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Nonprofits: Be Careful With Your Acronyms

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Will you allow me to vent for a second?

I was on a nonprofit’s website this week that uses an acronym in their name. I searched for 10 minutes on the website and never found what the letters stand for.

At first, I felt silly. Then, I grew frustrated.

Be careful with using this kind of insider language. Are you alienating potential donors who are looking for information about your website — and then grow frustrated (like I did?)

For instance, do you know the difference between an NPO and an NGO? Most of you reading this blog post probably do. But others may not.

Do you know what the YMCA stands for? Or CASA? Again, probably most of you do.

But when thinking about your messaging on your website and newsletters, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Does my entire audience know my organization’s “lingo”?
  2. Am I taking for granted any clever acronyms that outsiders may not be familiar with?
  3. Do I have someone outside of my office proofreading my communications and website posts?

When applying for grants, you may not have a choice. Check out this mandate from a grant application:

“I understand that if acronyms are entered within the body of text, in any fields on this application, an explanation of the acronym must be provided within close proximity for each use. Applications with unexplained and/or ambiguous acronyms may not be considered.”

It’s not just nonprofits who are guilty of this. I recently visited a for-profit company’s website that kept referring to “IoT Development and Lifecycle.” What in the world is “IoT”? I had to look it up.

(It’s short for “Internet of Things”, in case you were curious). I guess they are really smart.

Maybe I should have known that … but the fact is that I did not. Regardless, I felt kind of silly for not knowing… like I’m an outsider.

Don’t make your donors feel silly when they visit your website.

You may assume that all of your potential supporters and contacts know your organization’s history and language nuances. But if you’re wanting to cultivate relationships and grow your constituent list to more and more people, be careful. Don’t alienate a potential supporter by using nondescript acronyms for your organization’s name or important milestones.

Are these types of phrases/sentences used in conversations at your nonprofit?

If you hope to acquire new donors, tell them about your mission, get them excited about what you do… and MIC (Make It Clear)!

There are some great resources out there with more in-depth studies on this — below are a few that I found:

TFR (thanks for reading)!

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  • Charles Kenny

    Great point! People take for granted what acronyms mean, but forget that readers may not know what they mean. Thanks for the resources at the end.
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