Writing for Fundraising–the Liabilities of Lifting Words

8 Jul

A new friend forwarded this article to me about, well, plagiarism in writing for fund raising. Plagiarism?!?! Wow, that’s an awfully strong word to throw around! What could plagiarism have to do with any self-respecting fundraiser who is only out to scrape together enough money to save the world?

Calm down everyone. Despite the ugly sound of that word, plagiarism often isn’t a deliberate and malicious act, but a state that rises from omission or a misunderstanding of what exactly constitutes plagiarism. It’s not just about purposely lifting words verbatim and passing them off as your own work. This ugly term covers actions that we all might have done at one time or another. Consider the following, which are all inadvertent acts of plagiarism:

Scenario 1: You fail to use quotation marks or cite your source. You find a great source for the needs assessment section of your grant proposal and you lift a statement. However, you have a character, word or page limit, and citing the source or using quotation marks pushes you over the limit. Leaving out that information might slide you under the wire, but it also makes you–gasp–a plagiarist! Solution? Find a place to cut some text. The source citation and the quotation marks are not expendable. Consider them just a part of the statement you’re using.

Scenario 2: You totally forgot to use quotation marks or to cite the source. This definitely falls under the category of non-malicious. Unfortunately, it’s still plagiarism. Solution? Just do it. Don’t rush through and tell yourself you’ll do it later on your final read. Do it now. You will be glad you did.

Scenario 3: You find an article that sets out your entire needs statement and change a few words here and there. Go back to your grade school days when your teacher told you to write a report about…oh, say, photosynthesis. Every red-blooded fourth grader knew that their report was already written and ready to go in the World Book Encyclopedia. All you had to do was copy it and change a few words. I think the more creative of us called it “paraphrasing.” Not so much. Solution? Just take what you need, use quotation marks and cite the source. No harm, no foul.

Scenario 4: You find an article that sets out your entire needs statement and change a lot of words. That is called “paraphrasing” and is a form if plagiarism where you pass off someone else’s original ideas and conclusions as your own. If you did not do the research and pondering that allowed the dots to be connected, the dots don’t belong to you. Solution? Cite the source and silently thank that person for their hard work.

Scenario 5:  Passing off a style of writing as your own: Yes, someone can lay claim to style and structure. An example is so-called “sampling” done by the music industry, which has become, in my opinion, incredibly lazy and derivative. Come on. The riff from “Ice, Ice Baby” isn’t David Bowie’s original base line from his masterpiece “Under Pressure”? Solution? Find your own style. You have something to say and you have a unique voice. Discover it and use it.

All of this quoting and citing will only make you look well read, up on the latest and greatest research and impeccably honest. Citing a source doesn’t have to include elaborate foot or end notes. It can be as simple as something like, “A 2005 study of plagiarism habits among high school students conducted by the Honesty Foundation reveals that 25% of students engage in plagiarism unknowingly, by simply not using quotation marks.”

And in the spirit of that, although all of the above words are mine, I was inspired to create real-world examples of plagiarism in grant writing by reading and considering passages from www.plagiarism.org.


2 Responses to “Writing for Fundraising–the Liabilities of Lifting Words”

  1. John July 10, 2009 at 4:43 pm #

    Since grant writing is specific to a particular organization for a particular program, the writer needs to know the individual situation in order to write an effective proposal. At least this is true for the core content of the proposal. A lot of other verbiage could be standardized for many proposals, but this is more like using a template and not actual plagiarism.

    Having said that, I don’t know the actual cases involved concerning grant writing plagiarism.

    • Loretta Holland July 10, 2009 at 5:14 pm #

      Templates, or at least standardized language within an organization, are the holy grail of grant writing. Good, accurate, clean language that can be used over and over is gold. But of course your are right in that would not fall under the heading of plagiarism by any means. The author is using it over and over again for the purposes of the “owner” of that “property”–the nonprofit employing the grant writer. Everyone involved in creating the narrative and the ideas are the people/entities who are benefitting.

      I myself don’t know of anyone who has been called on lifting language from a study or a report. Though I do know of funders who have asked for citations for stats or claims of fact that were kind of out there.

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