I call them weenie words. Hedges. Qualifiers. And I don’t like them.
Now, I don’t think of myself as a bold person.
As a kid, I was an eager follower, not the leader. I do more listening than talking, content to let someone else lead the conversation.
I’m cautious. I don’t make fast decisions.
But one place I’ve learned to be bolder is when I’m writing.
Why? Because you undercut your own message. You make it weaker, less effective. And you risk a reader’s distrust.
You raise less money.
What do I mean by weenie words?
“Sometimes” “often” “usually”… anything that limits or qualifies your point. These words feel safer. You won’t upset anyone at the office. No one at your organization will be upset by them.
Enrico Fantozzio at Quantified Communications says:
One paper published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review found that hedging language marks the information as unreliable, meaning listeners aren’t willing to take it seriously or recount it later.”
Is it worth the risk?
But when someone insists you leave those words in, ask why.
Can you not make a genuine statement of need? If so, rethink your request.
Are you not sure you can stand behind what you’re saying? Find a different way to say it that you can feel secure about.
Is the story you’re telling less than true? (That’s not the same as factual. For instance, you can change details to protect privacy.) Find a story that works and is true.
Don’t let fear hold you back
Are you afraid to write boldly?
If worrying about hedging is slowing you down, just go ahead and write. These words are easy to spot. And easy to remove. You don’t have to let them stop you.
What if it’s out of your hands?
But if you’re not in control, you can mend the worst damage. I don’t like to argue. It makes me nervous. (See above.) But I will push back when a client adds too many qualifiers. Because I have a duty to that client: to give them the absolute best and most effective work I can.
You owe your organization (or client) the same. Your best work, your best advice, whether someone wants to hear it or not.
So begin with an explanation. Work through the reasons for using weenie words. And when that fails, find places you can be bold. Add more genuine emotion. A stronger story.
And here’s a useful piece of information: remember there are parts of an appeal that get more attention than others. There are dead zones where you can add language that must be included, even if it’s not important.
Also, begin an internal campaign… you can do it quietly if you’re persistent. Repeat: the fundraiser is in charge of fundraising. And if you are the fundraising copywriter, you should be trusted as the expert. You get the last say.
The other end of weenie
You can also make your words less powerful by fluffing them up with words like “very” and “extremely”. These words, like the others, are not always bad. But use them too often, and you suck the power from your writing.
Think about it. When everything is very good, nothing is.
And then there are whiny words
This is when your request for help is all about how hard you work. How much you need.
Instead of framing a request in terms of the value to a donor (you can send a kid to camp!), you just complain that you’re out of cash. Or there’s the “you owe us!” frame. Can work. But I’d guess there’s a big downside to that one.
Occasionally, an organization really is out of cash. It does happen. So explain why that matters. Not to insiders. But to the community, to donors. And remember that “fire-sales” stop working when they become your go-to technique.
Don’t stress. Be bold.
My friend Lisa Sargent urges us to
Say the bravest, truest thing you can say.”
As always, she’s right.