Two Words Nonprofits Shouldn’t Use

Two Words Nonprofits Shouldn’t Use – There are two words that non-profit groups shouldn’t use in their donor communications, whether its email, online, in a fundraising letter or a newsletter. Those two words are “very” and “different” and you are doing your organization a disservice by using them.

Two Words Nonprofits Shouldn't Use

Two Words Nonprofits Shouldn’t Use

Why? Because to an educated person, they make the writer sound like a moron. Consider for a moment that major donors are often successful professionals with a strong command of the English language. How does it sound to them when you say that your organization is doing great work in 11 different countries?

Fundraising copywriter Alan Sharpe explains this glaring faux paus (social blunder) that strikes the wrong chord with many prospective donors.

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Do you consider yourself a comic? Your donors might. If you are at all typical, you have let these two silly words steal their way into your copy, rendering it ridiculous. But take out your scissors, remove these offending articles, and your writing will become clear, concise and compelling.

This word is useful when used properly. But it makes you look harebrained when you use it to modify a noun that is, by definition, different from others in its class.

For example, when you tell your donors that your charity “operates in 11 different countries,” you are stating the obvious and being redundant. Of course 11 countries are different. They are countries. All countries are different. That’s why they all have different names, different flags, different constitutions, different borders. They are different.

You make the same mistake when you say, “we painted our boardroom three different colors.” Of course they were different colors. All colors are different.

Remove the word “different’ from every phrase in your writing where it modifies a noun that is already different from others in its class and your donors will notice the, well, difference.

When you write that “cancer is very painful” or that the elderly in your community are “very lonely,” you add one adjective but zero meaning. The word “very” adds nothing measurable to the meaning of the word it modifies.

What, for example, is the difference between a building that is “tall” and another that is “very tall?” Nothing measurable. In what way is a “very sick” person more sick than a “sick person?” None that anyone can describe merely from the word “very.”

So stop writing “very.” Instead, use a noun that makes your point. If the building is very tall, call it a skyscraper. If the medical condition is very painful, say it is excruciating.

About The Author
Alan Sharpe, CFRE, is a fundraising practitioner, author, trainer and speaker. Through his weekly newsletter, books, handbooks and workshops, Alan helps not-for-profit organizations worldwide to acquire more donors, raise more funds and build stronger relationships. Sign up for “Sharpe Tips,” Alan’s free, weekly, email newsletter, at

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