Your organization is comprised of many voices—those of your leaders, staff, volunteers, donors and those you serve. However, when “speaking” via your marketing channels, your organization’s voice is what your audience hears. It’s the voice behind your blog articles, your website content, social media posts and so much more. A lot is invested in your voice. After all, it can help your nonprofit stand out in a sea of other worthy causes and can help solidify fundraising dollars.
Together, let’s dive into the powerful world of messaging—specifically how to discover your organization’s voice. If you’ve never paid attention to the “voice” speaking on behalf of your nonprofit, you’ve come to the right place. It’s time to create a voice for your organization that encompasses your core values and identifies with your supporters.
What’s the Difference Between Voice, Tone and Style?
To an outsider, words are just that… words. But not so fast! There are different aspects of your messaging that evoke certain emotions and feelings from your audience. Those aspects include voice, tone and style. You may have heard the term “voice” used interchangeably with the words style or tone, but all three factors play a role in how you speak with your audience. Let’s explore the subtle differences.
This is the distinctive sound of your brand, including your personality. Does your organization sound playful, cheeky and fun? Inspirational? Serious and straightforward? Your brand voice also speaks to the rhythm of your words. Maybe your organization writes short sentences. Sharp sentences. Or maybe your words are more like a flowing stream, musical and filled with gleam. Okay, so maybe you wouldn’t go as far as rhyming, but you should pay attention to the rhythm and structure of your organization’s voice.
If your voice is the personality, then your tone is the way your voice is perceived in various situations. For example, you wouldn’t use the same tone when asking for a large donation as you would when speaking about the fun that was had at your last volunteer appreciation night.
Some situations call for a more serious tone, while others can be playful. This is especially true for nonprofit organizations because many charities are helping to solve the world’s problems, which are often very serious matters. However, there will also be times to celebrate your successes. Understanding and consciously thinking about your tone when writing as your organization is the first step to harnessing this aspect of your messaging.
Consider this—how do your words look on the page? Do your titles use a capital letter for the start of every major word? Do you use the oxford comma? What about words you should avoid? Implementing a style guide is the perfect way to ensure that although there may be multiple writers at your organization, your style stays consistent. You will also want to keep these style rules in mind with your logo design, branding and other visual elements associated with your organization. Even if you haven’t established a guidebook for your style just yet, there are plenty of starting points for your organization, like the AP Style Guide or the Chicago Manual of Style.
How to Use Your Voice to Communicate
Communicate with warmth. Imagine catching up over coffee with a best friend. There’s a warmth to the conversation that makes you feel at ease. The conversation makes you feel accepted and welcome to share. Harness this same feeling and conversational tone when writing for your organization.
Communicate with simplicity.
Short attention spans and the age of multitasking mean simplicity is best. There’s a reason TikTok videos have been so effective—they’re short and captivating. Break up your paragraphs where you can to provide your readers with an easy reading experience. Remember that although you’re an expert at your organization, industry jargon should be avoided because those you communicate with may not be as well versed.
Communicate with sensitivity and awareness.
This is mostly common sense, but consider your audience and choose your words carefully. Stay away from words and terms they might consider offensive or insulting. For example, if you decide to speak about “children with special needs” as opposed to “children with disabilities,” be consistent. This is the perfect type of thing that you would include in an organizational style guide.
Three Brand Voice Questions to Ask for Every Message
What is your main message?
It’s easy to get caught up in trying to get your voice just right that you completely forget one of the most important details: your main message. This is the first place to start. Ask yourself what you want your audience to take away from the message, what you want them to do next and what details must be included.
Who are you talking to?
It won’t do you much good to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) if you don’t know exactly who you’re trying to reach. Personas are the perfect way to identify your audience. A persona involves identifying aspects of your audience that can help you better understand them, like age, background, hobbies, interests or habits. While your audience is undoubtedly unique, it helps to try to group your audience into categories.
Give your personas a real name and demographics. Consider who your typical donor is, your typical staff member, volunteers and more. There can be varying persona types for each group, and this will help you as you try to communicate and put your best voice forward.
Where is the middle ground for your voice?
It’s time to decide how you would like your voice to be perceived with this specific message. As a baseline, decide the level of formality you’re comfortable with as a starting point. Then, determine if it’s okay to go outside of those lines for certain reasons. For example, you may decide that it’s okay to be less formal for a social media post, or even more formal for educational materials.
It’s time to discover your organization’s voice.
Consistency is key when it comes to your organization’s voice. You want your supporters, audience and followers to feel that every communication touchpoint, no matter who wrote the messaging, is coming from the same organization. Your brand voice is ultimately one of the driving forces behind letting your message be heard. It helps you garner donations and make lifelong supporters. Your voice is in there—now let us help you go find it… and stick with it!