Wed, May 16 2007
Filed under: Writing •
I’ve gotten some inspiring email from the posts on writing this week. I wanted to share some strong writing shared by Samantha, a top ten fundraiser who participated in Six Degrees and personally got 405 people to donate to Bet Tzedek.
Justice for Guillermo
It reads like a scene from a Dickens novel: A 17-year-old sews labels on clothes for 70 hours a week, without lunch or rest breaks, earning three cents for each piece he completes. The year? 2006. The place? Downtown Los Angeles.
Guillermo Martinez (name changed to protect client privacy) thought his job meant a chance to improve the lives of his mother and sisters in Guatemala. He didn’t realize that he would be physically abused and financially exploited.
Fortunately for Guillermo, Bet Tzedek’s Employment Rights Project (ERP) exists. Becky Monroe, ERP Attorney, and Matthew DeCarolis, a Social Justice Fellow in our Valley office, took Guillermo’s case and recently won a $44,000 judgment for him.
Guillermo is a slight young man of 5’5”. When he was hired, he was promised between two and six cents per clothing piece he completed. After a year on the job, Guillermo mustered the courage to question whether he was being credited with all of the pieces on which he labored. The floor manager’s response? To physically assault Guillermo and push him to the floor. Guillermo had to go to the hospital, and one year later, still receives treatments for his injury.
Guillermo then came to Bet Tzedek for help in getting his owed wages. Each week, he earned an average of $230, averaging out to less than $3.50 per hour. Based upon the California minimum wage and overtime rules, Guillermo’s work week should have earned him nearly $600 per week.
The Hearing Officer at the Labor Commissioner’s office conducted a hearing and reviewed all the evidence we presented. On cross-examination, the factory owner presented her defense: “If I paid minimum wage, then I could not make a profit.”
In mid-March, Guillermo received the Hearing Officer’s decision: Guillermo is entitled to receive $44,000, covering all wages and breaks claimed plus applicable penalties. The owner has been put on notice that she must comply with minimum wage laws or face exposure to other wage claims like Guillermo’s.
Tue, May 15 2007
Filed under: Writing •
Blog reader Bonnie B just sent me a link to her blog, where she practices her craft of writing. She also includes a piece of her flash fiction (see comments). This got me thinking: why not flash (non)fiction? Flash fiction is a very, very short story - only a few hundred words. The shortest and most famous was by Hemingway, as Wikipedia reminds us. Not surprisingly for a writer known for his exquisite brevity, he told a story in six words.
Flash fiction differs from a vignette in that the flash-fiction work contains the classic story elements: protagonist, conflict, obstacles or complications, and resolution. However, unlike the case with a traditional short story, the limited word length often forces some of these elements to remain unwritten, that is, hinted at or implied in the written storyline. This principle, taken to the extreme, is illustrated by Ernest Hemingway’s six-word flash, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
How about some cause-related, flash (non)fiction?
Here is a very fine example from Mercy Corps:
Sanam, Niger - You can see the difficulty of life here in Boubacar Harouna’s eyes. They are yellowed from chronic malaria and glassy from exhaustion. Still, Harouna somehow summons the energy to treat dozens of patients each day as the town’s only nurse.
Clad in an improbably clean, crisp white coat, Harouna makes the rounds to check on his patients - many of whom lay outside under shade trees because of the lack of beds here. One man, so weak from malaria that he cannot sit up or even move, is sprawled out on a dingy mattress with an intravenous drip in his arm.
One of the clinic’s few observation rooms holds four-year-old Ousama Mamidou, who was transported here in a donkey cart from a nearby village. Already chronically anemic and severely malnourished, Ousama arrived in convulsions from a malaria fever. Even after treatment with anti-malarial medications and rehydration solution, she’s still listless in her mother’s arms and fighting for survival.
“You’ve come on a slow day,” Harouna says with no trace of irony on his care-worn face.
Tue, May 15 2007
Filed under: Writing •
Stories are the most powerful form of expression, and as marketers and writers, we should never make a point without telling a story. When one person tells another person a story, the two people are transported together outside the present moment, to another time and place. They are living an experience together as one person recounts what happened and another imagines it in his or her mind.
What better way to communicate our cause?
If you doubt the power of a story, think about the last time you gave money to a good cause. I’m willing to bet a free copy of my book that a story was behind your gift.
I looked at ten charity websites today and not one had a story or link to a story on the home page. Through direct mail, I get some stories, but they tend to sound like they were written from a fundraising 101 template. Where are our stories?! Where is your story? Get one now.
Need inspiration? Order Storytelling as Best Practice if you don’t already have it. Or if you don’t want to spend the $15, sign up for a May 24 free training with its author, Andy Goodman, who is its author and the best guy on storytelling for nonprofits, hands down. (It’s free for the first 125, according to Andy’s site, so hurry.)
Once you’ve done this, start writing some stories about what you do, why you do it, and how important it is.
A really talented writer I used to work with at CARE is Gwendolyn Driscoll, who is now a journalist. She wrote this article in the Orange County Register.
I went to the Saddleback Church website and found its story:
When Rick and Kay Warren first arrived in the Saddleback Valley in December of 1979, all they had was what they could fit in the back of a U-haul truck. Fresh out of seminary, the young pastor and his bride dreamed of planting a church that would be “a place where the hurting, the depressed, the confused can find love, acceptance, help, hope, forgiveness and encouragement.”
With many good Bible-teaching churches already in Southern California, Pastor Rick turned his attention to those who didn’t attend church regularly. Two weeks after Pastor Rick and Kay arrived in the Saddleback Valley, they began with a small Bible study, meeting with one other family in the Warrens’ small condo.
On Easter of 1980, Saddleback Valley Community Church held its very first public service and 205 people, most of whom had never been to church, showed up. That began one of the most exciting journeys of growth that any church has experienced in American history. In more than two decades of ministry in South Orange County, God has continued to expand the church’s influence. Currently, Saddleback Church has more than 200 ministries serving the church and community. One in nine people in the area call Saddleback their church home.
How do you tell the story of your organization and its start? Is it this colorful? It is this compelling? I’m not a churchgoer, but I’m taken with this story. Not surprising given the man behind it wrote the Purpose-Driven Life, which sold 16 million copies. He is a storyteller. You can - and should - be one, too.
Tue, May 15 2007
Filed under: Writing •
When I was working for Reuters covering the July 1997 coup in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the airport was dismantled by a procession of people, each more desperate than the last. First, retreating royalists soldiers cleaned out the XO Cognac at the duty free. Then the victorious troops moved in, raiding the safes and taking the computers, the lines of connected waiting-room chairs and air conditioners, strapping them atop tanks. What remained when I arrived was the roof, the bullet-pocked walls, and a carpet of broken glass and scattered tourist photos still taped to trampled visa applications. Children and a few parents from the village by the airport arrived late in the day to take what little was left – wiring from behind the walls, light fixtures, scraps of paper. In the men’s room, two teenage boys ripped the door from its hinges and wrenched the urinals from the wall. A young boy walked across the glass shards with two paddles, one red and one green, which were used to direct aircraft to their stopping points. He saw me and shrugged. I tried to explain how to use the paddles in my halting Khmer. I waved them over my shoulders and then crossed them in the command for a full stop. He seized them, laughing and waving them in all directions, making criss-crossing lines and collision courses. “Barang!” he screamed, laughing, and ran away with the paddles. Foreigner.
I’m remembering that day with you through telling details, like the trampled tourist photos. The trampled photos packed an entire, complex story into a single image, so they were worth sharing. So did the stolen cognac, the loot-laden tanks and the boy, waving his paddles. At least that’s the idea. I could have simply told you the airport was looted, but I wanted to show you the scene. I wanted to convey the telling details. They are what makes life interesting and stories alive.
The power of the telling detail is that it does what good writing is meant to do - it transports us to a place, a time, a person’s mind. It shows us what that moment felt like to live, and what it meant.
This week, I want to blog about writing. Because no matter how great our talents as marketers, we will always need the gift of good writing.
The best writing advice I have ever been given is old and oft-cited, but it is also dead on: show, don’t tell. Do it with a telling detail. Don’t just talk about your programs in abstract language. Force yourself to define the small story elements that stick in the mind. Strip your prose of tired adjectives. Banish the passive voice. Yank the reader out of her bored, tuned-out state with a startling image she can’t forget.
Do you have an image like that? A sentence, a story? Send it to me here, in a comment. Inspire others with your talent.
I leave you with these words, from a book on writing fiction - but they surely apply to writing about our work. They say it better than I can.
Specific, definite, concrete, particular details - these are the life of fiction. Details (as every good liar knows) are the stuff of persuasiveness… John Gardner in The Art of Fiction speaks of details as “proofs,” rather like those in a geometric theorem or statistical argument. A detail should be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched… [and] the detail must matter.” —Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction: A guide to Narrative Craft.
Fri, May 11 2007
Filed under: Marketing essentials •
None of us works in a vacuum where we can command the full attention of our various audiences. Instead, we work within a messy context of people, ideas, events, and environmental factors that all affect our ability to be heard. This context is our marketplace. Marketplace forces can undermine or advance our mission, affect our relevance to our audiences, increase or decrease our advocacy power and visibility, and make or break our fundraising efforts. The better we understand them, the greater our chances of harnessing them to work in our favor.
We need to constantly be on the alert for what might influence our audience and enhance or hurt our ability to reach people. Our audience’s actions are affected by demographic, lifestyle, social, cultural, health, natural, economic, infrastructural, legal, scientific, technological, political, media, business, and competitive factors. We need to take a walk in our audiences’ shoes and consider which of these forces affect their likelihood of taking action. Then identify those we can use to our advantage, those in our way, those that require partners to leverage, and those that we cannot control.
What am I talking about?
—I used to consult with the nonprofit Aging with Dignity, which promotes advance care planning and their Five Wishes living will. When brain-damaged Terri Schiavo dominated the news in 2005, the constant media attention profoundly affected people’s sense of urgency about creating a living will and naming a health care agent. Because Aging with Dignity was smart and nimble, it connected with this tragic story and gave people a means of avoiding such a fate.
Do you go off and make your marketing plan in a closed environment, or do you design your marketing plan around areas of opportunity that may arise in your marketplace? Do more of the latter. It’s easier to piggy-back onto something with momentum that to try to create momentum where there is none.