Write to People You Know

Write to People You Know

It seems like such an obvious idea. Why didn’t I learn this trick 25 years ago?

I learned what little I know about Communications Planning from the Marketing Director of the Portland (Oregon) Zoo in about 1991, when I was working for The Nature Conservancy. As a planned exercise coming out of Strategic Planning, she helped me organize a brainstorm session with a local PR firm partner, a real estate agent with significant marketing chops, and a local printing house. We provided wine and cheese. They provided creativity and smarts.

The first thing we did was to identify all the possible audiences with whom we would need to communicate based on our organizational strategic planning goals. Landowners in critical areas topped the list, as did current members and donors (two groups), public officials, media, and so on.

For each audience, we imagined what they already knew about The Nature Conservancy (information, data), where they probably got that information (sources), and how they felt about us based on what they knew (branding). We compared that to what we wanted/needed them to know about us. And then we talked about ways to deliver that information and those impressions.

It’s a pretty straightforward sequence. Tedious maybe, but effective.

Two things struck me at the time. First, that some of what people knew about us was wrong. That we were an agent of the government, for example, or that we didn’t allow hunting on our preserves. And second, that most of our audiences did not receive information directly from us – or more accurately, not ONLY from us.

It was therefore very important to dispel some of the mythology whenever we could and very important to deliver accurate information to the messengers. For example, if most of the information people believed about the Conservancy came from Chris, the morning DJ at the local am radio station, then we needed to get information to Chris. I remember spending a great deal of time talking about local messengers: radio personalities, extension agents, influential landowners, landowners who had sold land or rights to land for conservation.

What we didn’t do was take that idea to the next level.

So a couple of weeks ago I had an AHA! moment when my friend Jim suggested that we paint a picture of one person that represented each entire audience. For example, we were talking about trail bike enthusiasts. So what does a trail bike enthusiast look like anyway?

  • Upper 20s to lower 40s in age.
  • Probably a DINK (dual income, no kids).
  • Master’s Degree.
  • Physically fit.
  • Shops at Trader Joes.
  • Drives a maxed-out sport SUV.

So the trick after that was to fill in the rest of the picture with someone you actually knew. And then build your communications – your writing, your social media, your video – around communicating not to the entire audience, but to that one specific person.

Write your newsletter articles, appeal letters, thank you letters, event invitations, and e-News (and even blog posts!), to that specific person, or at least with that specific person in mind.

If you do so authentically, you should find that your writing changes with the audience. Because when you communicate with a real person, you communicate based on what they are likely to hear – you talk to THEM. When you communicate with a whole group of people you can’t see – the members, the board, the fly fishermen, the trail bike enthusiasts, the media – you communicate based on what you want to hear – you talk to yourself.

Why didn’t I figure this out years ago?


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Fundraiser’s Almanac
Here’s what I’m thinking about for February. What are YOU thinking about?

  • Taking the Time to Write Well – We too often sacrifice quality of writing for quantity and speed. In doing so, communication suffers and we enjoy it less. Email is a burden. Reports are skimmed, if they’re read at all. And everything we produce is high-stress, last minute, eleventh-hour, right before the deadline. We need to anticipate more. Get ahead of the curve. Let our writing steep more. Write in such a way that our audiences will read it. Being more effective communicators.
  • Writing Thank You Letters – Write and design your Thank You letters to be “fridge worthy.”
  • Writing Renewal Letters – Renewal letters are pretty short and sweet. You should plan an initial letter and up to three follow-up letters spaced about 4-5 weeks apart. Because you know already who should be renewing this year and when, and because you can write letters now that will work as first letters the remainder of the year, you could actually produce all your renewal letters for 2016 right now, and get that part over with. Then set them up by date in a box and put them in the mail during the year when the dates come around.
  • Writing Appeal and Recruitment Letters – It’s not too early to start working on ideas for spring and fall appeal content either.


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Will I see you at a conference this spring? This spring I’m heading to state conferences in Illinois, Connecticut, Maine, New York, and Pennsylvania. I’m also planning to attend the River Rally in Mobile, Alabama. Will I see you there?





Photo by Doug Robichaud courtesy of Stocksnap.io.


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