Proofreading potholes: fundraising miscommunications

Proofreading potholes: fundraising miscommunications

Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself.”  ― G. Marx

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us about our recent column on fundraising and proofreading. We heard from readers in Memphis, New York, and California on this topic. They included donors, volunteers, an executive director, and a foundation program officer. Each had a story to tell about a nonprofit and proofreading. Here are three tales of woe, and two mistakes we recently made, including one in the article on proofreading!

One reader shared an invitation he received for an event to be held this month. It contained all the important information, and even included a personal hand written note. Unfortunately, it also closed with “Please RSVP by December 14, 2012.”

A program officer who makes funding recommendations for a foundation emailed us the following. “We received a lovely annual update from one of our grantees with pictures and great copy with numerous misspelled words. It was printed in color at great expense, however, it didn’t convey the correct message. This subject is right on!”

When we were writing the column we had one big fear: “what if we don’t proofread this well enough?” We had someone else proof the article, and still we received a call from a reader who found a “miscommunication” in the opening paragraph. The sentence read “How are you communicating with the written word?” Our caller explained to us that “you don’t communicate with the written word.”

We practiced being polite on the phone, but were looking at each other, silently asking, “What do you mean, ‘you don’t communicate with the written word?!?!’” Then the caller explained “you don’t communicate with a table. It’s a table. You don’t communicate with the written word. You communicate using the written word.” Ah, he was so right. We just didn’t see it.

A retired technical writer called to share his experience working on major proposals. His recommendation: make sure your proofreader has no involvement with the document. If someone is close to a project, or has contributed content or ideas, they may overlook items that someone else might question. He also asked that we address the topic of email communication. We said “yes,” and then realized that is a tall order!

But, because he asked, here are three email tips:

  1. Include your contact information at the bottom of each and every email and reply. All of it, including your phone number. Believe it or not, people still use the phone.
  2. Proofread for clarity. Keep your messages as direct and concise as possible.
  3. Use spell check.

Finally, we conducted a workshop for a nonprofit board on April 9th. Unfortunately when we were beginning the workshop and referring participants to the agenda we noticed that there in bold letters was the date March 9th!!

Here’s what we know: no one’s perfect. At the same time it is important to put policies in place that help protect against typos and miscommunication. Fundraising is all about communication and we want your message to be well received.

Copyright 2016– Mel and Pearl Shaw

For help growing your fundraising visit or call (901) 522-8727.

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