How my writing almost skidded right off the road

I was writing some fundraising advice. Basically, Write to your donors on their terms and in their language, not yours.

In my example, I used the term, “Skid Road.” Not “Skid Row.” Because Skid Road is correct.

The term originated in pioneer-era Seattle. It was a road on a steep slope that went from the thickly forested hills down to the waterfront. Logs were literally skidded down this road to a sawmill. In typical pioneer fashion, it was named Skid Road. (Now it’s Yesler Way. The TrueSense Marketing Seattle office is on this street.) As the mill town grew into a city, the area around the mill became the rough part of town. Skid Road was what people called the neighborhood. As the term spread to other cities, it became Skid Row.

But I call it Skid Road, because I’m a good citizen of my city. You probably call it Skid Row.

Then it hit me. I was failing to follow my own advice, and doing so for a completely lame reason.

The vast majority of the people I was writing to have never heard of “Skid Road.” And I doubt the small group who know the real story are going to be confused by the “incorrect” Skid Row. The only reason to use Skid Road is to be “right” — right in a narrow and pointless way

It’s tempting to put our knowledge on display when we write, even in fundraising. Terms like “food insecure” or “internally displaced persons” are correct and precise. But hardly anybody knows what they mean. They’re insider jargon, and they subtly tell the reader who doesn’t know them “You’re an outsider.”

That’s not how you should treat the donors who make your work possible.

Stay away from those correct insider terms. (And I’ll try not to use Seattle jargon.) Write to your donors on their terms and in their language, not yours.


Comments

4 responses to “How my writing almost skidded right off the road”

  1. Relevance rules, Mr. Brooks! Sharing this wonderful example.

  2. Relevance rules, Mr. Brooks! Sharing this wonderful example.

  3. Zach Hagopian Avatar
    Zach Hagopian

    Great point – Also a good perspective to have when writing any kind of copy for your website!

  4. Zach Hagopian Avatar
    Zach Hagopian

    Great point – Also a good perspective to have when writing any kind of copy for your website!

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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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