How to use jargon the right way in fundraising

Excerpt from How to Turn Your Words into Money: The Master Fundraiser’s Guide to Persuasive Writing

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Everyone tells you to avoid jargon.

That’s good advice, usually. But not always in fundraising.

The right kind of jargon, used in the right way, can make you more believable and persuasive. It can connect you more closely with your donors and help bring in more revenue.

Jargon is nothing other than specialized language. People talk and write in jargon because it’s useful. Those of us who work in direct mail throw around all kinds of jargon: carrier envelope, driver, remit (accent on the first syllable, of course). It’s easier that way. We don’t have to say, “The envelope that all the other stuff is in when the package mails.”

Professions aren’t the only groups with jargon. Faith communities and localities have them, too:

  • Eastern Orthodox Christians talk a lot about “the Theotokos.” If you’re outside that community, that word is probably Greek to you. If you’re inside, it’s completely natural.
  • There’s a park in my neighborhood that everyone calls “Big Howe.” That’s not its official name. Only people who don’t live here call it what the Parks Department calls it.

Jargon, like clichés, helps people communicate. It also helps people connect. Using Theotokos or Big Howe with someone else who knows the term shows you’re in the same circle. We have something in common. And when you have something in common, you’re on your way to better fundraising.

The dark side of jargon shows when it’s used in a way that puts your reader outside the circle. That type of jargon is both a barrier to understanding and a signal of exclusion. It doesn’t create a fertile ground for compassion and generosity.

Let’s look at a term much used in the nonprofit sector: capacity building. If you’re serious about lifting people out of poverty, you’re probably into capacity building. Nice concept, but it means nothing to your donors. It has no emotional connotations. It only tells them one thing: You’re outside my circle.

I doubt most people who use capacity building use it to shut out donors. They simply don’t recognize it as jargon. They’re deaf to the fact that only specialists like themselves know and use the phrase.

But it hurts anyway.

Here are two things to consider before tossing insider terms into your fundraising:

  1. Will your audience understand the jargon? It’s easy to assume that because you know it, they do too. Not necessarily. Run it past a non-expert to see whether it’s understood. You might be surprised.
  2. Why are you using jargon? Be sure it’s not to show donors how smart you are, but how smart they are.

How to Turn Your Words into Money is available at:


Comments

2 responses to “How to use jargon the right way in fundraising”

  1. Great read. I’m a huge fan of having someone outside the circle read everything we do – especially fundraising letters.

  2. Great read. I’m a huge fan of having someone outside the circle read everything we do – especially fundraising letters.

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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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