Typos Matter!

“Pious shoddy is still shoddy.”


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


Amazon.com Inc. on Thursday blamed human error
for an outage at its cloud-services unit that caused widespread
disruption to internet traffic across the U.S. earlier this week.
In a post on its website, Amazon said
the outage started with a typo (bold added for emphasis)
at Amazon’s northern Virginia data centers Tuesday.[1]

The Wall Street Journal  (March 2, 2017)

I peeked at my board chair’s agenda page, and it was very unsettling. I couldn’t believe it!

The day-long quarterly board meeting was about to start, and I was seated at the right hand of my board chair—a stellar human being, leader, and friend. His agenda, board recommendations, financial reports, and other materials were very neatly arranged in front of him, and he was paging through the board book and CEO reports I had prepared over numerous late-night marathons.

However, on almost every page, numerous words were circled. Normally, that would be a good thing. How blessed we were that our board chair had carefully read the materials in advance. How blessed we were that he even circled key words that he wanted to emphasize in the meeting.

Oops! Those circled words were—you guessed it—typos!

Oh, my. Graciously, my board chair said nothing about the typos that ricocheted across every page. He could have. Maybe he should have.

I learned a lesson in the boardroom that day. Murphy, of Murphy’s Law fame, had already cautioned me:

Proofreading occurs best
after publication.

True, the population seems to be divided into three groups:

•   Group 1: Yikes! How did we miss that one?

•   Group 2: Who Cares? With the ready response, “Get a life!”

•   Group 3: Proofreaders who delight in detecting typos.

What about typos in your board reports, on your ministry’s website, and in your donor letters? Do typos matter?

Imagine this scene (hypothetical, of course):

You’re seated in the exit row on a Boeing 747-400 at 30,000 feet. You’re always anxious about flying, but somehow you have faith that the 147,000 pounds of high-strength aluminum, the 18 tires, and the 95,000-pound wings will get you from Los Angeles to London. After all, the 747 fleet has logged more than 35 billion miles—enough to make 74,000 trips to the moon and back. A flight attendant mentions that it took 75,000 engineering drawings to produce the first 747.

While you’re appreciating the extra leg room, you review the exit row emergency card, and your heart stops. There’s not one, not two, but over a dozen typographical errors! Not minor ones—major errors. The airline would be embarrassed with the careless proofreading.

A cold shiver comes next. Wait a minute. If the proof­reading is shoddy, what about the safety precautions? Should I drink the water? Who serviced the engines? Is there enough fuel? Maybe the fuel guy left early for lunch and forgot to fill all the tanks. Who’s in charge of pilot training, the same guy who hires the proofreaders?[2]

Proofreading matters. When your board members, customers, members, givers, and volunteers see typos and mediocre materials, it matters. Theologian Elton Trueblood said it best:

Pious shoddy is still shoddy.

After that embarrassing board meeting, I asked around. I learned that every publication, from The Wall Street Journal to a one-page bi-monthly enewsletter, must follow a stylebook and have its own style sheet. A stylebook will enable your entire team to follow a consistent set of writing rules. Board reports, of course, are no exception; they must be well-written. As Fred Smith, Sr., said, “I learned to write to burn the fuzz off my thinking.”[3]

I also learned that more than two million journalists own the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, the bible for journalists. This invaluable resource includes more than 5,000 entries on grammar, spelling, punctuation (there is no period in Dr Pepper), capitalization, abbreviations (Calif., not CA), misused words (“Canadian geese” are more correctly referred to as Canada geese) and the correct names of countries, organizations, Arabic words, and brand names.

For this book, Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, our copy editor followed The Chicago Manual of Style[4], but with some exceptions when we used our own stylesheet.

For the punctuation and proofreading zealots on your board and team, buy them the bestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss. The author dedicates the book “to the memory of the striking Bolshevik printers of St. Petersburg who, in 1905, demanded to be paid the same rate for punctuation marks as for letters, and thereby directly precipitated the first Russian Revolution.”[5]

We can chuckle because we’ve all made our fair share of typos. Yet, high standards of proofreading coupled with well-written and well-proofed board agendas and reports will enhance the effectiveness of your ministry.

Note this powerful reminder, often attributed to John Wesley: “Our responsibility is to give the world the right impression of God.” Well-proofed board materials will help you do that!



The care and preparation you put into written board agendas,
reports, and recommendations represent
a deeper context: the care and thoughtfulness expected
throughout the ministry. Well-written reports (with a
typo-free goal) also speak to an even deeper conviction.
We desire “to give the world the right impression of God.”

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Delegate: If you have board members who write board reports, minutes, and other documents, but who are not effective proofreaders, build in adequate turn-around time, so proofreading can be delegated to others .
  2. Enhance Consistency: Ask your CEO to delegate the writing of your organization’s “style sheet” to an appropriate person, then enhance your board reports with a consistent style for spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and other editing rules.



Lord, thank You for publishers who give us Your
Holy Bible without typos! Likewise, with our board reports,
we want to give everyone the right impression of You.
So thank You for our proofreaders, and help us to be gracious
when we do spot those pesky typos! Amen.


[1]Laura Stevens, “Amazon Finds the Cause of Its AWS Outage: A Typo,” Posted March 2, 2017. The Wall Street Journal: https://www.wsj.com/articles/ amazon-finds-the-cause-of-its-aws-outage-a-typo-1488490506.

[2] As noted in “Chapter 19: The Printing Bucket,” John Pearson, Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2008), 250.

[3] Fred Smith, Sr., Breakfast With Fred (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2007), 138.

[4] The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers, 17th ed. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2017).

[5] Pearson, Mastering the Management Buckets, 251.

From Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: 40 Insights for Better Board Meetings, 2018, www.ECFA.org/KnowledgeCenter.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.