A pitch-perfect tagline can be the foundation of all the messages you create about your organization or program. It’s a powerful way to reference the brand promise your nonprofit makes to the public—but how long should your tagline be?
Some say a tagline has to be short to be good, but we don’t agree. It shouldn’t be so long that it breaks our rules for good taglines, but it doesn’t have to be short to pack a punch.
Is it memorable? Is it provocative? If so, it can still be a powerful way to tell the world why your organization matters. A tagline is a punchy phrase consistently linked with your organization. Good taglines evoke emotion.
Your tagline should convey one idea. That’s it. One clear idea.
Editing down the number of words isn’t nearly as important as editing down the number of ideas your tagline contains.
Just because your tagline is short doesn’t mean it’s good and just because it’s long doesn’t mean it’s bad. Consider these examples:
“Make a Difference” is just three words—that’s pretty short—but it’s so vague and overused that it doesn’t say anything at all. And it certainly won’t differentiate one organization from another.
“A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” the tagline for United Negro College Fund, is eight words long. It’s so good, they’ve been using it for 41 years.
But what if they tried to say what they really mean, which is that they want donations? They might have tried “Support scholarship because a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” But that’s a terrible tagline. Not because it’s long, but because it packs in two ideas.
Kaiser Permanente’s “Thrive” and Skyline College’s “Achieve” are taglines with only one word—one single idea—and they both work well because of their clarity and simplicity.
If Kaiser had instead promoted “Thrive to Heal,” that would have never caught on, because in trying to explain that healing is the goal and thriving is the way there…well, you get lost (and bored) just thinking about it.
One of our favorite taglines of all time, “Because the earth needs a good lawyer” from EarthJustice, is seven words and really works. But compare it to this seven-word tagline: “Working Together to Keep Coral Reefs Alive.” It just doesn’t have the same magic.
There is an art to writing a good tagline that goes beyond the rules. Why does this tagline work—“Feel the warmth of a cold nose” (Maryland SPCA) — while this one falls flat —“Finding good homes for great dogs”(Save the Strays Animal Rescue)?
A good tagline evokes emotion and conveys a single idea.
If that can be done in one word, use just one. If you need 10 words, take them. “Finding a cure now….so our daughters won’t have to” is the tagline for the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition. “Find a cure” is shorter, but it sure lacks the emotion of the longer version.
If you’d like some more tips, take a look at our free guide on how to create a wildly effective tagline for your organization.
*Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.
See all posts by Jennie Winton