buzzwords

Right Tools for the Job—The Right Words for the Copy

We have a blurb on our website that says  "words have a job to do." There it is, on the right. When you're a copywriter that's the long and short of it . No trademark flourishes. No "do you see what I did there and wasn't it clever?" But make no mistake. It's not a matter of being utilitarian and tied to convention either.

This post is a build on what Bob wrote last month.

Good copywriting has a lot more to do with thoughtful, elegant editing than it does being cute or brandishing your flaming thesaurus at the world. Although I know a lot of cute copywriters … c'mon. I love you guys.

Also, I love the way the phrase "flaming thesaurus" sounds, but that's not exactly relevant here. (See what I did there?)

We've been talking about this around the office a lot lately. Here are some M&C tips for making sure the words in your copy get the job done.

  • Because you can doesn't mean you should. We had a detail for a story in a fundraising newsletter recently that was heartbreaking, weird and certainly memorable. But it was also uncomfortable, had the potential to trigger terrible memories for our intended audience and was right on the border of salacious. It got left out because it didn't serve the ultimate goal of the newsletter.
  • What is my job? If your copy could talk (and it wasn't a slacker) it would ask you this question every time you sat down. And because you're a good boss, you should be able to answer this question before you put your talented little fingers on the keyboard. Your answer to this question will quickly decide what goes and what stays as you write.
  • Sit down, data. The truth is, experience and intuition matter a lot with copywriting and creative. It's the dirty little secret that sends your data people shrieking into the night. You'll have to have many a subjective conversation with yourself as you're writing: does this matter? does this add credibility? does this make a donor feel closer to my organization and build trust (even if it's not 100% flattering, but it's true and human)? Get comfy with this exchange and have it often.






Love Thy Volunteers (Respect the Title)

That's right. I'm proposing to you the radical idea that for the people who give of their time, their physical labor, their emotional work and gas money, "Volunteer" is a title. And one they (should) wear with pride.

I've been in a couple situations lately where the word has been bandied around in a casual way, or given to groups, who, while very generous and caring, are by no stretch of the imagination "volunteering."

Namely, I was at a presentation at a fundraising conference and the speaker talked about young people wanting to "volunteer" in "fun ways that fit their lifestyle" and showed a group of 20-somethings bowling while dressed like band members of Devo.

*sound of car brakes screeching to a halt and a giant explosion here*

That isn't volunteering.

I'm not saying volunteering can't be fun. But referring to people who attend an event or gather a group of friends to go bar hopping for a cause as volunteers cheapens the word and disrespects the folks who really are volunteers. Is it just me?

Volunteers are people connected to the core work of your organization. In most nonprofits, they're the ones who actually do said core work. They show up, they sacrifice. They have some skin in the game.

I'm all about going to the bingo game that benefits the organization (beers at Hamburger Mary's? Heeeeyyyy!!). I'll walk a charity 5K on a Saturday with a friend. But I won't call myself a volunteer for those groups.

Here's to the Volunteers who have earned the title.


Just Say What You Mean

Okay … I’ll admit it. I remember when Arthur Herzog’s groundbreaking book The B.S. Factor: The Theory and Technique of Faking it in America was published back in 1973.

As a fledgling Communications major, I found his rants against Executalk and other verbal misdirections fascinating.

“Words by the thousands have been affected and even undone" he claims. "At times it seems that the whole vocabulary is unraveling like a loosely knit sweater.”

So, it’s probably no surprise a headline about “Business Buzzwords I’d Like to Ban” would catch my eye.

(I could say would incentivize me to dive deeper. Or NOT.)

I wish I could say I’ve never used any of these. Unfortunately, I can’t. But I hope I’ll be less inclined to do so now.

Maybe you will be, too. 

What do you think?