Last week I received an invitation to a fundraiser from a local American Red Cross chapter, and it really turned me off. Here is what part of the invitation said verbatim (except for the italics I added).

Fine Art Auction

The Auction will showcase 5 artists, and we will have a live auction with a variety of mediums: paintings, mosaics, hand made jewelry, pottery, wood turning, Photography and much, much more. Hors d’ oeuvres and cash wine bar.

Contact: a phone number, $25.00 adm.

Saturday March 17, 2007
6 pm – 10 pm limited reservations

The event location and address

I realize that as a professional writer and editor, I notice bad writing more than most people, but the sloppy style of this invitation is a real problem for me as a potential donor. If they can’t go through the trouble of producing a well-written invitation for what is supposed to be their major fundraiser, how careless would they be with my contribution?

So what’s wrong here? Lots.

5 artists should be five artists. No matter what style guide you use, none of them recommend that you use a numeral in this case.

–Five artists are showcased, but there are more than five art forms. I suspect that more than five artists are donating to the silent auction, and I’d like to know whether that’s correct or not. If it is, what does it mean to be “showcased”?

–Inconsistent capitalization. Why is Auction capitalized and live auction not? Why is Photography capitalized, but the other art forms not? None of these words should be capitalized in my opinion, but it should be all or none.

Hand made should be handmade. Look it up in the dictionary.

–They almost got bonus points for spelling hors d’oeuvres correctly, which is butchered all the time, but they put a space after the d’ where it doesn’t belong.

–A name or organization should be listed with the phone number. Am I calling the Red Cross or the place that is hosting?

–What is with $25.00 adm.? I assume this means that admission is $25, but why abbreviate it to adm.? $25.00 per person would be so much better.

–The date. They need a comma between Saturday and March. Saturday, March 17, 2007.

–The time and reservations. First, these should be on two separate lines, but more importantly, what does “limited reservations” mean? Can I only come if I RSVP? If so, by when do I need to RSVP? Or does this mean that a limited number of tables can be reserved while the rest are first-come, first-served that night? The invitation should be explicit about that.

A poorly photocopied insert with sponsor logos was tucked inside. You can tell that they put four or six on one page and cut them out. You can also tell that they held too many sheets at once when wielding the scissors, because one edge is all frayed, the cut is crooked, and the sponsor logos are off to one side and lopsided. Don’t get me started on the graphic design of the invitation.

And here’s another issue: March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day. It seems like that would be worth mentioning in some way. I can think of several possible taglines revolving around “luck” that would have worked for this.

Typos happen to the best of us (I missed two bad ones myself last week). Honest mistakes slip by from time to time. I hate the Grammar Gestapo too and am not trying to join them with this post. If I’d spotted only one or two problems, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. But an invitation like this, with so many problems in so little space, is just pitiful.

I’m sure many people would defend the person who produced it with the refrain that all leaders of small organizations sing from time to time: “I’m one person. I can only do so much. I can’t be good at everything. Cut me some slack!” I hear ya, sister. But that only takes you so far.

If you aren’t good at writing or design, find a volunteer or board member who can do it for you. Or take an extra fifteen minutes to do it right yourself. Or hire a freelancer. When it counts, like on your major fundraising event materials, you need to get it right. Present yourself as an amateur and you are an amateur. I give money to professionals.

P.S. If all this looks too familiar, check out my two “Writing for the Real World” e-courses, “Making Your Writing Correct” and “Making Your Writing Clear and Concise.” They are designed for busy professionals who need a writing refresher. Registration is $99 and you can start the course any day you like.

Published On: February 28, 2007|Categories: Fundraising, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Writing|

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