impact stories blog

Self-identity, gender, and pronouns: Using validating language in your copy

Nonprofits often want to empower those they serve — even with the words they put on the page.

Our client ACLU, for example, has published informational guides for using gender-neutral and nonbinary pronouns. And Philadelphia-based Bread & Roses does a lot of community work around social justice and self-identity.

But keeping up with the best, most current methods of using inclusive and validating language can feel daunting, especially when you’re new to the conversation.

One resource we love is the Radical Copyeditor blog. A self-described genderqueer, thirtysomething copyeditor from Wisconsin, the Radical Copyeditor (a.k.a. Alex Kapitan) believes that we who work in the progressive nonprofit space have “a responsibility to use language in ways that describe the world we are working to create, rather than unconsciously perpetuating bias and prejudice.”

And at Impact, we couldn’t agree more!

From samples of how to revise copy to be more validating to how (not) to use the word “diverse” (pro tip: it’s not a euphemism for person of color), the Radical Copyeditor blog has a lot of straightforward, practical tips on using language in ways that advance equity and inclusion.

But that’s not to say it’s a catch-all for how all language should be used in all situations. In their own words: “Radical copyediting isn’t about absolutes; it’s about context and care.” What it does, however, is offer insightful perspectives into how those contexts should be considered.

The reality is, we’re living in a post-style guide world. The rules are changing faster than anyone can codify them—and in order to keep up with the causes and people we serve, we must be intentional in when and how we shift our words.
















“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength”.


-Maya Angelou






Photo credit: The Carolina Theatre Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license




Does Better Copy Really Matter?

I’ve been writing fundraising copy for 30 years. So, I think you can tell already how I am going to answer this question. Yes, I believe better copy gets better results. But it’s not just about good writing.

It’s about the case for giving!  Before you begin writing any fundraising letter, first write a two-sentence case for giving. Answer the question, “How will more money help and why is it needed now?”  By starting here before you write one word of your letter, you help ensure that the case for giving remains central to the letter.

It can be restated in different ways on every page, the reply form and any inserts.  Consistency is key. When you reinforce your case for giving throughout the package, you provide clarity for donors, whether they are skimming or studying your letter.

This is the hardest thing for an amateur writer to do. Their fear of asking overtakes them and they start writing long, rambling paragraphs that muddy the message.  Remember a fundraising letter is about asking and starting with a case for giving ensures that this critical fact does not get lost.

-Kathy Swayze


Photo credit: Ross Evans Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license




Show Your Donors You Care during the Holiday Season

The months leading up to the holidays and the end of the year are some of the busiest times at nonprofits. You are working hard to write year-end appeals, send holiday cards and thank you letters while also preparing the campaigns for next year. After putting in the hard work and long days, it’s easy to take off work between Christmas and New Years to relax and recharge.

But those are some of the most crucial days to close gifts.

As the holidays wind down and the year is coming to a close, many donors will be making their philanthropic gifts just in time for their tax-deductions. Even though fewer people are itemizing their charitable donations, this is the time of year many donors are making last minute year-end gifts. And the wealthier donors who do itemize their deductions will often wait until the last few days of the year to contribute.

This means that donors will be looking for assistance during this time when nonprofits like to close. But if they are unable to reach you, they will likely take their money to a different organization. This is a time to let your donors know that you care about them and are there to provide assistance if they need it. Luckily, this is a lot easier to do today with the technology available. By forwarding your office phone calls and checking your email periodically, your organization can be accessible to your donors during the last days of philanthropic giving. And, Many organizations rotate this responsibility from year to year between different members of the staff.

Follow this link to learn more about how your organization can be more donor centric during this time of year and how Charities Aid Foundation of America was successful in addressing this situation. And Happy Holidays!


Photo credit: Erika Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license

Combating the Philanthropic Downturn

2019 has a lot of catching up to do, fundraising-wise.

Indeed, the 2019 Third Quarter Fundraising Report from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project shows growth over 2018 in only three metrics:

  • Revenue from gifts of under $250: +0.4 percent;
  • Overall donor retention: +0.7 percent; and
  • Recaptured donors (donors who gave one year, then stopped giving, then gave again in a subsequent year): +1.8 percent.

But that’s where the good news ends. Released just before Giving Tuesday, the report shows a 4.6% decrease in total revenue to charities compared to the same period last year and a 3.6% decline in the number of donors. What’s even more troubling though, is that the sharpest decline is among the best donors.  Major gifts are down 5.2 percent compared to 2018.

For most organizations, year-end campaigns have already been planned – and many fundraisers are crossing their fingers for a strong year end to right the ship.  But it’s not too soon to start talking to the rest of your fundraising team about unique strategies to stay on track for your budget in the new year.

Here are a few ideas for playing catch up in your organization:

Add a telemarketing to your next mail campaign for mid-level donors. The calls will generate gifts and drive money in from the mailing.

  • Get your gift officers in front of donors. Now is not the time to cut back on travel expenses because donors who are loved more, give more.
  • Get creative with reinstatement campaigns. Focus on bringing donors back, especially those with past gifts of $100 or more.
  • Add an extra appeal to your very best donors, if your schedule allow.

Or, give us a call and we’ll help you brainstorm other options!




“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

-Thomas Edison





Today’s quote comes from Insights With Impact, a great newsletter from Dr. Rob Sheehan at




“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.”

-Conrad Hilton







Celebrating #GivingTuesday 2019

It’s time once again for one of the Impact team’s most treasured traditions. Each member of our staff selected a nonprofit with an amazing mission to receive one of Impact’s #GivingTuesday donations.

Here are the organizations we’re celebrating this year, and why we picked them:

Kim: I picked St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, because I’m passionate about organizations that help children with life-threatening illnesses. I like that they have a research facility to figure out how to tackle those diseases and find cures.

Onyi: I chose St. Jude, too, because nobody wants to see her child go through a cancer diagnosis. I’m glad to support a charity that is helping find cures for pediatric cancer.

Jen: The Inner Loop is a reading series dedicated to promoting and supporting the work of writers at all levels, from fledgling writers who have never done a public reading to published authors promoting their books. They’re doing a lot of exciting programming right now and building a writerly community across DC.

Hannah: When my friend Kelly passed away earlier this year, her family asked for donations to Small Miracles Cat and Dog Rescue in lieu of flowers. As an animal lover, I’m glad to support our hometown rescue and pay tribute to my wonderful friend.

Kathy: The Diverse City Fund is disrupting DC’s philanthropy landscape by investing in activists and leaders of color on the front lines of local struggles. By supporting leaders and projects that have less access to traditional funding, the Fund is building a new kind of community-led, social justice philanthropy in our city.

Meg: The MaxLove Project has been an important resource for a family near and dear to the Impact team. As our sweet little friend Lyra Farkas navigates treatment for T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, her parents, Andy and Katherine, and her sisters, Juno and Ena, have relied on the MaxLove Project to learn about integrative wellness and culinary medicine. We’re all rooting for Lyra and her family as she continues her journey through treatment, and I’m glad to support a charity that is making the road just a little bit smoother for them.

Julie: SOME (So Others Might Eat) is an interfaith community organization helping homeless and low-income people here in DC. They provide an astonishing array of supports, from food and clothing to addiction treatment and job training. SOME brings hope and dignity to people of all ages every single day—and running their Thanksgiving 5K Trot for Hunger is one of my favorite holiday traditions!

Heather: Reuse and play! UpCycle Creative Reuse Center inspires all ages to explore, create and play using collected creative reuse materials. Donated materials such as colored paper, feathers, ribbons, stickers, paint brushes, colorful bottle caps, fabric, and glass jars are available for children, teachers, and adults at their Community Resource Center in Alexandria, Virginia. Keeping art, learning, and office materials out of the landfill, every year UpCycle serves 2,000 community members. (The Impact team had a fun outing to make handcrafted signs at UpCycle earlier this year—we highly recommend it!)

Happy #GivingTuesday, everyone. And may your donation pages be as busy as our inboxes!


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“Writing is an extreme privilege but it’s also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone.”

– Amy Tan





Photo credit: St. Louis County Library Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license



Just Say No

That was the advice from University of Oregon Foundation’s Jeff Comfort at the National Capital Gift Planning Council’s event on Wednesday. With 35 years of experience in planned giving, Comfort knows his stuff.

He wants all charities to stop jumping through hoops to get their IRA distributions from financial institutions. His advice: Just say no! Or more precisely, say, “What is the legal basis for requiring my charity to open an account?”

So here’s the back story. When a donor leaves money to your organization from their IRA, it’s up to Schwab, Fidelity, Vanguard and other institutions to make the distribution to your charity. Unfortunately, many of these companies have onerous requirements that they ask charities to follow, including opening a special account, providing your social security numbers and even copies of your drivers’ license.  But here’s the story:  YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO ANY OF THAT!

There is no legal basis for them to require these actions. They can be time consuming and a total invasion of privacy. So, Comfort says, just say no. His organization and many others have been successful at challenging these requirements and still getting their money, simply by stating an objections and asking questions.

To learn more about how charities are pushing back and winning . . . and find a list of good contact names at many of the financial institutions, you can visit the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners’ Charitable Beneficiary IRA Distribution Resource Center at this link.