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Just For Nonprofits: Focus & Readability In Profiles & Thank-Yous - Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Focus & Readability In Profiles & Thank-Yous

Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Focus & Readability In Profiles & Thank-Yous

It can be a challenge to keep your content from looking and sounding the same, when so often, the message is exactly the same. In the case of donor profiles, it’s just about always the donor’s motivation and the need he or she is addressing. Thank-you notes are similar: thank you, donor, for addressing this need.

Nevertheless, if you’re not careful, your content all begins to sound the same, and soon everything you send out or post online looks like boilerplate with the details changed. This won’t do, because you want the donor to feel his or her gift is special, which of course it is. We addressed one strategy several weeks ago when we suggested you change the order of narrative elements. This is great way to vary the voice of your writing, and it opens up new angles on the common themes, but there are still some things you’ll want not to change.

First, always begin with the donor. This doesn’t mean a donor’s name needs to be the first word in the first paragraph, but that entire first paragraph needs to be about the donor. If you get too cute, the heart of your message is lost. There is a lot of content pushed out every day by nonprofits who forget this crucial idea. This doesn’t mean you can’t still vary the order of the narrative, but it does mean that the first paragraph must clearly be about the donor. In a thank-you letter, even one sent to ten thousand people, the first few sentences must be about the donors. Thank you. You are amazing. You are changing lives. This is probably the most critical strategy to keep in mind when you begin to write. Start with the donor, and go from there.

Next, your writing has to be readable. This can be tough. Funds are often named after two people, who must be acknowledged, as in “Mary T. Smith and David R. Chang Scholarship Fund.” Those are a lot of words to get in, and they can make your writing clunky. This is also true when you talk about what the purpose of the fund is, as with “awarded to a student of history, drama, economics, or English for tuition, books, fees, and housing expenses.” This will always be a challenge, but it can be managed if you space these long lists out, surrounding them with much more readable sentences.

Measuring readability is an inexact science. The Flesch Reading Ease assigns a score to your writing based on the number of words per sentence and the number of syllables per word. On a scale from 1 to 100, the higher the score, the more readable your work is. This article, up to this paragraph, has a reading ease score of 73.

The Flesh-Kincaid Grade Level score tells you what grade-level your writing is appropriate for. Most American newspapers strive for a tenth-grade reading level, to give you an idea of what the numbers mean. This article, up to this paragraph, has a reading grade-level of 7.

While these are flawed instruments, they’re a good way to manage your reading ease, since Microsoft Word measures them both when you run a spelling-grammar check, if you set your options to do so. In FILE → OPTIONS → PROOFING, under the heading “when correcting spelling and grammar in Word,” check the box that says “show readability statistics.” When you run the spellcheck, the readability scores will be in your report upon the completion of the check. There are online readability checkers as well. They allow you to copy all your text, paste it in a window in your browser, and run the check. If you’re protective of your content, however, you may want to stick with the tools that work when you’re offline.

Focus and readability are challenges for your content writers who wish to be accessible but not boring. Your best writers will find a way to do it, though, and there’s no reason not to expect it, considering what’s at stake.


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Just For Nonprofits: Focus & Readability In Profiles & Thank-Yous - Executive Leadership Articles

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