These Overused Words Mean Nothing to Your Nonprofit Audience


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Healthcare nonprofits tend to use certain words in their marketing communications that they think are meaningful to audiences simply because they mean something to healthcare managers—words like innovative, cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary, individualized.

But these words are meaningless to lay audiences. Instead of delivering a punch, they pack emptiness.

Whenever I see words like these, I cringe. Yet I see them used over and over again.

Take the word innovation, for example. According to a 2012 Wall Street Journal article— “You Call that Innovation?”—the word has become so overused that it has lost its meaning. Think about it: have you ever come across an organization that doesn’t consider itself innovative?

The WSJ article goes on to say:

“A search of annual and quarterly reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows companies mentioned some form of the word “innovation” 33,528 times last year, which was a 64% increase from five years before that.”

So it’s not just nonprofits, but for-profit companies, that are the offenders. Most of the time, what organizations are describing as innovative is actually just new.

Even if your organization is truly doing something innovative, using that word to describe it won’t differentiate your organization from the competition, since everyone else is saying the same thing.

The same is true with cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, individualized, and other such buzzwords. I mean, isn’t all healthcare individualized?

Perhaps the bigger case against using these buzzwords is that, even if they weren’t overused, they don’t resonate with a lay audience.

I admit I have sometimes been guilty of using these words against my better judgement when writing for clients. Believe it or not, there is enormous pressure to use these types of buzzwords, because senior leaders are impressed by them.

Add “innovative” to a headline, and your story’s good as gold for some clients. I was once specifically told by an interviewee to make sure I use the words “innovative” and “cutting-edge” in the story,  because “those are good words to use.” Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to understand the target audience.

Non-profit communicators, if we all band together and agree to no longer use cliches like these, maybe our stories will be better, more meaningful, and engaging to the people we are trying to reach.

I, for one, vow to try. Are you with me?


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