Bold Type: What do you do, and why do you do it?
I’ve been fundraising for youth-serving organizations for the past 10 years, starting the summer before my senior year at Georgetown. Somewhere early on in that time, I came across the logo of an organization called DC SCORES—a pencil through a soccer ball—and as a soccer-playing English major, I needed to learn more. Fast forward a decade and I now serve as the Chief Development Officer at DC SCORES, an after school program that combines soccer, poetry, and service-learning to give kids in need the skills and confidence to succeed on the field, in the classroom, and in life. I thought I was coming for the soccer, but it was the first Poetry Slam that hooked me. I hung around as a donor and volunteer for years before they gave up and hired me!
Anthony: What does your job entail, and how is writing important to that?
I’m responsible for raising the organization’s $3M budget from individual, foundation, corporate, and government funding services. At this point, and it kills me to say it, my writing is something like 95% emails. Emails, emails, emails. I’m constantly tweaking emails based on audience and looking for one little nugget of humor or informal turn of phrase that will get the reader’s attention and make them actually read until the end. Of course, my job is to ask for money so half the time I’m lucky if the recipient even opens my emails. So, I guess 95% of my job is writing subject lines.
I also manage a grant writer who does a lot of proposal writing, which gives me an opportunity to flex my editorial chops. More often than not, my focus is looking at the writing through a marketing lens to ensure it is truly speaking to the issues the funder cares about. I’m fortunate— or perhaps unfortunate in that I’ve come to rely on it—to have a CEO who still somehow finds time to step in and do draft edits and she’s really, really good.
How have you seen professional writing change during your career so far?
When I first started in fundraising I was a grant writer, and since then my own writing, like I said, has devolved into mountains of emails. I don’t know if I can say how professional writing has changed, but it’s true that my perception of what is important has changed. Our grants manager still needs to write clearly, concisely, provide all information requested, and answer all questions asked. I used to think that I had to tell as many great stories and pull on as many heartstrings as possible within each proposal, but now I just assume nothing is even going to be read or have a chance unless we work all the actual humans behind the “funder” we are writing to. Once again, emails, emails, emails—the seemingly insignificant writing that ensures someone actually reads our good writing.
For you, what makes something “good writing”? What makes something “bad writing”?
Is this the part of the interview where I admit that I barely even read anymore and that I’ve sold my soul to Audible? If you see me walking around with headphones in I’m not listening to music or a podcast, I’m listening to an audiobook and you can read on my face if I’m enjoying it or not—smirks, eyebrow raises, or straight up laugh out loud moments. The best writing, whether I’m reading it or listening to it, makes me do those things.
As for bad writing, I’m afraid to even dig into it because my dirty little not-much-of-a-secret secret is that I’ve just gotten worse at writing over the years. It’s true. Turns out you need to keep doing it to stay good at it.
How do you edit your own work, especially if you’ve been staring at something for a long time or feel over-familiar with the content?
I walk away and I sleep on it. I go for a walk and I think about it. When I’m really struggling, I pass it along to our aforementioned CEO because I know that will make it better, but I also know that if I watch her do it live in a Google document I’ll need to go home and take a sad nap afterward. She can be savage, but she’s good.
How does good (or bad) writing impact a professional’s personal brand?
Bad writing certainly has a bad impact on an organization’s brand and in my world a negative impact on the bottom line—bad grant-writing often means no grants. I’m not sure what it does for the personal brand, though I’m absolutely more impressed by people that write well than by those that don’t. As time goes on and writing feels less and less natural for me I’ve come to respect others with ability even more.
Which Social Media platform interests you most right now, and why?
Instagram. I resisted being on it for years and within two months of caving it easily dominated my social media use. Why? I’m not sure--and definitely not for any reason I’m proud of. I think it’s just hilarious and addictive. I don’t post, I just look at stupid stuff and giggle.
An individual, publication, or brand with a writing style that you admire?
Esquire. Hitchens. Audible.
One bad habit from school writing that you wish people would give up?
If someone uses “ergo” or anything like that, I hope they are doing it ironically.
Thoughts about the Oxford Comma?
I’m pretty laissez faire when it comes to punctuation, though the one thing that is both a pet peeve to me and something I am constantly guilty of is the tendency—particularly in the nonprofit world—to overuse exclamation points in emails. I hate it! And I do it all the time!!!
One book on writing that everyone should have on their shelf?
Politics and the English Language by George Orwell
What’s your #1 editorial pet peeve?
Parallelism. When it’s ignored, the writing sounds/reads like garbage. Read what you write out loud to yourself!