Are You Speaking The Same Language As Your Donors?

speaking the same language as your donors

My friend hates the word ‘donor.’

She isn’t a fundraiser…No, she’s a real person in the real world. And when she gets letters asking her to become a donor her mind strays to giving blood or donating her kidney.

This blew my mind…how can the word ‘donor’…so ingrained in my vocabulary and so obvious to me…how can it be missing the mark so much?

The truth is that we speak a different language from our supporters. We’re in ‘the industry.’ We often fall in to a hole of using jargon, buzzwords, and phrases that have become such a part of our world that we forget who we’re talking to. And who we’re ostracizing.

Want to remind yourself how that feels? Phone your I.T. guy or your plumber. Ask them to explain the last bit of work they did for you, while your eyes glaze over and you take a magical astral journey to your happy place. Or ask anyone in the world to explain blockchain.

To write and talk in plain English is now a skill. One that makes your stuff more readable and gets better responses.

Here are 6 recommendations for speaking the same language as your donors and remaining human:

  1. Read Your Stuff Out Loud
    Something happens when we sit in front of a computer…we become more robotic. We start to use words we wouldn’t use in real life and our sentences become clunky. When your supporter reads your words there’s a little voice playing in their head, and if they struggle or stumble they’ll give up. So read what you’ve written out loud and make sure it sounds like you talking

  2. Use A Readability Tool
    Many writing tools have a built in function to tell you the reading level of your copy. We should be aiming to write at an 8th Grade level. Not because people are stupid, but because they don’t have the time or energy to read something so heavy. Think about how difficult it is to study a textbook compared to some trashy magazine article about Miley Cyrus (OMG! Right?)

    I love Hemingwayapp.com – it’s a totally free on-line tool that you paste your writing in to. It’ll highlight the sentences and words you need to reconsider to make it an easier read. Use it for everything!

  3. Question Every Word
    Look back through your marketing materials and website. Try and spot those words that might not mean what you think they mean. You might be happy with ‘donor.’ But what about ‘community fundraising’ and ‘legacy’ and ‘development?’ Do your supporters actually know what those are?

    More than vocabulary, it might be perception. If you have a phone number or email for Major Gifts, consider who that contact is. A $100 gift is major for some people. While for some $1 million donors, the word major would be embarrassing. If someone identifies themselves as a major donor it can tell you more about their personality than their bank balance.

  4. Ignore Your Boss
    Easier said than done, but the truth is we sometimes need to overrule our CEOs, Board, or project workers to ensure we communicate like a human. When your appeals are written by committee you find that the only words and phrases that please everyone actually please nobody.

    See if you can write ‘around’ these decision makers. Or gain their trust by showing them examples and blogs like these. It’s annoying, but let’s understand they’re scared of seeming unprofessional and upsetting their supporter base. Our job as fundraisers is to manage their fears and bring them around to communication that works.

  5. Picture Someone Real
    Have a real person in mind when you’re writing to or phoning your supporters. Imagine your elderly neighbour, your friend’s parents or your distant cousin. As non-profits our relationship sits somewhere between the intimacy of a friend and the formality of a bank.

  6. Pick Up The Phone Or Meet Face-To-Face
    As humans we have a gift for communication. Naturally we are able to change our tone and words and message depending on who we are talking to. Where we struggle is when we try to write one message to hundreds of different people.

Picturing someone real can help. But try to take the time to pick up the phone or speak to your supporters face-to-face where possible. Your natural skills as a human come through and you’ll find yourself speaking the same language as your donors.

Are you ready to give your supporters the content they deserve? Download our Donor-Centered Content Marketing Worksheet & Checklist here.

Simon Scriver

Simon Scriver

Consultant, Coach & Trainer at ChangeFundraising.com
Simon Scriver is a professional fundraising consultant, coach, trainer and practitioner. Simon received Fundraising Ireland's 'Small Budget, Big Impact' award in 2016, and has previously won Supplier of the Year, Eircom's Start-up Award and the Toastmasters UK & Ireland International Speech Contest. He sits on the Advisory Panel of Rogare, the international fundraising think tank, and is a member of the Institute of Fundraising and the AFP. Simon also offers consultancy to some of the biggest and smallest charities in Ireland and abroad. He offers advice and training to non-profits to make their fundraising more cost-effective, speaking regularly at international conferences.
Simon Scriver
By |2019-03-11T11:47:13-05:00March 12th, 2019|Donor Communications, Donor Loyalty|

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