Original or Authentic?

Do you ever sit down to write, and the words seem to flow from your fingertips?


I thought about those mystical days as I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.” Much of the book focuses on finding personal fulfillment through creative endeavors, and Gilbert makes several points that speak directly to the writing process.

The idea that stayed with me after reading this book is Gilbert’s call for authenticity. She later wrote on her blog, “Sometimes a work will be both original and emotionally authentic, and that, of course, is the gold standard. But if I have to choose? Give me authenticity.”

I think great copywriting — and fundraising — comes from stories that are unquestionably authentic. And, I agree with Gilbert’s notion that true creativity includes authenticity of emotion.

A few months ago, I wrote an article about a veteran who had fallen on hard times. He wrote a letter that moved me. Many other veterans had used the same words when saying thank you…but his honesty and raw feeling came through. He told his story, no holds barred, and spoke to his own experience.

Here are a few other “Big Magic” ideas you can apply to your nonprofit marketing:

  • Devotion to Inquisitiveness. I think “a life driven more strongly by curiosity than fear” is something we should all strive for, and this approach can inspire nonprofit marketers to try new things. This could mean testing email subject lines, or even taking a bigger leap like starting a podcast. Follow your curiosity, and pay attention to the channels and messages your audience responds to.
  • The Empty Bucket. Gilbert kept learning and writing, even when she wasn’t getting published. She also learned to pay attention to the psychological cycles of her creative process, and her patterns of thought throughout each phase of a project. This inspired me to analyze my own writing process. I realized I produce my best work when I do initial research, let it “simmer,” think about the themes and goal of the piece, and then begin writing.
  • Painting Your Ox. This is my favorite anecdote from the book. Gilbert describes meeting a man in a small village in India whose only possession of value is an ox. He uses what he has, and decorates the ox’s horns with hot pink and turquoise paint. His resources are “things residual.” Gilbert talks about how most creative people don’t have enough time, or resources, or funding…such is life. Nonprofits are all-too-familiar with this conundrum. But, great campaigns can still come from “things residual,” as long as marketers think strategically and creatively.

What helps you think creatively about your nonprofit marketing campaigns?