Resource Roundup: 7 Tools to Boost Your Writing Skills in 2017

Last week, I asked for new skills in the new year. This week, I figured I’d share what I already know with you, because #sharingiscaring. I’ve rounded up the best word-a-rific resources I’ve discovered — or rediscovered — in 2016. Enjoy!

  1. Your Essential Proofreading Checklist – Proofreading means so much more than catching typos. Especially when you go from writing in your own voice to the voice of your non-profit. You have to start thinking about things such as brand consistency, tone, and flow. So that we don’t feel too overwhelmed to even start, Hubspot put together this handy checklist.
  2. Readability Calculator – Sounding erudite is overrated. People want content that they can digest quickly, usually by skimming. Don’t believe me? Check out these stats. But that doesn’t mean hope is gone for your carefully-crafted content to be read and enjoyed. Use a readability scoring tool to make sure you can be understood on the quick — and by everyone.
  3. The Thesaurus – Yes, this may seem obvious. But trust me, it’s not. Too many times, I’ve heard the adage, if you need to use a thesaurus, then your word is too complicated — or something like that. And I couldn’t disagree more. Just because a word isn’t on the tip of our tongues doesn’t mean it’s a bad choice. We already know that unique words get more attention. Which brings me to the next resource….

  4. The Wordifier – It’s like a thesaurus, but better. Find out how frequently any word is used across nonprofit websites. Why? To figure out if you need to choose something a bit more dazzling. Also, you can easily find alternatives if your word does happen to be overused.

  5. 128 Words to Use Instead of Very – I came across this infographic earlier this year, and I kind of fell in love. Very is the writing equivalent of taking the easy way out. With so many simple yet descriptive words in our gorgeous language, never settle for very again.

  6. Kivi’s Weekly E-Newsletter – If you’re like me, you get too much email. And most of it feels like junk. So, when something engaging and useful comes through the noise, I feel grateful. Enter Kivi’s weekly e-newsletter. While each week is full of great tips and reflections on non-profit communications, my favorite part is the once-a-month, timely writing prompts that can cure even the most stubborn writer’s block.

  7. Claxon University – Claxon U is the place to go to get trained up on doing more good with your words. It’s an online course designed specifically for nonprofit professionals who want to up their communications game. Plus, there’s a special deal going on now through December 31, 2016, so I’d hurry on over if I were you.

What writing resources have you found helpful this year? Share the knowledge in the comments below, or tweet to us @ClaxonMarketing!

Do Happy Salmon Make for Good Messaging?

Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Assoc LogoUntil the other day, I hadn’t thought much about happy salmon.

But that all changed when Adrian Shulock, who works for the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, sent me a delightful email.

After reading my SSIR article on how to spruce up your mission statement, Adrian shared a bit about their mission and the statement that explains it. What I learned was so happy-making, I asked if I could share it publicly. Lucky for us, he said yes!

To be clear: The following is not meant to imply that NSEA should officially change its mission statement. I’m not recommending they edit their by-laws, etc. It is, instead, offered as an objective take at how effectively their mission statement engages those new to the organization. It is food (or chum…couldn’t resist) for thought.

Okay, let’s start by looking at NSEA’s current mission statement. This statement appears loud and proud on their homepage. Its starring role means its job is to make visitors go, “Ohhhh, that’s cool. Tell me more!” Inspiring them to voraciously click their way through the site to learn more.

NSEA is a community-based nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring sustainable wild salmon runs in Whatcom county.

In the plus column for this statement? They focus on ONE THING–restoring sustainable wild salmon runs in Whatcom County. No laundry list here. Huge kudos for that.

In the minus column: the Reading Ease Score on this statement is, alas, zero, meaning it’s almost impossible to understand what they’re saying. People rarely ask questions about things they totally can’t understand (too daunting, they feel dumb). So it’s a conversation-stopper, rather than a conversation-starter.

Also, according to the Wordifier, the statement is packed with words popular with other nonprofits, lowering the chances that it will pique people’s interest. Bummer.

Adrian noticed that the mission statement didn’t exactly blow people’s hair back. So, when people ask what NSEA does, Adrian now says:

NSEA fixes broken creeks so that salmon – and you – can live happy.

This response scores a whopping 81.8 for Reading Ease! This statement does have a few words popular with nonprofits in general. BUT the way in which Adrian combines them makes them interesting. What does a happy salmon look like? How do happy salmon make my life happier? How do you fix broken creeks? All intriguing questions that would propel the conversation forward. Which is exactly what we want.

Again, I’m not necessarily suggesting NSEA  officially change its mission statement. That’s a Big Deal that warrants Much Deep Thought & Analysis. I am, however, suggesting that they figure out how engaging their mission statement really is to supporters who would want to fix broken creeks so salmon–and people–can live happy.

For more tips on writing a mission statement that’s as great as your mission, check out this SSIR article. It’s a quick, practical read.

Need help making your communications as awesome as possible? We’re here for you.

Post Readability Stats: Reading Ease 59.7, Grade Level 7.8

 

Lesson 8: How will you let people know what you want to be known for?

This is part of a series introducing you to Claxon University, where nonprofits can learn everything I know for $949.

Claxon University’s first course is Words on a Mission. Each of the twelve lessons in the course asks a fundamental question a nonprofit needs to answer in order to develop high-impact messaging. In each post in this series, I’ll share what the question is, along with a snippet from the video lecture.

Lesson 8: How will you let people know what you want to be known for?

Lesson 8: Does your Mission Statement align with your Know Statement? from Claxon University on Vimeo.

Is surprising supporters good or bad?

nonprofits, messaging, language, words, messaging

Yawning’s cute when it’s a baby doing it. Not when it’s a supporter.

There’s a really interesting blog post called, “How to Improve Your Writing: 5 Tips from Hollywood” by Eric, “the guy behind the Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog“.

Tip #2 was: Surprise your readers.

Why surprise? Because we remember things that surprise us.

This got me wondering: Do nonprofits surprise their supporters enough? 

If we’re looking at the words nonprofits use, the answer would be absolutely, positively not! Our research shows that nonprofits are doing a downright miserable job of surprising their supporters and a very good job of boring them.

Nonprofits are only using 5% of the words in the English language. And 1% of the words nonprofits use account for 65% of all the words they use.

No surprise–it’s a linguistic yawnfest.

It begs the question: how do you effectively surprise supporters?

Back to Eric and the blog post:

Surprise comes from knowing the expectations of your audience — and then turning them on their head.

In order to do this effectively, you first have to know your supporters inside and out. That means creating personas. (If personas are new to you, read this, this and this.)

Once you know the types of words that will resonate with a given persona, brainstorm words that are similar but have a bit more oomph.

There’s a fine line between startling and surprising. Surprising is good. It wakes up the brain. It’s engaging. Startling can be off-putting. So don’t go overboard.

Some ideas for generating words that surprise:

Bored supporters are rarely happy supporters. Happy supporters are usually stupendous supporters. So, for their sake and yours, mix up your language. Surprise them. (Whatever you do, don’t ever send them a boring thank you letter.)

Do you know many nonprofits in your state have a website?

In a post earlier this week, I shared a startling new finding from our Wordifier research: more than 50% of nonprofits don’t have a website.*

A state by state breakdown shows us how much this varies depending on geography. In Maine, for instance, 65% of nonprofits have a website. Whereas in New Mexico and Wyoming, a scant 29% do.

This map breaks it down state by state.

research, nonprofits, websites

 

The five states with the highest percentage of nonprofits with websites?

1. Maine: 65%

2. DC: 64%

3. Washington: 61%

4. Idaho & Puerto Rico: 60%

5. Vermont: 59%

And the five states with the lowest percentage of nonprofits with websites?

46. Alabama: 37%

47. Rhode Island: 36%

48. Arkansas: 33%

49 & 50. Wyoming & New Mexico: 29%

Makes you wonder: how easy/hard are nonprofits in your state making it for supporters to find them on-line? 

***If you want your nonprofit to stand out from the crowd–whether on-line, in-person, or in print–check out Claxon University.***

 

*Reminder about what we mean by “no website”: We mean when pulling our sample, we didn’t find an independent url for ~50+% of the nonprofits for which we were searching. Some might have had an online presence, e.g. Facebook pages or a webpage on a connected, but separate organization. For instance, it’s very common for Friends of the Library and PTAs/PTSAs to have a web presence as a page on the related organization’s site, but often not their very own site. Other organizations, businesses, social clubs, or even other nonprofits with a foundation or scholarship might have mentioned the 501c3 arm, or maybe just mention that they have a scholarship, but it is the parent organization that has the website, so that didn’t count.