Thursday, April 26, 2012

Guest Post- Keep Your Writing Crisp, Clear and Concise

An old saying goes, “If I’d had more time, I would have written less.”

Think about how many emails you ignore because they look too much time to read. Long emails are disrespectful. Rather than the writer taking the time to be concise, the burden is on the reader to decipher what the note is all about. Delete. Next.

In newspapers, excess words cost money. The more words you use, the more likely you are to lose a reader and the less advertising space you have to sell.

In cyber space, wordiness can cost you reader attentiveness. Consider a 2008 study that showed the average web page visitor reads about 20 percent of the text. If your livelihood depends on people reading your website, you need to make your point succinctly.

So, my point is, less is better, if you keep your writing crisp, clear and concise. Think about how you crop a picture. Cropping forces you to identify the main, important part of the image. It takes skill, patience and creativity to crop your writing.

Here are a few suggestions and examples, with the disclaimer that these are guidelines, not absolutes. See if you can guess in each tip how I’ve discounted my own advice.

1.          Eliminate all unnecessary words.
Example: We have seven different flavors.
Of course they’re different. That’s why there are seven of them.

Example: I love both my daughters and sons.
Not only is both unnecessary, it’s confusing. Do you have only two daughters?

2.          Use intensifiers and adverbs sparingly.
Example:             one strong verb > a weak verb + adverb
sprint > run quickly

Example: I am so tired and very hungry.
When my mother packed to move, she wrote fragile on nearly every box. Then she went to very fragile and extremely fragile. If everything is fragile, nothing is. If everything is very, nothing is. One teacher said to use very as you would damn – for emphasis only.

3.          Don’t be negative.
Besides being wordy, using negatives opens you to the risk of typing now instead of not. Moreover, people like to read positive, encouraging messages.
Example:             I am not able to attend.
                            I am unable to attend. (Avoid not.)
Don’t run in the store, sweetheart.
                            Let’s walk in the store, OK? (Be encouraging.)

4.          Avoid “quotation marks,” ellipses…. (don’t forget parentheses) and exclamation points!
Example:             I don’t want to be a “pest,” but do you have that letter?
                            Going to the game will be fun (although I hope it doesn’t rain).
These punctuation marks are at best unneeded and at worst distracting. Even if it’s just for a second, the reader has to stop and figure out why they’re there.

Exclamation points, by definition, mean you are exclaiming something. Be sure that when you use them, what you’re writing is a big deal. Use them for dramatic effect, not mundane communication.

This is a system generated report with regard to donors that have given $500 (soft-credit), or more during the previous week including both primary and affiliated donors.

This system-generated report lists donors, including primary and affiliated, who have given at least $500 (soft-credit) during the previous week.

The information transmitted (including any attachments) is intended only for the person or entity to which it is addressed and may contain confidential and/or privileged material. Any review, retransmission, dissemination or other use of, or taking of any action in reliance upon, this information by persons or entities other than the intended recipient is prohibited. If you received this in error, please contact the sender and delete the material from any computer.

This email and any attachments are intended only for the addressee(s). If you received this email by mistake, please notify the sender and delete this message immediately, including attachments. If you are not the appropriate person to receive this message, distributing or reproducing it is prohibited. 

After a student fills out this form, he or she needs to submit it to our office.
After students fill out this form, they need to submit it to our office. (Use plural. It’s shorter and less awkward.)

Off my soapbox now. Wishing you success in your writing endeavors! And yes, I meant to use the exclamation point.

Debbie Meyers is director of donor services at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Previously, she was director of stewardship and donor relations at the University of Florida, and she held development positions at a Catholic high school and art museum. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Loyola University in New Orleans and a master’s degree in journalism from UF. Her OCD tendencies in writing can be traced to her mother who constantly corrected her grammar and pronunciation, and who also forbade her to wear black to weddings.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Online giving sites ---is yours donor focused?

How easy do you make it or your constituents to give to you online?

I'm not talking about your "give now" button or your homepage design, but rather the design of your actual giving page mechanism and the experience your donors have when attempting to make an online gift. As we know, online giving is the fastest growing giving method, up 20% in the last year alone and as more and more people completely wire their lives, consider this report from networking company Cisco that states the increase in mobile data traffic grew 2.3-fold in 2011, more than doubling for the fourth year in a row. Average smartphone usage nearly tripled in 2011.

So I must ask you if you have looked at your online giving statistics lately? Do you know the percentage of your donors that give online? Have you tried making a gift online to your organization recently? Have you checked out your giving website on your smartphone? What is your abandon rate on your giving site? This means how many people click on your site, attempt to fill out your form and then leave without making a gift??

Part of the consulting work I do is to help people optimize their online giving and make it donor focused so I have quite a list- Here are some characteristics and samples of good giving sites for your organizations in the comments and screen shots below!

1. The site should not take long to complete, if you make it long and cumbersome with many boxes, required info and such, you are killing your rates. In addition, leave your development jargon off of this page, how do I know what a constituent means to you? And look at that scary drop down of giving choices- what do they mean? And why is unrestricted LAST?

2. Can I make a pledge and pay a pledge online? If not, why? This should be easy, if I am allowed to pledge online my gift will be larger! Also on this site there is a nifty campaign thermometer redesigned at the bottom and a link to a map so you can see where other donors are from- interactive and brilliant!

3. Is there an option for monthly giving? I want to be able to give you my card number and have you deduct a certain amount each month on a date that I specify- these gifts are larger than one time gifts and allow you to have fewer lapsed donors. This option to be reminded by Skidmore College is brilliant, so donor friendly!!

4. Can I give using my iPhone, iPad, droid or blackberry? What does your site look like on a smaller screen? Remember if you send me an email appeal and call to action, I will probably open it on my mobile device and act right away. If you make that difficult and I can't complete the transaction from my device, you've lost my money!

5. When I complete giving what do I see? I should see an immediate acknowledgment and a page where I can share the news that I just made a gift to you via integrated Facebook, twitter and other links, so I can let others know! This is so easy to do its ridiculous but we still seem to be missing it!! At the minimum take me to a page where I can join your LinkedIn group, like your Facebook page or follow you on twitter! If I just made a gift, I'm more likely to do so now!

6. Am I emailed an acknowledgment and receipt immediately? Save your paper here folks! If I'm giving to you digitally, thank and receipt me in the same manner!

7. As far as the actual payment, remember that I don't have to give you a blood sample and my first born hold in order for you to process my card! The information can be minimal, especially once I give you my CVV code! Stop making me answer 60 questions just because you want more data!

8. Do you make it easy for me to designate my funds? Is there a box I can tell you more about where I want my money to go? Look at this poor example below, why do I have to search to find what you want me to give to? This is too much work for me to give YOU a GIFT!

9. For all that is goo and holy, stop suggesting amounts to me with radio buttons! You've probably aimed too low or too high and I'm not happy about that- if I'm going online to give you $100 and you start your giving options with $25 what do you think I'm going to do? The opposite is true too, what if you overshoot and I am offended? SEE BELOW:

10. That being said, please make sure I can give you a LARGE amount online. I may need some airline miles and paying my $50,000 pledge online will help me get elite status. I've seen it happen and I've seen organizations that won't let a donor give large gifts online, or limits the type of card I can use. Don't cut off Amex jut because it costs more, it is my card of choice, especially for large gifts and if you stop me from using it, you are killing my donation amount. Remember most Amex's don't have limits!!!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this post. And yes, if you ask me offline via email I will send you a list of good, bad and mostly ugly online giving sites!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Is Your Research Department Using LinkedIn at all? To Its Full Potential?

Note from Me: This is coss posting of a guest blog I did that was posted live today on - they have great resources-check them out!

Lately it’s been conference season in my world, which means presentations galore! I have been doing a social media and digital technology session since 2007 but as social media gets better, so does the great info for the sessions. Recently I have stumbled upon a vast empty space for development shops when it comes to their use of LinkedIn. As I ask about the usage of it by research departments across the country I am constantly amazed at how few use it to update employment data and verify alumni titles and companies. In addition, Linked In now has advanced analytics embedded in it that can help you assess the fields and areas in which your alumni live. This data is free to any user about not only their network but also the groups they are involved with. See the graphic below for an example. It is under network statistics in the contacts portion of your profile.

Under the groups page, you can see great statistics, which also includes a tab called ‘group statistics’ that is quite revelatory. You can see that there are numerous tabs that house valuable information. Growth, seniority, function, location, industry, all can be mined and harvested for your use! Notice that LinkedIn also makes it easy for us at the bottom by saying, “Looking for group members who perform a specific professional function (e.g. sales, legal, etc.)? Members and subscribers can do advanced searches within the group.” WOW, yes, it’s that easy.

In addition, an alumni’s profile at LinkedIn is likely to be more up-to-date and more complete than the profile in the traditional database, since a professional with limited time is likely to prioritize the network where they keep track of their professional contacts over their alumni network. Also, whenever someone I know is beginning or concluding a job search, they often update their LinkedIn with their most current information even before updating their resume. Studies have shown that for those under the age of 45, LinkedIn is more than 90 percent accurate!

So I challenge you to incorporate LinkedIn analytics and searches in all of your research and data mining efforts, the total cost to you is free – the information obtained by your organization is priceless!