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:
- A sample jargon worksheet that you can modify with some of the jargon flying around at your organization; get your co-workers involved in identifying and translating it!