Words, Words, Words! Introducing Claxon’s “Word of the Month”

At Claxon, we embrace our word nerdery proudly. That’s because, like you, we know the importance of choosing the right words. One word can mean the difference between getting noticed and getting overlooked.

We love words so much, we create tools and resources such as The Wordifier so nonprofits can make their messaging remarkable.

We also love diving deep into a particular word to find out its history, its evolution, and its level of remarkable-ness. And we love sharing what we’ve uncovered so that you can make informed word choices for your cause.

That’s why we’re launching a Word of the Month series!

Each month, we’ll choose a word that’s commonly found in nonprofit communications, or a word we feel is underutilized by nonprofits. We’ll explain where the word comes from, how often it’s used, and what to watch for when determining whether or not to use it in your communications.

To kick off this series, we’re starting with the one word I’ve used more than any other in this post thus far. We’re getting a little silly, as well as a little meta. Have a guess?

This month’s word is “word”.

Before beginning to research the word “word”, I made the assumption that its origins would date back pretty far. As soon as we started having elements of speech to describe objects, actions, and ideas, it would follow naturally that we have a way to describe these speech elements themselves, right?

Yep. Turns out, the word “word” has been in use since basically the dawn of the English language, when “Old English” was spoken. It’s from the Proto-Germanic “wurdan”. (Don’t worry, I didn’t know what Proto-Germanic was either.)

Here’s the coolest thing I found out: In its original Old English, it also had an additional implication: a promise. There’s something beautiful, if not a bit intimidating, about a word being a promise. (Maybe this is where the phrase “as good as your word” stems from?)

There are many variations on “word” that arose much more recently. “Wordsmith”, for example, popped up in 1896, and “buzzword” came around in 1946, thought to be originated from Harvard students’ slang for the most important words in their lectures or readings.

And unlike a lot of other words whose popularity ebbs and flows over time, “word” has stayed pretty consistent in its frequency of use. No surprise there!

Even though this month’s Word of the Month is more of a playful announcement than a word your nonprofit actually needs to be conscious of, we decided to run it through The Wordifer to see what would happen.

Turns out, a majority of uses of this word are from religious organizations. This totally makes sense. (Think: “The Word of God”).

Thanks for joining us in having a bit of fun with the word “word”! Check in next month when we explore a word that can either boost your nonprofit messaging’s remarkable-ness, or bring you down to the land of the overlooked.

Leadership Revelation

Cat clearly sees its own way. Clearly.

Recently, I had a revelation. It came by happenstance. I was doing research for a piece I’m working on about the Language of Leadership (more on that in a later post).  At some point, I realized I hadn’t defined leadership. It means so many things to so many people, clearly defining was important.

Since the origins of a word give so much darn insight into its true–and/or most useful–meaning, I did some serious online foraging on the etymology of the word “leadership”.

What I learned stunned me.

Etymologically speaking, leadership means: to see one’s own way.

Whhhhhaaaaaat? The origin of the meaning of the word leadership has nothing to do with other people. Leading them, inspiring them, managing them. Nothing. Aside from the leader themself, there’s nary another person to be found in the definition.

Mind blown, right? Least mine was. I’ve been ruminating on this ever since.

The idea of leadership being about other people is, in fact, quite modern. Yet that modern definition  has taken root with great force. Leadership has become synonymous with leading others. It implies that one has followers.

This modern definition begs a question: if you can’t see your own way clearly, how can you lead others effectively?

 

Remarkableness

subject lines, standing out, donors

Remarkable how that red pencil stands out, isn’t it?

The word awesomeness is used quite liberally these days. As a fan of the word awesome, I’m happy about this trend.

But what about remarkableness? 

When you hear the word ‘remarkable’, you might think of it as meaning striking or incredible or something along those lines. And you’d be right!

But striking and incredible to what end? It’s the “so what” part of the equation that matters in terms of getting more people more deeply engaged in your work.

Remarkable means “worthy of attention”. Or, as Seth Godin puts it so straight-forwardly, something worthy of remarking upon.

Your messaging needs to help people remark upon your remarkable work. That means it needs to be: concise, compelling, and–therefore and importantly–repeatable.

Remarkable messaging is remarkable because it gets people talking.

That’s why at Claxon, we teach you how to create remarkable messaging. Not awesome. Or amazing. Or strong. Or jazzy. But remarkable. Because we want to get hundreds or even thousands of people talking about your remarkableness–your work, your vision, your mission. The words need to match the work.

Unfortunately, Claxon’s research suggest that if you work for a nonprofit, your messaging likely isn’t remarkable. Likely, it’s kinda, well, lame. <insert big, sad sigh>

A quick, easy way to de-lame-ify your messaging is to use words that get the green light from the Wordifier. (The word remarkable gets the green light, by the way.)

Green-light words aren’t used by very many nonprofits, meaning they’re novel. Novelty lights up the brain. And a lit up brain means someone is paying attention to whatever lit it up. If you’re the one who lit it up, that’s you!

Nonprofits, foundations, and social enterprises have a whole lot of remarkableness going on. Simply by using remarkable words, you can expand the impact of that work even further. Remarkable!

***Want remarkable messaging? Claxon is here to help. Through consulting, speaking, and Claxon University, we can teach you loads of ways to create messaging as remarkable as your work.***

 

Vu Le & a Free Webinar

Vu Le & Erica Mills immediately after eating way too much vegan Thai food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are you doing on Wednesday, April 26 at 2pm Pacific? I ask because I’m going to be having a candid conversation with the one and only (and very hilarious) Vu Le and I’d love for you to join us.

In case you’ve been buried under a rock in the hinterlands of Siberia, Vu is one of the brightest stars in the nonprofit sector these days.

His blog–Nonprofit with Balls–is a must-read for everyone in the social sector. He’s the Executive Director of Rainier Valley Corps where they are on a mission to promote social justice by cultivating leaders of color, strengthening organizations led by communities of color, and fostering collaboration between diverse communities.

Not that any of my webinars are scripted (as you likely know, me and scripts get along as well as me and podiums, which is to say not well at all…scripts and podiums make me feel hemmed in…eek!), but this one will be particularly free-ranging. In a good way.

 

You will likely hear us talk about:

  • Equity, diversity, and inclusion…not just lip service
  • Using language to build trust
  • Hummus and unicorns and martinis
  • Grantee/grantmaker power dynamics
  • Capacity building: doing it and funding it

And a bunch of other stuff.

What I appreciate so much about Vu is his ability to infuse heady topics with belly laughter. Pure genius and goodness.

So sign yourself up. Then when the day/time arrive, kick back with your favorite mid-afternoon beverage and be prepared to laugh and learn.

Sign Up
 

Philanthropy & Toothpaste: a Free Webinar

Did you know that 71% of non-profit client needs go unmet? 71%. Ugh.

Meanwhile, individual giving has been stuck at ~2% of GDP since we put a  man on the moon. And it looks like government funding might be withering.

To review: we’ve got huge unmet demand and not enough funding. #NotGood

What gives? There you are, doing your amazingly awesome work and yet people aren’t flocking to support it. You can’t meet demand because of lack of supply.  Seems weird, doesn’t it?

Actually, it’s not that weird. Unlike toothpaste which when you run out of it, you quick-like buy some more because, ewwwwww, if you don’t.

No, philanthropy isn’t like toothpaste at all. People may notice that we have some Massive Social Problems That Seriously Need Addressing. But they don’t have to do anything about them. We’re a nice-to-think-about/do-something-about, not a must-buy-right-now-or-I’ll-creep-out-my-coworkers. That means we have to work even harder to get someone’s attention. It’s a very high bar indeed.

How can you–amazing, awesome person doing amazing, awesome work–hit that high attention-grabbing, engagement-inspiring bar?

This is exactly the question we’re going to tackle in this month’s free webinar. Because let’s get real: non-profits are being asked to do more and more with less and less. It’s not sustainable and we have to do something about it.

Will clear, concise, compelling communications solve all of the world’s problems? No. Not by a long shot. But bloated, convoluted communications aren’t helping our cause and we CAN fix that. So let’s do. Let’s get your words on a mission. Stat.

Words on a Mission: Mini-Course
March 30, 1Pm Pacific

Sign Up

Bust a Move with a Sexy Mission Statement

 

Just. So. Good. That’s what I have to say about #nonprofitpickuplines, the hashtag that Vu Le introduced us to some years ago and (blessedly) revived for Valentine’s Day 2017.

Thanks to #nonprofitpickuplines, I spent V Day toggling between the clever goodness abounding in my Twitter stream and prepping for a webinar I was going to do on mission statement make-overs (more on that in a sec).

Then a sad, sad thought occurred to me: if nonprofit pickup lines really were that hilarious, we’d likely have way more people getting in on the philanthropy action.

But nonprofits don’t use clever pick up lines to get the convo started, do they? Nooooooo. Instead, they use their mission statements. Or some version of their mission statement that EDs, board members, program folks, fundraisers, etc can actually remember and, therefore, blurt out when the long anticipated moment arrives when someone (maybe a potential donor….deep breaths) finally asks you, “So, what does your organization do?”

Your response needs to be titillating. You’ve got seven precious, fleeting seconds to woo them. To snag them. To hook them. To get them to lean in and say, “Tell me more,” in a way that clearly indicates they will become a major donor. Clearly.

Individual giving as a percent of GDP has been stuck since smoking while making dinner was considered appropriate. Clearly, our mission statement pick-up lines aren’t working.

Really, you’ve got two options:

  1. Keep using that drab mission statement as your go-to pick-up line, thus leaving money and support on the cocktail table.
  2. Come up with a sexier mission statement.

By sexy, I mean one that:

  1. Is clear, concise, and repeatable.
  2. Has a superhero verb.
  3. Is free of jargon.
  4. Clearly communicates what you do and for whom.
  5. Gets people to ask questions.

If you want a sexy, more remarkable, more lean-in inspiring mission statement, listen to the webinar I did yesterday. (Tuning in with a glass of wine or whiskey in hand and candles burning seems only appropriate. But no mood music cuz then you can’t hear the webinar.)

 

*****

Readability Stats: Ease: 63.2, Grade: 7.3

 

Stand Out: How to find your breakthrough idea [book review]

Dorie Clark

Dorie Clark is an inspiration. Insightful. No-nonsense. Encouraging. Prolific. (Does she sleep?!)

Her work is extremely relevant to those of us in the non-profit sector. The opening to her most recent book, “Stand Out: how to find your breakthrough idea” says it all:

“You have something to say to the world. You have a contribution to make.”

Indeed you do! You’re on a mission to make the world better, brighter, safer, kinder. More sustainable and equitable. Heck yeah you’ve got a contribution to make. You’re making one every day.

Dorie goes on to say:

“Yet too many of us shrink back when it comes to finding and sharing our ideas with the world.”

She kind of nailed it on the head there, didn’t she?

As non-profit and philanthropic leaders, we have been trained to not “toot our own horns”. To not draw attention to our work. To put away our soapboxes and megaphones. And, to some extent, that makes sense. It’s not about us. It’s about our mission, our work, the people we serve.

But here’s the thing: if you don’t share your ideas for how to make the world a better place, no one will know about them.

Now, I’m not a betting gal, but I’d lay money on the table that you have some good ideas about how we might do things better. Those ideas would mean fewer kids on the streets, more people fed, more acres of land protected, healthier communities, happier people, etc., etc., etc.

So I’d like to encourage you to 1) read Dorie’s book because it’s great and inspiring, and 2) to reframe how you think about “tooting your own horn”. There’s a big difference between tooting your horn and putting a breakthrough idea out into the world, especially if that idea will make the world a better place. Then you’re kind of obligated to put it out to the world. Keeping it to yourself would be downright selfish. (How’s that for a reframe?)

What’s your breakthrough idea for making the world a better place?

 

What Non-profits Can Learn from Airbnb

The Why Behind Starting with “The Why”

If you’re anything like me, when you hear someone say that non-profits need to “operate more like businesses,” you have a lot of opinions. Um, yes, maybe if we had the resources of the business sector. Maybe if we weren’t chastised for spending money on operating costs, including competitive salaries, etc. etc. Maybe if we could, in fact, move from the Overhead Myth to an Overhead Solution.

I could rant all day.

However, when Sarah, our Director of Partnerships, came across this Fortune article about Airbnb, she knew there was at least one important takeaway for non-profits. If you watch the video that accompanies the article, you’ll see this takeaway phrased as such:

Internal Mission Can Also Be External Tagline

If you find that wording confusing, you’re not alone. Let’s breakdown what it actually means.

Define your organization’s purpose in a way that resonates with everyone: staff, volunteers, clients, customers, etc.

What’s a purpose, though?

Your purpose is akin to your mission statement. My favorite way of saying it is that your purpose is your why. It’s the reason you exist. In Airbnb’s case, they realized their purpose was, “To make people around the world feel like they could belong anywhere.” In this famous TED Talk, Simon Sinek explains how this formula-of-purpose has worked wonders for Apple.

Let’s look at an example from the non-profit world: Feeding America. Prior to 2008, the now well-known organization was known as “America’s Second Harvest”.

While testing the two names, they found that the new name, Feeding America, performed much better. Why? According to the mastermind behind the move, it “…may be because the name simply describes what the organization does and requires no explanation.” Ah, clarity!

While the purpose of your organization doesn’t have to actually become the name of your organization (although it could, :: hint hint::), it really should play the starring role.

After the “why”

So, what happens once you’ve defined your why? Once you’ve found and articulated your purpose, every other decision you make should be based on it. The programming you pursue, the tone you take in your communications, even the staff you hire.

In Airbnb’s case, in addition to seemingly broadcasting their tagline/ purpose everywhere, they also made intentional moves to live out their purpose. For example, they set up a support network, including a blog and online community, that Airbnb hosts to learn how to do small things to make guests feel more welcome.

For non-profits, it could be the creation of a brand positioning statement that all staff have at their fingertips. (Be sure to avoid the mistakes the Seattle Public Library made when creating their brand statement.) It could include certain changes, ranging from a revamp of your mission statement to a full re-branding, as with Feeding America. It’s also the jumping off point for The Claxon Method.

The Claxon Method

In order to actually start getting things done, there are other important questions to ask after your “why”. The Claxon Method is a process that consists of the next three questions to ask yourself after you’ve defined your purpose. Note: They must be followed in this order!

  1. WHAT does success look like?
  2. WHO do we need to reach in order to be successful?
  3. HOW are we going to reach our ideal supporters?

If you think about it, it’s incredibly logical. How do you know the best communications or outreach methods if you haven’t defined who you actually want to reach?

Learn more about the Claxon Method here.

So, non-profits, get out there and define your why. Then, on to the what, who, and, finally, how!

Want more ways to master your non-profit’s purpose and overall brand? Reserve your spot for this free webinar, happening on January 25, 2017!

Personal Branding & Cute Little Cows

Moooooooooooooooo.

That’s what I hear in my mind when I hear the word “branding”. Cows. Wandering around the pasture. Chewing their cud. Staring off into middle distance.

They’re cute, aren’t they?

But branding isn’t about cows at all. (Yes, cows are branded, poor little things. But we’re not talking about that. Ouch!)

Personal branding is about putting your unique stamp on the world. It’s about figuring out who you are at your core. What your values are. What your personality is. What you stand for. And then infusing that throughout your personal and professional lives.

Personal branding isn’t particularly complicated. But if you’re someone driven by mission–someone like you–it’s a liiiiiiiiitle more complicated because of the whole aligning your personal values with those of the organizations for which you work.

Just like an organization or a company, you already have a brand. But are you managing it well? That’s the question. And that’s what we’re going to tackle in this month’s free webinar.

Specifically, we’ll cover:

  • Why you should actively care about your personal brand (Hint: It has to do with being happier and more successful.)
  • A super practical way to define your personal brand.
  • What your words say about your personal brand.
  • How the narrative, visual, and experiential aspects of your brand work together… and what bad things happen when they don’t.
  • How to be true to your personal brand in different contexts, including at work.

Here are the details. Hope you’ll join me! (If you can’t join live but are interested in the topic, register anyway and you’ll auto-magically get the recording.)

January 25, 2017
1-2pm Pacific


Do More Good in 2017 with These 6 Communication Tips

In 2014, I first joined Claxon as an eager intern. And last month, much to my delight, I rejoined the team to help non-profit rockstars improve their writing and communication skills.

During my time away from Claxon, I always tried to keep informed of what Erica and her awesome team of word nerds were talking about. Yet, I still missed some incredible advice. And if I missed it, then you may have too!

So, in honor of the fast-approaching New Year, I’ve compiled what I believe to be super valuable advice from the Claxon team. These blog posts, all published in 2016, will help you usher in the New Year right – with mad skills. The coolest part? Each post offers one easy-to-implement tip, so you can boost your communication competence right now.

Whether you’re looking to increase donations, tell a better story, or simply do more good, these posts will get you well on your way to reaching those 2017 non-profit communication goals.

So, pour yourself another cup of hot chocolate, get cozy, and read up!

  1. Should You Ask People to Help or Give?
    One little word can get more supporters actively on board for your cause.
  2. Nonprofit vs. Non-Profit: Does a Hyphen Make a Difference?
    Hint: Yes, it does.
  3. Raising Awareness isn’t a Goal
    Time to get specific about what you want your non-profit’s communication team to achieve.
  4. The Story of One. And Only One.
    Storytelling advice: Don’t overwhelm your potential supporters.
  5. Researched For You: Unit-Asking
    Once you’ve mastered the story of one, here’s how to scale it.

    Any finally…
  6. Don’t Be a Fraud
    Did you know your language choices can make or break your perceived trustworthiness?

On behalf of all of us here at Claxon, I wish you a happy, knowledge-filled New Year!