[Book Review] Your tool for helping others believe in effective fundraising writing

Book Review: Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please: The Case for Plain Language in Business, Government, and Law by Joseph Kimble

This book is a useful and comprehensive guide for the Plain Language movement.

It’s light on how-to-write material, but has a ton of foot-noted background information — the kind of stuff bosses sometimes listen to.

Two things to note: It focuses on writing in the legal profession, so it’s not quite aimed at fundraising or marketing. But you should have a copy on hand. Also, it is very focused on the US and the English-speaking world, but there is information from beyond that.

To show you what the book includes, here are some of the sections:

  • Dispelling myths about the use of plain language.
  • Publications on plain language.
  • Laws and Rules about plain language from around the world.
  • Projects for using plain language in business, education, and government around the world.
  • Organizations around the world that promote plain language.
  • Savings for governments and corporations when they used plain language. There are a lot of these, and some will blow your mind!

For practical communication advice, here are some of the book’s guidelines (edited for fundraising use). This makes a good checklist for writers and designers:

Basic

  • Resist the urge to sound formal.
  • Omit unnecessary details.
  • Use examples to help explain ideas — not abstractions.

Design

  • Use 10- 12 point type, serif for print, sans-serif for screens.
  • Have 45-70 characters per line of type.
  • Use ample white space.
  • Hire a qualified designer!

Organization

  • Short sections.
  • Abundant headings and subheads.
  • Break up long paragraphs.

Sentences

  • Short to medium length. Average 20 words, no more than 30.
  • Don’t pile up phrases before the main clause.
  • Put the subject near the beginning.
  • Put the action in strong verbs, not abstract nouns.
  • Keep the subject near the verb and the verb near the object.
  • Put the strongest point at the end of the sentence.
  • Prefer active voice over passive.

Words

  • Prefer familiar words.
  • Avoid unnecessary jargon.
  • Replace wordy phrases.
  • Avoid multiple negatives.
  • Be careful about using initialisms/acronyms.

This is a great start for effective writing that engages donors and helps motivate them to action.

And the book just might help your organization embrace the importance of inclusive communication.

Highly recommended.

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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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