How to Get the Most Out of Your Words

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How to Get the Most Out of Your Words

by Tessa Srebro

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The words you use matter - learn from @VolunteerMatch how to make the most of 'em: #nptech
Monday, November 3, 2014 - 1:10pm

Which is more likely to inspire you?

“Help support your community by volunteering to build houses for those in need.”

“Housing is a right everyone should have. Create new neighbors by lending a hand!”

Whatever the purpose: engaging volunteers, raising money, promoting an event, etc. – the words you use matter. Words with the highest value (i.e. the words most likely to engage your audience), are unique, specific, and  easy to understand.

Make Them Unique
Why are unique words so important? People are much more likely to pay attention to new information. In fact, new information actually makes us feel good, physically. Novelty causes a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that gives us pleasant sensations from the brain stem. Because of this excitement and pleasure, our brains are trained to pay attention to new things and overlook the old. Choosing words that are unique will make you stand out, and will draw people in.

The Marketplace of Words
You might be wondering, “How do I know if my words are unique?” Well, there’s a website for that.

Earlier this year, I researched the words most frequently used on nonprofit websites, and created the tool The Marketplace of Words. You can type your potential word in the box on the main page, and find out where and if it ranks in the top 1000 words most often found on nonprofit websites as of April 2014.

You can also browse the full lists in the Results tab. These include counts and percentages overall, in addition to breaking it down by part of speech. In the Getting Started tab, you can find advice on the most productive ways to use the tool.

The Marketplace doesn’t cover the other properties of high-value words, which are: Specific, and Easy to Understand. Here are quick explanations of why these are important to consider in addition to uniqueness:

Make Them Specific
What do you actually mean when you say community? How big is it and who is a part of it? There are so many methods of outreach; which are you referring to? These are examples of unanswered questions caused by vague words. Get specific! Instead of “utilizing a community outreach strategy”, say you’re “meeting face-to-face with residents of Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.”

Make Them Easy to Understand
The simplest way to achieve clarity in writing is to write like you speak. If someone has to take the time to decipher your message, they most likely won’t. An easy test is to ask yourself, “Would I use this word, phrase or sentence in a casual conversation?” If the answer is no – revise it. Also, when you are considering a few good words, opt for the word with fewer syllables.

The last thing you want to do is bore your volunteers with overused words, or hit them with unclear jargon. They should be excited about the awesome work they’re doing, and you have the power to make that happen. So, go on now: Go get the most value for your words!


Visit VolunteerMatch's blogs, Engaging Volunteers and Volunteering is CSR, for more tips and stories.

Keywords: Volunteerism & Community Engagement | Language Use | VolunteerMatch | Volunteering | Volunteerism & Community Engagement | Writing Tips | Writing Tools | marketing | volunteer engagement