3 steps to avoid sounding completely fake

A lot of fundraising writing uses a tone you’d never use with people you know and care about. If you did, they’d slap your face. Or call 911, seeking immediate help for you.

Here’s the kind of writing nonsense I mean:

  • Phony superlatives, like “leading,” “best,” “most important.”
  • Meaningless, high-flown claims, like “cutting-edge” and “pioneering.”
  • Professional jargon that makes sense inside your office, but leaves donors wondering what’s up.
  • Abstractions like “hope,” “community,” and “justice.” They sound noble, but they don’t reveal anything specific.
  • Organizational self-aggrandizement. Look-at-us copy that talks at donors, not to them.
  • Unnaturally long and complex sentences that abandon all pretense of human speech.
  • Lawyer-junk like © and ™.
  • Legal disclaimers and other CYA weasel talk.

It all adds up to a tone of voice that nobody would ever use in person.

Your donors, like everyone else, is getting wary about inhuman marketing language. They know it more often than not signifies irrelevance and semi-truthful claims. They prefer authentic, human conversation … and increasingly ignore the other stuff as the noise it is.

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 struggling to market one of 12 types of virtually identical detergents. Be real!

Here are three steps to keep your writing human:

  1. Pretend you’re talking to your mother (or someone else you know well). Fake-sounding writing will stand out a mile when you do that.
  2. Read your copy out loud. If it doesn’t sound at least somewhat like speech, send it back for revision.
  3. Ban the committee writing process. That will always make your copy sound inhuman.


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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.

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