How to overcome the main source of bad fundraising writing

What causes most bad fundraising writing? Is it bad writers?

No, that’s a distant third. (The second most common cause of bad writing is crummy brand guidelines that force abstraction and jargon.)

The main source is what author Steven Pinker calls the Curse of Knowledge.

He describes the Curse in a recent Wall Street Journal article, The Source of Bad Writing. his definition: “a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know.”

All writers suffer from the Curse of Knowledge. The better ones know how to counteract it. Here’s Pinker’s advice:


  • Remember that readers know a lot less about your subject than you think, and unless you keep track of what you know that they don’t, you are guaranteed to confuse them.
  • Show a draft to some people who are similar to your intended audience and find out whether they can follow it.
  • Show a draft to yourself, ideally after enough time has passed that the text is no longer familiar.
  • Always try to lift yourself out of your parochial mind-set and find out how other people think and feel.


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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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