Words: The Least Effective Communicator?

The following is a guest post by Lori L. Jacobwith who has been a fundraising coach for over 20 years.


We read them and hear them all day long. On the radio, TV, websites, Tweets via Twitter, in newspapers, at meetings, in the hallway, on the elevator, from our children, spouse, friends, staff, co-workers. It’s endless. Words are used to convey what we are thinking and what our organization needs or wants.

Words are utterances that stand for feelings, thoughts and experiences.

The reality is words can be one of the least effective ways to communicate because it’s so easy to misinterpret them, ignore them or if not chosen carefully, cause us to simply not care.

vs. Feelings

When you want people to get sense of what you are conveying, use as many forms of communication as possible: music, silence, photos, a drawing from a child; anything that will cause the other person to feel something.

I’ve heard Lenore, one of my clients in Minneapolis, talk about her organization many times and how the need for more shelter space for homeless families is growing. Then just last week she shared with me an audio tape of the sounds of phone calls that her organization received on their voice mail. Lenore prefaced the audio by sharing the fact that they now receive an average of 300 phone calls a month which is an increase of 250 a month in the last year.

Then I heard the calls. The sounds of babies crying in the background. Fathers or mothers sounding embarrassed and pausing in fear or fatigue during the message. The silences and the noises combined with the words caused me to feel uncomfortable and even guilty that I was leaving to go home to my own warm, safe house with lots of space in it.

I have carried around that feeling with me for days and ever since I’ve been working to send help to that organization. The words alone didn’t cause me to carry that uncomfortable feeling around. It was the sounds, and the urgency of the voices and the silences that did.

Feeling is one of the ultimate tools of knowing. By causing your donors and volunteers to feel something, they WILL take action. Just be sure you have been clear about what action you want them to take. Is it to make a contribution? Then ask for one, with a specific amount that will make a difference. Do you want them to volunteer? Tell them where to sign up and give them a specific task to volunteer for.

Get people into action with short, clear, bold communication that inspires and causes them to feel your work.

“Feeling is the language of the soul.” – Neale Donald Walsch

About Lori:
With more than 20 years of public speaking, professional fundraising, coaching and training experience, Lori L. Jacobwith helps people identify, understand and overcome their challenges around fulfilling their fundraising goals. Lori has helped hundreds of organizations collectively raise more than $80 million from individuals…and counting.

Lori recently launched an annual membership at LoriJacobwith.com that provides development professionals with access to Lori’s coaching and training through web-based applications. In spring 2009 Lori’s tips booklet “Nine Tips for Successful Individual Donor Campaigns” will be published.

You can also follow Lori on Twitter.

Related Articles And Services:

* * * * * * *

>> Read more articles by

* * * * * * *

>> To easily receive updates, incl. new articles, fundraising ideas and more, subscribe here.

* * * * * * *


  1. Posted by Zukhra 20th April, 2009 at 4:58 am

    fundraising is difficult in this financial time! I like the article, sounds supporting

  2. Posted by Sarah 23rd July, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    This is an interesting take on the whole communicative process, and I think I see where Lori is going — that we should be aware of what we’re putting out to people no matter what medium we are using. It raises a whole host of really interesting questions, and I think our organizations could benefit greatly if we had these conversations more honestly.

    The trouble is that, well, words are kind of all we have. Lori even says this: they are the symbols, albeit imperfect, for larger things like emotions, and we describe those emotions with words (notice that we even translate the silences and pauses into word-based concepts like “embarrassment” and “fatigue.”) We use words to tell our stories and the stories of those we serve. The phone calls that made such an emotional impact were filled with words, and the method through which Lori communicated that impact so well was words — and, really, no other method could have been as effective.

    Perhaps the larger issue here is that we are so used to the mindless and careless use of language in our culture that we are in a way desensitized to their power when used effectively. We don’t take time to gain mastery of words or to really think about what we’re saying (often, not surprisingly, because we are acting out of unidentified emotional places), and then we get frustrated when our message doesn’t get across.

    But that really isn’t the fault of the words; they are not the thing that’s lacking, because they are simply tools. It’s like blaming the hammer for bending the nail: at some point, we have to recognize that we’re the ones holding the hammers. And we have two choices — we can use the tool poorly, or we can decide to learn how to use it extremely well. It takes time, patience and humility to choose the second option and to ask for help when we are struggling.

    I think Lori brings up some great food for thought, and I thank her for planting the seeds to get some good conversations going.

  3. Posted by 10 Mistakes Nonprofit Professionals Make 24th June, 2014 at 9:05 am

    […] Raising money with boring materials is not the best way to encourage donations. People give because they are touched, their emotions are engaged. […]



What do you think? Leave your comment here:

(All comments are moderated.)