Are you tough, stuffy or sweet?

brand, brand personality, adjectives
What three adjectives would you use to describe this guy?!

What three adjectives would you use to describe your organization’s personality? This is a really super good question to ask and answer. Why? Because once you have a clear sense of your brand personality, you have a consistent look and feel and voice. Consistency builds trust and it helps you stand out from the crowd.

For instance, you might be:

  • Friendly, knowledgeable, proactive OR
  • Faithful, focused, energetic OR
  • Savvy, ambitious, forward-thinking

As silly as it may sound, picking three adjectives that best describe your organization is worth the time and energy. Here are three tools to help you out:

  1. In his book, “Tough, Sweet and Stuffy”, Professor Walker Gibson talks about how you can align your writing with these three personality types. He even has a handy chart of how often to use different types of speech and whatnot to help. It’s an interesting way to think about your organization–if you had to chose, would you be tough, sweet or stuffy?
  2. The List of Adjectives–9,947 adjectives waiting to be sorted alphabetically or by category.
  3. Claxons’ 5 Steps to a Funective Brand.

Want Your Writing to Flow Better? Try These Five Things.

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


Did you ever read a letter from a nonprofit and feel that something was not quite right? Maybe you found it hard to read and weren’t sure why. When writing, you want your flow to be as “on” as possible. Here are five things to remember that will make your flow as smooth as possible.

1. Be Consistent

Inconsistency is one of my pet peeves. If you capitalize a noun in one place, make sure you capitalize that noun every time you mention it again. For example, The French Club shouldn’t evolve into the French Club or the French club throughout your piece. The same goes for abbreviations. If you introduce an abbreviation at the beginning of a letter, don’t start referring to it by its full name again half way through. People will get confused.

2. Don’t Liberally Toss Your Articles Around

I read a cooking article the other day that mentioned four things: The peppers, the onions, the carrots, and the garlic. Four words there are unnecessary. The whole thing is bulky. Keep it to peppers, onions, carrots and garlic. Only use articles like the, a, and an when they’re required.

3. Alliteration is Nice

If you can swing it, throw some alliteration into your piece. Clear, concise and compelling flows better than clear, brief and engaging. (By the way, you should be all of these things.)

4. Write in Threes

I’ve done a whole blog post dedicated to this topic, but I’ll summarize here. There is something about the number three that sticks in people’s heads and makes your writing or speaking sound better. If you have two and can come up with a third reason, adjective or example – do it. The same applies if you have four and can eliminate one.

5. Split Up Your Sentences

There’s no benefit to a sentence with three conjunctions, six commas, and endless words. When you can, split up your clauses into independent sentences. It will be easier to read and understand, I promise!

What NOT to do in your year-end appeal

holiday-logo-exampleIf  you want your year-end fundraising to be successful, please, please, please don’t mess with your logo!

See those logos to the left? They are examples from a recent promotion from Vertical Response.

Enticing, right?!  You could really do a number to spice up your logo and make it color coordinated with the season/holiday on hand.  But stop, and think, what message are you sending to your donors?   Does adding a turkey to your end-of-year giving appeal really have anything to do with your mission?  Or is it simply a shiny object?  Nice to look at (sort of, if you like holly in your Italian food) but not great for brand cohesion and consistent messaging.

You risk confusing your donors. And confused donors are too busy being confused to make a gift.

I’m not saying to be boring with your appeals (or your thank yous). I’m simply saying: unless you’re Google, keep the holly and turkeys away from your logo.


Word of the Week: Channels

Example: Non profit Hub and Spoke

Last week, I did a guest blog post over on NPower NW’s blog. It gives you a specific approach for keeping all your communications channels aligned called the “Hub and Spoke Model.”

We tend to think about one channel at a time. When updating Facebook, we think about Facebook. When posting on Pinterest, we’re all about Pinterest. And when we’re prepping the next newsletters, that newsletter rules our life—who cares about those other channels?! If you don’t take time to align them, they quickly get out of alignment and, just like you’re car, everything goes wonky.

Read the NPower post to learn how to get and keep your channels in sync—donors, supporters, volunteers and fans like well-aligned channels so it’s worth it.

If you want to see what a lean, mean non-profit channel machine looks like, check out these organizations’ well-aligned channels (oh la la!):

  1. Grist: Website, Facebook, Twitter
  2. Humane Society of the United States: Website, Facebook, Twitter
  3. LiveStrong: Website, Facebook, Twitter

Name That Event!

Event season is upon us, and many non-profits are planning events from breakfasts to art auctions in order to get noticed—and get funded.

It’s always fun to learn from the best. That’s why we turned to Shanon Doolittle (@sldoolittle) for some insight and inspiration.

Emerald City and Disco Inferno

Shanon is in charge of Group Health Foundation’s Gift of Health Gala, one of the Northwest’s most successful fundraising events. The name of the event is always the Gift of Health Gala, but she changes up the theme each year.

In 2010, it was ‘Journey to the Emerald City’.

In 2011, it was ’10! A Disco Inferno’.

In 2012, you’ll have to wait for it. But it’ll be just as awesome. Fresh and fun…yet still the Gift of Health Gala.

Shanon’s wisdom:

“Approach your event as its own brand. You can’t build equity or supporter loyalty if you confuse supporters each year with a name change or a completely different event experience. The name of the game is making it easy for your donors to identify your event and cause. A consistent name does that. And if you really want to get strategic-licious, hold the event on the same day every year (second Saturday of October for example). Donors will then know to save the date way before you send it.”

Our Recommendations:

  1. Keep the same name and logo each year so funders and donors can remember your event, and hopefully your organization as well. Never forget: your event reflects who you are as an organization.
  2. When you’re planning your fundraiser, decide what actions you want your donors and funders to take. Donate money? Volunteer? What’s the ripple effect you want from the event, ultimately? Make the event match your goals. (Sounds like a ‘no duh’ but staggering how often this doesn’t happen.)
  3. Keep it simple. Attendees want to relax and enjoy themselves at your event, not try to figure out what it is exactly your organization does. That should be apparent from the brand of the event. Definitely change the theme to make it fun, but keep in mind the event should be as consistent as you are.

What suggestions do you have for successful events?



Consistency isn’t boring!

Being consistent doesn’t mean being boring. In this short video, you’ll learn the two reasons you should nurture consistency, and hear about an organization that consistently hits the mark (Kaboom!) and one that had a consistency hiccup (Seattle Symphony).



Word of the Week: Consistency

Consistency is key for exercise, parenting and, yes, that’s right, messaging.

Yes, consistency is your BFF when it comes to making your messaging stick. Depending on who you listen to, adults have to hear something three to seven times before we remember it.

If you’re switching up your messaging all the time, how’s someone going to fall in love with your organization? They won’t even remember who you are!

This is why consistency will star as our Word of the Week.

How consistent is your messaging? If you’re not sure, do an inventory and find out. (Sounds boring but is quite fascinating!)

Great jazz. Great messaging.


Ray Nance: a man of many musical talents

Ray Nance  is famous for his trumpet solo in the Duke Ellington orchestra hit, ‘Take the A Train’. He played this solo every night the orchestra played from 1941-1963. Although he did variations on it, he always started out by playing the original versions.

What makes great jazz musicians great is that they master the basics first.

This applies to mission-driven messaging.

It is tempting to immediately start switching up your messaging (usually reverting back to what you’re used to) when you first start using it. This is largely because–as with most things that involve change–when you change your messaging, it’s uncomfortable.

Give it time.

Once you have mastered the basics, you can riff.

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?