Jargon: It’s More Prevalent Than You Think

67bd[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.

If you work for a 501(c)3 and you are not a private foundation, your nonprofit is deemed a public charity. By definition, that means you exist to serve the public. Yet, so often, you use language that is meaningless to people outside our organizations. It’s called jargon, and we’ve advised against it in the past.

What you may not know, however, is that jargon takes another dangerous form: pretentious and/or vague language. What if I told you words you use daily, words like community, impact and partnership, might be alienating the very people you’re trying to engage?

For example, say you tell someone that you are “serving the community”. You know exactly what community you’re serving. But an outsider would have no idea if you’re talking about the immediate neighborhood, the city, the county, or perhaps even another location all together.

If you’re unsure if you’re using jargon, just step back and ask yourself if someone who is not familiar with your organization would know what you mean. If the answer is no, find a more specific word. You can also check out this nonprofit Jargon Finder.

Remember, public charity workers:

“The repetitive, habitual use of insider lingo undermines the inherently public nature of the issues under discussion.” – Tony Proscio

What Twitter Taught Me About Writing

[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.Delete Button

Twitter has forced me to learn something valuable. Its 140 character per post rule has shown me that, more often that not, I’m using more words than I need to.

When Twitter isn’t monitoring what I type, sometimes I don’t even know I’m using too many words. And I’ve never been the verbose type. Those who have met me know that I won’t talk your ear off without some coaxing (or without some wine). I always struggled to meet minimum page number requirements in school. Yet, even I say much more than I need to.

Take, for example, this article I shared the other day via social media. I started by quoting the article and adding my own thoughts:

Nonprofits win awards for clear communications. Why? “If there’s any (common) thread, it’s they keep in mind the needs of the reader.”

Twitter wouldn’t let me say all that and include a link to the article and a shout out to the person shared the article with me. After some deliberation, I ended up with:

Nonprofit clear communication winners “…keep in mind the needs of the reader.”

So simple. So clear. Yet, it still conveys the same information. Remember, the clearer your message is, the more people will read and understand it.

Writing concisely is not easy. In fact, it’s very difficult for most people. As Mark Twain famously said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

The good news is, concise writing is a habit that can be learned. A good place to start is with your organization’s mission statement. Challenge yourself to say the same thing with 3 less words. Depending on your organization, you may be able to get to 5, 10, or even 15 less words! Also, look critically at the next thing you write for your organization. It could be anything – even an email. See how short you can make your message while still keeping the original meaning. You’ll notice you often eliminate the same filler words or sentences over and over. “I just wanted to let you know…” is a common culprit. Pretty soon, you won’t even try to type those extra words.

No matter how good you get, you’ll always need to stay conscious of the words you’re using. They’re what connects you to your audience. Make the most of them.

Words of Gratitude – Use Often [#WordsThatWow]

[This is the last post in our #WordsThatWow series. Read the rest of the posts here.]

nonprofit, nonprofit marketing, fundraising, language, best practicesI would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. ~G.K. Chesterton

Right, so, here’s the thing–we simply don’t show enough gratitude. By ‘we’, I mean pretty much all of us. Not just nonprofits. Many times in any given day I think, “Dang, I am grateful to that person/ organization/ company/ whatever for that bit of goodness they are putting out to the world.” But thinking it isn’t the same as saying it or showing it. As G. B. Stern said, “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.”

Words of Gratitude come in all shapes and sizes. Here’s some inspiration!

In short, show gratitude whenever possible. So many people contribute to your nonprofit’s success–donors, volunteers, community supporters, etc. etc. Make sure they know how much you appreciate them. And remember that expressing gratitude not only makes the person you’re talking to feel good, it makes you feel good, too.

Thank you for reading this post!


For Those Just Getting Started: 5 Tips to Get Your Marketing Ball Rolling

[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.

StartIn the nonprofit world, this is a common scenario: Your small or new organization has an amazing mission that you want everyone to know about. However, you’ve never had a designated marketing person. A volunteer, intern or staff member offers to give it a go. But where do they start?

If this describes you or your organization, keep reading. These 5 things will help you focus your time and efforts to get the most out of your marketing.

  1. Ask: What results do I want to see?

A lot of organizations think things like: We have to be on Facebook because everyone’s on Facebook. Or, we have to send out a newsletter because we’ve always sent out a newsletter. These are not good reasons to do anything. You need to start by determining what you want to get out of your marketing efforts. It will be different for every type of organization. Is it to get more people in your city to recycle? Is it to bring new people through the doors of your community center? Maybe it’s to get donations to help build a new facility. Whatever it is, determine your goal first. Only then can you determine how to get there. (For more on this and help getting started, download our Marketing 101 Toolkit.)

  1. Create a good website.

I’ve seen this too many times: Organizations spend time and money building a presence on social media. And by doing this, they get people interested. Yay! So, said people visit the organization’s website to learn more, find opportunities to help the cause, and/or use the service. But when they get there, they’re disappointed. Information is either lacking or disorganized. They’re not going to waste their time sifting through a hard-to-navigate website. So they click that little x in the corner of their browser window, and the opportunity is lost. Don’t let this happen. Get your website in shape before you try any other sort of online presence. Trust me, it’s worth the investment.

  1. Find your words.

An important part of marketing is choosing the right words for your organization – words that are unique to you and aren’t being overused by every other organization out there. We have a free do-it-yourself resource to help you find your words. We also created a whole series of blog posts dedicated to words that wow vs. words to avoid. Make your organization stand out. Don’t use the words everyone else is using. Find the words that will do wonders for you.

  1. Don’t take on too much.

It’s exciting once you’ve figured out potential ways to reach your audience. I bet you’ll want to get started right away. But be careful not to start on a whole slew of things at once. Master one or two mediums before you branch out to more. And if you have limited time, it’s better to do one or two really well, than to do four or five half-way.

  1. Don’t expect too much too soon.

Again, starting your marketing plan is exciting. And seeing results is even more exciting. So, it’s easy to get disappointed if you don’t see results right away. Many marketing methods, especially social media, take time to build. Obviously, you don’t want to continue with something that’s not working, but make sure you give it enough time to start working.

Want Your Writing to Flow Better? Try These Five Things.

[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.]


Did you ever read a letter from a nonprofit and feel that something was not quite right? Maybe you found it hard to read and weren’t sure why. When writing, you want your flow to be as “on” as possible. Here are five things to remember that will make your flow as smooth as possible.

1. Be Consistent

Inconsistency is one of my pet peeves. If you capitalize a noun in one place, make sure you capitalize that noun every time you mention it again. For example, The French Club shouldn’t evolve into the French Club or the French club throughout your piece. The same goes for abbreviations. If you introduce an abbreviation at the beginning of a letter, don’t start referring to it by its full name again half way through. People will get confused.

2. Don’t Liberally Toss Your Articles Around

I read a cooking article the other day that mentioned four things: The peppers, the onions, the carrots, and the garlic. Four words there are unnecessary. The whole thing is bulky. Keep it to peppers, onions, carrots and garlic. Only use articles like the, a, and an when they’re required.

3. Alliteration is Nice

If you can swing it, throw some alliteration into your piece. Clear, concise and compelling flows better than clear, brief and engaging. (By the way, you should be all of these things.)

4. Write in Threes

I’ve done a whole blog post dedicated to this topic, but I’ll summarize here. There is something about the number three that sticks in people’s heads and makes your writing or speaking sound better. If you have two and can come up with a third reason, adjective or example – do it. The same applies if you have four and can eliminate one.

5. Split Up Your Sentences

There’s no benefit to a sentence with three conjunctions, six commas, and endless words. When you can, split up your clauses into independent sentences. It will be easier to read and understand, I promise!