Posted by Lisa Thompson

Content marketing gives your nonprofit a voice in the noisy online world. The question is, does your audience recognize it?

The voice that you write in, from blog articles to web content to tweets and Facebook posts, is called your brand voice and it plays a significant role in how people view you. Plus, creating content with your own distinct voice helps set your organization apart.

Thousands of nonprofits are competing for your donors’ dollars, so developing a unique brand voice is important. You want to create a voice that not only appeals to your typical supporter, but also aligns with your organization’s core values.

First, let’s look at the difference between voice, tone and style. These three factors are all important in deciding how to speak to your audience.

  1. Voice is the distinctive sound of your brand. This should cover its personality: Is it playful 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?
  2. Tone is how you use your voice in different situations. Your tone might 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.
  3. 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.

Here are three questions to consider when thinking about your nonprofit’s voice and how to craft your content marketing pieces.

What is your organization’s 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 communication, then you can start to build your voice. If your main message leans toward the more serious side, you don’t want to adopt a casual, cheeky voice—it won’t match what you’re communicating.

Who are you talking to? Identifying your target audience is crucial. It’s difficult to know how to speak to someone if you don’t know who that someone is. Some nonprofits create a persona, or a fake person/identity, who they believe embodies the characteristics of a typical constituent. This 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 (or informal) 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.

Remember this: Consistency is key. You want every message you send to sound like it’s coming from your nonprofit, not from multiple places. You may decide to adopt a fun, playful voice using humor when appropriate, and that’s great. Keep it like that in every channel of communication. If you opt for a more serious voice with a note of authority and expertise because that better reflects your mission and cause, perfect. Don’t stray from that. Whatever brand voice you create, it will only be effective if you make it your own and keep it consistent.