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Lessons I learned at a nonprofit to make communication stronger

Starting a career in nonprofit can quickly pigeonhole you because it’s not always clear how the skills you learn can translate to other industries. I never thought I’d find myself in the tech industry. Because nonprofits and the tech industry have nothing in common, right?

Well, it turns out these differing sectors have one very important thing in common – they focus on people. If fundraising storytelling has taught me anything, it’s how to communicate to people and urge them to act. And our clients have the same goals – to communicate clearly and encourage action.

Tech companies are striving to make their communication style as human as possible, which can be difficult. In fundraising, I learned several easy storytelling steps to make your message more personal and remind your customer you’re not a robot. Of course, you always need to consider the audience before incorporating these steps into your writing, but they’re a good place to start!

Avoid jargon

When you’re deep in the weeds, it can be easy to start using jargon and acronyms throughout your copy. You think this is a quick way to get your point across, but it’s actually the quickest way to lose your audience. Customers don’t understand what you’re trying to communicate, and they’ll stop reading. In fundraising, if we wrote about the specific details of how the program worked instead of the beneficiary’s life story, donations would take a drastic drop. Donors don’t understand all the small details of our program, and frankly they don’t care. They just want to know that their donation will help someone in need.

Use conjunctions

Using conjunctions is such a simple change, but it can make a big difference. It makes your writing sound less robotic and incorporates the words we use in normal conversations. This is especially important in the tech industry. It brings a personal touch to your writing and reminds your audience they’re talking to a real person. So even if you get stuck in the jargon or complex sentences, this simple change can bring back that person-to-person interaction.

Don’t use too much data

Using too much data can also be a way to lose readers’ attention. Again, this depends on your audience, and data can sometimes drive the conversation. But other times, you need emotion and stories. Anytime we’d use stats to explain the crisis, our audience would tune out. People truly are driven by emotion which can uplevel your storytelling tremendously no matter what industry you’re in. Yes, emotional storytelling is much easier when you’re asking someone to help a family experiencing homelessness or help a puppy find shelter, but it’s doable in tech too. You just need to be a bit more creative! One way to home in on your customer’s emotions in tech storytelling is to focus on their pain points and what they’ll be missing out on if they don’t use your product. Overall, make sure you know your audience and what resonates with them.

Write to a lower grade level

To be clear, writing to a lower grade level means writing content that is easier to understand. The focus here is to write simply, not poorly. Storytelling can sometimes be confused with creative writing. In school, you’re so used to writing these elaborate stories. You’re encouraged to spice up your writing with long descriptive sentences and paint this beautiful picture for the reader. But when you want your customer to choose your product or move to the cloud, your copy and calls to action need to be clear and easy to execute. An easy way to keep your storytelling simple is to write to a lower reading level (aiming for Level 9 or below). You can review your document’s readability level in Word or use the Hemingway App. It helps you write in short, clear sentences. It also helps you write in active voice, provides recommendations for simpler word choices, and highlights sentences that are hard to read.

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