Q: We are writing an appeal letter and we’re trying to figure out what pronouns to use. You see, we’ve taken your advice to heart that we should include our readers in a “conversation on paper.” That means using the words “you” and “your” as much as we can. But sometimes we have to talk about what the organization is doing. It gets confusing. Help!
A: Yes, it can be a bit tricky at times, if you’re not careful.
A simple switch from the “we” of the organization to the “you” of your reader goes like this:
Original: We want to bring native plants back to our community. But we need your help!
Suggested revision: You can help improve our city’s environment by planting and saving native plants. They bring many benefits to our community and help us avoid eco-trouble down the line.
Did you see what I did there? Changing the perspective like that is pretty clear.
But did you also notice that in the suggested revision there’s a “we” also — and it now includes the reader? That second sentence is now talking about “our city’s environment” and “our community”. No longer is it “we” the organization needing “your” help.
The rule of thumb operating here is this:
You don’t want to create a division between “you” (the reader”) and “we” (the organization). Instead, you want to include your reader as much as possible in the work your organization is doing. After all, they are part and parcel of it! They’re actually much more interested in the work you’re doing than the organization itself; you need to write with that fact in mind.
Now, in your appeal letter there will come a time when you have to ask the reader to personally imagine something, feel or consider something, or take action to support the work (as a donor, volunteer, etc.). That is the time to use the word “you”. It’s an individual request of the person you’re conversing with. In that context, it’s appropriate.
Here’s an example:
We won in court!
Our community has just won a favorable court ruling that saved our state park from certain destruction. After a long, hard battle we can proudly enjoy our protected flora and fauna again this winter.
But…the defendants immediately appealed the decision and all of the lawyers are heading back to court in January.
As a community, let’s all stand up to the legal challenge! We’ve come too far to turn back now.
Let’s continue to defend our park for ourselves and for future generations. With each contribution, we are investing in our future and the future of California.
This is a crucial time. Your tax-deductible donation by December 31st will help cover the next round of legal costs.
By the way, are you looking for more info on writing appeal letters? You’re in luck! Check out these other resources:
- After the donations start rolling in, you’ll want this Writing Wednesdays recording all about Thank You Notes (with a special guest)