Don’t be a fraud

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The One Thing You Need to Know:
Avoid jargon and keep readability high if you want to avoid coming off as deceptive and, in turn, turning off your supporters.

What’s all this about being a fraud?
When you’re communicating, you want people to trust you, right? You don’t want them wondering if you’re legit.Turns out, there are specific cues that send a “I’m not being straight with you” message, including:

  • Using longer words
  • Using fewer unique words
  • Using lots of punctuation
  • Having lower readability
  • Being full of jargon

Are you making matters worse?
Based on research done by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, we know that one in three Americans lack faith in charities. What if you’re sending out those “I’m not being straight with you” cues without even knowing it?

From the Wordifier research, we know one thing that’s definitely making matters worse: on average nonprofits only use 810 unique words on their websites. That’s a mere .03% of the words available in the English language. Does the miniscule number of words nonprofits use reinforce mistrust?  As a sector, could we increase donors’ faith in charities by increasing the number of unique words we use?

So what can you do to increase trust?

Want a deeper dive?
Check out this report and this one for text analysis of fraudulent writing.

Also think about signing up for Claxon University–home of clear and compelling communication that raises awareness, increases donations, and does more good in the world!

Jargon: It’s More Prevalent Than You Think

67bd[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.

If you work for a 501(c)3 and you are not a private foundation, your nonprofit is deemed a public charity. By definition, that means you exist to serve the public. Yet, so often, you use language that is meaningless to people outside our organizations. It’s called jargon, and we’ve advised against it in the past.

What you may not know, however, is that jargon takes another dangerous form: pretentious and/or vague language. What if I told you words you use daily, words like community, impact and partnership, might be alienating the very people you’re trying to engage?

For example, say you tell someone that you are “serving the community”. You know exactly what community you’re serving. But an outsider would have no idea if you’re talking about the immediate neighborhood, the city, the county, or perhaps even another location all together.

If you’re unsure if you’re using jargon, just step back and ask yourself if someone who is not familiar with your organization would know what you mean. If the answer is no, find a more specific word. You can also check out this nonprofit Jargon Finder.

Remember, public charity workers:

“The repetitive, habitual use of insider lingo undermines the inherently public nature of the issues under discussion.” – Tony Proscio

Ode to Jargon, a Limerick

The jargon is often quite dense,
and often eludes common sense ,
at the end of the day,
say what you may,
I am certain it’s not what you meant.

Linda Moore, President & CEO,
Yakima Valley Community Foundation 

Jargon. It seems so benign. What could be so wrong with using the expressions ‘wrap-around services’, ‘collective impact‘, or ‘philanthropic value proposition’?

As David Ogilvy so eloquently stated: “Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon.” Put another way: You may think jargon makes you sound smart. But the “smarter” you sound, the dumber your listener likely feels. 

Jargon really gets on my nerves. It’s why I write about its nefarious nature in Pitchfalls, in this post about board members and hiccups, and this one where (for our collective and individual sanity), I assertively encourage you to embrace a more straight-forward way of speaking.

If you want people to engage, invest, support, donate, volunteer and/or serve as your advocates or fans, you’ll be well served by systematically eradicating jargon from your marketplace of words.

NOTE: It costs you nothing to stop using jargon. It costs you everything if you don’t succeed in getting people engaged in your work and talking about it to others! Don’t let something as simple as jargon get in your way.

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?