Your tone of voice is a crucial thing to nail when you’re making a content strategy. It’s one of the two major components of how your audience will understand your organization (the other is your visual identity and design: Jesse’s got a great post about one of the ways he gathers ideas for his designs here). With a consistent tone of voice, you can make sure that every piece of your written content communicates not only the particular thing you’re writing about, but deeper things about who you are and why you do what you do.

Ultimately, this is going to drive donations. People don’t give to causes, people or organizations that they don’t understand. If they feel like they know you, your audience will feel a connection with you.

That means that when you ask them to become part of your work by donating to it, they’ll already be there. It won’t be a request that’s being made by a stranger, it’ll be a suggestion being made by a friend. A trusted voice. And people will give.

How can you create an effective tone of voice? Here’s a few of the things I make sure of when I’m trying to nail a tone of voice.

 1. Honest content gets more donations.

I really can’t stress this enough. People trust you when they sense you’re sincere. If you’re not sincere, no amount of editing will make you sound as good as you would if you were just speaking openly about the things you care about.

There’s a huge temptation, when you’re writing content for a non-profit, to puff yourself up, using weasel words to kinda-sorta make claims that you’re bigger and more effective than you actually are. It feels good. It feels like you’re succeeding.

Newsflash: if your organization’s work isn’t succeeding, communications isn’t the place to fix it. That’s a problem for program management and executive leadership. Deal with it there; don’t sacrifice your credibility just to feel a bit better. Tell whatever good truth you’ve got to tell. People will trust you.

2. Work out how your audience talks.

Your audience is already out there. They already care about what you care about. They just don’t know that you care about it too. (For more on this, you can download Know Your Audience here).

That means you probably already have a good sense of how they talk. If you don’t, seek out content that’s created by good examples of your audience – you, your friends on Facebook, Twitter-feeds of people who tweet about your issue, Tumblr, blogs, Reddit, wherever – and see how they talk. Things to look at: what kind of vocabulary they use, what topics they talk about, and how they express things they feel strongly about.

NB: unless your brand will work with a blog full of rofls and cat-pictures, you’re going to want to use this as just one of several data-points that you use to work out what your tone should be. But behind the slang lies an image of how people understand and respond to big issues in their world. That’s gold for you. Go looking for it.

3. Work out the simplest possible explanation of what your non-profit does.

When you’re trying to attract a new audience, you need to grab their attention as quickly as possible. They already care about what you do, but if you don’t show them what you do quickly, they won’t stay long enough to find that out.

Spend some time digging into your motivations and aims as an organization. Work out how to say them briefly, in a way which fits your audience.

How? Write out what you do, who you do it for, and why you do it, then see if there are any simpler words for any part of what you’ve written. See if you can combine things, remove clauses in the sentence.

Try and work out what the principle is behind it all, then say that as simply as possible. Avoid commas. Get it down to subject-verb-object if you can. See if it still expresses what you want it to express. If it doesn’t, draft it again. Do it till it’s right.

The kicker here is that you might not ultimately use this phrasing – perhaps your audience has a big vocabulary and likes using it, or perhaps your core appeal is about nuance and complexity (though that is the Superbowl of copywriting and it’s very difficult to do whilst still growing your audience). But whatever you end up publishing, you’ll get there a whole lot quicker if you have a simple, refined statement of your aims and motivations to work from.

4. Use web analytics to refine the impact of your content.

Analytics is huge in tracking the impact of your content. Keep an eye on visits to your content, and see how your content is succeeding by seeing how often it’s accessed and tracking how often it’s shared. How long do people stay on its page? How are people finding it?

See how it does, then try to work out how it could have appealed more to your audience. Work that knowledge into the next thing you make. Keep refining.

5. Create and publish more content.

Nailing the tone of your content is a long-term commitment. Refining your voice will go on for as long as you’re publishing. So get started. Don’t wait till you have a perfect definition of your tone. Write, publish, refine, repeat.

Feck perfunction, as James Victore says so wonderfully. And go reach your audience.

Couldn’t agree more.