“The letter doesn’t sound like me.” That’s something a president/CEO or executive director of a nonprofit might say when she’s reviewing a fundraising appeal.
It’s actually a frequent comment, and it’s understandable, really.
After all, the president probably believes passionately in the cause that their nonprofit is engaged in and probably works like crazy at it. So it’s completely understandable that she would think of herself as the face of the nonprofit, as if she and the nonprofit are somehow one and the same.
And that’s exactly where the disconnect comes in. Most donors will probably never meet the president, will probably never even see a picture of the president, and probably wouldn’t know the president’s name except that it’s on the bottom of the letter. Most donors, to be honest, probably don’t know or care who the president is.
So it’s probably not the president who should be thinking of himself or herself as the face of the nonprofit. If anybody should be doing that, it should be the donor.
The reality is that the fundraising letter isn’t there to reflect and validate the president – as vital as that person unquestionably is to the nonprofit. It’s there to reflect and validate the donor. So when the president says the letter doesn’t sound like her, that’s okay – and probably even beneficial – as long as it sounds like something that interests the donor.
This is a hard thing for a lot of presidents to come to terms with – again, for completely understandable reasons. But sometimes it gets a little nutty. Like the president who forbids the use of contractions in letter copy… or beginning sentences with “and” … or using sentence fragments … simply because these and other quirks are pet peeves or personal preferences.
In other cases, it’s more extreme.
One president who was heading up a Christian rescue mission was reviewing a Christmas appeal, and he reacted to all the references to the birth, the nativity, and so on. “I don’t really talk about that very much,” he said. Keep in mind, he was a devout Christian. It’s just that, for him personally, he preferred not to wear his faith on his sleeve, and that included his very real feelings of joy over the birth of Christ. He felt this was intensely personal, not something to be included in a fundraising letter. So the feedback was to reduce and tone down the references to the birth. Remember, this was a Christmas appeal. Coming from a Christian charity.
The president may be reluctant to have lots of nativity talk in his letter, but you can bet the donors want to see plenty of Christmas language and Christmas imagery in a Christmas appeal. After all, this is a charity that they have not only an emotional connection with but also a spiritual one. They’re no doubt expecting religious language. They’re probably even looking forward to it.
And that’s the point. It’s not the president’s letter, even though his or her name and signature are on it. That’s tough for many presidents to realize. The effective ones do realize it, though. They know that it’s the donor’s letter. And so, it should be all about her, all about her values, all about her heart for the cause, and all about giving, because that’s what draws donors closer to the nonprofit – and that’s what raises more money.