How Important is Grammar in Online Fundraising?

Whether or not proper grammar matters in online fundraising depends upon to whom you are talking. If the reader of your email fundraising letter doesn’t know that it’s “commitment” and not “committment” or that commas always go inside the quotation marks, then it probably doesn’t matter to that person. But some people, espeically those who write for a living, have a hard time getting past those little blunders, and that could hurt response. So here are some grammar basics to use in your online fundraising.

  1. Try to write to the 6th to 8th grade level. It’s harder than you might think, and it requires you to clearly explain yourself.
  2. Use active voice. “I went to the store” is more interesting to read than “I have gone to the store.” It also uses fewer words, which is a good goal.
  3. Compose your non profit websites and emails in an application that checks your grammar, spelling and punctuation as you write (such as Microsoft Word), and then carefully proof it yourself. These programs won’t warn you when you’ve used the wrong form of a word: “fare” vs. “fair,” for example, so you need to be sure nothing is amiss.
  4. Americans don’t usually care if you use formal writing, but you need to decide what form you’re going to use … and then stick with it. For casual writing, which is appropriate for non profit website design and email fundraising, you can easily get away with using casual writing techniques such as contractions (“don’t” instead  of “do not,” for example). Just be consistent.
  5. Another form of casual writing is the use of the word “one” rather than the word “you” (“One should know” rather than “You should know” for example). If you’re like me, you prefer to be referred to as you, not one.The word “you” is much more personal and will get more responses in email fundraising as well as non-profit websites.
  6. Pick a style for your use of dashes and elipses … and stick with it.
    Do you put one long dash between words (commonly called an M Dash)? Do you put spaces before and after the dash? Do you use elipses (three periods strung together)? If so, do you include spaces before and after them? I typically include no spaces between M Dashes and the words they separate, but I do use spaces before and after elipses. Different people will have different ideas on what is correct, but the important thing is to be consistent.
  7. Stay away from run-on sentences and fragments. Run-on sentences are too long and complex. Fragments are fine occasionally, especially when you’re trying to make a case, but don’t over do it.
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