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Language tips

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Through our focus groups, we gathered insight on words and phrases that work with public audiences, and those that don’t.

Using this language will help reinforce a more appealing but still accurate impression of how charities work.

Do say

Don’t say

‘Professional expertise’

This makes the point that charities employ staff without having to mention money or salaries. It also helps to build a picture of charities as experts in what they do.

‘Paid staff’

This makes people think about their concerns about executive pay, immediately putting them in a negative place

‘Front-line staff’

This speaks to the impact charities have. Giving specifics such as ‘animal protection officers’, ‘doctors’, helps to cement this sense of impact.


This is not a familiar acronym to many people and also serves to compound the sense that charities are becoming too corporate.

‘Volunteer boards’, ‘a board of volunteers’, ‘the volunteers who run the charity’

People are reassured that even the biggest charities are run by volunteers



Many people were not familiar with the term and also had an instinctively negative impression of trustees as ‘rich people’.

‘Effective’, ‘efficient’, ‘prudent’, ‘careful’

These are words that people want to hear about charities, and which reassure them about the way charities operate.


This is a word which is frequently used by the public in relation to how charities need to operate, and should be reflected back at them.


‘Individual goodwill’

This speaks to the ‘because of you’ theme – the difference individuals make through charity.


This speaks to the impact that the partnership between charities and individuals makes.


‘Decency’, ‘moral’

Words like these are considered judgemental and immediately turn audiences off

‘Common humanity’, ‘altruism’

These are concepts few people relate to and which are felt to be an exaggeration of human nature.

‘Charity is in us all’

Phrases like this are felt to overplay the reality, and were reacted strongly against.




Page last edited Sep 11, 2017

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