Enough With the Jargon

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Nonprofits love their jargon, don’t they?  You see appeal letters, thank you letters, and newsletter articles laced with terms like at-risk youth, underserved communities, leverage, and impactful.

I think people use jargon because it’s an insider language and it makes them feel like they’re “in the know” in their professional world. It’s easy to slip into jargon-mode around the office. But the danger comes when jargon creeps outside of your insular community and into your donor communication.

People need to understand you to connect with you

We can get lazy and use jargon when we can’t think of anything fresh and original. And that’s the problem because jargon is boring and your donors may not understand what you’re trying to say. Your donors don’t use these terms and neither should you.

Jargon fixes

Sometimes you need to give a little more information. For example, instead of just using the term food insecurity, describe a situation where a single mother has to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

Let’s look at a few more of these problem terms and what you can say instead. You may use some of these terms internally and they might be in your mission statement, but try to limit them when you communicate with donors.

  • At-risk means there’s a possibility something bad will happen. Instead of just saying at-risk students or youth, tell a story or give specific examples of something bad that could happen. Our tutoring program works with high school students who are more likely to fail, be held back, and drop out of school.   
  • Underserved means not receiving adequate help or services. Instead of saying we work with underserved communities, explain what types of services these residents don’t receive. Maybe it’s healthcare, affordable housing, or decent preschool. Tell a story or give a specific example. Linda can’t send her daughter Kyra to a good preschool because there isn’t an affordable one nearby.
  • Impact means having an effect on someone or something. How are you doing that, and why is it important?  Again, give a specific example. Thanks to donors like you, we’ve helped families find affordable housing so they don’t have to live in a shelter, a motel, or their car. Now they have a place to call home. And, let’s please all agree to stop using the word impactful.

Tell a story

This is why stories are so important. You can get beyond that vague, impersonal jargon and let your donors see firsthand how they’re helping you make a difference for the people/community you serve.

What would Aunt Shirley think?

Imagine you’re at a family gathering and you’re explaining what your organization does to Aunt Shirley. Does she look confused and uninterested when you spew out words like underserved and at-risk, or does she want you to tell her more when you mention kids in your tutoring program are doing much better in school?

Let’s stop using jargon when we can use clear, conversational language instead. Here are more examples of cringe-worthy jargon. I’d love to hear some of your pet peeves, as well.

21 irritating jargon phrases, and new clichés you should replace them with

Nonprofit Jargon: 22 Phrases We Love to Hate

24 Words and Phrases It’s Time for Nonprofits to Stop Using

Photo by Wes Schaeffer

You’re Lucky To Have Your Donors

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Do your donors know how lucky you feel to have them support your organization? Take time this month to let them know that and keep letting them know that throughout the year. St. Patrick’s Day is coming up so you could use that as a theme.

Luck isn’t everything

Luck isn’t everything, though. You have to work at it. Donors don’t magically keep donating to your organization. In fact, if you ignore them or communicate poorly, they’re unlikely to donate again.

It takes more than leprechauns granting wishes. You need good donor relations. Donor relations should be easier than raising money, and it can be fun, too. But not only do you have to work at it, you need to make it a priority!

New beginnings

If you don’t want to use St.Patrick’s Day as a theme, spring is just around the corner. Spring is a time for new beginnings. Maybe you can share a new initiative that you were able to launch with your donors’ help.

Speaking of new beginnings, think about sending something special to your first-time donors. Let them know how much you appreciate this new relationship. If you don’t, it’s likely to be a short-term relationship.

Also, I bet you can freshen up some of your stale old thank you messages.

Keep donors front and center

You can also send an update emphasizing how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Heifer International does a great job of communicating with their donors. I just received a couple of updates – one by mail, the other by email. They’re filled with donor-centered language such as:

See the progress you made possible!

Ann, An update on Your Gift to Heifer!

You are very much a part of this enterprise.

Read more inside about how your gift promotes strong bodies and minds through nutrition.

THANK YOU!

Many organizations seem to forget about the donor when they communicate. Make your messages stand out with donor-centered language

Keep building relationships

It’s always a good time to build relationships. It’s easy to get complacent right now, especially if you’re between fundraising campaigns or events. Don’t do that. Let your donors know how lucky you are to have them and keep doing that again and again.

Here are a few other themes you can use in March via The Nonprofit Marketing Guide.

 

Is Your Newsletter Boring?

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There’s a good chance the answer to this question is yes. Many nonprofit organizations use a newsletter as a way to engage their donors, but the opposite is happening. That’s because most donor newsletters can be used as a cure for insomnia. They’re too long and filled with articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

Don’t worry. You can create an engaging newsletter your donors will want to read. Here’s how.

Think about what your donors want

You may opt not to do a print newsletter because it’s expensive and takes too much time, but you’re making a mistake if many of your donors prefer print.

I think you’ll have more success if you can do both print and electronic newsletters. I recommend a short e-newsletter once or twice a month and one to four print newsletters a year. But ask your donors what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer one over the other, then doing both may not make sense.

You also want to include content that will interest your donors. Do you think they would rather read an article about your CEO receiving an award or one about Jacob acing his math test after his weekly tutoring sessions? The answer should be obvious.

Your donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference.

Share stories

Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story. Client stories are best, but you could also do profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors. Focus on what drew them to your mission.

Create a story bank that includes at least three client success stories to use every year.

Write to your donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we. Be personal and conversational. Say – You helped Jacob improve his math skills or Because of donors like you, X number of students are now reading at their grade level or above.

Ditch the jargon and other language your donors won’t understand. Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.

I’m not a fan of the letter from the CEO because those tend to be organization-centered instead of donor-centered.  

Say thank you

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors. Every one of your newsletters needs to show gratitude and emphasize how much you appreciate your donors.

Make it easy to read (and scan)

Most of your donors aren’t going to read your newsletter word for word, especially your e-newsletter. Include enticing headlines and email subject lines, at least a 12-point font, and lots of white space so your donors can easily scan your newsletter.

Stick to black type on a white background as much as possible. Colors are pretty, but not if it’s hindering your donor’s ability to read your newsletter. Photos can be a great way to add color, as well as tell a story in an instant.

Use the inverted pyramid and put the most important story first, keeping in mind your donors may not get to all the articles.

Very important –  make sure your donors can read your e-newsletter on a mobile device.

Short and sweet

Your print newsletter should be no more than four pages. Limit your monthly e-newsletter to four articles. Some organizations send an e-newsletter twice a month. Those should be even shorter – two or three articles.

You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent email updates.

Send it to the right audience

Fundraising guru Tom Ahern recommends sending your print newsletter only to donors. This can help you keep it donor-centered, as well as cut down on mailing costs.

Send e-newsletters only to people who have signed up for it. They may or may not be donors, but an e-newsletter can also be a good cultivation tool.

Let’s put an end to boring newsletters. Create one your donors will want to read.

Read on for more information about donor newsletters.

Shhh! Secret Formula for Donor Newsletters That Delight

3 Pitfalls of Nonprofit Newsletters and How to Avoid Them

HOW TO CREATE A BETTER NON-PROFIT NEWSLETTER

How to Format Your Nonprofit Newsletter

Photo by Dwight Sipler

 

Can Your Organization Pass the Donor-Centered Test?

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I recently received a newsletter from an organization that focused mainly on themselves, then their clients, and then barely mentioned their donors. There’s no question this organization does good work, but their newsletter failed the donor-centered test. Unfortunately, they’re not the only guilty culprits.

The term donor-centered is pretty self-explanatory. It means focusing on your donors’ needs and interests, acknowledging them in your letters and other communication, and taking into account that not all donors are the same.

Can your organization pass the donor-centered test? Take a few minutes to find out.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Are your fundraising appeals focused too much on your organization – rambling on about how great you are?  Your organization may be great, but let your donors figure that out. Your donors are the ones who are great, and they want to hear how they can help you make a difference for the people/community you serve.
  • Are your appeals segmented to the appropriate audience? Thank past donors or reference your relationship to a potential donor. Maybe they’re event attendees, volunteers, or friends of board members.
  • Are your appeals addressed to a person and not Dear Friend?
  • Are your appeals vague, impersonal, and filled with jargon your donors won’t understand?  Don’t say we’re helping underserved members of the community. A donor-centered appeal would say something like – With your support, we can help low-income families find affordable housing.
  • Do your appeals make people feel good about donating to your organization?

Thank you letters

  • Do your thank you letters come across as transactional and resemble a receipt? Yes, you need to acknowledge the donation is tax deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Do your thank you letters (or better yet, a handwritten note) shower your donors with love?  Start your letter with You’re amazing or Thanks to You!, and not On behalf of X organization.
  • Are you telling your donors the impact of their gift?  For example – Thanks to your generous donation of $50, a local family can get a box of groceries at the Southside Community Food Bank.
  • Do you recognize each donor?  Is this the first time someone has donated?  If someone donated before, did she increase her gift?  Acknowledge this in your letter/note.

Newsletters

  • Do your newsletters sound self-promotional and focus on all the wonderful things your organization is doing instead of showing your donors how they’re helping you make a difference?
  • Is your newsletter written in the second person?  Write to the donor and use the word you more often than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass?  BTW, all your donor communication should be written in the second person. It’s much more personal.
  • Does your newsletter include success stories, engaging photos, and other content your donors want you to share?
  • Are you using the right channels?  Perhaps you only send an e-newsletter, but some of your donors prefer print.
  • Are you showing gratitude to your donors in your newsletter?

Always think of your donors first

Use these test questions on other donor communication such as annual reports (these are rarely donor-centered), your website, and social media posts.

How did you do?

Be sure the messages you send to your donors focuses on them and makes them feel special. Staying donor-centered can help you build relationships and keep your retention rate from plummeting.

Read on for more information on how to be donor-centered.

A donor-centered organization, your donors, & relationship building

How to Create a Donor-Centered Fundraising Letter