Category Archives: Copywriting

jargon

Chronicle of Philanthropy: Keep Jargon Out of Fundraising Appeals

One recent morning a very interesting email came across my desk. It was from a reporter at the Chronicle of Philanthropy: Could I offer any words of wisdom about jargon in nonprofit fundraising appeals?

Hmm…where shall I begin?

My thoughts, combined with those of other experts in the field, came out in an article published earlier this month. While only subscribers can read the full text, you can start with this excerpt:

Stakeholder. Leverage. Consensus building. Paradigm shift. These are just a few of the words and phrases that drive some communications experts crazy when they pop up in fundraising appeals.

Such jargon tells potential donors next to nothing. And as people’s attention spans grow shorter, a direct-mail letter or an email littered with such phrases may fall flat with the people you want to reach.

Jargon often creeps into fundraising appeals because the authors become too comfortable with office parlance. They forget to think about whether people outside of the organization will understand the letter, email, tweet, or Facebook post.

To determine if your appeal is loaded with jargon or confusing phrases, ask a simple question: Are these words that most people use? “If the answer is ‘no,’ that’s a big red flag,” said Dalya Massachi, who advises nonprofits on writing and helps with grants, fundraising pitches, and other communications.

If you find that certain parts of your pitch are tongue twisters — or would make someone pause, even momentarily — you should plug in simpler words or phrases, Ms. Massachi said. She cited an acronym that sums up how nonprofits should write: KISSS — keep it short, simple, and skimmable. Most readers are not taking a hard look at direct mail or emails, she explained, so you need to get their attention fast.

Ms. Massachi also recommends flagging words with more than two syllables, to see if smaller words can be substituted. “Your writing is not to impress other people; it’s to engage other people,” she said.

[As a subscriber, you can read the full article HERE.]

By the way, I also put together some useful material that didn’t quite make it into the Chronicle article:

 

 

 

photo credit: Intersection of Faith and Jargon via photopin (license)

 

 

hyperbole

Ask Dalya: What’s the danger in misusing hyperbole?

(Creative Commons photo license)

Q: What’s the danger in misusing hyperbole?

A: While we all like to think that our work is unique, essential, and groundbreaking, that can’t always be the case. (I think of the phrase from A Prairie Home Companion, “where the children are all above average.”)

It behooves you as a socially responsible changemaker to get your facts straight and do your research; exaggeration has no place in your writing. You certainly don’t want your readers to doubt your integrity or knowledge of your field if they learn you’re not telling the whole truth.

Of course, If extensive research tells you that you are the only/best/least expensive/most effective/largest (etc.) organization doing your work in the way you are doing it, by all means tell the world about it. Just stay away from claims that seem too good to be true (what a turn-off!).

In all other cases, take the time to qualify your statements. Temper the temptation to go overboard. Look for the unique part of what you do and focus on that distinction — in an honest and clear way. For example, maybe you’re the only one in your geographic area making a specific community change. Perhaps you specialize in a particular population within your larger field. If you  are contributing a major piece of the puzzle in your field, but your partners also form part of the solution, take them into account and share the credit.

Keep it real and always be mindful of your credibility.

 

 

National-Proofreading-Day-March-8

National Proofreading Day This Week: Get Beyond Typos.

March 8 was National Proofreading Day. Wow! A whole day just for acknowledging the importance of proofreading and encouraging error-free writing.

While perfection is actually not humanly possible, striving for it is always a good idea. That is, especially when you are trying to project a polished, professional image. And I know that as a changemaker, you definitely are!

Detailed proofreading makes your work stand out from the crowd. If you think your computer’s spell-checker is all you need to catch your every error, think again. If only things were that simple!

Final proofreading is actually harder than it looks. You have to keep in mind dozens and dozens of grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules. And you are still bound to miss things on your first go-round.

Here are some of my favorite tips to make your proofing task less draining: Continue reading

Nonprofit thank you notes get creative and strategic

I, like many people, do my share of year-end giving to my favorite nonprofits in December. Of course, December and January are usually super-busy times of year for folks who process all of those donations!

I was pleased to receive some very grateful and thoughtful thank you notes from the organizations I supported. I wanted to share one specific letter that stood out. It comes from my local food bank, the Alameda County Community Food Bank, to be exact. You can see a copy of it below:

CCF01252016_0004It starts out expressing gratitude and welcoming me to their community, and goes on to briefly  explain what my contribution will do.

Notice that it has a large photo of a child in the upper-right corner and the letter talks a bit about her, a representative of their clients.

This one-pager is short, simple, sweet, and to the point. It also lists the tax ID number at the bottom, as well as the address and affiliations.

That’s all pretty standard best practice.

The most interesting part was the PS and the insert that came with it. Continue reading

Happy 2016! Got some new writing goals?

 

If you’re anything like me, you are contemplating your professional development goals and priorities for 2016. It’s time to take stock and think about what’s really important to you as we enter this brand new year. A few questions:

  • Do you want to become a more polished communicator, online or offline?
  • Are you ready to finally brush up on your writing skills to get the most out of every piece you write?
  • Do you want to up your game in grantseeking, content development, or both?

If you would like to discuss options for yourself or your team, I am scheduling a limited number of complimentary strategy sessions.  Continue reading