What Twitter Taught Me About Writing

[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.Delete Button

Twitter has forced me to learn something valuable. Its 140 character per post rule has shown me that, more often that not, I’m using more words than I need to.

When Twitter isn’t monitoring what I type, sometimes I don’t even know I’m using too many words. And I’ve never been the verbose type. Those who have met me know that I won’t talk your ear off without some coaxing (or without some wine). I always struggled to meet minimum page number requirements in school. Yet, even I say much more than I need to.

Take, for example, this article I shared the other day via social media. I started by quoting the article and adding my own thoughts:

Nonprofits win awards for clear communications. Why? “If there’s any (common) thread, it’s they keep in mind the needs of the reader.”

Twitter wouldn’t let me say all that and include a link to the article and a shout out to the person shared the article with me. After some deliberation, I ended up with:

Nonprofit clear communication winners “…keep in mind the needs of the reader.”

So simple. So clear. Yet, it still conveys the same information. Remember, the clearer your message is, the more people will read and understand it.

Writing concisely is not easy. In fact, it’s very difficult for most people. As Mark Twain famously said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

The good news is, concise writing is a habit that can be learned. A good place to start is with your organization’s mission statement. Challenge yourself to say the same thing with 3 less words. Depending on your organization, you may be able to get to 5, 10, or even 15 less words! Also, look critically at the next thing you write for your organization. It could be anything – even an email. See how short you can make your message while still keeping the original meaning. You’ll notice you often eliminate the same filler words or sentences over and over. “I just wanted to let you know…” is a common culprit. Pretty soon, you won’t even try to type those extra words.

No matter how good you get, you’ll always need to stay conscious of the words you’re using. They’re what connects you to your audience. Make the most of them.

Check it Out: How to Make Your Writing Error-Free

[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.

Editing (improving your initial writing) and proofreading (final reviewing before publishing) require much more than finding grammar or spelling mistakes. You have to remember to pay attention to flow, keep a consistent voice, eliminate jargon, etc. It’s a lot to keep track of. Even the experienced writer can forget to check for everything when reviewing their (or others’) work.

Recently, I stumbled across some articles that offered such a simple solution that I was surprised I hadn’t though of it sooner…. The ever-handy checklist!

Check Mark

HubSpot and Quick and Dirty Tips put together these amazing checklists (one even printable) to have by your side while editing and proofreading:

Your Essential Proofreading Checklist: 10 Things You Can’t Forget

Grammar Girl’s Editing Checklist

Bookmark them and/ or print them. Now. You’ll thank me. Happy revising!

Get Out of Your Own Head

[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.]

Get Out of HeadI’m often guilty of this: Because I like spicy food, cats and Dostoyevsky so much, when someone tells me they don’t like these things, it doesn’t make sense to me. I think things like, “How can anyone think that bland food tastes better??” and, “But look how cute its little face is!”

I have to consciously step back and realize that my reality is not the reality of others. We all have different personalities, experiences, and cultures that have shaped who we are and how we respond to things. I have to remember that long Russian novels are not for everyone.

Every marketer must keep this in mind when they’re crafting their messages and finding their mediums. I check Twitter when I wake up in the morning, I read articles that my friends share on Facebook. I’m attracted to satire and corny humor. For my nonprofit, I could create a marketing plan that exclusively uses Facebook, Twitter and blog posts with a satirical tone. And there’s a good chance that would get me absolutely nowhere. I’ve seen firsthand very clever marketing ideas shut down because the person with decision-making power thought it wouldn’t work. What she really was saying was, “This wouldn’t work on me.”

You have to get out of your own head and into your audience’s head. Figure out: Does my audience even use Twitter? What are their daily routines? Would they respond better to a casual tone, or a professional one? The easiest way to do this is to create a persona – a fictional person that embodies the audience you want to reach.

Get to know this “persona” – know as much as you can about them. You can do this through research, surveys, or just plain talking to people. (This post walks you through building a persona step-by-step.) Find out what they enjoy, what they value, and what drives them. And then speak to their wants, needs, motivations, etc.

No matter what messaging you use, you won’t appeal to everyone.  So you might as well appeal to those that matter most to your cause.

8 Quick, Easy Tips to Boost Engagement

8 Quick Tips

Crafting messaging for your nonprofit can be hard work. How do you get someone to hear your message, let alone remember it?

No one-size-fits-all formula for engaging writing exists– especially since each of us have a different audience. However, these 8 easy-to-follow tips will likely increase your listeners’ engagement, no matter who your audience.

  1. Use Active Voice
    A few months ago, I wrote a post about how to convey confidence through writing. Confidence gives the impression that you really know your stuff, and that’s important. The number one way to convey confidence is to write with an active voice. This means reducing your number of “to be” verbs such as “are”, “is”, “was” and “will be”. “We are preserving the environment” and “Our building is a safe space for homeless youth” improve with just a few minor adjustments: “We preserve the environment” and “Our building offers homeless youth a safe space.”
  2. Involve Your Listener
    We all want to feel like we’re a part of something. See my post on You and Your for advice on how to bring your listener into your story.
  3. Tell a Story
    Speaking of your story, make sure you’re telling one! You may think the facts will speak for themselves, but without a story to frame them in, people will forget them or overlook them all together. It’s in our nature as humans to enjoy and respond to stories. So, pick a good one and get writing. And promise to tell true stories, because people can see through a lie or embellishment.
  4. Be Clear
    Don’t use sentences that last for nearly a paragraph. Don’t use fancy, long words that people have to stop and think about what they mean. And don’t use jargon that only people within your organization will understand. Your listener will appreciate it.
  5. Choose Better Words
    We’ve have a whole series on word choice called #WordsThatWow. Check it out!
  6. Keep it Short
    There’s nothing worse than a three-page letter from a nonprofit, a webpage that requires an extraordinary amount of scrolling to get to the bottom, or a person that talks for five minutes straight when asked about their organization. Know your key information, and figure out the easiest way to say it.
  7. Leave Room for Inquiry
    You want people to engage with you. If you spew out pages upon pages of everything anyone could possibly want to know about your organization, you close to door to inquiry. Say enough to get people interested. Interested enough to ask more questions.
  8. Be Yourself 
    No one wants to feel like they’re talking with a robot. Let your personality and the personality of your organization shine. People relate to other people, not distant-sounding, colorless words.

We & Our – Use with Caution [#WordsThatWow]

nonprofit, nonprofit marketing, fundraising, language, best practices

[This is the latest post in our #WordsThatWow series.]

We. It seems like such a nice word, doesn’t it? Like a big hug. Only it’s a word. A word-hug, as it were. Ditto for ‘our’. 

“We are creating opportunities for girls across our state.”

‘We’ implies we’re all in this together. Working hard to make our state a better place. That’s a good thing,  isn’t it? Yes, it is, but here’s the thing: often ‘we’ aren’t all in this together.

“We’re putting an end to human trafficking.”

“We make sure every kid can become a great reader.”

“We feed our neighbors.”

When you read those sentences, to whom is the ‘we’ referring? That’s right, the organization. And this where ‘we’ goes awry. It’s not about you and your organization. It’s about the people you serve and the people who make it possible.

Often, when using the word “we”, nonprofits actually alienate the very people they want to include. We, us, our and ours (a.k.a. first person plural pronouns) quickly become an exclusive group, with the organization on the inside and donors, volunteers, supporters looking in. (Hence the cliché “us versus them”.)

The good news is: It doesn’t have to be this way. You can use these first person pronouns as a tool to include everyone who plays a part in helping your organization meet its mission.

Check out the phrases Tessa, our word-erific intern, used in a recent thank you letter:

 “We appreciate your commitment to a sustainable future. Together, we will create a world free of environmental injustice.”

Did you catch which “we” was referring to the organization’s staff, and which was including the donor? It’s the same word, but the distinction is in the context.

This is why we, us, our and ours can certainly be used, but should be used with caution. Sometimes, they can be powerful tools to make others feel involved in your cause. But other times, they can make people feel separate from your cause. Pay attention to your context.

We appreciate you reading our blog post. By learning more about language, we can better achieve our missions. (Get it?!)