Do Happy Salmon Make for Good Messaging?

Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Assoc LogoUntil the other day, I hadn’t thought much about happy salmon.

But that all changed when Adrian Shulock, who works for the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, sent me a delightful email.

After reading my SSIR article on how to spruce up your mission statement, Adrian shared a bit about their mission and the statement that explains it. What I learned was so happy-making, I asked if I could share it publicly. Lucky for us, he said yes!

To be clear: The following is not meant to imply that NSEA should officially change its mission statement. I’m not recommending they edit their by-laws, etc. It is, instead, offered as an objective take at how effectively their mission statement engages those new to the organization. It is food (or chum…couldn’t resist) for thought.

Okay, let’s start by looking at NSEA’s current mission statement. This statement appears loud and proud on their homepage. Its starring role means its job is to make visitors go, “Ohhhh, that’s cool. Tell me more!” Inspiring them to voraciously click their way through the site to learn more.

NSEA is a community-based nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring sustainable wild salmon runs in Whatcom county.

In the plus column for this statement? They focus on ONE THING–restoring sustainable wild salmon runs in Whatcom County. No laundry list here. Huge kudos for that.

In the minus column: the Reading Ease Score on this statement is, alas, zero, meaning it’s almost impossible to understand what they’re saying. People rarely ask questions about things they totally can’t understand (too daunting, they feel dumb). So it’s a conversation-stopper, rather than a conversation-starter.

Also, according to the Wordifier, the statement is packed with words popular with other nonprofits, lowering the chances that it will pique people’s interest. Bummer.

Adrian noticed that the mission statement didn’t exactly blow people’s hair back. So, when people ask what NSEA does, Adrian now says:

NSEA fixes broken creeks so that salmon – and you – can live happy.

This response scores a whopping 81.8 for Reading Ease! This statement does have a few words popular with nonprofits in general. BUT the way in which Adrian combines them makes them interesting. What does a happy salmon look like? How do happy salmon make my life happier? How do you fix broken creeks? All intriguing questions that would propel the conversation forward. Which is exactly what we want.

Again, I’m not necessarily suggesting NSEA  officially change its mission statement. That’s a Big Deal that warrants Much Deep Thought & Analysis. I am, however, suggesting that they figure out how engaging their mission statement really is to supporters who would want to fix broken creeks so salmon–and people–can live happy.

For more tips on writing a mission statement that’s as great as your mission, check out this SSIR article. It’s a quick, practical read.

Need help making your communications as awesome as possible? We’re here for you.

Post Readability Stats: Reading Ease 59.7, Grade Level 7.8


Why I’m Putting Readability Statistics in All My Posts

language, communication, messaging, nonprofitsRecently, I started putting Readability Statistics in my posts (like in this one). Let me explain why.

I’ve been singing the gospel of Readability Statistics for quite some time. I encourage all of my clients and students to do a readability test on everything they write.

That’s because there is no easier and cheaper way to increase a reader’s ability to understand what you’re saying than by writing at an eighth grade level or below. (This post explains why.)

When I work with a nonprofit, I always start by running their Vision and Mission Statements through a reading ease test and The Wordifier. I also do this before a meeting with a potential client, too. Gives me a sense for where they’re at.

I have found that most nonprofits write at a much higher level. Often a level that would require one to have a PhD. Since only 1.68% of Americans over the age of 25 have a PhD, that means a lot of potential donors, volunteers, staff and board members have no clue what you’re saying. #Bummer

I’m hoping that, over time, nonprofits in general, and readers of this blog in particular, will get in the habit of checking the readability of their writing. It’s cheap, easy and effective.

I figure if you see Reading Stats for each post, it’ll up the odds that you might give it a go.

My theory is: the more you see it, the more it’ll be on your radar. And, eventually (hopefully!), you won’t be able to resist finding out whether your writing is attracting as many donors, supporters and volunteers as possible to your work. Cuz who doesn’t want that?!

Post Readability Stats: Reading Ease 66.3, Grade Level 7.8

***Claxon University–where smart nonprofits learn how to use better words to create a better world.***

Are you writing gobbledygook?

man talking on the phone but does not listen

I’m a gihugic fan of figuring out if what you’re writing can be easily understood by your readers. Those readers may be donors or board members or volunteers or any number of people who care–already or potentially–in your cause.

So it’s important that they understand what you’re saying. Seems obvious enough, right?

And yet, sadly (very, very sadly) a lot of nonprofits are putting out gobbledygook rather than easy-to-understand writing.

Most organizations don’t know they’re generating gobbledygook. Makes sense to them, so it must make sense to other people, or so goes the thinking.

I’m here to tell you that just because it makes sense to you, that doesn’t mean it makes sense to anyone else, especially people who are just getting to know your organization. Nope. Sure doesn’t.

Luckily, linguists and researchers and other super smart people have developed readability tests. You put in your words. They tell you how easy it is to understand them.

I’ve extolled the virtues of the Flesch Reading Ease Score for many moons, as did our super fab intern, Tessa, in this post on tools to help you write. But that’s just one reading test. There are others.

For instance, try out this one from Readability Formulas. It puts your text through seven reading tests and then gives you a verdict on the overall reading ease.

I put my most recent blog post on the Engagement Cycle in there and learned it was “fairly easy to read”.

Here’s, specifically, what I learned:

Reading Ease Screen Shot

Your goal is for a grade level that’s under Grade 8. That’s not because you think your supporters stopped going to school after Grade 8. It’s because that’s the level at which–regardless of how many degrees you’ve earned–it’s easiest to understand what someone is trying to communicate.

I write day in and day out. And I still check the reading ease of pretty much everything I write. Why? Because I want you to be able to easily understand whatever I’m talking about, so you can start doing it!

Reading ease is where it’s at. Try it out for yourself!

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?