Alan Hyams, Copy Director  ●  6/23/2020

In Praise of the Colloquial


Colloquium, the Latin word for conversation, gives us the English word “colloquial,” which are those words or expressions used in everyday, conversational language.

My goal today is to give a thumbs-up to, sing the praises of, and green-light using a more colloquial style in many of your direct marketing communications.

Using the words everyday people use can be especially valuable when talking to your donors. The jargon your organization employs may well be accurate, but when you communicate with donors, you’re generally speaking to regular folks who are looking for a clear understanding of what their gifts can accomplish. 


Consider, for example, which of these terms would be better understood by your supporters and prospects, and which would make them more likely to make a gift to your organization:

  • “Someone experiencing food insecurity” vs. “He came to us, his stomach growling from lack of food.”
  • “Underserved communities” vs. “Families who struggle to make ends meet.”
  • “Youth programs” vs. “Putting a smile on the face of a child.”

In meetings, emails, and face-to-face conversations with your colleagues, you may well use terms like “food insecurity.” But your donor, even if she is familiar with such a term, is much less likely to use phrases like that in her everyday conversations. And she’s probably less inclined to be emotionally moved by such a clinical term.

By using the words your donor uses, you:

  • Create a better opportunity for rapport.
  • Help your donor visualize what she can accomplish through her gifts.
  • Make your communications easier and faster to read — and more likely to be read.
  • Improve your chances of receiving a gift!


Colloquialisms are especially effective when telling the stories of the people your organization helps. Where possible, use direct quotes and testimonials. Let people speak for themselves, and don’t shy away from statements like: “We were at the end of our rope” … “It was nothing less than a miracle” … “This help couldn’t have come at a better time” … “We were so grateful for a second chance” …

This is not to say you should never edit or revise quotes, either for grammar or clarity. While colloquial writing is more informal, it doesn’t mean throwing out the rules of grammar. Still, as direct marketing communicators, we already make conscious decisions about weighing grammatical perfection against effective communication.

Sentence fragments, for example. Writing one may have earned you some red ink on a school paper. But in communicating to your donor, it may be perfectly appropriate in the context of improving readability, emphasizing an important point, or conveying a sense of how people actually speak.

So the next time you’re putting something in the mail, getting out an email, or otherwise spreading the word about what your organization does and why your donor should help, make your appeal more compelling by using the words people actually use.

You, too, will praise the colloquial.



Editor's Note: By the way, brownie points to all readers who can identify the colloquialisms used in this post. Sentence fragments too!  😊


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