader, preferably with a story, and add conflict here and there so that your reader has to continue reading to see how things turn out. Here is an example of an opening from a fundraising letter mailed by Doctors Without Borders:

“One day, when I was Medical Co-ordinator for Doctors Without Borders refugee camps in Bangladesh, a nurse pulled me aside and asked me to follow her. She led me to a small hut, and we went inside. A tall, emaciated man lay on a thin pad on the floor. We greeted one another and exchanged pleasantries. Then the nurse turned to me. ‘This is Mohammad,’ she said, ‘He is 35 and dying of tuberculosis. I see him regularly and have to explain to him why we cannot treat him. I thought you should meet him.’”

There’s the problem, clearly stated. Patients are dying of a treatable disease. But why are the patients dying? Why aren’t they being treated? You must continue the letter to find out.

And as you continue the letter, you uncover a conflict. The medicine that treats tuberculosis is too expensive in Bangladesh. Patients die because they cannot afford their cure. You read on.

You find another conflict – drug manufacturers are discontinuing some drugs because they are no longer profitable in the Third World.

You read on. Find another conflict.

Thirty-nine multinational drug companies are suing the government of South Africa to prevent its attempts to provide affordable treatment to affected South Africans.

Building suspense

These conflicts, added one after the other, build suspense. How will Doctors Without Borders ever treat Mohammad and save his life unless the organization can get its hands on affordable medicines? How will the story end? The reader wants to know. So the reader reads on.

Sure enough, the writer soon resolves the problem and ends the suspense:

“In the enclosed brochure, you’ll see that the problem requires a threefold solution: legal and regulatory, economic, and research and development. Doctors Without Borders is working on all three of these pillars. But we need your help to continue. With your renewed support this year, we will continue to pursue our campaign to provide access to essential medicines on a long-term basis.”

The problem is that patients are dying of a treatable disease. The goal is to raise funds to provide access to essential medicines. The donor is invited to make that goal a reality with a donation.

Follow this pattern of problem/conflict/goal in your letters and you’ll build the kind of suspense that made Agatha Christie the second-best-selling author of any genre. You’ll hook your readers and keep them hooked right to the end of your letter. You’ll set before them a puzzle that they want to solve. If you can begin your appeal letters with a corpse discovered in the back parlour, all the better.

For further information: Alan Sharpe, President, Raiser Sharpe, 38 Wethered St., London ON N5Y 1G9, 877/742-7732, alan@sharpecopy.com
, www.raisersharpe.com.

Canadian FundRaiser
Canadian FundRaiserSince 1991, the Canadian FundRaiser™ newsletter has been updating nonprofit managers twice-monthly on news, trends, tips and analysis of developments in the fields of fundraising and nonprofit management.

Our service, originally simply a twice-monthly newsletter, has expanded over the years to include workshops, books, back-issue search and Special Advisories for our member/subscribers. And the complete package is now the Canadian FundRaiser™ Nonprofit Sector Management Information Service.

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