The naughty exclamation point!

In honor of National Punctuation Day, I’d like to offer a few tips on exclamation point usage. Of all the punctuation out there, why the exclamation point, you ask? Because I’m seeing a naughty trend in how y’all are using it. #ShameOnYou

Before we get to the naughtiness, let’s get something clear: Exclamation points are the cheerleaders and rabblerousers of the punctuation world. As such, you should only use one when you have a truly strong emotion–excited, mad, elated, indignant, astonished, etc–about whatever is in the sentence it is capping off (yep, I know that’s a dangling participle).

Now for the naughty: We (and by ‘we’, I mean ‘you’) are all too frequently making the poor exclamation point do the yucky work of masking a sub-awesome reality.

A few examples and suggestions:

    • “The office coffee machine is broken. Good thing there’s a Starbucks just half a mile away!” If you’re used to being able to amble down the hall to get your fix, trudging half a mile is not an adequate substitute. And you know it. Person up and say something like: “The office coffee machine broke. We can either all snip at each other all day or you can take your bad selves down to the Starbucks. The walk will do you good. The machine will be fixed tomorrow. Deal.”
    • “We didn’t meet our fundraising goals this past quarter. But there’s always next quarter!” Are you really feeling pumped about not meeting your fundraising goals? Probably not. No amount of exclamation points is going to fix the fact that you didn’t meet your goals. Having said that, it’s also not the end of the world. But you do need to address what’s going on and have a discussion about how you propose to move forward. That means having a conversion. That means you need a question mark. “We didn’t meet our fundraising goals this past quarter. Why do you think that is and how can we work as a team to hit them next quarter?”

And your donors see through your exclamation points as well. If you overuse them, they lose their impact. Use them sparingly. If you find yourself sticking an exclamation point on everything, it probably means you’re using boring words (like, say, provide). Let your exclamation points take a nap while you forage for some spunkier words.

[Looking for more tips on using language to increase your impact? Check out Pitchfalls: why bad pitches happen to good people. Sneak peak available right here.]


5 Small & Deadly Mistakes to Avoid

MistakesA few weeks ago, Harvard Business Review blogger Kyle Wiens wrote a post about why he won’t hire people who use poor grammar. The comment section became a veritable grammar smack-down, with over 1,400 people weighing in.

As a non profit focused follow-up to Wiens’ post, I did one on why I wouldn’t give to non profits that use poor grammar. Based on how much traffic that post got, it’s clear this grammar stuff gets people all hot and bothered.

Why would posts about things as mundane as commas, semi-colons and apostrophes unleash such a fervor?

Because in people’s minds, sloppy grammar amounts to sloppy work. And few people want to support a sloppy org, let’s be honest.

Grammar isn’t the only small thing that turns out to be a big turn-off. Here’s a list of the Top 5 Small but Deadly Mistakes to Avoid (if you want happy supporters):

  1. Failing to honor someone’s request to not receive direct mail: Really, seriously take them off your list. No excuses.
  2. Not sending timely thank you notes: If someone can’t remember making the gift for which you are thanking them, you’ve missed your window for a gracious, heartfelt, “we value you” moment with that donor. Bummer. Ditto for volunteers, advocates or anyone else who has done something nice for your organization. Apps like Red Stamp and the ongoing consistency of the US Postal Service can help you make this happen.
  3. Misspelling someone’s name (yeah, I know this is close to grammar but it merits its own spot): One time? Okay. More than that—especially for your most committed supporters—is poor form. Nothing says, “I can’t be bothered” like consistently writing Addams instead of Adams.
  4. Poor phone etiquette: If someone has taken the time to pick up the phone to call you, they should be treated well. From the first “hello” to a smooth transfer to a courteous sign-off (“Thanks for taking the time to reach out. It means a lot to us!”), the phone experience matters. Basic phone etiquette can go a long, long way to happy supporter-dom.
  5. Cross-channel inconsistency: Okay, this one isn’t exactly small, per se, but it’s deadly if you don’t get it right. With the advent of social media, keeping consistent across channels is a challenge. If I first meet you on Facebook and then I visit your website and it looks like it was last updated in 1999, I’m going to wonder what the heck is going on with you. Facebook says modern. Animated gifs not so much. (If you’re stuck on this, this post might help.) Ditto for messaging. If your board chair describes what you do in a way that is inconsistent with the brochure she’s left behind for you to peruse, this doesn’t instill confidence. It erodes it. Confidence leads to trust and trust is the cornerstone of both initial and ongoing engagement.

Some of these traps can be handled with process improvement, some are a question of culture and values and others are a matter of carving out time to get your house in order. Can’t tackle all five? Prioritize them from most egregious to least and, over time, work your way through the list.

Here’s to sweating the small stuff!

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?