Why nonprofit writing is so awful — and so easy to fix

Want to know The Truth About Nonprofit Storytelling? Read the wonderful post at npEngage.

Because it captures the painful truth about so much nonprofit storytelling: Great stories are turned unreadable by bad writing. Usually bad because all the life, energy, and joy have been sucked out of it by committee-oriented processes that guarantee the worst outcomes.

The_Giving_Tree

Check out how a nonprofit might re-write The Giving Tree, the classic book by Shel Silverstein. The original begins like this:

Once there was a tree … and she loved a little boy. And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest.

Now imagine a nonprofit got hold of the manuscript before Silverstein got it to his publisher.

It might have turned out like this:

Once there was a tree that was a common species in our region … And this tree, were it aware of its emotions, could potentially have strong feelings for a young individual who was a recipient of the outcomes that made this tree one of the more prolific producers of the various other trees in the region.

Okay, that’s funny.

But it’s also not funny at all, because it’s realistic.

Committee-written or edited copy always ends up like that. Committees can only make it worse. And in the consensus-driven world of nonprofit culture, committees do their evil work all the time.

It’s costing them money — because donors don’t have time to read that garbage.

And it’s shrinking their souls — because it’s not motivating them to give as much. And because bad writing does that.

Get people who know how to write to do your writing. And let them do their jobs.


Comments

4 responses to “Why nonprofit writing is so awful — and so easy to fix”

  1. A single, distinctive, and compelling voice is the key to writing that will (forgive me) engage the reader, allowing them to feel they’re in a conversation with a valued friend.
    The ‘voice’ of a committee is akin to listening to a crowd of people all having conversations with someone other than you. You’re left feeling excluded and even marginalized. Certainly not engaged.
    Jeff is right. Acquire and trust the people who are qualified and capable writers to do their jobs.

  2. A single, distinctive, and compelling voice is the key to writing that will (forgive me) engage the reader, allowing them to feel they’re in a conversation with a valued friend.
    The ‘voice’ of a committee is akin to listening to a crowd of people all having conversations with someone other than you. You’re left feeling excluded and even marginalized. Certainly not engaged.
    Jeff is right. Acquire and trust the people who are qualified and capable writers to do their jobs.

  3. “Shrinking their souls.” Truer words were never spoken. Thanks, Jeff, as always.

  4. “Shrinking their souls.” Truer words were never spoken. Thanks, Jeff, as always.

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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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