Are you a first-rate version of yourself…or a copycat?

July 16, 2010

Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else. ~Judy Garland

A little background …

For several years I’ve been publishing a free weekly e-newsletter (The Grow Report) geared to providing the one-person nonprofit development shop with the techniques they need to do all of their fundraising and marketing “faster, smarter, better.” The newsletter goes out every Thursday to a growing list of loyal subscribers and features fresh content outside of what’s included on my blog.

And, believing that truly persuasive copy is key to the “fundraising” part, I’m also a perpetual copy-writing student and a big proponent of “swipe files,” those tools of the trade necessary for every writer’s toolkit.


That said, the morning after one Grow Report went out to my subscribers I received a heartfelt email from a colleague and a friend of mine.  It seems that I had directly “borrowed” a phrase of hers and she very graciously informed me that it made her uncomfortable.

I was mortified.

While not intending to (I had put the phrase into one of my files and forgotten where it originated), I had indeed cribbed her sentence verbatim.

And it wasn’t like I shouldn’t have known better.  The instance brought to mind a similar occurrence over a year ago when I had spent several days drafting an original blog posting … only to see another marketer adapt it and turn it into a free report weeks later.

Or noticing how, within days after publishing my own newsletter, another colleague’s emails were carrying my identical phrases, word for word.

My very personal signature line – ‘For all that you do to build a brighter world, thank you’ – that I labored over? Stolen word for word.

Let’s face it, fundraising is relationship-building pure and simple and there’s not a lot out there that’s new. But I do have a handful of tactics that I have pioneered, such as creating a daily gratitude habit of thank you calls. Only to see them regurgitated with no credit given whatsoever.

These days I’m even seeing colleagues ‘borrowing’ ideas from my Basics & More™ courses, and presenting them as their own.

Over the years, I’ve wondered if I was being overly sensitive. After all isn’t “imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

But the fact is, like many bloggers and marketers, I endeavor to create special relationships with my readers – to “bond” with them over shared challenges and triumphs.  When one of my subscribers wrote to say:  “First I have to say, I love your emails, they’re so personal I feel like you are talking to me over coffee,”  I was downright tickled.  After all that’s exactly what I set out to do, using my own talents to share knowledge gained from experiences in sales, marketing, foundation communications and nonprofit development.

Isn’t that what you’re setting out to do too?

So does this mean that I don’t borrow from other marketers and nonprofit professionals?

Not at all.  Regular readers know that I’m high on an amazing and eclectic collection of different marketing, storytelling, and nonprofit resources – and am quick to point them in the direction of these folk for their expertise (credit given).

So what’s the lesson to be found in my story? (aside from the fact that I’ll never do that again!)

Just that.  It’s my story.  And you have yours.  We all have our own stories.  When you’re working hard to establish a genuine bond with another you want to be as transparent and true to yourself as possible — not latching onto others thoughts and incorporating them as your own.

A huge part of expressing yourself online lies in your own authenticity and originality – as my beloved Grandmother always said “being your own sweet self.”

And, in the words of Nelson Mandela:  “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

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