I won’t give to non profits who use poor grammar

Last week, Kyle Wiens wrote a post for Harvard Business Review that unleashed a torrent of comments (724, at last count).

Kyle runs iFixIt and Dozuki. He hires a lot of people. He gives every single one of them a grammar test. For him, it’s a litmus of a candidate’s attention to detail. If you don’t pass the test, you don’t get hired.

This approach wouldn’t work for everyone, Wiens admits, but it works for him and, boy howdy, did people have opinions about his approach.

Most didn’t disagree that grammar is a pretty good proxy for attention to detail. What bugged them was that, in their opinion, Wiens didn’t use good grammar in the article itself. Nor syntax. And his word choices weren’t always up to snuff. None of these things are earth-shattering. Irksome, perhaps, but not huge deals in the Grand Scheme of Things.

So why all the outrage? Everyone has their “thing”. Maybe yours is when someone uses “alot”. (The word doesn’t exist. It’s “a lot”.) Or “its” instead of “it’s”. Or maybe typos are like fingers on a chalkboard for you. These small things are a big deal to people. They represent something bigger.

A poorly placed comma may not fuss you a bit–but it’s not about you AND it might be costing you big time when it comes to engaging donors, volunteers and supporters. They all  have their “things”. Do you know what they are?

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  1. Irony? “…AND it might costing you big time when it comes to engaging donors, volunteers and supporters. ” 🙂

    I don’t think this is a glaring sign of a lack of attention to detail, but it’s a great point in general that orgs should take the time to find out what matters to their customers. It may not be grammar, but it might be any number of other seemingly insignificant things. Whatever it is, getting out of the building is important to identifying these stakeholder values.

  2. Physician H. Thyself says:

    “Nonprofits that use poor grammar” not “nonprofits who use poor grammar.” Nonprofits are not people, they’re things.

    • Erica Mills says:

      Love this! Yes, someone else pointed this out on Twitter. I’ve long thwarted that rule as I view organizations as the aggregate of the people who make the work happen. Thus, the use of ‘who’ instead of ‘that’. Having said that, you’re totally 100% correct. Thanks for paying such close attention!

      • I saw that, too… very funny… but I also relate to the “who” in such orgs and consider it among the artful plays rather than a typo. Still, PHT is absolutely right!

  3. Wonderful, now if I could only spell; my challenge. The beauty and risk of English, in particular…is it a noun, adverb, adjective uh?! Other languages is it fem. or masc.?

    taking time to say what you mean and mean what you say tends to work for me.

  4. Jennifer Ott says:

    I’m a bit of a typo and grammar freak, and I’ve come to realize it’s only a depressingly small percent of people even see– much less “get” misspellings and other various offenders.

    Another significant issue is the recession, which has led to understaffing at so many nonprofits and left overwhelmed employees to do their best to deliver projected outcomes with inadequate support. That’s not a defense of sloppiness, but it is a factor.

    • Erica Mills says:

      Thanks for “outing” your pet peeves, Jennifer. And good point on the effect of the economy on the small stuff–so true, unfortunately!

  5. Great piece. The title hooked me. I did notice in the last paragraph that a “be” is missing between might and something after a large “AND” 🙂

    That said, I think this piece speaks more to the reason why grammar is such an issue and what it “says” about the person lacking it. I find that far more important that a person with a lot of alots 🙂

    • And yes I have an error too 🙂

      That = than

      • Erica Mills says:

        Let there be “be’s”! Thanks for taking time to comment and pointing out my missing word, Tony. (Fixed!)

        You nailed it–it’s about what it says about the person/org vs. the mistakes themselves!


  1. […] a non profit focused follow-up to Wiens’ post, I did one on why I wouldn’t give to non profits that use poor grammar. Based on how much traffic that post got, it’s clear this grammar stuff gets people all hot […]

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