What Twitter Taught Me About Writing

[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.Delete Button

Twitter has forced me to learn something valuable. Its 140 character per post rule has shown me that, more often that not, I’m using more words than I need to.

When Twitter isn’t monitoring what I type, sometimes I don’t even know I’m using too many words. And I’ve never been the verbose type. Those who have met me know that I won’t talk your ear off without some coaxing (or without some wine). I always struggled to meet minimum page number requirements in school. Yet, even I say much more than I need to.

Take, for example, this article I shared the other day via social media. I started by quoting the article and adding my own thoughts:

Nonprofits win awards for clear communications. Why? “If there’s any (common) thread, it’s they keep in mind the needs of the reader.”

Twitter wouldn’t let me say all that and include a link to the article and a shout out to the person shared the article with me. After some deliberation, I ended up with:

Nonprofit clear communication winners “…keep in mind the needs of the reader.”

So simple. So clear. Yet, it still conveys the same information. Remember, the clearer your message is, the more people will read and understand it.

Writing concisely is not easy. In fact, it’s very difficult for most people. As Mark Twain famously said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

The good news is, concise writing is a habit that can be learned. A good place to start is with your organization’s mission statement. Challenge yourself to say the same thing with 3 less words. Depending on your organization, you may be able to get to 5, 10, or even 15 less words! Also, look critically at the next thing you write for your organization. It could be anything – even an email. See how short you can make your message while still keeping the original meaning. You’ll notice you often eliminate the same filler words or sentences over and over. “I just wanted to let you know…” is a common culprit. Pretty soon, you won’t even try to type those extra words.

No matter how good you get, you’ll always need to stay conscious of the words you’re using. They’re what connects you to your audience. Make the most of them.

Check it Out: How to Make Your Writing Error-Free

[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.

Editing (improving your initial writing) and proofreading (final reviewing before publishing) require much more than finding grammar or spelling mistakes. You have to remember to pay attention to flow, keep a consistent voice, eliminate jargon, etc. It’s a lot to keep track of. Even the experienced writer can forget to check for everything when reviewing their (or others’) work.

Recently, I stumbled across some articles that offered such a simple solution that I was surprised I hadn’t though of it sooner…. The ever-handy checklist!

Check Mark

HubSpot and Quick and Dirty Tips put together these amazing checklists (one even printable) to have by your side while editing and proofreading:

Your Essential Proofreading Checklist: 10 Things You Can’t Forget

Grammar Girl’s Editing Checklist

Bookmark them and/ or print them. Now. You’ll thank me. Happy revising!

Get Out of Your Own Head

[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.]

Get Out of HeadI’m often guilty of this: Because I like spicy food, cats and Dostoyevsky so much, when someone tells me they don’t like these things, it doesn’t make sense to me. I think things like, “How can anyone think that bland food tastes better??” and, “But look how cute its little face is!”

I have to consciously step back and realize that my reality is not the reality of others. We all have different personalities, experiences, and cultures that have shaped who we are and how we respond to things. I have to remember that long Russian novels are not for everyone.

Every marketer must keep this in mind when they’re crafting their messages and finding their mediums. I check Twitter when I wake up in the morning, I read articles that my friends share on Facebook. I’m attracted to satire and corny humor. For my nonprofit, I could create a marketing plan that exclusively uses Facebook, Twitter and blog posts with a satirical tone. And there’s a good chance that would get me absolutely nowhere. I’ve seen firsthand very clever marketing ideas shut down because the person with decision-making power thought it wouldn’t work. What she really was saying was, “This wouldn’t work on me.”

You have to get out of your own head and into your audience’s head. Figure out: Does my audience even use Twitter? What are their daily routines? Would they respond better to a casual tone, or a professional one? The easiest way to do this is to create a persona – a fictional person that embodies the audience you want to reach.

Get to know this “persona” – know as much as you can about them. You can do this through research, surveys, or just plain talking to people. (This post walks you through building a persona step-by-step.) Find out what they enjoy, what they value, and what drives them. And then speak to their wants, needs, motivations, etc.

No matter what messaging you use, you won’t appeal to everyone.  So you might as well appeal to those that matter most to your cause.

8 Quick, Easy Tips to Boost Engagement

8 Quick Tips

Crafting messaging for your nonprofit can be hard work. How do you get someone to hear your message, let alone remember it?

No one-size-fits-all formula for engaging writing exists– especially since each of us have a different audience. However, these 8 easy-to-follow tips will likely increase your listeners’ engagement, no matter who your audience.

  1. Use Active Voice
    A few months ago, I wrote a post about how to convey confidence through writing. Confidence gives the impression that you really know your stuff, and that’s important. The number one way to convey confidence is to write with an active voice. This means reducing your number of “to be” verbs such as “are”, “is”, “was” and “will be”. “We are preserving the environment” and “Our building is a safe space for homeless youth” improve with just a few minor adjustments: “We preserve the environment” and “Our building offers homeless youth a safe space.”
  2. Involve Your Listener
    We all want to feel like we’re a part of something. See my post on You and Your for advice on how to bring your listener into your story.
  3. Tell a Story
    Speaking of your story, make sure you’re telling one! You may think the facts will speak for themselves, but without a story to frame them in, people will forget them or overlook them all together. It’s in our nature as humans to enjoy and respond to stories. So, pick a good one and get writing. And promise to tell true stories, because people can see through a lie or embellishment.
  4. Be Clear
    Don’t use sentences that last for nearly a paragraph. Don’t use fancy, long words that people have to stop and think about what they mean. And don’t use jargon that only people within your organization will understand. Your listener will appreciate it.
  5. Choose Better Words
    We’ve have a whole series on word choice called #WordsThatWow. Check it out!
  6. Keep it Short
    There’s nothing worse than a three-page letter from a nonprofit, a webpage that requires an extraordinary amount of scrolling to get to the bottom, or a person that talks for five minutes straight when asked about their organization. Know your key information, and figure out the easiest way to say it.
  7. Leave Room for Inquiry
    You want people to engage with you. If you spew out pages upon pages of everything anyone could possibly want to know about your organization, you close to door to inquiry. Say enough to get people interested. Interested enough to ask more questions.
  8. Be Yourself 
    No one wants to feel like they’re talking with a robot. Let your personality and the personality of your organization shine. People relate to other people, not distant-sounding, colorless words.

We & Our – Use with Caution [#WordsThatWow]

nonprofit, nonprofit marketing, fundraising, language, best practices

[This is the latest post in our #WordsThatWow series.]

We. It seems like such a nice word, doesn’t it? Like a big hug. Only it’s a word. A word-hug, as it were. Ditto for ‘our’. 

“We are creating opportunities for girls across our state.”

‘We’ implies we’re all in this together. Working hard to make our state a better place. That’s a good thing,  isn’t it? Yes, it is, but here’s the thing: often ‘we’ aren’t all in this together.

“We’re putting an end to human trafficking.”

“We make sure every kid can become a great reader.”

“We feed our neighbors.”

When you read those sentences, to whom is the ‘we’ referring? That’s right, the organization. And this where ‘we’ goes awry. It’s not about you and your organization. It’s about the people you serve and the people who make it possible.

Often, when using the word “we”, nonprofits actually alienate the very people they want to include. We, us, our and ours (a.k.a. first person plural pronouns) quickly become an exclusive group, with the organization on the inside and donors, volunteers, supporters looking in. (Hence the cliché “us versus them”.)

The good news is: It doesn’t have to be this way. You can use these first person pronouns as a tool to include everyone who plays a part in helping your organization meet its mission.

Check out the phrases Tessa, our word-erific intern, used in a recent thank you letter:

 “We appreciate your commitment to a sustainable future. Together, we will create a world free of environmental injustice.”

Did you catch which “we” was referring to the organization’s staff, and which was including the donor? It’s the same word, but the distinction is in the context.

This is why we, us, our and ours can certainly be used, but should be used with caution. Sometimes, they can be powerful tools to make others feel involved in your cause. But other times, they can make people feel separate from your cause. Pay attention to your context.

We appreciate you reading our blog post. By learning more about language, we can better achieve our missions. (Get it?!)

Marketing education & the environment

education, environment, marketing, mission
Education & environment may be different. How to market them is the same.

This week, I’ll give two presentations on how to market your mission–one at the Pacific NW Association of Independent Schools (PNAIS) Institutional Advancement Conference and one for the annual meeting of EarthShare Washington.

You’d think that your approach to marketing these two vastly different offerings–education and environment–would be vastly different.

It isn’t.

This is an important reminder–no matter what mission you’re marketing, you ask the same three questions to get you to a solid Marketing Action Plan (MAP).

  1. WHAT does success look like for our marketing?
  2. WHO do we need to reach to be successful?
  3. HOW can we most effectively reach the people who matter most to our success?

Can this get complicated? Well, sure. That’s why I created the 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree. And why I created this short video to explain the approach. You too can become a lean, mean, mission-motivated marketing machine!

Marketing Main Street

Yesterday, I joined 13 of Washington state’s Main Street Managers in Mt. Vernon. Our task was to figure out how each could engage their communities in the unique awesomeness their downtowns offer.

At most trainings I do, each organization has a different Belief Proposition. In this case, they shared a common one–a belief that downtown revitalization leads to lasting, positive economic impact.

That’s what made it so interesting when we started working on messaging. It was tempting to think that since they believed the same thing, they could talk about that belief in the same way and have it be compelling in all communities. Not so!

Since each downtown was so unique, their messaging had to be as well. Here’s a smattering of the Lean-In Lines (otherwise known as Elevator Pitches or a response to the question “What does your organization do?”) the participants created (or at least a close proximity based on my recollection):

We’re leading the charge to make downtown THE place to be!

We’re helping our community rediscover downtown.

We energize small business and celebrate our small town charm.

We bring Meeker Days and so much more right to the downtown core. (Note that this also rhymes which makes it fun to say and easy to remember.)

All are about downtown yet not about any ol’ downtown–THEIR downtown. The lesson: frame your messaging in a way that highlights what’s unique about your organization and what’s most compelling to those you need to engage in your mission.

This group of dedicated, fearless Main Street mavericks made me pine for a Main Street in my (not-so-small) town that was as amazing as theirs. To find a Main Street community near you, check out the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation’s handy listing of Main Streets around the state.

 

 

5 Steps to a Funective* Brand

Here are a few brand questions to ponder:

  1. Should we have a live receptionist or an automated phone system?
  2. Should we have offices with doors or open cubicles?
  3. What type of coffee should we have for staff and guests?
  4. Should we offer incentives for taking the bus or biking to work?
  5. Which paper should we use for our letterhead and business cards?

Sure, these are questions about administration (a), office space (b), purchasing (c, e) and HR (d). Your answers to these questions reveal much about your organization, however, and should directly–and consistently–reflect your brand.

Here’s that I mean: if you’re an organization working on childhood literacy and value being approachable, friendly and transparent, you’d have a live receptionist and an open, kid-friendly floor plan. If, on the other hand, you’re a domestic violence shelter, trust and discretion would be closely-held values and you might opt for an easy-to-use phone tree with confidential voicemail and offices with doors.

And this is why brand matters. Because a clearly defined brand makes it easy to make decisions—work for, donate to, volunteer for, advocate on behalf of, stay involved in, buy from…tune out. It’s hard to tune out an organization when  their words, visuals and actions consistently and compellingly say, “This is what we believe. This is what we stand for. Join us if you stand for this, too!”

By following the 5 Steps to a Funective Brand (fun+effective=funective…in case you were wondering), you can create an irresistible and enduring brand. Put another way, you will make it easy for people who care about your cause to find you and engage with you. And who doesn’t want that?!

This is a brand new tool so feedback is welcome! Was the process funective for you? How can we make it better?

 

 


Lady Gaga on Nonprofit Marketing

Whether she knew it or not, Lady Gaga offered some great advice to non profit marketers in a recent interview when she said, “There is magic in reality.”

Here’s how this relates to you: the reality of the person doing the marketing (that’s you, if you’re reading this) is different than the reality of the person to whom you are marketing. If you want to be able to engage people who care about your cause, you’ve got to figure out what the magic of their reality is. As forward and uncomfortable as it may sound, you’ve got to get in their heads.  

If you are the one in charge of marketing your non profit, you–by definition–lack perspective. (No offense. It’s just how it is.) You’re thinking about, reflecting upon and proactively doing something about getting people’s attention. The person on the receiving end is wondering if they should have a second butterhorn for breakfast. They’re in a different head space. Your job is to get into their  head space.

Here are two resources for helping you get into the heads–and hearts–of people who want to help you advance your mission:

Have you made personas for your organization? Any other ideas for how to get in the heads of people who care about your cause?

How Social Media Can Help You Do 5 Things You’re Already Doing

Group of Hands Holding Speech Bubble with Social Issue ConceptsJohn Janstch of Duct Tape Marketing constantly offers great advice that is as relevant to nonprofits as it is to the small businesses he works with every day. A few months ago, the Claxon crew got to see him in person in Seattle. Fantastic!

This post is modified from a recent post of his called “5 Ways to Use Social Media for Things You Are Already Doing.” What person working in a nonprofit doesn’t like the sound of that?!

Thinking that sounded pretty great, I took his key points and made them specific to nonprofits. (My changes are in [brackets].) The terminology may be different, but the advice is the same. And it’s good!

1) Follow up with [prospective donors]

I love using social media tools as a way to follow-up with [prospective donors] you might meet out there in the real world. So you go to an [AFP or NDOA] event and meet someone that has asked you to follow-up. Traditionally, you might send an email a week later or call them up and leave a voice mail. What if instead you found them on LinkedIn, asked to be connected and then shared an information rich article that contained tips about the very thing you chatted about at the [AFP/NDOA] mixer. Do you think that next meeting might get started a little quicker towards your [mission]? I sure do.

2) Stay top of mind with [donors]

Once someone becomes a [donor], it’s easy to ignore them, assuming they will [donate] next time they [want to] or, worse yet, assuming they understand the full depth and breadth of your offerings and will chime in when they have other needs. Staying in front of your [donors] and continuing to educate and [move them up the ladder] is a key ingredient to building marketing momentum and few [nonprofits] do it well. [Because it’s really hard to do everything well with so few resources!]

This is an area where a host of social media tools can excel. A blog is a great place to put out a steady stream of useful information and success stories. Encouraging your [donors] to subscribe and comment can lead to further engagement. Recording video stories from [donors] and uploading them to YouTube to embed on your site can create great marketing content and remind your [donors] why they [donate to] you. Facebook Fan pages can be used as a way to implement a [supporter] community and offer education and networking opportunities online. [For a great example of this, check out The Pride Foundation.]

3) Keep up on your industry

Keeping up with what’s happening in any industry is a task that is essential these days. With unparalleled access to information many [donors] can learn as much or more about the products and solutions offered by a [nonprofit] as those charged with suggesting those products and solutions. You better keep up or you risk becoming irrelevant. Of course I could extend this to keeping up with what your [supporters], competitors, and key industry journalists are doing as well.

Here again, new monitoring services and tools steeped in social media and real time reporting make this an easier task. Subscribing to blogs written by industry leaders, competitors and journalists and viewing new content by way of a tool such as Google Reader allows you to scan the day’s content in one place. Setting up Google Alerts and custom Twitter Searches or checking out paid monitoring services such as Radian6 or Trackur allows you to receive daily email reports on the important mentions of industry terms and people so you are up to the minute in the know. (Of course, once you do this you can teach your [donors] how to [learn more about the mission you both care about] and make yourself even more valuable to them – no matter what [your mission may be].)

4) Provide a better [donor] experience

It’s probably impossible to [do too much donor recognition], too [provide too] much of a great experience, but you can go nuts trying.

Using the new breed of online tools you can plug some of the gaps you might have in [cultivating donors] and, combined with your offline touches, create an experience that no [other organization] can match.

While some might not lump this tool into social media, I certainly think any tool that allows you to collaborate with and serve your [donors] qualifies. Using an online project management tool such as Central Desktop allows you to create an entire [donor] education, orientation, and handbook kind of training experience one time and then roll it out to each new [donor] in a high tech [donor] portal kind of way. This approach can easily set you apart from anyone else in your industry and provide the kind of experience that gets [donors engaged].

5) Network with potential partners

Building a strong network of strategic marketing partners (i.e. another organization that cares about the same cause as you and offers complementary services) is probably the best defense against any kind of economic downturn. One of the surest ways to attract potential partners is to build relationships through networking. Of course you know that, but you might not be viewing this kind of networking as a social media function.

If you identify a potential strategic partner, find out if they have a blog and start reading and commenting. Few things will get you noticed faster than smart, genuine blog comments. Once you establish this relationship it might make sense to offer a guest blog post. If your use a CRM tool (and you should) you’ve probably noticed that most are moving to add social media information to contact records, add your potential partners’ social media information and you will learn what’s important to them pretty quickly.

If you know how to set up a blog already, offer to create a blog of network partners so each of you can write about your area of expertise and create some great local SEO for the group.

Maybe you’re not doing all of these things, but you’re probably doing at least a one or two.

Take John’s advice and you’ll definitely engage your donors more effectively. And who doesn’t want that?!