Claire Meyerhoff

Last week Claire Meyerhoff shared her writing style icon with us and encouraged you to get your own. This week she is back with how to freshen up those boring old cliches. ~ Kivi

Guest Post by Claire Meyerhoff

Our nonprofit writing is filled with worn-out clichés like “make a difference,” “having an impact,” “building bridges,” and “critical programs.”

We’re not the only ones.  The news business is filled with tired writing, too, like “in a dramatic new move,” “given the green light,” and “the death toll is climbing.”

That’s why, when network journalist Bill Torrey taught broadcast news writing in the 1980’s, he went “the extra mile” to “win the hearts and minds” of eager American University students like me and Julie, Kyle, Jim and Angie.

How?  Bill FLUNKED us if we used clichés.

Bill still has some of his “bad writing lists” — compiled from sources like the AP, BBC, and a book with the dated title, “Newsman’s English.”

I chose these five, “for further consideration.”

Wealth of information

Back to the drawing board

Hit the ground running

Spearheading the campaign

Joining forces

Stale in 1982,  Bill will FLUNK YOU today if he finds them in your org’s newsletter, annual report or fundraising appeal.

What to use instead?  Hey, writing is hard as we struggle to “inspire”  (OVERUSE ALERT!) with words – to show people WHY they should donate, volunteer, etc.  Our readers DO NOT HAVE TO read what we wrote. They can stop. They can throw it in the trash or navigate off your website/Facebook page to watch that video of the dog running in his sleep. Again.

That’s why writing the same old stuff is lethal.    And it’s not as simple as using a thesaurus.  You have to “go back to the drawing board” and take a fresh look at your “topic.”

“Wealth of information”

 TIRED:  “Visit! Our website has a wealth of information to help members of the community find programs and services to suit their needs.”

Feels Fresh:   “Kids classes, NEW senior hikes, volunteer schedules, sign-up for Free Mulch Monday and everything you need – all in one place!”

“Back to the drawing board” and “hit the ground running” in an e-newsletter

TIRED:  “After extensive rounds of negotiations with community partners, the organizing committee has gone back to the drawing board to reconsider options to secure a location for the winter workshops.  However, the good news is that the committee is meeting again next week at the home of Committee chairwoman Jan Brady and they are ready to hit the ground running.  If you would like more information, or wish to volunteer, please contact Jan Brady at”

How about a visual, info-filled, newsier item in fewer words:  “Jan Brady is clearing her dining room table for next week’s organizing committee meeting.  Jan and her team of nine volunteers are talking to everyone they know to find a place for the winter workshops.  Negotiations with the wonderful people at the VFW, Fairview Community Center, Polk College, the JCC and St. Paul’s ended without a deal.  Questions? Want to help? Email

“Spearheading the campaign” and “Joining forces” in a news release:

TIRED:  “The Interfaith Food Shuttle, the Homeless to Home Project, Upper Valley Community Services, the Windsor Unified School District and the Leroux Foundation are joining forces for a community-based partnership to seek solutions to present-day challenges affecting more than 15,000 children and youth in the region.

These four social service agencies, all members of the Upper Valley Nonprofit Coalition, will be spearheading a campaign to raise awareness and increase revenue for these critical programs.  The “Make a Difference Campaign” will bring together community leaders, educators and change agents to have an impact on these concerns.

Does this sound better?  “Lilly is 11 years old.  Last week, she ate dinner twice. This week, she’ll have dinner every night because her family moved into the Tucker Street shelter.  Lilly and 15,000 young people in our area are hungry, homeless and may never “be O.K.”

But the people who teach our children, work at our food pantries and run our shelters are asking you to help – starting Monday, September 16 – the first day of the Upper Valley’s ambitious “Are you O.K.?” project.

You’re a Kivi-reader, so you know how much she and I always encourage you to de-wonk your words and  try to “inspire” you to be more conversational in your writing.

In broadcast news writing, it’s all about packing a lot of info into a tight amount of time – and keeping your listeners/viewers from tuning out. That’s what Bill Torrey taught us thirty years ago (oh-my-god-we-are-old).

Tired phrases = same old generic voice and no personality.  That copy you slaved over sounds like everything else or nothing at all.

As Bill Torrey would say, “just say what’s happening.”

Thanks, Bill. Again.

Claire Meyerhoff specializes in development marketing, particularly planned giving. You can see some of her newest work for National Wildlife Federation at She owns The PG Agency based in the Washington, D.C area and you can reach her at

Published On: September 13, 2012|Categories: Writing Skills and Content|