Plain and Simple: 5 Plain Language Templates for Nonprofits

July 10, 2023
7 minutes
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The English language is a tricky minx. During a normal conversation, we explain that we’re getting “in a car” but “on a bus,” and we use 10 different words to mean “Great!” And that’s before we get into the baffling realm of legal and bureaucratic documents, which turn the simplest sentence into an amorphous blob of run-on phrases and jargon. As a result, we hear from so many nonprofiteers who Just. Want. Plain. Language. Templates. For the love of all that is good in this world!

Because your wish is our command, we’re serving up some plain-language realness today. From volunteer forms to photo release agreements, here are the words to up your accessibility, clarity, and humanity. But first, let’s do a quick review of why plain language is a must-have.

The benefits of plain language

Halt! I have doubts regarding the inherent necessity of employing plain language, for it may be contended that said practice leads to excessive simplification and a concomitant reduction of intellectual rigor in one's written discourse.

Oh, you don’t say? We hear you, Cordelia von Fancington, Esq., so let’s dispel those myths and extol the many benefits of plain language!

Gain clarity

This is the obvious one, but plain language is all about clear, precise communication. You remove the uncertainty and ensure comprehension, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Increase accessibility

If you want people from all backgrounds to understand what the heck you’re talking about, plain language is the way to go. And accessibility isn’t just for your donors and clients—it’s also for your staff members, who will appreciate your straightforwardness and feel slightly less terrified when signing (yet another) document.

Explain away

Plain language makes text easier to explain to people whose first language isn't English, who can’t read, or who have dyslexia or another reading/learning hurdle.

Translate text more easily

If you have a diverse client and/or supporter base, you’re probably intimately acquainted with Google Translate already. By using plain language, those translations will be that much more accurate.

Read faster

Concise communication is a time saver—for the writer and the reader. By presenting information in a straightforward way, readers spend less time squinting at the page and thumbing through their thesaurus (we love a paper thesaurus).

And to the point of brevity, reconsider the information you’re requesting from your volunteers on these forms. Yeah, you may want to house a volunteer’s address in your CRM, but do you really need it on the volunteer agreement?

Build trust

When you obfuscate the real meaning, everyone is like, “What are these tricky minxes hiding?” When you’re transparent and folks can be confident in your words, they’re like, “You are a trustworthy person. You have my sword—and my ax!”

Here’s an example

Still on the fence? Check out the difference between the two 100% real volunteer agreement forms below. The first is written in Legalese; the second in plain language. Which would you rather read and sign?

Wow. Like, good intentions, we're sure. But the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Here's one we'd be stoked to sign.

We’re all in on plain language.

Welcome to the super-accessible club! But first, one more thing: If you need help disentangling a legal document, there’s an AI tool for that. Check out BetterLegal for unambiguous translations of all your contracts and legal documents.

A final (plain language) disclaimer: We are not legal experts and these are just examples. None of these constitutes legal advice, and each of them needs to be customized to your organizational circumstances and needs. Cool? Cool.

Now, onto the plain-language templates.

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Use these 5 plain language templates for nonprofits
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5 plain language templates for nonprofits

Whether you copypaste the wording below or you use the Google docs we built for you, our last best tip is to keep these documents to as few pages as possible and make sure that the signature line is directly below the wording to keep your signers as safe as possible.

Plain language template for a photo/video release

Photo/Video Release Form for [Organization Name]

I, [Name], agree to let [Organization] use my:

☐ Name

☐ Photo

☐ Video

☐ Voice

☐ Statements

in marketing, communications, and educational materials related to [Organization]’s mission.

I understand that I won’t be compensated for the use of the selections above, and I do not need to review and approve the final product or any associated content. [Organization] is welcome to edit the materials as necessary as long as the final depiction is accurate. I understand that [Organization] won’t release my likeness to any other nonprofit or organization without my express permission.


[Name and date]

Plain language template for a volunteer agreement

Volunteer Service Agreement for [Organization Name]

Thank you for joining the [Organization] volunteer community! Please carefully review the policies below. If you agree, sign the bottom of the page, and we can get started.

I, [Name], agree to the following terms and conditions. Starting on [date], I will spend approximately [number] hours volunteering each [day/week/month]. I recognize that I will not be paid for any of my services and that I can end my relationship with [Organization] at any time.

As a volunteer for [Organization], I understand and agree to:

  1. Donate the following services to [Organization]:
  2. [List of agreed-upon tasks]
  3. Complete any training required to do the above tasks to the best of my abilities.
  4. Treat my fellow volunteers, staff members, clients, and other community members with respect and compassion.
  5. Follow all organizational rules and regulations, including maintaining client, volunteer, and staff confidentiality.
  6. Show up reliably at the agreed-upon time, committed to performing my agreed-upon duties.
  7. Assume responsibility for any risks to my self, such as injury, property damage, or other accidents.
  8. Communicate clearly and openly, asking for clarification when needed and keeping staff members informed.
  9. Let [Organization] use my photo and/or words for promotional purposes.


[Name and date]

Plain language template for board member commitments

Board Member Agreement

As a member of the Board of Directors for [Organization], I, [Name], agree to support [Organization]’s growth and further their mission to the best of my abilities.

I agree to the following responsibilities. I will:

  1. Attend [number] board meetings each year, as well as serve on [number] committee(s). If I’m unable to attend a meeting, I will do my best to call in. I will provide advance notice for any meetings I cannot attend.
  2. Actively participate in organizational decision-making, budget planning, policy-making, and any other areas that fall within the [Organization] BOD’s scope. Additionally, I agree to allow the [Organization] executives and team to lead initiatives that fall within their field of expertise and responsibility.
  3. Treat all of my fellow board members and [Organization]’s employees, volunteers, supporters, clients, and donors with respect and compassion, assuming the best intentions.
  4. Serve as an ambassador for [Organization] in our community, representing our mission, vision, and values while holding [Organization] accountable.
  5. Openly share any conflicts of interest and excuse myself from discussions and decisions if necessary.
  6. Stay up-to-date on developments at [Organization] and in the field. If I am unsure of something, I will ask for clarification.
  7. Actively participate in fundraising activities and events.
  8. Maintain confidentiality at all times.

If I don’t fulfill these responsibilities, I understand that I will need to meet with the Board Chair to discuss next steps. If we can’t come to an agreement, I will resign.


[Name and date]

Plain language template for board/volunteer payment policy

I, [Name], recognize that I am serving in a volunteer capacity as a [board member/volunteer/committee member] at [Organization]. As a volunteer, I will not be paid for my services and will not receive any benefits that employees receive.

In addition, I recognize that I will not be reimbursed for any expenses that I take on while volunteering.


I recognize that I can apply to be reimbursed for certain expenses as a [volunteer/board member]. These include [travel, administrative costs, protective equipment/clothing, meals, etc.]. To get reimbursed, I must submit a receipt within [amount] days of the expense.

Plain language template for non-disclosure agreement

As a [board member/volunteer/committee member] at [Organization], I agree to maintain the confidentiality of all clients, volunteers, supporters, and staff members. I will not share any confidential information about [Organization] to anyone, including friends or relatives, unless [Organization] authorizes it or I am legally required to do so.

I will always be respectful and careful when handling sensitive documentation and information. When I leave [Organization], I will return any confidential items related to my time here, and I will not use any confidential information, such as donor names or marketing materials, for my personal gain in the future.

And there you have it, in straightforward terms: plain language templates that are easy for everyone to understand.

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