20 Aug

Writing for a World that Doesn’t Read

Those responsible for communicating with nonprofit constituencies (donors, activists, board members, even employees etc.) have a tough job these days. They need to reach out to people and craft materials for a world that doesn’t read. With technology moving as fast as it does and multitasking now a way of life, people’s attention spans have shortened. All communication has to be drafted with this in mind.

On average, a recipient will open their correspondence (if you are lucky) and read the first sentence. If it is compelling, they’ll read at least until the fold or the paragraph. After that, it’s up to how much time and interest the reader has at that moment and how long before their smart phone rings, email dings or they are otherwise interrupted. The first sentence might be all it takes for them to decide to continue reading, to skim the rest or to discard your correspondence.

To increase the likelihood of actually conveying your message:

  • Make your key point, make your most important ask and underscore the urgency or timing all in an easy to read way by highlighting, bolding and italicizing key words
  • Put the main information up front and at the end summarize again
  • Create a road map for the reader
  • Personalize to the extent feasible

The idea of keeping things crisp and clear goes not only for materials given to donors but also for the materials given to board members and staff. In preparation for meetings,  send an agenda and an executive summary with any lengthy report or let people know where they can get more information. I promise that people will appreciate your brevity and organization.

Overall, keep in mind when writing and preparing materials that you don’t want your efforts to be in vain. You need to write for a world that doesn’t read.

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