The 9 Have-Tos: Your One-Stop Checklist for a Powerful Nonprofit Tagline

Your organization’s tagline has the potential to be the most potent message you have, because a good one is easily remembered and repeated—exponentially expanding your reach.

Assess your tagline against this 9-point checklist of tagline have-tos to see how it measures up. If there’s more work to do, this process will highlight specific areas for improvement. Dive in:

1. _____ Must convey your nonprofit’s or program’s impact or value:

  • Increasing physical activity through community design – Active Living by Design
  • Protecting Your Retirement. Securing Your Benefits. – RetireSafe
  • Informing Grantmakers, Improving Our Community – Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers

Make sure you use your tagline for all it’s worth. If your tagline lacks this positioning value, it’s a bust. Descriptors don’t make the grade.

2. _____ Must be broadly and easily accessible and memorable, avoiding jargon and acronyms:

  • Starve Fear. Feed Hope. – National Eating Disorders Organization
  • A Passion to Help. The Ability to Deliver. – Americares

3. _____ Must be specific to your organization, not easily used by another nonprofit. This is a particularly tough one, but differentiation is the name of the game. Otherwise, it’s just a “me too”:

  • A Community Transforming Technology into Social Change – NTEN
  • Equal Play – Women’s Sports Foundation
  • Smart Policy. Sound Science. Stronger Communities. – Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs

The Nonprofit Tagline Database features one tagline (People Helping People) submitted by three distinct organizations. If there is any overlap among these audiences’ target audiences, they are losing out on tagline power.

4. _____ Must be eight words or less, which is all you have of your audiences’ attention. Simplicity plus brevity = clarity:

  • We Help Neighborhoods Play – Silken’s ActiveKids Movement
  • Where volunteering begins. – VolunteerMatch

NOTE: There are exceptions to this rule, when more than eight words are required to get the gist across:

  • Helping donors create thoughtful, effective philanthropy throughout the world – Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (a complex service and concept, justifying nine words)
  • More than a store. We build healthy families and communities one job at a time. – Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota (15 words, a lot but the organization is trying to correct misperception about its work and impact)

5. _____ Should make an emotional connection:

  • Helping Preserve the Places You Cherish – LandChoices
  • When You Can’t Do It Alone – Jewish Family & Children’s Service

6. _____ Should capture the spirit or promise of your organization or program:

  • Finding the Ways that Work – Environmental Defense Fund (committed to taking on environmental issues with persistence and innovation)
  • Grounded in tradition…open to the Spirit – Memphis Theological Seminary

7. _____ Should clearly complement and/or clarify your organization’s or program’s name without duplicating it:

  • It’s a Moving Experience – Museum of Transportation (MO)
  • Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet – Sierra Club

The Sierra Club’s name is somewhat obtuse as the reference to California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range doesn’t communicate anything about what the organization does, or the geographic breadth of its work and programs.

Don’t presume your audience brings any particular context to digesting the tagline.

8. ______ Should take the tone that will connect with your audiences, while being true to your organizational “self.” Effective taglines may be humorous or earnest, tangible or conceptual.

  • Humorous: To Life (from Fiddler on the Roof) – Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County (Caution: This tagline succeeds due to the cultural common ground shared by the Federation and its base. That’s a prerequisite for integrating humor into your nonprofit’s tagline or other key messaging.)
  • Earnest/Straight Ahead: Investing in Peace and Security Worldwide – Ploughshares Fund
  • Tangible: We Stop Polluters – Potomac Riverkeepers
  • Abstract: Ideas into Action, Action into Service – American University

9. ______ Should be authentic. Make sure your organization can stand behind your tagline, 100%. When you do, you build credibility. When you don’t, you lose any you may have.

How Does Your Tagline Add Up?
Add one point for each box checked:

8-9 points: 5-Star Tagline
5-7points: Good, but still some tweaking to be done.
4 or less points: Get back to the drawing board. The “musts” are a must.

What do you need to know or build skills in to ensure your tagline connects, or to craft taglines for key programs or campaigns? Please share here.

Let me know and I’ll develop more content and training in those areas. Thanks!