How not to sound like an idiot

There’s a pretty good chance you sound like a complete idiot. Not you personally (I hope), but your organization’s public communications.


Ifyoutalkedtopeople

Most advertising, direct marketing — and fundraising — uses a tone you’d never use with your friends. If you did, they’d laugh in your face. Or run away.


Really. Think of the junk that’s freely scattered through copy. Like:



  1. Phony superlatives, like “leading,” “best,” “most important.”
  2. Meaningless, high-flown claims, like “cutting-edge” and “pioneering.”
  3. Self-aggrandizement. Look-at-me copy that talks at donors, not about them.
  4. Unnaturally long and complex sentences that abandon all pretense of human speech.
  5. Bastardizations like © and ™.
  6. Legal disclaimers and other CYA weasel talk.

It all adds up to a tone of voice that nobody would ever use in person. We used to get away with it. As long has our meaning was clear, the inhuman tone was tolerated or ignored. But that’s changing. More people all the time are choosing to ignore fake, non-human marketing-language. They know it signifies irrelevance and semi-truthful claims. They prefer authentic, human conversations.


Your nonprofit organization is doing real things. There’s no reason to sound phony when you talk about it. It’s not like you’re selling one of 12 kinds of virtually identical detergents. Be real!


Read your copy out loud. If it doesn’t sound at least somewhat like speech, send it back for revision. And bypass the committee writing process. That will always make your copy sound inhuman.


Comments

6 responses to “How not to sound like an idiot”

  1. Agree 100%. As long as using a ‘friendly tone’ and avoiding ‘big words’ doesn’t mean dumming down too much.
    Many supporters don’t actually watch reality TV and even went to college / university so let’s not take it too far. It’s all about targeting.
    If you are targeting people who like Jerry Springer, communicate appropriately. If not, please don’t assume your audience are idiots as they won’t respond well.

  2. Agree 100%. As long as using a ‘friendly tone’ and avoiding ‘big words’ doesn’t mean dumming down too much.
    Many supporters don’t actually watch reality TV and even went to college / university so let’s not take it too far. It’s all about targeting.
    If you are targeting people who like Jerry Springer, communicate appropriately. If not, please don’t assume your audience are idiots as they won’t respond well.

  3. Here, here Jeff! No better way to get our message across than to talk to people a genuine and passionate way. It’s not dumb to be real.
    I don’t know a single donor whose funded a paradigm shift presented by a change agent.

  4. Here, here Jeff! No better way to get our message across than to talk to people a genuine and passionate way. It’s not dumb to be real.
    I don’t know a single donor whose funded a paradigm shift presented by a change agent.

  5. I think many people who DO watch reality TV, DIDN’T go to college, and LIKE Jerry Springer are NOT idiots. Stereotyping donors is a big mistake. We should never dumb down anything we say. Clear, straightfoward writing is appropriate for people of all levels of intelligence, education, and taste.

  6. I think many people who DO watch reality TV, DIDN’T go to college, and LIKE Jerry Springer are NOT idiots. Stereotyping donors is a big mistake. We should never dumb down anything we say. Clear, straightfoward writing is appropriate for people of all levels of intelligence, education, and taste.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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