Email Marketing

10 High Result, Low Budget Launch Marketing Ideas

A few days ago, I laughed and cried my way through the Won’t You Be My Neighbor? documentary about Mister Roger’s and his famed neighborhood. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it!

As a kid who watched and loved that show, it brought back a lot of memories. However, as a kid who grew up to be a marketer, I can’t help but watch everything through that lens as well. Occupational hazard! One of the things that struck me was his approach to the concept of his show. He stripped away a lot of the fanfare and gimmicks he saw on other shows, leaving room for his authenticity, playfulness, and heart for educating children on important values. And kids loved it!

Okay, so what does this movie have to do with launching, you might ask? Well, it’s that same lesson I want you to take into your next launch. People will ultimately resonate with you and your mission, not simply because of some stunt or gimmick.

Sure, there might be times when those kinds of tricks enhance your launch, but don’t come to depend on them. If you have a sale every time you launch a new product, for example, people may start to only buy at that time. After all, when’s the last time you bought something full priced at Old Navy? With a new sale every other week, they’ve trained people to wait for the next sale before making a purchase.

I’m also reminded of those launches that give away the latest iPhone or a European trip. Does anyone else sign up for all of those? I know they do because I never seem to win! However, as soon as that giveaway is over, I jump ship and unsubscribe. That’s no way to build a loyal list.

But I also realize that people also have to see and hear your mission to get on board. So, let’s talk about 10 high result, low budget launch marketing ideas that I love. There are varying levels of time and energy required for each, but I’ve seen them do great things for other nonprofits and social enterprises, and think they can serve you well, too.

 10 High Result, Low Budget Launch Marketing Ideas for Nonprofits and Social Enterprises

1) Empower People to Share About Your Launch

There’s still no better form of advertising than word-of-mouth. So, why not increase yours by empowering people to do just that? And it helps when you can give them a nudge, too!

I wrote a whole blog post about this idea, but the gist is that you should provide pre-written social media samples (text, images, videos, etc.) to your staff and key stakeholders for every major launch. Essentially, you’re giving them all the tools they need to help promote with little effort on their part. If they have to think hard about it or write their own, they’re much less likely to take action.

2) Update Your Website . . . In More Than One Place

This may seem like a silly thing to state, but remember how we’re all still waiting for common sense to catch on? Yep, this goes in that category. I’m saying it because I see it.

If you’ve got a huge launch coming up, and you don’t make it prominent on your website—and in multiple places—you’re doing yourself a big disservice. It’s common to put a launch image or blurb on your homepage, but what about other pages? It might be a great fit there, too. And, depending on how someone found you, they may not even land on your homepage first, so you don’t want them to miss the memo.

3) Add Bonuses to Your Launch

Bonuses are usually my preference over discounts. This way you aren’t devaluing your service, product, event, or whatever else you may be creating. Plus, they can make your launch even more exciting, resulting in more eyes paying attention.

Bonuses are normally offered during the pre-launch or early launch phase, and examples can include one-on-one time with you, an additional product, a video series, a gift from one of your partners, etc. The options are endless!

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes sales and discounts are the way to go, but take a look at bonuses as well. “Limited time offers” fall under this umbrella, too. They’re a great way to ask people to take an action with a deadline in mind, which is often very beneficial for you in the planning stages.


4) Email Your Tribe (More Than Once)

Inboxes fill up fast, so don’t rely on just one or two emails to make your big announcement. And people often have great intentions to buy or donate, but they’re also bombarded with a million distractions every day.

So, create a series of emails to educate and inspire your tribe to take action. Find different angles of your launch to address in each one, rather than simply repeating the same information.


5) Jump On Facebook Live and Instagram Live

Over the last couple of years, video has become hot, hot, hot! For this introverted copywriter, that’s a real bummer, ha! For others it may be great news. Regardless, it’s important to sit up and pay attention. Takeaway —> You can’t ignore video!

So, it’s time to jump on Facebook and Instagram Live. What you should love about this marketing channel is that it’s super cheap. As in free. You don’t need a studio or all the fancy lighting. With the click of a button, you’re in business.

If video is new or uncomfortable to you, I suggest starting with Facebook and Insta Stories because they disappear in 24 hours. Less pressure, hooray! Once you have a little more courage, or if you prefer to force yourself as I do, give Facebook Live a chance. Video allows you to talk to your fans almost as if you were in the room with them, giving you a fantastic opportunity to talk about your launch and cause.

6) Utilize All Your Real Estate

If your organization has multiple websites, email lists, social media channels, or apps, make sure they’re all involved and promoting. This is no time to be timid!

When I was an event marketing director, our main sources of revenue were events and curriculum. The curriculum purchasers logged in regularly to view materials, and we also had an internal bulletin board on their website for announcements. So, you’d better believe I promoted events over there!

Besides your main website and social media, where else can you communicate to potential donors and customers?

7) Ask Partners to Promote Your Launch

Who do you know that can help promote your launch for free? This can be individuals or companies. It might be official partners and sponsors, or casual friends of your nonprofit or social enterprise that want to see you succeed enough to promote on your behalf.

This is a great opportunity to get in front of entirely new audiences. Just remember, however, that you may need to scratch their back in the future, too.

8) Let Your Audience In On The Process

Create ready-made buyers when you give people a say in the end result. Allowing your audience to provide ideas, feedback, or suggestions during the pre-launch phase to gives them ownership and gets them excited. They’re more likely to participate and share the launch as well.

I’ve seen authors allow their fans to choose book covers, course creators ask for suggestions, product makers seek out testers, and much more. How can you get your people involved?

9) Share Customer Reviews or Testimonials

We all love social proof. It’s the reason we seek out Yelp and Amazon reviews. It’s nice to know that someone has come before us and already loves what we’re interested in. It simply helps us proceed with confidence.

Obviously, some launches lend themselves better to this idea than others, but don’t be afraid to think out-of-the-box. If you have a fundraising campaign, for example, add testimonials to your site (and giving page) from those that have benefitted from your work or have previously donated.

Here’s an example from Signify.

10) Pre-Sale Your Launch

Wouldn’t it be a wondrous thing to have money coming in before you’ve officially launched? That’s the beauty of a pre-sale.

This is why some events allow you to purchase tickets to the following year before you even walk out the door. It’s also why movies sell tickets months in advance. And don’t forget about those books that come with pre-launch bonuses, or courses that give you a discount prior to hitting the market. The pre-sale has definite advantages for both you and the buyer!



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

 Let’s talk about 10 high result, low budget launch marketing ideas that I love. There are varying levels of  time and energy  required for each, but I’ve seen them do great things for other nonprofits and social enterprises, and think they can serve you well, too.

 Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


5 Essentials You Should Be Communicating to Your Donors


Today’s guest post comes from Amy Crowell, a fundraising pro if there ever was one! Her company, Next Stage Advisors, helps nonprofits through event consulting, board development, grant writing, and more.

Amy and I go way back to the days of when I was at a hospitality PR firm and she was at a little ol’ org called Share Our Strength. Yep, that one. During her time there, she raised more than $3 million dollars for their No Kid Hungry campaign, so she definitely knows her stuff.

Below, she’s boiled down donor communications to a few, main points that you should be aware of. If you’re strapped for time and resources when it comes to talking to your donors, make sure you at least cover these five bases.

PS: These same ideas work for social enterprises, too!

 5 Essentials You Should Be Communicating to Your Donors

Nonprofits, no matter their mission or size, are always on the lookout for more donors. But some organizations aren't event sure how to start the process of engaging new people into their mission, never mind actually turning them into donors.

Donors come in all shapes and sizes. Your donor may be someone who writes a small or large check, but they could also be a volunteer, committee member, special event attendee, board member, or a donor of products or services that your organization needs.

No matter what type of donor you are talking to, nonprofits need to consistently communicate with donors, while at the same time targeting the specific message that prompted the donor to initially become engaged. Keeping everyone informed may very well graduate them from one level of supporter to another. Use these “5 Essential Tips” to expand your reach and add additional people to your potential donor pipeline.


Essential 1: Who or What You Help

This is a no brainer, right? Of course you are going to tell your potential donors who or what you help. However, it’s more than that. Yes, donors need to be told specifically who you are helping, but they should also be informed of the numerical statistics for the problem in your community you are helping.

Specific and detailed information about the problem you are working towards solving will show that your nonprofit is one that needs to be supported. For example, if a local organization tells you that the teen pregnancy in your state was triple the national average and then explained how they were helping to solve that problem, a donor would be much more likely to support them than if they were merely told that they help cut the teen pregnancy rate.

Tell your donors the specifics, such as:

  • How many people in your community deal with the issue that your nonprofit is trying to solve? Is it increasing or decreasing? How quickly?

  • What progress have you made so far?

  • What innovative methods are you using to fulfill your mission (especially if they are more successful compared to similar organizations in your community)?

  • When you accomplish things that work toward your mission, what changes?

  • How is your community a better place because of your organization, its mission, and successes?

Essential 2: Real Stories About How Your Organization Has Made a Difference

Showing your passion can go a long way to creating a new donor. Most donors give to an organization because they feel an emotional connection. Help potential donors feel this connection by telling them true stories about the work you are doing. Share success stories about people you have served.

Do you have video testimonies from parents or principals that have firsthand knowledge of how your program changed a child? Stories about how your organization extended the life someone, allowing them to attend a major life event of their child or grandchild? Examples of how someone you helped felt less stigma about a problem they had, which helped them to build their self-esteem and have a more “normal” life? Or perhaps you can take them on a tour of your facility to show your organization at work.

If you are looking for new donors, you should have a set of emotionally-driven stories that demonstrate your work in action and the benefits to those you serve.


Essential 3: Why Your Organization is Different

Many organizations look similar on paper—potentially serving the same type of person, geographical area, or otherwise. It’s important to differentiate yourself from others that may appear similar. Why would I give my money to you when XYZ nonprofit down the road does the same thing?

Donors want to know what your organization does that makes you different and worth investing in. Do you tackle the same problem in a new way? Does your program go a step further in that it follows people for six months after they leave, ensuring they continue their path to success? Are you the only organization serving X in this zip code? Do you address something that other similar organizations don’t? Perhaps your organization has more of a “teach a person to fish” versus a “give them a fish” philosophy? Tell your donors!

Essential 4: What Their Donation Can Accomplish

Whatever donors are giving—time, money, services, or products—they want to know how it is helping your nonprfoti fulfill its mission. Even though every organization needs non-restricted funds to pay for expenses like rent, utilities, and supplies, most donors would prefer that their donation be connected more directly to the mission they are supporting.

This is where equivalencies come in. Being able to tell donors that $1 connects a child to 10 healthy meals, $500 pays for a month of diapers for a previously homeless child, or something similar, goes a long way to help visualize what a donation can accomplish and how it helps those you serve.

These equivalencies can be used in multiple places, including online donations, special events (ex: live or silent auction, fund the need campaigns), or challenge/matching grants. Being able to show specifically what dollars can provide is important and will bring more donors to the check writing stage.


Essential 5: Share Your Organizational Goals

No different than deciding which mutual fund you want to invest your retirement savings in, donors want to see long-term goals and a healthy organization working toward them. They want to see an ROI on their investment, such as increased growth towards the overall mission.

Share with donors where you want your nonprofit to be and when. Do you want to reach 85% of your target market by the year 2020? Increase the hours you are open by 10% this year? Hire a new staff member?

Talk about both short- and long-term goals so that donors feel like they are part of your progress and that their money is actually an investment not only in your organization, but to the people or problem you are trying to help. Communicating a high-level vision and what it takes financially to get there will make donors more invested overall, potentially moving them from a one-time donor to a reoccurring one.

These “5 Essentials” can go a long way towards building a pipeline of supporters that can help you not only have increased donations, but also fill other important roles your nonprofit needs such as board members, volunteers, special event attendees, and more.

Be sure each essential is documented so you can share them with all the key stakeholders in your organization—especially staff and board members. Once you have them, you’ll likely find that not only are they helpful when speaking to supporters, they can also be used in other communications such as your website, newsletter, grant applications, and more.

Don’t have all five in place? Add the missing pieces to your priority list to increase success in the future.


 Amy Crowell, Next Stage Advantage

Amy Crowell, founder of Next Stage Advisors, has more than two decades of experience in nonprofit management, fundraising, event management, and strategic and financial planning. She has overseen numerous nonprofit fundraisers, including grassroots campaigns, events of all sizes, and national multimillion-dollar corporate-sponsored programs.

Amy helps nonprofits meet and beat their fundraising goals via event consulting, board development, grant writing, and more.

Connect with Amy on LinkedIn.



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

 Use these “5 Essential Tips” to expand your nonprofit’s reach and add additional people to your potential donor pipeline.

 Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


What (and Why) You Should Be Emailing Your List

We've been talking all things content marketing this month, and today's subject is a biggie. Everyone wants to talk social media all the time, but it's not the most important thing when it comes to engaging with your current donors and customers. That's right I said it—social media is NOT the most important thing. Breathe that in, people.

Don't get me wrong, social media is an important (and unavoidable) part of marketing, especially when it comes to finding new prospects, but it isn't the top priority for those currently in your circle of trust. I'd rather you stop focusing on social media, and start focusing on your email list. 

I've had many, many conversations with friends and clients about this topic. I get some slow head-nodding, blank eyes, puzzled looks, and then a question or two usually follows. Something along the lines of, "Why is email marketing so important?" or "Ok, but what should I send to my email list?" I usually also hear that people do send emails to their fans and supporters, but it's been a few...months.

Sending emails just sorta happens when they get around to it. Maybe they'd planned to send out an email blast, but there was yet another fire to put out. Or, they'll email again when they have something "important" to say. 

Any of this sound familiar?

I'm here today to tell you what and why you should be emailing your list. Because it's vital to the health of your organization. Yep, it's that big of a deal. Whether you're concerned about content marketing for your nonprofit or social enterprise, or not, email needs to move up on your priority list.

 What (and Why) You Should Be Emailing Your List - For Nonprofits and Social Enterprises

WHY EMAIL MARKETING IS IMPORTANT

Though social media is the shiny object of the marketing world, email marketing should be the staple. It's true that nothing will ever beat in-person conversations; those should always be the first option. But for electronic or online communication, email should be your focus.

Why? You "own" your list. We've already seen a handful of algorithm changes on Facebook this year alone, and they're all making it more difficult for your business to get seen by your fans and followers. That's great for us as individuals who want to see more pics of our friends kids, pets, vacations, or last night's dinner. Not so great from a marketing standpoint.

And as things change again, and they will, you'll be further and further removed from your audience, unless you are paying to get in front of them. However, with an email address, you land directly in their inbox. Whatever you need to communicate to them is front-and-center. They don't have to go hunting for it, and they don't have to wait to just see it occasionally, if the internet powers that be, decide today's the day to show them.

Plus, if one of those nifty social networks goes away tomorrow, or decides to remove businesses entirely, you have no way to reach those people. Poof! They're gone. But you know what you do have? That's right, your email list!

You also have more real estate in emails to get your message across than on social media, and emails still have the highest conversion rates as well. Two, more very good reasons!

Oh, and if you're slightly panicked about neglecting your social media, here's my solution.

(Side note: I recommend setting a reminder to download your list a few times per year so you never lose it either. Unfortunately, nothing is guaranteed!)

WHAT TYPES OF EMAILS YOU SHOULD SEND TO YOUR LIST?

Okay, now that you understand why you should be making more use of your email list, you might be stuck on what to send. Besides a lack of time, this is the issue I hear most.

So, what should you email to your list? The good news is that the options are pretty limitless! 

Here are just a few examples:

  • Program/product/service updates

  • New hires, job openings, or internship opportunities

  • Recent blog posts

  • Behind-the-scenes details

  • Thoughts from the founder or staffers

  • Links and resources your audience would find helpful

  • Tips and tricks

  • Surveys

  • Needs list (ex: resources a nonprofit might need to further their mission)

  • Staff or recipient profiles

  • Holiday announcements or celebrations

  • Photos or videos of people using your product/service

  • Testimonials and stories

  • End of year impact reports

  • Recent press/media

(Want 85 more ideas? Click here!)

Think about it: These people willingly gave you their email. That means they want to hear from you! And they want to hear from you more than a couple of times per year... So, don't neglect sending just because you don't have any "big announcements." 

I also recommend keeping a list somewhere of topics that would be good for your emails, even if it means they need to wait a while. You don't want to lose any good ideas! I use Evernote, since it's always handy, but you can use Google Docs or Sheets, a Word doc, a sticky on your computer, or whatever is a good fit.

To make things even easier on yourself, you can even set up a template for your regular email newsletters so that all you have to do is just drop in the new content each time. This is exactly what I do with Special Features. I have a formula that I follow of specific things I want to communicate to my audience. Each section has a purpose. Doesn't mean that it'll stay that way forever, but right now, it works for me.

 

A FEW TIPS ON FORMATTING YOUR EMAILS

Photos and graphics, or no photos and graphics? Headers or no headers? Long or short?

The truth is that I've seen emails of all shapes and sizes get the job done. Some are beautiful and some are plain. So, whether you have yours laid out by a professional graphic designer or not is your call. What works with your brand and your voice? That choice is up to you.

Here's what I will stress, however: It needs to be easy to read on laptops, tablets, and phones. (A LOT of people are reading your emails on their phones these days!) That may sound completely intuitive, and like I don't need to say it, but trust me, I do. I have seen some emails that likely have great content, but they are so hard to look at and read that I just hit delete. I'm sure you've done the same.

So, what's the cure? Well, a lot of the advice we've been giving over the past few months for websites and blogs carries over here, too. 

Namely:

  • Write is short paragraphs of one to three sentences. If you're reading anything on a phone, do you want to just stare at a wall of text? Answer: Nope.

  • Use headers where needed for clarity and changing topics, especially if the email is long. People are skimmers, whether we like it or not. Don't fight it.

  • Let white space be your friend.

  • Leave the jargon at the office. Keep the language easy to understand.

  • Give clear calls to action (telling people what you want them to do), and make it easy for them to do it.

  • Make it about the reader as well as your organization. Make the content relatable, and let them feel a part of your work.

  • Go back to your brand standards. All your fonts and photos should match your brand, or be extremely complementary if, for example, you have a really uncommon font. But make sure everything looks like goes together—and matches your brand. Watch out for sizes, spacing, and keep those headers in check, too. Tip: Look at it like a blog post. Get all matchy, matchy.

If you think that you do want to include graphics, but aren't good at design, have a graphic designer create templates that you can use over and over, just replacing text and photos as needed. This is what I did.

I had my designers create a standard template for my monthly newsletter, a couple variations for different categories of opt-ins, and a really generic one for simple announcements. Now, anytime I need to create a new email blast, I just choose the right template and switch out the info and graphics—presto! Now, I don't have to reinvent the wheel every time. (Hint: This also makes coming up with your content easier because you know what "boxes" to fill in!)

Your formatting is just as valuable as your content, so don't skip this step.

 

WHEN SHOULD YOU EMAIL YOUR LIST?

As with pretty much everything else, there are no concrete, black and white answers. Sometimes that's a good thing because you may feel bad that you can't keep up with "standards." However, sometimes that's bad because you don't have a guaranteed blueprint to follow for success. What works for some may not work for others.

But, here's what I tell my clients: I'd like you to email your list at least monthly. I guarantee you've got something to share each and every month. If you can email more frequently with smaller updates throughout the month, do it! But if you wait more than a month, you risk being forgotten.

Remember, we're all out of sight, out of mind creatures. So, if you aren't talking to your list, you'd better believe someone else is!

I'd also like you to figure out a consistency or frequency that you can stick to. This is an effort to make sure it happens, and also helps people expect when to hear from you. Both are uber important.

For example, in an ideal world, I'd email my list a couple of times per month with small updates and information that will be helpful to them. But as a solopreneur, I've got a lot on my plate. So, for now, Special Features goes out once per month. Specifically, the first Thursday of the month. I even have a reminder in Asana to help keep me on task. One particularly busy month, I worked late and finally hit send about 10:00 p.m., because come h*ll or high water, that thing was going out on the first Thursday of the month! It's a promise I made to myself and my tribe.

Others I know send emails every Friday, or every other Wednesday. So, make the decision of when you're going press the magic button, and commit to it.

THE NUMBER ONE EMAIL MARKETING MISTAKE

One of the biggest problems in not emailing your list very often is that you only tend to email them when you need something. This is a big no, no.

It takes time to build the "know, like, and trust" factor with your audience. This is what leads them to action.

Like real life, this is a relationship to be nurtured. So, how would you like it if you had a friend that only talked to you when they wanted you to buy something or donate to their cause? Ewwww. I imagine they'd move off your friend list pretty quickly!

Yet, this is what I see nonprofits and social enterprises doing again and again. They get busy, and only email their fans and followers when it's convenient for them. As a result, donations flounder and sales fumble.

The result? Organizations are left thinking email marketing doesn't work. So, once again, they put it off.

But the lesson should be to change the strategy. Begin working on the relationship with your audience regularly and gradually, rather than using it part of the backup plan.

 

EMAIL MARKETING AS A STRATEGY

Here are Signify, we're big on strategy. Yes, it's good to be sending those emails, writing those blog posts, and connecting on social media, but it becomes much more effective when there's a strategy behind it.

Other than, "because I have to," WHY are you sending the email?

Do you need to sell a product, drive donations, announce a new program, or promote an event? All of these are pretty big "asks" and will usually require more than one email. A series of emails primes them to take action. This gives them all the information or motivation they need to make the decision. And this requires planning. You'll need to figure out ahead of time what what to say and when to say it.

Often, once you lay out on a calendar or spreadsheet all the things you absolutely need to say in a year, you'll see how fast space actually fills up. Then you can plug in other types of emails such as the above examples.

Of course, the unexpected will come up, and that's fine! Nothing wrong with a special announcement now and again.

If you find it overwhelming to think about a year's worth of emails, start with six months, or a quarter, or heck, even a month. But it's time to get intentional. Email marketing is too important to ignore or leave to chance.

What questions do you have?

 

Read the other posts in this series:



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

 Whether you're concerned about content marketing for your  nonprofit  or  social enterprise , or not, email needs to move up your priority list.

 Kristi Porter of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


Advice From The Editors: Avoid These Writing Mistakes

If you've been wondering what makes for great business writing, you're in luck! Based on feedback from the Signifiers Facebook Group, we're focusing on writing tips all month long. But before we talk about how to write an enticing and effective blog post, website, or social media, let's first chat about common writing mistakes. 

I don't know about you, but I see errors on professional websites, blogs, social media, and even national commercials almost daily. And, as someone who can spot them, it makes the brand seem more amateur to me, especially when it's a large company. That's definitely not what I want for your organization. 

So, to kick things off, I asked a few of my favorite #girlboss editors to explain some common writing mistakes, which will allow you to spot any weaknesses you may have, and improve them. (Basically, here's how you can up your writing game in just a few minutes!) Any corrections you can catch now may cause you to retain customers and donors in the future.

 Advice From the Editors: Avoid These Common Business Writing Mistakes

Audience

Sara Shelton:

My biggest tip for any and all writers would be to remember your audience. If you don’t know who you’re writing to, don’t start writing until you figure that out! Identify your primary audience and then write with them in mind. Read everything back through the lens of that audience and ask yourself if it makes sense just for them. Did it communicate specifically to that audience?

As an editor, one the biggest content mistakes I find myself having to correct is a lack of focus on an audience. It’s much easier to make a clear point and deliver a direct message to one, specific audience. When a writer or brand doesn’t know who they’re trying to communicate to, clarity and messaging gets lost and mixed up pretty quickly!

 

Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling, and Related Nonsense

Afton Phillips:

The Oxford Comma Debate

To add the third comma, or not to add the third comma. That is the question. A REAL BIG pet peeve of mine when editing is inconsistent commas. The Oxford comma is the last comma in a list of three or more items just before the "and" or "or." For example, “Johnny, April, and Samantha drove to the store to get Tombstone frozen pizza, which as we all know, is the best kind of pizza.” The comma after "April" is the Oxford comma.

The reason this matters is that sometimes the meaning of the sentence can be misconstrued without the comma. In the above example, it might otherwise seem like we’re telling Johnny that April and Samantha went to get delicious pizza without him, which is very rude. Without the Oxford comma, the last two subjects can sometimes be grouped together separately, leaving the first guy all alone, hungry, and wishing he had pizza. So, my humble opinion is to be kind and add the Oxford comma.

There are a lot of opinions on this topic, but no matter where you fall, my one piece of advice is be consistent. Whether you want to use it or not, whenever you have a list of three or more, make sure you either always or never use your Oxford comma. This will make your editor's life much easier, and it will clear up any misunderstandings in your text by your willy-nilly use of punctuation.

 

Jill Turner:

The number one mistake I have corrected lately (and so many times) is no comma before "and" (or any other conjunction) when marrying two sentences that could stand on their own. For example: Kristi Porter is a friend of mine. She is a talented writer. If I put those two sentences together, I have to say, "Kristi Porter is a friend of mine, and she is a talented writer."

A second thing that bothers me is the very popular use of "based off." A base is something you put something else ON. A base is a launching pad, a setting place. You can only base something ON something else.

A resource Jill recommends:

 

I will also add two of my own here:

First, an ampersand, or the famous "&" character, should not be placed in the middle of a sentence. I think this probably became more popular when people started writing like they text (note: me shaking my head and sighing). Use it for titles, names, and things like that, but if you're using it in a sentence because typing two more characters for "and" is a bit much for you, rethink it. It just leaves me feeling that whatever is written is unprofessional or sloppy. And it drives me insane to see large businesses who can afford proofreaders make this mistake.

Second, and somewhat related, is the use of single and double quotes. I still hold true to what I was taught in school: use double quotes every dang time, unless you are quoting someone within a set of quotes. For example: "I turned to look at a bewildered Samantha who said, 'Oh, no, she didn't!' and then we both burst out laughing."

That latter mention is the only time I believe a single quote should be used. And I really enjoyed this funny, tirade on the subject. Again, I think this leads back to texting being the death of proper writing. (Call me old, I don't care!) Then again, sometime these mistakes keep me in business, so there's that...

Resources I recommend:

  • I admit to Googling these questions now and again, but I only get my answers from reputable sources like AP Stylebook, Grammarly, and Grammar Girl, which you'll also see noted below.

  • Make friends with editors, ha! I'll also admit to texting some of these ladies questions from time-to-time.

  • If you have the budget, hire a proofreader. It may not seem like it should be at the top of your list, but remember, everything you say (including how you say it) conveys something about your organization. If you're asking people to buy something from you, or donate to your organization, you'd better make sure that you look and sound professional. Personally, if I see a lot of errors in a website, email, blog, or social media, that's not where I'm going to send my money.

 

Style

Crystal Chiang:

When writing, nothing is more often overlooked or more impactful than tension. Tension helps the reader answer the question, “why do I care?”. It moves them to feel something, to engage.

The problem is that no one really likes tension, not even the author. We want it to be relieved. We want the reader to know that we know the answer to the questions we’re asking. We want to stop feeling the tension, so we resolve it to quickly. And in doing so, we unknowingly sabotage ourselves.

The truth is, there’s a lot of content out there and our time is limited. So helping a reader know why this topic matters to them is key if we want them to stick around.

A resource Crystal recommends:

 

Leigh Harper:

Don't fall into the trap of foregoing correctness for the sake of being catchy or memorable. Trust me, you'll be remembered—but not for the reasons you'd like! Creativity is great, but keep it professional by using proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Playing off of words is welcomed (i.e. naming a boutique "Sew In Style"), but there's no need to get sloppy ("Sew 'N Style" or worse, "Sew-N-Style"). You'll be hurting yourself by appearing amateur. Plus, deviating from traditional spelling, punctuation, or grammar opens the door wide open for vendors, donors, and customers to misspell or confuse your brand. Naming an event, product, or campaign? You guessed it. Same rules apply in order to put your best foot forward.

Resources Leigh recommends:

 

A Little of This, A Little of That

Jennifer Bradley Franklin:

Effective writing is the foundation of successful messaging—in public relations and beyond. It can communicate the strengths of a brand to virtually any targeted audience, convert skeptics into evangelists, and it can make the journalist receiving it say, “Yes! I want to write a story about that!” Bad, boring, or unclear writing will make many people ignore the potentially terrific information you have to share.

What Makes Bad Writing?

  • Too much "puffery" such as: "It will be a fun-filled evening for the entire family, with each hilarious performance starting promptly at 8 p.m.”

  • Empty/meaningless language: there is, amazing, actually, basically, really, charming, fantastic, wonderful, etc. Use concrete adjectives that convey what you want to say.

  • Cramming in too many big words, just for the sake of, well, using big words.

  • Being unclear. Don’t make assumptions about your reader’s knowledge of a subject.

What Makes Good Writing?

  • Master the basics (grammar, structure, format) and then build in personality and “punch” from that strong foundation.

  • Write for clarity. Read your work with a critical eye, asking the question, “If I weren’t close to this project, would this paragraph make sense?”

  • Be concise, but include interesting details that entice the recipient to read on. Think like a journalist.

Resources Jennifer recommends:

  • Grammarly

  • "In general, I think the best way to become a better writer is to be a voracious reader. Reading good writing hones those skills!"

 

Jennifer Wilder:

I have two pieces of advice. First, no matter how well you write, you can still make spelling errors on words like here and hear, or they're and their, or your and you're. Often, these spelling errors elude us even after reading it twice. That's why it's important to have a second set of eyes read your article. This person could be your spouse, your business partner, a professional editor, or a virtual assistant. The second person will often catch things that you didn't.

If you're unable to locate someone to read things twice, then read it yourself, out loud, a third time. Pretend that you are reading it to someone who is looking over your shoulder at the document. You'll likely find that spelling errors jump out at you when taking this perspective.

Second, write as if your article or communication was going to be read by a group of fifth-grade students. Are your ideas clearly thought out and linked together? Are your sentences less than 20 words? Check to make sure you limit the use of pronouns or referring words. Mix in the proper names of things among those referring pronouns to ensure that readers follow your thought process through complex ideas about multiple subject matters.

Resources Jen recommends:

 

Patti Townley-Covert:

  • If a nonprofit does not have an experienced communications department, I highly recommend they hire someone to come in and do a seminar about writing tips. (Or if you have someone experienced, it's worth making the time for that person to share writing info with whatever staff personnel might write for the organization. It's amazing how few editors/marketing people/human resources personnel and others have any kind of training in effective communications. The authors I worked with at a nonprofit hated the writing/editorial process until I did a two-hour seminar correcting some misperceptions that even those designated as editors had. Articles/books/brochures and donor letters became far more engaging as a result. It's well-worth the cost.

  • Ledes (leads) should hook the reader into the material. Using a story, an outrageous or little known fact, or other compelling approaches will help readers take time to read the rest.

  • Writing is a team sport. It takes good communication and working together to get high-quality documents. Too many times authors and editors do not explain problems, they just try to fix them in isolation. That does not work well.

  • The worst problem I see, even with experienced writers, is passive or boring verbs—were, was, are, have, is. Verbs should be powerful, action words. That's fine for a first draft, but then substitute action words.

  • Another problem is over-using the word "I" in your writing. The article/missive/web piece is not about "you." Keep it focused on the audience, even when describing how you feel about it.

  • That said, when you're writing—just write. Let the words flow. Then go back and edit. The two processes use opposite sides of the brain, and trying to edit as you go makes a writer miserable. That was the number one reason the authors I worked with hated the process. They were trying to be creative and analytical at the same time.

 

Great information, right? These are smart, successful women who know their stuff. Take my advice: take their advice! These writing mistakes may be common, but they're easy to fix. Make these changes, and pretty soon, you'll be a more powerful writer who can help others rally around your cause.

And let us know in the comments which tips were most helpful for you!

 

Read the other posts in this series:



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

 These common writing mistakes could be costing your nonprofit or social enterprise customers and donors! Listen to what our favorite editors had to say.

 Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


How to Woo Your Fans and Supporters

It’s the final week of our “business resolutions series,” and I hope you’re already making big progress on your goals this year! Before we dive into today’s topic, let’s recap, shall we? First, we talked about seven simple tools that build a strong small business foundation. Then, we talked about how to gain authority and trust at your organization through internal communication. To wrap up, we’ll discuss wooing your fans and supporters—and those who could be—through external communication.

You have to actually talk to the people who support you, right? Yes, of course, you do. However, too many small businesses that I speak with know that they should communicate with their customers and donors, but they don’t actually do it.

Marketing and communications usually gets shoved to the back burner, often because it’s just not prioritized. But to retain current fans and attract new ones, you’ve got to reach out. And to begin, you don’t need to be perfect, but you do need to get started.

So, while there are undoubtedly lots of ways to communicate with your customers, donors, and the people who could be, I’ll just highlight three areas that I think you should focus on for maximum impact.

 How to Woo Your Fans and Supporters

Email Should Be Your Top Priority

Email, email, email. I can’t stress this enough. For talking to your previous and current customers and donors, this needs to be your top priority. Unless you’re sitting down over coffee with these lovely people, there’s no better way to communicate with your fans.

Don’t believe me? Think social media should be your numero uno? Did someone tell you email is dead? Consider two arguments.

First, how many companies, either for- or non-profit, do you readily give your email to? And how many more do you follow on social media? Yep, there’s no comparison. We’re all getting more and more stingy with our emails, so when someone willingly hands over their email, you should treat it as precious. You have a direct line to their hearts and minds.

Second, think about it this way: you own your email list. With social media, we’re all at the mercy of the ever-changing algorithms. The majority of our posts are filtered out, meaning only a fraction of the people that follow you see what you post. And even if you do get the hang of it, the algorithm will change again in a few months. Plus, we all know that some platforms are here today, but gone tomorrow. MySpace anyone? However, for better or worse, email has been our constant companion the last few decades.

As a marketer, this is frustrating, but as a human, I have to remember the “social” aspect of social media.

So, now that you’re thinking email might be a good idea, here are two ways to handle it:

  1. If you don’t already have an opt-in on your website, you need to think about adding one. An opt-in is simply something you give your list in exchange for their email. Examples include e-courses, lists, e-books, insider access, coupons, and more. This tactic will help you build your list, drawing in potential customers and donors.
  2.  I’d like you to email your list at least once a month, and be consistent. We’re all creatures of the out of sight, out of mind variety, so you need to remind people that you’re still here and open for business. You may want to email them more frequently, which is sometimes recommended, but it sort of depends on your organization and other factors. Most people, though, send emails every couple of months, and only when they need something. Yuck! This is not the way to treat those precious emails and the people they represent. So, aim for monthly communication.

Social Media is Important, But Not Everything

People online are currently freaking out over the new Facebook changes that were recently announced, stating that content by companies will be less visible in news feeds. And, I agree, it’s a little scary. I also just dinged social media in the section above. But, no matter how you feel about social media (I have mixed feelings myself), it’s still important and necessary.

So, while I think you should focus on your email list, that won’t always help you reach those who don’t yet know about you. And you probably don’t want to email those who already love you every day and get a bunch of unsubscribes. Enter social media. It’s still an effective way to get your name out and keep it out there, but we’ll all have to try a little harder. But who has the time? This is why I switched to a social media scheduler.

While it’s true that posts sent by schedulers get less play than real-time, “native” posts (typed straight into the platform), for me, it was a matter of what would actually happen. I could have great intentions about getting on social media every day with new content, but the reality is that may not happen. I have too many other things to do, and so do you. This is why I went with a social media scheduling tool, and you can read all the details, as well as my review of 13 popular platforms, right here.

Definitely jump on social media and post in real time, interact with people, share pictures, and generally live it up when you can. But for those times you can’t, consider a scheduling tool. I’m glad to know that if my head is down, and I’m working on a writing project for a few days, my social media posts are still going out the door without me having to press any buttons. I’d rather have a few people seeing my posts than none at all.

Another social media option to consider is Facebook groups. There are millions of them out there, for everything under the sun. My suggestion would be to find a few that contain your target audience, and get active. Be helpful, make connections, and follow their rules for self-promotion. They definitely take time, but are a great and personalized way to build new relationships.

By the way, my friend Jennifer, who is a social media manager, will be talking all about these new Facebook changes, how to stay in front of your audience, and alternatives worth pursuing in my Facebook Group tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. EST. Join us!

Networking and Events Never Go Out of Style

We’ve covered a couple of online options, but you already know there’s no replacement for good, old fashioned face-to-face connection. So, it’s time to get outside your office and shake a few hands. This is still a terrific way to meet potential customers and donors, or even make deeper connections with those who already know and love you. (Bonus: It's also a great way to invest in yourself!)

For us introverts, this may or may not be a welcome suggestion. Me? I love being at home, but I also love attending events. But if you’re the kind of guy or gal who would rather have an email exchange than coffee with someone, then I’m sorry, you’re just going to have to push yourself for the good of your organization. #sorrynotsorry

You may choose to be an exhibitor, an attendee, or even a speaker, and all can be effective. You’ll likely need a combination over time. Obviously, you’ll get the most attention from a larger audience by speaking, but exhibiting and attending can allow you to have more meaningful and personal conversations.

But before you show up, I suggest doing a little event prep work:

  1. Follow the event’s social media or hashtag to start making connections ahead of time.
  2. Make sure your social profiles and website are updated.
  3. Don’t forget to bring business cards or handouts about your org.

(You can read more about each of these items here.)

The important thing is to make the most of the event. Of course, you’re probably showing up to learn, but if you can snag a few more fans, even better! Oh, and in case you’re looking for some cool, cause-focused events to attend, check out this list by Cause Artist.

 

Read the other posts in this series:



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

 Marketing and communications usually gets shoved to the backburner, often because it’s just not prioritized. But to retain current fans and attract new ones, you’ve got to reach out. And to begin, you don’t need to be perfect, but you do need to get started.

 Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.