Foundations

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.

 

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.


How Screenwriting Can Help You Better Communicate Your Brand’s Story

Today's post is by my friend and former co-worker, Hudson Phillips. Though he's continuing our series on content marketing, he's bringing us a whole, new slant on the topic that you might not have heard before. You see, Hudson's a filmmaker.

While you may not be making movies about your nonprofit or social enterprise anytime soon, you do need to learn to tell the story of your organization in a compelling manner. And a great way to share your story isn't just once a year at a big, annual event. It's over and over again, in small ways, on your website, blog, emails, and social media. This is the cornerstone of your content marketing, and the thing that makes you utterly unique.

So, grab some popcorn and chocolate covered almonds (or substitute your personal fav), and learn to how screenwriting can help you better communicate your brand's story. 

 How Screenwriting Can Help You Better Communicate Your Brand’s Story

When we get cut off in traffic and storm into work ready to complain about it, we become expert storytellers. We establish the setting, we build the tension, and we arrive at the resolution. So when it comes to telling the story of our brand, why does it get so complicated?

The problem, I think, lies in knowing TOO MUCH. The more details that are swirling around in your head, the more difficult it becomes to hone in on the most important parts of your story. When telling your cut-off-in-traffic epic, do you go into the details of what color the “villain’s” car was? Do you go into your “back story” about styling your hair differently that morning? No. Because you have a point to get across (probably something like, “Can you believe that guy!”) and only the details that help further that point matter.

I wear a lot of hats between a marketing day job, a screenwriting gig by night, and running my own writing organization. But what surprises and thrills me is how often these worlds cross over. All of the above jobs require storytelling, and one of the greatest things I did as a marketer was start to apply my knowledge as a screenwriter.

The one key skill of a screenwriter over, say, a novelist, is screenwriters have to be brief. While a novelist can tell a story over hundreds of pages and a dozen hours, screenwriters have about an hour and a half (or 100 pages of script) to tell a full story. This requires some tips and tricks to stay on task. We don’t have the time or space to veer off into tangents.

That’s why when I sit down to write a script, I start with a logline. A logline is one or two sentences that sum up your story. Think of it as how you would quickly describe a movie you just saw to a friend.

The point of a logline is to better understand the story you want to tell. It becomes your story compass. When you start to get bogged down in all the details, your logline is what helps you find “north.”

A great logline covers three things: WHO the story is about, what their GOAL is, and what OBSTACLES they face along the way.

For instance, the logline for the film Jurassic Park might be: “A rag-tag group of scientists struggle to escape a remote island park whose main attractions—genetically restored dinosaurs—have been set loose by a power failure.”

For Indiana Jones, the logline could be: “A swashbuckling archeologist seeks to find the lost Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis can use its supernatural power to take over the world.”

You may have a tough time translating the word “swashbuckling” to your own company’s logline. I get it. So how do you apply this to your own organization? Start by asking three questions:

 

1. WHO is your story about?

The hero of your story is not you—it’s your clients, customers, or donors. They are the ones on a journey, and it’s your job to help them realize their goal. (And hopefully you’ve got the expertise because you’ve been on the journey, survived, and come back to tell about it.) Really try to hone in on your target audience and make it personal and unique. (Hint: your hero is not “everyone”—not even “everyone with money”). Think back to when you were at their stage in the journey and empathize with that moment to best understand them.

For my writing organization, ScriptBlast, it’s not just an organization for writers, it’s an organization for struggling writers who are learning how to navigate the rollercoaster of rejection and failure that all writers face. And I can best understand where these writers are coming from because I’ve been there, too.

 

2. What is their GOAL?

What do your donors/customers/clients want? Where do they want to be five years from now? What do their “before” and “after” pictures look like? Hopefully your organization has a clear path of getting your clients to their goal. (If not, you might want to add that service!)

The goal for any amateur writer is to become a professional writer. The problem is, unfortunately, most amateurs give up after their first taste of rejection! ScriptBlast exists in order to help writers get over these bumps through empathy, encouragement, and resources to help them a long the way.

3. What are the OBSTACLES standing in their way?

What is the biggest struggle for your audience? What’s getting in the way of their goals? How are you helping them overcome it? These are the kinds of answers that come only from experience. What expertise do you offer and how can you empathize with them?

At ScriptBlast, we recognize that failure and rejection are a regular part of a writer’s life. They get bad feedback, they get turned down by an agent or a manger, they have their film deal fall through, maybe they even have their movie made, but it turns out terribly and not what they envisioned. The obstacles are never-ending for a writer and if they don’t learn how to navigate it early on, they’ll burn out quickly.

So . . . the logline for ScriptBlast might be: We give struggling screenwriters the motivation and resources they need to become professional, working writers as they face the emotional ups and downs of failure and rejection.

Okay, now that you know how to create a compelling logline, what exactly do you do with it? Do you just post it above your desk and hope for the best, or is it something you can actually use in your daily grind?

Here are three, practical uses:

1. A logline gives you a clear path for your website.

Struggling with writing marketing copy for your landing page or home page? Cut and paste your logline! It's a perfect hook that tells your audience exactly what you do and what problem you can help them solve.

2. A logline gives you a checklist for social media.

When you’re creating weekly content like a blog or social media posts, your logline acts as a guide. Before scheduling out your posts, you can ask yourself “does this support my logline or take away from it?” A logline helps keep all of your content focused and your messaging clear.

3. A logline gives you an elevator pitch for investors.

You’re probably already familiar with the term elevator pitch—reducing the mission of your company to a short enough time-span that it can be explained in a brief, elevator ride. A logline gives you a script for your elevator pitch. Memorize it. Have it ready to go next time you happen upon an investor or potential client/customer/donor and need to get your story across before the instrumental version of The Girl from Ipanema finishes.

Now, take a moment to write your own logline. I’d love to see examples in the comments below!

 

Read the other posts in this series:


 Hudson Phillips of ScriptBlast

Hudson Phillips is a designer, screenwriter, and producer living in Atlanta, Ga. His first produced feature film, This World Alone, will be released in 2018. As founder of the organization ScriptBlast, he cultivates community and creates resources to help screenwriters navigate their careers. He also produces and co-hosts the podcast Four Friends Fight About Film.

ScriptBlast.com

Facebook.com/groups/ScriptBlast

@hudsonphillips



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

 When we get cut off in traffic and storm into work ready to complain about it, we become expert storytellers. So when it comes to telling the story of our brand, why does it get so complicated?

 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.


5+ Reasons Why No One is Reading Your Blog

If you're like many nonprofit or social enterprise leaders I meet, you have a beautifully designed blog, but it's a little barren. In fact, you really struggle to get your blog updated. And when you finally do, you check the box, pat yourself on the back, and call it a day. But it's not enough to just write the post—it needs to get read. 

Before we even address any potential issues with your marketing and promotion of the blog post, let's first address the readability. (And, yes, that's a thing.) Does this sound familiar? Someone lands on your little labor of love, maybe skims a little, and then promptly leaves. All without taking action, or worse, even taking in your content.

Here you find yourself with a post that took precious time and energy, but didn't actually get the job done. It's finished, sure, but it's not effective. It's not working hard enough for you. Houston, we have a problem.

You can sit around all day long, cross your arms, and shout, "It's not me, it's you!" ... but is it? Here are a few blog writing tips that will help ensure your post gets read, and better yet, acted on. 

 5+ Reasons Why No One is Reading Your Blog

Formatting Your Blog Post

Not sure if you've noticed, but the the look of blog posts has changed quite a bit over the last, few years. They are no longer just little (or big) essays waiting to be consumed. Everyone's vying for your attention, and here's how the winners are getting noticed.

Sub-heads or headers: Like it or not, people often skim content, so after your introduction, use sub-heads in the body text to preview what's coming up. This also helps with SEO, so it’s good to use keywords (the main topic of your post) in sub-heads as well, or at least use a few words to describe what you’ll be talking about next.

Short paragraphs: Because it’s common for people to view websites on smaller screens, like cell phones and tablets, use smaller paragraphs of just a few sentences. If you write a long paragraph, how you can break it up so that it’s more readable on any sized screen? People don't want to look at a wall of text on a small screen.

Images: We may be living in a material world, but we're also living in a visual one. You need at least one image/video/graph/etc. to accompany your post. Not only does this illustrate your topic and help grab someone's attention, but for anyone who wants to save your post to a site like Pinterest, it makes things easier.

Keywords: You also want to make sure and mention your topic several times in the body copy for SEO. And you can use it in different phrasing, too. For example, if your post is about “content creation,” you can use that phrase, as well as “creating content” and “content marketing” and similar things. Once again, we're trying to appease and appeal to the almighty Google in hopes that it will recognize us and call us worthy. Agree or disagree, it's the world we live in if we want people to find our little corner of the internet.

CTA or Call to Action: At the end of every post should be a CTA. (You can also sprinkle them throughout.) What do you want people to do as a result of reading your blog post? You can lead them to additional content, make a donation or purchase, give you their email, sign up for your newsletter, download something, etc. There are a lot of options, so be sure to include one. Get them to interact with your content to make it, your cause, and your organization more memorable. This helps you build a relationship with someone.

Don't Forget Consistency

If you've read even a couple of posts on this blog, you've likely seen some form of the word "consistency." It is a huge soap box for us—because it's that important! So, along with formatting your blog post to make it more read-worthy, let's take a look at a few things that should always remain the same, even when the topic changes.

Remember your audience: For this blog, we consider our audience to be leaders or key employees of nonprofits and for-profits with a social mission. They're typically at a small organization where people wear multiple hats. And they have a desire to improve their marketing and communications. Everything we write keeps these folks in mind in order to serve them better.

Tone and voice: If you haven't done this yet, determine how your organization "sounds" so that tone and voice remains the same. Here at Signify, we want to sound friendly and professional, with a side of humor. (Because humor just makes the world better.)

Refrain from jargon: Unless you have a very narrow niche that understands your jargon, like rocket scientists or brain surgeons, stop using words and phrases specific to that group. Don't make your audience strain to understand what you're saying or you'll lose them. For example, here on this blog, we try to make marketing and communications easy for anyone in our target audience to understand and act on.

Grammar, punctuation, and similar do-dads: We touched on this last week, but for repeat readers, you need to make sure your style is always the same from post to post. Go read that post with advice from editors. It has some great advice!

Pro Tips for Your Blog Posts

We know, we know. You already have a long list to work on where your blog posts are concerned. But for those of you who may be a little further ahead, or think overachieving is a way of life, here are a few other things to make your words stretch further.

Work on your headlines: You already know this, but your blog headline is super important. We use this headline analyzer to help determine if our headlines will entice readers. Aim for a score of above 70, just like in school!

Add internal links: Link to other posts or pages within your site. Like when you talk about promoting a launch, you can link to another place where you talk about that same subject. ( <-- See what we did there?) This keeps people on your site longer because they're looking around at all the pretty content you've created. This is obviously great for your website, but when people stick around, it also tells Google that your site is a good one, and they should recommend you more.

Add external links: On a similar note, link to other websites when you can as well. It helps build the credibility of your own site in Google's eyes. So, when you mention that you're attending the Plywood Presents conference in a few months, make it easy for people to get there. ( <-- Did it again!)

Briefly consider length: There are MANY opinions about what the "right" length of a blog post should be, but here we ascribe to a single philosophy: cover the topic well. We write a minimum of 500 words, because again, you want to have enough content for Google to search, but past that, there aren't a lot of length requirements. Just deliver on the promise of your headline to keep your readers happy.

Maybe add a bio: Unfortunately, the sales cycle isn't like IKEA. Potential customers and donors don't all show up on the same page of your website, walk through it in one direction, and then end up on your sales or donations page. (Sigh.) For that reason, every blog post contains a short bio and photo of the writer. So, if I (Kristi) only get someone to read one post on this blog, they can at least also catch a little bit about me and what my company does. 

SEO and Keywords: To be completely honest, we don't focus heavily on SEO around here right now. As the team grows and capacity expands, we'll work on it, but for now, we've just dipped our toes in. If you feel more fancy than we do, take a look at Google’s Keyword Planner and Buzz Sumo.

 

Promoting Your Blog Post

We'll just cover this briefly here, but you can have the best-written, most beautiful post in the world, but if no one reads it, it won’t do you much good. Here are some of the ways we promote our posts, and you may think of others that work for you as well.

 

Read the other posts in this series:



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER: 

 Blog writing tips that will help ensure your post gets read, and better yet, acted on.

 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.


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.


    4 Insider Reasons Interns are Motivated to Help You

    I've already made a couple of big, business decisions in 2018, and one of those was to hire interns. I'd know for a long time that I eventually wanted to bring in some spry, young talent, but a couple of things were holding me back.

    First, I didn't feel "successful" enough to bring anyone else into the mix. I still don't know what "successful" enough meant/means to me, but I finally decided it was time to put that thought to bed. I had valuable lessons to teach someone, and it was time to start imparting.

    Second, I knew it would take some legitimate time and effort to get things in place and delegate. Most of us feel like we move at the speed of light, and slowing down isn't an option. But, again, I needed to take a step back. The reality is that I needed extra help, and there were people available to assist. And once I got things up and running, the hard part was over. So, in the end, I got over myself and found two, fantastic interns. 

    So, here's the first of what I hope will be many blog posts from Megan Westbrook:

     4 Insider Reasons Interns are Motivated to Help You

    February is rapidly coming to a close (I know, I can’t believe it either) and amidst all of your New Year’s resolutions and scrambling during the busy, first few months of the year, you may have started feeling a bit overwhelmed and stressed. You know what might help you? Interns. And who better to talk about interns than an intern?

     

    Internships not only benefit interns but also benefit you, a business owner or employee.

    I know it may seem daunting at first, and you might feel like you’re only adding more to your plate by having to create an internship program. Yes, it does require some extra work to get a program up and running, find interns, and then get them acclimated. However, once it’s in place, you’re set, and you will continue to reap the benefits of having one or two extra sets of hands.

    Interns take some of the weight off of you by helping to alleviate the day-to-day, back-end, or miscellaneous tasks that can take up too much of your time. Interns allow you to focus on the bigger picture and your larger projects, instead of freaking out over a mile-long to-do list. For example, those of you who hate technology, social media, and/or emailing (understandably so) should know that interns are more than likely to be knowledgeable and more interested in doing these kinds of tasks. Score!

    Although many businesses are starting to pay interns now, there are still plenty of internships that are unpaid, and that’s totally ok! You can still secure interns without breaking the bank, so all you entrepreneurs with new businesses can breathe easy. I guarantee you that there are people out there who will still be willing to help you, so don’t let that hold you back from seeking them out! This is especially true when they believe in your cause.

    Now you may wonder what an intern gets out of all of this. Why would someone be willing to help you and your business, possibly without pay? There are actually several reasons why someone may seek out an internship, and it really is a win-win situation.

    The easiest and most common source of motivation is to fulfill a college requirement or credit.

    Often times, colleges require students to have an internship during their last semester or last few semesters in order to complete their degree plan. I know it was required for me during my final semester as a journalism and public relations major, and I know it is considered a required credit for many areas of study.

    Universities will usually assist in the internship process, either already having established relationships with businesses, or helping students find opportunities. And even if it isn’t required, internships are still highly recommended, as they allow students to apply what they learn in class to real life situations. Which brings me to my next point . . .

     

    Internships allow the intern to gain experience in a certain field or explore new areas of interest.

    Interning is a great way to find out what you like and what you don’t. If someone is, say, an early childhood education major and starts student teaching at a local school and realizes that they actually don’t have enough patience to deal with 15 elementary-school-aged children at once, they may want to reconsider their career path.

    Personally, I got out of college and realized I still had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. So I got a regular 9 to 5 job and decided to explore my interests on the side by getting, you guessed it, internships! There’s so many career options to explore. Sometimes it’s best to shop around a bit before investing in one.

    Jobs are not one-size-fits-all. Different people will be better equipped for different things. Internships are the perfect opportunity for people to explore new paths and figure out where they truly want to be and what they want to do. Some know for certain exactly what they want to do, and I’m jealous, but interning is still an amazing opportunity to gain valuable experience for future careers. More experience never hurt anybody, and especially not when it’s benefiting you!

    Gaining an internship also allows interns to build and expand on their skill set and resume.

    This is real life experience we’re talking about. While still important and valuable, lectures can only teach you so much, and let’s be honest, most college students are probably scrolling through Instagram or falling asleep during their lectures anyway. It’s getting out in the field and really working in it that is going to prepare them for a career and for life in general. You have the ability to provide someone with this experience.

    Internships teach various skills, from time management to written and oral communication to maybe even operating Outlook at the most basic level. (I used this all through college and only realized once I got a job that there was a calendar function. How? I do not know.) “The more the merrier” applies well here. More internships means more skills means a merrier recent graduate or just someone trying to discover the right career path.

    This is exactly what motivated me. I have a variety of interests, and interning helps me explore them and figure out what I am best at and what I would like to do career-wise. I am learning new skills and fine-tuning the ones I already have, so that I can better serve myself and whatever career I choose.

    I’m here writing this because I was given the opportunity to learn more about publishing, promoting blog posts, and how to better use other forms of communication like social media. I am learning how to navigate around new platforms and improving my writing skills, as well as exploring new avenues.

    Even better, I can add these new skills and experience to my resume. This is vital in finding and securing a job. You need experience, plain and simple. That, and a bit of luck and a few connections. Speaking of . . . 

     

    There are abundant opportunities to network and form connections with different people and business professionals as an intern.

    Networking is key. Building successful relationships with people, career related or otherwise, is a beautiful thing. Networking gives interns the chance to pick more brains and connect with professionals who may be able to help them later. All while helping you grow your business.

    Being an intern can provide someone with the opportunity to attend more events and/or meetings, which is a great way to meet new people. Socializing, introducing themselves, getting their name out, and making connections is a great way to determine what kind of job they want to move towards. Besides, now you have someone to take to all of your events, and you can instill all of your wise knowledge along the way.

    There are various reasons why someone may be motivated to intern, accompanied also by a plethora of mutual benefits. If, as a business owner or leader, you can give someone the opportunity to explore their interests, gain more or new experience, build their skill set, add to their resume, network, and possibly fulfill college credit, all while helping to take some of your workload away, why wouldn’t you?

    And if you’re wondering how to go about getting an intern, fear not! Check back in next week and you’ll have all the answers.


    Megan Westbrook

    Megan Westbrook holds a B.A. in journalism with a focus in public relations and a minor in Spanish from Georgia State University. An aspiring writer, her interests reside in blogging, social media, content creation, design, and photography. She is also a passionate social justice advocate and interested in nonprofit or cause-focused work. Megan is currently a receptionist at Servcorp in Atlanta, Georgia. 



    PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

    Internships not only benefit interns but also benefit you, a business owner or employee.

    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.