In the last blog we talked about storytelling and how your charity website might not be doing as great a job at that as it could be. Here’s the ‘bonfire of the buzzwords’ that I mentioned. It won’t help you figure out what your story is, but it will help you tell it better once you have.
Does your website, newsletter or marketing copy contain an abundance of the following words or phrases? Grab a pen and let’s play buzzword bingo:
- Capacity building
- Social exclusion
- Peer education
- Infant/child mortality (are you sure that your readers know the difference between the two?)
- Child protection
- Giving someone a ‘brighter future’ (I wrote that so many times at Comic Relief that it’s become a bit of a cliche.)
NGOs, like lawyers and doctors have invented a language all of their own so that people with PhDs and Masters degrees can talk to each other in a way that baffles the man in the street. And ‘baffled’ people don’t make for a great donor base.
A word on passion
I was ambivalent about including passionate in the above list. Of course passion is a good thing, but for charities it’s surely a given. It brings to mind that line from Margaret Thatcher: “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t”. If you have to tell people that you’re passionate then is that because that passion isn’t shining through elsewhere? Show, don’t tell.
I’m not talking about ‘dumbing down’ your content because your readers are stupid. I’m talking about talking to people in an everyday language they understand and can relate to. Your supporters lead busy lives and you’re asking for 0.00001% of their time and attention. Remember – you want them to do something for you, not the other way round.
Your target audience for your website isn’t your Programmes/Policy team. Put that on a Post-It note and stick it to your monitor. Sit down with them to try and translate their words into plain English – they’re usually very open and cooperative to that. But don’t let them write, edit or sign-off your web copy!
I’m also not saying that you should never use these words, but just be aware that you’re probably being a bit lazy if you use a lot of them! Is it that you just can’t be bothered trying to find a way of better explaining what your charity does?
Why don’t those words work?
The reasons that these words don’t work so well for your storytelling is that they’re all very abstract. Visual/tangible nouns and verbs are much better for painting a picture and helping people understand what it is you do. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself ‘could someone take a photo of this?’. I bet if you asked 100 people to take a photo of ‘capacity building’ you’d get 100 very different responses. If people can’t easily visualise your work then you can’t expect them to relate to, or empathise with it.
Is it politically incorrect talk about poor people, homeless people, people living on benefits or the streets? Maybe. Talking about ‘socially excluded’ or ‘marginalised’ people is never going to offend anyone, but it’s very unlikely to inspire or excite them either.
Brevity vs Bafflement
As a rule, brevity is best when it comes to web copy (a rule I need to learn for some of my blog posts!). And ‘marginalised’ has a much shorter word count than giving some concrete examples of the people you’re referring to.
That’s why this stuff is hard and requires a fair bit of effort. As Mark Twain said “I didn’t have time to write a short letter so I wrote a long one instead”. Writing/editing something into 200 hard-working words takes longer than writing 800 scattergun ones.
Words you should use more of:
There, that was easy. There’s no sound sweeter to someone than their own name. Remember from the previous post that your supporters are supposed to be the heroes of your story. Why not start making them feel like it…