WAARYNPM: Why acronyms are ruining your nonprofit marketing

Many nonprofits are made up of a series of letters made to spell a word or are a series of letters said as a word. These are very popular in the nonprofit world. i am not sure why or how this trend got started but it needs to stop and here’s why.

  1. An acronym places the burden on the reader to decode and understand. At a time when instant communication is more important than ever, being easy to understand is key to gaining new engagement.

  2. An acronym hides your organization’s magic. Reducing your mission and purpose to a series of letters lessens the impact of both. You lose the words that make your organization unique in the marketplace.

  3. Acronyms are hard to say. The most common way we share our brand is verbally. An acronym asks the listener to remember a series of letters and what each stands for in their head. This barrier makes it hard for people to connect with and remember us, and lessens the impact of word-of-mouth marketing.

  4. There’s no action word. Acronyms are static series of letters that create little energy or denote passion or action.

  5. You continually have to translate. There’s a burden to the reader or listener, and there’s a burden to the speaker or writer. Having to constantly spell out the acronym is frustrating for the nonprofit staff.

  6. You make funders cry. Those people who read your grant proposal have to keep an alphabet soup of acronyms in their heads. Stop with the shorthand and spell it out. In a competitive grant making situation, you don’t want any barriers to understanding.

  7. Your shorthand is alienating. If your purpose is to engage new donors, speaking in a code new folks don’t understand only cause alienation.

Ok so if you are with a nonprofit that has an acronym, what do you do?

  1. Keep the full name and use a shortened version that is not an acronym. Many years ago when I first started working with Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition, I was facilitating a board meeting and many in the staff said they work for “FACC.” So, no. All the words that made them wonderful…foster, adopt, care…were boiled down to some boring letters. Instead of FACC, we shorten to The Coalition.

  2. Drop the acronym and just use the word it spells. Forai was an acronym and instead of the translation, Forai became its own word. The same with Oasis Institute. It was an acronym, then was dropped to all caps word then capitalized word. I can’t remember what each acronym was now and won’t say them here, but you can check out their websites to see how they adjusted.

  3. Drop some words and shorten the name. Justine Petersen did this years ago when they were Justine Petersen Housing and Reinvestment Something Something I can’t remember. It would up being JCHRC or something like that. Now, the name is Justine Petersen and even if you don’t understand what or who that is, it is more compelling and easy to remember than a series of letters.

  4. Just say it. You aren’t saving much money or time with an abbreviation. Say what you are. Every time. Take the time to say all of who you are and let that ride. You don’t even have to abbreviate it in writing. You are not saving time and money if you create confusion in your listeners or readers.

The other day I was at Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition naming a new program. We worked through my system and came up with Families United. A staff member said, “What if we abbreviate it? It’s FU.” Then don’t abbreviate it! Ever! I know in social work world, there are a lot of acronyms. That’s ok…for them. In marketing, clarity is the goal. You can’t increase your influence by confusing or boring your audiences.

I am here to help you with your name, tagline or any part of your marketing! Book a time let’s talk.

Maryanne Dersch