Abstractions Make Your Nonprofit Tagline Pointless

Jeff Brooks

Enter your taglines today organizational, fundraising, special event and/or program taglines – in the 2010 Nonprofit Tagline Awards!

I want to welcome guest blogger Jeff Brooks, creative director at TrueSense Marketing. Jeff has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 20 years and blogging about it since 2005. Today, he shares some guidance on what NOT to do with your nonprofit tagline…

Writing a good tagline for an organization is one of the toughest challenges around. You have to get a whole lot of things right.

So let me show you something that a lot of nonprofits get wrong with their taglines.

It’s abstraction.

A lot of really pointless nonprofit taglines merely throw out an abstraction that’s vaguely related to what they do. And that’s too bad, because most nonprofits I know actually do specific things. It seems to happen more often than not.

Here are some examples:

Schools seem to specialize in vague, say-nothing taglines like these:

  • A Great School
  • Experience It
  • Be Central (“Central” is part of the school’s name)
  • Learn More

I’d call those a waste of ink, but since I’m responsible for creating an enormous volume of direct mail in my life, that would be the pot calling the kettle black. But still. Surely something specific and worthwhile goes on at those schools. You wouldn’t know from their taglines.

Probably the most over-used abstraction in nonprofit taglines is the word hope. Now, hope is a good thing, and if you’re in social services or health, you should be increasing hope in a number of ways.

But the hope really says nothing concrete. Check this numbing selection of abstract taglines:

  • Hope lives Here
  • Empowered by hope
  • Bringing Hope and Healing
  • Building Hope for a Cure
  • Providing Help, Hope and answers
  • Help and Hope
  • Sharing Knowledge. Sharing Hope.
  • Our help is their hope
  • Providing Healing, Help and Hope
  • Bringing hope. Changing lives.
  • Keeping Hope alive

And here’s one that combines the abstraction of hope with a sea of words:

Because at the heart of [name of organization] is what lives in the hearts of us all: The desire to help change the life of another and, in the process, change our own. Together we can perform extraordinary acts, and transform a life in crisis into a life of hope.

That’s clearly the work of a committee out of control.

The organizations with these taglines do a huge array of different things. Specific, useful, important, exciting things. But you’d never know by their abstract taglines.

Abstraction happens when committees are at work. They can’t agree on specifics, so they settle on the abstract. A lot of people actually believe an abstraction is better, because it’s “higher.” It’s not. It’s just airy vagueness that adds nothing to your messaging.

If your tagline is about “hope,” consider changing it. Have it tell people what your organization actually does.

P.S.  Enter today – The 2010 Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards (a.k.a. The Taggies) close on July 28! And this year, for the first time, you can submit your organization’s program, fundraising campaign and/or and special event taglines, in addition to your organizational tagline.

This program is made possible thanks to the generous sponsorship of Blackbaud, Event360, Eventbrite and See3 Communications.

P. P. S. Follow the tagline award news on Twitter via the hashtag #taggies

Nancy Schwartz on July 13, 2010 in Taglines | 2 comments
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  • Re: “hope” in a tagline…mea culpa! I know our tagline is a little wishy-washy, but it seems nearly impossible to capture what we DO in a few words. Our problem is that we provide a wide and varied array of social services: foster care, senior housing, refugee services, homeless shelter, services for people with disabilities, post-prison re-entry… no way to capture that in 5 words! So we decided instead to concentrate on HOW we work: Hope, Compassion, Solutions – and in fact it wasn’t till we came up with the last word that we felt we had “got it.”

  • Some examples of more “specific” tag lines would have been helpful to illustrate the contrast, and how one might skillfully convey an organization’s work in just a few words. We also use the word “hope” in our tagline. We changed it from “Counseling and Recovery” a couple of years ago because that did not nearly begin to represent our work and was totally uninspiring. While it was more specific, it just had no flair. So, how do you be specific and still have “flair”?

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