Paging Roget. Or Merriam Webster. I'm not picky.

Somebody bring me a thesaurus. Stat.

And maybe a device from Ghostbusters or MIB. I'm on the hunt for a phrase and what to replace it with instead.

The offending words? "Make a difference."

Could there be a more over-used, trite and vapid phrase in all of the nonprofit world? Really. I want some sleek sci-fi gadget that will obliterate it as a phrase forever from the English language.

I've only been here three weeks now, but I'm determined to never use the phrase "make a difference" in any of my writing. Grant proposals. Donor letters. Thank you's. They shall not be saddled with those three words.

One of my journalism profs in college cautioned against using that phrase. It's one of the things I remember most clearly from my writing classes with him. Avoid cliches, sure. Avoid that cliche like the plague.

So here's where I need Roget or Merriam Webster or maybe just my own thinking cap. It's so easy to start a sentence... "It's your support that will make a difference to the Starfish students..."

ACK. NO. Red pen. Strike through. Delete. Back space, back space, back space.

I'm constantly trying to find other ways to write that sentence, or ones similar to it. "Your support will impact," "your support will improve," "your support will provide." Personally, if I were the donor getting that letter, I'd rather see these more concrete words that give me a better, clearer picture of just what my money is going to do, instead of the nebulous and overused "make a difference."

But just how many synonyms/replacement phrases are there? Am I in danger of overusing "impact" or "improve" in my quest to stamp out "make a difference?" Maybe I'll notice how much I'm using those words, but I have to believe that getting rid of "make a difference" as a pitch in proposals will (argh) improve/bolster/shore up/impact the chances that my proposals will get noticed.


Rachel said...

Dave would be proud...

Dave Hunter said...

I've always found numbers and specifics to be a refuge from the cliche. They can be hard to find, but maybe if you found out the cost of some of your services, you could translate dollars--even meager amounts--into hours of services provided, or days of a certain program, something like that. Donors love to feel that they're doing the work through you, not just giving you money so you can do the work for them.

Other than that, the best way to get personal is a hand-written note at the bottom of the letter; our org's President does this with each one.

(BTW, I just found this blog through the Indiana VISTA blogroll, and I wanted to say hello! I'm a VISTA over at Partners In Housing Dev. Corp. and I'm in my second year.)

VISTA Service Ticker