Is surprising supporters good or bad?

nonprofits, messaging, language, words, messaging

Yawning’s cute when it’s a baby doing it. Not when it’s a supporter.

There’s a really interesting blog post called, “How to Improve Your Writing: 5 Tips from Hollywood” by Eric, “the guy behind the Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog“.

Tip #2 was: Surprise your readers.

Why surprise? Because we remember things that surprise us.

This got me wondering: Do nonprofits surprise their supporters enough? 

If we’re looking at the words nonprofits use, the answer would be absolutely, positively not! Our research shows that nonprofits are doing a downright miserable job of surprising their supporters and a very good job of boring them.

Nonprofits are only using 5% of the words in the English language. And 1% of the words nonprofits use account for 65% of all the words they use.

No surprise–it’s a linguistic yawnfest.

It begs the question: how do you effectively surprise supporters?

Back to Eric and the blog post:

Surprise comes from knowing the expectations of your audience — and then turning them on their head.

In order to do this effectively, you first have to know your supporters inside and out. That means creating personas. (If personas are new to you, read this, this and this.)

Once you know the types of words that will resonate with a given persona, brainstorm words that are similar but have a bit more oomph.

There’s a fine line between startling and surprising. Surprising is good. It wakes up the brain. It’s engaging. Startling can be off-putting. So don’t go overboard.

Some ideas for generating words that surprise:

Bored supporters are rarely happy supporters. Happy supporters are usually stupendous supporters. So, for their sake and yours, mix up your language. Surprise them. (Whatever you do, don’t ever send them a boring thank you letter.)

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