“Did you just tagline me?!”

Elevator pitch, tagline, messaging
Don’t tagline someone at a cocktail party!

Last week at the Idaho Nonprofit Conference, I did a session on Mastering Your Message. We talked about the difference between messaging that is read vs said.

For instance, an elevator pitch is said and taglines are read. That’s why when you use your tagline as your elevator pitch, you end up “taglining” someone.

That’s right, thanks to an awesome workshop attendee, “to tagline” is now a verb. They were asked to share their current elevator pitch with their neighbors and as I wandered by one group, a woman looked up and said, “I think I just got taglined!”

Being taglined is no fun. It’s kind of creepy.

Take the American Cancer Society. They have a humdinger of a tagline: The official sponsor of birthdays. Now imagine you’re at a cocktail party chatting with someone who worked for them and they said: “I work for the American Cancer Society. We’re the official sponsor of birthdays.” Um, okay. Good for you. (Go away, creepy person who is coming on way to strong. That’s what you’d really be thinking.)

If you’re working on your messaging, start by perfecting your elevator pitch, then tackle your website copy and other social properties, and then your tagline. In that order.

Everyone wants to come up with the snazzy tagline. It’s way fun. And that’s why most organizations start there. But it’s much smoother, and completely un-creepy, to transition from messaging that is said to messaging that is read.

Have you ever been taglined?



Taglines, slogans and mantras? Itsy bitsy stories

uncf“What’s the difference between a tagline and a slogan?” This comes up at every workshop, talk or presentation I give.

Periodically, I do research on the topic to see if anything new has been written or revealed. It is at these times when I am reminded that pretty much everyone is confused by these terms.

Let’s take a quick, yet big, step back: why do we care so much about defining these terms anyway?

Because there’s a sense that if you know what they are, and you have one of each, donors will flock to you. Your Facebook page will be like-erific; you will be swatting volunteers away like mosquitos on a hot night on the Bayou; etc, etc, etc.

Sorry, folks. None are a silver bullet. Most organizations benefit from having a tagline and sometimes a slogan can be useful. Another short, pithy, useful phrase is a mantra (which, as you’ll see below, is for internal use) and can be uber-helpful in avoiding mission drift.

All of these are windows into your organization’s story. Think of them like itsy bitsy parts of your story. They work with other parts–like your name, logo, website, etc–to tell a larger story–the story of why you’re doing the work you do in the way that you’re doing it.

This table explains what each is so you can decide which ones will be useful to you. It also gives examples so you can, hopefully, see the difference as the waters can get pretty muddy.

What it is


Tagline A short written statement that speaks to what you do and, ideally, why you do it. It should last a long time and works in conjunction with your name. It is read, not said. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. (United Negro College Fund)What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. (City of Las Vegas)Got milk? (Originally a slogan for an ad campaign created by the California Milk Processor Board that got ‘promoted’ to tagline status based on its success)
Slogan A short statement—sometimes said, but mostly read—that describes what is awesome about a product, service, campaign or event. Keep calm and carry on.(Ad campaign in U.K. at beginning of WWII.)A little dab’ll do ya.(Ad campaign for Brylcreem.)Where’s the beef? (Ad campaign for Wendy’s.)
Mantra 2-3 words that are used internally to guide decision-making. Do no harm.Think different.Be brave and generous.


In all instances, these short ditties should support a broader story–the story of why your organization is compelling enough to learn more about, donate to, volunteer with, tell someone else about…you get the point. 




Match the Non-profit Taglines!

Messaging is an important part of differentiating your organization. And your tagline is an important part of your messaging. It lets people know how you’re different-or the same- as other organizations. Often, it clarifies your Why (aka your Belief Proposition).

See if you can match these famous non-profit do-gooders with their taglines. Did they do a good job of using their tagline to stand out from the crowd?

Quizzes by Quibblo.com | SnapApp Quiz Apps
How did you score? What was the most difficult nonprofit to match?

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?