"The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. 'tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning"
Bard Arts Consulting offers writing and editing services for nonprofit organizations who seek to create a more effective public identity and give greater light and life to their fundraising and marketing materials.
There is a wonderful story about Mark Twain that’s probably apocryphal, since most stories he told about himself were. He claimed to have attended a luncheon at which the speaker was hoping to raise money for a worthy cause. Twain was predisposed to support this cause and decided to donate $100, but as the speaker droned on and on, Twain became impatient and mentally cut his intended gift in half, and as the speaker continued, cut it in half yet again. When finally the man shut up and sat down and the basket was passed, Twain helped himself to a ten dollar bill. This is not the sort of fundraising appeal we should seek to emulate.
If your Mission is everything, then the message that conveys your Mission is the source of its life, the sun on your garden. If the message is muddled, or boring, or just not artful enough to engage attention and create affinity, then your Mission may wither for lack of nourishment. It needs Message Therapy.
Words matter. We work with things of inherent value, but someone needs to supply the words that will extend their reach. If you aren’t prepared to articulate the value inherent in your work - and to do so with clarity and force - then your fundamental responsibility for the mission can’t be rescued by even the most passionate commitment. A clear and compelling articulation of your mission is no less vital to your success than the beauty of the performances you present or the power of your programs.
As nonprofit professionals, what we say matters. How we say what we say matters. We have an obligation to think clearly and to invest our words with meaning and consequence. Often, we connect best when we drop the solemn and high-minded tone that afflicts too much of what we say, purge our messages of jargon, and talk to our donors like the people they are, using language that informs and entertains, that persuades and engages, and that meshes with their priorities.
Organizations for which I was responsible have received many millions in grants from some of the most respected foundations in America, names that shine like a beacon in our world: Wallace, Irvine, Bush, Dayton-Hudson, McKnight, Gates. I have served on grant panels for Federal, State, Regional, and local funders. I have read, written and edited enough grant applications, solicitation letters, community impact reports, and campaign case statements in my life to fill a pretty good sized county library. My lifetime fundraising total is somewhere north of $200 million, much of it the outcome of the words I wrote.
Along the way, I developed the ability to distinguish the lightning from the lighting bug. Give me a shout if you're in need of a lighting strike!