Can’t Scan it? Ban it! 10 Reasons Nonprofit Appeals Tank

10 placards 300x300 Can’t Scan it? Ban it! 10 Reasons Nonprofit Appeals Tank

Get 10 Ways to Make Your Content Scannable

Stop Making Me — and Your Readers — Work

If reading your appeal seems like hard work to me, than why should I bother? I work all day! If reading your appeal seems like a struggle for comprehension, then what’s the point? I struggle to understand stuff all day.

My brain needs a rest.

Even more, my brain would enjoy a treat. Something that lights up my pleasure centers and makes me feel good.

Does your appeal do that for your would-be donors? Or does it require them to put in great effort to get through it?

Reading may be a breeze for you. But it’s not for everybody. Lots and lots of folks suffer from a range of “reading processing disorders” that make it difficult for them to plow through a bunch of dense text.Continue Reading

6 Types of Modern Jargon to Avoid in Your Fundraising Appeal

Head scratcher2 6 Types of Modern Jargon to Avoid in Your Fundraising Appeal

Huh? I’ve no idea what you mean.

Who writes your annual appeal letter? If it’s your executive director or your board chair there’s a very good chance it’s filled with jargon. This (pardon my non-jargon language) sucks.

Jargon is the opposite of constituent-centered writing.

It’s not your writer’s fault. Most of us use jargon all the time without being aware we’re doing so. It’s the language we speak when we work together in groups. It’s a sort of short-hand. Acronyms. Labels. Terms of art. It pops up all over the place. But, again, when it comes to using it in your fundraising appeals it’s bad news. Yet it’s exceedingly difficult to avoid. Why?Continue Reading

Why Your Nonprofit Communications are a Waste of Time: 10 Easy Fixes

checklist 300x225 Why Your Nonprofit Communications are a Waste of Time: 10 Easy Fixes

Don’t create communications simply to check them off your list as “done.”

I know you’re strapped for time. But that’s no excuse for slapping your communications together with the sole purpose of “getting them out there.” Why bother? Checking this task off your list (and maybe reporting to your boss and/or board that you did so) may make you feel a bit better. But it won’t help your readers (and potential supporters) feel good.

If you want to get gifts you must give them. Consider your communications a gift to your supporters. Don’t give something generic. Give something your recipient will appreciate.  Ask yourself…Continue Reading

WARNING: Your Donor is Getting Bored

Yawning person 300x225 WARNING: Your Donor is Getting Bored

You’re doing the opposite of inspiring me. Zzzzz…

I randomly checked out some nonprofit mission statements yesterday. I was going to check a few more, but… YAWN… I fell asleep.

I’m not kidding. 

I don’t want to embarrass anyone, butContinue Reading

4 Secrets to Inspiring Philanthropy through Storytelling

Storytelling hands 4 Secrets to Inspiring Philanthropy through Storytelling

People. Purpose. Passion. Plan

Philanthropy; Not Fundraising

People. Purpose. Passion. Plan.  Four “P”s in a row. I know… you’re thinking, cute. Yawn. But wait. Before your eyes glaze over, stop a moment and think about these 4 “P”s.

They’re  central to your success in inspiring philanthropy.  Because even though I’ve written, and truly believe, that there are fundamental ways fundraising has changed significantly over the past five years, there are also things that haven’t changed at all. You simply must translate these fundamentals to the digital world:

  1. People love a good story.
  2. One with a purpose. 
  3. One told with passion. 
  4. One that has an order or plan. 

It’s human nature to love to listen to – and tell – a story.  So let’s figure out how to make that happen for your organization – and for your donors.Continue Reading

How Google Works for Your Nonprofit Blog -Easy SEO and Search – S.S.T.S. Series Part IV

Search e1362685226251 How Google Works for Your Nonprofit Blog  Easy SEO and Search   S.S.T.S. Series Part IVIn Part I: Share, Part II: Shareable  and Part III: Talk of this S.S.S.T. Series we covered the importance of sharing your blog, making it shareable by others and getting folks to talk about you with their online networks.  But there’s one important component of your super-sonic blog promotion strategy that we’ve missed.  Here it is:


Let’s begin with why it’s important to talk about search. Because you want more readers for your blog, right? Well, the people who are your friends, plus the people who are their friends, are not all the people in the world.  They’re not even all the people who may be interested in what you do!  Search is how most people find you.  Search is the most common online activity after email, and that fact cuts across generations.Continue Reading

How to Create Nonprofit Blog Conversations That Engage. Let’s Talk! – R.C.A. Series Part II

Seagulls talking the walk How to Create Nonprofit Blog Conversations That Engage. Lets Talk! – R.C.A. Series Part IIR.C.A.? Yup.  When building a blog, you want to be Relatable, Conversational and Actionable. In Part I   of this series I encouraged you to think like an RCA Victrola. You want your content to get people singing your song.  And, heck, you can’t sing unless you know the words.  So, today let’s put the “C” in R.C.A.  Can we talk?


Your blog needs an engagement value proposition  that gets people talking!  What’s your blog really, after all?  It’s online word-of-mouth water cooler talk. It’s got to be interesting… intriguing… inspiring… educational… funny… something your reader perceives as worth reading, commenting on and sharing. To make this happen, you must understand one fundamental truth about blogging.


It’s a conversation; not a term paper.  That’s worth saying twice. Out loud. I’m S.E.R.I.O.U.S.  Unless your goal is to give folks a head-ache, put them to sleep, or assure they never darken your doorstep again, please take this to heart.

And speak to the heart; not the head.  Don’t try too hard. Above all, don’t try to sound smart.  It almost always comes off as phony. Don’t use a bunch of data. Don’t be all stiff and formal.  Use contractions, prepositional phrases, ‘ifs’, ‘ands’ and ‘buts’ at the beginning of sentences.  Cut out excess adjectives. Forget what your 7th-grade English teacher taught you. Take some advice from The Winnie the Pooh Guide to Blogging. Though he described himself as a “bear of little brain,” he knew complicated language and complex terms are confusing. You don’t have time to clarify your terms for folks.  Once you lose them, they’re gone. So get rid of redundant and pretentious words. Get rid of jargon. And don’t be boring.

Conversation flows easily from the tongue. Read your blog post out loud.  If you find yourself getting tripped up, rewrite.

Know who you’re talking to. Honest-to-goodness!  Can you really have a conversation if you’re just blathering mindlessly into the ether?  It’s easier to write for someone you know than a faceless mass. For this reason, I suggest creating marketing personas. As marketing guru Heidi Cohen tells us: Marketing personas are imaginary versions of your prospects, customers and the public that contain in-depth, lifelike character traits, including fun names, to help develop content and marketing.  Here are some great resources to help you develop personas for your constituents (you may have several different personas for different market segments):

How to Build Better Buyer Personas to Drive Killer Content

The Marketer’s Guide to Creating Buyer Personas [Free downloadable template from Hubspot]

And remember that your donor (or potential donor) is a person with a life. In Stop talking to donors like donors Erica Mills of Claxon Marketing reminds us that most folks wear a bunch of hats. Seldom do they self-identify primarily as “donor” They’re moms, dads, friends, daughters, brothers, aunts and uncles.  They’re nurses, project managers, students, teachers, lawyers and chefs.  They’re runners, yogis, musicians, sports fans and knitters.  They’re busy! So try to imagine which hat they may be wearing when they open your blog post.

“Your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one persona real person you know, or an imagined person, and write to that one.” —John Steinbeck

Now that you know who you’re talking to, talk! Let’s say your ‘persona’ is Joe.

Imagine you’re writing to Joe.

Imagine Joe says “I need your help. Can you answer a question for me?”

Remember, you need to think in dialogue form. In Social Media Is Not Your Saving Grace Brian Solis tells us that “if social media is about conversations, you can bet that much of it is based on people asking questions.”  People want answers.  They seek direction. And they’d much rather get their information from someone they trust (you!) than simply through a blind internet search.

Answer Joe.

Imagine Joe says “I don’t get it. Give me an example.”

People really appreciate being able to visualize what you’re telling them. Storytelling predates writing, and is the oldest form of communication there is. We’re wired to understand the world through stories. You have to give your information a context so your audience will remember it better. (Check out Made to Stick by the Heath Brothers).

Give Joe a paragraph that tells a story demonstrating your point.

Imagine Joes says “Aha! Got it. But what does that mean for me? What can I do?”

Write a paragraph that describes actions Joe can take.

Your conversation should lead, ultimately, to action.  That’s the whole point. And that’s what we’ll discuss in Part III. But for now, let me just remind you that one action you’re going to want to ask folks to take is to comment on your post. So be prepared to respond to blog comments to keep the conversation going. I recently asked someone I know if anyone comments on their blog posts.  They answered me with “I have no idea.”  You can bet that not a lot of relationships are being cemented by that blog!

You’ve got to engage.  Otherwise, it’s a lot of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.

Who are you writing for?  Do you use personas? Does something else work for you?

Flickr photo byMark Faviell

4 Reasons No One Will Read Your Nonprofit Blog: Part III of the C.P.A. series

Yawning Hippo 227x300 4 Reasons No One Will Read Your Nonprofit Blog: Part III of the C.P.A. seriesC.P.A.? Yup. In my last two posts I introduced you to the ‘accountant’ theory of an effective blog content strategy.  C for constituent-centered. P for plan. A for accessible. You can review the ‘C’ and ‘P’ posts here and here.   Today we’re going to talk about the ‘A.’

No one is going to read your blog unless you make it accessible. As in “easy to approach, reach, enter, speak with, or use.” So, let’s start at the beginning.  Getting found and getting opened.Continue Reading

Quick Fix for Your Year-End Email Appeal. It’s Not too Late!

Let’s take it from the T O P.
D O  C A R E about what you’re trying to achieve. 
email bottle Quick Fix for Your Year End Email Appeal. It’s Not too Late!
Get it opened, read and acted on.

Remember your primary purposes: (1) Get it open; (2) Get it read; (3) Get the donation. 

Do not – I repeat, do not!—deviate from these primary purposes.
I’m writing this because 40% of online gifts are made in December. You don’t want to blow this year-end chance!  And there’s still time to tweak your emails so that they do the job for you. Ready to spend a few minutes assuring your hard work pays off?
THE ‘ONE’ I’ll open.
You’ve got two seconds to persuade folks that this, among all the other emails in their in-box, is the one they should open. So your subject line is critical. You want something to capture attention, pique curiosity and/or create a sense of urgency (it’s common towards the end of the year to use a deadline for this purpose).  It’s best to keep the subject line at 40-50 characters, especially since so many folks read email on their phones. [Check out Lost in Translation: When Email Hits Mobile, Then What? ]
OH GOODY!It’s from my trusted pal.
Some folks think the ‘from’ line is more important than the subject line because it’s often what motivates people to open the email.  You want folks thinking “Oh goody!  An email from _____. She always has something interesting to say.” Your email should come from a person or brand your targeted reader knows and, ideally, likes.  Often this will be the E.D.  It could also be another beloved staff member or lay leader. Even when you have a trusted brand, you’ll likely get a better response from the person at the brand. It’s certainly something worth testing!
PERSONAL. Yep, it’s for me.
Email is more casual than mail. Use a first-name salutation (if your email service provider doesn’t enable this easily, switch). And try something like “Hello” rather than the more formal “Dear.” Now you’re cooking – you’ve got a letter from a real person to another real person!
DECODED. I “get” what this is trying to say.
A key is to make your message “scannable.” Very few will read every word. And no one will stop to understand jargon or acronyms. Your goal is to create a persuasive message that, in 7 seconds or so, tells your readers exactly what to do. That means:
·      Short sentences
·      Short paragraphs
·      Just why you’re asking; how their gift will help
·      No self-laudatory language; no recitation of your mission and history
·      Numerous links to your donation page
·      Graphic insets telling your reader what to do
·      Bullets
·      Selective use of bold and italics (reserve underlining for hyperlinks only)
Make sure your organization doesn’t send more than one email appeal to overlapping constituencies on the exact same day. Youmay be separated into different departments, but your donor (hopefully) is one fully integrated person. You’ve got to keep your donor’s perspective paramount. If your right hand doesn’t know what your left hand is doing, figure it out quick!
Don’t give them any.  In other words, when you’re asking folks to donate, try not to offer them opportunities to do anything else!  You especially don’t want to cannibalize your annual campaign by sending folks to places where they’ll end up giving you pennies on the dollar. This is not the place to announce you’ve got a website portal where they can shop and get you rebates.  Nor is it a place to promote buying scrip … or purchasing tickets… or volunteer opportunities … or signing a petition… or reserving for your next event.  Do all these things in a separate email or e-newsletter.
The call to action is the “Just Do It” of your email. You’ve got to make it easy for people to find and “do.” This is why you want to have your call to action placed several times throughout your appeal.  The first one should be high up (definitely “above the fold”) and stand on its own line. You also want to create a sense of urgency and use words such as “today” and “now” that provide incentive to the reader to click right then and there. 
Include a sidebar with all the ingredients for a successful appeal – even if folks don’t read the letter! Ingredients include:
·      compelling photo with caption that makes your case for support
·      DONATE button
·      downloadable printable donation form
·      share links
·      contact person’s name/email/phone number
EASY.The donate link took me exactly to where I wanted to go.
Take folks directly to the donation landing page when they click on a donate link or donate button from your email appeal. Do not pass GO – or an overview page that makes the case for support a second time.  Take folks where they can immediately enter in their payment information.  Many people will not click more than once. [Check out Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button? One Huge Year-End Tip to Increase Donations].
And here’s one final tip.  I’ve borrowed it from Erica Mills who recently guest posted on Beth Kanter’s Blog : If you can put your copy on someone else’s letterhead without someone wondering what’s up, it probably isn’t a very appealing appeal.
Eyeball your year-end messages before you launch them this week and next.  If all they say is: “You can change the world.  We have a match that ends December 31st. Please give” then you’re missing the heart and soul of what might compel someone to choose to give to you.
Remember your primary purposes.  Do not deviate from these primary purposes.
T O P. It’s the one they’ll open because – from the top! — the subject line is enticing, the email is from someone they trust or admire and the message is targeted directly to them.
D O  C A R E  It’s the one they’ll read and act on because – they do care! — it’s easy to decode/understand the case for support, it’s the only message they received from you, it’s clear that just one thing is being asked of them, and it’s easy to take and complete the action.

Is there just one thing you can do today or tomorrow to improve your chances for success with your year-end email appeal?

WARNING: Jargon Redux. Why Your Writing is Boring

No Jargon WARNING: Jargon Redux. Why Your Writing is Boring

Last week I wrote about the evils of using jargon.  I got lots of responses. It’s clearly hard for people to get outside of their ‘insider’ mindset. When we use words at work daily, they begin to seem normal (even though we may’ve never used those words before).  Before working at a social service agency, I never regularly used the words “client,” “youth,” “senior,” “programs,” “services,” “underserved,”  or “managed care.”  If you think these words are okay to use in your external communications, they’re really not.  Later in this post I’ll point you to an article by Gail Perry that explains why. These are modern jargon; words that don’t cut it if you want to differentiate yourself, demonstrate impact and inspire investment.

Thanks to all of you who sent me your favorite jargon culprits. For those of you who may wish to avoid these words in your future marketing and fundraising materials, you’ll find a list of these offenders later in this post.

What it all seems to boil down to is communicating for understanding.  Words you can use internally (or with funders, as per their requirements) should perhaps not be used externally.  It takes a lot of awareness — and practice — to avoid falling into the jargon pit. I always ask myself:
1. Is there a more simple word?
2. Is there a word that has more impact?
3. Is there a word that’s more specific?
4. If I took this word out, would the meaning be just as clear? More clear?
5. Does this word unnecessarily (or stereotypically) categorize someone?
Words that bug folks:
attriting  account-managed       actioned   back-end      back of the envelope
bandwidth        benchmark       best practices   capacity building           change agent
community-based         critical         CRM   cultivation         dashboard        development
disseminate       distance travelled          empower          evidence-based            front-end
going forward     groundbreaking     hard outcome       impactful           implement
innovative         leverage            pipeline   proactive          prospect           regular giving   
scoping     soft outcomes     state of-the-art              stewardship      successful
transparent          unique          utilize            vital           values-based          volunteer


For another super list of jargon, check out this nifty Philanthropy Jargon Generator. Besides being a lot of fun, it’s eye opening. It quickly becomes clear that when you use jargon – and it’s worse when you string jargon words together – you leave a lot of folks scratching their heads. If head scratching is the emotional call-to-action you’re going for, then be my guest.
Jargon is not just acronyms and scientific language.  I recommend reading The 3 Most Boring Words in Fundraising Appeals by Gail Perry. She explains why these words (which most of us have used all too often) – underserved; programs, and services — have little or no emotional impact. Modern jargon is anything that is so overused and obtuse as to have become essentially meaningless.
Jargon puts people to sleep.  And, surely, this is not your goal! For some other examples of slumber-inducing prose see Jargon, Jargon We Got Jargon by Kristina LeRoux, which also includes a link to another list of commonly used clichés and jargon. Try to avoid anything that makes people hear/see “blah, blah, blah.
THIS ABOVE ALL: Look for bang for the buck. Can the word stand on its own? Does the word scream for a response? Does the word make the reader feel something? Jargon is not compelling. Good writing should be compelling. Channel Ernest Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips for Writing Well. Be brief, succinct and vigorous. Don’t use a word that makes the reader want to ask:  “What do you mean by that?” Avoiding jargon is really another way of saying: Be a good writer.

How do you avoid using jargon? Do you have a system that works? Please share!