For a charitable organization, communication is everything: the ability to clearly convey your charity’s mission, the ability to connect with donors, partners, and volunteers, and the ability to craft a compelling narrative that spans social networks and marketing channels. Your first step is finding your voice.
What makes your charity unique?
Answering that question requires a great deal of knowledge. It requires deep understanding of your cause, your primary audience, your volunteers, and your colleagues and partners.
Armed with that knowledge, you can establish what is arguably the most important element of social marketing for any industry: your voice. Your voice is an expression of your brand’s identity, its mission, its people, and its strengths.
Without a voice, you cannot create a unified narrative. You cannot effectively target your brand messaging. You cannot promote trust and create recognition among your target audience.
And as you well know, recognition and trust are the most valuable currencies of all for a charitable organization. Social media is another tool to gain recognition, build trust and develop strong thought leadership in your industry.
Finding your voice isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Here’s how.
The Elements of Brand Voice
What distinguishes your voice? As you might expect, it’s in large part tied to the words you use, and how you use them. But that’s a bit of an oversimplification. Your brand’s voice includes more than just language – and even in terms of language, there’s a lot to it.
Industry jargon and buzzwords can convey to the audience that your brand is a leader in its industry. Longer, more complex words, used sparingly, give an air of professionalism and intelligence. Shorter words present a more casual front.
My best advice here is to study the kind of language your target audience uses, and style your vocabulary after that. In general, I’d advise shying away from using too many buzzwords or too much jargon. Your audience is probably a bit more general.
What level of professionalism do you want your audience to see in your brand? More casual brands tend to use frequent contractions, colloquialisms, and slang. They also frequently speak in first-person.
Formal brands, meanwhile, usually speak in the third-person, avoiding colloquialisms and using more complex language.
As a general rule, shorter is better, particularly on social media. When in doubt, run your posts through a tool like the Hemingway app. Rework any sentences that are flagged as difficult to read.
That said, you do have a bit of space to tweak things. Sentences that are shorter than average can be helpful to convey urgency or intensity. Longer sentences tend to have a more relaxed feel to them.
Mood and Tone
Your brand personality or voice is more than words. Photographs and videos, your brand’s logo and website design, creative for your advertisements, the layout and visual design of your charity events – these are all aspects of your brand’s personality, particularly when combined with the language you use.
Visual media is especially important in establishing your mood and tone. This post by nonprofit fundraising platform CauseVox gives three very good examples of the connection between language and visuals in practice.
The first, Geico, is goofy and quirky, with bright visuals and casual language. The second, from The Humane Society, has muted colors, formal language, and emotional imagery that creates a sad mood and tone. The last, Nike, is forceful and confident, with a simple logo and short, focused language.
Your Brand’s Personality
Now that you understand the general terms of what comprises a brand’s voice, let’s talk about how you can establish your own voice. If it helps, imagine you’re a writer creating a character for a story. That character is your brand – its values, attitude, goals, and dreams.
In brainstorming your personality, consider:
- Demographic information. The age, gender, level of education, profession, likes, dislikes, hobbies, sense of humor, etc. of your target audience. Your different audiences may have vastly different demographics. Volunteers and donors may be quite different from the people your organization serves.
- Core values. On what ideologies was your nonprofit founded?
- The nature of your cause. A disaster relief organization will have very different imagery from a nonprofit dedicated to rehoming animals.
- The identity of your leadership. What demographic does your board of directors fall into?
You have control over many aspects of your brand, but it is also important to be aware of what your current and potential supporters have to say about your organization’s cause. One way to track this is by incorporating social listening best practices into your marketing strategy. Here are a few things to consider when you are listening on social channels:
- Which hashtags do people use when talking about your cause? Which hashtags do other nonprofits use to engage donors and volunteers?
- Brand monitoring. What are your supporters saying about your nonprofit in their social media posts?
- How can you engage with people who mention your organization?
- Conversation trends. What trends do you notice when people discuss your nonprofit’s cause? Are there any current events that connect to your cause where you could add value?
You have everything you need to establish a unique personality, a distinctive voice, and a consistent narrative. And that, in turn, will give you everything you need to leverage social media in your efforts to change the world.
Bottom Line: It’s essential for a nonprofit to find its voice to connect with supporters and promote its cause. Choosing the right writing style is key, but developing a voice involves more than just choice of words.