Why so much writing is so bad, and how you can avoid it

Hard-to-read writing is bad for fundraising. It decreases response.

Why does it persist? I think it’s mainly three factors:

Sloppy writing

Easy to read is hard to write. It takes care and attention to write clearly and make things simple.

First drafts are often complex. That’s okay, even inevitable. As long as you revise for simplicity. Many writers don’t bother with that. Those who do one last draft for simplicity essentially have a communications super-power.

Bad teaching

Sometimes, though, it’s not just sloppiness. Some writers consciously and carefully make their writing difficult. Often because college writing teachers tend to require students to write long, complex sentences and use sophisticated vocabulary. That may be considered “elegant” in some circles, and it has its place. But for readers, it’s just hard to read.

Most writers’ last (and only) training in writing happened in college. It’s what they know. We were rewarded for writing complex copy; sometimes we were penalized for keeping things simple.

In fundraising (or any form of writing where you need to influence people who are not required to read your stuff), keep it simple. Most of us need to “re-train” as writers after school. Banish that English teacher from your brain who tempts you to to academic elegance.

Elitism

Some professions keep outsiders outside by using specialized, jargon-packed, complex language. If they made it easy, they wouldn’t be so special. Advanced vocabulary and jargon are often ways to signal I am educated or I am an insider.

That’s not appropriate for fundraising. We need to practice inclusive writing that invites people in. It can be difficult to step outside of the elites we want to be part of.

But it’s far better to open your heart and your mind and write to connect with everyone who’s interested … not just your in-group.

The secret to good fundraising writing:

  • Write with care, taking the time to simplify.
  • Ignore most of what you learned about writing in college.
  • Write with an open, inclusive attitude.


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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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