Crummy copy hurts, even if it’s buried

Is your organization’s official self-description at all like this one?

[ORGANIZATION] tackles underlying causes of poverty so that people can become self-sufficient. Recognizing that women and children suffer disproportionately from poverty, [ORGANIZATION] places special emphasis on working with women to create permanent social change. Women are at the heart of [ORGANIZATION]’s community-based efforts to improve basic education, prevent the spread of HIV, increase access to clean water and sanitation, expand economic opportunity and protect natural resources. [ORGANIZATION] also delivers emergency aid to survivors of war and natural disasters, and helps people rebuild their lives.

Sadly, this is real, taken from the “About” page of a large US nonprofit. Even more sadly, it’s not unusual.

Many, maybe most, nonprofits describe themselves in dull, bloodless, jargon-laden deadweight statements that will never move anyone to action.

Fortunately, this statement is only found on the “About” page of the website. It’s not going to do a whole lot of damage there.

But really, why put up with marketing that bad anywhere?

Why not be lively, interesting, personable, and outward facing everywhere? Even on your half-buried web pages.

For how long do you think donors are going to be attracted to organizations that pour out tedious baloney?

Because, like it or not, what you say in places like your About page is what really defines your personality. If you’re dull and inhuman there, you’re probably dull and inhuman. And that’s going to catch up with you.

Think it through. Then go on a “search and destroy” mission for terrible copy. Because you can do better.


Comments

10 responses to “Crummy copy hurts, even if it’s buried”

  1. I would say it’s unfortunate that bad, boring copy like this is often found on About pages because About pages tend to get a lot of traffic. At least, in my experience that’s been the case.
    But you’re right, even if your About page doesn’t see much traffic, why settle for bad marketing on any of your pages? I think it’s a mindset, because I’ve noticed that organizations with bad copy on their website tend to have bad copy in their emails as well. That absolutely will do damage.
    The thing is, a lot of it has to do with EDs, board members and the like. I’ve seen good — sometimes even great copy get edited and edited some more by higher ups until it became the bloodless mess you quote here. I don’t really understand why the nonprofit sector feels the need to write like that (and it does seem to be a sector-wide problem), but I wonder: how can it be changed?

  2. I would say it’s unfortunate that bad, boring copy like this is often found on About pages because About pages tend to get a lot of traffic. At least, in my experience that’s been the case.
    But you’re right, even if your About page doesn’t see much traffic, why settle for bad marketing on any of your pages? I think it’s a mindset, because I’ve noticed that organizations with bad copy on their website tend to have bad copy in their emails as well. That absolutely will do damage.
    The thing is, a lot of it has to do with EDs, board members and the like. I’ve seen good — sometimes even great copy get edited and edited some more by higher ups until it became the bloodless mess you quote here. I don’t really understand why the nonprofit sector feels the need to write like that (and it does seem to be a sector-wide problem), but I wonder: how can it be changed?

  3. you make ahabit of ointing out bad copy-and that’s good. but you never fix the copy or offer suggestions-specific ones-and that’s bad.

  4. you make ahabit of ointing out bad copy-and that’s good. but you never fix the copy or offer suggestions-specific ones-and that’s bad.

  5. Can someone share what they think would be engaging actionable copy? I find the statement quoted to be long, but also have concerns about distilling mission statements down to sound bytes that lack the ability to operate an organization against.

  6. Can someone share what they think would be engaging actionable copy? I find the statement quoted to be long, but also have concerns about distilling mission statements down to sound bytes that lack the ability to operate an organization against.

  7. I agree with CALA & margie. It’s pretty easy to point out the bad, and thus it’s not all that illuminating. What are examples of this great lively, outward copy?

  8. I agree with CALA & margie. It’s pretty easy to point out the bad, and thus it’s not all that illuminating. What are examples of this great lively, outward copy?

  9. Jeff,
    Once again you’ve hit the nail on the head. In addition to the “ABOUT” page, I’ve seen this same type of copy all too often on the HOME page.
    To address the questions of the folks asking about examples of good copy in the comments . . . try this: When you have a conversation with someone at a non-business social event. How do you describe what it is your nonprofit does? What words do you use?
    I suspect it’s simple, easy-to-follow everyday language. Use that as the starting point for what you put on your website. Donors don’t want to connect with a cold institution. They want warm, personable people who can do what they can’t (i.e., your charity does what they can’t do as an individual). They relate and connect with people through everyday language that can be put on the website. And it won’t interfere with executing your mission.

  10. Jeff,
    Once again you’ve hit the nail on the head. In addition to the “ABOUT” page, I’ve seen this same type of copy all too often on the HOME page.
    To address the questions of the folks asking about examples of good copy in the comments . . . try this: When you have a conversation with someone at a non-business social event. How do you describe what it is your nonprofit does? What words do you use?
    I suspect it’s simple, easy-to-follow everyday language. Use that as the starting point for what you put on your website. Donors don’t want to connect with a cold institution. They want warm, personable people who can do what they can’t (i.e., your charity does what they can’t do as an individual). They relate and connect with people through everyday language that can be put on the website. And it won’t interfere with executing your mission.

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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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