Finding the Right Words

Making Your Writing Matter for Your Organization

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writing, nonprofit, charity, philanthropy, fundraising
Make sure that you choose words that matter

The process of writing grant proposals, fundraising letters, case statements, or other documents that describe your nonprofit can be about so much more than fundraising. Finding the right words to say what you do, how you do it, and why it matters will help your organization crystalize its vision, settle on what’s most important, and create consistent, compelling, and memorable written products.

How can you shift the writing process from drudgery to delight?

Ask Bigger Questions

When we write things like grant proposals, sometimes we focus too much on the granular, e.g. the description of how we will carry out the project. It’s critically important to include those details in some of our fundraising writing, but to make your written product compelling, and to make the process strategically meaningful for your organization, ask yourself (and your colleagues) some bigger questions:

  1. What’s the “So What?” Why does this project matter? What would happen if we did NOT carry out the project?
  2. How are we doing something that no other organization is doing? What value-add do we bring? Why can’t another organization just take this on?
  3. How will our community be different once we’ve achieved our goals? What will success look like? How will we know when we are done?

Edit, and Then Edit Some More

Editing can be a fraught process, especially when you share a document with others. Seeing strikethroughs and red ink can strike fear in the heart of every sensitive writer. Find a way to separate yourself from the written product. If someone is adding, deleting, or otherwise editing what you’ve written, it’s not about you. It’s about saying what your organization wants to say with clarity and accuracy. Each time there is an editing pass, the collective editors get closer to really honing in on how to express the impact and vibrancy of your work.

Find a way to separate yourself from the written product. It’s not about you.

That said… “paralysis by analysis” is a real thing. When I work with clients who are editing my work, I put a limit on the number of editing passes, and I insist that, no matter how many people in their organization are looking at a document, they send me ONE comprehensive set of edits. That way, they have to discuss points of confusion or contention among themselves before passing the document back to me. Not only does this process save time in the long run, but it helps the organization gain clarity on what they are trying to say.

Listen to One Another

During the writing and editing process, you might find that different people are describing the same project or organization in different ways. Sometimes, you’ll hear words that just light you up. People will say or write things in novel ways that get right to the heart of the matter. At the same time, you’ll sometimes hear or read things that are unclear, inaccurate, or (as my teenage daughter would say), “cringey.” The writing process is a great opportunity to make sure that everyone at your organization is on the same page when it comes to talking and writing about your mission and work. That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to regurgitate the exact same language; it means that there is a collective tone and shared voice that reflects the organizational ethos.

Need More Tips or Inspiration for Your Writing?

I’ve got you covered! Check out these blog posts:

Or purchase this audioguide to help you bring a more creative voice to your writing: Grant Writing for Creative Souls

Let the Writing Guide Your Growth

When the pressure is on, and we have a lot of proposals or fundraising letters to write, sometimes we find ourselves just trying to “get product out the door.” If we remember that the process can be an opportunity to build a stronger organization, finding the right words can become an exercise in organizational growth and connect us more deeply to the work and mission.



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