Tue, February 04 2014

Is your nonprofit content URGENT?

Caryn Stein's avatar

VP, Communications and Content, Network for Good

Filed under:   Writing •

If creating compelling content can help you make the case for giving and hold the attention of supporters, exactly how do you come up with the best stuff for your nonprofit? Creating content for content’s sake won’t do much for your cause and may have a negative effect when done poorly. A lot goes into making and effectively distributing quality content, but ideally your nonprofit content should be URGENT:

Useful:  This one should be obvious. As you plan content for your organization, ask, “Will our community find this useful?” Of course, educational content almost always fits the bill, but content can be useful in other ways, too. Information that allows supporters to feel empowered, in the know, or inspired is still incredibly useful.

Relevant:  Publish stuff that means something to the people who you want to read it. Get specific and understand the identities you can tap into to make your content command your readers’ attention. Make it relevant to your cause, your community, and what’s happening right now.

Genuine:  Any piece of content you produce should be uniquely and unequivocally “you”. Whether you create text-based stories or rich visuals, your supporters should be able to immediately recognize your organization’s voice. To ensure your content is genuine, clearly define your nonprofit’s personality by creating a brief brand guide that includes all of your key visual elements, core values, and your writing style.

Edited:  This is an easy way to rise above the messages you’re undoubtedly competing against. Well-edited writing stands out. Make sure every piece of content you produce is edited and reviewed. Yes, check for grammar problems, spelling errors, and typos, but even more importantly, revise your pieces with these key ABCs in mind: authenticity, brevity, and clarity. If you can’t hire a professional editor or proofreader, establish an in-house “buddy system” for reviews. Your colleagues may not be English majors, but a set of fresh eyes will do wonders for your finished product.

Necessary:  Each piece of content you create should tie back to your fundraising and marketing strategy. Ask yourself, “What are we trying to accomplish with this?” Whether you’re creating a thank you video or collecting stories to use in your next fundraising appeal, understand the real role your content is meant to play. Use an editorial calendar to map each piece back to a clearly defined goal.

Tested:  And Tracked. These two Ts go hand in hand. As you send newsletters, social media updates, and share blog posts, continually test and track which types of content work best with your different audience segments. Use Google Analytics or your website platform’s internal reporting to understand which pages are most popular and how readers navigate your content. Keep an eye on your email reports and social media metrics to further inform your content planning.

Does your organization have a plan to improve its content in the coming year? What is working for you? Chime in and let us know in the comments.

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Wed, November 06 2013

What your year-end appeal is missing

Caryn Stein's avatar

VP, Communications and Content, Network for Good

Filed under:   Fundraising essentials • Writing •

Here at Network for Good, it’s the season for fundraising appeal reviews. As part of our Fundraising Fundamentals premium training, we look at year-end fundraising appeals for hundreds of nonprofits to help them be the best they can be for the busy giving season ahead. All too often, these appeals fall short of packing the emotional punch they need to spur donors to act.

While it’s definitely important to remember the key components of an effective fundraising appeal (a clear call to action, a sense of urgency, statements about what a donation will do), what will make your appeal really stand out is an attention-grabbing, emotionally compelling, authentic story. Your cause’s story is the heart and soul of your fundraising letter. It’s how your appeal will have a personality that allows you to connect with your donors and inspire them to give. Without it, your appeal will read like many other cookie cutter letters your supporters will receive this giving season.

To help you jump start your storytelling efforts, Working Narratives recently released a new guide, Storytelling and Social Change. The guide includes insight from storytelling heavy hitters like Andy Goodman and Marshall Ganz, as well as case studies featuring Ford Foundation and GlobalGiving.

If you feel stuck, the good people at Working Narratives offer some ideas to help you explore a narrative for your stories:

• Jot down a short list of favorite social-change stories you’ve heard, told, or participated in, and notes about what form the stories took and how they affected you.

• Write a story that illustrates how you think change happens and another story that tells of change happening in a very different way. Explore the differences in the characters, settings, conflicts, and endings.

While this resource focuses on the needs of foundations and grantmakers, all organizations can benefit from the tips and examples offered in the guide.  To download your free copy, visit the Working Narratives website.

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Mon, September 09 2013

The rules for phenomenal stories

Caryn Stein's avatar

VP, Communications and Content, Network for Good

Filed under:   Writing •

When you’re making the case for giving, a powerful story is hard to top. At the same time, putting together a vivid and compelling story is typically more difficult than it sounds. The good news is, the results are well worth the work.

To help you get your storytelling mojo working in time for year-end fundraising season, you can learn from the same storytelling masters that brought you Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Up. The talented folks at PBJ Publishing created this wonderful infographic of Pixar’s storytelling rules

These are all great guidelines to keep in mind for any writing or storytelling project, but I think #11 is my favorite: “Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.”

What’s your favorite storytelling tip?

Pixar's Storytelling Rules

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Fri, August 23 2013

Keeping it short

Caryn Stein's avatar

VP, Communications and Content, Network for Good

Filed under:   Writing •

Recently my colleague Steve (who is Network for Good’s CTO) stopped by my desk to share a pearl of wisdom attributed to Mark Twain:

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

This is a funny quip, but it’s also very true. It typically takes more effort to pare down your message than it does to unload every thought onto the page.

When communicating your message, do your best to keep it short. It’s worth the effort, you’ll get better results, and your readers will thank you.

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Mon, May 13 2013

Why I helped start a magazine: Characters matter

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Writing •

I’m excited to announced that today, Characters Magazine is live.  Master storyteller Mark Rovner and I founded this literary magazine to feature the writing of people who work for good causes and to inspire better storytelling in our sector.  You can read it free online here.  Thanks to everyone who submitted - as well as to the amazing editor and designers I highlighted in the following introduction included in the magazine. It was a labor of love to put this together, and I’m especially grateful to Mark for his partnership and creativity—as well as his willingness to take over the full reins going forward. He’s a Character, and so Characters couldn’t be in better hands.

This magazine was born over breakfast one year ago, when I showed Mark the moving short story I’d been reading on the metro that morning. It was a prize winner in the Mississippi Review written by my cousin, Elisabeth Cohen, and it launched an impassioned conversation about why storytelling matters.

The story was called “Irrational Exuberance,” which happens to be an apt term for the creative process. We fall in wild love with an idea, yet when we set it down in words, it becomes a deflated and devalued bit of what we imagined. This is the maddening twin truth of story. It packs such power that every other form of communication is flat and feeble by comparison. And yet, as Flannery O’Connor said it so well, “Most people know what a story is, until they sit down to write one.” A cracking good story could change the world, if only we could write it.

We are hell-bent on trying, along with you.  That’s because we spend much of our waking hours working with good causes, and we know that there are thousands of people among us who hold within them extraordinary stories.  That includes you. Maybe it’s the story of who you are or what you do or why you came to care for a cause. Maybe it’s an incomplete tale, a slice of everyday experience, that - if told - would transport us out of ourselves and thrust us into your shared space, never to be the same. We don’t know what your story is, but we do know this: You must summon the irrational exuberance to try to set it down. Because it will make a difference in a way that taglines, mission statements or technological bells and whistles cannot. It is a direct conduit to someone else’s heart, because it came from your own.

Because we think this is so important, we decided that morning to create Characters. It’s both a call to tell your story and celebration of good storytelling by people who are seeking to change the world.  The first law of story is to show, don’t tell, so we are not telling you how to write a story (as if we could). We are showing you stories that matter. We called it Characters because in these pages are authors - characters trying to do good in the world - along with the characters within their own experience and imagination. It’s a motley, entertaining and inspiring crowd you will most certainly want to meet. 

Thank you to everyone who brought together these characters. First and foremost, Elisabeth, who agreed to be its editor.  It is only fitting as she was the original character who started this story. Taughnee Stone and Jake Van Ness created the stunning design, and we are grateful for their talents. And last, but most important, thanks to everyone who had the courage to tell their story, in public, in these pages and on the Characters website. You show a cracking good story can be told, and that we can write it.

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