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How to write universal and accessible fundraising appeals

January 09, 2021
These nonprofit employees are using a bulletin board to plan their accessible fundraising appeal.

At its core, your fundraising appeal has to be comprehensible and accessible to attract new donors, including those who aren’t familiar with the nonprofit sector. So, the best fundraising messages avoid using industry-specific jargon—and instead focus on language with universal appeal. Here’s how to structure prospect-focused and universally comprehensive fundraising appeals. 

Fundraising appeal language FAQs

Perhaps the most common way to shrink your fundraising appeal’s audience is to use jargon, which is industry-specific terminology that isn’t used by the general public. Let’s answer some questions about jargon in particular before reviewing other types of inaccessible language conventions. 

Why do we use jargon?

It’s hard for people to get outside of their ‘insider’ mindset. When you use jargon in a professional nonprofit setting, the words begin to seem normal and might seep into your everyday vocabulary.

But when you write to your would-be supporters, you’re not writing to your staff or “insiders.” So as much as it makes sense to use these language short-cuts internally, you’d want to avoid using technical language when communicating with “outsiders.” Avoiding jargon can be tricky because it’s much more than scientific, technical lingo in the modern age.

The type of jargon most used today is best described as “buzzwords.” Buzzwords often develop from technical jargon terms, yet are used in a more general way. The key is that buzzwords are often used outside of the context where they’ll be easily grasped. For example, you may have heard “donor journey” used vaguely by many nonprofits, even though each nonprofit’s donor journey is structured differently. 

But, words that will help your nonprofit differentiate itself, demonstrate impact, and inspire investment are those that are emotional and universal.

How do we avoid using jargon?

It takes a lot of awareness—and practice—to adopt a more accessible vocabulary. While writing your fundraising appeals, ask yourself:

  1. Is this a buzzword?
  2. Is there a simpler word?
  3. Is there a word with more impact?
  4. Is there a more specific word?
  5. If I take this word out, will the meaning be just as or more clear?
  6. Does this word unnecessarily (or stereotypically) categorize someone?

You should be left with the most direct, understandable phrasing for your message that many people can relate to or empathize with.

What other language conventions should I avoid?

Using jargon is the most common linguistic mistake nonprofit fundraisers make in their appeals, but you should look out for other conventions while writing your appeals. Consider the following examples of language conventions that don’t align with impactful fundraising appeals:

  • Words that are seldom used in everyday life: This might seem self-evident, but it’s worth pointing out. While you write your fundraising messages, write as if you’re explaining your fundraiser to a friend who isn’t involved in the nonprofit world. You likely would use familiar, everyday language. For instance, would you rather use “roundabout” or “circumlocutious” to explain a repetitive, unproductive discussion?
  • Acronyms: Anything using letters can be an acronym. It can be something as simple as “FY”, “ROI”, or “YTD” (and these are acronyms used all the time by nonprofits in their internal commnications). Ensure you explain what your acronym means in parentheses when you first use it so that your donor understands what it means throughout the rest of the appeal.
  • Cliches: Overused phrases, or cliches, can be used in so many scenarios that they can detract from your nonprofit’s messages. After all, you want your fundraising appeal to come across as unique, related to your story, and emotional. Thus, avoid cliches whenever possible to differentiate yourself from other nonprofits and to preserve your message’s meaning.  

Get inspired by accessible appeals

Now that you know what to embrace and leave behind in your fundraising language, it’s time to get writing! It can be challenging to spot any insider wording that you subconsciously bring with you from work. That’s why it helps to run your fundraising appeal past friends or family members who aren’t involved in the nonprofit sphere to gauge if your message has any buzzwords or other confusing wording. Ask them to point out any places where you could tighten your word choice or otherwise craft a stronger appeal.

Ultimately, as long as your messages are straightforward, original, and emotionally compelling, you’ll be able to attract and connect with people from all walks of life and broaden your prospective supporter base.

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