Shifting Your Comm Style from Frightening to Friendly – 3 Steps

Happy Sad FacesI recently talked with a nonprofit communications director whose challenge for 2014 is to remake her organization’s communications voice, style, and tone from something that’s frankly a little frightening to something much more friendly.

How does she know the current approach is frightening? Because the organization’s supporters and clients said so. The nonprofit asked for feedback on its website content, and heard back that people often feel more scared after going to the site (they work on a particular type of cancer). They also feel overwhelmed. Instead of those reactions, the nonprofit wants people to feel comforted and full of hope after visiting the website and reading their other ongoing communications.

So, they got the message. They need to change the way they communicate. But how? It’s not like cancer is a naturally bubbly and fun topic.

Here are three approaches I recommended. Maybe you could try these too?

1. Write in the second person as much as possible.

Using the words You and Your all the time — as much as possible — forces you as the writer to think about the reader, which I believe for most us, leads to more conversational and friendly writing.

2. Create a “friendly, plain English” style guide.

Trying to translate technical topics into plain English is excruciating for both the technical experts and the communications staff. So when you finally come to an agreement about how to talk about something, institutionalize it! It can take a lot of back and forth to find the right words to describe a certain situation in a way that is still accurate but also  understandable to a lay person. Don’t lose the outcomes of that internal negotiating work by just putting it into that immediate work product. Add it to a Friendly, Plain English Style Guide so you can use it again.

3. Find your voice in the communications of others.

Talking about voice, style, and tone is difficult in the abstract! What does “friendly” mean anyway? And, yes, it can mean different things to different people. To clarify the definition in your office, and to get everyone closer to common ground, I recommend you find writing from another organization that represents how you want to sound.

Take breast cancer organizations for example. Look at the differences in how several orgs talk on their “newly diagnosed” pages:

Susan G. Komen

Young Survival Coalition

Rethink Breast Cancer

Living Beyond Breast Cancer


Gloria Gemma

It’s not that one is right or wrong, but that they are different. Which approach would work best for your work and for the people who will be reading your content? Pull together examples that you can emulate in your own work. There’s also a whole chapter on voice, style, and tone in Content Marketing for Nonprofits (Amazon).


What other tips do you have for switching up the way your communications feel and sound to others?


 Happy and Sad Mask by BigStock

© 2007-2017, Nonprofit Marketing Guide. All Rights Reserved.

Share This Post On
  • Jacqueline O’Donnell

    Thanks for raising this topic – I think it is often overlooked in the non-profit communications discussions…
    I always advocate a ‘positive messaging’ approach with my non-profit clients – I know that much research shows that sad & pathetic brings in quick donations but I believe that non-profit communications need to also be delivering on mission, which usually involves empowering, educating and uplifting. People won’t take real change action when they are scared or overwhelmed.
    My top 2 tips for shifting to positive messaging are
    1) Focus on the aspirational outcomes, not the problem. This is a technique proven in social science as strengths-based approaches. But marketing and communications people are typically taught to focus on pain points, identify the problem so you can be the problem solver… non-profit communicators needs to turn this upside down!
    2) The words are only half the story – what are your images saying? For example, a disability organisation I worked with had a strict policy that images of people with disabilities had to represent every day life as much as possible – people in offices, in their garden, on public transport… the disability was there but not the primary focus. This approach was empowering people with disabilities by encouraging people not to see them as victims or heroes but just as another person with rights, responsibilities and dreams.

  • This was just what I was on looking for. I’ll come back to this blog for sure!

  • I am impressed by the quality of information on this website.

  • Most probably You Also Make Most of these Slipups With bag !

  • You can buy scented hand soaps virtually anywhere for under $10, but for something other than the typical mall or grocery store fare, try something like Jaqua Pink Buttercream Frosting Hand Soap. It’s $16.