Abstractions make taglines pointless

Writing a good tagline for an organization is one of the toughest writing challenges around. You have to get a whole lot of things right.

So let me show you something that a lot of nonprofits get wrong with their taglines.

It’s abstraction.

A lot of really pointless nonprofit taglines merely throw out an abstraction that’s vaguely related to what they do. And that’s too bad, because most nonprofits I know actually do specific things. It seems to happen more often than not.

Here are some examples:

Schools seem to specialize in vague, say-nothing taglines like these:

  • A Great School
  • Experience It
  • Be Central (“Central” is part of the school’s name)
  • Learn More

I’d call those a waste of ink, but since I’m responsible for creating an enormous volume of direct mail in my life, that would be the pot calling the kettle black. But still. Surely something specific and worthwhile goes on at those schools. You wouldn’t know from their taglines.

Probably the most over-used abstraction in nonprofit taglines is the word hope. Now, hope is a good thing, and if you’re in social services or health, you should be increasing hope in a number of ways.

But the hope really says nothing concrete. Check this numbing selection of abstract taglines:

  • Hope lives Here
  • Empowered by hope
  • Bringing Hope and Healing
  • Building Hope for a Cure
  • Providing Help, Hope and answers
  • Help and Hope
  • Sharing Knowledge. Sharing Hope.
  • Our help is their hope
  • Providing Healing, Help and Hope
  • Bringing hope. Changing lives.
  • Keeping Hope alive

And here’s one that combines the abstraction of hope with a sea of words:

Because at the heart of [name of organization] is what lives in the hearts of us all: The desire to help change the life of another and, in the process, change our own. Together we can perform extraordinary acts, and transform a life in crisis into a life of hope.

(Clearly the work of a committee out of control.)

The organizations with these taglines do a huge array of different things. Specific, useful, important, exciting things. But you’d never know by their abstract taglines.

Abstraction happens when committees work. They can’t agree on specifics, so they settle on the abstract. A lot of people actually believe an abstraction is better, because it’s “higher.” It’s not. It’s just airy vagueness that adds nothing to your messaging.

If your tagline is about “hope,” consider changing it. Have it tell people what your organization actually does.


Comments

12 responses to “Abstractions make taglines pointless”

  1. What is your favourite Tagline? I really like Send a Net, Save a Life from Nothing But Nets (great charity name too!)

  2. What is your favourite Tagline? I really like Send a Net, Save a Life from Nothing But Nets (great charity name too!)

  3. Robert Avatar

    interesting post, but while you tell us what doesn’t work, you don’t show what does. can you give an example of how, says, Hope Lives Here could be made better?

  4. Robert Avatar

    interesting post, but while you tell us what doesn’t work, you don’t show what does. can you give an example of how, says, Hope Lives Here could be made better?

  5. Really interesting thoughts re abstraction. In the Heath brothers’ amazing book Made to Stick, they talk about the importance of Concreteness for making something stick in a person’s mind. I agree with Conor’s comment – that is a great tagline & very concrete.

  6. Really interesting thoughts re abstraction. In the Heath brothers’ amazing book Made to Stick, they talk about the importance of Concreteness for making something stick in a person’s mind. I agree with Conor’s comment – that is a great tagline & very concrete.

  7. I also disdain vague taglines, but I dont’ agree that the word “hope” is always too vague. Hope is a powerful word. Hope for a better future, help out of a crisis, etc. can be life-transforming for those in bad situations. FYI, our organization doesn’t use the word “hope” in our tagline, so I’m not defending our own practice.

  8. I also disdain vague taglines, but I dont’ agree that the word “hope” is always too vague. Hope is a powerful word. Hope for a better future, help out of a crisis, etc. can be life-transforming for those in bad situations. FYI, our organization doesn’t use the word “hope” in our tagline, so I’m not defending our own practice.

  9. Thanks. You just killed my new tagline. Helping hope help hope.

  10. Thanks. You just killed my new tagline. Helping hope help hope.

  11. Wow, Peter that was a tongue twister anyway. Glad you read this post!

  12. Wow, Peter that was a tongue twister anyway. Glad you read this post!

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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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About the blogger

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.