Feb 25, 2008

Fundraising Needs Good Storytelling -- And Story Editing

There's been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere about the importance of bringing powerful, colorful stories to your potential donors. For a rundown of articles and other commentary, see the February 22, 2008 entry in Kivi Leroux's Nonprofit Communications Blog.

Dorothy and Cowardly LionDon't miss the priceless parody of The Wizard of Oz as written in nonprofit jargon, by Andy Goodman (in his October 2003 newsletter). He starts out, "An at-risk youth from a blended family in the farm belt is rendered unconscious by an extreme weather event."

Andy follows his parody with a list of seven questions to help sharpen your stories -- things like "Who is the protagonist?" and "What keeps it interesting?" All good stuff. But it occurs to me that someone could answer these questions and still churn out lifeless prose like his parody. Very few people write great copy the first time through.

That's why I want to put in a plug for editing. As both a writer and and editor, I've had to learn that there's nothing precious about my words when I first put them on the page. In some cases, they're just plain awful -- but hey (I tell myself), they're mere placeholders, awaiting the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th drafts.

It's often not until I see my early, botched attempts at expressing an idea that my brain starts to kick into gear and think of a better way of getting the point across. From what I've read, I'm not the only writer who works this way. And even without such flashes of inspiration, good editing means looking at each and every word on the page and asking, "Is that one boring -- can I substitute it with a better one?" or "Is that word necessary -- can I cut it out?"

With solid editing, in which you build a story from the ground up, any writer can turn that "at-risk youth" into Dorothy with her ruby slippers.