This title makes no sense and, unfortunately, much of our communications with donors doesn’t either. Someone once told me that if you are using language that nobody can understand, you probably don't know what you are talking about, or worse, are hiding something.
Richard Branson recently wrote about this subject here. I doubt that most nonprofits do not know what they are talking about regarding their work. I would also doubly doubt that most mission driven groups are trying to hide something.
But the prolific use of jargon that has invaded the halls of nonprofit organizations hinders the telling of a clear, simple story that will resonate with everyday supporters and hopefully motivate them to make a donation.
Enter the Jargon Beast.
A few years back, I was training some staff members in basic proposal writing. I wanted everyone to get a copy of Tony Proscio’s essay In Other Words which I was given a copy of several years back. Tony’s book, along with On Writing Well, have proven to be extremely helpful tools in succinct writing for proposals, both with foundations and individuals. Sadly, the guide is not in print anymore as I felt that it was a must read. Tony faced the Jargon Beast head on but confessed in an email exchange that the Jargon Beast may have won this round in regards to his work to slay it.
Granted a foundation may want more details about the use of its funds in a proposals or report than an individual may want. The Jargon Beast is a wily fellow, however, and will work itself into the simplest interactions. Before you know it, you will say that “you are building capacity to facilitate mission/outcome driven components of your life” when you are catching up with a friend over coffee or drinks instead of “things are going really well, I like my job. There are good opportunities but also some hard challenges.”
So as many of you prepare your year-end appeals, think about the different ways you can slay the Jargon Beast. The clearer and more direct your writing, the better the understanding of your organization's mission and cause. Along with Tony, Claire Axelrad provides specific direction on how to avoid jargon in her blog. I’d recommend checking them both out before you ask your donors to “facilitate your value proposition” before the end of year!