Skip to main content

Million-Dollar Nonprofit Writing

Not quite 10 years ago I wrote 25 words that helped generate more than $32 million for the nonprofit I worked for at the time.

The nonprofit… a children’s charity… was trying to develop a long-term income stream by buying (using nonprofit bonds) three assisted living facilities that would spin off extra cash flow. It was the most complicated deal I’ve ever been involved with.

Children’s charities and assisted living facilities don’t exactly line up and so we needed compelling and rational language that explained why the deal made sense.

I can’t find the exact key sentence, but it made reference to helping people at their most vulnerable stages of life; near birth and near death.

The bond issuance required an unbiased opinion letter from an unaffiliated lawyer who was an expert in nonprofit bonding. He identified my 25 words… among the thousands around them… as the underpinning for his positive opinion. Each of those 25 words turned out to be worth more than $1 million apiece.

The right words really can be invaluable to a cause. Used to be you could pawn off on the marketing-communications staff all the marketing, PR, and internal communications responsibilities.But with the rise of social media, which remains overwhelmingly tilted towards the word, everyone is now a writer.

A pity that everyone isn’t a skilled writer.

To brush up on your writing skills here are seven tips from an article published recently in the online version of the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

Seek feedback.
Professional writers and writing students have both formal and informal groups to review their work while it’s in process. Such groups all but demand that you have thick skin. However, chances are ‘workshopping’ your writing with others will help you improve faster than you could on your own.

Write down helpful tips.
Keep a journal of ideas and record them as they come to you. This will go a long way in helping you avoid the dreaded ‘writer’s block.’

Write to an audience of one.
This is an old writer’s trick that is more effective than you might guess. It works because most of us are talkers first and writers second. If committing your idea to the written word seems impossible, hold in your mind a single person and explain it to him or her. Then write it the way you’ve explained it.

Avoid complicated language.
When I was a kid I had a friend named Roy who was a terrific companion. But at age 9, 10, and 11, he was a little dim. When my writing gets too highfalutin or jargony, I try to strip out all the excess baggage such that someone like Roy could easily understand me. (What are the chances that Roy is now a rocket scientist or judge?)

Don’t tell readers what they already know.
Remember how much time the third Indiana Jones movie spends explaining what happened in the first two movies? The correct answer is almost no time is spent on backstory in the Indiana Jones movies. Instead, Indy’s adventures start from the first frame. Your writing should start fast, too.

Break it up.
Big blocks of text online are like death on burnt toast. Nobody wants any part of it. Even in print we use subheads, bullet points, pull quotes, graphics, pictures and the like to keep the text from turning into one big undifferentiated mess. Do at least that much online as well then add some meaningful links.

Keep it brief.
The Chronicle’s article says to be brief. But you should strive for more than brevity. You should strive to be concise. Remember what the Strunk and White wrote in their estimable book, Elements of Style? “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Three Ways to Be Charitable

I’ve spent a big chunk of my career working with or for charities. Many of my dearest and ablest friends are in the charity ‘space.’ And the creativity and problem-solving coming out of the nonprofit sector has never been greater.  Although I’ve had numerous nonprofit clients over the last decade or so, I haven’t worked in a charity for about 12 years now, which gives me a certain distance. Distance lends perspective and consequently, I get a lot of people asking me which charities I recommend for donations of money or time. My usual answer is, “it depends.” “On what?” they respond. “On what you want from your charitable activities,” I reply. It sounds like a weaselly consultant kind of an answer, but bear with me for a moment. The English word charity comes from the Latin word caritas and means “from the heart,” implying a voluntary act. Caritas is the same root word for cherish. The Jews come at charity from a different direction. The Hebrew word that is usually rendered as charity is t…

Top Eight Cause-Related Marketing Campaigns of 2007

Yeah, You Read it Right. It's a Top 8 List.

More cause-related marketing campaigns are unveiled every day across the world than I review in a year at the cause-related marketing blog. And, frankly, I don’t see very many campaigns from outside North America. So I won’t pretend that my annual list of the top cause-related marketing campaigns is exhaustive.

But, like any other self-respecting blogger, I won’t let my superficial purview stop me from drawing my own tortured conclusions!

So… cue the drumroll (and the dismissive snickers)… without further ado, here is my list of the eight best cause-related marketing campaigns of 2007.

My list of the worst cause-related marketing campaigns of 2007 follows on Thursday.


Chilis and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
I was delighted by the scope of Chilis’ campaign for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As you walked in you saw the servers adorned in black co-branded shirts. Other elements included message points on the Chilis beverage coas…

KFC Concept Restaurant Gives a Nod to Cause Marketing for Local Causes

KFC, a unit of Yum Brands, is testing a new quick-serve restaurant version of the fried chicken outlet and among the changes is that its cause marketing efforts will be much more local, according to Anne Fuller, senior director of development for KFC eleven.

The KFC eleven test store is in Louisville, Kentucky, KFC’s headquarters. When it opens August 5, 2013, it will feature rice bowls, flatbreads, salads, KFC original recipe chicken among other items, plus sides. A second test location is set to open in Louisville before year’s end. The 11 in KFC eleven is a salute to the 11 herbs and spices in their original recipe chicken.

The trade-dress for the test store includes lamp lighting, digital signage with community news, and artwork from local artists.

Why step into the quick serve space? Fuller answered a reporter from QSRweb.com this way: “People love KFC but it's not a frequent choice for many guests for some reason. We wanted to create a broad and balanced menu that could mayb…