Communicating change can be challenging. The trick is to take the time to map out a plan. The best plan is one that takes your audience — whether it be staff, donors, or even board members — from where they are to where they need to be. Research — even just asking a few questions — can help you understand what matters most to them. And it doesn’t make any sense for you to talk to anyone about change, if you’re not first going to talk to them about what matters most to them.
Branding isn’t something you do and then forget about. It’s an ongoing process. Who you are, what you stand for, your impact — these are things that should be part of every communication piece. These are the things that can be woven into every story about your organization — whether the story is told by you, your staff, your volunteers, your clients, or your supporters.
I looked around the room. Here was a wonderful group of dedicated, passionate, compassionate people, all working for various nonprofits. Some organizations were big. Some small. Some national. Some local. Some stable. Some struggling.
One woman made a comment about how unfair it was to have a big, national nonprofit competing with smaller, local nonprofits for donations. I could understand why she might feel that way. She didn’t have enough staff or resources and always seemed to be struggling to get enough funding.
But, the reality is:
- There isn’t one bucket of cash available to nonprofits that fundraise. It’s not finite.
- Being local is an asset. Donors can actually see and experience the impact of their donations.
- There are many ways to get to the same end goal — for instance, contracting a skilled writer for your fundraising appeal.
Generosity is in abundance. By adopting an attitude of abundance, (rather than scarcity), you open your mind to opportunity. By telling your nonprofit’s story in a way that expresses its impact, you show the world why you are in the best position to fill a pressing need. A need they, your donors, care about.
It’s a more resourceful attitude. And it strengthens your community.
I passed by this scene on my morning walk and it stopped me dead in my tracks. It reminded me of some writing projects I’ve been given, especially those that have been written by committee, where there’s just too much going on. Clear communication starts with the goal. It assumes the perspective of the reader or the viewer, and focuses on what they will do or take away.
There’s a wonderful book by Steve Krug with the excellent title: Don’t Make Me Think! on making a website usable, rather than just pretty or full of information. Steve promotes simplicity — one action (or goal) per page.
Know in advance what you want your reader to do and help them get there.
It’s really that simple.
I stormed into my boss’ office with the fundraising letter draft the new direct mail agency sent us.
“No way!” I told her. “If you tell me we have to send out this letter, I’m handing in my resignation.”
My boss was surprised. She thought I was the quiet type…
I didn’t have to resign, but our relationship with the agency didn’t last long.
What was my problem with the letter? It was a creative writing assignment — a story about how our nonprofit needed your money because there were blind people trapped in their dark rooms who needed our help.
A direct mail letter should inspire empathy, not sympathy or pity.
Here’s an animated short that illustrates the words of Dr. Brené Brown. It will take you less than three minutes, but it’s well worth it. Enjoy.
I write for a number of nonprofits that offer services to people with disabilities. I’m always fascinated by people’s stories of learning how to adapt to difficult situations. There’s much for everyone to learn.
The following is a beautiful story of a judo enthusiast. Enjoy!
I write for several nonprofits that offer services for people who have lost their sight. I was intrigued by this video from a TEDx event. Dr. Lofti Merabet, an optometrist and member of the research faculty in the Vision Rehabilitation Service at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, spoke about our misperceptions about blindness and his fascinating research uncovering what blindness can teach us about the brain.
Every once in awhile, a technological advancement comes along that is such a game-changer, it gives me chills. This qualifies. There are so many people throughout the world who are blind due to preventable causes. This smartphone attachment offers real hope. Take a good look:
I’m a writer, and I spend a lot of time at my desk. Maybe you do, too.
I don’t usually write about technology, but one of my goals is to help make your life easier, and, frankly, I can’t stop talking about things I love. So, I thought you might like to hear about some things that are really working for me.
They say too much sitting is almost as bad for you as smoking! Who knew? Well, Nag came to my rescue! It’s an almost free app that sits on my desktop at all times. I can set the time with one click, and even set it to repeat. I like to set it for 30 minutes. It beeps and reminds me to push away from the computer. I walk; I do some exercises; I get a drink of water so I stay hydrated. I rest my eyes. And in the process, I let my subconscious do its creative work. I come back to what I’m writing refreshed.
I searched for a long time to find a really simple project management tool, and this fits the bill…and it’s free! At its simplest, it’s a series of lists: To Do, Doing, Done, and whatever additional titles you want to create. You can drag items from column to column, color code them, add due dates and photo icons. You can share your “board” of lists with your team so everyone can contribute. You can assign tasks to others. It’s really quite beautiful in its simplicity. I have boards for work projects, shared boards for projects with friends, and boards to track my personal goals. In fact, it makes it really simple for me to decide what to do on one of my NAG breaks — I just do something to contribute to my exercise goals. Or maybe even meditate.
Instant awe. No charge! Time to center my mind and relax. I just set the time I want (2 minutes? 20 minutes?) and choose from the profoundly beautiful moving scenes and music. Do I want to fly over the water toward the horizon? Do I want to watch the clouds roil around the sun? Do I want to be mesmerized by rushing water? Hey, we’re in the midst of a drought — maybe I’ll just watch the rain drip off the vines. It’s not religious, unless you’re a nature-worshipper. A calm woman’s voice guides me (or not). Her personality doesn’t get in the way. Or, I can just close my eyes. She’ll let me know when it’s time to get back to work. Mind clear, I can focus on my writing.
In my work, I do a lot of research, and I have a voracious appetite for knowledge. I read a ton of information. And Spritz is my best friend. It takes whatever’s on my screen and shows it to me one word at a time, centered. Sound weird? Well, what I didn’t mention, is my words go by at the rate of 600 words/minute! That’s right. You can start slower, but soon, you’ll want to speed it up. Unlike speed reading — which involves trying to take in several words at a time, Spritz has you focus on one word for less time. You stop the voice in your head that is reading and slowing you down — it’s not necessary, anyway. The company promotes its use for pleasure reading, but I like to read more slowly for pleasure. Information, however — there’s no need to linger. You just want to get the gist of it, and if you need to pay close attention, you can pause or stop it with one click. You might as well get up to speed (pun) with this technology. Within a matter of moments, you’ll soon be using it to read your emails on your smart watch. Don’t get left behind. Give it a test drive… You know you want to…
Photo credit: John Twohig Photography / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
I was about to interview an accomplished pianist, who happened to be blind, for a nonprofit’s fundraising letter.
Why did you get into your line of work?
he asked me before we started.
I am intrigued by resiliency. I am interested in how people find a way to solve major problems or adjust to unexpected changes in their lives, such as losing their vision, or having a baby with a disability. I think they have lessons that everyone can learn from.
Oh, inspiration porn.
No way! I’m very sensitive to that. That’s why I write in the first person. That’s why you get to sign off on what I write. I want to make sure I am representing you and your worldview. Your perspective. No assumptions.
Inspiration porn is rampant these days. And it’s offensive to many people with disabilities. It is the romanticizing of a disability. The idea that someone is instantly inspirational just because they get up in the morning and live their lives. It’s the picture of a smiling child with Down syndrome that “inspires” everyone on Facebook for no reason. It’s the video of someone with prosthetic legs walking or running that “inspires” everyone on YouTube.
I don’t do that.
I just tell people’s stories.
- Because until medicine advances to the point that there are no disabilities, there are people who are suffering, and I want to help end suffering.
- Because when someone is faced with a disability (or multiple disabilities), they often need the help of a host of specialists to help them adjust — emotionally, physically, occupationally. Those services don’t exist everywhere, and they’re expensive.
- Because until technology advances to the point that everyone, including people who are disabled, can have full access, in the meantime, they need specialized tools and specialized training to do what they want to do with their lives. Specialized tools and training are expensive because they’re customized for each individual. And disabilities — even if they share a name, don’t show up exactly the same way in each person.
- Because until insurance providers and public funding covers the needs of all people with disabilities — not just those who were disabled from an accident, or those whose disability is temporary, or those who are under a certain age — it can be expensive to be disabled.
- Because until employer’s perceptions change, and they realize what people with disabilities can do, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is downright dismal — for no good reason.
People with disabilities don’t want to be special. They don’t want to inspire pity or charity.
They want to be included.
They want choices.
They want opportunities.
They want equality.
And I want to see that they get there.
Because it’s the right thing to do.
I simply tell their stories, in their own words, so they can get the tools and training they need and have the opportunity to succeed.
I love RSA videos. They distill great talks into imaginative liquor that you can drink up in one shot. Watch this delicious video in 3 minutes: The ABC’s of Persuasion by Dan Pink
Take a look at this article from Forbes: Increase Customer Acquisition by 400% with Storytelling by Christine Comaford
Nonprofits and small businesses often don’t have the resources to hire professional videographers to create video stories. But these days, there are many free or low-cost tools that can be used. The script is key. Once you have a good story, everything else can fall into place — even if your photos and footage have to be bolstered with stock. Take a look at this personal story I created about introducing school children to the art of calligraphy.
How Would You Like to Make Your Nonprofit the #1 Go-To Resource?
Pinterest isn’t just for DIY enthusiasts and young girls looking for the latest nail art. Nonprofits are learning how to use it to share information with their clients. And it doesn’t take a lot of money to do so.
Many of my nonprofit clients serve people with disabilities, such as blindness, autism, cerebral palsy, etc. Because these disabilities are low-incidence, products and services are often hard to find. Small nonprofits haven’t had the financial resources or technological know-how to create truly resourceful websites, and find and share the latest products, services, and innovations. Until now.
- If you just learned that your newborn was blind or had multiple disabilities, think how relieved you’d feel to find a site like Wonderbaby’s Pinterest site?
- Now, take a look at the Pinterest board: Technology Resources for Children Who are Visually Impaired. It is shared currently by Wonderbaby (a division of Perkins School for the Blind) and The Carroll Center for the Blind. It may also include people who are blind, volunteers, and donors.
- The Eye Health board is shared currently by the two organizations and Wittman Vision, of Texas. By partnering on these boards, nonprofits (and for-profits) are able to extend their reach and their resources for their clients.
- The board: Awesome Toys for Blind Babies and Children is shared by foundations, parents, toy corporations, and nonprofits. They’re all in this together.
- Conferences for Families With Children With Visual Impairments connects parent support groups, consumer advocacy groups, and others with conference information.
In short, this is one way Pinterest is being used by nonprofits to expand their capacity and partner with others in service to their clients. But here’s what you have to remember: when you create a “group” board, anyone can add pins to it. You can and should monitor the board to ensure pins are appropriate to the board and don’t link to spam. You will be letting go of a certain amount of control over content. In exchange, you’ve created a platform where your clients and others can contribute valuable content. You can engage your current tribe of clients and supporters by encouraging them to find and pin resources to your board so together you can create the best go-to resource for your nonprofit.
Want another tip? Check out this presentation…
People are savvy – they can spot a canned photo in an instant. Canned photos are useful for companies because they’re a heck of a lot easier than hiring photographers. “Canned text” is much the same.
What would happen if your company had a real voice, a personality, a face? What would happen if that being was able to respond to the actual needs and feelings of your customers?
Today, sadly, many companies seem unreachable. They outsource customer service to other countries and cultures far removed from their own customers’ realities. Or they automate online, forcing customers to read through pages of forum posts to try to find the answers to their problems.
One easy way to differentiate your company from the rest is by finding that perfect spokesperson to deliver your message. To show you care. Whether it be your CEO, your staff expert, or your customer service team, they may need training and support.
Look around. Who’s the face of your company? And what story are they telling about you?
Air in His Tires:
The man was a character, to be sure. He hadn’t missed too many meals, and it was obvious he didn’t care much about fashion. Why should he? Paul was in the tire business, after all, and he was king of his castle.
I knew that from just a few minutes of conversation. Yes, I had a low tire, but he didn’t need to know my last name or where I lived. He was just going to fix it and send me on my merry way, chop, chop. Which he did. No questions asked. No charge.
It was such a different experience from what I’d had at other tire places. I gave him a positive review on Yelp.
Months later, when my tire was low again, I’d forgotten about Diamond Tires. It was only when I started searching on the web, I remembered my Yelp review and sought him out again. This time, I expected to have a positive experience.
Before I left home, my husband suggested I might need a new set of tires, but should at least get them rotated.
Again, Paul wasn’t interested in my name or address until he checked out the car. I didn’t mention new tires, but was ready for the verdict.
“Have a seat,” he said warmly, gesturing to some well-worn patio furniture. “And help yourself to some coffee and chocolate.” He’s talkin’ my language, I thought with a smile.
Paul, I soon learned, liked being on stage, and it didn’t take long before the show started. I’m a sucker for good customer service, and he gave me a free demo. Practically every sentence out of the man’s mouth taught me something about his values. He was authentic, and proud of it.
He told one customer, “Don’t take this personally, but I sanitize my hands after every handshake. I can’t afford to be sick; I need to know what’s going on.” Although he had several young men working for him, he was the one who usually manned the phones. He cared about his business.
He smiled as a guy in a suit wheeled a tire into the room, hoping that, just by looking at it, Paul would be able to tell if it could be fixed. “Where’s the rest of the car?” Paul chided. “You’re working too hard, and I’m too old to want to carry around tires all day. Drive in here and we’ll take a look. Then we won’t have to roll it back out to the parking lot.”
There was a right way to do things here, and if he could train his customers, Paul could run his business efficiently. Also, he leveled the playing field – this guy might be wearing a suit, but under this roof, Paul was the expert.
“Well,” the suit persisted, “the tire was already off the car. I took it from the trunk. I don’t really have time to stay today, but just wanted to know if you thought you could fix it.”
Barely glancing at the tire, Paul nodded, unconvincingly. “We’ll see,” he shrugged. It was clear he would say whatever the guy needed to hear, but he wasn’t changing his advice. “Let’s set you up with an appointment, then. You can drive your car in here and we can take a look at your tires.” Checkmate.
A little girl ran in and took a seat in a chair beside me. Emma and her dad were also getting their tires checked. She was in kindergarten, she told me, and busied herself sneaking handfuls of chocolate while her dad wasn’t looking. When he stepped outside, she found the shelf where bags of chocolate resided in the next room. “Wow,” she grinned, a pirate discovering a chest of gold. We were partners in crime; she made me promise not to tell her dad.
Paul saw her and his eyes twinkled. He went over to a big basket on the floor and pulled out a blow-up soccer ball with his logo on it. “Here!” he said. “You like to play ball?” She squealed with delight, and he showed her where it was safe to play.
When he returned, Paul directed his attention to me. “It looks as though you’re going to need a new set of tires. The fronts are worn and the rear ones are beginning to crack. I wouldn’t advise rotating them. But you don’t drive very much. I’d like to try to sell you some inexpensive tires – good ones, but cheap.” He was expecting to have to convince me, but I nodded.
“As long as they’re safe,” I said.
“Oh, of course, they’re safe,” he quickly responded. “I’ve got my name behind them. They’re good tires and perfect for the amount of driving you do. If that’s okay with you, we’ll put them right on, and one of my guys will write you up.”
Only then did they ask for my name and address. Throughout the experience I felt respected and cared for. I trusted him.
No matter what business you’re in, you’re in the business of giving someone a positive, memorable experience. No matter what you do to advertise your business, there’s no better marketing than word of mouth. No matter who your competitors are, there’s no better way to differentiate your business than to be authentic and hold true to the values you and your customers share.
Paul has my respect and loyalty. He earned it.
For many people, being involved in social media is synonymous with being on Facebook – sharing inspirational quotes, family photos, or cat videos with friends. But social media also provides other great opportunities for individuals and organizations. Consider podcasts…
I love podcasts. In fact, I’ve been known to refer to myself as a “podcast junkie”. Listening to an audio broadcast is an effortless way to learn new things and be entertained – much like listening to the radio, only I get to choose my favorite programs and listen whenever I want. I sometimes listen to several episodes of a podcast in a series, while I’m doing chores around the house, for example.
For several years, I enjoyed Lisa B. Marshall’s podcast on public speaking. A few years ago, at the end of each episode, she began adding, “Connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.” So, one day, after I listening to three consecutive episodes, I decided to do just that. To my great surprise, she responded with a personal message to me. I was floored! Here, I’d been listening to her as through a radio. Now, I was having a conversation with her!
She asked me what I thought were the best qualities of a speaker. She was asking my advice!
I told her about one of our clients and why I thought he was an excellent speaker – he collected stories from his life and honed them by trying them out in conversation, paying attention to the responses he got. By culling and revising these nuggets, he was able to have a pocket full of well-polished anecdotes on hand to sprinkle into any impromptu or prepared speech.
She asked to interview him. I’d promoted my organization!
Later, she asked if I’d review a draft of her book. I felt honored to do so.
Our relationship went from one-way to a valuable partnership – both of us contributing to each other’s success. Do you think I’ll encourage others to check out her podcast and book? You bet I will!
Social media is what you make it. Take your learning and entertainment to a whole new level, and connect with those you admire and causes you care about.
Many of my executive friends feel guilty that they’re falling behind in the realm of social media, to the detriment of their organizations. I also have personal friends who, while they express no desire to get involved, often admit they just don’t know how.
As I explained to my nonprofit colleagues, marketing through social media platforms only makes sense if that’s where your existing or potential customers, donors or clients are. I explained to my friends, while there’s no NEED to get involved online, I’ve often experienced a level of connection that isn’t available to me off-line.
For example, here’s a great way to dip your toe into the water on Twitter:
Make a list of all the comedians and humorists you enjoy. My list included Louis C.K., all the folks on The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert, Patton Oswalt, Sara Silverman, Steve Martin, Lewis Black, Andy Horowitz – my list continues to grow.
Set up your Twitter account – just join. Search for their names and click “Follow”. Then sit back and enjoy their humorous tweets (messages) and their retweets (RT) of messages from people they’re following.
During the presidential debates, I enjoyed a ringside seat reading off-the-cuff, play-by-play quips from people with very sharp wits. I got to know these folks on a whole new level. It brought a snarky levity to the proceedings. In small doses, this is a good thing.
Twitter sends me emails with suggestions for other people I might want to follow. For example, I enjoy following reporters and thought leaders, and I can see who they follow. Knowing, for example, that three of my favorite comedians or thought leaders are following Jon Doe, makes me want to follow him, too. Now, I’ve opened my world to learn about people I previously knew nothing about. From their tweets, I get to know their brand of humor, messages, and links, and I can decide if I want to connect with them in other ways (such as by seeing a show, or contacting them – many invite interaction).
I also star or retweet what I find most interesting. I am giving my comedian friends valuable insights into what works, and helping the people I admire become more successful. Give it a try. You can always use a laugh.
One day, when I had my front door open, a tiny lizard ran inside. On hands and knees, I managed to corner it in the closet, when to my surprise, it darted right under my skirt! I yelped and grabbed for it and took it outside. My husband came running to see what the fuss was about.
As it squirmed wildly in my nervously cupped hands, I noticed a spot of blood between my thumbs. “Oh, no!” I exclaimed, “I’ve hurt it!” Placing it carefully on the ground, I was shocked to see it was only the tail! My husband nearly fell over laughing. This was all new to me – I didn’t know that lizards can detach their tails.
I watched, mesmerized by the flailing tail, amazed at how long it kept on squirming – which was, after all, the point of it all. The lizard got away and lived to tell the tale.
Today, sometimes, I look at all the emails and social media noise that crams my life. Sometimes, I’m mesmerized by it. Sometimes, I think it’s like the lizard tail – much ado about nothing. I’m just not buying it.
But what you do is important. People are depending on you. Your communications need to cut through the clutter and reach those who care about your cause. Contact me – I can help.