Why fundraising writers should sweat the small stuff

There was a discussion on Twitter the other day about the word partner, used as a verb. As in, “Will you partner with us on this important project?”

Lisa Sargent was advising against it. I think any real writer (like Lisa) has a flinch reaction to partner as a verb, because it’s abstract and jargony.

But someone else in the conversation noted that he uses it all the time in fundraising, and is doing just fine, thank you.

Which viewpoint is correct? Is partner-as-verb terrible for fundraising — or harmless, maybe even good?

I’ve never tested it. But I’ve tested a lot of things, and I can tell you that testing one word is almost guaranteed to end in a statistical “tie.” The test would be a waste of time and money.

So everyone should feel free to use partner as a verb in their fundraising, even though it makes most writers flinch. Right?

Well, no.

I’d warn you away from using partneras a verb. Ever.

Not because it’s going to do any measurable harm to your fundraising results (it probably won’t do that). But because communication is cumulative.

Let me explain: All written communication is in a context. There’s a reason you never read those software user agreements before you click “I’ve read these terms and agree to them.” They trained you long ago that they were not only boring, but incomprehensible. They accomplished that by being boring and incomprehensible, over and over again.. Now they’re impossible to read. And nobody reads them.

Fundraising is also in a context. It is training donors to think of it as interesting, or exciting, or important, or whatever is most often is. Even if it’s boring, or incomprehensible … or (much more likely) abstract and jargony.

Every time you use partner as a verb — or any other word or phrase that doesn’t communicate specific action and/or pulse-pounding emotion … you put one more brick in the wall that will eventually keep donors away from reading your fundraising.

If your organization has a great brand, and you have a powerful call to action, and the right audience, and your writing is largely strong, clear, and emotional … your fundraising is going to do well. Even if you use partner as a verb. The negative impact is darn close to zero.

But we need to think about your future fundraising. Will donors approach it expecting to have a powerful emotional experience and a believable opportunity to change the world? Or will they approach it expecting vague jargon that they have to puzzle through to understand? The difference is at least partly up to what you do now.

So I’m with Lisa. Sweat the small stuff. When the verb that comes to your mind is an abstraction like partner, be a writer: Push beyond for a better word — more concrete, more emotional, more thrilling.

It matters. Maybe not for the project at hand, but eventually.


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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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