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Crafting an Inspiring Tagline: What Not to Do

Resource Center - Foundation

(Sept. 22, 2008) Does your nonprofit’s name sound like several others? Do people always ask, “So what does your organization do?” Incorporating a tagline into your organization’s branding can clarify the unique mission of your organization and give people a reason to look deeper.

Recently, eWire released the winning taglines for 2008 compiled by Nancy Schwartz on her nonprofit marketing blog, Now she has released a report explaining how to write winning taglines—as well as how to avoid tagline duds. After all, as Schwartz writes, “A tagline is a terrible thing to waste.”

The Seven Deadly Sins: How Not to Write a Tagline

1. Don’t be generic. Be specific and as emotive as possible to highlight a connection between an individual and your organization. Warning: this is a very common error.

  • Weak: Building a Better New York —Organization providing legal services to other nonprofits
  • This tagline could represent a construction firm or the mayor’s office.
  • Powerful: Connecting Lawyers and Communities —From the same kind of nonprofit in another city.

Take a look at these other generic taglines that raise more questions than they answer:

  • We’re more than you think! —Women’s health care provider...What are the unexpected services, and why are they important?
  • There is a Difference! —Hospice organization...Articulate what that difference is.
  • Discover! —Camp...Discover what?

2. Don’t craft a tagline your organization can’t stand behind 100 percent. Your nonprofit has to be able to deliver what you promise. When you do so, your organization reaffirms its credibility. When you don’t, you lose any you may have:

  • Together we can save a life —Major relief organization that hasn’t been all it could be over the past decade...This just doesn’t ring true. It’s hard to believe that one could rely on this organization to do the job.
  • Eliminating racism, empowering women —Human services organization serving women...No single organization can eliminate racism.

3. Don’t veer off focus. This tagline draws attention to the organization’s location, a detail not central to the organization’s services or value:

  • Produced in Boston, Shared with the World —Public service media production (PBS and public radio)

4. Don’t use analogies that don’t hold water. You’ll only confuse your audiences:

  • Life is a Team Sport — Marrow donor organization
  • Find Your Edge — University...Edge is not what most students (or parents) are seeking.

5. Don’t plant uneasiness. Make sure you don’t introduce ambiguity into your tagline. Take a look at these:

  • Having Exactly What You Want —Therapeutic development training institute...This holds frightening implications for the dissolution of family and community.
  • Protecting, Strengthening and Promoting Nonprofits —State association of nonprofits...Why do nonprofits need protection? This is bound to make audiences wonder.

6. Don’t use poor word choices. They take audiences in the wrong direction.

  • Potential Made Possible —Agency serving children with special needs...Better: Potential Brought to Life

7. Don’t put two or more taglines to work. If you do, you’re doing everything you can to undermine your organization’s brand. As a result, your audiences won’t get to know or pass the word on your organization. Instead, they’ll be annoyed and confused.

The 2008 Nonprofit Tagline Report has several more tips and examples on crafting a winning tagline. Click here to download the document. Note: You must submit your email address for access, but an opt-out will be made available in any future email messages.

From The Nonprofit Tagline Report, How to Build Your Nonprofit Brand in Eight Words or Less. September 2008. Reprinted with permission.

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