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Hey Folks
Need advice on whether or not to use the word "folks" in nonprofit writing
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2013/05/29
1:44pm
awinger
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I am a grant writer and have noticed that one organization I work with uses the word “folks” in a lot of their material. To me that word just sounds too casual and I would never consider including it in a grant proposal. However, I understand that using “people” or “individuals” might sound too institutionalized. Am I behind the times? Am I too old fashioned or stuffy? Would you use this word or do you have any alternatives you’d like to share?

2013/05/29
2:54pm
New River, AZ, USA
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Hi awinger, and welcome to the forum.

It really depends on context. Look at this list of synonyms for “people.” But for grant writing, which I’ve done, I’d tend toward the formal. If you’re referring to people in an organization, instead of “folks,” these words could also be appropriate: staff, team, department, colleagues, employees, etc. You get the idea. If you could post an example of a sentence in which your client used “folks” I might be able to provide better guidance.

2013/05/29
7:56pm
awinger
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Thanks! I think they mostly use “folks” when referring to the people we serve but sometimes they use it generally to mean people. Here are some examples: 

1. As an antiques dealer, she observed the tremendous resources of the wealthy entering the front door of her shop and the severe needs of the poor and often jobless folks living behind it.

2. We accept folks into our program as alternative sentencing particularly for substance abuse related issues.

3. Folks said we were crazy to try to open businesses and work with “ex-offenders.”  

 

2013/05/29
10:28pm
New River, AZ, USA
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Those examples are all fine for informal presentations or in-house publications. Maybe even for advertising. If you’re going to use those as direct quotes in a grant proposal, they could stand as is. My editors have always told me to feel free to correct blatant grammatical errors (aot filling the writing with “sic”). But to not change the personal style or vernacular.

On the other hand, if you’re going to “deconstruct” those quotes and embed them in the text of the grant proposal, I’d replace “folks” as follows:

1. families, residents, people

2. applicants, candidates

3. people, critics, the pundits

One other consideration is the granting institution. This might already be obvious to you, but private philanthropic institutions tend to be more liberal and tolerant of informal language. Government institutions tend to prefer more formal language.

[EDIT] I just recalled what for me was an enlightening experience about grant writing. Back when I was teaching I reviewed a colleague’s grant proposal to the NSF for new equipment in the chemistry lab. I taught physics, but had already secured a few lucrative grants, so I was considered the resident “expert” even though I was still learning at the time. I read her grant proposal and found the content quite solid. I’d have given her the money if I had it. But her writing style used the active voice, and contained a lot of informal contractions. Otherwise it was good. She came for a critique on content, not writing style, so I hesitated to advise her about use of the passive voice or contractions. In retrospect, I should have. She really deserved that grant (based on content) but it was refused with the standard form letter. Lesson learned for both of us, though I usually wrote in the passive voice at that point in my career. Physics, ya’ know?

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