Imagine ghost writing an appeal from Stephen King. I had the opportunity to do just that.

It was sweat-inducing (ghost writing for Stephen King????), but it also got me thinking about personality and the scant attention non profits typically pay to it in appeals and outreach.

In addition to Mr. King, I’ve written for Ashley Judd, Joan Baez, Glenn Close as well as countless non profit field staff, executive directors and donors — all who have their own unique voices, perspectives and personalities. But how do you differentiate those voices and get their personalities to shine through?

Here are a few tips I’ve learned:

  1. Do your research and use your subject’s language. Watch or listen to interviews with the subject. If none exist, interview him or her yourself. Ask questions like “What three words would you use to describe the non profit or cause? Why do you care about this work? Why is this urgent now? What’s at stake? What motivated you to get involved? Then use your subject’s language whenever possible.
  2. Start with a story that connects the subject to the cause or issue. For Stephen King, I wrote, “You probably know me as the “horror” writer. While I may dispute that label, I think we can both agree that few things are as horrific as torture. The hard pill to swallow is that torture is not fiction. It’s happening right now as you read this. And we can’t let it continue.”
  3. Capture the tone. I have a bulletin board that lists every person I write for on it. Under each person, I have adjectives I use to help me capture that individual’s tone. Courageous. Heartfelt. Earnest. Funny. Angry. Know the tone you are aiming for before you start writing.
  4. Use video. Video can be a great way to capture personality. But warning: it’s easy for personalities to come across as boring on video. If you’re going to do it, make sure there’s some emotional heft rather than just a talking head. Here are a couple of examples that I think hit the mark. charity: water’s video featuring Joe Madiath who has spent the last 30 years of his life fighting for the most marginalized people in India. For a more grassroots feel, check out Amnesty’s video showing their new Executive Director’s first day at work.

We’ve all got personality. It’s up to us writers to show them off.