This is a post from our super smart intern, Vicki.
“I’m sorry.” Two words that seem powerful, but are really pretty lame.
To fail is human. The time comes when even the best of us have to own a failing, but promise me you’ll never say you’re sorry. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t own up to your mistakes. I am saying “I’m sorry” is a terrible way to do it.
Apologies are important. Let’s look at how to do them well.
In crafting your language, be clear on the type of failure you are addressing. There are two types of failures: routine failures and serious failures.
Routine failures should not be apologized for. You are amazing, but you don’t have superpowers. You can’t keep equipment from breaking down or keep key volunteers from moving away. Apologizing for things like this builds the expectation that everything should always be perfect. Don’t do that.The only way to avoid ever failing is to never try anything. Without trying things, you can’t find new and better ways of doing things. So trying is good and failing is to be expected. But don’t apologize simply because something you try doesn’t work out.
In some cases, the failure is more serious. Situations of mismanagement or ethical breaches require genuine apologies. The more grave the need for an apology, the more reason to plan it carefully.
As you can see, in either case, a knee-jerk “I’m sorry” is vague and ineffective. So how can you address the issue (which is important to do) without saying you’re sorry since that’s vague and ineffective? By following these steps:
The building blocks of an effective apology:
In any communication plan, the first step is to be clear on what your goal is. Each situation is different, but the core goal is restoration. You need to restore trust. In the immediate aftermath, many people simply want the painful repercussions of failure to stop. Not only is this goal shortsighted, it focuses you on the wrong person: yourself.
That brings us to the second step. Focus on who you are speaking to and their needs. They don’t need to see you grovel and cry. They need to feel confident that the situation will get better.
How can you give them hope? By sharing your plan. The third step of your messaging plan is where you get to shine. Tell them where things went wrong or at least how you are investigating the source of the problem. If the failure involves an ethical breach, identify the values that have been violated and express the organization’s recommitment to those values. Tell them what procedures you are putting in place to keep this from happening again. Tell them how great things are going to be when you are done. Be specific. Be positive.
Does the What, Who, How structure of this post look familiar? If so, pat yourself on the back. You’ve been paying attention! What, who, and how make up the core components of the Claxon Method and the 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree. We usually talk about applying the Claxon Method to marketing action plans, but you can apply it to all sorts of things.
For a beautiful example of effective communication about failure, check out Splash’s fail log.They link to it from the front page of their website, and they are right to be proud of it. When I see an organization handle failure like a champ, I trust them all the more.
GiveBIG is King County’s annual day of giving. Spearheaded by The Seattle Foundation, this is a stupendous opportunity for local nonprofits to get donors engaged and get in on some matching fund action.
HOWEVER, there are 1600+ nonprofits vying for people’s attention leading up to, and on the day of, this Give-a-Palooza. Standing out from the crowd is a must.
This is an online campaign, so eblasts are flying like crazy. You’ve got to nail your subject line. Not to sound alarmist, but it can make or break the success of your GiveBIG efforts.
Here are 3 tips for writing click-worthy subject lines:
Use ‘you and your’: These are called “self-referencing cues”. Using them makes it about the reader. And academic research tells us that’s a good thing.
Use the word ‘why’: For example, ‘Why you should care about next Tuesday’. It suggests that by opening the email, the reader will find out why. Our brains feel out of sorts until we know the answer. And therefore your readers are motivated to find out.
Here’s how you could super size your success by putting these tips together (like combo meals for your subject lines):
Do you know why next Tuesday is such a big deal?
Why you’re our hero.
You and your awesomeness needed next Tuesday
Here’s the headline you should NOT write: “GiveBIG to [insert the name of your organization]”.
It’s not about you and your organization. It’s about the difference you’re making in the community, on behalf of the people you serve. Make it about them and how the donor can be part of that awesome work. They are the heroes.
Last week, I got to help board members from three different organizations find their words. One of the biggest hiccups they faced was using jargon and/or acronyms. On the receiving end, these both sound like blah, blah, blah.
Staff bandy about some blah, blah, blah with the best of them. Don’t get me wrong. But since board members don’t talk about the organization as often as staff, they don’t have as many opportunities to shake the habit.
If your board members are struggling to de-jargonify their personal pitches, teach them this trick: as soon as they hear themselves use jargon or an acronym, have them pause and say, “Here’s what I mean by that…”
This allows them to keep some words and terms that are comfy to them (which is often important in order for them to let their passion shine through!) while making it understandable to those not as familiar with your mission and work.
Any other tips and tricks to help board members get over messaging hiccups?
Many of us put on our “Editor hat” now and then, but few of us are professional, full-time editors. This guest post is from the two editing pros who make up Tandem Editing. They share their tips being efficient, effective editors.
Daylight Saving Time. One less hour (or so it seems) to get your words out the door. We’ve all been there—an hour away from deadline but not nearly done. We were delighted when Erica asked us to suggest a few editing tips for making the most of the time you have.
When you’re one hour away from Go, it’s time to focus your writing and editing on the absolute most important details:
Spell all names correctly—and the same way each time. Organization name. Program name. Executive director, board chair, major donors, foundation funders. No really, look them up. If there’s a single mistake you don’t want to make, this is it.
Give good directions. Verify every street, email, and website address in your copy. If you’re announcing an event, check the time and date info. Present? Accurate? Visible?
Double-check your facts: Don’t confuse your readers or make them doubt your research. Search all numbers, dollar amounts, years of past events, and make sure they present a consistent story.
Search for your personal list of most likely pitfalls. If you work for public health, pubicpublic safety, or public schools, make a note to do a find-and-replace. Don’t rely on autocorrect to save you. (It won’t.)
Take a look at “the look”—it’s too late to change your mind about fonts and colors, but does anything look weird? Is the logo at the top the most recent version?
Two Sets of Eyes
Your single best strategy is to find someone, or more than one someone, to be your second set of eyes. Print out several copies of your final text—ask one colleague to read only the names and another to read only the numbers. Print a copy at 75% and another at 200%—ask someone with a fresh set of eyes to scan it and circle anything that looks strange.
After you’ve entered all the changes (one by one, carefully), run one final spellcheck, take a deep breath, and Go.
The Calm After the Storm
Don’t let your editorial triage go to waste! After your deadline is met and your text is sent to print or posted online, make yourself a cheat sheet that includes verified names, addresses, and numbers for your organization and all its programs, plus your personal pitfalls list. This is the beginning of an editorial stylesheet, which can be an excellent resource for your organization. Here’s a link to a nifty template.
Connie Chaplan and Kyra Freestar are Tandem Editing LLC: One point of contact; two sets of eyes. Editing and consulting for the non-profit community. www.tandemediting.com
Photo credit: Ms. Daniel’s website for her 4th grade class at Lead Mine Elementary. Proving you’re never too young to start editing!
As if you had an hour to spare–ha! No way. Not with your to-do list, right?
That’s why this week we’re focusing on how to be efficient and get some time back.
This month’s Claxonette (our free monthly e-newsletter) comes out tomorrow. It’s got tips and inspiration for efficiently taking your messaging from yawn to yippee. If you’re not already a subscriber, sign-up here.
Then later in the week, we’ll have a guest post from the duo at Tandem Editing. They’ll share their top tips for being an efficient editor.
My time-saving tip for you: Write your to-do list for the next day at the end of the day. It sets you up to instantly dig in rather than trying to remember where you left off the night before. Sounds silly but it works!
Quick background: To celebrate their first 20 years of certification, Microsoft Learning decided they’d rather create a year-long campaign to create better careers and better lives for aspiring IT pros around the world than blow out 20 candles on a big ol’ cake. For the campaign, there are 20 different ways for established IT pros to pay it forward. The ways will be revealed throughout the year. Three are currently active.
Now for the handy tip: Here are the first three Calls to Action (CTAs). Note that each one follows the same pattern: Feature. Benefit.
The advantage of this approach is that you can inform and inspire. You can inform them of the action you want them to take while inspiring them by showing the difference their action will make.
No single approach works in every instance, but if your audience responds well to the inform/inspire approach, give this one a whirl.
Bonus: Saw this ad while out and about earlier this week. (I was stopped when I took the picture, for the record. ) Washington State Lottery used it on their current bus campaign: “When you play, students win.” Same approach: Feature, benefit. (The picture is lousy but you get the point!)
Eye-catching adjectives (and adverbs) can enliven an otherwise ho-hum hunk of copy. But you have to be careful how you use them. If you overuse them, you risk irritating or boring your reader. They are, after all, extra words and each word takes time to read, so you have to make each word worth their while.
To help you avoid adjective awkwardness, here are three Rules of Thumb for effectively using adjectives in mission-driven messaging.
Keep Calls to Action (CTAs) adjective-free: There’s a reason ‘Donate Now’, ‘Sign-up Today’, and other short CTAs work. They get right to the point. Go with it.
No trash: If you can get the point across without the adjective, do it. Otherwise, you risk gunking up your copy. This is especially true for shorter pieces (FB posts, Tweets, etc.) and CTAs (see #1 above). Example: “We helped protect 1,000 acres of precious wetlands.” Knowing they’re precious doesn’t make much of a difference. It mainly makes you wonder what un-precious wetlands are. Make sure it adds value to the point. Otherwise, delete.
Don’t be boring: When an adjective can help you grab someone’s attention–e.g. subject lines–pick something that will stand out. Avoid overused adjectives like thriving, successful and amazing. We expect to see these words so we don’t really see them. It’s wasted space. Pick adjectives that evoke emotion or speak to the reader’s senses. There are approximately 100,000 adjectives in the English language. Find one that adds some zing to your thing!