From Nonsense to Sensible Messaging

Published on April 15, 2011 by      Print
From Nonsense to Sensible Messaging

Do you know what “nonprofit speak” is? It is when nonprofits start talking their own language that no one else understands. When you spend your working days writing grants for funding programs that will solve problems that cause you sleepless nights, there’s no wonder nonprofit folks start speaking this way. Your nonprofit deserves better—it deserves clear, meaningful messages.

Here are a few tips to make sure you don’t end up in Tina Fey’s next book. (What am I talking about?)

Make sense to the outside world. This seems like common sense, but too often we get tunnel vision and forget that the person we are speaking to (or marketing to) was not in the last staff meeting. Assume they know nothing about your organization or the issues it works to resolve.

No alphabet soup. Acronyms are a nonprofit’s worst enemy when it comes to effective communications. We get in the habit because we email and speak this way internally. Once you use an acronym that someone doesn’t understand it makes them feel like an outsider and they cannot relate to your message or your organization.

Keep it simple. If you are in charge of marketing and communications, don’t speak like an executive director, program manager or grant writer.  Language that was used in your last big grant application is not meant for the world at large. If you copy and paste it on your website and call it a day, you are cutting your organization off from a larger audience. Also, do not let your executive director dictate the language—you were hired for your expertise. Take a stand for clear messaging!

Tell stories. Rather than communicating about your nonprofit organization and the innovative ways it approaches its work, tell stories of positive outcomes. Don’t make it about you. Make it about the people and communities that are positively impacted by your work. The general public doesn’t care about your methodology.

by Hannah Gregory, founder, SHOESTRING (the nonprofit’s agency) – Contact: nonprofitPR at shoestringgroup dot com

Hannah is also the volunteer national campaign director for the Nonprofits Now! awareness campaign and the editor of Nonprofit Beat.

This article was also written for and published by the Philanthropy Journal. and SHOESTRING are proud to partner with the Philanthropy Journal.

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