“Words, words, words! I’m so sick of words!”

I’m quoting Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady in the title of this post.  As you might recall, Freddie, whom we now would define as a stalker, was hanging out in the street when Eliza burst out of the house.  He began to sing about his love for her, and she interrupts him with a song of her own about how sick she is of words.  The title of the song is “Show Me.”

Don’t talk of stars burning above.
If you’re in love, show me.
Tell me no dreams filled with desire,
If you’re on fire, show me!

Have you seen Gail Perry’s article listing the words and phrases fundraisers love to hate?  It’s at http://www.gailperry.com/2012/07/dump-the-cliches-words-and-phrases-fundraisers-love-to-hate/

My contribution is at the bottom – I submitted “impactful” and “make a difference.” 

But the article did prompt me to think a bit about the words we use when we communicate with donors and prospects.  It’s easy for us to laugh at Gail Perry’s list.  And we’re all probably nodding in agreement, especially when we see phrases we particularly hate.

But it’s not so easy to come up with alternatives.  We want our language to be fresh and noticeable, but we want our meanings to remain.  We really do mean “now more than ever,” every time we use that phrase.    Whenever your particular “now” is, whatever the date and time is on the clock, that really is when you want donor support.  So it’s always true.

And what about one of my own contributions to the list?  “Impactful,” — when did that even become a word?  But we mean it.  Kaboom!  Your gift is going to make the state of things different than they were prior to your gift, and will do so not with a puff, but with a boom.  We mean that.  Or, at least we want you to believe it.  Your $500 gift isn’t going to be nearly as splashy as that other guy’s $500,000 gift, but we’re certainly not going to tell you that.  We still need your $500 gift, and we want your philanthropic experience to be gratifying.

Maybe we should learn a lesson from the fed-up Eliza Doolittle and do more showing than talking.  If our donors truly are “making a difference,” do we have to tell them “Hey, you’re making a difference”? or will they get it if we show them?

Can we use really plain language, like “Look what you did,” and show them the faces of smiling children, successful graduates, new bridges, healthy animals, unspoiled wetlands, and so on?  Can we trust the donors to connect the dots from their generosity to our organization’s outcomes?

Or, if it’s during the cultivation or solicitation phase, instead of saying “I’m writing to tell you . . . “, could we say “You really need to see this”?

I don’t know.  I’m just asking.  I understand that a lot of issues don’t lend themselves well to visual imagery.  But doesn’t every issue have at least one story with it?  Could we use fewer cliches and tell more stories?  Or show more stories?

I have to confess to relying on more than one of the words and cliches on Gail Perry’s list.  My previous blog post referred to sustainability, and there is is, the fifth word on the list.  However, in my defense, I was using that word to a nonprofit audience.  I believe the sin is when we speak to other audiences in our own language, and not in the language we share.

There’s much to consider here!  Thanks for the chuckles, Gail Perry.  But thanks for the challenge to us to do better.


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