Four ways writers fall into the jargon trap — and kill their fundraising

Trying to motivate donors to give by addressing them with jargon they don’t understand crushes a lot of fundraising efforts. People are far less likely to respond if they don’t know what you’re talking about.

Why does it happen so often?

The Daily Egg asked that same question: Everyone Hates Jargon. So Why Do People Still Use It? A possible answer?

Many people are afraid of using language that’s simple because they worry that it will make their product or service seem basic. Provided you’re careful when writing about what you do, that’s not as big a risk as people think it is.

Let’s be clear: Poor use of jargon can cost you. The Crazy Egg post cites a test for online conversion in the financial service industry. They tested the term sales tax refund (which is what most people call it) against sales tax recovery (what the experts call it). A one-word difference.

The non-jargon version got 31 times the response of the jargon version.

I hope the folks who wanted to look smart by using the jargon term are feeling stupid.

There are several reasons you might be tempted to use jargon:


  • You want to show people that you’re smart. As the test above shows, doing that might help you feel smart, but it clearly demonstrates that you’re dumb.
  • You value technical accuracy over clarity of communication. If that’s you, you may be a lawyer. You sure aren’t a fundraiser.
  • You’re on a mission to educate everyone else about the intricacies of your cause. Can you see how sociopathic that is?
  • You’re so trapped in your own head that you don’t realize other people don’t speak your jargon. If that’s you, a quick solution is to get professional fundraising help.

The way we raise funds is to communicate clearly and with emotion. Jargon blocks both of those things.

The only time you should consider using jargon is when you know for sure that your entire audience also uses the same jargon. This may be the case if your audience is made up entirely of members of the same faith group, the same branch of the military, or the same profession. In those cases, using a shared jargon can help you connect.

Otherwise, turn and flee from the temptation to throw around those jargon terms.


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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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