Avoiding Jargon for Stronger Nonprofit Marketing Copy

Avoiding Jargon for Stronger Nonprofit Marketing CopyThe Chronicle of Philanthropy has just published a powerful trio of anti-jargon articles, and I couldn’t be happier.

You see, I’m a “less is more” person in general. Take one look at our home, and you’d know it. But most of us aren’t that way by nature.

Proof? When I talk simplicity in advising client orgs on their communications style, I almost always get nods of absolute agreement. Yet, 8 times out of 10, when I’m seeking input on a positioning statement or new home page content, what I get back is long-winded, convoluted edits and additions.

Most frequently, it’s those very changes that (if maintained, and I do everything I can to ensure they’re not) undermine the ease of digestion that’s increasingly important in today’s nonprofit marketing landscape. Think about it this way: When you fail to shape content to be accessible to your base, your org implies it doesn’t care about reaching and engaging them. And audiences pick right up on this: If you don’t care about them, how can they care about your organization?

Writing clearly, accessibly and succinctly shows the utmost respect for your audiences. Here’s how:

  • Write for your audiences, not for your colleagues, board or funders. Content has to be accessible.
  • Maintain a list of jargon you’ve used in the past, and is common in your field (hat tip to Lucy Bernholz).
  • Before you send content around for review, put it aside for a day or more.
  • Come back to it and simplify; aiming to cut by 1/3 or more (Word’s word count tool is a great help here), and strip out the jargon. Add new contenders to that jargon list.
  • Pass the copy on to your jargon-hating editor (a willing spouse or colleague out of your department works best, objectivity is a must) for editing.
  • Revise and cut again, then distribute for approval.

In the long term, crafting a specific style guide (including a jargon defense strategy) for your colleagues and training them on it is the best way to ensure your org’s content will be on target all around. It’ll take some time but will generate real ROI. Promise.

Here are two mini-guides to doing it right:
Five Tips for Writing Nonprofit Marketing Copy that Works

Five More Tips for Nonprofit Copywriters

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Nancy Schwartz on August 5, 2008 in Branding and Messages, Copywriting, Nonprofit Communications | 1 comment
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  • Nancy,
    I’m getting caught up on reading your blog posts and I ran across a phrase that you’ve used that is exactly what I try to convince my clients and companies of on a regular basis, “Focus on the benefits – not just the features.”
    Benefits are the emotional connectors, or structure, between the pieces of content, aka the problem and the solution. Although the features are the solution, the only say “what” and not “why.” The benefit is the why. The why prompts the desired action.

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