May 30, 2006

Writing for dollars

Several years back, I got a freelance gig writing thank you letters to donors to a university in New Jersey. The school had embarked upon a new capital campaign and I was to write form letters for staff in the development office to use with their signature. In addition, I was to write personalized letters to really big donors that would be signed by the president of the school.

To prepare for this task, I was given a folder of letters that had been sent out in the past to study. They all went roughly like this:
Dear So and So,

Thank you so much for your [generous, very generous, highly generous, magnanimous] contribution of $___ to our new capital campaign to raise money for ____.

[If signed by president insert personal remarks about great time at dinner, fun at golf, etc. with reference to lovely wife and/or children.]

[Insert pro forma description of project here.]

[Insert pro forma description of the importance of the project here.]

[If president signs, insert more detailed info about what this contributor's money will buy: A chemistry lab, an administrative office, etc., followed by the importance of this chemistry lab to the overall mission of the university.]

You contribution is highly appreciated. I look forward to meeting with you again.

Best regards,

President Schmo

Each week I'd come in for a day to drop off the previous week's assignments, meet with various staff members to see what they needed and get my next assignments. I regarded it as a ridiculously easy way to make $300 a week, though it struck me as a waste of money. But, hey, I was just the hired help.

I did this for a couple of months and then word came that the head of the development office was dissatisfied with my work. I started getting letters back that were all marked up. I'd thank someone for their generous contribution and she'd change it to highly generous--I think there was some sort of taxonomy of adjectives related to amount, but I can't recall exactly. I'd say "I enjoyed having dinner with you." She'd change it to "I enjoyed dining with you." That's how superficial the corrections were.

This went on for a couple of weeks until finally I was told that my services were no longer required. I never did understand what she was getting at.

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