Lisa Sargent is a copywriter specializing in donor retention communications. Here are her thoughts on the importance of words, as inspired by Abraham Lincoln …

What Abraham Lincoln Knew
By Lisa Sargent

Today – February 12, 2009 – marks the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

If your kids are still in elementary school, you know that this is a BIG DEAL: costumes, pint-sized presidents giving impassioned speeches, and of course, cupcakes.

My own daughter, in fact, was tapped to play Lincoln before an audience of second and third graders…until it was decided that she looked more like Mary Todd, and would play the president’s wife instead. (In her skull-and-crossbones sweatshirt and ratty jeans, the resemblance to Mrs. Lincoln is downright eerie.)

The school project means that our home has been immersed in all things Lincoln for two weeks running. And that means the Gettysburg Address.

The Gettysburg Address took just over two minutes for President Lincoln to deliver. Two centuries later, it still moves hearts and minds.

And two centuries later, it whispered to me: The right words still matter.

The right words should matter to you, too, fundraisers. (Especially as fundraisers in a lousy economy, with donor retention rates sinking like stones.)

The right words mean the difference between the formulaic, dime-a-dozen donation thank you letters that fill mailboxes from sea to shining sea… and a letter that’s kissed with warmth, gratitude, and yes, humanity, driving a donor to support your cause next month or next year.

The right words breathe the spark of life into your stories, your fundraising appeals. And the right words make sense: if there’s a hole in your logic, or you leave a question unanswered, don’t think your donors won’t notice. They will.

And the right words assure your donors that they’re making a difference, not as Member #32109, but as John Smith. Or Delores Brown. Or Mary Evans.

Look, I know the fundraising world is moving faster than ever, with tweets and eblasts and viral campaigns, but without the right words, it’s all just technological smoke and mirrors.

So do me one favor today. Take two minutes and read the Gettysburg Address. Then I dare you to tell me that your words are not living things.

Lincoln knew it: words matter. Your words matter, too. Please, choose them wisely.

Well said, Lisa. You deserve a raise.

Tom Belford



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