Is there a formula for the way you write? If you look back at your organization's emails and social media posts, do you notice any patterns? My bet is that there are a handful of words or phrases your team likes to use on a regular basis. 

Like, starting announcements the same way every time or using buzz phrases to ask for donations in campaign after campaign.

It's understandable that certain words and phrases show up regularly in your communications - you've probably seen (countless) other organizations using them. And, when you need to just get something out, there's no time for reinventing the wheel, as they say. Call it "best practices" or a "brand voice" and carry on. 

Just don't mistake writing habits for a writing style. 

In this week's "back to basics" message, I'm encouraging you to take some time to look at the ways your organization talks about its mission and impact. Notice the words you typically use to ask for support or the language you use to recruit new members. Is your organizational lexicon clear enough to get your point across? Or have overused terms muddied your messages?  

Making small adjustments to the way you relate to your audience can help your organization stand out in a sea of sameness. To get you started, here are four examples of phrases to retire in favor of more specific and descriptive language:

  1. "XYZ Org is proud/excited/delighted to announce..." I've seen some organizations begin nearly every one of their announcements with this smug and tired phrase that actually means nothing to the reader. Whether it's a new program, partnership, or milestone that you're announcing, write about it in terms of what it will mean to your community. You may, indeed, be proud or excited but that's largely irrelevant to those you serve. Lead with the value of the new program and how it will impact the audience, not your obvious feelings about it.
  2. "Join our peer-to-peer fundraising campaign." Unless your audience are a bunch of other fundraising professionals, be careful not to use industry jargon or other language that's meant for internal consumption. Instead, develop a campaign name or theme that's simple and clear and save terms like "peer-to-peer" for the fine print or the "how to" section. The same goes for "capital campaign," "major gift campaign," and more. Find more creative ways to describe and promote these important activities so that it will be easier for everyone to understand and participate.
  3. "Donations are always welcome."  This one pops up everywhere and I just don't understand why. Do we think that there's some horrible misunderstanding that donations would be unwelcome? How about replacing this phrase with something that says WHY donations are welcome? Like, "donations from people like you keep hundreds of local animals safely sheltered until they can be adopted." Or, "Your donations directly support scholarships for at-risk youth." Switch out empty phrases for sentences that offer context or the concrete results of a gift.  
  4. "For a good cause."  This little phrase makes perfect sense when talking about activities that aren't normally associated with raising funds - like encouraging people to dine out on a particular day so that an organization can earn a portion of the sales. But, quite frequently, it shows up as content filler in appeal letters or on donation pages. Wherever you can, replace "for a good cause" with a specific description of the cause. So instead of "come to our event and help support a good cause" try "come to our event and help put an end to domestic violence in our community" or instead of "bid on our auction items for a good cause" try "your auction purchases help us deliver healthy meals to kids in need." 

When it comes to writing and marketing for your nonprofit, every word counts. Clarity and specificity will help readers connect the dots between what they value and how your organization is making an impact. 

It's time to take a critical look at what typically gets written by your team - because the standard lineup of nonprofit platitudes will not draw new hearts, minds, and dollars into your organization.  

Keep Up the Good Work,  


 P.S. For fun, check out this general list of overused words and phrases for 2021: I personally nominate: "my bad" and "you're fine" - what would you add to the list?

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