Launches

How to Make Your Next Event More Successful

Quick note: During the summer, we'll only be publishing one blog post per month as we focus on some new activities and allow you some down time without falling behind on content.

I don't know about you, but I love events. I love attending them, of course, but also working on them behind-the-scenes. When I was an event marketing director, I was able to help create a dynamic experience for almost 8,000 people. And with my nonprofit and social enterprise freelance clients, it's still a blast to see an event go from concept to completion, resulting in smiling faces, sales earned, and money raised.

A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of working with one of my favorite local organizations, Atlanta Dream Center, on their annual benefit dinner. I had been volunteering with them for three years at that point, and they were Signify's first, official client, so they'll always have a soft spot in my heart. Understandably, I was thrilled to be working with them on a professional level now, too.

At the end of the evening, we had quite a surprise—we had not only met the fundraising goal, but we had quadrupled the previous year's total! High fives all around!

However, I don't think it was an accident. After working on so many events over the years, both large and small, I believe there is a key factor we implemented during the event planning process that changed everything.

So, if you're looking for event planning tips, this one's a doozy! Here's how to make your next event more successful than your last. (Hint: It's probably not what you think.)

 How to Make Your Next Event More Successful

If you stumbled upon this post looking for the latest event planning tips and tricks, you might be a little disappointed. But, hang with me, I think you'll still learn a really valuable lesson, especially if you're a beginner to the event planning world.

You see, what I've found over and over again, across many contexts, is that while there are always shiny, new ideas to make your event look awesome, there is one element of event planning that should always get the spotlight.

It's the step that should never get skipped.

So, what is it? Strategy.

I truly believe taking a more strategic approach to planning the 2016 Atlanta Dream Center (ADC) annual benefit gala was key to its financial success.

Here's why.

A FOUNDATION FOR SUCCESS

When I first started as a contractor for the benefit dinner, I was mostly working alongside the development director, who had been in the position less than a year. So, we were both newbies to the event. And even though the dinner was entering its fourth year, I felt like the event was just trying to get off the ground. 

There was no established model to follow. The ADC staff had tried a few different formats, but hadn't really fallen in love with one yet. That gave us a lot of latitude without a tremendous amount of expectations, except for the fact that this was their largest fundraiser of the year. #NoPressure

There were a couple of things we immediately did to start off on the right foot. The first was to get organized. Those who had been in charge of the dinner previously were no longer with the nonprofit, so we had to conduct a treasure hunt for some of the assets because I really wanted to take a look at what had been done before to assess how effective it was, and ways to build on it.

Once we had them collected, my suggestion was that we move everything to Google Drive so all stakeholders would have instant access. This plan worked great, and allowed us to collaborate well. It also solved the problem of keeping everything in a central location should someone else leave in the future.

The other, main thing we did was set up regular planning and check-in meetings leading up to the event, which was about five months away. Some of those were just between the development director and I, and some involved all department heads for the organization that needed to have a say in aspects of the dinner. 

These two choices may seem small or inconsequential, but I promise you that they made a big difference in the tone and feel of the event right from the start. And everyone could feel it.

Never underestimate the power of being organized!

STRATEGY'S ROLE IN EVENT PLANNING

Now, we were ready to start the event planning process. And this is where strategy became the star player.

During one of our early meetings, the entire team was sitting around a table discussing the format, logistics, and what people liked and didn't like from previous years. I also started asking them more questions about who would be in the seats.

This proved to be a key moment because, not only should you ask this question every time you plan an event, but that year was a turning point for the organization. The goals for this dinner were bigger because costs had risen, of course, but they were also gaining a bigger reputation in the area.

Previously, it had been friends, family, and close partners who attended the event. That year, however, they wanted to target new individuals and corporations. Essentially, they were ready to broaden their reach.

So, we had to start looking at everything fresh for that year's dinner. What had worked in the past might not work for a new crowd.

We revamped the sponsorship package, added a lot of cold leads to the potential sponsor list, and changed the format of the event to be more forward-thinking and informative, rather than using "insider" language as they had done before.

This new group of attendees might not be familiar with the different ministries under ADC's umbrella, or know why the work is important, or understand how their donations can effect people and programs all over the state. It was a big opportunity, and we didn't want to miss it.

I also created::

  • Positioning language for the sponsorship package, instead of it just be a list of benefits.
  • A formal sponsorship letter that anyone on the staff could use as a framework to solicit donations.
  • Talking points so that anyone who spoke about the dinner to a potential sponsor or donor could stay "on message," relaying the most important aspects of why the event was being held.
  • The language for the website and email/print newsletters, so that everything was aligned and on point.
  • A marketing plan for them to see the event strategically from start to finish, even if I wasn't around.
  • A press release to get the word out about the event's success after it was over, which could bring more eyes to their work, resulting in even more new supporters, donors, or partners.

The ministry also began working on ways they could highlight their uniqueness, as well as how it relates to the overall mission of the organization. We needed to clearly communicate how everything worked together. And it turned out to be a very cool, experiential element of the evening that they improve each year.

From the initial conversation to the wrap-up meeting, my goal was to bring a new level of professionalism to the event, and a fresh pair of eyes.

Don't get me wrong, their staff is outstanding at what they do, and they are relational to the core. (And a whole lot of fun!) But, like many small nonprofits, they struggled with systems and processes. Strategy wasn't the foundation of the event. 

We made a huge amount of progress that year—and it showed. Yes, the final fundraising tally was fantastic, but those who had previously attended their benefit dinners also noted how different everything felt. They had a great time, and were looking forward to the next one. That's definitely what you want to hear!

The staff also said that it was the most relaxed they'd felt at the benefit dinner. Each person knew their role, and were able to connect with sponsors and donors throughout the evening rather than running around putting out fires and pitching in on last-minute logistics. 

One of the other things I suggested to the team was that we not only ask for donations at the end of the event, which was already part of the plan, but we give attendees other ways to stay engaged and build deeper relationships with ADC throughout the year. This was important both for the die-hard fans and the people who were new to the mission.

You don't want to have a great event and captive audience, and then just say you'll see them next year. You want to give them a clear next step, and make it easy to take.

Our answer was to have staffed tables and flyers available in the lobby while people waited in line for valet service. This move gave attendees options for getting more involved with whichever ministry struck a chord with them that night, as well as opportunities to further utilize their time, resources, and funds to support the nonprofit.

DETERMINING SUCCESS

It's absolutely true that sales and donations are important. Those things keep the doors open and the lights on. And it's equally true that people have planned events with far less strategy and still seen great results.

But planning a successful event can be seen so many different ways:

  • Hitting bigger sales and revenue goals
  • Increasing attendance
  • Not driving your staff insane
  • Letting you sleep easier at night
  • Allowing your tribe to take the right, next steps with your organization

That's why I think strategy is the key to making your next event more successful. It certainly worked for Atlanta Dream Center, and I think it will work for you too.

 

“‘Exceed expectations’ is an overused expression with few who can document occasions when they actually did exceed expectations. Kristi Porter is one who can point to the work she did with the Atlanta Dream Center and accurately state that she exceeded all of our expectations. You will be well pleased with the results achieved by bringing Kristi onto your team.” - Mark Northcutt, Atlanta Dream Center

 



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

 After working on so many  events  over the years, both large and small, I believe there is a key factor we implemented during the event planning process that changed everything.So, if you're looking for event planning tips, this one's a doozy! Here's how to make your next event more successful than your last. (Hint: It's probably not what you think.)

 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.


Want to Grow Your Business? You Need Help.

Quick note: During the summer, we'll only be publishing one blog post per month as we focus on some new activities and allow you some down time without falling behind on content.

 

Here's one thing I know about you: You want your business to grow. 

Not everyone does. In fact, some people are quite content for their small business to stay small, which is totally fine. They're just looking for some extra money, and a side gig or a "professional hobby" will do. But I know you want to grow your business because it's not just about you. It's about your cause.

Whether you're a nonprofit or a for-profit with a social mission, you want to increase your organization's capacity and influence because you're fighting for something. You may not have a desire to become the next TOMS or Habitat for Humanity, but you do have a desire to help more people. You want to have a bigger impact. You want to do more good.

So, how do you grow your small business?

There's one simple way that I recommend you start thinking about today: Get help. Yes, it may be simple, but I realize it's not easy.

It's not easy to decide to spend the money. It's not easy to allocate your resources differently. It's not easy to bring someone new into your process. But I believe this one decision can make all the difference. 

It has for me, and I think it can do the same for you. And guess what? It may not even require hiring more staff.

 Want to Grow Your Business? You Need Help.

First of all, I realize it's a bit of a Catch-22. You'd be happy to spend the money to get more help...if you could only make more money in order to do so!

I've been stuck on that hamster wheel myself, and some days honestly, I still am. But there is also something to be said for the old adage, "You have to spend money to make money." And I believe that's true. Maybe deep down, you do too.

But, like I said, there's also plenty of good news! It may not require hiring more staff to get your organization to the next level. It may just require some creative, out-of-the-box thinking. Or some networking. Or some short-term effort. Regardless, though, it will require help.

Why? You can only do so much at your current level—even if you already have a small staff. 

The Facts About Small Business

  • The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council states that 89.4% of small businesses have less than 20 staffers. 

  • The Small Business Administration notes that about half of all small businesses make it to the five-year mark, with approximately one third seeing their 10-year anniversary.

  • When looking at just women-owned businesses, Small Business Labs tell us that 41% of my #girlboss peers only have between two and four employees, while 51% are solopreneurs!
  • Finally, this report by Babson College tells us that 70% of the small business owners they polled found it difficult to hire qualified employees.

Besides throwing a lot of numbers at you, what am I trying to say? First, growing a business is hard, but I don't have to tell you that! Second, there is another way to get the help you need and grow your business without necessarily growing your staff, at least in the early stages when bootstrapping is the name of the game.

So, how do you grow your business without hiring more staff?  Keep reading.

 

Getting to the Next Stage of Business

Check out an awesome article from Todd Herman on the "Five Stages of Business Growth." In it, he shows you exactly what you should be focusing on for each stage, which is incredibly helpful. I'm in Todd's program, and I can say that he is an very smart guy. Learning from him has been definitely benefitted my business.

If you want to make it to that five or ten year mark, you need help. If you want to make a bigger impact, you need help. And if you want to avoid burnout for yourself or your staff, you need help.

What does this look like? I think it looks like finding interns, learning from mentors, bartering for services, and/or hiring independent contractors. It could even mean a combination of all of those things—it has for me.

You only know so much. You only have so much time. Why not fill those gaps with people who are there to assist you or are better suited for those tasks? Be the leader who sees the forest, not just the trees.

As I talked about last summer, work ON your business, not IN your business.

Why Is Getting Help for Your Organization So Important?

Right about now, you may be asking yourself why you should be hiring interns, consultants, or indepdendent contractors, especially if it's going to cost you hard-earned money. I mean, what's the big deal? You can just look up a few more articles or take a few courses and figure out everything you need to know, right? Anything you need to learn is just a Google search away.

Yes, that's pretty much true, and I'm guilty of the same thoughts and questions. But there are some INVALUABLE assets that come with these roles. And I’d like to explain by telling you how I've utilized consultants/interns/contractors in the past, both personally and professionally.

  • They provide a set of fresh eyes. We can often lose perspective as we work on our own projects day in and out. Allowing someone to see them objectively can provide insight we couldn't gain otherwise.
  • They cost you less than you might think. While the initial investment may seem significant, especially if this process is new to you, remember that these people do not cost you insurance or other full-time employee perks. You also don’t have to take taxes from their payments.
  • They don't have to stick around long-term. Sometimes you just have a short-term need, or a season that requires an additional set of hands. These people rally around you when you need it, and not when you don't.
  • They can relieve stress from you and your employees. Often small organizations rely on a limited number of people to do a wide variety of tasks. Sometimes, however, these tasks are not suited to their skills. Consultants and third-party contractors who specialize in certain areas can be invaluable to helping you reach your goals, while taking the pressure off your team. This will either allow them room to breathe, catch up on their primary tasks, or take on new assignments within their wheelhouse.
  • They allow you to focus. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. You need to be working on the tasks and goals that specifically require your time and attention. If you have the ability to outsource beyond that, do it. Focus on the things no one else can do for your business.
  • They can provide expansion. These folks allow you to “go beyond” what you’ve already been doing. You can dream bigger, cast your net wider, and experience results you could not have had before at your current pace. But the ROI (return on investment) may be significant. Yes, it's important to consider the cost, but if you make more sales and donations than you would have without their help, it will be worth it!

 

Where Do You Find These Magical Creatures?

Well, of course, if you're looking for someone to help you with your writing, marketing, or communications needs, I'd be remiss not to mention that I can help you with those tasks. Whether you hate doing those kinds of things, or just need to focus on something else that's more deserving of your attention, I'm here. 

I launched Signify almost two years ago to help nonprofits, social enterprises, and other for-profits with a social mission with their marketing and communications. It’s been a crazy adventure! But I love being able to fill the gap for these types of organizations, especially the small ones that need my kind of help, but can’t afford a staffer or an agency.

Most of the people I work with just need help for a short period of time, so I have the ability to pop in and out, as needed. And, during that time, I can help move their mission forward. My goal is to make cause-focused organizations look and sound more professional so they can build a larger audience, increase sales or donations, and do more good.

But here are a few, other resources:

When in doubt, ask around. We all have our own networks, and most people are happy to suggest someone or something that might be able to help you. I also love asking in Facebook Groups because they're already built around tribes.

The point, though, is to not just sit and wonder. It's time to take action.

Hiring Tips From The Pros

I asked a few friends in these roles to share some advice with you. Keep these tips in mind when you hire independent contractors, freelancers, and consultants, so that you can make the best decision possible.

When hiring a graphic designer...

"The first step is to make sure you (and most importantly, your audience) enjoy their overall style. They don't need to have an exact portfolio example of what you're looking for, but the general tone should feel right. Second, I'd look to see if they've worked with similar organizations or have experience in your field. If you're a nonprofit, for example, it can be so helpful to work with a designer who already understands the nonprofit language. Third, consider the energy: the design process requires a lot of honest and open communication. It requires vulnerability on both sides. I think it's important that you feel comfortable with your designer and would enjoy meeting with them! So, ask for a discovery call or meeting to see if the right energy flows!
Your budget may require you to work with a less experienced designer, or a designer who doesn't have a distinct style yet. I wouldn't rule them out for those two reasons, but the energy has to be there."
- Madison Beaulieu, graphic designer and co-founder of Mad + Dusty

 When hiring a web designer...

"If you’re ready for your online presence to capture the essence of your brand, and work to attract clients, you’re ready to hire a web designer. 
Before reaching out to an expert, spend time on their website and consider how it resonates with you. If it makes a great first impression, is engaging, and leads you to a clear call to action, you know they can do that for you. Having a beautiful website is one thing, but having one that works is another. My tip for you is to know that you need both!"
- Alison Chandler, website and visual brand identity specialist

When hiring an event planner...

"I think that a lot of people are naïve when it comes to the budget for any event. Many clients don’t know how much it costs to hire a good photographer, caterer, etc. so, they’ll spend money on little things and before they know it, they’re way over budget.
My advice: choose your top three Items and spend the bulk of your money there. My top three are always food, music, and alcohol. I like invitations, but they aren’t the most important item to me. Now, if you’re a graphic designer or your company sells paper, the invitations are probably really important to you and that’s ok. Make invitations one of your top three. The important thing is to focus on what’s most important to you, and then build the rest of your budget from there."
- Kristi Collins, certified wedding and event planner at CoCo Red Events

When hiring voice talent...

"It’s often easier to grab the admin assistant with the great phone voice, or the singing maintenance man for a quick 'read through' of your outgoing message, but resist the urge. It’s not enough to have a nice voice. A quality voice talent must be able to tap into the audience your trying to reach with the feelings you want to convey, so that anyone who hears it will want to take action.
Your message is too important for it to sound like it’s being read from a handwritten notebook. With intentional script writing and the right voice, you’ll move beyond your customer or donor’s heads and into their hearts."
- Jennifer Wilder, voice talent

When hiring any freelancer/contractor/consultant...

"When you hire an expert to help you in a certain area of your business—listen to them. Trust them. You hired them for a reason, so let them do the job they were hired for. Sometimes that means taking a leap of faith and doing something different than you're used to. Sometimes it means trying something new that you're not entirely sure of. Experimentation is what business is all about—trying something new to take your business to a new level."
- Kristen Miller, Sales Funnel Strategist | Social Media Manager | Digital Marketing

I echo all of these ladies, and many of the same principles apply to copywriters as well!

 

If not now, then when?

You may be stuck thinking that you don't have the money or time to find and hire contractors/consultants/freelancers/interns. I get it, and I've been there too. Plenty of times.

And I'm not discounting those statements. They're valid concerns. But here's what I will ask you, "If not now, then when?"

Make a plan to begin your search or interviews. Make a plan to save the money. Make a plan to ask for help. Otherwise, time will continue to fly by, and you'll be no better off in six months than you are today. After all, where were you six months ago, having these same exact thoughts?

I don't want that for you. Your mission is too important. I want you to grow, have a bigger impact, and do more good. 

You've got a cause that you're fighting for. It's time to fight just a little harder.



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

 Whether you're a  nonprofit  or a for-profit with a social mission, you want to increase your organization's capacity and influence because you're fighting for something. So, how do you grow your small business? There's one simple way that I recommend you start thinking about today: Get help. Yes, it may be simple, but I realize it's not easy.

 Kristi Porter, Chief Do-Gooder at 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 Make the Media Come to You

    Yes, it's true. There is a very simple way to make the media come to you, and all it requires is your email address. Too good to be true? Not at all!

    I've been using this method for well over a decade, way back when I was a young pup at a boutique PR firm that focused on restaurants and hospitality clients. (We ate really well.)

    What is this magic you ask? It's called HelpAReporterOut.com, or known to us in the public relations biz as HARO. And it's just about the easiest way to get press for yourself or your organization.

     How to Make the Media Come to You

    Why HARO?

    HARO is a way for journalists and bloggers to find sources for their articles. Literally three times per day Monday through Friday, you can receive emails that state the journalist's name, media outlet, and what information they need from a potential source.

    Seriously, could it get any better? Oh, wait—did I mention that it's FREE?

    I used this service for clients when I was in public relations, and then later when I was running the communications department at an eco-organization, and also at my last job as an event marketing director. 

    So, when I started Signify, it was a no-brainer to use HARO to initially help get my name out. This is a large reason why you'll see media logos on my About page. I launched my website last February, and within a couple of months, I had half a dozen media mentions.

    Why Do You Need Publicity?

    Well, no one needs publicity for their nonprofit or social enterprise, but it sure is nice!

    Being mentioned by the media can:

    • Give you credibility or "social proof," showing that others are endorsing you or your work.
    • Look impressive to potential partners, donors, customers, and sponsors.
    • Get links back to your website which increases your SEO.
    • Attract more fans and followers to your social media.
    • Help get your name out if your organization is small, in a growth phase, or just getting started.

     

    Responding to HARO Inquiries

    These are the most important tips to keep in mind when you respond to a HARO inquiry:

    • First of all, notice the deadline. Let me repeat that: note the deadline! Many of them only give you a day or two notice, and some may even only give you a few hours if they're on a tight deadline. (FYI, if you respond past the listed date and time, it's likely the email address will be dead anyway because they look more like Craigslist's generate emails than name@company.com.)
    • Make sure you're a good fit for the article. Do not waste a journalist's time, or yours.
    • Be short and to the point. Answer their questions or query well, but don't be too wordy. You'll often see them note the word or sentence count that they're looking for in responses. Stick to that, or you're likely to just get deleted.
    • Read all their requirements. Be sure to hit every point in your response. And, for example, if they say to include your name, email, and website link, I like to list those in a list or with bullets rather than in a sentence. 
    • Be as helpful as possible. You can include links if that further supports your response, but they do not like attachments. For this reason, if they ask for a head shot, it's best to have yours stored on Dropbox or Google Drive and just include the link.
    • I also like to use humor when possible to stand out, or try to come at the article with a different perspective or angle than I think they'll receive from everyone else.

     

    About Pitching

     

    There are a lot of formulas for pitching, and a quick Google search will give you thousands of results. But since you guys aren't publicists or freelance writers, let's just keep it simple, shall we?

    Here are the basic components, but depending on what's asked for, this could shift a little:

    • Greeting
    • I start most every pitch with what I do in a nutshell. This is only one sentence, and you'll find it below.
    • Get to answering their query as quickly and simply as possible. Try for just a few sentences, unless they say it can be several paragraphs.
    • Include any other info they've asked for like a headshot or website link.
    • Depending on the request, you may want to include availability for when you can chat if they said they'll follow up with the right people by phone. Again, read the listing carefully, and if they need to talk by phone, don't forget your time zone! 
    • I always end with something about hoping they have a good day, or get the responses they need, etc. It's just a well wish for them, and recognizing there is a person on the other end.

    More Best Practices

    Keep in mind that these people are from all kinds of media outlets and are writing all kinds of stories. So, you'll have to wade through 99% of them to find stories that you might be a good fit for. And that means 99% of ALL emails you get from them, not each email. Most of the time, unless you have a really broad topic or just want practice replying, it will be irrelevant to you. But there are opportunities that are certainly worth the wait!

    And until you get used to the frequency, it can get overwhelming on busy days when you receive three emails per day from them. If you let HARO emails pile up, which I've done many times, just delete them and start over because most of the deadlines have already passed anyway.

    If you're really active on social media, you might also consider following HARO there. This is one of the best ways to find last-minute stories. And if those are a good fit, you're more likely to make the cut due to the quick deadline and other people just not seeing it.

    Oh, and if you do get chosen, be kind and promote the blog or article. For one thing, it's just polite, and you'd want the same courtesy. Additionally, it again looks good for your audience to see that you've received some publicity. And finally, it can lead to repeat opportunities with that media outlet, journalist, or blogger.

     

    Final Tips

    First of all, you won't get picked every time you respond to a query. Yep, it's just like fifth grade kickball. Each listing receive get dozens or even hundreds of responses, so sometimes it just comes down to if the journalist or blogger thinks that you're the right fit. The other half of the equation is, of course, making sure your pitch is carefully thought out and well-executed. Do your part!

    Additionally, don't disregard media outlets that you've never heard of or those listed as "anonymous." You must have a fairly good-sized web presence to even create a HARO listing. So, people are still going to see your name out there online, and you just never know what that might do. It could be as small as new social media followers, or as large as you can imagine.

    And when you're getting started, I recommend answering every inquiry you can. Of course, you must be a good fit! Again, you don't want to waste the journalist's time. However, just the practice of responding and honing your pitch will be terrific practice for when you see opportunities that you really want.

    It was through this process that I refined my elevator pitch for Signify. (In case you're wondering, it's "I'm a copywriter and consultant who helps nonprofits and social enterprises get noticed and grow through effective marketing and communications." <-- That went through a lot of drafts before it ended up here, and HARO really helped me.)

    One final note: hopefully, you'll hear back from the journalist or blogger if they use your information, but that's not always the case. That's why it's important to set up alerts for when your name, nonprofit, or social enterprise is mentioned online. Google Alerts has become really unreliable over the past few years, so I've turned to TalkWalker. I know this doesn't catch all media mentions either, but it is free, and I'm not ready to pay for a service yet. :)

    And if using HARO works for you, I'd love to hear about it! See you out there!

     

    By the way, this is the second week of our March PR series. Be sure to sign up to receive blog posts so you don't miss parts three and four! Catch up on using public relations in social media right here.

    Read all posts in this PR series:



    PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

     Yes, it's true. There is a very simple way to make the media come to you, and all it requires is your email address. Too good to be true? Not at all! I've been using this method for well over a decade.

     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.


    Taking Your Business in a New Direction

    Today's guest post is by Ashley Jones, founder of Love Not Lost. LNL is an incredible organization that provides free photography sessions to those facing terminal illness, along with grief resources for the people supporting them.

    Ashley has made two shifts in her business model over the past few of years, and has done so by listening to her heart and her community. I think she has some valuable lessons to teach us all about change, and how to evaluate our organization's long-term success. Both nonprofits and social enterprises will relate to her inspiring story.

    And as you begin the New Year, take her desire for feedback and education to heart and see how you can apply it to your own organization. 

     Taking Your Nonprofit or Social Enterprise in a New Direction

    The New Year mindset can be full of vision, dreaming, and wonder. There is a whole new year ahead to grow, hustle, and reach your dreams. But what if your year doesn't go as planned? What if there is a new direction you need to take? 

    As a business owner, your business is your ship and you are responsible for steering it and taking it on the journey you desire. At times, certainly in the startup phase, it can feel overwhelming. Waters are rough, and the path to success may not be as visible as it once was, but you're not alone. You have feedback from your customers or donors, mentors/advisors, and your relationships within your network to help guide you. Have you been cultivating these relationships? Are you asking for advice? Are you listening to what they say? 

    Launching a Business

    After losing my daughter to a terminal diagnosis in 2011, I started my own photography business to help get me out of bed every morning. I knew just enough to get me out into open waters, but quickly realized I was in trouble. I spent way too much money and effort on marketing, and I didn't have a good pricing structure. I knew I needed help. At that time, I didn't have any mentors or advisors and felt like I was alone. But I dove into business resources like GrowthLab and CreativeLive, and read books like Good to Great by Jim Collins and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. 

    In the first year, I learned a lot of hard lessons and grew into a better person while navigating grief. Brene Brown, Ramit Sethi, and photography experts like Lindsay Adler and Jerry Ghionis became my online mentors. And I asked my clients what I could do better, and truly listened to their complaints. It was really hard, but I was better for it. I also looked to my network to build relationships where we could help each other succeed. Each connection and relationship propelled me forward.  

    Over the next several years, I would continue to grow as a person and a business woman, which included donating sessions to people facing a terminal diagnosis as a way to love it forward. Although I was doing wedding and portrait photography, and was successful with it, my heart ached for more. I knew that the sessions I gave away to suffering families filled my soul in a way nothing else could. I new I needed to change direction. 

    It's not always easy to change direction with business. It's very likely people will challenge you, they might even get upset, and it will take some time to establish the change as your new normal. 

    Keep moving forward.

    A New Direction for My Business

    I had a vision for a nonprofit that would photograph people facing a terminal diagnosis to preserve memories and support people in grief. I knew this would be an amazing gift for so many people in the world. Some of my clients were upset that I was no longer going to be able to photograph their family. Some photographers told me my idea would never work. Some really successful people told me it wasn't a smart business move and that I should just keep doing what I was doing or do something else altogether. 

    There will always be people telling you why things won't work or how dumb something is, but it's up to you to prove them wrong. I started Love Not Lost anyway, and launched in the spring of 2016. With the help of some friends in the event industry, we pulled together a launch party and were able to raise $20,000 to get started. 

    We've only been gaining momentum since then. The first year, I traveled all over the nation to photograph people to prove this was a valid concept and show the need for it. In 2017, we worked on building a scalable model that we have implemented in Atlanta. Our focus is on building a network of photographer volunteers, partnering with hospices and hospitals in the greater Atlanta area, and adding a Director of Operations to our team to manage the photographer program. As we've been doing this and serving applicants, we've been listening to our feedback. 

     

    Expanding Our Focus

    Everyone loves the photo sessions and books, but people we photograph tell us their friends and family often have a hard time supporting them, and they're left feeling alone and abandoned. We've heard our supporters and donors tell us they want to help, but they don't know how. We have seen and experienced this huge gap in grief support and we want to make it better. 

    In 2018, in addition to continuing our photographer program growth in Atlanta, we will be adding grief resources and tools to help individuals show up for the people in their lives who are hurting. We'll have empathy cards, photo gift sessions, and a few other things offered on our website. This wasn't a part of our original plan, but it's a new shift in the direction because we listened to the people we were serving and the people in our community. It's a need that is not being met that we can meet. 

    As you go forward, no matter what it is you are doing in the world to bring value, I challenge you to listen to the pain. Listen with empathy, not judgement or defensiveness. Where are people hurting or suffering? Where are there problems within your business and industry? What can you do to make them better? Where are you uniquely gifted to meet the needs that aren't being met by anyone else? 

    And remember, growth is usually never easy. As a business owner, it's hard not to take negative feedback personally. Expect the growing pains and know it's making you bigger, better, and stronger for the future. I wish you all the best in the New Year! 


     Ashley Jones, founder of Love Not Lost

    After losing her daughter to Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Ashley started two companies, Shutter Sweet Photography and Skylight Creative Group, to keep her going. She's always had a heart for serving others, so donating portrait sessions to people facing a terminal diagnosis just made sense after what she had been through. When donated sessions became a regular occurrence, Ashley realized the need was great and Love Not Lost was born. You can find LNL on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.



    PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

      Ashley Jones of Love Not Lost has made two shifts in her business model over the past few of years, and has done so by listening to her heart and her community. I think she has some valuable lessons to teach us all about change, and how to evaluate our organization's long-term success. Both nonprofits and social enterprises will relate to her inspiring story.

     Kristi Porter, founder at 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.