Why Your Website Isn't a Brochure: Writing Web Specific Content

Too often I've seen nonprofits take the information from their brochure, slap it up on the website and call it a day. Writing for the web is entirely different then for a brochure/article. It's important to clearly state your mission and purpose as succiently as possible so that it's easy for people to read.

The majority of webpage readers don't actually read the page at all, they skim instead. So your content needs to stand out to be noticed. The look of the content is almost as important as what is written.
So what are the biggest no-nos I see on websites?
  • No Call to Action

According to a study, by the Neilson Norman Group, 43% of sites examined clearly conveyed what they were trying to achieve and only 4% said what they were doing with the money. Have a strong call to action that encourages your donors, not dissuades them.

  • Text Heavy Paragraphs

When a paragraph gets too long, there is a tendency to skim it. Make them concise and easy to read.

  • Confusing Language

It's easy to become guilty of this. Using words that you think everyone else might know, even though they are industry specific. However, confusing words will turn off people and your message will be lost.

  • Lack of Engagement

This is important. If you are not engaging your audience then they will not want to donate/participate/volunteer. Include client and volunteer stories, and show the passion you have for your organization in your words.

  • No Clear Direction

This goes hand in hand with Call to Action. What do you want visitors to your site to do? Click to the next page and read more? Head straight for the donation page? You need to frame your web writing so that it's guiding your readers somewhere.

Here are five tips to improve your web writing:

1. Keep it Simple

2. Use Bullets

3. Use General Language

4. Consider Your Audience

5. Be Engaging

Remember, your website is only as good as its content.

Putting Your Communications In Your Donor's Hands

Sometimes we have a tendency in nonprofit organizations to hold our donors at arm's length. We pat them on the head, thank them for the money and sometimes forget about them. Rarely do we ask their opinion, even more rarely do we let them help.

Yet, donors are a big part of what makes any organization work. So how can we get them more involved?

Give them a voice. Give your donors opportunities to share why they love the organization. What ways can you do this?

  • Feature them in an article or better yet, get them to write one for you.
  • Interview a donor and use their quotes on the donation page on the website.
  • Start up a dialogue with them using social media. Ask them why they donated.
  • Give them opportunities to share their experiences with their friends.

There are many advantages to connecting with your donors in this way. Firstly, they will feel more involved with the organization and may be encouraged to donate more. Secondly, you will recieve a bevy of information that promotes your organization.

I'm not recommending you do this with every donor, but pick a few and see if it works.

How do you treat your donors in your organization? Sound off below.

Ten Best Features of Google Analytics

Analytics are something that every website/blog should have. I have tried several, but have come back to the best, which is Google Analytics. (Bonus: It's also free). But once glance at all the pie charts, squiggly lines and numbers can turn you away. So here's a break down of ten best features of Google Analytics.

The dashboard is great because it gives you an overview of the analytics for your site. If you are unsure about analytics, this front page can give you a sampling of all the information you need from the top content, to the number of visits.

2. Visitors: New versus Returning
Under the visitors tab on the left hand side, there is a list of different information relating to the vistors from your site. New versus returning is great because it lets you know how many people are actually returning to your site. If you have a lot of one time hits, but not alot of returns, it's time to think up ways to get people to return.

3. Visitors: Loyalty
Visitor loyalty expands on this by showing off how many times a user has visited your site and the length of their visit.

4. Visitors: Browser Capabilities
This is a great tool. With so many people using a variety of browsers, it is important that your site is compatible to all.

5. Traffic Sources: Direct Traffic
Direct Traffic means those who came directly to your site, by typing in the name of your website in their browser. This is a great way to gauge how many people know about you.

6. Traffic Sources: Referring Sites
This is important to know as well. If you are posting links to your site on Twitter, Facebook, other blogs, etc, seeing the results of that work will help determine whether you use those tools in the future.

7. Traffic Sources: Search Engines
This is a great way to determine your brand awareness. How many people are searching for your name? Are they getting to your site via other keywords that you hadn't thought of?

8. Traffic Sources: Keywords
This lets you discover what keywords people are using to search for you. You may find ones you expected, but I guarantee you will find some unusual ones as well.

9. Content: Top Content
The top content section lets you know what is most popular. This is great for blogs because it basically gives you audience feedback regarding what they liked and what they didn't.

10. Content: Site Overlay
Site overlay is a neat tool that shows what areas people have been clicking on your website. This is a useful tool to determine what is most popular.

There you have it. Although it may seem confusing, analytics are a great way to really assess what is working and what isn't on your website.

Everyone Needs An Editor

Yesterday, I was quite pleased to discover that a blog post I had written on this website was quoted in someone else's blog. I showed my business partner who immediately pointed out the glaring grammatical error in the quote. As a writer, and even though I am called upon to edit the work of others, I do make some mistakes and this one was quite obvious. I shook my head and lamented the need for better self-editing.

In actual fact, I do not need to self-edit but turn to my editor instead. Having an editor look over your communications is crucial. Once you have written something it is hard to remain objective. Any further personal review will tend to mask errors because you will subconciously make mental corrections and skim content.

So what makes a good editor?
  • They are focused. They shouldn't just glance at it and say it's fine, but take the time to really go through the piece.

  • They don't sugar coat. You need an editor who will tell you the truth, not try to spare your feelings. If the writing is bad, they need to be able to tell you that. So friends and family might not be the best option.

  • They are proficent with grammar/spelling. Don't hand your write up to a colleague that's worse at spelling then you are; make sure you are using the services of someone who's good.

A good editor can save your communications, whether it's a blog post or a direct mail letter.

Finding and Engaging Volunteers Through Social Media

Social Media is great for raising money and building a community but it's also good for another thing: finding volunteers.

Good volunteers are a staple of any organization and can really help your organization succeed. So how can you use social media to find them?

Social Media lets you put the word out. You can post your need for volunteers on Twitter and Facebook. Even if your followers aren't interested, they might know someone who is. I found my recent volunteer post with the United Way through Twitter.

Here's a tip: Use social media to look for specialized volunteers. If you need a graphic designer, or a writer, or a program coordinator, it's likely you can find someone using social media. If you are specific, then your followers will have a better idea of who you are looking for.

So now that you've got your volunteers, how can you engage them through social media?

Why not create a volunteers group on Facebook? A place for your volunteers to post their experiences, learn about new assignments and events and promote the organization to others. If a volunteer posts on their own profile that they love working at your organization, that will inspire others to follow.

Also, give them a shout out on Twitter. Everyone loves to be recognized and Twitter is a great way to do that. A simple note that says what a great job they did, will inspire them to come back again and again.

When volunteers are respected and engaged, they will continue to come back again and again.

Getting Your Board Involved in Communications

Boards are notorious at nonprofit organizations. Some are great, some not so great, but there seems to be a clear division between board and staff. Whether you are the communications officer, fundraiser or both, it's important to have your board involved with your communications. In fact, your board is one of your communications tools in itself.

So what are ways that you can get your board to communicate your message for you?

1. Set Specific Goals

It's important to set specific goals that you want to achieve and share those with your board. Do you want each board member to find five prospects? Invite five people to an event? Get the word out about a specific campaign? Whatever your goals are make them as specific as possible.

2. Set Specific Timeline

What is the timeline for these goals? Don't make it open ended or it will never get completed. Instead, set a reasonable timeline that ensures your goals will be achieved.

3. Define the How

Define how you want the board members to achieve these goals. Is it by making phone calls? Posting on Facebook? Meeting face to face?

4. Determine Total Amount of Time Needed

Let's say your campaign is three weeks. If you mention the time, board members may balk at the total time for the campaign and insist they don't have time. Instead break down the tasks to the time it will take them. If it only takes 15 or 20 mins in total, spread over three weeks, that seems reasonable.

5. Provide Materials

Don't throw your board members off the deep end. Provide them with as many materials as possible. And mix it up, according to each board member. If one board member is uncomfortable talking without a script, provide one.

6. Provide Encouragement

Encourage but don't harass your board members. If you come off sounding pushy, they will lose interest in the project. It should be as much their project as well.

7. Share the End Results

Board members want to know that the efforts they put in were met with success. So don't be hesistant in sharing the results of the campaign, whether good or bad.

What other ways do you encourage your board members to communicate? Do they participate or not at all? Sound off below.

Twitter: Learning from other non-profits

Picture this: You have successfully pitched the idea of social media to the board, everyone responded well and you've signed up for a Twitter account. You sit down and then......what do you write?

Sometimes it can be hard to determine not only what you should write, but the tone of voice you should use on Twitter. Questions immediately become raised such as: How many times should you ask for donations on Twitter? What crosses the line into spamming? What other things should you post?

I offer up the great article 26 Charities and Non-profits That Tweet.

Rather than reinvent the wheel yourself, look at what popular charities are doing. What news are they sharing? How are they conversing with donors? Learning from others can be beneficial, especially with something like Twitter that you may not be too familar with. This way you can get your message out in the best way possible.

*Are you on Twitter? Share your link below for others to find you. You can find me here: @lindseypatten.

Why Twitter Helps You Write Better (But Only if You Don't Use Shortened Words)

One of my biggest pet peeves is when words are shortened or spelled incorrectly. I occasionally make a few spelling mistakes myself, but I cannot abide the new 'text speak' where you're is turned into 'ur' and the like. This is why I cannot text message. Because by the time I write out a full sentence, it takes too long!

I was worried that Twitter would follow the same vein and suddenly, shortened words would replace the real ones and our children would grow up thinking that later was actually spelled l8tr. Instead I find the opposite. Most of the people on Twitter articulate themselves extremely well.

So how does it help you write better?

Twitter has a 140 word character limit in which you must express yourself as succinctly as possible. Several times I've found through my tweets that I've gone on too long and had to reword my sentences.

This rewording has made my sentences clearer and easy to read. It also subconsciously teaches you to be tight and concise with your writing. As a writer, the most common thing I see with nonprofits is the tendency to be wordy. Whether it's a mission statement or website, there's a mentality of 'the more you throw up there, the better'.

Keeping your sentences clear and concise will attract your readers more, especially when it comes to web writing.

Twitter also helps remove a passive tone from your words.


I think this is a great article versus This is a great article.

You removed two words and become more confident.

So take a look at your content, whether it be on your website on in a brochure and assess whether or not it's as concise as it could be. So it's writing exercise time!

Writing exercise: Can you describe your mission statement in 140 characters? Give it a shot below in the comments!

The Great ROI Debate

A comment on the blog yesterday spurred an interesting thought. What is ROI and how is it measured? ROI is a business word, meaning return on investment.

One definition from thefreedictionary.com states: return on investment - (corporate finance) the amount, expressed as a percentage, that is earned on a company's total capital calculated by dividing the total capital into earnings before interest, taxes, or dividends are paid

For me, I see return on investment as something much more than that. It's not entirely the money, but rather the return on investment from a particular program as dependent on that program's goals.

So if one of the program's goals were to meet ten donors, I would consider the return on investment the number of donors actually met.

What do you think? Is ROI specifically a word that is used to describe monetary capital earned or can it be more than that? If it is, is there another word to replace it?

Sound off in the comments below!

What are the first steps for web design?

Are you thinking about sprucing up your website? Before your mind wanders to colours and design, determine what you want and need from your website.

Here's a few steps:

1.Determine ROI

This is extremely important and often the step people miss. What do you want from the website? What sort of goals do you have? Figuring out the specific return on investment needed (whether it be money raised or awareness) is important. In the past, websites were considered to be online brochures, now they need to have much more.

2. Discover your concrete need

This ties in with the first step. What do you need the website to do for you? Do you want x number of donors, are you promoting an event? Perhaps it's multiple reasons. Whatever the need is, figuring it out will make it easier on both you and the web designer.

3. Examine who your audience is

Who will be looking at the site? Is it your client, donors, prospects, or all? Determine what their needs are and how you are going to fulfill them on your site.

4. Figure out what you want your audience to do

This is also extremely important, especially when it comes to the navigation of your site. What do you want your audience to do? If it's donate, then the donate button should be visible on all pages. If it's click on a certain campaign, then that campaign needs to be highlighted.

5. Solidify your message

One of my web pet peeves is people who think that a website is all about design. In fact, the most important part of the website is the content. The design should complement the content, not overpower it. Create a strong message that that will resonate with your audience.

So before you even look at a design or layout, answer these questions!

When was the last time you performed a charitable act?

Today I had an interesting experience, one I haven't had in a while. As I was walking out of Tim Hortons, I encountered an elderly man who I had seen several times before, begging on the sidewalk. We struck up a conversation and I ended up giving him the change in my wallet. It really only amounted to about $2.50 but his smile when he got it was definitely worth it.

And as I reflected, I realized it's been a while since I performed a charitable act. Especially one where I got to see immediate results.

And it just so happened, that today was a good day to achieve some perspective.

Sometimes it's easy to forgive to give, even when you work in the nonprofit industry. I worked at an organization where very few of the staff donated to the cause. Somehow the thought was that by working there, they were contributing enough.

So I pose a question, when was the last time you performed a charitable act? Was it a donation or volunteering? And was the experience good or bad?

Share your thoughts below.

And if it's been awhile, consider making a charitable contribution today.

Charity and Social Media: Does Corporate Make it Crass?

I just read this great blog post, Social Media and Charity: Philanthropy or Crass Opportunism and wanted to comment on it and hear from others.

Well I appreciate the author's point, I think she's commenting more about corporations being involved in social media on behalf of charities rather than charities themselves. There are many other ways charities are involved with social media then just selling t-shirts on the Internet.

But it does raise the question? When does social media for your organization become less about connecting and more about marketing? Or is it intended as a marketing tool only?

Since I'm not every charity I can't answer that question on behalf of them but I do believe that social media can be used as more than just improving a brand. I think it allows the opportunity to connect with donors and raise funds as well.

I have to say, I'm not sure how I feel about this Feed America/Tide partnership. On on hand, a lot of money has been raised for the organization, but on the other, Feed America isn't getting the opportunity to promote themselves. The t-shirt is all about Tide and almost gives off a sense of bragging rights as if they need to shout to the world they are do-gooders.

So what do you think, good idea or misstep?

And what do you use social media for?

What is Effective Design?

Today we have a guest post, the wonderful John Lepp from Idea Design. He so graciously agreed to write a guest post about effective design, especially as it relates to direct mail.

What is Effective Design?
by John Lepp

Thanks to Lindsey for asking me to write a guest post on her blog.

I asked for some ideas on a subject matter, one of which was “What is effective design?” A favourite subject of mine. It’s a favourite because if you asked 100 designers what makes design effective you will likely get 100 different answers.

To me the answer is simple.


I design to get results, not look pretty (although sometimes I hope it is pretty too!)

Let’s look at direct mail.

Once I read over the creative brief and read through the letter, I like to have a chat with the writer and make sure I understand what is the core of their messaging. My job is to create an envelope that will get opened.

As you can imagine, even if the letter inside is from God Himself, if the donor doesn’t open the package – what does it matter? (In which case I would typeset simply – ‘Letter from God inside’ - maybe I would BOLD God.)

I have to get people in that package, and it might be pretty or it might be ugly, but it depends on the subject matter and being appropriate to the audience and the charity.

Being appropriate is a large part of what makes design effective. If your donors are old – do not use 9pt type. If your charity raises money for environmental issues – do not design a package with 5 inserts, an 8 page letter and a bunch of freemiums… I know it seems like a no brainer – but trust me – I’ve seen it – and it is obvious me to the designer (or someone) is not thinking.

I honestly believe that any marketing and communications a charity does needs to push people to do something. It must have a clear call to action. That makes it effective.

And if it effective, it will have the results to prove it.

Budgeting for Social Media Part Two

In a discussion with @alexbono about my last blog post, Budgeting for Social Media, I realized that I missed out on mentioning several important things to budget for, so I'd thought I'd add them here in this post.

When budgeting it's also important to recognize the skill level needed to set up and operate social media tools. While many social media tools seem fairly easy to create, if you want to add a personal touch, it will take certain skills. There are two main areas to examine:

Most social media sites come with a typical design (or if it's a blog, a series of templates). If you want to modify them to include your logo and design, then you will need someone with graphic design/CSS abilities. A perfect example is this blog. While, currently I'm using a template, eventually I will be moving to a design of my choosing. As I don't have the skill for that, I'm relying on my business partner. If you have someone in your office who has the skills to make the changes, then that is great. If not, you will have to outsource. And of course, there are costs associated with that.

Another important issue is content. As mentioned in Ten Things a Nonprofit Should Do Before Setting up Social Media, it's important to determine who's writing the content you put up before you start any social media tool. If this is something you can do internally, remember to weigh out the costs of that person taking the time to write it. Content also doesn't just mean the written word. If you have videos or photos, you need to assess who has the ability to create/post these and what the costs associated with them are.

Putting together a budget for social media will definitely save you some time in the long run and give you a better idea of whether social media tools are viable for your organization.

Budgeting for Social Media

How to do you budget for social media? In fact, do you have to budget for social media? Isn' the majority of it free?

A budget is more than just money and it's important to develop an accurate one to keep on track.

What goes in a Social Media Budget?


This is the most important thing to include in your social media budget. One of the perks of social media tools are that the majority of them are free. But are they really? Once you factor in the time it takes for someone to complete the social media tasks, the cost goes up.

Example: Let's say you have someone posting a blog post every day who gets paid $25 an hour. If it takes them an hour to write a blog post, then:

5 hours a week x $25 an hour = $125 a week

It's important to determine what the true value of your time spent on each social media tool is to better understand whether the tool is a viable option for your organization.

Professional Development

New social media tools pop up everyday. There are also new applications for your existing ones. Setting aside a professional development fund is crucial. Whether the social media user attends a conference, buys a book or just takes time to learn new things, it's money that needs to be allocated.

Future Costs

Although it seems a little unnecessary to plan for costs that aren't actually in your budget, I recommend having some money set aside (if possible) for future costs. What if that great social media tool you've been using suddenly makes people pay for it? Some social media tools, like blogs have the ability to purchase 'premium features' that enhance it.

Another thing to consider is the technology costs. If you look at your current technology and realize that you need to upgrade, costs are going to be incurred. Knowing from the outset whether you need certain technologies for certain social media tools will help you avoid panic down the road.

Budgeting for social media is extremely important and will help sustain any social media program you implement in your organization.

Update: After getting some great ideas about things I missed, I will be posting a part two tomorrow!

Ten Things a Nonprofit Should Do Before Setting Up Social Media

Social Media is definitely an effective tool for nonprofits to use. However, before you jump into the pool, what are the things you need to do first?

1. Determine your message
What are you trying to say? Do you have more than one message? Develop a short paragraph that encapsulates what you want to say and continually reference it as you work on social media tools.

2. Determine who your audience is
Who is your audience? Are they tech savvy? Creating a plan to enter the social media arena is irrelevant if none of your audience will follow you there. Consider surveying your donors to determine how they want to hear from you.

3. Develop goals
What do you want to achieve from social media? Donations? Awareness? Determine your goals and remember to keep them handy as you progress.

4. Determine the exact ROI you are expecting
This goes hand in hand with #3. Get specific about the return on investment you are expecting. If you want donations, what's the amount? If you are looking for new supporters, how many?

5. Research and determine which social media tools work for you
There are multiple social media tools out there. It's important to determine which ones work for you. Signing up for everything isn't going to be the best use of your time.

6. Create a strategy
Developing a strategy for your social media activity is extremely important. You need to determine what content you want to create and where you want to put it.

7. Create the analysis method
What's your method for analysis? It's important to track what you do on social media tools so you can examine whether you are achieving the ROI that you want.

8. Determine the main contributor as well as the sub contributors
Who's writing the content for your social media sites? Is it the same person who's posting them? Are there more than one person contributing? Hashing this out ahead of time will make the process flow much smoother.

9. Develop content ahead of time
Create some of the content you need ahead of time so you aren't scrambling to find something to post/write about everyday.

10. Develop response procedure
What's your procedure if you recieve a negative comment from someone? Or even a positive one? Determine how you handle questions and comments from your audience.

Twitter: One Thing New

I discovered over the weekend that I have 85 followers on Twitter. Although that seems fairly impressive (at least to me anyway, I know people have hundreds), I realized that I barely knew any of them. Yes, a few of them are my friends or various people I met, but the majority of them I don't know too much about. So I'm on a quest to learn something new about all of my followers.

I read a blog post last week (lost the link otherwise I would share) that was talking about connecting with your followers and learning something about them.

So I thought I would do the same! Starting Monday, I will be asking my followers to tell me One Thing New about them.

I will keep you updated on my progress on Twitter and on the blog.
I encourage you to find out One Thing New about your Twitter followers and share it on this blog or on Twitter.

I will be using the *hashtag #onethingnew so feel free to post using that as well! Let's see how many new things we can learn about our followers!

*What is a hashtag? That's a tag that you can add on your Twitter message that groups messages together. You can then click on it and see everyone else who has posted with the tag as well.

What do you want to know/learn?

I'd like to get some feedback about various topics/issues that people want to see discussed on this blog? Is there something you would like to know that just isn't being covered?

Also, any feedback you are willing to give regarding the look and feel of the site would be greatly appreciated. I am continuing to make tweaks here and there.

When Twitter Becomes a Distraction

How many people find themselves constantly distracted by Twitter every day? Is it stopping you from doing actual work?

The answer is Yes and No.

Twitter definitely has potential to make your organization shine. It's a great way to get your news out there, meet with donors and solicit donations. You can discover what people think about you and get a real sense of your community.
That being said, Twitter can sometimes become a distraction that takes you away from other important things.
How did this happen to me? Well, as a writer, I am constantly at the computer, working on projects for clients, blog posts, articles and more. My use on Twitter has exponentially grown. I have 85 followers and I am following 118.
That's alot of people to follow! As a result, I got an application called TweetDeck which allows me to sort my followers by category, making it easy to manage. This is a great tool and I highly recommend it. However... it makes a little 'ding' noise every time you get a tweet. Useful? Maybe. Annoying? Yes, especially since the people I follow tweet alot during the day.
I eventually had to shut it down during times when I was writing so I could concentrate.
It's important to balance the time you spend on Twitter, actually using the tool the way you need to use it. Really examine your time at the end of the day and assess whether that time you spent on Twitter was worth it.

The Communications Triangle

In a previous blog post I talked about connecting with your donors, and it will be a subject that is brought up over and over again. Connection, along with vision and voice, is one of the main aspects that make a great communications piece.

Therefore, I present the Communications Triangle. It's pretty simple to understand, but at the same time, realistically it can be hard to achieve all three sides of this triangle.

So what do I mean by each of these?


Before you start any communications piece, you need to address the matter of vision. What do you want to achieve from this project? What impression do you want to make? What are your goals from this communication piece? It's important to determine these areas, so that your vision can be fully realized.


What are you trying to say with this communications piece? Who is it coming from? Are you being statistical or sentimental? And does your voice match with your target audience?


Who is your audience and how can you connect with them? That is the ultimate question. Whether it's through sharing stories, sharing facts about the organization or more, remembering to connect is one of the most important things you can do.

It's important to remember to have each of these pieces in equal measure. Only then, will you have a great communications tool!

This post was inspired by a great communications piece, from http://www.wherethehellismatt.com/.

Check it out here:

News Roundup-Mar.1

I was away for the weekend and came home to a plethora of articles and tweets. I sorted through, and foudn a few good ones. They are all social media related (of course) but definitely interesting and useful! Hope they help!

Social Media Promotes Your Business

A Blog is Your Home, Twitter is Your Happy Hour

And Now, Twitter Philanthropy

Find Me On:

Most Popular Posts

Ten Things a Nonprofit Should Do Before Setting Up Social Media

The Conversation Prism

Getting Your Board on Board with Social Media Part One & Part Two

Budgeting for Social Media Part One & Part Two