Writing for a Good Cause: The Complete Guide to Crafting Proposals and Other Persuasive Pieces for Nonprofits

Overview

Filled with tips and survival skills from writers and fund-raising officers at nonprofits of all sizes, Writing for a Good Cause is the first book to explain how to use words well to win your cause the money it needs. Whether you work for a storefront social action agency or a leading university, the authors' knowledgeable, practical advice will help you:

  • Write the perfect proposal — from the initial ...
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Writing for a Good Cause: The Complete Guide to Crafting Proposals and Other Persuasive Pieces for Nonprofits

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Overview

Filled with tips and survival skills from writers and fund-raising officers at nonprofits of all sizes, Writing for a Good Cause is the first book to explain how to use words well to win your cause the money it needs. Whether you work for a storefront social action agency or a leading university, the authors' knowledgeable, practical advice will help you:

  • Write the perfect proposal — from the initial research and interviews to the final product
  • Draft, revise, and polish a "beguiling, exciting, can't-put-it-down and surely can't-turn-it-down" request for funds
  • Create case statements and other big money materials — also write, design, and print newsletters, and use the World Wide Web effectively
  • Survive last-minute proposals and other crises — with the Down-and-Dirty Proposal Kit!

Writing for a Good Cause provides everything fund raisers, volunteers, staff writers, freelancers, and program directors need to know to win funds from individual, foundation, and corporate donors.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
John Sawhill President and CEO, The Nature Conservancy The best guide I've ever read for developing effective and persuasive fund-raising materials.

Richard Moe, President National Trust for Historic Preservation Certain to become the definitive word, and an essential tool, for those who seek to write persuasive proposals.

Andy Robinson author of Grassroots Grants: An Activist's Guide to Proposal Writing Practical, hands-on advice leavened with humor and attitude. The final section — how to get your proposal out the door in a hurry — will be warmly welcomed by all the procrastinators among us. Take heart, help is on the way.

Betty J. Marmon Director of Development, Philadelphia Museum of Art Barbato and Furlich are superb — a dynamic development duo! They have finally managed to demystify the purpose and process of development writing. Newcomers and seasoned professionals alike can benefit from their candor and the behind-the-scenes insights found in Writing for a Good Cause.

Allan Luks Executive Director, Big Brothers/ Big Sisters of New York City How do you convince an individual or organization not only to feel comfortable or good donating to your cause — but eager to do it? Writing for a Good Cause shows you the essential communication and human steps that lead to this goal.

Peggy Dean Glenn Associate Dean for External Affairs, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University A rare find — filled with winning strategies, practical ideas and clear examples. I am recommending it to my entire staff.

Eric Graham President and CEO, Children's Express Worldwide This book is packed with gems about what's at the heart of fundraising — sincerity, humor, perseverance. It should be required reading for anyone entering this field.

Sheila Dennis Director of Development, Union of Concerned Scientists Told from the trenches in a very entertaining style, Writing for a Good Cause is a terrific resource for fundraising veterans and newcomers. I laughed out loud reading it! For those of us who spend every day working to make the world a better place, this guide will help make your proposals stand out.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684857404
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 7/28/2000
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 452,202
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph Barbato is president of Barbato Associates, which provides writing and design services to the fund-raising programs of nonprofits. He has worked with dozens of nonprofits, including New York University, The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, and The United Nations Foundation.

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction

Both of us stumbled into fund-raising writing. Danielle had done virtually no proposal writing before taking her job at The Nature Conservancy in 1994. When she sat down to write her first piece, she was terrified.

Joe wrote his first proposal years ago at New York University. He had little idea what a development office was until he joined the staff there. His boss, a Harvard graduate and friend of James Baldwin and W. H. Auden, was a gifted writer who had learned his craft in fund-raising offices at Princeton and Cornell.

Together we will use our different vantages in Writing for a Good Cause to help you produce more persuasive fund-raising pieces.

Most of the time, we will speak in one voice. And the first thing we want to say is this: There is no such thing as proposal writing. There are proposals, and there is writing. The same is true of case statements, brochures, and newsletters. They are all fund-raising material in different formats, and they all require solid craftsman-like writing.

To write proposals successfully, you must know two things: what to put into a proposal and how to write well. This book addresses both matters, with the emphasis on the latter.

Why? Because you can find lots of advice elsewhere on how to determine which funders are interested in your cause, how to plan and develop a proposal for a particular program, how to work up a budget, etc. What you won't find anywhere else is how to take all that information and shape it into a knockout, beguiling, exciting, can't-put-it-down, and surely can't-turn-it-down fund-raising proposal.

Are we exaggerating? Of course. That is one of the early lessons we will teach you. Controlled hyperbole is a high art. But then we assume that, like our book, your program is worth shouting about from the rooftops. If you don't believe in it, if you don't call attention to it, why should anyone else notice or care?

But wait. Before we go any further, let's deal with an assumption that pervades most fund-raising offices. It is this: Anyone can write. The gobbledygook we all encounter in office memos every day gives the lie to those three words. Yet the notion that anyone can write, and presumably write well, persists. The personal computer, which allows us to move words, paragraphs, and sections any which way and to remove and add words with great ease, has given even more power to the idea that we are all writers.

Interestingly, it is an assumption made only outside the world of professional writing: Editors of newspapers and magazines and at book publishing houses are well aware that not everyone can write. Indeed, they spend each day trying to improve the writing of people who actually can write. Writing is their product, and they cannot publish material written by just anyone who thinks he or she can write.

Now, of course you can write. You do it all the time, and you give about as much thought to it as you do to other things you do all the time: breathing, eating, walking, watching television, driving to work. The only problem is, most of your writing is for people who know you or care greatly about what you are writing about. Your Aunt Sally is terribly interested in your family, so a run-on sentence or two or a boring paragraph won't keep her from reading your letter. And your boss really does want to know what happened during your call on an important prospect, so he or she will take the time to puzzle out your trip report.

You pay a lot more attention to your conversation when you are with someone you don't know well that you want to impress, don't you? You should. The same goes for writing that is intended to woo.

Or perhaps you know people at the Ford Foundation who care about you and your work to the same degree that Aunt Sally does. If so, congratulations! You don't need this book.

Well, you get the point. Stringing words together with an occasional period is not writing no matter how pretty it looks when it comes out of a laser printer. The people working at Time magazine know this; if they published the prose turned out in the typical American office, they would soon be out of business.

All of this is compounded in fund-raising offices because those doing the writing of persuasive pieces are generally neophyte writers or experienced fund raisers harried by a thousand concerns other than writing the proposal at hand. In fact, the writing of the proposal is deemed a necessary evil, a chore, an unfortunate task that is often put off and put off until finally the foundation deadline is upon us and — Well, let's get the thing written and out. Thank God for FedEx!

The result is delivered by ten o'clock the next morning to funding officers around the country, and it ain't pretty. Often, it is illogical, unreadable, and boring. And the typos — Well, at least they break up the tedium of stirring the mud with the eyeballs.

On the other hand, we know that some of you considered crawling under your desks as you read the above because you know you can't write. You just spent an hour looking at a blank computer screen. You reworked the same opening sentence 68 times. You highlighted your outline in three different colors but don't have a scrap of writing to show for it.

Worse, your colleagues have been slowly piecing together how unqualified you really are, and when they get this first draft, they'll know for sure: You are a hoax. You can't write to save your life. You are doomed.

Believe us, we've been there. And we hereby guarantee that you will not only survive but you will conquer.

What is to be done? It is time to think about how to write for a good cause. Let's take the writing itself as seriously as we hope funders will take our proposals. Let's take a deep breath and begin.

In his classes on proposal writing, Joe has found that most men and women realize they must spend more time thinking about the writing in proposal writing. Most have a fairly strong idea of the information that must go into a proposal. It is the writing that concerns them, for they are not writers.

They wonder:

  • Can you give us an outline for a basic proposal? (Yes.)
  • How long should my proposal be? (Long enough to secure funding.)
  • How do I find time to write? (You don't find time to write. You make time to write.)
  • Does my proposal have to look fancy? (Depends on who's reading it.)
  • Isn't there an easy way to do this? (No.)
  • What's the best advice you have? (Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.)
  • What's the second-best advice you have? (Read everything you can get your hands on.)

We're going to address all of that and more in Writing for a Good Cause. We're going to offer the best advice we have about the experience of writing in the context of fund raising. And we are going to offer thoughts related to fund-raising writing from a wide range of people and places.

We collared colleagues — fund raisers and writers — and persuaded them to tell the stories of their work at disparate nonprofits: from the Consumer Federation of America to the Wilderness Society; from the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts to the University of California at Davis; from Borealis Community Land Trust in Alaska to WETA, a public television and radio station serving Washington, D.C. We surveyed program officers at the 100 top foundations; we demanded hot tips from photo, design, printing, and Web site gurus; and we nearly ransacked libraries at the National Society of Fund Raising Executives and other national groups.

We also garnered advice from writers, both living and dead, ranging from Chekhov ("Take out adjectives and adverbs wherever you can") to the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Jonathan Yardley, who has been writing persuasively for many years and who reminded us about the string that must run from the beginning of a piece to the end: "If the string breaks, you lose the reader," he says.

"Put the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair," Rex Stout used to say when asked how he got his writing done. He was writing Nero Wolfe mystery novels. How does that relate to your work? Plenty. Nothing ever got written without putting seat to seat. (Hemingway was the exception; he'd often write while standing, with his pad on the top of a refrigerator; when we become Hemingway, we will do that, too.)

We found some of our advice in unlikely places. Zen masters like Thich Nhat Hanh have much to tell us about writing. When doing the dishes, do the dishes, they tell us. When eating, eat. When writing, write!

We're looking forward to spending some time with you aimed at strengthening your writing for the finest causes in this country. We're going to learn a thing or two ourselves as we move ahead. Despite our harsh words about much that gets written, we both remain humble and a bit insecure when it comes to writing well. Writing is hard work; never let anyone tell you otherwise. The more you grow as a writer, the more you will be grateful for those moments when you get the words right.

We're going to toss in a bit of poetry now and again. We're going to show you how accomplished writers lure readers by using plain English for complex subjects. And we're going to describe at least ten wonderful things that enrich our lives every day that would not have existed if someone hadn't written a fund-raising proposal.

We will do our best to be empowering, realistic, down-to-earth, lucid, motivating, sympathetic, and amusing.

In Writing for a Good Cause, we'll show you how to use words well to win the support of funders.

Copyright © 2000 by Joseph Barbato and Danielle S. Furlich

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Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction

PART 1: THE WACKY WORLD OF FUND RAISING

1. What Is Fund Raising, Anyway? The ABCs of the Nonprofit World

2. Today's Development Office: Who Does What and Why

3. The Role of the Writer: Using Words for a Cause

Part 2: Writing the Perfect Proposal

4. The Marriage Proposal: Asking from Strength

5. Getting Your Material Together: How to Research and Interview

6. Parts of a Proposal: Making Each Section Sing

7. After the Proposal: Thank-You Letters and Reports

Part 3: The Writer's Craft

8. Seat of Pants to Seat of Chair: How to Get Started

9. Second Drafts and Other Saving Graces: Revising, Editing, and Editing Again

10. Other Key Craft Stuff: How to Get It Crisp, Styled, and Polished

11. The Persuasive Argument: From Angry Letters to Ads and Editorials

Part 4: Case Statements and Other Big-Money Materials

12. Case Statements: Striking a Noble Note

13. Newsletters: How to Write, Edit, Design, and Print

14. Writing for the Electronic Age: E-mail and the World Wide Web

Part 5: So Now You're All Set, Right?

15. The Fund-Raising Writer's Survival Kit: What to Do When Stuff Happens

The Gotta-Get-It-Out-Right-Now, How-Late-Is-FedEx-Open? Down-And-Dirty Proposal Kit

A Philanthropist Is on Line 1: This Situation Calls for a Proposal

Figuring Out What to Include: From Notes to Outline

Writing It Right: From Introduction to Reprise

How Late Did You Say They're Open? Proof, Package, and Out the Door

Appendix

Resources

A Glossary of Design and Printing Terms

Index

About the authors

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