How good is your crap detector?

Someone asked Ernest Hemingway what single quality it takes to make someone a good writer.

His answer:

A built-­in, shock-­proof, crap detector.

I doubt he had fundraising in mind when he said that, but he could have.

Crap is the chief enemy of effective fundraising.

What is crap in fundraising?

  • Vague abstractions about what your organization does.
  • Brand standards that keep you from talking to donors about the things they care about.
  • Jargon the excludes outsiders from the conversation.
  • Faddish modern design that’s hard to read and conveys the wrong emotional messages.
  • Browbeating donors because they owe you support and you believe you shouldn’t have to address their reasons for donating.
  • Blaming the ignorance and stubbornness of donors on your failure to connect with them.
  • Pomposity: Using big words and complex communication because it makes you look important.

Crap is hard to avoid, because most of it comes from within, as noted by Neil Postman’s Third Law:

At any given time, the chief source of crap with which you have to contend is yourself.

Develop and fine-tune your personal crap detector. You’ll frequently catch yourself wandering into crap territory.

But you’ll also raise more money. You’ll see through more flimsy schemes. You’ll note the subtle difference between empty posturing and useful advice. You’ll generally have more fun.

More on this delightful topic: Book review: Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: And Other Tough-Love Truths to Make You a Better Writer by Steven Pressfield


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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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