Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Blank Page

Many times, the topic for this blog comes from the strangest places. It could be a long plane ride, or something I've read in the news lately or just from something that frustrates me. But each and every one starts with a blank page. When I was working on my first Master's degree I learned a lot about the "tabula rasa" or blank slate. 

And you know what? That's how we start with our donors. We have a blank slate, a opportunity to build an amazing relationship with them and to ensure that what we write has power and meaning to them. At times the blank page can become overwhelming. I always like to start when I'm writing for donors by typing the theme words or goals of what I'm trying to accomplish with my writing at the top of the page. It makes the page less lonely and keeps me focused on my theme and the important part. I also write at the top of the page the following, "It's not about you, it's about the donor." That really helps me keep things in perspective.

If all else fails and I'm really in a rut, I might try taking someone else's sample, that's why I started the writing swaps on my website years ago, and adapt it to my needs. I find that at times that blank slate can be completely intimidating and will overwhelm you. How do we convey such profound gratitude to others while making our message clear? How do we not get lost in jargon and telling someone all about us? We keep focused, we drive the message home that the donor is the hero and we are humbled by their generosity.

Also I like to model my writing from others who inspire me. I'm a voracious reader and find that the more I read, the better writer I become. I'm not flowery or poetic, I'm more a Hemingway kinda girl. Some people say my emails resemble tweets they're so short. I call them efficient. With our donors, remember that every second to them is precious and we need to respect that. Why tell them in two pages what two good paragraphs could have done? As you think about how we communicate and write for our donors what are the things you take into account? What are the behaviors that others have in their writing that you would like to imitate or that drive you bonkers? 

"If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter." - Blaise Pascal


  1. "Efficient" is good, because I think most people don't really read beyond the second paragraph! When I was a student and in my early career I used to try to sound sophisticated in my writing, but now I go for a more straightforward, less formal approach. I don't want donors to have to work too hard to understand what I am saying! Informal, however, does NOT mean ignoring the rules of grammar. Bad grammar drives me bonkers.

  2. I fear the blank page. Adding notes on the page to remind me of what the message I'm trying to relay is, DEFINITELY is a life saver! I have a very casual writing style and a few of my projects require me to write in a more formal tone, so having notes at the top of the page keeps me in line! Otherwise my imagination gets the best of me and I start rambling...

    Formal, generate emails with no personality drives me bonkers...It feels like I'm being contacted by robots!