What can organisations like Inepd do for you?
I was alerted to the International Network for Enabling Poverty Development by a message on twitter from one of their UK staff, @InepdMercedes.
A field worker, Shane Thomson had been locked up in a jail somewhere in Africa for a crime that, as far as I can tell, was related to "sourcing gorillas".
If you haven't heard of Inepd, they describe themselves as…
"A rights based organisation that believes in both downward and upward accountability to the poor. We seek to bring poverty development and equity justice to those who can't help themselves.
Through our support we have been able to make a significant changes to the lives of tens of thousands of poor people and thousands of communities. Constantly we look for ways to improve our development and humanitarian programs through new and innovative concepts and terminology.
Our partnerships with local and international organisations ensure that we can give to poor people who our supporters identify as the most needy through our multifaceted appeals framework. By supporting Inepd international you are standing side by side with the poor to seek a better world. Through your support Inepd International also grows stronger and in this way we can bring more poverty development to the poor."
What a fantastic parody!
I'm sad to say that it took me more than a few minutes to realise that I was looking at a spoof site. I am so used to the impenetrable language used on real charity sites that I was completely taken in by what I read.
Inepd is a great mirror for what passes as acceptable copy for far too many charities. If your organisation's site reads anything like theirs, you are doing something terribly wrong.
How you say something matters more than what you are saying.
Impenetrable copy is ignored and will remain unread. And if you need some advice on the five deadly copywriting sins that are guaranteed to get your copy skipped over I'd point you in the direction of George Smith.
Asking Properly, his book on creative fundraising, is the one most likely to be stolen from the Bluefrog Library. And on page 89, you'll find his Curmudgeon's Corner, where he details the five dumb habits that people who write for charity often fall into.
If you are interested in great copywriting, I suggest that you get yourself a copy. You can see the complete section here. What follows is a brief synopsis that doesn't do justice to the original.
A long word is not more impressive than a short one. Their use creates a language that is bureaucratic rather than human, corporate rather than personal.
George's friendly advice is that long words should be "smothered".
The practice of using redundant words. We have grown used to them through their repetition and keep them alive by dropping them in our copy when we can't be bother to think. For example, a major nuclear disaster might leave us asking what exactly is a minor nuclear disaster?
What exactly are 'civil society partnerships', or 'preparedness and mitigation measures'?
As George points out, phrases like these come from the reports of project workers and programme officers. It is a lazy and opaque language that makes it's way into fundraising copy because writers have perhaps been too "busy" to translate it into a style that can be easily understood.
George's term for copy that is created on "auto-pilot", where your mind is switched off. You are going through the motions, yet somehow acceptable words and sentences seem to have made their way on your page.
Another George (Orwell) describes this process as "gumming together long lists of words".
Though you can get away with it, it is always wrong.
The handy cliche
Used to describe the phrases generated by the assumption that there is a pre-formed verbal model for every kind of communication. They are created by bolting together an automatic epithet with a noun. You might recognise some of these:
His list goes on.
As with jargon, their overuse removes their power. If you stop for a moment and think about what you are writing, you'll create phrases that will engage and drive action.
Great copy will make the difference between success and failure. Far too often, easy and comfortable phrases and corporate styles win over effective copy aimed at engaging your reader.
Next time you see some copy that commits any of these sins can I suggest you visit the Inepd gift site and buy an income generating asset for a poor forestry worker and wield it with aggressive fortitude at the offending wordage.
Hat tip to @CausePerfect