Get smart about grammar in fundraising

Heaven help you if you have a rigid grammarian reviewing your fundraising copy. It means you face annoyances and delays at best, weakened copy at worst.

How important is good grammar? Tom Ahern has a suggestion, at Will good grammar save us?:

… accurate, school-room-caliber, academy-approved writing will add almost, virtually, infinitesimally nothing to your sales.

I agree.

But we hate mistakes. That’s why I put “grammar errors” into three categories, each of which calls for a different response:


  1. Errors you should try not to make. Bone-headed things that are wrong, and not the better for being wrong. Sentences like, “He gave it to my wife and I.” Or using apostrophes in plural words. Results-wise, getting it wrong or right makes little or no difference. So why be wrong?
  2. Correct grammar that makes you sound like a snob. These are complex sentences that don’t sound natural, even though they’re correct. Such as any sentences that uses the word whom. I’d rather get it wrong and sound like you belong to the same tribe as your donor than right and like you’re putting on airs. Better yet, avoid the sentence structure that puts you in that position in the first place.
  3. Rules you should break because they make you less persuasive. There are a few of these, most of them not real grammar rules, like “don’t start a sentence with a preposition.” “Avoid contractions.” “Don’t split infinitives.” “Avoid passive voice.” You should freely do all those things. Obeying your grammar maven about those issues will cost you in revenue.


Comments

6 responses to “Get smart about grammar in fundraising”

  1. Michelle Brinson Avatar
    Michelle Brinson

    Jeff… I love this!!!! The interesting thing is… I’m somewhat of a stickler on a lot of things when it comes to writing. But I also know in fundraising, there’s a time to break rules. Your book has been invaluable to me. After sharing some of your nuggets with a new client, he went out and bought several copies of the book to share with his team. Thank you for your contribution to the world of fundraising!

  2. Michelle Brinson Avatar
    Michelle Brinson

    Jeff… I love this!!!! The interesting thing is… I’m somewhat of a stickler on a lot of things when it comes to writing. But I also know in fundraising, there’s a time to break rules. Your book has been invaluable to me. After sharing some of your nuggets with a new client, he went out and bought several copies of the book to share with his team. Thank you for your contribution to the world of fundraising!

  3. Daniel Moore Avatar
    Daniel Moore

    Great post Jeff! Is there a grammar rule you never break because you had a grandmother (read, potential donor!) who always insisted on it?
    For me, it’s the sentence fragment. I’ve seen some really engaging writing in annual reports and other places that use sentence fragments. But every time I try to slip one in, someone during the editing process calls me out on it. I’ve since stopped trying to use them. I’m guessing that my readers/donors are probably getting tripped up by those sentences too. Even though I like them for emphasis 🙂

  4. Daniel Moore Avatar
    Daniel Moore

    Great post Jeff! Is there a grammar rule you never break because you had a grandmother (read, potential donor!) who always insisted on it?
    For me, it’s the sentence fragment. I’ve seen some really engaging writing in annual reports and other places that use sentence fragments. But every time I try to slip one in, someone during the editing process calls me out on it. I’ve since stopped trying to use them. I’m guessing that my readers/donors are probably getting tripped up by those sentences too. Even though I like them for emphasis 🙂

  5. Ron Hammell Avatar
    Ron Hammell

    Wow if you are going to teach us grammar your grammar needs to be better.
    Your point number two is a hash and needs to be fixed.

  6. Ron Hammell Avatar
    Ron Hammell

    Wow if you are going to teach us grammar your grammar needs to be better.
    Your point number two is a hash and needs to be fixed.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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