What the $@#&?
The words we use in politics, sports, media and religion all are becoming harder and more offensive. But at the same time, the reading public seemingly is becoming more sensitive. A lot of us aren’t sure what to say anymore for fear of offending one group or another — liberal or conservative, black or white, male or female, gay or straight, Christian or Jew or Muslim.
Last year, some nonprofits had a problem with their Christmas — no, I’m sorry — their holiday mailings. Because the subject of “Christmas” vs. “holiday” was so prevalent in the news, nonprofit organizations received calls and letters from donors and prospects alike complaining.
The problem is that the complaints were coming from both sides of the issue. One organization I work with asked its donors to write patients a note of encouragement on an enclosed holiday card and return it with a gift. Many of those donors were upset that “holiday” cards were used instead of “Christmas” cards.
I experienced a similar problem with the opposite twist. Each year I wish everyone who receives my e-newsletter, Direct Marketing Tips, a “Merry Christmas.” One reader chastised me by asking how I knew whether or not she was a Christian. She said she wasn’t and that I needed to stop making assumptions about people. She insisted I should wish everyone “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
Some other land mines
“Nigger” is a word most of us find highly offensive; I don’t even like using it in this article. Yet one well-established organization has used it prominently in its fundraising letters. Why would any organization do that? Isn’t everyone going to trash that letter and question the sender’s sanity?
Not so fast. The organization, which asked that we not include its name in this article, is well known for its campaign against hate and intolerance in our society, and for its ongoing war on racism. It understands what a powerful response that word generates in most people. After opening the envelope and reading the letter, readers are going to get mad and want to do something to help fight hate. Aren’t passion and outrage the reactions all nonprofits hope to achieve? You want your readers to become so emotionally moved — sad, angry, excited — by your letter that they take action. You want donors to send a gift, sign a petition, volunteer, etc.