Three Writing Practices for Nonprofit Success

March 2020

Sharpen your communication skills, monitor your productivity and meet your professional development goals in minutes a day with these three simple writing exercises.

No matter where you are in your nonprofit career, being able to communicate effectively is critical to your success. Honing your communications skills will help you build relationships, broaden your network, collaborate effectively with colleagues and coworkers, and improve your fundraising results.  Effective written communication skills are especially critical in today's world where we are bombarded by easily accessible web content every time we open our phone or laptops. Strong content is essential to stand out and hook the interest of potential donors, contacts and clients.

 "There's an avalanche of content and writing on the Internet, our newspapers, our phones and everywhere... So, if you write a good one page letter to your donors, it is critically important that you get your argument out quickly, clearly and in a comfortable way" said Clay Hodges, writer and partner at the law firm Harris Sarratt & Hodges, LLP


In addition to being able to communicate concisely, we should also be able to write in a way that appeals to the head and the heart of your audience. This also allows your content to stand out from the masses and encourage the reader to invest, financially or personally, in your organization or mission. 

If you don't consider yourself a natural writer, don't fret. You don't need an English degree or expensive coursework to learn how to create excellent written content. By investing time in different writing exercises, you can hone your skills at home and learn how to create content to connect with your audience, meet your career goals and even practice self care and personal development. 

  1. Writing for Self Care

    The best way to get better at a skill is to practice. Starting a journaling practice is a great, low-pressure way to get started and develop your voice as a writer. Simply write your thoughts without worrying about having a polished end product. Hodges has kept a journaling practice since college, and recommends writing down your thoughts, ideas and daily happenings either on your computer or in a notebook and believes that it has helped him monumentally in learning how to get his thoughts on paper in a clear and concise way. 

    In addition to helping you learn how to translate your thoughts to paper (or a laptop), journaling can also be a great therapeutic problem solving tool. 

    "If you're hung up on a client, complex legal issue or a problem relationship, you can try to sort it out [by journaling]. You glean insight that you didn't know you had if you spend two pages writing about something, and then you get to the end and you've got it figured out," he said. 

    In addition to the "stream-of-consciousness" type of journaling, consider giving yourself prompts to write about. Some ideas include, reflecting on books you've read recently, or challenging yourself to brainstorm lists of creative ideas. Use prompts to get out of your comfort zone, practice creating content, and give you something to write about if you get "stuck" in your journaling routine. 

    To get the most out of your journaling practice, set a time aside every day or week and stick to your commitment. Whether you have fifteen minutes or fifty, getting into the habit of writing at a regular time each week will sharpen your writing skills while getting your ideas out on paper, exploring your thoughts and maybe even coming up with some creative solutions and great ideas along the way. 

  2. Writing to Learn and Retain Knowledge. 

    Remember how taking notes in school helped you prepare for tests?  Even if the days of final exams are far behind you, you can still use writing as a way to synthesize and organize new information that you are learning. Next time you come across an idea or concept from an article, book or podcast that you want to remember, write it down.

    Jotting down facts and essential information will not only help you remember what you've learned, but it will also help you learn how to communicate information efficiently and effectively. Executives and other busy people often won't read past the first page of a document. You need to ensure that all the key points to your message are included in the first two paragraphs of letters, memos and emails so that readers will learn all the crucial information that you need to communicate in a quick skim. 

  3. Writing for Effective Planning and Goal Setting

    Writing is also an excellent tool to develop a strategic plan to meet your professional and personal goals. Start your goal setting process by creating a targeted list of your goals and the tangible actions you can take to meet them.  For example, if your goal is to expand your network, you could incorporate actions such as going to one networking event a month or sending reaching out to one new person a week into your plan.

    After completing the goal setting process, document the steps you have taken in your progress and any outcomes from these actions.  This will help you track your growth, determine whether your planned actions are helping you meet your goal and keep yourself accountable. For example, if you are working towards expanding your network, jot down the events you attend and people you meet at them.  

Set an appointment with yourself to evaluate your progress every 30-90 days. Use this time to look back at your progress and determine if you need to adjust your strategy and whether your deadlines are realistic. Whether you want to reach more donors, earn a promotion, create more content or get in shape, taking the time to write out a concrete plan will keep you on track to make meeting your goals a reality. 

Learn more about writing practices for nonprofit success: