What is a great fundraising sentence like?

I came across the following sentence the other day. It took my breath away…

When he was eighteen and was leaving home for the first time, Ralph Wyman was counseled by his father, principal of Jefferson Elementary School and trumpet soloist in the Weaverville Elks Club Auxiliary Band, that life was a very serious matter, an enterprise insisting on strength and purpose in a young person just setting out, an arduous undertaking, everyone knew that, but nevertheless a rewarding one, Ralph Wyman’s father believed and said.

It’s the opening sentence to the short story, “Will You Please Be Quite, Please?” by Raymond Carver.

It’s a stunning sentence. Packed with specific and implied information about the main character.

A great sentence, but not if it were in a fundraising message. At 72 words, it’s just too long for easy reading.

With apologies to one of the greatest short story writers of all time, I’ve edited the sentence as if it were to be in a piece of direct mail. See what you think:

When Ralph Wyman left home for the first time at 18, his father — an elementary school principal — had some advice: “Life is a very serious matter. An arduous undertaking, but a rewarding one. A young person just setting out needs strength and purpose. Everyone knows that.”

The senseless violence I’ve committed on that sentence almost makes me physically ill.

But it’s a little easier to read now.

My point: There are many different kinds of “good writing.” What’s great in one context could be awful in another.

A lot of people writing fundraising struggle with this. Because they come from some other type of writing, a different genre that has different conventions and goals than fundraising writing.

Often it’s journalism, academic writing, formal business writing, technical writing …

All of these require skill and study.

But if you bring the skills of these other genres to fundraising, you won’t be a good fundraising writer.

Raymond Carver — an absolute master at his craft — would have been disastrously bad at fundraising.

(Or maybe not. I’ve noticed that good writers are usually aware of and in control of voice and conventions; Carver might have been able to modify his “fiction” voice and write amazing fundraising!)

If you learned how to write in a genre other than fundraising (and almost everyone did), you have some re-learning to do before you’ll be a great fundraising writer.

There’s no shame in that.

The shame is being too inflexible to adapt to the world of fundraising. It’s a quick path to frustration and failure.


Comments

2 responses to “What is a great fundraising sentence like?”

  1. It’s a different Raymond, but thought you might like Raymond Chandler’s riposte to those who wanted to change his way of speaking:
    “By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.”

  2. It’s a different Raymond, but thought you might like Raymond Chandler’s riposte to those who wanted to change his way of speaking:
    “By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.”

Leave a Reply

What this blog is about

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.

Blog policies

Subscribe

Get new posts by email:

About the blogger

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.


Archives

Blogroll

Categories


Search the blog

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.

Recent Comments

About the blogger

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.

Blog Roll

someone’s blog