Nonprofits and Associations in the Year of COVID-19: How Do You Ensure Your Attention to Detail?

This year, perhaps more than any year in the distant past, nonprofit organizations have experienced incredible fund-raising challenges. Live meetings with paid attendees or donor events have been postponed, cancelled, or converted to virtual sessions. Registration fees and exhibitor registrations, which fueled much of the annual operating budget, were not an option in 2020 (and likely into a portion of 2021).

This invariably means that your nonprofit is trying to maintain its core operations, with far less money and fewer staff. The situation is very difficult today, but it doesn’t mean trading in the most vital of functions—communications (or conceding lower quantity or quality).

Smaller Staffs for Cash-Starved Organizations

In this article, I focus on nonprofits and other professional associations. The reason is simple: These organizations are usually short-staffed, and the COVID-19 pandemic is likely worsening the problem. They may be motivated to try some short cuts to ease some of their budgetary demands.

I’ll give you an example. One nonprofit organization expected each department head to act as editor for their own communications. Maybe the executive director believed that colleges all required proficient English language skills as a requisite for graduation (well, that’s wrong!). One of her executives asked us to edit a letter the director sends out annually to members of the organization. The first round of edits were extensive. The executive director quickly concluded what we well know: Writers should never be the sole editors of their own work. That is a recipe for embarrassment, or worse!

Not Just Grammar Checks but Facts, too

Copyediting isn’t simply about checking and correcting grammar. It also involves fact checking and making sure the details are correct.

In 2019, we were asked to review a national association’s program guide for its annual live meeting. The program guide listed speakers, their affiliations, brief descriptions, as well as room assignments for their sessions. It also listed exhibitors for the conference, descriptions, and booth numbers. For editors, the assumption must always be, “what can go wrong, will go wrong.” That’s why scrutinizing every aspect of a document is important. Several speakers’ names were misspelled. In one-fifth of the cases, listed titles did not match the official titles on their employers’ websites. The employers’ names—a university department or private company—were often inaccurate. The session descriptions (contributed by the speakers) were (1) not consistently written in the same style and (2) varied widely in their use of language.

It is this attention to detail that I refer to when speaking about the editing process. Most people—even many corporate executives—don’t have the ability or the time to do it adequately. Although I will say this: for those CEOs who do understand the importance of the editing process, they may believe these skills helped their careers progress.

Whether we serve as an external, freelance, de facto communications department, or to fill a specific need to ensure a client’s professionalism and accuracy for a single project, editing services can save many headaches. It helps the nonprofit present the most concise, professionally worded information possible to their members and their contacts in their business  sphere.

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