Three Editing Principles

Editing

In my first job as a fundraising writer, my mentor regularly and rigorously edited my work. 

It was painful. 

But I’m forever grateful because he always explained the “why” behind the edits.  And over time I became a more effective writer.

In an effort to “pass it on,” here are three edits I made in the last week.  Hopefully seeing the “before” and the “after” – and knowing why the edit was made – will help you in the same way it helped me…

Start with the Most Important Info

Original copy:
“Today, you have an incredible opportunity. Thanks to the generosity of [company name], your gift will be TRIPLED up to $40,000.”

Edited Copy:
“Your gift will be TRIPLED up to $40,000! What an incredible opportunity to increase your impact, thanks to the generosity of [company name].”

Reasoning:
Put the most important information first.

The example paragraph contains three ideas: the donor has an opportunity, the matching funds are provided by a company, and the donor’s gift will triple.  Of those three, the most important idea *to the donor* is that their gift will triple.  Arrange the ideas in the paragraph so that the most important idea is first. 

You never want to put important information at the end of a paragraph. A significant percentage of people will scan your letter or email (instead of reading it).  And “scanners” often don’t read more than the first few words of a paragraph. 

“Don’t bury the lede” is in the Donor Communications Constitution for a reason.

Avoid Ambiguity

Original copy:
“Her mom’s ability to work has been impacted by the pandemic.”

Edited Copy:
“Her mom hasn’t been able to work as much because of the pandemic.”

Reasoning:
Avoid words and phrases that can mean multiple things.

The phrase “ability to work has been impacted” is value neutral; the ‘impact’ could be either good or bad.  But the job of this sentence (and the paragraph it resides in) is to provide evidence that a gift is needed today.  The edited copy makes it clearer, faster, that the situation is a negative one. 

Any time you require a reader to figure out exactly what you mean, you’ve increased the chances they will abandon your email or letter. 

Make It About the Reader

Original copy:
“We still need your help to reach our match goal.”

Edited Copy:
“Your help is still needed, and your gift will be doubled.”

Reasoning:
Donors are more interested in themselves than they are in organizations.

The sentence, “We still need your help to reach our match goal” is mostly about the organization.  It’s the organization that needs help.  It’s the organization’s goal. 

But that sentence can be re-written to be about the reader.  “Your help is needed, and your gift will be doubled.”   And we’ve turned the slightly ambiguous phrase “match goal” into a donor benefit; their gift will be doubled.

Editing your direct response fundraising to make it more about your reader and their interests is a counter-intuitive but proven approach to raising more money.

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