Have you ever been at a party and found yourself stuck in conversation with someone who can only talk about himself? You start off trying to be polite and make conversation, but as they drone on and on, your eyes glaze over and you find yourself racking your brain for a way out of the situation.
Your donors feel the same way when you send a letter that focuses on your organization, a letter filled with statements like “We do this”, “We accomplished that,” “Our organization is changing the world.” The only difference is that your donors have an easy out – they can toss the letter the moment they lose interest.
That’s why our Donor Communications Head Coach, Tom Ahern, has helped us create a wonderful new tool for Letters dubbed the “Ahern Audit™.”
The Ahern Audit™ will run two tests: The You test and the Reading Level test.
The You test measures how many times you use words like “I” and “we” versus words like “you.” The Reading Level test measures the reading grade level of your letter. Ideally, you should use twice as many “you” words as “we” words. It should also read between a 6th and 8th grade reading level.
Why is this important?
It’s Not About You, It’s About the Donor
“You” and its variations (you’d, you’ll, you’re, your, yours, yourself, and you’ve) are like flytraps for your readers, calling out to them and making them pay attention to what you’re saying. Using “you” words also keeps your writing oriented toward giving the donor the credit for the good things they’ve helped make possible, which makes them feel good. And donors who feel good about giving to you will keep giving to you.
Reading level is also an important consideration.
Your constituents are busy people, and frankly, they aren’t looking to your letters and communications for long, rainy day, settle-in-with-a-cup-of-tea kind of reading. They want to understand what you’re trying to tell them, and they want to process it quickly. Your goal, then, should be to give them something they can read through easily – if you don’t, you might find they won’t read it at all.
One of the best things you can do is make sure you’re writing at the right grade level. The lower the grade level, the faster the read. Ideally, your donor communications should be between the sixth- and eighth-grade reading level. This isn’t to say you should be talking down to your constituents. Grade level is not really about the topic, it’s about the style of the writing. Newspapers, which cover topics ranging from the economy to movie reviews, usually come in at about the eighth-grade level. Popular novels can get down as low as the forth- or fifth-grade level, and we gobble them up with glee.
Not Just Letters and Emails
Other communications you should run the “You” test on:
- Social media updates (tweets, Facebook updates, Google+ posts, etc.)
- Blog posts (don’t forget reading level here!)
- Videos (what kind of story are you telling? Is it about your organization or the people it impacts?)
So before you sit down to write anything, remember: it’s not about me. It’s about the donor.
For more information about the theories behind the You test and the Reading Level test, check out Tom’s work on the subjects: Keep Your Donors and Raising More Money with Newsletters Than You Ever Thought Possible.