What are the 3 Most Boring Words in Fundraising Appeals?


What fun! Today I’m ranting a bit about what goes WRONG with so many fundraising appeals.

I’m sharing my thoughts on the most overused, most boring and least useful words ever to be used in fundraising appeals.

And I want to know YOURS!

What do YOU think are the boring, pat, overused words and phrases that need to be dumped right now?

I’ve updated and expanded this article – which I published on the blog a few years ago.  It created a stir (and some fun!)

If you want some specific help with YOUR fundraising appeal, be sure to join our Killer Appeal Letter Intensive – August 7-10. You can learn how to create an appeal that makes your donors weep – and GIVE generously.

Nonprofit pablum?

We have this thing in the nonprofit world -where we want to be dignified about our work. But the writing turns so terribly boring. So institutional. So abstract.

I continue to see hackneyed phrases that have been used and re-used way too many times.

I call it “nonprofit pablum” because it has no seasoning, no punch.

Please ditch the “lofty” tone and treat me (your donor) like your best friend.

You don’t have to talk down to me.

And you don’t have to treat me with kid gloves.

Remember that you’re not writing a formal letter to someone you don’t know.

You’re writing to a friend. To a True Believer in your cause.

If I’m a donor, then I’m passionate.  I have a back story to share about why I care about you.

Just use plain talk. Please.

NOW. . .  drumroll, please:

The award for the most boring word EVER to be used in fundraising goes to:


Goodness. Do tell me where the emotion is in this word.

Tell me what it really refers to.

Does it have any impact at all?

Many humanitarian and social service agencies use “underserved” as part of their daily nonprofit vocabulary.

It’s a noble effort to add dignity to the people they serve, and that’s fine.

But it’s also “social service-speak.”

It’s such a normal part of conversation in agencies that it invariably creeps into their fundraising appeals and materials.

Instead of “underserved” how about giving me a real word: like “desperate,” or “destitute,” or “needy,” or emotional words like “hungry, lonely, scared, worried, anxious, frightened, starving.”

Give me a word for fundraising appeals that grabs me.

A word that evokes an emotional response. A word that will open my wallet.

Never use professional jargon and cliches in fundraising appeals. Those belong inside your agency – not outside.

Using “underserved” to describe your work doesn’t help me understand what you do one bit.

NEXT least favorite, most overused BORING words. . .  Drumroll please:

“Programs and Services.”

Gosh, what would we say if we couldn’t use the word “programs?”

  • “Please support our xxx program.”


  • “Please support our xxx services.”

Here’s the problem with “programs and services.”

These words are watered down. They are overused. And they mean NOTHING.

If your appeal doesn’t have enough emotion, then it’s useless.

Remember – donors give because they are “moved.”  Emotion is what brings in the gifts.

These words are not specific enough to have any impact.

They are a lazy person’s shortcut language. A lazy person who doesn’t want to go to the effort to REALLY describe what you are doing.

Here’s an example: say your organization operates a project to teach illiterate prison inmates how to read.

The lazy fundraiser would say: “support our prison literacy program.”

The smart fundraiser would say: “you can help illiterate prisoners learn to read.”

Now which phrase has more bang? Which is more compelling? Which word can break my heart? Which would open my wallet?

And, note the donor-centered approach from the smart fundraiser (“you”) vs. the organization-centered approach (“our”) from the lazy fundraiser.

Other wonky words with no impact to donors:

I’m getting really tired of “sustainable.”

How about let’s ditch these too:

  • Disrupt (a favorite on the west coast these days)
  • Impact, output, results
  • Scalable (really?? so very technical)
  • Solutions
  • Innovative
  • Add your word!

These deaden the emotion. So they are no use to you in fundraising appeals!

I can’t raise any money with these words.

And I bet you can’t either.

I dare you to see if you can write your fall appeal letter and NOT use any of these words.

If you can do it, let me know! And check out this fun list of jargon terms to ditch from the Chronicle of Philanthropy, too.

Want to add power and punch to your fundraising appeals?

Join our Killer Appeal Letter intensive. You’ll learn from top international experts how to craft powerful, compelling, emotional fundraising appeals. This is a skill that EVERY fundraiser needs to have!

AND – we’re including a Live Makeover Session so you can have your own materials reviewed by experts. It’s a rare and special opportunity if you really do want to learn how to do appeals that bring in the gifts and contributions.

Other words to ditch from my readers:

Disadvantaged – overused in the UK!

Food Insecurity – it’s cringeworthy said Ann Green. Better to talk about having to choose between buying groceries and paying the heating bill.

Vicki wrote that she finds these words irritating in her country (Uganda): ‘strengthening’,’Institutionalizing’ and ‘decentralization’.  She said she can’t understand what they mean!

“Now more than ever!”

Winston said these were the worst: Leverage, engage, financial resources, capacity, sustainability, empower.

Chandra said her least favs were: “Impactful” and “Make a difference!”


Use real words with emotional power, and you’ll raise lots more money.

What other words do we need to avoid in fundraising? Let’s have some fun and create a list of them!

Share your suggestions for Top Words to Avoid in the comments box below.