Imagine if you knew the perfect words to inspire your donors and prospects. How much more successful could you be? How much more would your organization be able to accomplish?
Whether you communicate with donors or prospective donors via direct mail, email, website, telephone, advertisements, or face-to-face, the words you use are of critical importance. Words and images build the messages we convey. Carefully selecting the words that are most meaningful to your intended audience will ensure that your messages are correctly understood and have the desired impact. By contrast, choosing the wrong words could result in disaster.
International pollster Frank Luntz, Ph.D. has built a career studying communications. He’s passionate about words. In his book, Words that Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear, Luntz wrote about the importance of powerful language:
….the power of poignant language is immense, but the destructive power of an ill-thought sound bite is unending and unforgiving. Successful, effective messages — words and language that have been presented in the proper context — all have something in common. They stick in our brains and never leave, like riding a bicycle or tying our shoelaces. Not only do they communicate and educate, not only do they allow us to share ideas — they also move people to action. Words that work are catalysts. They spur us to get up off the couch, to leave the house, to do something. When communicators pay attention to what people hear rather than to what they are trying to say, they manage not merely to catch people’s attention, but to hold it.
Let me give you an example to illustrate Luntz’s point. For a Millennial or Generation X audience, the word “innovation” is powerful. While “new and improved” was a phrase that once created excitement, today it is tired and worn-out. By contrast, “innovation” is a word that is fresh, future focused, active, and desirable. However, among older Americans, “innovation” is not a word that often resonates. A better word choice for older folks is “renew.” Actually, there are a number of “re-” words including revitalize, rejuvenate, restore, rekindle, and reinvent. Each of these words is rooted in tradition, but conjure forward thinking thoughts. On the other hand, a younger audience might think words rooted in tradition are simply old fashioned.
Luntz’s research company has invested literally a million hours to interview individuals and conduct focus group studies to identify a list of the most important words for superior communication now and through at least 2020. While his list was developed with commercial and political purposes in mind, I was able to apply much of it to the fundraising world in my book Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing. Here are just six power words identified by Luntz in his book Words that Work: