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Guest post; 5 top tips for tone of voice writing

This is a guest post on tone of voice, generously shared by Sarah Browning. Sarah is a Kindness Cheerleader, Communicator and Strategist. As well as supporting charities with their communications, she also runs Time for Kindness. Which on the tough days is often just the tonic needed to be reminded of the good in the world! In this blog, Sarah shares 5 top tips for tone of voice. This is important to all fundraisers - we all write and communicate with our supporters, not just through mass-communications but in our 1:1 emails and letters too.

A white typewriter with turquoise keys on a white background. A bunch of white flowers with yellow and green filler plants sit on top of the typewriter

Know your communication's purpose

Starting with a clear purpose for your communications activity is really important, whatever the topic. A meaningful aim makes it much easier to avoid common problems such as:

  • Putting in a lot of effort for little or no return in actions taken by your audience

  • Sending out mixed messages that confuse your audience

  • Going off at a tangent – losing your way and your audience

A purpose I regularly come across is to raise awareness of your cause or your charity. But I would recommend that you think more deeply about that. What action do you want your audience to take once they are aware of you? Depending on your audience, it could be something like:

  • Make use of your services

  • Commit to running 5k to fundraise for you

  • Choose you as their charity of the year

Choosing your words

Once you are clear on your why (purpose) and your who (the audiences you want to reach), it’s time to start thinking about your messages. What are you going to say that will encourage those people to take that action or make that commitment?

Getting the tone of your messages right plays a huge role in the success of your communications. The words that you choose can be really powerful. The tone and atmosphere they create varies greatly depending on how you say what you want to say.

Different words have a different impact on your listeners. My favourite example of the impact that choosing the right word can have is highlighted in the employee engagement book ‘Contented Cows Still Give Better Milk’ by Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden:

“Martin Luther King Junior didn’t launch an entire movement with the words “I have a strategic plan”, did he?”

That’s essentially what he had, but by choosing to tell the world about his “dream”, he made his words far more compelling and changed the world.

Top 5 tips to think about for your tone of voice

Here are some areas to consider so that you get your tone of voice spot on for your organisation.

  1. Avoid jargon, acronyms and technical words. It can put your audience off if they don’t know or understand the words you use. If this happens, you have immediately created a barrier to them connecting with you and your message. Remember that everyone has jargon so you need to be vigilant for anything you say that seems obvious to you but may not be for others.

  2. Sound like a human being. There is a whole other blog to be written on the topic of using AI to write communications, but what I mean here is that communications can often sound too stiff and ‘correct’ for their purpose. This doesn’t sound natural and can stem from an over-attention to grammar rules that the writer was taught at school. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that grammar is important where it helps with meaning. But if you were taught that a sentence should never begin with a word like ‘but’ or ‘and’, for example, that is no longer entirely true for how language flows today…

  3. Consider the level of formality you need for your audience and your purpose. This is not an exact science and will depend on who you want to reach. A report for policy-makers will need a greater level of formality than an Instagram post for your younger audience. The important thing is to make sure you make a conscious choice.

  4. Use active language, rather than passive. For example, use ‘We believe’ instead of ‘it is believed’. This makes your language warmer and more personal. By identifying who is taking an action, you are highlighting your team or organisation’s involvement. In contrast, using passive language has the effect of avoiding responsibility (who believes it?).

  5. Read any text you write out loud, ideally the day after you wrote it. This will make it easier to hear anything that doesn’t flow or sound right. Even reading ‘aloud’ in your head will help. It’s also useful to ask a colleague to read through something to check their reaction to the tone and the meaning.

Once you have worked out the right tone of voice for your organisation, you can pull together the main points in a document for everyone to follow. That way you can ensure there is consistency across all your communications.

Thank you so much Sarah for sharing these helpful and easily actionable top tips. These are all things I think about and do when I'm writing copy. I'm totally with you in encouraging fundraising and communications teams alike to do the same!

You can connect with Sarah, and find out more about her work here;

Sarah Brown, a woman with blonde/brown shoulder length hair in a bob and blue eyes smiles at the camera. She wears a blue and white striped shirt, with a black cardigan and a pale blue scarf with white spots.

LinkedIn profile:

Twitter: @BrowningYork

Website: Inspiring stories of kindness:

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