Episode 2: Making a Case for Support with Rae Pagliarulo
Continuing the series of Case, Culture, and Courage, host Robbe Healey interviews Rae Pagliarulo of Fairmount Ventures about effective communication and writing strategies in the context of nonprofit fundraising. The discussions revolve around how to make writing more engaging, relatable, and effective in achieving its purpose. We also discuss how to structure information for maximum impact. Join us as we decode the secrets of writing that not only informs but also inspires and persuades.
Categories: Nonprofit Expert Podcast
Episode 2: Making a Case for Support with Rae Pagliarulo TranscriptPrint Transcript
Robbe Healey: 0:10
Welcome to Nonprofit Expert, the podcast presented by DonorPerfect. Together, we’ll explore hot topics and fundraising, inspiring stories from people making a difference in their communities and the latest technologies to improve nonprofit Read More
Robbe Healey: 0:10
Welcome to Nonprofit Expert, the podcast presented by DonorPerfect. Together, we’ll explore hot topics and fundraising, inspiring stories from people making a difference in their communities and the latest technologies to improve nonprofit efficiency and leadership, From grassroots movements to global initiatives. Join us as we take a deeper dive into the sector dedicated to serving the common good. Welcome and thank you for joining us. My name is and we’re so happy you joined us for Case Culture and Courage in Nonprofit Expert presented by DonorPerfect. Today we’re going to focus on case and I’m so excited that joining us today is from Fairmount Ventures, and Rae is a real expert in crafting an amazing case for support and if you’re like me, you know our cases for support need to be really good. You can be pretty honest with yourself when you know it’s not as good as you want it to be or you need a complete reboot. So she’s going to give us some hints and structure for taking our case from average to awesome. But before we get started, I want her to have a chance to introduce herself to you and give you a little background on how she got in her professional journey into the nonprofit space, working with nonprofits on things like their cases.
Rae Pagliarulo: 1:39
Hi, Robbe, so glad to be here with you. Basically, the long and short of it is that the two things that I’ve always loved more than anything are talking to people and writing, and so, after a long history working in coffee shops, where I got a lot of practice talking to people, I decided it was time to sit down and do some work. So I started my career in nonprofits. For 10 years I worked for nonprofits as a development officer and really got experience working with different sized organizations, and in the middle of that I ended up pursuing it during a year of unemployment by MFA in creative writing. I had remembered that writing just made me so happy, and so, in the midst of developing this career that I felt excited about, I reconnected with my love of writing, went back to school and would basically work a full day, go to school at night, and really it was a wonderful experience, and every single day I saw the way that the work I was doing in my master’s program was influencing the way that I was writing and communicating at work and the way that my deliverables at work were very similar to the things I was working on in my MFA. So, after 10 years being a frontline fundraiser, I decided I’m a little tired, I think I need a bit of an existential nap, and consulting presented itself as an option. It was a really wonderful way for me to use everything I knew about fundraising but not be in that frontline fundraiser position. So I’ve been with Fairmount Ventures for four years. We’re a women-owned company. Over the last 30 years we’ve served nearly 400 organizations of all kinds healthcare, education, universities, arts and culture and in that time have raised over $800 million for our clients. So it has been an incredible opportunity and a great way for me to really flex my writing chops in a way that supports our clients in a very real way.
Robbe Healey: 3:52
I think it’s interesting to think about how we write, because I’m not a trained writer, but I think I’m pretty okay at it.
Rae Pagliarulo: 4:01
But I also try to be a little more generous with yourself there.
Robbe Healey: 4:04
But I also think there’s this stereotype that writing has to be this fluid experience, that it just comes out of your soul and that if you have rules, somehow that’s put you in a silo or a box. That’s constraining. And I had an opportunity to take your workshop, your writing workshop, sponsored by the Philadelphia AFP chapter, and you gave us a roadmap. You gave us a very clear structure and you said there are six principles. If you understand the principles, apply the best of them, you’re going to have a better outcome than if you ignore those. So I want to read them, so that people know what they are, and you’re going to talk us through them. Yes, ma’am, voice, sentence construction and clarity, writing for audiences, information, structure, sensory details and, my favorite, the dirty dozen.
Rae Pagliarulo: 4:58
The dirty dozen. I love it.
Robbe Healey: 5:00
So think about this. I’m hoping it will give those of us who think you just have to sit down and it has to flow.
Rae Pagliarulo: 5:06
The divine strike of inspiration. There you go. No.
Robbe Healey: 5:09
There you go and really give us a roadmap. So I’m hoping, as you talk through this, you won’t mind if I interrupt you with a question or two.
Rae Pagliarulo: 5:17
I love interruptions.
Robbe Healey: 5:19
But I would love to have you start wherever you want to start and get us from voice to dirty. Dozen, let’s do it.
Rae Pagliarulo: 5:24
Well, the first thing that’s really important is that so many folks who end up in development and fundraising or even marketing communications really anybody who works in a nonprofit usually finds themselves in a situation where they have to do something that they didn’t anticipate doing and other duties as assigned. It happens every day, and being a writer is often one of those things. You’re tasked with telling a really clear and compelling story, and a lot of times, people see creative work as something that is reserved for creative people or artists, and it’s just not. I like to think about creativity as a way of solving problems, and all of us are solving problems. We’re solving the problem of how do I communicate something to this donor, how do I ask for something? How do I make the case for why it’s important to support this program? Creativity is required in all of those things, but we access our creativity in different ways. So you don’t need to be a writer and you don’t need to be a creative person to access the kind of creativity that you need every day, really, in order to look at a problem and go okay, how am I going to tackle this? So the divine lightning bolt of inspiration is a nice thing to experience Heaven knows. Wouldn’t that be great? It’s great when it happens, but by and large, when you’re writing for an organization, you do not have the luxury to wait for that and there’s really no way of predicting when it’s going to show up. No, the different one was probably yesterday, exactly, exactly the deadline’s yesterday, and I’ve got 500 characters and I’ve got to make this work. So I say, forget the lightning bolt, take out your toolbox and we’ve got the box. Yeah, we’ve got it. So the first one that we talk about is voice, and you’ve probably heard somebody say, oh, that person has that writer has such a strong voice, what an interesting distinctive voice. But what does that actually mean, like, what is it made of when we hear somebody with a really distinctive voice? I see it as four little pieces that come together to create a voice. The first one is semantics, which is really just the words you use, the literal words that you choose, because, as we know, there’s about 100 ways to say the same thing, your point of view or the perspective from which you’re speaking. This could be first person, second person, third person, third person, omniscient, whatever. Then you’ve got tone, which is really the tone of voice. A lot of times in writing, your tone is going to be communicated by. A lot of times it’s punctuation, frankly, or italics, or bold. It’s a way to emphasize the writing in a way that’s giving the reader signals as to the tone that’s coming across in the piece of writing. And then syntax, which we’re going to get into in sentence construction, is the order in which you put your sentences, the order in which you organize your thoughts. So if you think about voice as this umbrella, and underneath it are those four pieces, you can think about looking at those pieces as really specific decisions that you’re making on the page in order to let someone know how to read something, what your voice is. A lot of times when we write, we have no control over what happens. When something is out there, we can kill ourselves writing something wonderful. Once it’s up on the website, frankly, it’s not ours anymore. It’s open to interpretation and it could be interpreted incorrectly or in a way that you didn’t anticipate. But the things that we’re going to talk about today are ways that you can do as much as possible in order to make that written piece feel as authentic as humanly possible to your voice, one of the things that I suggest to people. Sometimes, a lot of times, I’ve worked with organizational leaders who can talk extemporaneously really well. We can sit over a cup of coffee and we can chat like nobody’s business, but when it comes to sitting down with a blank document, they can’t seem to get that voice on the page. Why is it that I can sit in a room and talk to somebody but I can’t make that happen in a Word document? And as simple and maybe stupid as it sounds, I suggest to people that you record yourself talking, record yourself answering a question in a grant proposal. Just talk it through. It’s probably going to be a mess, but if you listen back and you really analyze what you’re hearing and then you put it on the page and then you start to see what are the words I’m choosing, what’s the tone, am I saying um a lot? Am I saying uh A lot? Am I speaking in circles? Am I using a lot of short sentences? Am I using a lot of long winding sentences? You can start to pick out those tools and develop a little bit of distance from that spoken voice and see how it translates on the page and it gives you a little bit more agency in developing that and writing.
Robbe Healey: 10:48
Makes sense. It’s like the first draft, the first very, very, very rough draft.
Rae Pagliarulo: 10:53
The roughest of all. Rough, yeah, you really. I mean, you know it’s affectionately called a brain dump, and sometimes you really just have to let yourself do it. Especially, I think, in non-profits and especially in development. We get so bogged down in the organizational lexicon, right, we are speaking the organizational language over and over and over again and obviously you’ve got a mission statement, you’ve got an organization like a lot of that stuff has been edited and carefully designed so that it communicates the right thing. But there’s a other side to that. There’s another side of the blade, which is that when you’ve got that kind of strong, really clearly affected organizational language that’s been edited and approved by multiple bodies, you run the risk of losing a level of authenticity and, frankly, a level of human connection.
Robbe Healey: 11:49
I absolutely agree with you, and I think the other thing you do is you run the risk of having all this internal jargon that no one understands. Yeah, that’s our question. And I think that’s a speed bump for a lot of development officers, because when they don’t write in that exclusive and I’ll use that word pejoratively, that exclusive language, then your colleagues think you don’t get what they do. Well, you’re not dumbing it down for a donor, you’re opening it up for them, I think, by using language that is story-like instead of clinical.
Rae Pagliarulo: 12:26
And we’re going to talk about this. The third skill that we’re talking about is writing towards specific audiences, and we kind of get into this there, which is that I think the most important thing to do before you break the rules is to learn them really, really well, and so we can internalize that organizational jargon, we can get the mission statement down. We have all of the language that we know. A funder is going to respond to, or a donor is going to respond to, or the board chair is going to respond to, but I think what’s really important is being able to find opportunities for authenticity within these areas that feel really restrictive.
Robbe Healey: 13:12
Is that a voice thing, or is that something else?
Rae Pagliarulo: 13:15
I think it’s all of it. I think it’s all of these things are choices that, frankly, we want to make in order to make our writing stand apart. There’s a billion nonprofits fighting for the same pot of money.
Robbe Healey: 13:30
And a lot of them in the same space. Yeah, and a lot of them doing the same thing. What’s your competitive? advantage, what’s your distinction that lets you not necessarily exclude everyone else, but distinguish you in your sector.
Rae Pagliarulo: 13:46
I mean part of it is the strategic question. Like you said, how do I identify my competitive edge, and I think that’s a really important step of the process, but I think, too, establishing an authentic voice. Really, all any of us are doing is connecting with each other as human beings.
Robbe Healey: 14:04
I’m imagining voice takes on different aspects too, because if you’re writing for a general audience, that’s different than writing for your CEO or writing for your board chair, if they’re doing something very focused, but the thread of the voice should sound like the same organization. Is that on the right track or am I misinterpreting that?
Rae Pagliarulo: 14:25
You’re definitely on the right track. I think it’s a combination of developing a really strong voice and then, for the third one, understanding the audience. You’re speaking to read the room. Right, you got to read the room. You have to know what you’re.
Robbe Healey: 14:38
Yeah, we’ve all learned that, yeah.
Rae Pagliarulo: 14:39
Read the room, honey, figure out who it is you’re talking to and what it is you need to convince them of or sell them on. But then you’ve got your voice tools. You’ve got your tools, you’ve got your syntax, you’ve got your tone, you’ve got your semantics and your point of view, and you’re ready to use them all appropriately.
Robbe Healey: 14:57
And is that how we get into second one?
Rae Pagliarulo: 15:00
Yes, yes, so number two sentence construction.
Robbe Healey: 15:05
You already mentioned short and long. When you’re making the recording, I’m assuming you’re going to tell us a little bit about how to vary that and make it interesting.
Rae Pagliarulo: 15:14
Yes, you know, sentence construction is the kind of thing that we don’t notice until it’s done really badly.
Robbe Healey: 15:22
And then you’re like, who wrote this? Oh my God, oh, it was me.
Rae Pagliarulo: 15:25
Yeah, this you know. Another thing we talked about with voice speaking out loud, recording yourself and listening to yourself. Another really important thing you can do is read a piece that you’ve written out loud and listen, for where you trip over the words. Am I struggling with the way these two words are rubbing up against each other? Is everything a short, staccato sentence? Do I have nothing but prepositional phrases that I’m just galloping over? Am I giving myself room to breathe?
Robbe Healey: 15:57
Is this entire paragraph one sentence?
Rae Pagliarulo: 16:00
All of those things are going to become so much easier to check when you read a written piece out loud, even if the piece isn’t meant to be read out loud, as a final product, it’s such a great way of identifying the places where you’re tripping. So sentence construction, like I said, is it’s one of those things where you don’t really notice it until it’s done badly and really there’s two pieces of it. One, I think, is variation in sentence length, right and complexity. So there are some sentences that are going to be really straightforward subject, verb, object. I did this, we did that, or you’re looking at more complex sentences. Through the approach of X, we were able to achieve the following three things conditional clause, conditional clause, conditional clause. So there are so many ways to construct a sentence and I think what we learn through perhaps writing let’s say you’ve got an idea, I’m going to write that as a simple sentence. I’m going to write that as a complex sentence, I’m going to turn it into a paragraph long single sentence you start to understand your options and you start to clue yourself in into how is the way I’m constructing my sentences giving the reader a clue as to how they’re meant to read. This I think a lot about speed and breath In my creative writing journey. I’ve read essays where you look at the words that the writer has chosen to use and the construction of the sentences and it gives a sense of breathlessness. By the time you get to the end of a couple of sentences, you’re holding onto your chair. You don’t even know what just happened because you’re careening your way through the sentence, because of the word choice, because of the construction. So again, reading aloud will help you understand. Oh, I didn’t have a chance to take a breath. Maybe I should break that sentence up into two simpler sentences. Or, oh, this sounds really staccato and super simple. Maybe I should take these simple sentences and combine them using some conditional clauses. The point of all of this, frankly, is to keep your reader engaged. You’re handing them a piece of paper, or you’re submitting a grant proposal or sending a letter to their house, whatever the case might be, and the last thing you want them to do is get bored or start scanning and find themselves at the end of the document thinking I don’t know what I just read.
Robbe Healey: 18:36
This is in the recycle bin.
Rae Pagliarulo: 18:37
Exactly so. If you keep them engaged by I don’t want to say forcing, but by inspiring a level of active engagement with how they’re perceiving and analyzing the words in front of them, you are inviting them to be more engaged in the piece of writing. You’re varying your sentences to a level where they have to stay on their toes to a reasonable degree in order to stay on top of what’s happening, and, as a reader, that’s a really satisfying experience. That’s why, sometimes, when we read a novel, we say to somebody oh, I got through the first chapter and I was done versus, I couldn’t put it down. I take it to dinner with me, I take it to the coffee shop, that’s. It’s sort of the secret key, I think, to something that people feel motivated to read the way through is that the writer has done the work of engaging the reader and asking them to think a little bit while they’re reading. It keeps you on your toes, it keeps you aware of what you’re looking at.
Robbe Healey: 19:47
And I’m imagining that’s going to dovetail right with the audience, because you’re going to weave those sentences together very differently depending on who you’re writing for Exactly. So talk some about that.
Rae Pagliarulo: 19:59
I mean writing for audiences is, I think, another one of those things that’s difficult to. There’s no one right way to do it.
Robbe Healey: 20:10
But I think there are huge wrong ways and I say that in part because there’s always this exquisite tension between writing for the donor, which, in my experience, they want to know what miracles we’re creating, what outcomes did we create, not how we got there. So if we’re writing for the audience, using the correct voice, structuring the sentences so that they keep you engaged, writing for the staff, writing for the board, is often very different than writing for someone who knows nothing about us or writing for an experienced donor, and I think that’s often where our colleagues in development really need an ally to say to them you’re not crazy and you already talked about they need to know that you understand the inside. But then how do we help them? Trust us that we know how to tell the story outside the walls.
Rae Pagliarulo: 21:15
Yeah, and what’s interesting is that, like you said, there’s so many different groups of people that we need to communicate to on the page, and one of the really important things that we need to do in order to get ready for that is to try and understand. What does this group of people expect from me. What kind of expectations is this person bringing to it? I’m going to deliver this written document, and they might have certain expectations. Like you said, a donor might be expecting a really inspiring story about all the amazing stuff that you did, and the board of directors might be expecting a very tactical rundown of all of the different strategies that we used in the A-B testing, and you’re using, as always, a different set of tools, a lot of which we’re going to talk about today. One of the things that I think is really tricky about writing for different audiences and, again, this is where developing that strong voice and developing an understanding of sentence construction allows you to make some really smart choices, but what it also comes with is a lot of assumptions. We tend to make assumptions about the people that we’re talking to, especially when the people that we’re talking to are a swath of great unknowns. Let’s say, like philanthropy, the big giant wall of philanthropy, or individual donors as though they’re monolith, which they’re not. You sort of have to make assumptions about what folks are expecting to hear and what’s the best way for you to connect with them. Ie, how can I use my voice tools to reach this group of people? What are they hoping to hear? What is going to impact them? What’s going to affect them? This is one of the things that I think in the workshop that we did, we always get into this conversation. When you’re writing for audiences, you’re making assumptions about them and they’re not a monolith. But when we think about it from an intersectional standpoint and we think about the intersections of race and gender and gender identity and education and where folks live and how old they are, it gets really muddy. You start to make assumptions about what a certain kind of person is going to hear and that could come with it some really unfair assumptions about the best way to reach those folks. You know like sometimes I think you even said it a second ago, I’m not trying to dumb this down for the donor who thinks the donors need to have something watered down, or oversimplified. Hopefully no one. Hopefully nobody. You know, I think also we get into this when we see organizations that are serving marginalized populations. You know, there’s a lot of assumptions that we make when we are telling other people’s stories or we’re telling the stories of a participant or someone who’s been through a program and we’re trying to communicate that to another group of people who might only want to hear a certain side of that story. So there’s all these assumptions in that and I think one of the really important things when we’re talking about writing for specific audiences. We might not have the answer to all of these questions, but it’s unbelievably important to confront the assumptions that we’re carrying into it. What assumptions do I have about the audience? How right or wrong am I Possibly about those assumptions? How can I use that to better inform, how I’m trying to reach them? Can I possibly find ways to dismantle any kind of implicit bias that I’m carrying into this because of those assumptions that might or might not be informed or might be dead wrong? Again, I feel like this is a conversation for a whole other podcast episode.
Robbe Healey: 25:29
I’m sure it is.
Rae Pagliarulo: 25:31
I’m trying to contain myself.
Robbe Healey: 25:33
I was also just thinking, as you were talking, about the radical idea of testing it with the constituencies you’re trying to reach. What a concept that would be and of course, that also requires time and budget.
Rae Pagliarulo: 25:45
Well, that’s what I’m saying. It’s time consuming, yeah, and it costs money, and it requires you to really pay attention, as opposed to sending out an annual appeal and crossing your fingers, which, frankly, is sometimes all we’ve got capacity to do, unfortunately.
Robbe Healey: 26:01
That’s right, but we can also track what they’re responding to and figure out what works well, because we’re sending it out and it’s not working at all.
Rae Pagliarulo: 26:09
That’s a clue that we may not have it right yeah and to be able to, to be able to identify why that might be. Again, it takes time, it takes effort.
Robbe Healey: 26:23
We have to be willing to look ourselves in the mirror.
Rae Pagliarulo: 26:27
Yeah, and really the organizational leadership has to be willing to invest the time and resources in doing that so that they can work smarter and not harder. So you don’t just keep sending 700 letters and wondering why nobody’s making a donation.
Robbe Healey: 26:43
You know. So does that have to do with the information structure, the way we sequence things? So that people are finding what touches their soul. Yeah, yeah, so that’s is that number four.
Rae Pagliarulo: 26:56
It is. We’re at number four, ladies and gents. So information structure, just really how you are presenting things on the page. Once again, there’s four tiny little pieces to this that I think really will help writers make some critical decisions about how they’re presenting the information. So the four things that I like to think about when I’m looking at the different way, the different options that I have for presenting information Number one is the volume. Just what’s the sheer volume of info that I’m looking at here? Two, what are the commonalities that I can see In this volume of information? Three, what level of detail is appropriate for this situation, for this audience, for this grant proposal, case for support, annual appeal, blog post, etc. And then four, what are my priorities? What’s the first thing that I need to make sure this piece of writing communicates? And the second, and the third and the fourth. So when we look at those things, we then have a choice. Am I going to go for a straight narrative? Once upon a time there was a fabulous nonprofit, and here’s the story. Am I going to go for bullet points? Am I going to go for simple bullets? Here’s a list of 11 things that we did that were super fabulous. Or here’s a list of 11 social emotional traits that we inspire in the youth that we work with. One relationship building. Two problem solving Simple, simple, simple. Or am I going to do complex bullets? Here’s a list of initiatives that we piloted over the last year Bullet one complex sentences. Bullet two complex sentences. Are you numbering them? Are you using graphs? Are you using a pie chart? Are you using photographs? So all these different choices that you’re making. A lot of times, the format that you’re writing in is telling you what options you have, right. If you’re in a grant portal and you’ve got a tiny little box and 300 words at the most, then you know what your options are. You sure do Right, especially when they say please keep formatting to a minimum, really, really Well.
Robbe Healey: 29:18
And then there’s the opposite, where they give you a thousand words, and I’m always assuming, if they give you a thousand words, they’re thinking this is important enough that they want that much information. So don’t put 50 words in a thousand word box.
Rae Pagliarulo: 29:32
I mean, it’s a clue that they’re giving you. It is a clue that they’re giving you, Basically, the number of characters or the number of words is their way of saying. This is the level of detail I’d like you to get into. You don’t have to, you know, but I’m looking for this volume of detail, you know, and so that’s a clue.
Robbe Healey: 29:52
I’ve always taken it as a very strong suggestion.
Rae Pagliarulo: 29:55
Yeah, yeah, although sometimes. I was recently working on one that had it was a limit of 10,000 characters, some kind of bonkers. And then I had a client who said oh yeah, we submitted two paragraphs and it worked like a charm. So Yay for them, yay for them. But you know, this is, this is the fun part of talking about what we talk about. You know, we can talk about the tools and the tips and the tricks to do something great. We can’t predict everything, we can’t solve for everything, but you’re right, usually when we’re looking at word limits or character limits, it’s a foundation’s way of saying this is what I this is a general expectation that I have of you.
Robbe Healey: 30:42
Try and meet it, and of course, we don’t have that for donors. We’re again. We’re making assumptions and trying to figure out how to act on them to the best of our ability, excluding all of our biases.
Rae Pagliarulo: 30:53
Yeah, and there’s lots of assumptions that we carry into that too. I mean, obviously, I feel like there’s been research as to how folks scan and how a human beings scans information, right. So we look at how the way that our brains develop in reading. What are the things that we are going to pay attention to first? What are the things that we look for when scanning a document, right, in order to pick out what’s most important for me to know. So we use those in this information structure, right, I’ve got a certain amount of detail that I want to give. I’ve got a few commonalities that I’m working with. I’ve got a pretty reasonable volume, so I’m going to mix it up. I’m going to do narrative bullet points, narrative. I’m going to go back to my voice tools. I’m going to mix up the sentence structure. I’m going to use bold and italic. I’m going to use my punctuation marks really smartly. I’m going to take all of these things and give the person clues as to how to scan and how to metabolize and how to digest that information so that, at the end of it, they understand what it is you want from them.
Robbe Healey: 32:09
Yeah, I’ve always thought, if you read, if you’re like me, you read to see if they spoke. You’re not allowed your name, right? That has nothing to do with the copy, that has to do with the data, but nonetheless. And then what are the pictures? Are there good captions to understand what’s going on? And can I look at all the bullets and underlining and bold and figure out what it’s all about? And if that works, then I’ll read the whole thing.
Rae Pagliarulo: 32:41
Really you want to. I use this term a lot and I don’t know if I might be aging myself when I say this, but you want to get the reader’s digest version when you scan it. There you go, the cliff notes.
Robbe Healey: 32:53
Now I’m dating myself too.
Rae Pagliarulo: 32:55
What’s the headline here? What’s the headline? What are we doing here? And that information structure is going to hopefully be one of the ways that you make it real clear up front when I’m scanning a one page document what are we here to do?
Robbe Healey: 33:10
You want money from me. Tell me, why Does that lead into number five, the sensory details that we’re highlighting? Oh boy.
Rae Pagliarulo: 33:17
This I got to say. I don’t like to play favorites, but this is my favorite. Because, Number five is my favorite Because it is so criminally underutilized in professional writing.
Robbe Healey: 33:27
We’ll talk more about that.
Rae Pagliarulo: 33:29
It breaks my heart, I have to say so. Sensory details, you know touch, taste, smell, sound, sight. Generally speaking, when we’re dealing with human beings, as we usually are, everybody has experienced some or all of these senses. Right? These are the ways that we experience the world, that we codify what we’re experiencing and how we make meaning no-transcript. One of the things that I that, one of the prevailing things that I’ve learned in my MFA and in my continuing work in writing, is a lot of times a writer will want to make something really accessible and they’ll want to make it relevant to a lot of people, so they’ll try to be general. Right, I’m not going to include too many details, because I want any writer at all to be able to read this and tap into it and feel connected to it. The biggest little secret that nobody actually talks about is that the more detail you infuse into your writing, the easier it is for a reader to put themselves in your shoes, the easier it is for somebody to read that piece and tap in and go oh, I feel that I get it, even if they’ve never sat in an oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and even if their parents’ couch was blue instead of yellow. There’s something about infusing those very specific sensory details, the details that remind us how we interact with the world on a very primal level.
Robbe Healey: 35:09
When you said old Cutlass, Supreme, you took me back to my second car. I’m like I’m stuck in my second car. I want to know what’s happening to the person with my second car. Yeah.
Rae Pagliarulo: 35:24
It’s like a magic trick. It is so, as I said, criminally underutilized in professional writing because, again, we are dealing with a limited amount of real estate and we’re making assumptions about what donors and funders and our colleagues expect from us, and we’re making assumptions about what is going to be relevant to them and interesting to them and engaging to them. So I’m the first person to acknowledge that you might not always have the room to do this work. Again, 300 characters. Please list every single program you run in the full, detailed history of it. Dear Lord help me. But I think that there are so many different ways to infuse this, and so there’s a couple examples that I like to think about. So I used to work for Career Wardrobe, which basically connects people to professional clothing and helps them with resumes and workforce development and getting connected to sustainable career paths. So I think a lot about that, about the experience that I had writing for that organization, and if you think about that example, I can write all day about our workforce development programs and, oh, the power of getting a new suit. But what happens when I describe the pattern on a shirt that somebody’s wearing or the look on their face when they’re looking at themselves in the mirror, or the feel of the tweed on the suit. It’s a tiny little thing, it is, in the grand scheme of things might seem inconsequential. It might seem, when you are writing a really you know consequential piece of writing, that it’s not doing much work. But if we think about every piece of writing as a conversation that we’re having with somebody else, it’s a way to connect on a really human basic level. We have all gotten dressed in the morning and looked at ourselves and saw how the colors go together and said, oh, I really have to wash these pants and this pattern is doing nothing from. You know, we all have those experiences. So where do you have the opportunity to tap into something that’s? That’s maybe small but so intensely human? and totally relatable and completely relatable that gives the person who’s reading it an opportunity to remember oh right, I’m dealing with humans, I’m dealing with another human. This isn’t some grand. This isn’t Oz, the organization of Oz that I can’t access or get to. It’s a bunch of people. It’s just a bunch of people who are trying to make things better.
Robbe Healey: 38:28
So I can’t wait till we get to the dirty dozen. I don’t want to cut you off with sensory details.
Rae Pagliarulo: 38:33
I could talk about sensory details all day. You must stop me and thank you for doing so. The dirty dozen Now I’ll be the first one to say this does not mean to never use these 12 words, but on the other hand, and it is also not George Carlin’s the six words you can’t sound to it.
Robbe Healey: 38:55
It’s not the 12 words that can never appear in.
Rae Pagliarulo: 38:57
French or in a script?
Robbe Healey: 38:58
No, it is absolutely not. But is it the 10 out of 12? Pick your favorite, right 10 and say you’re done.
Rae Pagliarulo: 39:08
Let’s have an uncensored version of the podcast and then a censored, the family friendly version. We can do that. So basically, these are it’s 12 phrases or words that are just taken up space. They’re sitting on your couch and eating your cereal and they’re not doing the work, so you can afford to control F and look for these and ask yourself do you really need to be here right now? I don’t think you do. What happens if I tell you what happens?
Robbe Healey: 39:39
if I do one of them.
Rae Pagliarulo: 39:40
That is one of them. Absolutely, it is that one, not a very good. So it’s tough to because we’re on a podcast and there’s 12 of them, but we’ll run through them quickly. First one, number one, I think, I feel I believe we believe the blah, blah blah, we think the blah, blah blah. Just say it, just say what you think, just say what you believe, just go for it, you don’t need to qualify it for me. Just tell me what you think. One of the important things no, the most important thing, or a key thing, or top three things, or like get specific One of is too vague. It’s too vague, it’s not doing any work. A lot, what’s a lot?
Robbe Healey: 40:28
More than a few.
Rae Pagliarulo: 40:29
That gives me nothing. Okay, that’s nothing. To me, a lot means nothing. Give me top 10. Give me a percentage. Give me specifics. A lot is lazy. Is was were passive construction.
Robbe Healey: 40:50
You know this report was created by some expert A period of analysis by this.
Rae Pagliarulo: 40:57
No, this consulting firm wrote this report Done. I did it. I fixed it A lot of times. Well, also, when you’re dealing with word limits, check for passive construction. You’re going to cut down on your words if you cut out the passive construction Subject. I want to say I’m good at that one. That’s a tough one.
Robbe Healey: 41:18
And searching for that.
Rae Pagliarulo: 41:19
Yeah, I would say go to Google for that one, but, holy cow, does it help? Some ancestors, I like to call some, some things, some where somehow, some way, no, you can do better, you can. You can just do better. Thing is also. The thing is I am so guilty of this. Here’s the thing, the thing that is most important, the thing we really want to focus on.
Robbe Healey: 41:47
The most important thing is.
Rae Pagliarulo: 41:48
The most important thing, one of the most important things? No, oh, then you’ve got two of the 12. Then I’ve got two.
Robbe Healey: 41:53
Yeah, there you go.
Rae Pagliarulo: 41:54
Some thing. Stop it, don’t do it. Chances are you find these things and it’s. There’s a better way to say all of this. This one is a little controversial. Adverbs Words ending in L, y, I love me. Quickly, quickly, basically, thoroughly, comprehensively.
Robbe Healey: 42:19
Totally. I love adjectives though they’re great.
Rae Pagliarulo: 42:21
They’re fabulous. Like I said, don’t take all of them out, but ask the ones you’re using. How much work are you actually doing?
Robbe Healey: 42:31
So am I searching on L Y space.
Rae Pagliarulo: 42:35
You could literally control F? L Y Space.
Robbe Healey: 42:40
Not even. Oh yeah, so it’s at the end. Sure, there you go. I don’t want it in the middle.
Rae Pagliarulo: 42:43
That’s true. So, yeah, a Y space on your control F and just just like the assumptions, just ask yourself are you worth the? characters. Are you worth it? Are you worth seven characters To me, really, truly honestly, adverb, adverb, adverb yeah, very is another one. Very is kind of like a lot. It’s very important, very significant, very significant, very impactful, very critical, oh, very pivotal, strategic, very strategic, very strategic, very strategic. Yaw and boring Right, kill it. That’s four characters out of there. Just, we just wanted to, we just completed, we just thought we just considered what is what?
Robbe Healey: 43:38
are you even saying it’s? It’s like a speed bump for your eye as you’re reading between what you really want to say.
Rae Pagliarulo: 43:45
Yeah, chances are. You don’t need it. You might there and this is what I’m saying, there’s, there’s a very good chance that you’re going to find some of these words and go. The sentence doesn’t work without it. Great, great. Then, mazel tov, use the word, but ask yourself is it? Is it really doing work? Number 10 is that, as you said, that’s a, that’s a.
Robbe Healey: 44:09
It sneaks in there, it does, but you can easily search and replace and get rid of it all, yeah. And then there’s used to which is we used to do this, yeah, now we do this, yeah.
Rae Pagliarulo: 44:23
We did this, just use the past tense of the word.
Robbe Healey: 44:26
So you’re not substituting formerly we what, instead of used to we formerly did this. No, no, exactly.
Rae Pagliarulo: 44:36
We used to consider, no, we considered, we used to analyze, we analyzed the organization used to reside, we resided Done, and then you’ve got all of these sort of a lot of these are what I like to call connector phrases. And so in order to thusly, as you can see in conclusion, like it’s kind of this group of connector phrases where you know again, it might be really useful when you’re trying to lead a reader through a piece of writing, but ask yourself if you really need that transitional little clause.
Robbe Healey: 45:17
And you probably don’t, and you probably don’t. We’ve got quite a list going. We’ve got the six plus 11, because six had 12.
Rae Pagliarulo: 45:29
Yeah, we’ve got six, and each of them have tiny little things under each of them. So, it’s a lot of info.
Robbe Healey: 45:36
It is, but I think it gives us a good structure for how to really think about if we’re waiting for the lightning moment and even if it happens, it doesn’t mean it’s good, it just means it’s inspired. So is there one thing that you would say don’t ever, ever, ever break the rule and do this, and the flip side always, always, always.
Rae Pagliarulo: 45:59
So it isn’t really a rule. I would say the thing that I would say never, never, never is never. Take feedback personally, just don’t.
Robbe Healey: 46:15
It’s not you that’s bad. It’s not you, it’s me.
Rae Pagliarulo: 46:18
It’s so hard, especially. I don’t know how many people watching this consider themselves like me, a type A perfectionist who places a lot of personal value in their work. But it’s sometimes really hard to separate, like I made this, and then somebody bleeds all over it and you go. I’m terrible. It’s such a bad job? Probably not. This goes back to the thing I said about all writing being a conversation. Conversations can’t happen in a vacuum, and conversations don’t happen with you in a mirror. It has to include other voices in order to be authentic, and so if I write something up and my colleague bleeds all over it, number one you always have the option to say no to a suggestion, which is something I think a lot of people in writing workshops forget. It’s like how am I gonna completely rewrite this to fit what everybody in the room wants? Spoiler alert you don’t. There you go, you don’t. But also the feedback that you’re receiving from whomever a donor, a colleague, a board member, anybody has nothing to do with how good you are at what you’re doing, and so I think that there is so much pressure to be good, there’s so much pressure to get it right on the first try. The people are afraid to try. They’re afraid to experiment, they’re afraid to put themselves out there and, frankly, they might be afraid to try one of the six things that we talked about today, because they’re a little different.
Robbe Healey: 47:52
Well, and what about the always? If that’s the never, what is the always?
Rae Pagliarulo: 47:56
advice. As far as I’m concerned, the always is to trust your authentic voice. I think my personal feeling is that and this largely has to do with my personal journey I came into development sure that I was not professional or formal enough to succeed in this line of work. I feel like traditional professionalism, especially when it comes to writing on the page. It’s a tool of oppression, it is a way to exclude, it is a way to make people feel less than or greater than. It’s wielded in really dangerous ways. By using these six tools and so many others and by working to develop your authentic voice, whatever that is, and by establishing a really clear understanding of how to use your voice tools in order to communicate the thing you need to communicate, by using the right information structure, the right sentence construction, the right understanding of your audience, sensory details, your authentic voice, whatever. We’re adding to a greater sense of diversity in philanthropy. We are adding to the rich texture of voices that are out there and that can only be good. There’s a lot of different ways to be good at what you’re doing, and it doesn’t have to look the way you thought it was going to and it doesn’t have to look the way you see it at other organizations, and so this is just my personal thing, because, as the years have gone by, I have found meaning in this work by developing an authentic sense of how I approach fundraising and how I express my voice and reading the room, and by doing those two things, I feel like I’ve found a type of professionalism, in real life and on the page, that’s authentic to who I am. That doesn’t make me feel like I’m cosplaying as a development professional. Hello, I’m super hello.
Robbe Healey: 50:05
I’m wearing a suit, like you know, and I’m speaking in marketing buzzwords no, I think there’s been so much evolution in our sector and you started out talking about your professional journey and how you’ve come to this stage in your self-awareness, your self-acceptance, your self-embracing, what you’re good at and how you use your passion. And I think everyone who comes to the sector might, in the beginning, have a job and then some of us realize we have a calling and a career and I think, for those of us who are in, that you’ve given us a real, you’ve given us real permission to look at the work we do, perhaps in a different lens, in a different light. Obviously, structure for how to take what we know about our work, how to structure it and package it and position it and really perfect it so that it will reach the people that we really want to reach. But, at the same time, giving us permission to understand that using our own gifts, our own tools, our own talents, honors us as professionals, honors the mission we serve and hopefully connects the people who really care about what we do with their aspirational passions, so that the work we do has more resources to change the lives we really want to change.
Rae Pagliarulo: 51:32
Absolutely it’s. I think that authenticity is something it’s easy to identify when you see it and it’s easy to miss, and I think it’s such an important thing. It’s part of what I think makes the work sustainable and interesting, when we remember that what we’re doing on the page and what we’re doing basically everywhere else is we’re connecting with each other as human beings. We’re connecting with each other, so we’re all bringing a separate lived experience to all of our interactions, whether those interactions are face-to-face or on a page, and I think we have a responsibility to reflect that lived experience as best we can and to show that there are a lot of different ways of doing good work. It is so objective or so subjective, I should say, and the sector can only benefit from a greater diversity of voices on pages, on websites, in grant proposals, in case statements. It can only lead to better things. It can only lead to a greater sense of collective empathy, which is something I think we always need more of.
Robbe Healey: 52:52
Well, and I think everything we do in our cases is our storytelling, and we wanna tell every story with imagination and compassion, reflecting the lived experience of everyone we’re interpreting. And I wanna thank you so much for spending time with us today, because I know that all of us who are in this work, all of us who really want to be the best at who we are and how we do our craft, know that the storytelling that we do through our cases is the magic, it’s the secret sauce that connects the donors, the work, the people and make us community together. So thank you again so much for joining us for this incredible conversation about creating a case for support that can go from average to awesome, and we look forward to being with you again in Nonprofit Expert presented by DonorPerfect. Thank you for listening to Nonprofit Expert presented by DonorPerfect. For more information and a special offer, visit DonorPerfectcom. Slash podcast.Read Less