Are your words offending supporters?

I just heard a nonprofit CEO totally undercut his organization’s brand. That’s right, the CEO.

Worse, it was on mainstream media, so thousands of others heard it, too.

He leads a treatment center for people struggling with a substance use disorder and had the valuable opportunity to discuss his organization’s services on a popular radio program. Here’s what caught my attention:

“We see various addictions, but the primary drug of choice is opiates.”

You see the problem, right?

“Drug of choice.”

I don’t know this organization more than a glimpse at the website, but I do know substance use treatment facilities do not consider addiction to be a choice, even if the top-guy uses the phrase. I can guarantee “Drug of choice” is not part of their lexicon.

The words you use are important. What was eyebrow-raising to me could have been downright offensive to a staff member or donor.

So, what can you do to avoid this type of PR gaffe?

Be prepared. A do and don’t lexicon is an important part of your communications strategy.

Do you use she/he or they as a singular pronoun? Homeless person or someone experiencing homelessness? Client or patient?…

Be deliberate in how you communicate and make sure anyone advocating for the organization is using consistent messaging.

The best way to get everyone onto the same page and to make sure the messaging is strategic and authentic to begin with is to evaluate it as a group every six months or annually.

You can do this as a fun workshop. Bring in staff and board leaders and have them role play speaking about the organization in various situations. When someone struggles with what to say, it triggers a fruitful discussion right there.

Bonus: the discussion will keep your brand strategy fresh as you’re never more than a few months away from talking about “Who are we and who do we want to be.”

At a minimum, create a simple list of Approved and Prohibited terminology relevant to your industry and train your staff on its importance.

Be deliberate (it’s worth repeating).

Russom-headshot-SmallFileWanna chat about what this means for your organization specifically? So do I!

Book a time when it’s convenient for you and I’ll give you a call (of course it’s free). Or, just send me an email

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