Don’t dumb down your fundraising — smart it up

Some fundraisers are terribly afraid “dumbing down” their fundraising.

I think it comes from one (or more) of these sources:

  1. Fear that if they don’t come across as erudite or sophisticated, their donors will lose respect for them.
  2. Pride (even arrogance) in their knowledge and education.
  3. Obliviousness that not everyone (in fact, hardly anyone) sees the world as they see it.

Here’s what it looks like when writers approach fundraising like that:

Donor support will ensure patients and their families have the resources and support systems in place to maintain optimal mental health, including creating wellness centers, providing personalized navigation assistance, expanding treatments and services and a reimagined outpatient environment that develops innovative solutions for community-wide mental health issues.

This sentence doesn’t need to be “dumbed down.”

It needs to be “smarted up.”

  • It needs to be made more readable, with several shorter sentences that have one idea each.
  • It needs to be about concrete things, not abstractions.
  • It needs to use the language of the reader, not the jargon of the writer.
  • It needs to address the reader in a direct way — not just make an observation about “donor support.”
  • It needs heart.

And all that takes skillful, careful, smart writing.

You and I see writing like this in fundraising all the time. The writers no doubt think they’re displaying their professionalism and intelligence.

What they’re doing is displaying their lack of writing chops.

Few donors will notice, because few will make it beyond the third word of a passage like this. Those who get through will have no idea what it’s about, much less what they should do about it.

Next time you’re told not to “dumb down” your writing, take a moment to see what you can do do “smart it up.” You’ll see the result in your fundraising revenue almost immediately.


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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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