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Find Your Voice! How to Write Great Online Content for Your Nonprofit

Developing Brand Voice & Tone

It can be difficult to get your nonprofit’s brand voice right online, but studies show that it has a significant impact on people’s perceptions of your organization. Simply put, getting your brand voice and tone right for digital content is essential to keeping audiences engaged with your ideas. It starts with having a clear, distinctive voice for your nonprofit that reflects your brand’s personality, and then adjusting your tone to use depending on the channel you are using (website, newsletter, Twitter, etc) and what you’re trying to accomplish (educate, inspire, call-to-action, etc). If you’re developing branded digital content for your nonprofit, here are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Use the active voice—it helps your writing seem less stuffy, cuts down on the length of content, and strengthens search engine optimization.
  • Avoid jargon! Just because a term is common in your organization, doesn’t mean it is well known outside of it. If you want to connect with your audience, use their language.
  • Have people in your organization or your agency’s team with different backgrounds give you feedback! A second pair of eyes is invaluable in refining and word-smithing content.

Creating Editorial Structure

It’s hard to under-state how important it is to use a hierarchical system for structuring your content. Content structuring also extends into how you unveil the information you’re conveying in your content (i.e. editorial structuring). The approach that fits best with how audiences read on the web is called the “inverted pyramid” style. In short, using the inverted pyramid-style means that you’ll present the most important information at the beginning and work your way down to the details.

  • Stating the main idea of the passage not only helps readers decide whether to engage further with the writing, it also ensures that if they do not read further, they will at least remember the central idea of the passage.
  • This style of writing can also help you structure your content effectively by breaking into smaller portions.
  • Front-loading your content with keywords not only helps your readers understand the central point of your writing, it also has SEO benefits since search engines rank articles with keywords at the beginning of the article higher.


The inverted pyramid of writing shows the most newsworthy information at the top, followed by important details, and at the bottom other general background information.

The inverted pyramid illustrated. From Wikipedia

Improving Content Readability

The” readability” metric refers to the complexity of sentences in individual word choices and sentence structure. Basically, it determines how easy it is to understand your text. While the level of complexity you need to use varies greatly depending on the audience you’re trying to reach, almost all writing can benefit from simplicity and directness.

  • Aim for middle school level (7th/8th grade in the USA), if you are trying to reach a broad audience.
  • Use Word’s grammar proofing function or Hemingway editor to analyze readability. Seeing the complexity of your writing is an illuminating experience that will help you understand patterns in your writing and be more conscientious about its complexity in the future.
  • Keep in mind that writing clearly and intelligibly is your primary goal. Readability tools can only analyze your text, they can’t tell you why your content may be hard to understand. For more information, consider performing a Cloze test on your copy with real users to determine how well readers can comprehend your text.


A screenshot of the Hemingway Editor showing readability.

An example of a piece of text analyzed with Hemingway Editor. Complexity is conveyed through the red or yellow highlight, while suggestions specific words and phrases are given in blue, purple, and green. Example via ShoutMeLoud

Writing with Emphasis

Emphasis is essential to helping your reader understand the relative importance of information within your text, and helps reinforce and build upon the voice and tone established in your writing. Breaking up long passages of text with emphasized words or phrases also supports important points and increases the legibility and readability of your text.

  • Let your defined text styles do the work for you. If you have a style guide set up for your headings, styles for emphasis, etc., stick to it.
  • Don’t try to emphasize specific text too much, use italics and bolding sparingly—if your copy is well-structured with short paragraphs and well-defined sections, you won’t need it. As a rule, less than 10% of your text should be emphasized.
  • It may be tempting to mix emphasis styles (for example, combining bold and italic on one piece of text to show that it’s really really important), but generally this is a bad idea. Combining styles interrupts the reader and looks awkward, which can undermine the credibility of your content. If your readers misunderstand your intent or can’t find important information in your text, it means you have a content structuring problem. If you’re unsure, try getting feedback from your users to find the problems with your content.
  • Avoid using ALL CAPS in your body text. All-cap text is much harder to read than mixed or lowercase text. Additionally, many readers interpret all-cap text as the equivalent of yelling and it can be perceived as overbearing or rude, which is the wrong kind of emphasis you want on your writing! Note that all caps text is different than small caps text, which can be used quite effectively for emphasis, often as a heading style (your design team will figure out if this style is appropriate for your project).

Example of text showing emphasis using only italicization, not bold and italicized

This example from Smashing Magazine shows the correct way to emphasize text. Note that italicized text is best for emphasis when the reader is actively reading a passage, while using bold text brings attention to individual words while the reader is scanning a longer section of text for keywords.

Tying it All Together

Effective writing for the web involves more than just stylistic finesse and is an important part of developing a strong nonprofit’s brand. Choosing the appropriate voice, tone and structure, ensuring your text isn’t too complex for your audience to understand, and emphasizing the right content all go a long way towards ensuring your ideas make an impact on your online audience—and advance your nonprofit’s mission.

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