What are the 3 Most Boring Words in Fundraising Appeals?

Today I’m sharing my own opinion about the most overused, most boring and least useful words ever to be used in fundraising appeals.9-30-16-featureimage-2

And I want to know YOURS!

What do YOU think are the boring, pat, overused words and phrases that need to be dumped right now?

I ran this post a while back and it created a stir (and some fun!)

Today, I’m updating this post with some new data – and would love for you to add your opinion too.

Do you really know what works and what doesn’t work with donors?

And then do you have committees, directors, bosses and board members who want to add in stuff to fundraising appeals and letters?

I continue to see hackneyed phrases that have been used and re-used way too many times.

I call it “nonprofit pablum” because it has no seasoning, no punch.

Nonprofit writing and fundraising appeals don’t have to be so boring.

Please, please ditch the “lofty” tone and treat me (your donor) like your best friend.

You don’t have to talk down to me.

And you don’t have to treat me with kid gloves.

Remember that you’re not writing a formal letter to someone you don’t know.

You’re writing to a friend. To a true believer in your cause.

If I’m a donor to your cause, then I have a passion for your work. I have a back story to share about why I care about you. So don’t talk down to me!

Just use plain talk. Please.

NOW. . .  drumroll, please:

The award for the most boring word ever to be used in fundraising goes to:


Goodness. Do tell me where the emotion is in this word.

Is he “underserved?” Or is he just plain homeless?

Tell me what it really refers to.

Does it have any impact at all?

Many humanitarian and social service agencies use “underserved” as part of their daily nonprofit vocabulary.

It’s a noble effort to add dignity to the people they serve, and that’s fine.

But it’s also “social service-speak.”

It’s such a normal part of conversation in agencies that it invariably creeps into their fundraising appeals and materials.

Instead of “underserved” how about giving me a real word: like “desperate,” or “destitute,” or “needy,” hungry, lonely, scared, worried, anxious, frightened, starving.

Give me a word for fundraising appeals that grabs me.

A word that evokes an emotional response. A word that will open my wallet.

Never use professional jargon and cliches in fundraising appeals. Those belong inside your agency – not outside.

Using “underserved” to describe your work doesn’t help me understand what you do one bit.

Here’s a fun infographic on “50 Annoying Phrases You Hear At Work.” And some of this stuff creeps into appeal letters! YUCK!

NEXT least favorite, most overused BORING words. . .  Drumroll please:

Get my attention with words that have power and punch!

“Programs and Services.”

Gosh, what would we say if we couldn’t use the word “programs?”

  • “Please support our xxx program.”


  • “Please support our xxx services.”

Here’s the problem with “programs and services.”

These words are watered down.

They are overused. And they mean nothing.

These words are not specific enough to have any impact.

They are a lazy person’s shortcut language. A lazy person who doesn’t want to go to the effort to REALLY describe what you are doing.

Here’s an example: say your organization operates a project to teach illiterate prison inmates how to read.

The lazy fundraiser would say: “support our prison literacy program.”

The smart fundraiser would say: “you can help illiterate prisoners learn to read.”

Now which phrase has more bang? Which has more energy? Which is more compelling? Which word can break my heart? Which would open my wallet?

And, note the donor-centered approach from the smart fundraiser (“you”) vs. the organization-centered approach (“our”) from the lazy fundraiser.

Other wonky words with no impact to donors:

I’m getting really tired of “sustainable.”

How about let’s ditch these too:

  • Disrupt
  • Impact, output, results
  • Scalable
  • Solutions
  • Innovative
  • add your word!!

These deaden the emotion. So they are no use to you in fundraising appeals!

I can’t raise any money with these words.

And I bet you can’t either.

I dare you to see if you can write your fall appeal letter and NOT use any of these words.

If you can do it, let me know! And check out this fun list of jargon terms to ditch from the Chronicle of Philanthropy, too.

Want to add power and punch to your appeal letter?

You can get my help to edit your letter and package. Work with me to make it more donor-centered and emotional. If you’d like the help, I have some time slots open for 30-minute review sessions and would love to work with you.

Want help creating a full year-end campaign that raises the most money ever?

If you want even more help, get the full 8-part course: Create Your Best Year-End Campaign Ever. You’ll get some of the top gurus in the world giving you specific, practical advice to help max out your year-end fall fundraising.


Use real words with emotional power, and you’ll raise lots more money.

What other words do we need to avoid in fundraising? Let’s have some fun and create a list of them!

Share your suggestions for Top Words to Avoid in the comments box below: