We often talk about nonprofit personality or brand, and how it’s more than just your logo and color palette. It’s also the style or voice or tone of your communications.

But what does that mean exactly?

If you were to look it up, you’d find some conflict among writers about the differences, but I like to think of it this way:

Your Voice

Think of voice as the perspective from which you speak. It’s the core relationship that you have with the people on the receiving end of your communications.  So my voice with my children is as their mother, and that comes with a variety of unshakable characteristics. For example, I’m known as the “sheriff” to my kids compared to their dad, who lets them get away with much more than I do. But my relationship with my husband, or our friends, is not the mother/sheriff, so my voice with them is different.

Your nonprofit may have different voices for clients you serve and donors/partners in your work.

Your Tone

Your tone is something that can change, and sometimes quite often, a la “I don’t like your tone of voice, young lady!” It’s the mood of your communications. So, I can be very silly in my mother voice, or I can be very stern.

Your nonprofit probably has a serious tone when you talk about the great need out there, but a more celebratory, hopeful tone when you talk about your successes.

Your Style

I think of style as the manner in which you share your voice and tone. For example, I have a very casual style with my family, and I’d say pretty casual overall professionally as well, especially compared to other consultants who take a more formal approach.

How Would You Explain Your Voice, Tone, and Style?

As you build your marketing team, it’s essential that you discuss these issues so that your communications “strike the right chord.”

How would you go about demonstrating what’s the right voice, tone, and style, and what’s not, for your nonprofit’s communications?

Earlier this week, I came across this really interesting website, called (you guessed it) VoiceAndTone.com. I found it via an article on finding the right tone for your website, which was recommended in NPower Northwest’s e-newsletter.  The site was created for people who write newsletters, tweets, customer service replies, etc. for MailChimp.



It’s organized by types of content, with specific examples that help writers see how people are likely feeling and how to respond with an appropriate voice and tone for MailChimp.


Voice and Tone Example

Creating a full website dedicated to your nonprofit’s voice and tone would probably be a bit much, but you can certainly create examples like these to share with your staff, volunteers, board and others who are communicating on your behalf. This is a great addition to your marketing bank.

How have you tried to educate people about the right voice, tone and/or style for your organization? Share your stories and questions in the comments.