Copy That Communicates (Even If It Won't Get an 'A' From Your English Professor)
I love being able to correctly express my thoughts in writing. I actually count among my most prized possessions a copy of now-out-of-print "Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions" by Harry Shaw and have bookmarked many websites that cover grammar.
But I am also a realist.
That means I understand that the purpose of copy for fundraising is to get read (or at least scanned), be understood and generate a response. It's not to earn a gold star from the grammar police.
Striking a balance between those who love to conjugate verbs and those who never met an infinitive they didn't want to split is challenging. Letter-signers especially can be a bit sensitive, not wanting to look like English 101 dropouts to those reading the appeal letters and e-mails.
Of course, now we have a shorthand way of talking, too — Internet slang — so there's another entire camp when it comes to writing, IMHO. (Just proving I can sling the slang, too!)
With that said, here are some tips for writing fundraising copy that is readable and lends itself to action — even if it just gets scanned.
Know your audience
If you are writing to the American Association of Retired English Teachers (assuming there was such a group), you would definitely want to write in a way that didn't make its members want to get their red pens out and put an "F" at the top of the page. But for almost everyone else, it's more about how you communicate. Write to the audience, not to your colleagues or board members.
Short words, short sentences, short paragraphs. Generally speaking, keep your copy straightforward and easy to understand. If you are using a word that is common to your specialty but maybe not to your audience, don't be afraid to explain it in more everyday terms.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.