There's a pretty good chance you sound like a complete idiot. Not you personally (I hope), but your organization's public communications.
Most advertising, direct marketing -- and fundraising -- uses a tone you'd never use with your friends. If you did, they'd laugh in your face. Or run away.
Really. Think of the junk that's freely scattered through copy. Like:
- Phony superlatives, like "leading," "best," "most important."
- Meaningless, high-flown claims, like "cutting-edge" and "pioneering."
- Self-aggrandizement. Look-at-me copy that talks at donors, not about them.
- Unnaturally long and complex sentences that abandon all pretense of human speech.
- Bastardizations like © and ™.
- Legal disclaimers and other CYA weasel talk.
It all adds up to a tone of voice that nobody would ever use in person. We used to get away with it. As long has our meaning was clear, the inhuman tone was tolerated or ignored. But that's changing. More people all the time are choosing to ignore fake, non-human marketing-language. They know it signifies irrelevance and semi-truthful claims. They prefer authentic, human conversations.
Your nonprofit organization is doing real things. There's no reason to sound phony when you talk about it. It's not like you're selling one of 12 kinds of virtually identical detergents. Be real!
Read your copy out loud. If it doesn't sound at least somewhat like speech, send it back for revision. And bypass the committee writing process. That will always make your copy sound inhuman.
(This post originally appeared on January 13, 2010.)