I feel mean writing this post. Plenty of lovely people use charity clichés every day and let’s face it, the world doesn’t end. There are worse things.
But I do feel strongly about this, as I believe words matter and they need to work hard. Every time a charity uses a cliché, a reader switches off. That might mean one less fun run, one less signature, one less monthly direct debit. It’s a waste.
Finding alternatives to clichés is hard work, but it forces you to be more specific – which is A Good Thing. It makes you think about what you really mean, and that helps your readers understand you better.
So here are three phrases you should think twice before using in your charity communications:
Making a difference
I know you’re making a difference. The trouble is, every charity makes a difference. At least, I hope it does. If your organisation is not making a difference, make an anonymous tip-off to the Charity Commission. In the meantime, tell us what it is that YOU do.
Every time you write ‘make a difference’, you’re missing a chance to tell people what it is that makes you different.
Here are three questions to help you say something more meaningful instead:
Who are you making a difference to?
How are you making a difference?
Why are you making a difference?
In the answers to these questions, you’ll find what makes your charity unique. That’s why your donors give to you, and that’s what will encourage others to give too.
I know your staff are working hard. But tirelessly? Really? There are two problems here.
No-one works without getting tired. Your team is phenomenally committed, but they’re not superheros. Pretending they are prevents a genuine connection with your readers, who are also not superheros. Show the humanity of your team, and their achievements will feel all the more remarkable.
Everyone works without getting tired. Seriously, I’ve seen the phrase ‘working tirelessly’ so many times. If every other charity is using a phrase, try not to.
Are you seeking to do something? Or are you doing it? Sometimes it can seem like charities are making big claims: ending poverty, curing cancer. It’s easier to seek to end poverty than to do it.
But seeking is eating your word count and taking your supporters away from the action.
Think about it: when do you say ‘seek’ in your everyday life?
“What are you doing tonight?” “Oh, I’m seeking to toast myself a croque monsieur.”
Or: “What are your New Year’s resolutions?” “I’m seeking to take up Venetian glass-blowing.”
No – most of the time you’re not seeking at all, you’re simply doing. To paraphrase Yoda: “Do. Or do not. There is no seek.”
So if you’re ever tempted to seek to do something rather than actually do it, pause for a minute. Is there another way to soften the impact of a big claim, without losing the drama?
Do you have your own love-to-hate charity clichés?