Let's Raise Some Money
Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

Focus Group Discovers That Words Lead To Action. Initials Lead To Thinking.

April 22nd, 2014 by Karen Climer

Ok, so it’s a focus group of one (me!).  I’m trying to write more enticing headlines.  How did I do?

Last week, we talked about numbers.  Today, we’re going to talk about letters.  Nonprofit organizations love initials.  I don’t know what it is, but human services organizations especially love them.  Many nonprofit use initials or an acronym, not just for the name of their organization, but for each program as well.

Their brochures read like this:  “GLNP is proud to announce its SKWA program has expanded to its Eastside location.  Eastside now has SKWA and FDPO.”  What the heck does that mean?  I’m sure the employees know what it means, but what about everyone else?  I’ve seen  nonprofit letters, brochures, newsletters, and websites that are covered with these all-caps abbreviations.

Abbreviations are convenient for the writer, but ineffective for the reader.  Let’s say your organization is called Single Parents Helping Single Parents.  All over your brochure, it says SPHSP.  As an outsider, I can take a pretty good guess at what Single Parents Helping Single Parents does.  I have no clue what SPHSP does.

Even if I know what SPHSP stands for, it loses the emotional punch that the full name has.  The brain processes this in a different way.  Now I’m using the thinking part of my brain, not the emotional, make-a-donation part of my brain. (I know I bring that up frequently.)

By using the abbreviation, you are making your copy more difficult to read.  If I have to think too hard, I’m not going to read it.  Remember, I don’t see the initials every day the way you do.  You understand the initials because you see them every day and have trained your brain to translate them quickly.  I have to think about it every time.

I received a newsletter from an organization whose name has 4 one-syllable words.  It’s short and easy to say.  All over their newsletter is the all-cap abbreviation (which includes a W, thereby increasing the number of syllables from 4 to 6).  Why do they do that?  They lose the emotional appeal of their name.  They probably use the initials internally, then at some point it creeped into the outside world.  Now their newsletter is polluted with these initials that mean nothing to the reader.

I suspect if we did a study similar to the study I mentioned last week where one letter talked about Single Parents Helping Single Parents and the second letter talked about SPHSP, we would find the full name would outperform the initials.

If you want someone to think, fill your copy with all-caps acronyms.  If you want someone to act (i.e donate), take the time to spell out the words.

Post Script (OK, maybe initials are appropriate sometimes!)  P.S. An exception would be most colleges and universities.  If you work for UCF, go ahead and use UCF.

Posted in Communication

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