publication date: May 27, 2011
author/source: Fraser Green
Let me start this month's tip with a little story. A month
or so ago, a hospital foundation hired us to review some of their written
materials. I was assigned the job, so one afternoon I plunked myself down at a
coffee shop and started to skim through their annual report, a donor newsletter
and a couple of direct mail packages.
Then it happened...
I came across a few simple words that made me spit coffee
onto my laptop keyboard.
Those words were enhanced
Enhanced patient care? ENHANCED? What the heck does that
To me, the word enhanced means "a little, tiny bit better."
So why would a hospital (or anyone for that matter) boast about enhancing anything?
Have you ever told your partner that you thought your sex
life needed enhancement? Have you ever asked your kid to enhance his marks on
his next report card? Or to enhance the mess on the floor of his bedroom? Have
you ever told your boss that you intend to enhance your job performance?
Of course not!
Why do we insist on doing this? Saying things to our donors
that mean next to nothing? And equally bad, why do we say things that just
plain sound like jargon?
Sound human, not
I think it's largely a matter of confidence. We sit down to
write something on behalf of our institution and somewhere in our heads, a
voice tells us to sound different than we really are. To sound institutional.
To sound professional. To write it in such a way that your boss or your donor
will think you graduated from university with a communications degree.
Don't listen to that voice!
Why not try something different? Why not say what you mean -
and mean what you say?
Why don't you say that you're taking much better care of
people because donors care enough to give? Doesn't that sound better? Doesn't
it sound more human? Doesn't it sound real?
Just say it
Social service agencies don't "break the cycle of poverty" -
they help poor people not to be poor.
International development agencies don't
"empower indigenous NGOs" - they help people help themselves.
agencies don't "green the planet" - they save forests from bulldozers.
crisis centres don't "end the violence" - they give frightened women a safe
place to sleep.
Okay, maybe I'm overstating it. But I hope you get my point.
Here's a bit of neurology for you. The human brain hasn't
changed much in the last 10,000 years. It has a limited ability to receive
information - and there is way more information pumped at us than we can
So what do we do?
Your donor's fluff
We absorb some of it. But we reject most of it. And what do
we reject? We reject the stuff that doesn't instantly appeal to us. Fluffy,
meaningless words don't instantly appeal - so we don't read or listen to them.
Your donor has somewhere between 4,000 and 8,000 messages
(including yours) flying at her brain today. If you want any chance at all of
penetrating your donor's mental defensive screen you'd better be clear, crisp
This month's tip is a simple checklist you can use the next
time your write something you want your donors to read:
I really talk like this?
this the simplest way I can say it?
I say this with fewer or shorter words? (Or both?)
what I've just written sound like me? Or does it sound like I think an ad
It's not rocket science folks. But it's incredibly
important. Say it simple. Say it real. Say it like you want it said to you.
Fraser Green is
Principal and Chief Strategist at Good Works, a consulting firm that
works with Canadian charities to engage donors at a truly human level and build
donor loyalty and commitment. Fraser welcomes your ideas, comments and
criticisms about this tip. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your reactions