Writing Rules You Can Break

Here’s an irony I’ve noticed writing for nonprofits: Most of the development folks I’ve met are wonderful, kind-hearted people. And you are excellent communicators in person. You build relationships, inspire donors, help plan legacies.

But then something weird happens when you have to write.

It’s like you’re typing write with the ghost of your high school English teacher looking over your shoulder. You write about “individuals” instead of just saying “people.” You use four syllable words you’d never actually say in a normal conversation. No offense, but it makes you sound stuff and pompous (which you are not).

Try this:

Next time you have to write a newsletter article or a direct mail piece, break the rules! Start sentences with And or But. Write incomplete sentences. End a sentence with a preposition. Don’t even think about punctuation or grammar the first time around. 

When you’re finished, read it out loud. Does it sound like you?   

Once it sounds like a real person (you) talking to real people (your donors), get your communications team or the family grammar geek to quickly proofread it so you don’t embarrass yourself with a grammar gaffe like this recent news headline—“Man Saves His Dog from a Mountain Lion in His Underwear.” (The mountain lion was wearing underwear?)

Your writing will be fresher and livelier if you aren’t worried about perfect punctuation and impressive vocabulary. It will be more genuine. More you. And that’s what your donors want.

This article originally appeared as my Editor’s Note in GIVING TOMORROW magazine.