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The voice that your nonprofit “speaks” in via your marketing channels, from blog articles to web content to emails and Facebook posts, is called your brand voice and it plays a significant role in how people view your charity. It also helps to set you apart from the hundreds of other organizations who are vying for your donors’ dollars.
If you’ve never considered your nonprofit’s voice before, here’s a good place to start: You want to create a voice that not only appeals to your typical supporter, but also aligns with your organization’s core values.
You may have heard the term “voice” used interchangeably with the words style or tone. All three factors play a role in how you message your audience, but there are subtle differences.
Whatever voice your nonprofit adopts for messaging, here are some best practices for communication that apply across the board. Follow these to connect and engage well with your constituents and prospects:
- Voice is the distinctive sound of your brand. This should cover its personality. Is it playful, cheeky and fun? Inspirational? Serious and straightforward? It also speaks to the rhythm and pace of your writing. Is it short and sharp or maybe more musical and flowing?
- Tone is how you use your voice in different situations. Your tone will fluctuate depending on whether you’re writing an appeal letter or a Facebook post, but your voice remains the same. Your brand voice is singular, but you can use it with many different tones. For example, if you’re writing about a recent tragedy, your tone will obviously be on the serious or solemn side. If you’re writing about Valentine’s Day? You may be more playful or sentimental. Your tone should match the circumstances.
- Style refers to what your writing looks like—for example where to use capitals, how to spell certain words, grammar rules, vocabulary, etc. This might also include design elements like how to use, logo, fonts and images. For best results, create a style guide that’s specific to your organization; this will keep everyone who writes for your nonprofit on the same page. For general style issues, choose a manual like the AP Stylebook.
You want your audience to feel like they’re engaging in a conversation with a friend rather than a business when you reach out to them, whether it’s by email, social media or direct mail. Your voice can go a long way in humanizing your organization.
Reading requires work, especially on a computer or mobile screen, so it’s best to keep your sentences on the short side. While a mix of shorter and longer sentences is good for creating a nice flow, you can break longer sentences up by using commas, semicolons and em dashes to aid scanability. Avoid using complex terms and industry jargon. Instead, focus on common words and expressions.
This is mostly common sense, but consider your audience and stay away from words and terms they might consider offensive or insulting. For example, if you decide to speak about “children with special needs” as opposed to “children with disabilities,” be consistent. This is the perfect type of thing that you would include in an organizational style guide.
Next, consider these three questions. They’ll help you hone your brand voice even more..
What is your main message?Before you decide how to write, you have to decide what to write. This starts with the obvious yet easily forgotten question: What are the main things you want to tell the world? Once you define the purpose of your communications, then you can decide your voice.
Who are you talking to?Identifying your target audience is a crucial step because it’s difficult to know how to speak to someone if you don’t know who that someone is. Creating a persona, or a fake person/identity who embodies the characteristics of your typical constituent can help you define the type of people you want to communicate with.
Where do you want to be on the scale from formal to informal?How formal you write will vary depending on platform or context (e.g., social media vs. educational brochure). It’s good to find a starting point, and then decide how much you’ll dial up or down the degree of formality. For example, if you decide you want your tone to be somewhat middle of the road, or conversational yet professional, you may dial up the formality of your language in an appeal letter but dial it down on Facebook.
Formal language can convey a sense of professionalism as well as authority and respect. On the flipside, it runs the risk of feeling stiff or boring. In contrast, informal language can more easily be filled with personality and warmth, yet may be interpreted as lacking professionalism. The tone you adopt depends on your platform and how casual you want your language to be.
Above all, be consistent. Every message you send should sound like it’s coming from your organization, not from multiple places. Whatever brand voice you create, it will only be effective if you make it your own and stick with it.
One of your most important messaging platforms is, of course, your website. It’s your very own online real estate and the hub of your marketing universe. Does it accurately reflect your organization? Firespring has a team of marketing experts that would happy to help you evaluate. Call 877.447.8941 to learn more or request a free website demo today.