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K.I.S.S. for Good: Improving Nonprofit Messages Through Simplicity

No, I don’t mean to literally kiss for good. I’m referring to “Keep It Simple Stupid” for good.

It’s a mantra among writers, but still too many communicators in the nonprofit world don’t keep it in mind.

I think that all nonprofit writers should have to write a blog at some point in their careers. The short format is demanding, calling on the skill of brevity, and the tone is conversational, forcing polysyllabic writers to consult a thesaurus.

I can remember a time, before blogs, when I and many others greeted the new USA Today as a sign that civilization was going off a cliff. We thought that short articles, factoids, and simple graphs represented “dumbing down,” and we didn’t like it at all. Thankfully, we’ve all matured and no longer equate simple, clear, easy-to-read prose with “dumb.”

My salvation came when I had to write copy for marketing materials, newsletters, fundraising appeals, and, finally, for an online audience. Everyday I learn once again how to be readable. And, as they say, “it may be simple, but it ain’t easy.”

Here are three tips that might help you K.I.S.S.:

  1. Pick one thought and elaborate on it.

    A K.I.S.S. message sticks to one idea. An example is the Clinton slogan when he first ran for office: “It’s the economy, stupid.” In contrast, consider recent health care reform. Can you state the main idea in a Twitter-like 140 characters? I thought not.

    The Red Cross owes much of the success of its recent text-to-give campaign to a laser-simple call to action: “Send a Message & Save a Life, Donate $10 To Red Cross Haiti Relief, Text Haiti To 90999.”

  2. Use simple language.

    Winston Churchill said, “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.” Now, Churchill was not advocating talking down to anyone, and he was certainly not a simple man. Using simple language is a way to be considerate. To put your audience above your own need to sound erudite. A way to be transparent when you could obscure.

    For some non-simple words that nonprofits need to abandon, see this list at Network for Good.

    Try writing like you’d talk to your next-door neighbor. What is that like? Listen to Garrison Keillor as often as possible.

  3. Format to reinforce simplicity.

    A K.I.S.S. message is a beautiful thing on the page or computer screen.

    Consider the clarity of Harvard Business Review’s daily management tip; one of Martin Zwilling’s blog posts, where he shows off his mastery of the list; or the exquisite pacing of a post at The Agitator.

    Use spacing, bullets, bolding, boxes, sidebars, easy-to-read fonts, and short sentences and paragraphs. There are a multitude of formatting options. How many of them do you use?

There are probably a lot more K.I.S.S. rules, but I wanted to keep this message clear, concise, conversational, and, well, just K.I.S.S.

P.S. Leave examples of good nonprofit K.I.S.S. in the comments.


Photo by Christine Balderas/Getty Images

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K.I.S.S. for Good: Improving Nonprofit Messages Through Simplicity originally appeared on About.com Nonprofit Charitable Orgs on Friday, February 5th, 2010 at 01:05:38.

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