Let’s Skip the Formalities

When you’re writing to donors and other supporters, don’t be so formal. A recent post from the Nonprofit Marketing Guide reminds us not to “channel your inner English teacher”. How to Convince Your Boss to Let You Write Like a Human 
How can you make sure your nonprofit communications don’t sound like a Ph.D thesis? Here are a few tips.
Write in the second person
Your fundraising letters, thank you letters, newsletter articles, etc should be written in the second person. Pretend you’re having a conversation with your reader.
Keep that person in mind when you write and think about what they would want to read.

Be sure to use the word you much more than we.  When you’re having a conversation with someone, do you spend a lot of time talking about yourself? I hope not.
Create a jargon-free zone
Jargon confuses your readers.  Let’s pretend it’s Thanksgiving and you’re talking to your family about your work.  If Aunt Shirley starts to look glazed when you talk about capacity building and disenfranchised communities, imagine your donors doing the same thing.
Most of your donors don’t have a medical or social services background and don’t use terms like at-risk populations. Use language they’ll understand.
Get active
I’m not a fan of the passive voice, because it weakens your writing.  It can distance you from what you’re trying to say.  I’m reminded of the politicians in their mea culpa press conferences who say, “Mistakes were made.”
Which sounds better?  Over 5,000 meals were served at the Southside Community Center or Our volunteers served over 5,000 meals.
Also, use strong, active verbs and avoid adjectives and adverbs.  Say depleted instead of really tired.
You want your readers to take action whether it’s donating, volunteering, or reading a success story.  Active language will help with that.
Back to school time
Write at a sixth to eighth grade level.  You’re not dumbing down; you’re being smart because you’re making it easier for your readers. 

Don’t use a lot of fancy words.  It makes you sound pretentious.  You don’t want your readers to have to hunt for a dictionary.  Most likely they won’t, and they’ll miss out on what you were trying to say.
Now, forget what you learned in English class. It’s okay to start a sentence with a conjunction and use sentence fragments. 
Get out your red pens
It’s important that you take time to edit.  Circle all passive verbs, adjectives, and adverbs to see if you need them. Check for jargon, too. 

Read your content out loud.  Do you sound like a friendly person or a robot?
Word Grammar Check is a mixed bag.  It flags contractions and sentences that start with conjunctions. But the Flesch Kincaid feature is useful because it determines grade level and finds passive sentences.  
This post includes additional editing tips and resources. Why Your Nonprofit Communications are a Waste of Time: 10 Easy Fixes
Always think of your reader
Your donors are busy.  They don’t want to slog through a newsletter that looks like a legal brief.  Skip the formalities and give them something they’ll enjoy reading.

Photo by Greg Smith via Flickr

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