Stop Helping

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By Sara Veltkamp, Minerva Strategies —


I love a lot of things about the nonprofit sector. I love our humility, hunger for collaboration, and desire to make the world a better place.


But I hate how much we help.


Everywhere you turn – in brochures, websites, at events – you will see top-notch nonprofits are helping to make the world a better place. Like in the screen grab below from the website of a nonprofit making an incredible impact through land reform.


Help 2


Why can’t we just alleviate poverty, fight climate change, or make the world a better place, instead of helping to do these things? The qualifying language is unnecessary. It weakens the impact of the message and may also weaken people’s resolve to support our organizations.


Donors want to support organizations that are making an impact, not just helping to make an impact.


A sister verb to help – work – is also over-used in the same way. For example, we see language like this all the time: “We work to improve lives.” Why not just say we improve lives? Check out this screen grab from a company that supports social businesses and nonprofit organizations:


This extra language is a manifestation of the things I love about the nonprofit community. Nonprofits pride themselves on being collaborative organizations that seek buy-in from people at all levels. This promotes inclusion and ownership of new programs and ideas and emphasizes the value of each person’s opinion. But in the communication realm, these wonderfully collaborative processes often lead to bulky language. When many people collaborate on writing a mission statement, a collateral piece, or a messaging framework, the extra people often result in extra words.


One way to trim the fat is to create an editing process with clear points for input and decisions and clarify who the key decision-makers are. Another option is to get a skilled writer in your organization, or outside counsel – I know people who are good at this if you need a recommendation – to run the process for you. This will ensure your message is sharp and impactful.


Another reason nonprofits use help or work is humility. Many nonprofit professionals feel uncomfortable claiming to alleviate poverty, stop hunger, or improve lives. They waffle because they do not want to be perceived as overstating results or boasting that they do these things alone. But if your organization alleviates poverty for only one person, you are alleviating poverty. If your organization plays a critical role in a larger, multi-faceted partnership, you’re still alleviating poverty. The qualifying language of helping to do something only helps to muddle your messages.


Most nonprofit organizations can afford to be much more outspoken and decisive in their language choices. Why waffle around and help do something? Be bold and just do it.

About The Author

Sara Veltkamp

Sara Veltkamp

Vice President

Sara lives in New Orleans, Louisiana and is Minerva's vice president. She takes a lead role in all aspects of Minerva Strategies’ smart communication strategies and implementation. She loves a challenge and is obsessed with learning new things, from how to use new platforms and tools for storytelling to languages like Amharic, French, or Farsi to mastering a difficult yoga pose. She applies this energy and curiosity to all clients’ communication challenges. Learn more about Sara.