I think you’ll enjoy this piece – especially if you’re a former (or current) teacher. It shows how far the theoretical disciplines we learn in school can be from the real disciplines we tackle on the job.
As someone who loves the written word this short blog resonates with me. Enjoy!
Join Jeff and Daryl in conversation and ask them the tough fundraising and communications questions as a free Moceanic Webinar on 27 June https://goo.gl/NMeKrD
HOW TO WRITE LIKE A NONPROFIT GENIUS AND MOTIVATE PEOPLE TO JOIN YOUR CAUSE
By Jeff Brooks
Once upon a time, I was an English teacher. A guardian and promoter of our written language in its formal academic form.
Please accept my apology for the damage I did during those years.
I worked hard to teach my students specific rules about academic writing. At the time, it seemed like an uphill battle, even a hopeless cause. But some students were paying attention. Who knew?
Some of them are out in the world now, zealously enforcing the rules their college English teachers gave them.
A surprising number of those students who paid attention now work at nonprofit organizations. And they’re repeating the things I used to say.
The problem is most of those rules I taught don’t belong in fundraising. They are about as relevant and useful outside of academia as knowing how to dance the quadrille would be on a battlefield.
These former students are telling me things like this:
- I shouldn’t use informal language.
- My sentence fragments are sloppy.
- My colloquial grammar an abomination.
- Less repetitive.
- More concise.
- Smoother transitions.
- Longer paragraphs, each starting with a topic sentence.
They believe my fundraising is defective if I start a sentence with a conjunction, split an infinitive, or use a cliché. Some of them even take their red pens to contractions. (Honest — I never told anyone to avoid contractions!)
Call it karma.
I’m just getting served up what I dished out.
The trouble is, effective fundraising writing rarely follows the rules we learned in English class. It has a specific obligation to motivate donors to give. And that means a different set of rules.
I’m not suggesting we forget everything English teachers said. They taught us how to write with vigor and precision. They showed us how using language helps marshal our thoughts. And they made us believe in revising our work.
But if your job is fundraising, your goal isn’t to please a teacher. It’s to get people to look past their self-interest, to tap into their inner angels and join you in changing the world. That’s a tall order. It’s much trickier than pulling down an A in English Lit. And it requires a different approach to writing.
I’m grateful for the education I got at university. But it’s just as important to un-learn those things that lead you away from success as it is to get educated in the first place.
Here’s to smart un-learning. And better fundraising!
Jeff Brooks is a Fundraisingologist at Moceanic. He has been serving non-profit organisations for nearly 30 years. A frequent speaker at fundraising conferences, he blogs at moceanic.com and at futurefundraisingnow.com, and is the author of three books, most recently How to Turn Your Words into Money.