A frustrating truth about writing for smart fundraisers

The Internet is killing off the Cute Headline.

And I say good riddance!

Search engines don’t understand puns. They don’t appreciate wordplay, double-entendre, or irony. These things just confuse them, because they need literalness and clarity.

If you want people to find your article on Google, you’d better be clear and literal, especially the headline. Your wordplay will push you way down the result page.

Now let me tell you a secret: Almost all of your readers and donors are like Google: They don’t care about wordplay. It just confuses them. Being literal tells them what they want to know.

Traditional headline writers really, really hate this. They’re word people. And they’d rather display their cleverness than be clear. But the search engines penalize you for that.

That writerly need to display your wit isn’t just confined to newspapers: You see it in nonprofit communications too. Writers will be writers. But if you care about making connections with donors — and if you want the search engines to be able to find you — you’ll choose clear over clever.

I know it hurts. But writers need to deploy their brilliance on making their work more clear, more motivating, more vivid, more emotional, and more powerful.

Not more flashy.

Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Make everything you write clear, easy to understand, obvious.

That’s how you’ll reach them. I promise you, they’ll be more impressed when you actually get them to read you and understand than they would have been by your verbal fireworks.


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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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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.

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