In Fundraising, Your English Teacher Gets an ‘F’
OK, I admit it: I used to be an English teacher. I’m not ashamed — maybe just a little sheepish. If I helped a few people enjoy language, think more clearly or discover the power of revising their own writing — well, then, I made the world an ever-so-slightly better place.
The problem is, like every other English teacher, I spent a good deal of effort teaching my students some very artificial rules about writing. And now that I’m in the fundraising world, some of those rules come back to haunt me. Yes, there were many students who really paid attention to their English teachers and are now zealous evangelists of the rules we taught them.
But most of those rules don’t belong in effective fundraising. Worse, the more absurd the rule, the more strange, hypnotic power it seems to hold. But try and tell that to those former students — those dear, hard-working students who warmed our hearts and made our days back in the classroom.
The time has come for me to make amends by showing you some of the English-teacher rules that fundraisers should ignore.
I spent a lot of time drilling essay writing into students’ heads. You remember: Open with a thesis paragraph, follow with three more paragraphs of supporting evidence, then end with a rousing conclusion. Every paragraph starts with a topic sentence, and there’s a clear, logical flow from beginning to end.
It’s a useful way to write when you’re in college, but once you’re done with that, you’re better off forgetting the skill. It just doesn’t help, especially in fundraising, where you seek to motivate readers to action.
Essay structure is as formalized and artificial as haiku. The better a piece of writing is as an essay, the more likely it misses the mark as fundraising copy, which should be loose, repetitive, emotional and narrative.