Speaking in Others’ Voices

While reading this New York Times article about ghostwriting for celebrity cookbooks last month, it made me think about how fundraisers spend their careers writing in the voice of their organizations and its leaders.  Now I don’t think that we require the same sort of acknowledgment as book ghostwriters, but I wanted to draw attention to this skill and how it is something that is not easily explained (or replicated).  As I write, I can still mentally revert back to writing for the Executive Director at my former organization (not to mention the elected officials for whom I worked while in high school and college).

If you are not familiar with this phenomenon, ask some of your colleagues about it.  When I started at International House, I made a point to read through recent correspondence from my boss and the President, as I knew that I would be responsible for preparing document drafts (appeal letters, acknowledgments, stewardship reports, etc.) and wanted to get an idea of their respective voices.  After that, I jumped into my writing assignments and got their direct feedback along the way to learn those subtle nuances (e.g. which words they never use, which phrases are their favorites, what they only say to donors with whom they have close or personal relationships).  I think that it took me about a full year to feel reasonably confident writing in the voices of the Director of Development and President, though even after being at I-House for almost three years they still surprise me every now and then with very particular edits for outgoing correspondence.

How have you honed this skill during your fundraising career?  Do you think that non-profit organizations effectively identify people with this skill?

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