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Who’s Managing Your Communications?

As the owner or manager at a typical nonprofit organization or business, you have a web site to communicate your mission, products or services. You also may have a newsletter — whether printed or posted on your web site — for customers, donors, potential clients, and associates. You also have other ways of communicating to your customers through marketing brochures, direct mail, and solicitation letters.

And while most large corporations have a staff of professional communications specialists to manage these things, you either don’t have the resources or can’t afford to hire staff. The burden then falls on the executive director, a secretary or business owner to manage web content, newsletters, and other communications.

Professional writing and succinct, clear communications are important for all organizations. If you are explaining a product application, writing a feature article about a person, or profiling a success, your writing needs to flow. Unfortunately, how often do we see awkward sentence structure or way too many words and adjectives stop the flow when reading an article? Grammatical errors and typos (far too common on blogs and web sites today) only further frustrate a reader.

Your organization’s image is on the line. You need to draw potential clients and attract donors to your nonprofit. Make sure your communications are professional and consistent each time web content is posted, a newsletter is published or a news release is issued.

What is the main purpose of writing your column, blog or home page? Ask an executive and he might say to tell readers about the company’s financial picture.  Ask a marketer and she likely will say to sell the product. Both answers are wrong. The main purpose of anything written is to be read. What good is writing about your great financial success if it isn’t read?

  • Don’t stop the reader by not transitioning
  • Don’t confuse the reader with run-on sentences
  • Don’t strain the reader with lofty but unknown words
  • Don’t irritate the reader with puffed up marketing-speak

Back in journalism school, we were taught to write in the “inverted pyramid” where the most important stuff came in the first paragraph and lesser information or background information, followed in succeeding paragraphs. This was done because a newspaper editor often had to cut the article to fit it in the layout. A reporter needs to tell the who, what, when, and why in the first paragraphs. If space allows, she can tell the “how.”

This same rule applies today but for different reasons. People don’t read web sites; they scan web sites for content they’re looking for. Our eyes scan in a similar pattern to reading but much faster on a web site. We are accustomed to looking in certain areas and are less patient reading through unnecessary words. A narrative style of writing just won’t do on your home page.

Here are a few steps you can take to build professional communications in your organization:

  • Adopt a style manual for all external communications. A common style manual used by business professionals is The Chicago Manual of Style. (Being a hometown Milwaukee guy, I’m not too crazy about the name!!) There are others and you don’t have to use a published stylebook; you could make up your own.  The important thing is consistency in writing style. Using a known stylebook makes it easier.
  • Two sets of eyes are better than one and three sets are even better.  Adopt a procedure for proofing all content written. The worst case scenario is when one person is doing all the writing, proofing, and publishing. Typos are guaranteed to happen and once it’s printed, it’s too late.
  • Designate someone to be the go-to person or Editor-In-Chief for all written communication by the company. This editor can oversee company style and consistency in communication. This duty could be split between two people but both need to use the same stylebook.
  • Find someone outside the loop to give a final review of the communication piece. Often, two people who are so close to the situation and ingrained in what they are writing, will overlook something that needs more clarification. They may know what they’re saying, but what about another reader? An impartial review by someone not so close to the situation may be revealing.

Terry Bolda began his communications career as a newspaper editor in 1979. He has worked in corporate communications, public relations, and more recently, marketing and fund development for nonprofit organizations. His business, Bolda Communications, provides nonprofits and businesses with marketing communications, public relations, and fund development services.

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