Helping Nonprofits Communicate

message. solicit. impact.

Find Your Voice and Own It

Do you know you who are as an organization? Do you communicate who you are with consistency across all forms of communication, online and print? Is your staff up to date and able to speak on your nonprofit’s successes and challenges as they are today?

About a week ago we were in the final stages of a big, exciting grant with one of our clients. Stats had been gathered, information collected, verbiage tweaked so the exact program we wanted to highlight appeared just the way we all wanted it. As we sent out the grant proposal draft one more time to catch any last errors, our client got back to us with some changes. Not spelling mistakes or transposed numbers in the budget narrative, but small tweaks in the text about their organization and its mission, core ideas. Just a word or two off here and there, but enough for them to report back to us with what changes needed to be made to have absolute consistency with all their documents.

Those changes were easy to make but oh so important. And, as we hit the submit button on that grant, we had big smiles knowing that we were working with an organization that knows EXACTLY who they are and what they represent. They know what they are, and sometimes even more importantly, what they’re not. Granted, they’ve had a few decades to work out the kinks. Not all organizations have the time and band width to be at this point, but it’s great to see when an organization is. It felt good to have them notice the places where there were slight inconsistencies with their voice as an organization, and have them know how to fix those things.

Just a few days later I came across an article in the same vein, though it speaks specifically to a nonprofit’s website rather than to their overall communication, but it’s still applicable.

Then, even more serendipitously, we’ve been rereading every writer’s go-to: On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (30th Anniversary Edition) by William Zinsser. A couple of chapters lend themselves very well to nonprofit writing: Chapter 16: Business Writing: Writing in Your Job. In the business writing chapter, Zinsser cautions against writing like an institution. Our advice: write like yourself, and find your audience and then cater to them. It’s so important. If your audience is primarily families in transitional housing, how should your voice sound? Friendly? Approachable? Comforting? Perhaps. Corporate? Overinflated? Stuffy? Not so much.

If your organization isn’t sure of its consistent voice, it’s worth a conversation. Think about how you want to be known, who and where your audience is, and create verbiage that speaks to that.

On writing well

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