Keep it Simple


Fundraiser Maeve Strathy recently wrote this great post – Explaining a Capital Campaign to a 3-year-old  Maeve is riding a streetcar in Toronto when they go past a hospital that’s undergoing massive renovations. A little boy nearby asks his mom what’s going on and she replies “They’re fixing the hospital. They’re making it better… and bigger.”  Wow, that’s a nice, simple explanation.

I like to use the example of pretending you’re at Thanksgiving dinner and Aunt Shirley asks what your organization does. Imagine her looking confused when you spew out terms like food insecurity or culture-focused projects. Imagine your donors doing the same thing.

While you’re unlikely to have any three-year-old donors, you have a lot of Aunt Shirleys, who don’t have a medical or social services background and aren’t going to use terms like at-risk populations.

Use language your donors will understand

When I read the term culture-focused projects in a nonprofit newsletter, I thought they meant art projects. But they were referring to students creating a flag from their “country of origin.” Why not tell a story about Lisa and Carla’s experience working on this project and include some quotes from the girls?

Instead of writing a lot of long-winded text about food insecurity, tell a story about how the Johnson family has to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

Rather than using one of my new least favorite terms – unbanked, say some people don’t have bank accounts.

Your goal is to be donor-centered, right?  Well, you’re not doing that when you use language your donors won’t understand.

Skip the fancy words, too. It makes you sound pretentious. You’re trying to impress your donors, not your English teacher. You don’t want them to have to find out what a word means. Most likely they won’t take the time to do that, and they’ll miss out on what you’re trying to say.

Write at a sixth to eighth-grade level

This is not dumbing down. Using clear, everyday language your donors will understand is a smart thing to do.

I wouldn’t rely too much on Word Grammar check, but the Flesch-Kincaid readability statistics can be helpful. Test your document’s readability You can also access it online if you don’t use Word.

Besides determining a grade level and reading ease, it flags passive sentences, which weaken your writing. Instead of saying 5,000 meals were served at our community dinners, say we served 5,000 meals at our community dinners.

Less is more

In Maeve’s post, she mentions the tendency to get verbose in our messages when we should be doing the opposite. You need to make your messages as clear and simple as possible. Sometimes that’s harder, but your goal is to get your donor to read and understand your message.

There’s no need to overthink it or use jargon.  Just keep it simple.

Photo by One Way Stock


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