Who, or what, is your competition? (5 of 15)

competition, unique differentiator[This is part five of our 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree Step-by-Step series, written by our fabulous intern, Vicki. If you’re new to the series, you can catch up on previous posts. If you haven’t already gotten 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree, now is a great time to either buy the awesome poster-size version or download the free version, so you can follow along. You can find the free version in Claxon’s DIY tools a la carte menu or in the Marketing 101 Toolkit. You can buy the super spiffy poster here.]

Your competition may not be who you think it is.

The next two questions on the 1,2,3 Marketing Tree are:

  • Who, or what, is your competition?
  • What makes you more compelling than your competition?

Before we can answer these questions, we need to ask another question.

What do you need?

Your organization requires many inputs from muffins for the staff meeting to grants for that new program you want to start. But, you are probably only worried about a small subset of inputs due to factors like a high impact on outcomes, supply shortages, or supply instability. Do you need clients? Funding? The attention of law-makers? When you want your voice to be heard, your biggest competition might be another nonprofit doing similar work. Then again, it might be the latest hit TV show.

Your local movie theater isn’t just worried about other cinemas. They are in competition with video games, putt-putt golf, that novel everyone is talking about, and all of the other things you might do with your free time this weekend.

The easiest way to think about competition is to step back from your own point of view and look at things from the point of view of the resource(s) you need and the people controlling that resource. Where else might the resources (e.g. money, time, energy) flow? That’s your competition.

Now think about the people making decisions about that flow. The potential volunteers deciding how to spend their time. The foundation manager designing metrics for grant evaluations. What factors are they considering as they make their decisions? Being more compelling than your competition is about being different in a way that impacts those decisions, i.e. in a way that inspires people pick you over the competition.

Who, or what, is Chirp’s competition?

Let’s turn to Chirp, the school for birds founded by Claxon’s mascot, Roxie. (Check out previous posts for the full back-story.)

As a reminder, Chirp needs to get more students into their classes. This means they need to be thinking about what else birds might choose to get involved in. They need to know who/what their competition is and what differentiates them from that competition.

Steve the Crow’s bird choir is another organization that draws birds in from multiple flocks for a culturally enriching pursuit. This is the obvious competition. Steep competition also exists, however, from other bird pastimes like digging for worms, swimming in ponds, and pooping on cars.

Like all of us, birds use their free time to engage in activities that they find fun and meaningful. Chirp believes it is both fun and meaningful AND is distinctive in that they offer an opportunity to communicate with other flocks. Within bird culture, however, loyalty is expressed through choosing to be like all of your fine, feathered friends. So, many birds make choices about their time by simply flocking together with birds of the same feather. For this reason, Chirp will also want to show that entering its program can be a fun group activity and tout the benefits the whole flock can glean from being able to communicate with other species. By speaking with other flocks, birds can learn about cats to avoid and bushes with ripe berries.

Albert the Owl has been doing some interesting linguistic studies and has found geographic patterns in the single word songs that different flocks are using. He is proud to be part of an organization that cares about supporting such research and expects his findings to impact the way words are taught to birds in other areas. Steve’s bird choir is not engaging in any research and Albert is at a loss as to how anyone could consider the two organizations even comparable. If Chirp were competing for grant funding, this would be a compelling. From the viewpoint of a student considering entering the school, however, Albert’s research isn’t likely to be something they would participate in. So, as interesting and important as it may be, it isn’t something that makes them compelling to those birds.

In sum…

As you are thinking about who your competition is, make sure you think outside of the nonprofit box. And, as you think about what makes you more compelling than your competition, make sure you are thinking beyond the differences that matter to you and focus on what matters to the people you’re looking to engage in your mission.

So far in this series, we have been talking about some big picture aspects of what your organization is about. As we focus in on what your marketing should be about, some strategic decisions have to be made. That’s what we’ll go over next week.

Marketing is a means to an end. Period.

what are your goals?I teach a graduate course in Nonprofit Marketing at the University of Washington and Seattle University. The third week of class, we spend our entire three hours together focused entirely, exclusively, fully on gaining clarity on the ways in which marketing is a means to an end.

You’d think this class would be a no-brainer. These are super smart graduate students in public affairs and nonprofit management. They are up to their eyeballs in strategic planning, logic models and whatnot. Plus, they are goal-oriented by nature.

And yet this class, more than any other class during the quarter, leaves my beloved students bedraggled and forlorn. Their eyebrows furrowed. Their morale drooping.

This mystified me until I finally realized that it’s one thing to be told you have to set goals and another to set them, prioritize them and figure out how you and your team are going to achieve them.

Far more fun to think theoretically about goals and then proceed, in reality, to obsess about how many new folks are following your organization on Twitter. Never mind that Twitter isn’t the best way to achieve your goals necessarily. It feels good to have hoards of adoring fans and followers. It feels concrete. You can point to it. Each month you can put a spunky little green arrow in your report the board, indicating the upward growth occurring on the social media front for all y’all. #HipHipHooray

Unless you can clearly show how more followers and fans will lead to you achieving your organizational goals–goals like attracting more volunteers, retaining more donors, serving more people–your social media stats don’t matter one wit.

Traffic to your website or your blog. Number of people attending your event. None of these matter unless they support a specific organizational goal. That’s because marketing is nothing more–nor less–than a means to an end.

Start by setting your organizational goals. Then identify the specific ways in which marketing can help you achieve them. Always and forever in that order.

If you feel as befuddled by all this goal setting as my students do, this might help.

Jargon: It’s More Prevalent Than You Think

67bd[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.

If you work for a 501(c)3 and you are not a private foundation, your nonprofit is deemed a public charity. By definition, that means you exist to serve the public. Yet, so often, you use language that is meaningless to people outside our organizations. It’s called jargon, and we’ve advised against it in the past.

What you may not know, however, is that jargon takes another dangerous form: pretentious and/or vague language. What if I told you words you use daily, words like community, impact and partnership, might be alienating the very people you’re trying to engage?

For example, say you tell someone that you are “serving the community”. You know exactly what community you’re serving. But an outsider would have no idea if you’re talking about the immediate neighborhood, the city, the county, or perhaps even another location all together.

If you’re unsure if you’re using jargon, just step back and ask yourself if someone who is not familiar with your organization would know what you mean. If the answer is no, find a more specific word. You can also check out this nonprofit Jargon Finder.

Remember, public charity workers:

“The repetitive, habitual use of insider lingo undermines the inherently public nature of the issues under discussion.” – Tony Proscio

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!

Words of Gratitude – Use Often [#WordsThatWow]

[This is the last post in our #WordsThatWow series. Read the rest of the posts here.]

nonprofit, nonprofit marketing, fundraising, language, best practicesI would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. ~G.K. Chesterton

Right, so, here’s the thing–we simply don’t show enough gratitude. By ‘we’, I mean pretty much all of us. Not just nonprofits. Many times in any given day I think, “Dang, I am grateful to that person/ organization/ company/ whatever for that bit of goodness they are putting out to the world.” But thinking it isn’t the same as saying it or showing it. As G. B. Stern said, “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.”

Words of Gratitude come in all shapes and sizes. Here’s some inspiration!

In short, show gratitude whenever possible. So many people contribute to your nonprofit’s success–donors, volunteers, community supporters, etc. etc. Make sure they know how much you appreciate them. And remember that expressing gratitude not only makes the person you’re talking to feel good, it makes you feel good, too.

Thank you for reading this post!


For Those Just Getting Started: 5 Tips to Get Your Marketing Ball Rolling

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

StartIn the nonprofit world, this is a common scenario: Your small or new organization has an amazing mission that you want everyone to know about. However, you’ve never had a designated marketing person. A volunteer, intern or staff member offers to give it a go. But where do they start?

If this describes you or your organization, keep reading. These 5 things will help you focus your time and efforts to get the most out of your marketing.

  1. Ask: What results do I want to see?

A lot of organizations think things like: We have to be on Facebook because everyone’s on Facebook. Or, we have to send out a newsletter because we’ve always sent out a newsletter. These are not good reasons to do anything. You need to start by determining what you want to get out of your marketing efforts. It will be different for every type of organization. Is it to get more people in your city to recycle? Is it to bring new people through the doors of your community center? Maybe it’s to get donations to help build a new facility. Whatever it is, determine your goal first. Only then can you determine how to get there. (For more on this and help getting started, download our Marketing 101 Toolkit.)

  1. Create a good website.

I’ve seen this too many times: Organizations spend time and money building a presence on social media. And by doing this, they get people interested. Yay! So, said people visit the organization’s website to learn more, find opportunities to help the cause, and/or use the service. But when they get there, they’re disappointed. Information is either lacking or disorganized. They’re not going to waste their time sifting through a hard-to-navigate website. So they click that little x in the corner of their browser window, and the opportunity is lost. Don’t let this happen. Get your website in shape before you try any other sort of online presence. Trust me, it’s worth the investment.

  1. Find your words.

An important part of marketing is choosing the right words for your organization – words that are unique to you and aren’t being overused by every other organization out there. We have a free do-it-yourself resource to help you find your words. We also created a whole series of blog posts dedicated to words that wow vs. words to avoid. Make your organization stand out. Don’t use the words everyone else is using. Find the words that will do wonders for you.

  1. Don’t take on too much.

It’s exciting once you’ve figured out potential ways to reach your audience. I bet you’ll want to get started right away. But be careful not to start on a whole slew of things at once. Master one or two mediums before you branch out to more. And if you have limited time, it’s better to do one or two really well, than to do four or five half-way.

  1. Don’t expect too much too soon.

Again, starting your marketing plan is exciting. And seeing results is even more exciting. So, it’s easy to get disappointed if you don’t see results right away. Many marketing methods, especially social media, take time to build. Obviously, you don’t want to continue with something that’s not working, but make sure you give it enough time to start working.

5 Online Tools to Help You Write

Let’s be honest – good writing is hard work.

 Frustrated Writer 2

Yet so much of your nonprofit’s success depends on the words you use and how you use them. These words can come in the form of text on your website, donation appeals, annual reports – even the e-mail you send to a prospective donor. Writing is everywhere in your organization. Here are my five favorite online tools to help with various aspects of the writing process: finding content, having clarity, and staying focused.

  1. HubSpot’s Blog Topic Generator
    This one is for all you fellow bloggers out there. As you probably know well, sometimes it’s hard to find fresh content to write about. You want to be informative, relevant and valuable to your readers… but you sometimes you flat out don’t know what to say. The blog topic generator can help get your thought process started and give you topics ideas.
  2. WordCounter
    No one likes to read a paragraph with the same word used over and over and over. WordCounter can take a block of text and tell you which words you’re using the most. You might be surprised at how you overuse a certain word or words. Then you can go back to your text and find more creative ways to tell your story.
  3. Readability-Score.com
    This is an online version of the Flesch-Kindcaid readability tests feature of Microsoft Outlook and Word. It uses a formula to rate the readability of your text, using a scale from 0 to 100. The closer you are to 100, the easier your writing is to understand. It also gives you an average grade level score – for example, a grade level 8 means that someone with 8 years of education could easily understand your writing. If you find yourself writing for high school or graduate level audiences, you may want to ease up on the big words.
  4. Cliché Finder 
    According to Merriam-Webster, clichés are: “1.  a phrase or expression that has been used so often that it is no longer original or interesting. 2. something that is so commonly used in books, stories, etc., that it is no longer effective.” Overused,uninteresting, and ineffective. That doesn’t seem like what you want. It’s okay to clichés every now and again, but don’t get into the habit of relying heavily on them. This tool will find all the clichés in your writing, so you can make the choice to choose a different, more unique, and more memorable phrase.
  5. Written? Kitten!
    This one is my absolute favorite; I’ve actually blogged about it before. When you write a certain number of words (decided by you), you get rewarded with a picture of a cute cat. It’s a tool to keep you writing and keeps the ideas flowing. You can always edit later. What happens if you’re not a cat lover, you may ask? You can substitute the “kitten” for whatever you want. Do roses make you really happy? Add  /?search=roses after the Written Kitten URL, and this is what you get! Substitute “roses” for “puppies”, “sea creatures”, “mountains”, “cocktails” – whatever keeps YOU motivated!

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.

Use These Words with Caution – Part 1 [#WordsThatWow]

[This is the next installment in our series explaining each of the words on our 2014 List of Words that Wow. We covered the ‘Never Use’ category. Now were moving into the ‘Use with Caution’ ones. It’s a long list, so we’re going to split this into a few different posts. First up, inspire and impact.]

Inspire: Inspirational quotes flood our Pinterest boards, Facebook walls, and desk calendars. Artists need inspiration to create, entrepreneurs need inspiration to succeed, and many of us need inspiration to feel fulfilled in our lives. Inspiration is a wonderful thing, right?

Absolutely. It’s for this reason that many organizations are excited to use it in their mission statements. “We inspire change.” “We inspire hope.” “We inspire (insert group of people here).” I’m sure you’ve heard all these before.

And these phrases sound nice. But stop and think about them. Is “inspiring change” the best way to convey what your organization does, especially if you only have a few words to do it? This phrase could apply to the vast majority of nonprofits out there. It doesn’t make you stand out, or even sound very interesting. Your words should reflect the awesome and unique organization you are.

If you are adamant about using the word inspire, make sure you are not using it as a means to an end. Nine times out of ten, it’s not enough to simply inspire. Be specific about what you are inspiring people to do (and maybe even how you’re doing it). Show how the inspiration you are causing makes a difference in the world. For example, “We inspire youth to become leaders.” can change to “We inspire youth to question status-quo policies and lead their communities to progressive change.” Sure, it’s a few more words, but it’s a much more memorable and accurate description of your organization.

Impact: Like inspire, impact is a word that doesn’t mean much on its own. Your organization is impacting lives. So what? How are you impacting them? When you answer this question, my guess is that you’ll find you can remove the word impact from the equation completely.

So, the next time you’re about to tell someone that your organization is inspiring change or creating impact, stop a moment. What are you really doing?

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?