#WritingTips: The first question to ask before you write

Here’s a quick scenario: a nonprofit communications department realizes that its organization’s website lacks engaging stories, a key element to any effective communications strategy. “We need more stories!” declares the communications manager.

Following this declaration, the senior communications officer quickly tasks Bob the intern with writing an engaging piece. Bob, new to the nonprofit writing game, is somewhat perplexed: “Where do I start?”, he asks himself.

Bob should start by asking one important question: “What do I want this story to achieve?”

Before writing any nonprofit story, or any story for that matter, it’s essential to clarify the objective of the story. Is it to mobilize funds? To raise awareness about your organization’s mission or strategy? To get people engaged on social media? To get people to volunteer, vote or attend your event?

Whatever the reason, the story will be made all the more effective if the purpose is clarified from the start, including how it ties in to your overall communications and content strategies.

If the purpose of the story isn’t clear, and if it does not fit into the grander scheme of things (i.e. your strategies), you shouldn’t be writing it. Writing aimlessly prevents you from writing well and undermines what the story can achieve.

Writing for his Empower Nonprofits blog, Jeremy Koch explains how this can negatively impact on your audience:

“Put simply, if you don’t know what you want your audience to do after listening to your story then they’re not going to know what to do either.”

Read Koch’s article to explore three ways in which the intention of your story impacts how you tell your story, and why this matters.

#CommsforGood: 10 ways to improve your communications strategy

Are you currently developing, reviewing or delivering a nonprofit communications strategy? If you’re thinking about the type of strategy you need, check out these tips. If you’re looking to take your communications strategy to the next level of effectiveness, consider the 10 tips below. They’re all sourced from a Gaurdian article on the importance of communication in aid work and how to get it right.

1. People engage best with people, not abstract issues

Use case studies, testimonials and human interest stories to illustrate your issue in a real, accessible and relevant way.

2. Communicate the difference people can make

Rather than only focusing on the negative aspects of the problem, show that it is possible to address the problem and communicate what each audience member can do to help address it.

3. Find a private sector partner

Find an influential company that can act as your champion, so it can push your cause among peers.

4. Strategic communications can change policy

Aim for policy change by advocating for your cause in the media and amongst politicians. Policy change is one of the most tangible ways to achieve your social development goals. For example, the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report team engaged with Pakistani press and politicians to advocate for education in the country. This contributed to the Government finding more funds for education and passing the free education bill.

5. Monitor everything

Speaking of monitoring, continually monitoring your progress and impact can help you generate a clear picture of what’s working and what’s not. You will then be able to make informed and effective adjustments to your strategy and use the positive monitoring data for stakeholder engagement and advocacy.

6. Know your audience

By clearly identifying your audience and understanding their behaviours, you can tailor your strategy and messages to best suit their needs.

7. Shift from compassion to solidarity campaigning

Move from convincing your audience to feel sorry for those you are helping, to working together with those in need to improve our shared world. Move your audience from focusing on pity to championing empowerment; from “it’s sad, but I have my own problems” to “we’re all in this together.”

8. Select the relevant data

Data is essential for transparency and evidence-based advocacy. With that said, ensure that you use the right data that is consistent with your strategy and messages, to ensure maximum impact.

9. Do more with less by being inventive

If you’re a small NGO lacking in resources, you’ll want to remember this tip. Work with freelancers and pro bono communications specialists, and organize competitions among students to generate content. Leverage free social media platforms and strategic partnerships that are cost-effective.

10. Listen to people on the ground

Talk with the people you are working with and serving in your project sites. Listen to them to understand what the real problems/needs are. Then together with them, incorporate this feedback into your communications strategy. This will ensure that your strategy can be as effective and relevant as possible for your these top-priority stakeholders.

12 types of visual content to use in your articles, reports and webpages

It’s great if you have amazing copy, but if you don’t accompany it with appropriate and engaging visuals, your doing an injustice to your content.

Visuals are crucial to the success of your content. In an article for the Content Marketing Institute blog, Robert Katai writes: “frequently cited research shows that images attract more people to the content and help people retain the content they consume longer.”

In his article, Katai presents 12 types of visual content you can use in your blog posts, but these ideas can be applied to other types of digital articles, reports and webpages. Read the summary below or the full article here.

1. Data-driven visuals

Katai writes: “To be a well-known leader in your industry, start creating data-driven content. Designed as charts or graphs, it can make it easier for your audience to comprehend your message than with text only.”


If you quote or reference an influencer in your content, Katai suggests creating an image with the influencer and his or her quote, for additional impact. This approach can also be used and adapted for other types of individuals quoted in your content.

3. Infographics

A well-designed and user-friendly infographic with relevant data can help enhance and increase awareness of your brand and messages.

4. Gifographics

A gifographic is a cross between an animated GIF and an infographic. Katai emphasizes the power of gifographics:

“If you know how to explain ideas and data through infographics, take them to the next level and add movement. It can increase the interest of your audience, better entice them to share the content, and, ultimately, the increased traffic can boost your [search engine optimization].”

Check out the example gifographic below (click to enlarge).


5. GIFs

Like gifographics, animated GIFs should be used only when they are consistent with the tone of the content and appropriate for the target audience.

6. Memes

“If you want to add a light touch to your article, memes can set you apart from your competition,” says Katai. I’ve included an example below, and you can find out more about meme marketing here.


7. Videos

Videos can be extremely effective, and they can engage audiences in ways other visual cannot. Read my previous post highlighting six dos and don’ts for effective videos.

8. Screenshots

Screenshots are easy to create and are a cost-effective way of getting your message across.

9. SlideShare presentation

Katai says: “SlideShare presentations are a great way to concisely share the thoughts in an article in a visual, downloadable way. You also can use single slides from SlideShare presentations as visuals within your content – similar to screenshots.”

10. Photos

Photos are a tried-and-tested tool for visual communication. Use quality images that are the most appropriate for your content.

11. Illustrations

Katai advises: “Your illustrations need to look professional in a way that reflects the tone and messaging of your brand. You should work with a professional designer to execute.”

12. Flip books

When you design a digital publication, you can create a flip book version, giving your readers an alternative way in which they can engage with the content. The flip book can also be embedded into articles as an interactive visual.

Use tools like Flipsnack to help you create your flip book.

Related articles:

Use this must-have checklist to effectively promote your blog posts

So, you’ve just written a great blog post. You hit publish and pat yourself on the back for a job very well done, checking off this task as complete and moving on to something else.

Not so fast!

If you truly want to maximize the impact of your great blog content, you need to effectively promote it.

In an article for the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) blog, Brody Dorland reminds us that, “Without an effective and repeatable process for promoting blog posts and maximizing their visibility, all the hard work spent creating them can easily go to waste”.

In his article, Dorland provides a handy checklist and infographic for successful blog promotion. Read the summary below or the full article here. Access and print the checklist in infographic form here.

1. Get visual

Dorland writes: “The data is clear: Strong visuals are needed to grab the attention of today’s web user. If you’re including all text or only dull stock images, you’re not setting yourself up for success.”

2. Optimize for search

Dorland offers several suggestions, including:

  • Identifying keywords and populating them throughout your post.
  • Running Google searches for these terms to learn about types of content already ranking.
  • Cross-linking to other relevant content within your post.

3. Plan for social

Dorland advises bloggers to develop an effective social media strategy for promoting their blog posts, mixing organic and paid promotion. Strategic activities that should be carried out before publishing include:

  • Identifying online communities, groups, or forums covering your subject area, and creating a helpful presence within these contexts.
  • Building relationships with influencers and thought leaders with authority on your post topics.

4. Engage your email list

Dorland notes: “Much like social media, email remains an effective platform for blog promotion, but today’s environment necessitates more nuanced and thoughtful campaign execution.”

He suggests writing attention-grabbing subject lines, utilizing A/B testing, making sure formatting is clean, simple, and mobile-friendly, and including links for recipients to share socially, directly from your email.

5. Follow through on social

After planning for social (step 3), it’s time to follow through by promoting your published content in these channels. Dorland shares several suggestions, including:

  • Publishing organic posts with teasers, trackable shortlinks, and eye-catching images on your social networks of choice.
  • Including the social handles of experts mentioned or quoted in the post to get their attention.
  • Sharing the post in relevant communities or groups where you’ve established a presence.

6. Spread the word

Additional actions you can take to maximize reach and impact include:

  • Featuring the post in your organization’s next newsletter.
  • Writing a guest blog post for a popular industry site and linking back to your post.
  • Sharing directly with high-value customers/target audiences who are most likely to find the post useful.

7. Continue ongoing promotion

The last step in the checklist is probably the most important one. Dorland writes:

“The work doesn’t stop. To truly get the most out of your post, and set up future entries for success, you’ll want to make sure you’re systematically enhancing your promotion process for sustainability.”

6 dos and don’ts for effective videos

As they say in the marketing world, video is king. In other words, video content is rapidly growing in prominence as a key tool for effective communications (check out Contently’s survey results and this infographic from IMPACT). Video can engage audiences in ways other content options cannot, and producing video is getting much easier.

As a result, many organizations are jumping on the video bandwagon, but with minimal results. Why? Because they aren’t approaching video production in the right way.

In an article for Contently, Tallie Gabriel shares three dos and three don’ts for producing effective brand videos. Read the summary below or the full article here.

Do tell a unique story

“Even the most dry informational content needs to live within an engaging narrative—if you want anyone to pay attention,” says Gabriel, adding: “If the narrative naturally strikes an emotional chord, even better.”

Need inspiration? Check out the video below.

Do center your videos on human characters

Human stories, as opposed to abstract concepts and statistics, can do a better job in triggering our empathy and making us care.

Gabriel explains: “When we hear a statistic about a disease affecting tens of thousands, for example, it’s hard to conceptualize the size of that story. But when we’re told the story of one patient—her personality traits, family members, hobbies, and values, it’s much easier for us to feel for that single character.”

Do try something outside of the box

The internet is saturated with video, and there’s a lot of competition out there. Stand out by thinking outside of the box.

“Don’t be afraid to have fun and try things that may surprise your audience,” says Gabriel.

Need inspiration? Check out the video below.

Don’t show us talking heads

Gabriel says: “Featuring a human is great, but make sure this human is interesting and actually doing things in your video. Nothing will put an audience to sleep faster than a talking head (especially a talking head rambling on about technical jargon).”

Don’t cut corners when it comes to quality

“Whether it’s thanks to poor sound quality, unfortunate pixellation, or a strange color tone, consumers can tell if a video is low-budget,” says Gabriel. As a result, this may impact negatively on audience engagement. Producing quality video content may cost more than other communications activities, but the cost and time commitment can be truly worth it.

Don’t assume that because it’s a video, it’s automatically entertaining

Gabriel makes some important points:

“Too often, brands think that by creating a video, they’ve automatically made something interesting. But those of us who had to take a middle school health class know that video can all too easily be boring, or worse—uncomfortable. People generally give video two seconds before clicking away, especially on social platforms. If you don’t grab your audience within those two seconds, your video was just a giant waste of resources.

When creating video, you still have just as much responsibility to hook your audience with something they haven’t seen or heard before. Just make sure it’s something they want to be seeing.”

Bonus tip: Don’t assume video is the best solution, but Do use it as part of your larger, targeted communications strategy

Video is certainly on the rise and will be increasingly important and relevant in the future. But it certainly will not be the golden ticket or panacea for every context. Organizations should not be quick to jump on the bandwagon, but instead utilize appropriate strategies and channels that are suitable for their audiences and contexts.

In this article for Medium, Joshua Lasky explains:

“Great digital strategies are a mix of formats optimized for how audiences actually want to read, listen, and watch what you have to say. Before you publish on a subject, ask yourself if it would be easier for your audience to watch or read what you’re trying to communicate. Ask yourself whether a video should be the focus of, or a supplement to, your editorial coverage.”