The new nonprofit library

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Lots of info, but is it up to date?

I’ve been working since last year with MissionBox, a website that provides a huge range of how-to guides, advice, case studies, feature articles and templates for nonprofits. As a startup, there’ve been a few shifts of direction along the way, but the site has just relaunched and it’s great to see it taking shape.

MissionBox is based in the US and one of the challenges has been making sure the content written by our American colleagues is relevant and accurate here in the UK. In some cases that has meant drafting separate/equivalent pieces — that goes for any legal or tax topics, but also some less obvious ones like the expectations of a nonprofit board, or working with foundations. Continue reading “The new nonprofit library”

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Write better #3: Build muscle

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Sound advice from Chinese T-shirts

“Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time…. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.”

That reassurance is from the late journalist and teacher William Zinsser, whose book ‘On Writing Well’ I just read. It’s an excellent guide, mixing the micro (such as why you should rarely use an exclamation mark; or why most adverbs are unnecessary), the techniques (how to construct a strong opening; how to adapt quotes yet stay true to your interviewee), and the principles (putting your own voice into your writing; homing in on ‘one corner’ of your subject). First published in 1976, it’s bang-on relevant today.

Non-writers often assume that good writers find their work easy, as Zinsser reminds us. They don’t. Continue reading “Write better #3: Build muscle”

Write better #2: Shipbuilding

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Lost in the detail

Here’s a lovely illustration of why all writers – even the best ones – need an editor:

“In my experience of writing, you generally start out with some overall idea that you can see fairly clearly, as if you were standing on a dock and looking at a ship on the ocean. At first you can see the entire ship, but then as you begin work you’re in the boiler room and you can’t see the ship anymore. All you can see are the pipes and the grease and the fittings of the boiler room and, you have to assume, the ship’s exterior.

What you really want in an editor is someone who’s still on the dock, who can say, Hi, I’m looking at your ship, and it’s missing a bow, the front mast is crooked, and it looks to me as if your propellers are going to have to be fixed.”

Michael Crichton, quoted in the Paris Review

Continue reading “Write better #2: Shipbuilding”

Write better #1

Michelle Obama’s recent speech at the Democratic National Convention caught attention far and wide— but what made it so good? Journalism training specialists Poynter have a useful analysis here.

Speeches are a valuable resource for learning effective writing: as Poynter’s author points out, because they’re meant to be heard, they use more rhetorical devices than stuff that’s written down. The sound and the flow and the language jumps out at you, even if you don’t know why that is.

There’s lots of good stuff in the post about choice of language and structure, but one lesson I particularly like is: express your best thought in a short sentence, preferably using simple words (“when they go low, we go high”). It’s an approach that applies to most forms of communication, and reminded me of another helpful (and helpfully brief) resource. Continue reading “Write better #1”

Businesspeople

10350466776_23b2e3e368_zI’m back in Uganda, this time with funding from One World Media, researching a story about refugee businesses.

Here’s the premise: 86% of the world’s refugees are in developing countries. Uganda, a relatively stable nation in a rocky region is now home to over half a million people seeking refuge from South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It now hosts the third largest refugee population in Africa.

But what makes Uganda intriguing is its unusually open door policy: all refugees are granted freedom of movement and the right to work; in rural areas they get allocated their own plot of land. So while most countries try to contain refugees in designated zones set apart from cities and towns, and to stop them from competing with locals for jobs, in Uganda refugees can (and do) become traders, workers, employers, entrepreneurs.

Indeed, an Oxford University research project in the country in 2014 found that 60% of refugees were self-employed, 39% employed – and only 1% not working at all.  Continue reading “Businesspeople”

Good business

RBweek

It’s Responsible Business Week in the UK, which aims to get all sorts of enterprises to share what they’re doing, and all of us to demonstrate how we’re working together “for a fairer society and a more sustainable future.”

As blog editor at London’s newest Impact Hub in Brixton, I’ve persuaded three of our members doing business differently to take time out of changing the world to explain what goes on behind the scenes.

First up, it’s Mighty Good Undies, whose super-soft underwear ticks all sorts of ethical-sustainable-eco boxes. Continue reading “Good business”

Back to school

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Tea break in Busembatia

I’m back in Uganda this month, and have just finished two weeks of training in the east of the country. In Busembatia, I worked with Women in Leadership (WIL) Uganda, training their four Ugandan volunteers in basic photography and computer use. WIL Uganda was started by a former lawyer from the UK, whose stint as a volunteer here last year convinced her that much more was needed to support women and girls. Cases of rape are all too frequent; many women have been abandoned by their husbands to raise children alone and without an income. Girls are often shy or reluctant to speak their minds.

One year on, and WIL Uganda’s volunteers now teach adult literacy and handcrafts to the women and lead career guidance and writing classes with the girls in one of the secondary schools. Continue reading “Back to school”

Stories of purpose

tumblr_static_7zp6wm11f5csw4owk4k8sg08wSince the spring, a team of us at On Purpose have been working on a collaborative storytelling project. A few weeks ago, we finally unveiled Humans on Purpose.

It’s not the first rip-off of the simple yet captivating Humans of New York idea – but it may well be the first to share stories of social purpose. We’ve got a pretty wide range: from CEOs and young entrepreneurs to former priests and ex-offenders. They’ve talked to us about their mums and their children; about pivotal moments and long-enduring passions; about anger and playfulness. People really are prepared to talk honestly about why they do what they do.

It’s the first time I’ve been involved in such a wide collaboration (we’ve had 50+ interviewers, 5 editors, and several people involved in the design and development of the site, plus numerous others organising the final event of the project). Here are some things I learned: Continue reading “Stories of purpose”

Cross-border collaboration

Outside the Regional Centre for Accommodation and Procedures for Asylum Seekers, Bucharest
Outside the Regional Centre for Accommodation and Procedures for Asylum Seekers, Bucharest

The series on youth opportunities I produced last year with Romanian TV journalist, Lorelei Mihala, is being published in instalments on Cafe Babel (appropriately, a magazine published in multiple languages and aimed at young Europeans).

We were funded by the Council of Europe, as part of a programme aimed at getting more diversity into the media – hence our focus on young migrants and refugees in both cities, London and Bucharest.

It was a difficult project. Continue reading “Cross-border collaboration”

Something to write about

It’s been a busy few months, but I’m excited by the variety of stuff I get to learn (and write) about. Recently I’ve spoken to economists in Washington and Nairobi about grain storage and irrigation; to community leaders from Cameroon and India about child marriage and female genital mutilation; and to researchers about the growing intrusion of business onto the territory of humanitarian aid groups. (The latter also involved a demonstration of ‘Peepoo‘, a single-use ‘personal toilet’ – a sort of bucket liner that can be sealed and then rapidly sanitises excrement. Incredible, but true: more people in Africa have access to the internet than to decent sanitation.)

As the first regular contributor to Devex based in the UK, I’ve also been doing a lot of explaining to people here about who we are – and who we write for. Continue reading “Something to write about”