Let’s be real.
This is a safe place, away from prying eyes. We can be honest.
Editing by committee is just about the worst thing that can happen to a writer.
You spend hours building your case. Your message is carefully crafted. You’ve filled the pages (4 of them) with donor love and appreciation.
Your offer is strong. The ask amounts are specifically selected after careful analysis of your donors’ giving patterns.
You found an adorable picture of a smiling child whose life was turned around by your agency – donor heartstring gold.
You even managed to secure a matching gift offer - something you made sure to mention in the letter body and reiterate in the P.S. (Because you know that nearly everyone who opens your letter will read the P.S., even if they don’t read the rest…)
And then there's a knock on your door.
“The board wants to see the letter before it goes to the printers.”
* A moment of silence for your letter *
The P.S. is the first casualty. “I just don’t like them.”
The picture goes next. “We’d have room for our names if we got rid of this kid’s picture!”
“What’s with all this ‘you’ stuff? This letter is supposed to be about us!”
“Why are the paragraphs indented? And why are they so short? Everyone knows paragraphs have to be at least 5 sentences long!”
“4 pages is too many. I’d never read a letter that long. Let’s get rid of this ‘matching gift’ stuff. That’ll shorten it up.”
When the dust settles and the letter finally mails the results are predictably poor. The Board resolves that next year, they’re going to keep a closer editorial eye on you.
I think of being edited by committee as kind of like ants building a hill on a playground. Along comes the big obnoxious kid who kicks it over because… no reason really. They just felt like it.
What can you do when it happens to you?
Pick your battles.
You know they’re going to bleed your letter dry with their little red pens. So decide right away – what do you fight for, and what do you let them have?
My personal battle plan:
1. The P.S. – Almost everyone will read the P.S. Some donors will give a gift from the P.S., without ever reading the rest of your letter. Fight for your P.S.
2. The donor love. Fight to keep every bit of donor love you can. Give the Board anything else. Let them change the offer. Let them pull the kid’s picture. Let them plaster their names all over the letterhead. But make sure your donors know you love and appreciate them.
If you can save nothing but the above two points, you’re ahead of the game.
3. The kid’s picture. I know I said to let them have it - but don’t. Pictures draw attention. Cute kids especially…
4. Clear asks. (I know it’s hard to believe, but some people aren’t comfortable asking for money, even in a letter asking for money.) You need to tell your reader what you want them to do, or they won’t do anything at all. Fight to keep at least two specific asks in your letter.
That’s about all you’re likely to be able to get.
If you manage to save the P.S. and the donor love, you’re doing great. If you get to keep the picture and have some asks as well… You are a rockstar. Cut your losses and run!
To the printer, before anyone can change their mind!
Go right now.