Avoid jargon in nonprofit communication

Nonprofit software can improve the communication between organizations and their constituents. However, the language used to convey a nonprofit's message must resonate with readers, not alienate them. Steering clear of jargon unfamiliar to current and potential donors will improve relationships and increase revenue.

One of Fundraising Success Magazine's best fundraising blogs of 2013, called Clairification after writer Claire Axelrad, J.D., warned nonprofits against using too much jargon in their fundraising appeals and communication with donors. Jargon refers to the words and phrases professionals use with each other: short-hand quips that refer to larger trends or items relevant to the industry. Though this vocabulary may make sense to people who use it every day, it will likely confuse newcomers or potential givers who are new to an industry.

Examples of jargon

1. Specialist words – This category refers to official words that would be used in neutral, scientific papers. They lack personality and are not descriptive.

2. Industry words – These are terms that feel ordinary to say in the workplace but would likely garner blank stares when used with the general public. They are almost like little inside jokes between co-workers.

3. Elaborate words – A word that sounds more important than the idea it represents is going to fall into this category. Instead of using a big, pompous word, see if there isn't a more common phrase that can replace it. 

4. Acronyms – If there is any doubt that a reader or potential donor may not know what the letters in an acronym stands for, spell it out completely. Otherwise, readers will get hung up on figuring it out and won't be able to focus or fully understand the remainder of the article. 

These are a few examples of jargon to avoid when writing appeals, newsletters and updates. When used, each one has a tendency to slow a reader's progress, understanding or willingness to get involved. As Richard Branson wrote for LinkedIn, trying to impress people with fancy language turns them off to the idea of doing business. No one wants to feel alienated from a conversation or group that they are interested in joining. 

Using popular buzzwords will also not separate a nonprofit from its competition. In fact, specialist words are likely to dilute an organization's individuality and make it sound similar to other nonprofits competing for a constituent's time and money.

Remedy the jargon problem

If a writer is not sure whether or not a term or phrase falls under the category of jargon, it is absolutely acceptable to test it out on both co-workers, friends and family. Speaking a sentence out loud or saying it to another person is a good way to gauge whether the intention is clear. Running a draft by a few people – both within and outside of the organization – before sending it out will give the writer a well-rounded perspective on how well it works. It may also be helpful to complete a draft and let it sit overnight before sending it out. Upon reading it with fresh eyes, the writer may spot blatant uses of acronyms and elaborate words that escaped editing the day before.

Another pitfall to avoid is that of the superlative exclamation. As Forbes states, without statistics or study results proving a fact is true, using phrases like "the best" or "the most" sounds insincere and childish. Words like "very" and "really" also have a filler effect. A message sounds stronger without these vague amplifiers muddling it up.

Straightforward, everyday language is the best approach to communication with constituents. Trimming away the nonsense sends a clearer message and leaves readers with a firm understanding of an organization's goals and story.

Nonprofit software can help streamline this communication process and make sure donors feel connected to and part of an organization's projects.