Delivering a compelling, clear and consistent message about who we are and what we do is vital for every charity, but it’s easier said than done.
Charity websites can easily get bogged down with the problem of too much information, overly formal language, and inaccessible and off-putting content.
Then there’s the question of who has the time or the expertise to tweak and improve it, because it’s not a quick or easy job.
But there are ways to start improving your writing, and there are plenty of tools to help you.
Is branding and tone of voice important?
A good place to start is your brand and especially the tone of your voice within it. A brand is a formal way of identifying what sets you apart from your competition. A stronger identity helps the audience understand who you are, what you represent and what to expect.
The basic things people think of with a brand are usually a logo, standard colors, and a font – perhaps a series of “rules” that must be followed. But the brand needs to be more about who you are, and a key characteristic should be a tone of voice, including advice on writing style, wording, spelling, use of all caps. and abbreviations (known as “house style”).
A tone of voice in branding is exactly what it sounds like – it’s the way the organization “talks” to its audience. And just like when we speak, the tone of our written voice can make all the difference in how we are viewed.
So why bother when looking to improve your web copy? Here are a few reasons:
- You compete (with other charities and absolutely everything else online) for your audience’s attention
- Your audiences are busy and easily distracted – annoy or confuse them and they’ll move on
- Getting the right messages across, in the right way, is easier once you are clear about your brand and your tone of voice.
Guidance on guidelines
You may already have some tone of voice guidelines that need to be refreshed, or you may be starting to think about it from scratch. If you’re not sure where to start, there’s a lot of useful branding information, including tone of voice, from CharityComms in their 360 brand best practice guide, with real charity case studies.
You may need external help or be able to do it internally, but in all cases, test your ideas with your key target audiences before moving forward.
Like guidelines on any problem, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details. Many in-house charity guides on branding and tone of voice were lovingly designed and written and then largely ignored by staff and volunteers. Remember that they are your audience for this and you are also competing for their time and attention.
- It must be useful – what do staff and volunteers really need and in what form?
- Keep it short, sharp, and use bullet points and plain language
- Avoid too much text, consider using images or infographics
- Give concrete examples from your charity, to show the difference between the old tone of voice (how things were written before) and how you would like them to be
- Explain how you got there, why it’s important and the difference it could make
- Things change over time – invite comments and let it be a live document you can edit when you need to
Launch of new directives
Before sharing new guidelines, consider offering live training sessions to everyone responsible for updating the content. Keep them light and positive – the idea is to inspire and encourage, not to make people feel “policed” or restricted. An external communications or writing expert can be useful to do this alongside a staff member.
Share the look and sound of the new tone of voice, offer tips on editing and writing, and give everyone the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned, discuss, and ask questions. They can then return to their desks more confident to start delivering better written content (and hopefully enjoy the process more, too).
Every word counts
Every word counts and less is really more. That’s why big brands with big marketing budgets pay a fortune to have their “essence” distilled in just a few words:
Do it (Nike)
Because you’re worth it (L’Oreal)
Every little help (Tesco)
Love it or hate it (Marmite)
So when you write content for homepages and other key “storefront” pages, you need to take this into account. To have an impact, you have to say less up front, not more. You can provide more information via links for those who wish.
Other tips for web pages:
- Experiment with interesting titles and subtitles that will intrigue the reader (this could be a question everyone is asking and will be answered)
- Find great quotes (ideally from people outside your organization – carefully edited for maximum impact – that demonstrate the message you want to share)
- Try bullet points to separate the text
- Limit punctuation and focus on what helps the reader
- Use active and not passive language (we deliver – no x will be delivered)
- Use positive language (what we do, what is possible, what you can do)
- Always ask everyone to ask a colleague to check the copy and links before posting (mistakes will never help your organization look good)
Tools to help you
There are many free online tools to help you with your writing – here are just a few:
The widely used Goalkeeper Style Guide who has an A to Z search for words and phrases and how to write them.
The Campaign for Simple English has free online guides on many topics including plain English writing, proofreading and grammar. It also has an A-Z word search tool with simpler word suggestions to replace longer, more complex words.
The UK Government website guidelines for Writers has many useful ideas for making complex information easy to follow.
Character counting tools are useful if you need to create a copy that matches a certain number of words, for example Character counting tool Where Word counter Some online tools, including the character count tool, include a readability score that indicates how easy your content is to read.
Across all of your web pages, keep your brand and tone of voice alive so that all of your pages have a cohesive feel and personality. Consider having brand champions in-house who will help achieve this in a useful, positive, and engaging way.