July Word of the Month: Remarkable

This is the latest installment in our “Word of the Month” series to help non-profits make intentional language choices (while indulging our own word nerdery). Up this month? Remarkable.

A few months ago, we explained why we love the word remarkable so darn much. So much, in fact, that we’re happy to leave “awesome” in the dust for this striking and incredible word (that basically means striking and incredible! How about that?)

We’re guessing that you think your non-profit’s cause is pretty remarkable. Yet,1 you also likely continue to use the same stock of words, such as “awesome” and “great”. We looked to the Wordifier to show us how all of these words stack up:

The word remarkable stems from the French remarquer which means, “to take note of” or “worthy of notice”. Definitely something we all wish folks would do with our cause!

Okay, so now that we know why remarkable is so remarkable, what other words fall into this category?

Again, we turned to the Wordifier to advise us. (By the way, if you aren’t familiar with the Wordifier and why it’s a remarkable tool for choosing your non-profit’s words, check out this post). And since verbs are the superheroes of our sentences, let’s start there.

Here are a few remarkable verbs that the Wordifier gives us the green light on. I’ve bolded my personal favorites 🙂

Accelerate, activate, alleviate, anchor, broaden, collaborate, complement, confront, cultivate, deepen, defend, delight, elevate, eradicate, generate, ignite, illustrate, mobilize, motivate, nurture, rally, relieve, remedy, revitalize, shield, stabilize, steward, sustain, unite, uphold.

And here are some adjectives to spruce up your sentences:

Adept, apathetic, brilliant, colossal, deafening, diligent, disillusioned, endless, fierce, gentle, hopeful, hushed, illustrious, immense, lively, nimble, remarkable, rapid, resonant, somber, splendid, striking, swift, vigorous, zealous.

As you can probably tell from reading these words, they are not your standard, run-of-the-mills “awesomes” and “greats”. Each of these words paints a picture, gives a concrete feeling, and most importantly, are not overused by non-profits.

What are your favorite remarkable words? Tweet to us @ClaxonMarketing.

Eradicating ‘Provide’

[A few weeks ago, Emily Litchfield of Northern Arizona University reached out to share a win her team had had—they had eradicated the verb ‘provide’ from their Mission Statement! I asked if she would share how they did it so we could all learn from their hard work as part of our Mini-Mission Makeover Series. Hats off to Emily and her team for a job well done!]

CSI Logo In 2009, the Institute for Future Workforce Development and the Gerontology Institute merged to become the Civic Service Institute (CSI) at Northern Arizona University. At that point, we adopted this little beauty of a Mission Statement:

The mission of CSI is linking students, AmeriCorps members, Senior Corp volunteers and others to community, educational and non-profit organizations to build, enhance, and strengthen community capacity, workforce and career development.

Yeah… I worked there and I wasn’t even sure what that meant (and I’m quite certain that none of the other employees did either). How in the world was I supposed to sell that to any potential supporters? I certainly wasn’t going to try and memorize it so I could parrot it back in a robotic fashion, preceded by a long sigh, when asked what it is that we actually “do”.

We needed help! We needed a new mantra that declared our drive, passion and experience not some rigmarole statement packed with as many words as possible. It had to be action oriented because CSI is all about movement and service and community. We needed a good verb because we don’t simply “provide” anything (see Erica’s blog post from April 3, 2014).

After a lot of hard work rearranging word order, researching synonyms, and focusing on verbs, we finally had it and we were pretty darn proud!

The Civic Service Institute (CSI) @ NAU mobilizes generations to strengthen communities through service and volunteerism.

Recently, I read Erica’s mini-mission makeover for July 17, 2014 and I had a moment of disappointment- “Mobilize has issues”?? I took a little breath and decided to celebrate our victories- our mission is miles ahead of where it was in the beginning… and we didn’t use ‘provide’.

ELitchfield Emily Litchfield is the Program Coordinator at CSI.  She enjoys playing the Ukulele and is currently studying for the GREs.

8 Quick, Easy Tips to Boost Engagement

8 Quick Tips

Crafting messaging for your nonprofit can be hard work. How do you get someone to hear your message, let alone remember it?

No one-size-fits-all formula for engaging writing exists– especially since each of us have a different audience. However, these 8 easy-to-follow tips will likely increase your listeners’ engagement, no matter who your audience.

  1. Use Active Voice
    A few months ago, I wrote a post about how to convey confidence through writing. Confidence gives the impression that you really know your stuff, and that’s important. The number one way to convey confidence is to write with an active voice. This means reducing your number of “to be” verbs such as “are”, “is”, “was” and “will be”. “We are preserving the environment” and “Our building is a safe space for homeless youth” improve with just a few minor adjustments: “We preserve the environment” and “Our building offers homeless youth a safe space.”
  2. Involve Your Listener
    We all want to feel like we’re a part of something. See my post on You and Your for advice on how to bring your listener into your story.
  3. Tell a Story
    Speaking of your story, make sure you’re telling one! You may think the facts will speak for themselves, but without a story to frame them in, people will forget them or overlook them all together. It’s in our nature as humans to enjoy and respond to stories. So, pick a good one and get writing. And promise to tell true stories, because people can see through a lie or embellishment.
  4. Be Clear
    Don’t use sentences that last for nearly a paragraph. Don’t use fancy, long words that people have to stop and think about what they mean. And don’t use jargon that only people within your organization will understand. Your listener will appreciate it.
  5. Choose Better Words
    We’ve have a whole series on word choice called #WordsThatWow. Check it out!
  6. Keep it Short
    There’s nothing worse than a three-page letter from a nonprofit, a webpage that requires an extraordinary amount of scrolling to get to the bottom, or a person that talks for five minutes straight when asked about their organization. Know your key information, and figure out the easiest way to say it.
  7. Leave Room for Inquiry
    You want people to engage with you. If you spew out pages upon pages of everything anyone could possibly want to know about your organization, you close to door to inquiry. Say enough to get people interested. Interested enough to ask more questions.
  8. Be Yourself 
    No one wants to feel like they’re talking with a robot. Let your personality and the personality of your organization shine. People relate to other people, not distant-sounding, colorless words.

Use These Words with Caution – Part 1 [#WordsThatWow]

[This is the next installment in our series explaining each of the words on our 2014 List of Words that Wow. We covered the ‘Never Use’ category. Now were moving into the ‘Use with Caution’ ones. It’s a long list, so we’re going to split this into a few different posts. First up, inspire and impact.]

Inspire: Inspirational quotes flood our Pinterest boards, Facebook walls, and desk calendars. Artists need inspiration to create, entrepreneurs need inspiration to succeed, and many of us need inspiration to feel fulfilled in our lives. Inspiration is a wonderful thing, right?

Absolutely. It’s for this reason that many organizations are excited to use it in their mission statements. “We inspire change.” “We inspire hope.” “We inspire (insert group of people here).” I’m sure you’ve heard all these before.

And these phrases sound nice. But stop and think about them. Is “inspiring change” the best way to convey what your organization does, especially if you only have a few words to do it? This phrase could apply to the vast majority of nonprofits out there. It doesn’t make you stand out, or even sound very interesting. Your words should reflect the awesome and unique organization you are.

If you are adamant about using the word inspire, make sure you are not using it as a means to an end. Nine times out of ten, it’s not enough to simply inspire. Be specific about what you are inspiring people to do (and maybe even how you’re doing it). Show how the inspiration you are causing makes a difference in the world. For example, “We inspire youth to become leaders.” can change to “We inspire youth to question status-quo policies and lead their communities to progressive change.” Sure, it’s a few more words, but it’s a much more memorable and accurate description of your organization.

Impact: Like inspire, impact is a word that doesn’t mean much on its own. Your organization is impacting lives. So what? How are you impacting them? When you answer this question, my guess is that you’ll find you can remove the word impact from the equation completely.

So, the next time you’re about to tell someone that your organization is inspiring change or creating impact, stop a moment. What are you really doing?

Confident Writing is Sexy

[Note: Last week, we said hello to Tessa Srebro, who has joined the Claxon team as an intern. This is the first of many posts she’ll be doing about language, words and how you can use them to make the world a better place. How confident is your writing?]

“Confidence equals success.”

“Be confident in your choices.”

“Confidence is sexy.”

We hear phrases like this all the time. There are countless self-help programs and written advice on how to build your self-confidence. I hear from friends, both men and women, that they want a partner who is confident. If you think about it, the same goes for the organizations we support. We are more likely to trust an organization that appears confident. Who wants to support an organization that sounds like they don’t have confidence in their programs and their ability to produce results?

We, as humans, are drawn to confidence. It doesn’t only manifest itself in the way a person speaks or carries themself. In this world where our first contact with others is likely to be through websites, blogs, LinkedIn profiles, etc., it is important to convey confidence in the way you write, as well.

Here are a few ways to convey confidence in your writing:

1. Action Verbs = More Powerful Statements.

Which sounds more confident?

a. XYZ Organization is eradicating poverty by XYZ methods.

or

b. XYZ Organization eradicates poverty by XYZ methods.

Eliminate “to be” verbs such as “is” as much as possible!

2. Stay clear of wishy-washy extra words.

Your organization doesn’t “attempt to make change”, you “make change”! You aren’t “working to fight injustice”, you are “fighting injustice!”

3. Make your personality evident.

There are few things that show more confidence than being proud of what you are, and letting your supporters see that. Are you and your co-workers a little quirky? Embrace that. Don’t shield your personality behind a layer of status-quo, overused language.

Grammarly Photo

4. Take chances.

Part of having confidence is not being afraid of failure. If you find that something isn’t working, simply make an adjustment. The more often you fail, the less scary it becomes.

So get out there, get writing, and let your confidence shine!

 

Practice makes progress

role play, pitching, practicing, messaging
Practice until you drop!

Yesterday,  a group of brave staff and board members from an awesome organization (that shall remain nameless to protect the identities of those involved) topped off a day of word nerdery with some good old-fashion role playing.

I have done role playing with countless people and groups and I’m yet to have someone say, “Oh thank goodness. We finally get to my favorite part–role playing!”

No one likes role playing. It’s awkward and you feel like a dork. And you’re encumbered with the belief that the goal of practice is perfection, which is unattainable so why bother.

Practice isn’t about perfection. It’s about progress.

Let’s play this out. Let’s say you’re sprucing up everyone’s elevator pitch. You’ve just crafted a new core message (that one sentence you want everyone to embrace and say with zeal). Everyone really likes it. You know it conveys the One Thing You Want People to Know About You and Your Organization (title case because that’s what you’re after with your core message).

This is as far as most groups go. They write the message, then stand back, fold their arms, and talk about what they like and don’t like about it. They don’t practice it.

Talking about your message and saying it are two very different things. The first one keeps it “in theory”–the next time you find yourself in a situation where you could use it, you won’t. Because you won’t remember it. Because you haven’t practiced it. And without practice, there’s no progress. And without progress, there’s no change.

The point of finding world-changing words for your world-changing work (here’s a little rant on that) is to use them, not think deep thoughts about them while staring at them on a page or computer screen!

Thus, practice. Thus, role playing.

Role playing is particularly hard for board members who talk less often about the organization. They will resist. They will grouse. They will all of a sudden need to plug their meters and/or run to the washroom. Let them do all that. And then have them role play.

The group yesterday eventually transitioned from talking about their new message to saying it. They personalized it, infusing it with their passion and personal experience. And when they did, they knocked my socks off and blew my hair back. They were awesome.

Practice may not make perfect. It does, however, make for a whole lot of progress.

Venture forth and practice!

Get off message & on belief

Don’t be a messaging robot.

Earlier this week, I was invited to give a workshop for 501 Commons volunteers. My advice to get off message raised a few eyebrows. Don’t we want everyone ‘on message’?! Nope, you want them ‘on belief’. Here’s what I mean.

You aren’t successful if every single person in your organization answers the question: “What does your organization do?” in the exact same way.

You’re successful if everyone answers that question using your 3 key words in a way that reinforces what you want to be known for with passion, energy and conviction.

Supporters want to engage with an organization that has a compelling way of addressing a cause they care about.

Word-for-word ends up being robotic. Robotic isn’t compelling.

Worry less about being “on message” and more about attracting staff and board who are “on belief”–you’ll go further, faster and with less effort.

(Here’s guidance on how to help your organization find its 3 key words.)

photo credit: Ѕolo via photo pin cc
 

Why you should be uptight about words

I am often accused of being uptight when it comes to word choice. In France, the quest for le bon mot is a national sport. But I realize I don’t live in France and should lighten up a bit.

The thing is human beings make most decisions in 7 seconds or less. What you do in those 7 seconds, including the words you use, matters.

In 2009, there were 1,928,158 non profits in the United States alone. You have one shot to make a great first impression and to stand out from the sea of organizations, and chatter, and craziness of life.

Could I loosen up a bit about word choice? Well, yeah, personally I could probably stand to do that. But this isn’t about moi and it wouldn’t change the fact that time spent finding words that resonate with the people who matter most to your organization is imperative to your success. That’s not going to change.

Be uptight about–or at least mindful of–your words. Find the right ones. It’s important.