The great investor Warren Buffett says companies that use excessive jargon and technical models in their communications are companies investors should avoid. “They obviously don’t want me to understand their business,” he said.
The Oracle of Omaha has also written much about how he writes his annual reports:
“One unoriginal but useful tip: Write with a specific person in mind. When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters. I have no trouble picturing them: Though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them.
“My goal is simply to give them the information I would wish them to supply me if our positions were reversed. To succeed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform. No siblings to write to? Borrow mine: Just begin with “Dear Doris and Bertie.”
Tapping your “inner Bertie”
We need to have more of this mindset when talking to people about what we do and how we can help them. Terms like “philanthropy,” “bequest” or “planned giving” (planned giving is bad for fundraising!) do not resonate strongly with the masses.
These terms are convenient for the “inside-baseball crowd”—those who work in our specialized field. But most people don’t know what exactly they mean or are turned off because they think that only really rich people are philanthropists or involved with gifts like bequests. You don’t have to be The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or The Ford Foundation to help the causes you care about now, later or after you’re gone.
Rather than call and intimidate a prospect by saying “I’d like to talk to you about a charitable remainder trust,” how about saying, “I think you might be interested in a way to share your stock holdings with ABC Nonprofit and further our mission, that you care so much about, while retaining a solid yearly income from those stocks with no capital gains tax.”
In conducting research for our Stelter Insight Reports, we found that people respond more favorably to messages of care and family betterment than technical tax or product descriptions. I like to refer to the old adage of KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). If you can keep it simple and find a way to include more of the language of care and family betterment in your donor communications, you might see some gratifying results. And sister Bertie would be proud.
Looking for other ideas on language you can use? Check out Dr. Russel James’ research on Words That Work.