Archive for the ‘Tips & Techniques’ Category
Tuesday, January 10th, 2012
I write e-newsletters and e-mail news blasts for several clients (see, for example, here). Like most e-newsletters, they’re designed to be read in an e-mail app (or, for people who use web-based e-mail, a browser) along with an identical web-based version for people whose e-mail apps can’t handle html.
Most use customized templates offered by the big mailing services (MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc.) But one of my clients handles the mailing in-house, which requires me to use a custom html template that I prepared. Originally, the template had a fixed width of 600px (the width of the masthead graphic).
While working on the latest issue, I started thinking about the limitations of the fixed-width approach in today’s online-centric environment. In the old days, all you had to worry about was different monitor widths. Now, you also have to factor in web browsers and RSS readers, which is where more and more of us are reading our messages — not to mention the burgeoning mobile sphere, which has to fit everything into notecard-sized screens or thereabouts.
I see two problems with using a narrow fixed-width design for this particular newsletter:
Monday, December 5th, 2011
The latest Nieman Foundation Speaker Series lecture features Chris Jones (“Roger Ebert: The Essential Man“) in conversation with Gay Talese (“Frank Sinatra Has a Cold“) about the art and craft of narrative nonfiction. The lessons that Talese offers are useful for writers of all kinds.
As we face pressure to produce more, and more quickly, in order to meet the incessant demands for novelty and immediacy, it’s worth remembering that what makes for great writing involves what Jones astutely characterizes as a process that is “designed to slow you down.” Things like:
- Go there.
- Hang around.
- Look. Really look.
- Make a good impression.
- Don’t take notes.
- Let them rephrase.
- Notice minor characters.
- Don’t over-describe.
- Write multiple drafts.
- Write in scenes.
- Take your time.
As Talese says, “I don’t think you’re ever wasting your time when you think you’re wasting your time.”
You may not have the time or the budget to do all of these things for your next piece, but try to work one or two of them into your schedule. Tap the brakes a little, generate some friction, and see if any light comes from the heat.
Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011
Style guides can be handy tools when used properly, but their application should always be informed by context.
Case in point: take this article abstract from MDLinx, a medical journal abstracting service, which I found while researching recent publications for one of my clients:
“The authors must be aware that acute encephalopathy is an important complication in children with Dravet syndrome, and associated with fulminant clinical manifestations and a poor outcome.”
Huh? Is the abstractor editorializing here? Is one of the authors of the article publicly chastising himself and his colleagues for overlooking something in their study?
A quick glance at the original abstract from Epilepsia magazine:
“We must be aware that acute encephalopathy is an important complication in children with Dravet syndrome, and associated with fulminant clinical manifestations and a poor outcome.”
Ah, that makes sense now. The authors are saying that pediatric neurologists in general should be aware of this potential complication. The MDLinx style guide — whether it’s applied by a human editor or an algorithm, I don’t know — must call for replacing “we” with “the authors,” presumably on the (not unreasonable) assumption that that’s what it typically refers to.
Editors: when applying a style guide, whether its your own or your client’s, don’t forget to take context into account. Otherwise, you risk causing a misunderstanding — or worse.
Friday, June 17th, 2011
The following post is adapted from “Put Your Money in Trust: How a Gift-Acceptance Policy Can Guide Your Fundraising, Reduce Your Risk, and Help Steward Your Donors,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, v18n3, May-June 2011 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.
Developing a truly helpful gift acceptance policy involves more than simply downloading a template from the Web and filling in the name of your organization at the top, although an organization doesn’t have to begin from scratch, either. A tailored policy reflects a consensus among not only the executive leadership and board members with financial and tax expertise, but also the development staff and volunteers who will have to implement the policy, says Katherine Swank, J.D., a senior consultant for Blackbaud Analytics in Charleston, S.C. Because of the importance of achieving that consensus, it’s not uncommon for the policy-development process to take 18 months or longer.
Swank says the policy-development team should focus on answering some key questions up front:
Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
The following post is adapted from “More Than Data: How Prospect Research can Help You Fine-Tune Your Ask, Allowing You to Raise More Money More Cost-Effectively,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, v18n1, January-February 2011 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.
Researchers today have access to more information, more quickly, than ever before. But are they looking for the right information in the right places? Are fundraisers making the best use of the information? Making sure that the wheat is being separated efficiently from the chaff has become a crucial management function for today’s fundraising executives.
Thursday, December 9th, 2010
The following post is adapted from “Dear, Near, and Clear: How Improving Your Organization’s Donor Relations Can Help You Provide More Resources to More Constituents More Effectively and More Often,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, v17n6, November-December 2010 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.
Nonprofits should remember to use their relationship savvy to cultivate grant makers as well as individual donors, says Jane C. Geever, founder and chairman of fundraising and management consulting firm J. C. Geever Inc. in New York City (www.jcgeever.com). Geever says that in more than 35 years in the profession she has seen enormous change in grant making — not just in the explosive increase in foundation and corporate giving, but also in the way these programs work with nonprofit applicants. “There’s an openness that didn’t exist years ago, and also a frustration that nonprofits don’t take the time to figure out how to approach them with priority projects,” Geever explains.
In her book The Foundation Center’s Guide To Proposal Writing, 5th Edition (The Foundation Center, 2007), Geever used extensive interviews with grant makers to discover not only what makes a winning proposal, but also how to best reach out to grant makers. She learned that grant makers dislike “fishing expeditions,” preferring instead to hear from grant seekers who have done their homework first. However, on average only about one in three applicants takes the time to ensure a program is a good match with grant makers’ missions before submitting an application. “Grant makers see themselves as investors in people and good ideas,” Geever says. “Why would they bother to respond to people who are just churning out applications? They like educated grant seekers because they want to give them an advantage.
“Grant makers complain that we don’t communicate enough. Every step builds the relationship,” Geever says. Stay in touch through mailings and phone calls — especially after a rejection. Keep them informed about your successes and challenges. Be sure to put them on your mailing list, too. Geever adds that it helps to think of grant makers as individuals, so make your communications to them personal, not institutional. She also recommends these tips for building strong relationships with a grant maker:
Wednesday, September 15th, 2010
The following post is adapted from “All Thumbs?: How Nonverbal and Verbal Skills Can Make All the Difference with Donors — and Why Young Fundraisers Should Care,” by Paul Lagasse and Mary Ellen Collins, Advancing Philanthropy, v17n4, July-August 2010 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.
Accurate, clear and persuasive written communication is essential for successful fundraising, particularly for grant proposals, says Diane M. Gedeon-Martin, president of The Write Source LLC, a grant-writing consultancy based in Glastonbury, Conn. She believes that proposal writing is becoming a lost art in part because technologies that were developed to help people communicate more quickly have instead made it easier for people to communicate more frequently, with a resulting loss in quality amid the density. “Proposal writing is something we must champion because grant makers often look unfavorably on proposals that are poorly written,” she explains. “Grant makers are very savvy these days, and if there’s a similar proposal that articulates the need and project description well, they may place a higher priority on the one that they can fully grasp the concept of.”
Gedeon-Martin, who is on the faculty of the Fund Raising School at Indiana University, recently completed a two-day basic grant-proposal writing course that exemplifies the dilemma. “Here were 50 people in my session, with one-half of them under the age of 30,” she recalls. “I spent a lot of time educating them on proper grammar, style and voice.”
Those basics can make or break a grant proposal and, by extension, the nonprofit that needs the money. “Poor writing skills suggest an inability of organizations and their personnel to manage funds,” Gedeon-Martin stresses.
Perhaps ironically, the trend toward ever-shorter communications spurred by text messaging and email has affected grant proposals, too, as more corporate and larger foundation grant makers switch to online-only submissions that place a cap on the number of characters allowed and reduce or eliminate altogether opportunities for face-to-face or telephone meetings. This compression has made it harder for grant seekers, as they try to write persuasive case statements in 2,000 characters or less. “The day of 12- or 15-page grant proposals to foundations and corporations are long gone,” Gedeon-Martin explains. “The attention span of reviewers is compromised when they have to read 20 to 30 proposals in a day. How can we keep their attention? We have to write differently by getting to our point quickly. We need to keep them reading.”
At a time when more and more nonprofits are seeking grants just to be able to keep their doors open, the attention-grabbing power of words is that much more important. “You’re not just writing a grant proposal,” Gedeon-Martin emphasizes. “You’re writing an introduction to your whole organization. It might be the only thing they see from you, so it needs to be the best thing you’ve ever written.”
To make sure it is, the writing must do the following:
Friday, August 6th, 2010
Good writers prepare thoroughly for interviews, whether they’ll be conducted in person, over the phone, via e-mail, or (increasingly) over a social media channel. But all too often, interviewees don’t realize that they also need to prepare for interviews just as thoroughly as — if not more than — the writer.
Why? Because an interview is a ritualized form of conversation; it is not (or should not be) two simultaneous parallel monologues. We’ve all heard interviews like that — the interviewer has his checklist of questions, the interviewee has her checklist of points to make, and both take turns running down their lists until they’re done. Dreadful stuff, right?
On the other hand, when an interviewer and an interviewee both do their homework in advance, they can focus on talking to each other, which leads to better quotations, more compelling anecdotes, and a stronger connection to readers.
Based on a decade of interviewing a wide variety of people for all kinds of articles — and being interviewed a few times myself along the way — here’s a short list of simple suggestions for how to prepare to be interviewed.
Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
With the release of iOS 4, Apple’s iPod touch has at last become a true pocket computer. So much so, that I have taken to calling mine an “iPad nano.” When the iPad came out, I seriously considered getting one but ultimately decided against it for two reasons:
- I like the iPod touch’s “pocketability;” by slipping it into my pocket, that’s one less piece of gear I have to hold in my hand or sling over my shoulder (I am a fanatic about traveling light).
- I guessed — correctly, as it turned out — that Apple would quickly begin importing iPad functionality — particularly Bluetooth keyboard support — back to the iPod touch.
Once Bluetooth keyboard support had been officially confirmed for iOS 4, I went out and bought an Apple Wireless Keyboard, the little brother of Apple’s USB-tethered model which I have been using for a couple of years with satisfaction.
I also needed a new iPod touch, because my first-generation device could not be upgraded to iOS 4. Still, the two devices were cheaper than a new laptop.
My goal was to be able to use the combination in the field in place of a laptop, on business trips as well as vacation. After a series of ever more complex tests of the various hard- and software components, last week I took the devices with me to a meeting at which my job was to take detailed notes to prepare a summary.
As a backup, I also recorded the meeting with my trusty Olympus WS-400S pocket digital recorder; in tests I found that using the iPod touch to both record and type drained the battery faster than the anticipated three-hour length of the meeting.
So how did the iPod touch plus Bluetooth keyboard fare?
Thursday, April 29th, 2010
I was just listening to a podcast of a professionally-produced program that is broadcast on radio, and I was surprised to hear excessive amounts of sibilance — that annoying whistling “s” that overpowers all the other consonants and vowels and that, for some people, causes the same reaction as fingernails on a blackboard and makes them want to go after the announcer’ front teeth with an emery board.
Not me, of course. *Ahem.*
During my stint in college radio over 20 years ago in Santa Fe, I had the privilege of working under the tutelage of a veteran program manager, Bill Dunning, whose career had started in the days when AM was king. To this day, I’ve never met anyone with better diction, and even when he wasn’t on the air his every word was as clear and resonant as a Tibetan singing bowl.
Bill was adamant about the proper placement of a studio microphone. Never, ever place it in front of your mouth pointing at your face, he would admonish us. Rather, place it in front of your face, between your eyes, facing down toward your mouth. This has two immediately noticeable effects:
- The microphone picks up the resonance of your voice in your sinuses, which adds depth and texture.
- Sibilants and plosives will blow harmlessly past the microphone, lessening their disproportionate impact.
If you record podcasts for your own business or for a client, remember the advice of an AM radio veteran and put the can between your eyes.