What’s in your message to donors? Technology to assess communications

I was really excited to attend Net Tuesday last week, and I wasn’t disappointed. Ben Johnson (currently with Union Gospel Mission) was one of two presenters giving a talk on data for social change. While he had tonnes of great points re: data analysis, what excited me most was the visualization of text data using Wordle.net. (I used Wordle last year to demonstrate what my blog was about, and it was right on target!)

Question 1: What message are you sending out?

What message does your board chair’s message in the annual report send?
What message does your vision and vision statements send?
What message does your newsletter send?

While we obviously write these items with very specific intents, sometimes our language, when we dig down deep, doesn’t actually reflect our intentions.

Copy and paste your text (or an rss feed) into Wordle, and voila! (See below for an example). You may be surprised. At UGM, Ben found that some of the language actually focused on programs, when really what they wanted to focus on was people.

Question 2: What messages do your donors respond to?

On UGM’s online donor form, an open box question asks “What inspired you to give today?”. Ben then took all the responses and threw them into World, and voila!

Many at UGM (a faith-based social services organization) might assume that faith and God would be reasons behind giving. These words were present, but even more so were words that indicated a connection to family (brother, father, sister, etc.) and times of year (eg Christmas).

If you analyze what is inspiring donors to give, you can update (and assess!) your communications accordingly to match donors’ interests.

Example: UBC Vision and Mission

UBC is my alma mater, and I have always loved and identified with their vision and mission. I would have done SFU’s but alas, we DON’T HAVE THEM (ridiculous and uninspiring, I know).

UBC vision and mission by Wordle
Image Credit: Wordle.net

I can see easily now why I connect with UBC’s vision and mission. Beyond the obvious university words like “research” and “students”, the next most prominent words are “society”, “sustainable”, “global” and “citizens”. I’m surprised that “learning” isn’t more prominent though.

Try it! You might like it! What results did you get?

$50,000 in creative services on offer for Vancouver/Calgary nonprofits

Near the end of my time at YWCA Vancouver, the organization was undergoing rebranding. A very expensive and time intensive endeavour. YW had most of the services donated, but it was still not cheap. And it was a bit of a pain (and I wasn’t even in the thick of it), but the results seemed pretty nice in the end.

One of the things I learned from the process is that it is VERY important for your creative company to “get” you. While they have experience and knowledge with marketing/branding, etc., your organization has experience with and knowledge of your organization, its clients and supporters. Don’t forget that.

So, if you organization could help further its mission through some donated creative services, read more below. I touched base with the previous two Vancouver recipients and they each seemed incredibly pleased with the process, though each year the recipients obviously go through some media training by Karo and stick to key messages (yawn).

Deadline: November 30, 2009 5pm

Forwarded message:

Karo Group, a branding agency with offices in Vancouver and Calgary, is giving away $100,000 in creative services to two non-profit organizations  – one based in Vancouver and another in Calgary ($50,000 each). This is the third consecutive year that the company has donated the services as part of its initiative, Karo Kaus.

Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) won Vancouver’s 2009 Karo Kaus grant. The rebranding transformed the company’s logo, website and communications materials while creating a unified brand that previously had not existed. Without the $50,000 grant, TUTS could not have afforded to do such a makeover. The 2008 Vancouver Karo Kaus recipient was Potluck Café and Catering.

For full details, visit http://www.karo.com/about/kaus.

James Cronk, TUTS ED was so excited about the experience he used all capitals.


Granting timeline

  • Deadline: November 30, 2009, 5pm
  • Shortlist made by Karo employee committee: Early December, 2009
  • Shortlisted candidates present to the Karo committee: January 12, 2010
  • Winning recipients notified: January 21, 2010
  • Creative work complete: End of 2010

Never underestimate the power of a Word document

There are few tedious things in life that I could do for hours on end in a complete state of joy. Algebra problems are one (really, who doesn’t love algebra?). Caulking bathtubs is another. But making Word documents look good, well, almost makes me shed happy tears.

I find nonprofit people often fall into one of three Word categories:

  1. The Designer: These individuals use InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, or other fancy, somewhat expensive software programs that take a bit of learning. They are smart people, and are good at making things look pretty. These people sometimes resist Word because they see limitations in what the finished product can look like. They are surprised when I can make text boxes and make images line up all the way to the edge of the page.
  2. The Try Hard: These individuals use Word or maybe Publisher to get their message across in brochures, posters, notices, and resources, but don’t consider how the medium is impacting how that message gets across. They uses Times New Roman and Arial font and are a fan of centering their paragraphs. They emphasize text by CAPITALIZING, italicizing, bolding and underlining, ALL AT ONE TIME.  They try really hard to make things look pretty, but don’t always succeed.
  3. The Cause: These individuals focus their time on important work like serving clients, moving the cause forward, raising money. The know it would be nice if their documents all looked consistent and were easy to use, but really don’t have the time to make work like this a priority. They don’t try hard to make things pretty, they are just relying on the words to get their message across.

But here are the problems. Relying on The Designer means having to rely on someone else to do something for you, however small, that you wish you could do yourself. This is fine when you are a large organization with graphic designers in house, but this isn’t the case for most small and medium nonprofits. Being The Try Hard means the message you are trying to get across can get lost in the medium you are using. Being The Cause means that this sort of stuff gets pushed aside.

What Word can do for you.

It is possible to make a pretty damn good design in Word that gives your organization’s documents a consistent look. Doing it in Word means that if you need it updated in the future, almost anyone can open a document and do it. Plus, you can easily convert the document into a PDF and look super professional when sending documents.

In my current job at SFU we create a lot of Word documents for external use – resources for students, community organizations, etc. What has been incredibly wonderful has been to have a template with which to create all future documents. The title font, the section headers, the text, the text boxes, the bullets are all predetermined. It makes creating new document designs incredibly easy, as the design work is already done for you. Your organization’s logo is in the header or footer – always in the same place. It means that documents are branded, are recognizable, easy to work with and easy to create. From there it’s easy to create PDF that looks professional, can be sent nicely over email, and can be printed easily. Note that if you are doing huge print jobs and are using a professional printer (ie beyond Staples), you’re going to need The Designer after all.

Who can get this done?

There are really two parts to getting things done: 1) creating the original template, and 2) implementing the template across all existing documents. The design can be done by a design savvy person at your organization, by a professional paid designer, or by a skilled volunteer. Implementing the template could be done by the same person, or by any staff or volunteer at your organization familiar with Word. Kitsilano Neighbourhood House recently posted a skilled volunteer opportunity like this on Govolunteer.ca through Volunteer Vancouver looking for almost exactly these two tasks. I’m thinking about applying for it. Like I said at the beginning – happy tears.