Posted by Frida Silva on February 15th, 2023
Posted in Blog
Strong writing can evoke emotion, create connection, and drive action. But weak writing can feel impersonal, repel readers, and spark zero action.
As non-profit ambassadors, we strive to produce compelling communications for our organizations. But sometimes we write in our own voice instead of our organization’s brand voice; sometimes we forget to define our organizational acronyms or terminology; sometimes we focus on the what of our work rather than the why.
We’ve all made writing mistakes like these, ones that create roadblocks for our audiences and prevent our communications from being as effective as they could be.
Whether drafting a grant application, writing a donor thank-you email, or creating social media copy, these seven writing practices can help you stay on-brand and create an instant connection with your readers.
1. Be clear about your objectives.
What response or action do you want your readers to take when they engage with your work? Avoid the general and shoot for specificity.
X General objective: Create social media copy that spreads awareness of our youth volunteer program.
✓ Specific objective: Create social media copy that encourages young, passionate people to participate in your youth volunteer program by explaining the benefits of joining.
When you have specific objectives, unnecessary details fall by the wayside, and you’ll be able to focus on what you want to achieve with your readers.
2. Write for a specific audience and picture the person you’re writing for.
Tailor your writing to meet your audiences’ needs by asking yourself: which of our key audiences will help us achieve our objective(s)? Think of someone specific within that group and write as if you’re going to send them your written material directly.
3. Write with your brand in mind.
When your communications hark back to your brand, you build a strong organizational reputation. This can be achieved by leveraging the elements of your brand such as your values, experience, personality, or positioning.
For example, when writing about the problems your organization exists to solve, explaining your unique approach will help reinforce your positioning (how your organization is different) amongst your peers.
4. Connect features to benefits.
Features are the details of your organization like your programs, services, who you serve, how many, etc. Benefits explain the outcomes of engaging with your organization’s features.
Let’s take an example of a food bank.
One message they put out says, “We have forty volunteers at eight sites delivering food to 1,000 people every week.”
This aspect of their program is important, but it’s not nearly as compelling as this message:
“Because our volunteers understand the people they serve, we’re better at connecting with communities and making sure that fewer children go to bed hungry.”
The first example only points out the features of the work, like the numbers, programs, and services. The second demonstrates the benefits. When you link your features to a benefit, you better illustrate the outcome of your work to your reader, moving them to take action in support of your mission.
5. Start with “you.”
The reader wants to know what’s in it for them, so next time you write, be aware of the common tendency to start off with the word “we” or “I,” which puts the focus on you or your organization, not your reader. Instead, start with “you” and see how it changes the tone of the message.
Example 1: “I enjoyed talking with you about your project. I will get started on a proposal.” VS “You inspired me during our conversation yesterday. Thank you for your time talking about your project. You will have your proposal in two weeks.”
Example 2: “Localtown Food Bank helps people get the food they need.” VS. “When you support Localtown Food Bank, you connect people to the food and safety they need.”
6. Remove needless jargon and define all unfamiliar terms.
Think about the jargon you may use every day at work. It may be second nature to you and your colleagues, but others may not understand, and they’ll potentially lose interest or just get annoyed.
For example, we use the word “brand” consistently at Mission Minded, but it’s jargon. It can mean so many things to so many people that we have to be clear about what we mean when we use it. We define brand as another word for reputation, which is created by how you look, how you sound, and how you act. What jargon does your organization use that you should replace or define?
7. Edit for succinctness.
Once you finish your first draft, prune it ruthlessly. Eliminate jargon, redundancies, pretentious words, and unnecessary details.
The next time you write something for your nonprofit, pull this blog post up and go through the list. Even excellent writers need a reminder of these seven writing best practices. Let us know in the comments which one you found most beneficial.
Frida supports and executes Mission Minded’s Marketing and Client Relationship strategies where she manages social media and digital content, oversees conference speaking opportunities, and acts as project management support on various client engagements.
See all posts by Frida Silva