Choose your words carefully
Words. There is much spoken, written, and recorded about the use of words. The ones you choose may be right, wrong, motivational, discouraging, instructional or otherwise. Words are written as lyrics, poems, stories and more but there’s one common denominator. When carefully chosen the words don’t lie. Now, our interpretations of them, desire to influence with them, and ability to disparage with them is very real. So, from a nonprofit and business perspective why aren’t we analyzing and choosing our usage more carefully?
In the not-for-profit sector we often talk about missions, visions, core values, and case statements. Most are crafted with the input of numerous individuals. Some think it’s a waste of time, while others say they’re “just words.” Ideally, they are more than that and likewise they should be carefully chosen and represent the core beliefs of the organization.
From a business perspective we care more about the words used in position descriptions, goals, objectives, visions, values, narratives, brands, and value stories. These too, should represent the very heart of who you are and what you do. If one thinks they are just words or statements, then I suggest they take a closer look and purposefully revisit the process for their origin and future application.
I recently took a tour of some “word” statements that could easily be found online. It didn’t take long to identify those where effort was put into ensuring they were organic and evolving from a place of passion, rather than an exercise that was a requirement. Here’s a couple of quick examples.
A description from a healthcare facility stated it has “been striving to serve the needs of our region.” Really? This doesn’t instill a great deal of confidence. One would hope that if it’s healthcare they are impacting, they will be doing more than “striving,” they’ll be meeting or exceeding my needs.
An out-of-state community foundation mission states it “connects donors, with causes that matter to them.” Immediately one wonders, as opposed to connecting them with ones that don’t? Some things go without saying and only add verbiage to the statement. Simple is better.
How can you be sure that what you’re putting out there for public consumption is using the best possible verbiage? Think Bluetooth, look to the world of technology and ask if your words or statement connect and PAIR well with your organization? For review, commit this PAIR acronym to memory.
Is the statement proactively phrased? Too many missions and objectives begin with “to educate,” “to support,” etc. Let’s turn that into an action verb that gives the phrase some results. Educating, supporting, reacting……. You get the idea, reinforce the movement and action in your words. Let’s look at a couple of examples.
An overseas educational institution states in their mission, among other goals, “We want to create an inclusive environment.” I’d say that indicates they feel they don’t have one. I’d suggest they consider a more proactive statement in their mission, “creating an inclusive environment,” but only if there’s a genuine effort in doing so. The lack of proactivity in statements is not uncommon, a National fundraising organization “seeks to improve lives.” Most donors considering support would like to know they are doing less “seeking” but instead “improving lives.” It may seem like a small difference, but it can have a major impact.
Be certain any statement made is accurate and relays exactly what you want AND what your customers, donors, and associates expect to experience when they interact with you. If your mission is to provide exceptional service, then be certain you back it up with that experience. When a position description is penned, be sure it covers the job intended without too much relegated to “performs other duties as required.” Likewise, inaccurate information on a website, or special offer can be a deal breaker.
Inspiring others may sound easier said than done. However, it doesn’t take much to turn a boring mundane phrase into a more inspirational one. Remember, in reading your promotional material, website, or social media interactions, your customers, patrons, donors, or patients will be making decisions on their next steps. If your competitor, even in the nonprofit sector, is more inspirational than you, they may go down the street. Again, it doesn’t mean you make pie-in-the-sky statements, but instead sincere, genuine ones that drive loyal users of whatever it is you offer. “Helping people find jobs” may need to be “Changing lives by enhancing work opportunities.”
Often the statements made or developed are not representative of the true culture or those who really support the organization. There can be an incongruence that is obvious to the reader. Be certain the statement represents your brand, your people, and your organization well. Test it, hone it, and be sure you meet the intended purpose of the words. Don’t let a mission, vision, or values become solely a marketing statement. It needs to represent the organization’s purpose well.
There is nothing worse when utilizing technology, than when the device you’re trying to use “doesn’t pair.” I’d suggest it’s much the same with the words you’re using to convey a written message. Be diligent, be critical, and be thorough when you review your organization’s communication pieces.
David J. Fry, MPS,CDT is Founder/CEO of Effective Advancement Strategies in Greensburg and author of Purpose in the Darkness, He consults with businesses and nonprofits throughout Indiana. He may be contacted at email@example.com