Getting professionals to listen to you when you need their help is a common battle for adoptive parents. You phone, you email, you chase them… and you wait for action. Often, you wait a long time, and the issue remains unresolved. When will they help? Why aren’t they doing anything? Yes, sometimes the reasons are out of our control – such as heavy workloads and under-resourcing. But to give your communication the best chance of being heard, try my 7 tips to make your letter or email as powerful as possible.
I’ve worked in copywriting and editing for nearly 20 years and I like to think I know my way around a paragraph. During this time I’ve written for large charities – including several of those direct mail letters telling you about a project that needs your financial support, asking for a donation. I’ve learned the techniques that get people to take action, and I’m not ashamed to tell you that I use some of them as an adoptive parent when I’m trying to get professionals to take action to help our family.I've written direct mail letters for charities, asking people for donations, and I use the same techniques when I'm asking professionals to help our family. Click To Tweet
Make the subject clear
Use a strong subject line and clear introductory paragraph to make sure you get their attention. Grab them straight away with a powerful summary of the letter’s content. (See my email about CPV earlier this week for an example of this.)
Quote their previous promises
Especially if you’re copying in their boss or other parties – hold them to account by quoting what has already been agreed. If you have meeting minutes and dates and whatnot, so much the better.
Keep to the point
Your readers are busy and want to grasp the salient points easily. If you have several points to make, list them, but try to keep them separate and clear.
Use headings and bullet points
These help to provide structure and clarity, which help the reader to feel that they already have a grasp of what you want and why, which is useful when they’re working out exactly how they can make it happen.
When I write for charities, I almost always use case studies. They help to focus the reader on a specific, relatable story that makes it tangible, rather than feeling helpless when faced with the enormity of the big picture. It’s why Comic Relief and Children in Need use those short, heartbreaking films during their telethons. Examples work.
In our letters to professionals, we can use the same strategy by documenting examples of what is happening in our families: take photos of bruises caused by CPV or things broken when a child is raging. Use direct quotes from children who are threatening violence or self-harm or who say terrible things about their own poor self-worth. I’ve transcribed audio recordings of conversations with my children (with their permission) and given those transcripts to professionals who were advocating for us. (I use the Just Press Record app on my iPhone for this – it does a reasonable first draft of a transcript which you can then edit. Playing a recording into a Word document in dictation mode also works pretty well.)
Send copies to other parties
When I’m emailing our social worker about something important, I routinely copy in her team leader and the head of adoption for our LA. This isn’t me overstating my importance, it’s just that this is what gets things done, as the decision-making usually has to be referred up the chain anyway. Often the head of adoption has to take it even higher, too, so it saves everyone’s time to copy them all in from the start, and provides an extra level of accountability because they all know what is supposed to be happening. Similarly, copying in people from other agencies, such as a psychotherapist or headteacher can also help to ensure a response.
Include action points
Anyone who writes marketing copy is taught to finish with a call to action. You tell the reader exactly what you’d like them to do next. If I’d like comments on a blog post, I ask for them. If I want my GP to tell my social worker the impact of their decisions on my mental health, I ask her to. Ending in this way leaves the reader in no doubt about what is being asked of them and makes it easier for them to respond accordingly.
By using these points you’ll stand a good chance of having a powerful letter that does what it needs to do: makes your points clearly and strongly and asks for specific action. They’ll give your request the best chance of being heard, and this will – I hope – result in you getting the response you want.
- Download a PDF of the infographic above, to have on hand when you’re writing your next letter.
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- You might also like to read 5 game-changing tips for dealing with professionals.