How not to be an exclusionary nonprofit

Inclusivefundraising

What would you think of a nonprofit that put its services at the top of a sleek, cool-looking spiral staircase?

Or a charity that had a sign on their door that said “Masters Degree or higher ONLY”?

Or one that required an eye test, and excluded anyone who failed it.

Of course, you’d think anyone who did these things, nonprofit or otherwise, was morally reprehensible. You might also note that they were breaking various laws in most countries, open to potential lawsuits and other trouble.

Many nonprofits are doing virtually the same thing in their fundraising communications. They’re doing it brazenly, constantly, and often even on purpose.

They need to stop. Because it’s wrong. And, most places, illegal.

The exclusionary practice that’s so widespread is hard-to-read writing.

And the people being excluded are donors — the very people most nonprofits depend on for their existence.

You see, hard-to-read writing is an aggressive form of keeping some people out. It’s as blatant and cruel as architectural barriers that fence out those with limited mobility.

I’ve been writing about the importance of reading ease for a long time. But I’ve been missing the most important thing about it.

I (and many others) have been saying, Easy, simple writing will raise you more money.

That’s true. It’s a tested and proven truth.

But simple writing is also a civil rights and inclusivity requirement.

Because simple, clear writing is not just a preference of many donors — it’s a necessity for participation for some donors. Probably a lot more donors than you think.

Reading is a struggle for many people … not only those with age-related reduced visual acuity, but those with many other issues, ranging from visual to reading challenges like dyslexia to various attention issues. A large percentage of the population lives with these issues — people of all ages and from all backgrounds and communities. Some of these things are disproportionately more common among lower income and non-white people.

When you say “no” to simple, easy writing, you aren’t just missing out on some revenue. You are saying, “No — you are not welcome” to a lot of people who want to participate in your cause. People whose lives would be better if you would welcome them in.

Complex writing is a lose/lose/lose choice…

  1. You exclude some people from participating in the joy and life affirming activity of philanthropy.
  2. You raise less money.
  3. Society as a whole suffers from the loss of both.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about “inclusive fundraising” and how you can put it to work for your fundraising and your donors.

I’ll also do my best to equip you to promote inclusive fundraising within your organization. Getting some people to buy in to this is shockingly difficult, as you know if you’ve been trying!

I’ll mainly focus on readability, which comes from both writing and design. But I’ll also look into some other inclusivity issues we should be paying attention to.


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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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