Wordworker Nancy FriedmanI’m pleased to introduce you to guest blogger Nancy Friedman, chief wordworker of Wordworking. Nancy is a name developer, corporate copywriter, recovering journalist and a most engaging blogger at Fritinancy. She’s my latest  guests in a periodic series of posts from other authors, and I’m pleased to add her perspective to the mix.

About 15 years ago I did some consulting for a regional office of the American Cancer Society, which raises money for cancer research and education. The society’s logo, then as now, was a stylized caduceus—a short winged rod entwined by two serpents—that in modern times has been appropriated as a symbol of the medical profession. The caduceus was originally associated with Hermes, the Greek god of messengers, thieves, travelers, and border crossings—but not of medicine. The traditional medical symbol in ancient times was the rod of Asclepius: a staff entwined by a single serpent. Asclepius, a son of Apollo, was associated with medicine and healing.

Someone at the American Cancer Society evidently looked at the caduceus and saw not a rod or a staff but a weapon—a sword, to be specific. And from that mistaken observation, based on a mistaken conflation of two Greek symbols, came the national organization’s slogan: “There’s Nothing Mightier Than the Sword.”

My consulting work for the society had nothing to do with slogan development, but I couldn’t help myself. That slogan really, really bothered me.

I remember a conversation—perplexed on my end, earnest on the client’s end—about the logic of this phrase. The pen! I had to restrain myself from shouting. The pen is mightier than the sword!* “No, no,” the client said soothingly. “The sword really is the mightiest!”

Really? Besides the pen, I can think of several things that are mightier than the sword: the flamethrower, the catapult, the poison gas, the rocket grenade, and the thermonuclear device. Just for starters.

And, come to think, cancer itself often proves to be mightier than the sword, if by “sword” you mean “scalpel” and if by “cancer” you mean “war.”

Well, that was then. My consulting work went smoothly enough. Years passed. And now I see that the ACS has a different slogan: “The Official Sponsor of Birthdays.” A little confusing out of context, and probably disappointing to your local six-year-old, but definitely a step up from that mighty sword.

For my part, I’m working now with a different medical organization on naming and slogan development, so I’ve been thinking once again about the challenges of nonprofit branding. In a stroke of timely good fortune, last weekend I discovered the Getting Attention blog and the annual Nonprofit Tagline Awards contest.

You can read about the 2009 winners here and download the free 121-page report about them here. And go here to vote for the most effective taglines of 2010.

The taglines on this year’s ballot have been winnowed down from more than 2,700 entrants. About the original field, Nancy Schwartz writes:

I have to tell you that although some of the taglines entered work well (roughly 30%), most do not. The reasons why are varied, from “they make no sense” to “they make sense, but don’t make an impact.” Whatever the reason, the end result is a highly used message that’s not doing its job for your organization.

Only a 30 percent success rate? Surely we can do better. In her 2009 report, Schwartz offers 10 “have-tos” for creating powerful taglines. They include “Must convey your nonprofit’s or program’s impact or value,” “Must be authentic,” “Must be broadly and easily accessible and memorable, avoiding jargon and acronyms,” and “Must be specific to your organization, not easily used by another nonprofit reaching out to the same audiences.” That last point is especially significant: Too many of this year’s entrants (yes, even the finalists) are interchangeable.

On the bright side, only one tagline finalist includes the word “passion.” An encouraging sign!


About the title of this post: “Saving the X, One Y at a Time” is a slogan snowclone, or sloganclone. Read more about this slogan formula and others in my 2007 post, “Snowclones with a Twist.

* “The pen is mightier than the sword” was coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the Victorian novelist who is also famous for the opening line “It was a dark and stormy night.” There’s an annual bad-writing contest named in honor of Bulwer-Lytton.

P.S. Vote now to build your messaging skills by selecting the best in class in the 2010 Taggies — the third annual Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards competition. It’s a fun project that will help nonprofits in all fields discover what works, and why.

Guest Blogger in Branding and Messages, Taglines | 0 comments
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Tagline-Expert-Allison Van DiestWelcome to guest blogger Allison Van Diest. Allison, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Blackbaud, prides herself on being not only a marketing “artist” but a marketing “scientist”  able to measure the marketing impact. She has some terrific guidance to share with you on shaping a tagline that works…

What has less than 140 characters and tells the world what you’re up to?

Yes, Twitter does.  But how do you think the Twitter folks got the idea that a short, punchy phrase or two can be among the best ways to communicate?  Decades ago, taglines showed the world that a few well-chosen words can mean more to a reader than pages of advertising copy.

The purpose of a tagline is to create an impression that is meaningful and moving, as succinctly as possible.  And in today’s landscape of light speed communication, with constraints on readers’ time and attention, a well-written tagline is critical.

It is your best tool in capturing the imagination of a prospective supporter and also arms them with the perfect message to send to their network (through Twitter, perhaps!).

Sold on the idea of taglines, but not sure yours is prize-worthy? Enter the Nonprofit Tagline Awards program anyway, there’s nothing to lose. And every entrant will be invited to join me in a special free webinar on building leadership support for critical marketing projects. But back to taglines…

If you’re not satisfied with your tagline, consider sending it through a quick positioning refresh to make sure it truly captures your spirit.  As a reminder, a strong positioning statement answers these questions:

  1. Who (what group) does your organization serve?
  2. What does the group you serve hope to accomplish?
  3. What does your organization provide to the group you serve?
  4. What is the outcome if the group you serve accomplishes its goal?

Consider how how this information is conveyed by TexasNonprofits, a 2009 Nonprofit Tagline Award winner:  “Building community deep in the hearts of Texans”

  1. Who (what group) does your organization serve?  Texas nonprofits
  2. What does the group you serve hope to accomplish? To encourage higher levels of giving so they can do more good in Texas
  3. What does your organization provide to the group you serve?  Resources and support to aid the nonprofit community
  4. What is the end state if the group you serve accomplishes its goal?  Texans are even more philanthropic and nonprofit impact goes even further

With its tagline, TexasNonprofits conveys mission and impact in a clever and memorable way.   This year’s Taggies will once again celebrate well-crafted taglines and – hopefully – inspire other nonprofits to follow suit, so please enter yours today (deadline is July 28).

 We can’t wait to see what you’ve been up to!

The 2010 Nonprofit Tagline Awards 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

Guest Blogger in Awards, Taglines | 0 comments
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Our recent survey of more than 900 nonprofit leaders reveals a major crisis among charitable organizations: Many are doing an inadequate job of connecting with their key audiences and characterize their primary messages – intended to motivate donors, volunteers and advocacy – as poorly targeted, difficult to remember and uninspiring.

Key findings include:

  • Most nonprofit messages don’t connect strongly with key audiences.
  • Behind the disconnect—86% of nonprofits characterize their messages as difficult to remember.
  • Inconsistency reigns, leaving confusion and annoyance in its path.

I suspect that none of this is news to you. But the way many nonprofits talk about themselves to the public is a core competency critical to any organization’s success. The bad news is that most organizations admittedly are doing a very poor job, despite a great deal of effort. The good news is that fixing the problem is highly do-able and promises vastly greater success in engaging their networks than they are experiencing now.

Messaging is the first step in effective marketing communications; there’s no point in designing strategic campaigns if the messaging
doesn’t connect. It’s incumbent upon executive directors, their boards and key marketing and communication leaders within organizations, to repair these critical marketing and communication problems. When they do, putting focus and intent to work, it will make a huge difference in communications impact!

I’ll be doing what I can to help fix this problem (and it’s definitely fixable), with a 2010 focus on messaging in blog posts, e-update articles and special programs for nonprofit communicators. More immediately, complete survey results, plus specific recommendations on how nonprofits can start to immediately improve key messaging, are available here. You can review the press release here.

P.S. More effective messaging is a priority for all organizations. Learn how to craft the most essential message — your tagline. Download the free 2009 Nonprofit Tagline Report, filled with must-dos, don’t dos, case studies and 2,500+ nonprofit tagline examples!

Nancy Schwartz in Branding and Messages, Nonprofit Communications, Surveys | 1 comment
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