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Let me tell you something: I LOVE Snapchat. It’s the perfect cross between Facebook, Instagram, and live streaming. Your content doesn’t have to be startlingly beautiful like Instagram, sentences don’t have to be perfect like Facebook posts, and you only have to fill 10 seconds at a time (or less) with your photo or video. Now that you’re on Snapchat (I hope), what’s the next step? So glad you asked!

Cross Promote

The biggest issue that we hear from Snapchat users is trouble getting discovered or finding followers/friends. People who follow you on Snapchat have to do so manually and intentionally— they add you by your specific user name.

Start by cross promoting your Snapchat profile and username on your other social media platforms (within reason). Promise something special through Snapchat. Instead of just asking people to follow you, give them a pay-off for doing so. Such as… A coupon, a give-away, a contest. Don’t be stingy. Give up a little for the greater good of building a presence on this platform. If you speak at a conference or throw an event or meet new people, mention that you’re on Snapchat and share a little bit about what you’re doing through your presence there.

Snapchat doesn’t have a savvy search like Facebook or a fun explore tab like Instagram; it’s all direct. And that’s part of what makes Snapchat so special—you know that any followers you get are actually sincerely interested in what you have to say. Now you just have to figure out what to say.

Populate Content

Identify the purpose of your Snapchat profile. It is a daily source of information for your followers? Is it the place where you give behind-the-scenes looks at your organization? Or maybe it’s where you promote new products. Either way, decide what your tone and purpose will be and then create original content to support it.

If you need some inspiration, many of the current brands on Snapchat have developed a distinct style for their Snap Stores—techniques of which you can learn from:

  • For Birchbox, a different team member takes over the account every day and shares her beauty routines, gives glimpses of life at the office, and answers Q&As. Occasionally, Birchbox’s Snap Story will also feature corporate news or reminders for events like Facebook Live discussions.
  • Through their Snap Story, staff from The New Yorker discuss the cover of each issue in depth and have a frequent special segment called “Cartoons with Colin” where Colin shares new cartoons while eating a random kind of chocolate.
  • Gary Vaynerchuck shares his daily work, inspirations and thoughts through his Snap Story to give his fans an even deeper look at his life. His Snap Story is a great example for brands that center on an individual.
  • Jimmy Fallon’s team uses his Snap Story to alert viewers of what’s planned in upcoming shows. They also give away tickets for the show through their Snap Story. During the day, their team sends an intern out into the city several hours before a show, only sharing her locations via Snapchat. The first person to find the intern wins the tickets! 
  • Warby Parker also does a great job of showcasing different members of their team via their Snap Story by interviewing a different person once a week in their “secret” library. During the interviews, the team member always talks about his/her favorite frames—an authentic way to advertise products. They also share simple snack time recipes to add some fun into the media mix.

Create a Branded Filter

Branded filters are just another great interactive feature to use to add extra branding to your Snapchat. Now, anyone can create a branded filter

Anyone can do it, ANYONE. So that means you, yes you, you little marketing genius hiding in the background. Create one for your office and use it throughout your stories. Then when people visit you or attend an event near your office, they know to use that filter in their Snapchats—giving you exposure to their whole audience! You should also create special filters for any event or gathering you open to the public.

Maintain a Steady Presence

Lastly, a lot of great brands boast profiles on Snapchat. But I cannot tell you how many brands I have followed, excited for what type of content they might be sharing, only to wait several days (sometimes weeks) before a story popped up. Because Snapchat has such a quick turn over, you have to maintain a steady presence on it in order to stay relevant. Just as you wouldn’t ignore your Instagram or Facebook for a week (I hope), so you shouldn’t neglect your Snapchat profile. So try Snapchat! You might be pleasantly surprised at the results you get.  

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When PEW Research Center released the results of their Religious Landscape Study, the report found that the percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years. WHOA.

But even more interesting, the study found that the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among Millennials. If you’re a church, non profit, or faith-based organization, we know what you’re thinking: how do we reach them?

Here are four things we know about Millennials (and four ways to reach them!):

1. They care about social justice.

Whether it’s providing clean water, feeding the hungry or putting a stop to human trafficking, Millennials care about social justice. They want their voices (and opinions) to be heard. Instead of taking a “this is right” and a “this is how we’ve always done things” approach, allow for open dialogue or conversation about important issues, topics and current events. Be willing to listen to them and understand their point of view and concerns. They’ll appreciate your openness and willingness to listen.

Millennials also buy into causes, not companies. If you’re a church or non profit organization, appeal to their sense of social justice. Think about the way you are telling your stories. Is this a cause that they can buy into and stand behind?

2. Their sense of right and wrong is guided by common sense. 

According to the PEW Research study, 46 percent of younger Millennials (ages 18-24) and 48 percent of Older Millennials (ages 25-33) said they look to common sense for guidance on right and wrong. On the contrary, only 23 percent of Younger Millennials and 26 percent of Older Millennials look to religion on guidance for what is right and wrong.

From the time they were in elementary school to the day they graduated college, Millennials have been taught to make decisions based on analyzing evidence and facts. It’s no surprise that their moral compass is dependent upon rationale. With this in mind, churches and non profit organizations should be prepared to provide a stake to their claims. Whether it’s in your annual donor report, your sermons or the services you offer, provide evidence and support to help guide Millennials down the decision-making path.

While you can’t change the way Millennials make decisions, you can change (and be a part of!) the way those decisions are influenced.

3. They are less connected with church than older generations.

According to the study, 34 percent of Younger Millennials and 37 percent of Older Millennials said that they seldom attend religious services. We know you’ve noticed this!

We often hear church leadership say that they are struggling to reach young people or get them into church. Instead of trying to get Millennials into church or to attend a service, go where there go! Be where they are and meet them at them door.

Are they brunching (it’s likely)? Are they in the gym? The coffee shop? GO! Jesus wasn’t afraid to get outside the walls of the church to meet beautifully flawed, messy and imperfect human beings right where they were. And we shouldn’t be either. When Millennials see that you are willing to get outside your comfort zone to get inside theirs, they will be more likely to trust and engage with you!

4. They don’t have a strong sense of spiritual wellness or peace.

According to the study, Millennials feel a sense of spiritual wellness or peace less frequently than any other demographic. Perhaps it’s because we live in a Pinterest-perfect world with daily pressures to be the best at, well, everything!  

In the midst of this pressure-filled and chaotic world, your church or organization can be a place of solitude for the Millennials out there looking for peace and contentment. Be a resource and a safe haven for them to come as they are.

Are they struggling with the pressures of social media? Being a modest woman in a society that says less (clothing) is more? Being a man of God instead of the man the world says we should be? Tackle these tough topics and challenges they are facing in your sermons, in your programs or on your digital platforms. Again, meet Millennials where they are and let them know that you understand and are here to walk alongside them—not to judge them.

If this seems overwhelming, don’t fret! You’re not alone! Media companies, big brands and corporate businesses are all spending millions of dollars each year trying to figure Millennials out. By making small changes like open dialogue around current events or issues, appealing to rationale, showing up where they are and providing solitude among chaos, you can reach the Millennial generation.

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The A Group once again had the honor of being a part of this year’s Outcomes Conference, an annual event hosted by the Christian Leadership Alliance. Christian Leadership Alliance (CLA), a long-time partner of The A Group, equips and unites leaders to transform the world for Christ. This conference, which was held last week in Dallas, TX, brought together some of the world’s top thought leaders in Christian ministry for a time of learning and encouragement.

It was our privilege to once again be invited to be a part of this great event, to have the opportunity to experience all it had to offer and to come alongside our great friends at CLA as they make a difference in the lives of leaders and in the Kingdom. Highlights included:

  • Our social media crew once again had the chance to be a part of the CLA Social Media SWAT team, live tweeting, posting and blogging from the event -- and helping get the official #Outcomes16 hashtag trending #5 nationally! Meanwhile, our photographer/videographer captured beautiful images of the event, as well as recorded interviews with dozens of influencers and leaders. We can’t wait for these to be shared with the world!
  • Our very own Maurilio Amorim led a workshop on The Power of Storytelling, encouraging organizations to tell better stories and to make their supporters the hero. We hear there were even some (happy) tears shed throughout the room as he showed examples of powerful storytelling videos from other organizations (want to learn how you can tell better stories? Check out our post here.)
  • We got the chance to visit with some of our clients (at the conference and throughout Dallas), to connect and reconnect with hundreds of ministry leaders and nonprofits like you, to be inspired by your vision and heart and to be reminded of why we do what we do each day.

Plus, we got the opportunity to attend the event and hear from incredible and encouraging Christian leaders such as Peter Greer, Dr. Tony Evans, Michael Oh, Dr. Larry Acosta, Rich Stearns and more. We’re encouraged to be back working hard to support the missions of amazing organizations like yours!

Thank you to the Christian Leadership Alliance team for letting us be a part of this special event.

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With so many voices flooding the donor landscape, each cleverly clamoring for the attention of deep pocket givers, how do you even get a chance to stand out?

We like to think it’s pretty simple: Start communicating within segmented lists.

Let’s back up a little bit first. Say you have 500 names on your donor email list. You send out an e-appeal several times a year and their gifts average out to $5 a person. At face value, that doesn’t seem like a lot.

We get why it becomes increasingly easy to give in to the pressure of budget deadlines and financial needs, resorting just to pursuing new people who will give something (or anything!) to your organization. But we all know deep down inside that approach is just slapping a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.

Here’s the catch—people are giving and with email being a free communication channel, every little dollar is valuable. SO! Pause and say thanks for the $5. And instead of focusing all of your attention on adding more $5 givers to that list, cultivate the people you already have.

Here’s the key: Realize that more is not always more.

Using segmentation, you can begin to break up that list of 1,000 people into smaller lists based on their gift size, time lapsed since their last gift, age demographic, etc. Then you build strategic communications designed specifically for each list (even if you have 10, 25, 50 different lists). Here’s why: That email you just sent to a newly graduated millennial who only occasionally throws $20 your way is not going to resonate with a 50-year-old woman who faithfully gives $75 a month. Someone is going to feel lost, and chances are both demographics will feel some sense of disconnect and potentially drop off.

By breaking up your main list and communicating to each segment specifically, you can share moving stories with millennials (they care about the issue and the solution—not you), impact numbers with older, established donors (they care about the credibility of the organization they are trusting with their dollars), and so forth. Furthermore, a millennial won’t open your emails at the same time that a retiree will. So specialize your emails even more by testing sending times for your different lists.

Segmented lists are your allies, your deepest friends. Get to know them, learn to love them, and make sure you know every in and out of the way yours work.

Once you have smart communication plans in place and execution well underway for your current contacts, only then should you start efforts to pull in new people. That way, when a new person commits to you, you have a system in place to nurture that contact and move them up the donor pay grade.

Lastly, if you’re a nonprofit and your CRM doesn’t have the power to allow you segmentation, then it’s time to upgrade or break up and find a new CRM mate. We know change is hard, and it sometimes requires a lot of time and resources, but it’s worth; believe us on this one.

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Everyone wants an app because it’s the cool thing to do. We get it. But why waste your money if you don’t actually need one? Here’s what we think… If you aren’t coming up with the new hot social platform or introducing a revolutionary game, you probably shouldn’t be using your resources to build out an app. In fact, it could a grave waste of time and money. But we’ll let you decide for yourself. See if you can pass the Do-You-Need-An-App test! 

Anyone can come up with endless reasons for why they should have an app for their organization. But we have discovered that most of those reasons can be fulfilled with a mobile-friendly site. So before you take $150,000 or more out of your budget to build an app, reconsider whether you actually need one and whether users will actually download and interact with it.  

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As you’re choosing a color scheme for your brand, website or even your office, you might find yourself wondering if there could be more than meets the eye when it comes to your preferred palette. Do different colors evoke different emotions, elicit certain behaviors or drive decisions? In other words, is there some psychological formula that can take your swatch and turn it into a sale?

People have tried to make these “colorful” arguments for decades: “Red means danger,” (or does it mean love?) “Blue is trustworthy” (but also another word for sadness) and "Men don't like orange" (say that to die-hard UT fans). While we all wish we had a marketing mood ring that assigned emotions to hues, the reality is that it’s HOW you use your colors, not what colors you use that makes all the difference.

If used in a tasteful and professional manner, any color can be an effective tool to contribute to the attractiveness of your brand. Well-developed color palettes are mathematical. It’s actually far more about the relationship of the colors to each other than the colors themselves.

For example, if you want to convey a sense of elegance and "high end" with a limited product or services offering, you need to use sets of colors that are closely related and have subtle differences. Prime example: Anthropologie.

If you need to represent a brand that will have a very broad set of offerings, it is advisable to set the color palette up to have a relative selection of colors that can be used amongst each other in combination with paired neutrals.

If you need to be perceived as an innovative alternative to the rest of your market's competitors, and they are all represented with shades of blue, then you need to look at using alternative colors in your branding. On the other hand, if you want to be perceived as the legacy "high end" expert amongst competitors that all use shades of blues; then it would be wise to explore the use of bright blues along with pale blues and effective, subtle neutrals in combination with classic typefaces.

It's about the math. Elegance = small, subtle shifts in tone. Energy = broad, wide differences between bright colors. 

The same can be said for music. High energy compositions are organized, but tonally, all over the place. Calm, adagio-esque compositions contain subtle, gentle shifts.

This is why kids’ brands can be any colors, but are usually a wide spectrum of combinations, while color palettes that appeal to mature individuals usually contain more neutrals and are subtle in visual relation. 

At the end of the day, color is a tool that must be used intentionally and has functionality of its own. Knowing how to use color correctly gives you flexibility in the scheme you choose and keeps you from having to draw upon subjective justifications like those suggested through the psychology of color.

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How much time do you spend in meetings every week? Chances are, no matter what your answer is, it’s too much time. 

Meetings get off track quickly. You start chatting about the weather, complaining about a new project, or maybe you start brainstorming at a meeting scheduled for a different project entirely. So how do you stay on track? Let’s see what the top CEOs around the world have to say. 

1. Jeff Weiner (LinkedIn)
“Before getting to business, ask everyone to share a personal victory & a professional achievement from the last week to give meetings a positive energy from the start.”

2. Gary Vaynerchuck (VaynerMedia)
“Cut meeting times in half. If you schedule a 1-hour meeting, you’ll inevitably fill that time. If you plan a 15-minute meeting, you’ll find a way to get the important stuff done. Keep every meeting short, focused, and efficient.”

3. Steve Jobs (Apple)
“Keep it small. Keep your invite list in the single digits whenever possible by only including people who are absolutely necessary—regardless of their status.” 

4. Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook)
“Set an agenda and stick to it. Take a notebook with you to every meeting with a list of discussion points and action items. As soon as every item is crossed off, end the meeting. Even if you’re 15 minutes in a meeting scheduled to last an hour.” 

5. Jeff Bezos (Amazon)
“Don’t settle into consensus solely because it’s the easiest and most comfortable solution. Challenge each other and debate all sides before reaching a decision. Ask others for their opinions, or ask two people to debate the pros and cons of a big decision.” 

6. Marissa Mayer (Yahoo)
“Most meetings involve making decisions — meaning lots of discussion. So require anyone who proposes a new idea to provide data to back it up. Decisions can be made quickly based solely on numbers, not opinions.” 

7. Ben Horowitz (Andreessen Horowitz cofounder and former Opsware CEO) 
Horowitz believed strongly in the importance of one-on-one meetings with the young leaders in his company. Because he asked the employee to set the agenda, he gave them the chance to cancel the meeting if nothing pressing needed attention. During those meetings, Horowitz only did about 10% of the talking, choosing instead to listen—believing that magical formula opened the door for honest and effective communication. 

8. Alfred Sloan (General Motors)
During more his meetings, Sloan would pose a topic or an issue to the attendees and then sit back and listen quietly to what everyone else said. He then retreated to his office to mull over the discussion and follow up with an actionable plan complete with tasks and next steps. 

Meetings can be a huge waste of time and company money drainer. So challenge yourself to keep meetings limited and efficient. Not only will it save your organization dollar bill stacks, but it will also feed and encourage the creativity potential of your employees. 

(Sources: Business Insider and The Muse)

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Wouldn’t it be great if donors always did what you wanted them to? If everyone in your file was the perfect little donor, giving through automated recurring gifts, responding to each and every special appeal and pledging themselves to your organization, from the first gift to writing you into their will.

It sure sounds nice, but anyone who has been in the nonprofit world for even the smallest amount of time knows that the perfect little donor does not exist. As thankful as you are for their support, you know that sometimes donors don’t behave how you want them to – they don’t respond when you ask, their cards expire and never get updated, they default on pledges or drop off the map completely. Le sigh.

But you don’t have to settle for disappearing donors and donations lost. Here is what you should do when donors do what you don’t want.

When they…

Give once but don’t give again.

Look at your onboarding process. While to you the point of donation feels like finally sealing the deal, to the donor, it is just the start of his or her relationship with you. When a donor gives for the first time, that is your invitation to begin cultivating them for a second, third or recurring gift. If this onboarding process isn’t there, donors could easily drop off as if they had never given. Remember: most donors give to multiple organizations, and they will ultimately be drawn to where they feel special and needed.

Lucky for you, we’ve taken the guesswork out of how to welcome new donors with our free New Donor Welcome Kit, which includes copy, art files and all you need to get started.

Don’t respond to an appeal.

If a donor who has given multiple times in the past does not respond to an appeal, there are two places where you can look for answers: your appeal and the donor.

If the appeal was low performing across the board, it’s likely that there was an issue with the appeal itself. Perhaps the ask was not compelling enough, the copy did not present a strong enough call to action or the design made it difficult for the donor to figure out how to respond. Consider having a team of experts review your mail or email to determine how it can be optimized, and always measure what types of asks perform best.

If the appeal seemed to have an average response, there are countless reasons why an individual donor might not have responded. Due to personal or financial factors, it’s impossible to make assumptions from one appeal, but if a donor stops responding over time, it’s a good opportunity to take a look at that relationship and look for ways to communicate better. Perhaps the donor prefers a different channel of communication, such as email instead of mail. Maybe it’s time to reach out and do something personal for the donor, such as asking how you can pray for them. Or it could be a sign that their engagement with your organization is dwindling, which brings us to when they…

Stop giving. 

If a donor who makes recurring donations stops giving without explanation, this should be a red flag that something is wrong. This lapse in giving could be due to a variety of factors: some benign, temporary factors such as a tough financial month or an expired credit card, or more difficult, permanent factors such as anger at your organization.

Whenever a donor lapses, you will want to make every attempt to get that donor back – and the sooner, the better. During the first one to six months of not giving, assume the best and try personal, non-invasive methods of stopping the donor from lapsing: emails about payments not going through, or perhaps a phone call to check in and see how things are going. This is a great opportunity to prevent lapses from loyal donors or discover negativity or misconceptions before it’s too late.

After six months to a year of not giving, the donor is considered officially “lapsed.” And while you might keep these donors in your mail file, simply continuing to send general appeals is not enough to get them back on board. You need a reactivation plan.

While it varies by demographic and amount of time lapsed, a reactivation plan for lower-level donors typically involves a special appeal with a strong human, emotional or urgent component, designed to grab donors’ attention and remind them why they gave to you in the first place. Major donors should always be contacted personally to get them back on board.

Remember that your lapsed donors are some of your best prospects. They know you, and they believed in you enough to give to you before. Before investing a fortune in new donor acquisition, start with those you already know.

While you can’t always control how donors respond to you, there are strategies you can use –such as onboarding, tailored communications and quick response to lapses – to help minimize the loss and keep them engaged.

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The 404 page is a very important, but often overlooked, aspect of every website. It’s a page that you hope your visitors never have to see, but what if they do? Perhaps someone types in a URL wrong or they click on a broken link; what are they going to see? 

If your 404 page is blank with just an error message, it’s likely users will get confused and simply close the page. However, with a well designed 404 page, you can convey humor and even show a glimpse into your company’s culture – provided you explain why they ended up there and give them helpful links to get back into the action.

If done well, your 404 page can look like an error page but feel like just another page on your site. Below are some examples of clever and effective 404 pages.

1. Apple – Keep it simple!

Sometimes the best way to design a 404 page is to keep it simple. Include a short header explaining the page, a search bar and a call to action. Apple also keeps its usual header navigation and footer information in place to make it easy to reach other parts of the site.

2. MailChimp – A subtle video and clear directions help users get back on track

MailChimp is known for its chimp mascot, so what better way to ease the frustration of finding yourself on a 404 page than to include a familiar face? MailChimp also provides clear instructions and a search bar to find what you need.

3. Airbnb – This cute animation is having a rough day.

While it’s missing a search bar and the usual main navigation from the rest of the site, this 404 page is still helpful while also poking fun at itself. The copy on the page implies that this was an error on Airbnb’s part, and not the user. This is something that can help your users feel more comfortable with finding themselves on this page, and less like they made a mistake.

4. Github – Github knows its audience

This obviously won’t apply to everyone, but if you’re very familiar with your user’s interests and hobbies, using pop culture references can really make your site more relatable. If your site has a log in area, providing a quick sign in on the 404 page is also a good idea since you can often find yourself on a 404 page if you somehow get signed out. 

5. Vimeo – Clear calls to action get users back to the videos

While it’s not humorous like the previously mentioned sites, Vimeo does a great job of offering the user many solutions to the 404 problem. A simple “Go back” button is a great feature to include since broken links are often the culprits of 404 pages. Vimeo also takes this opportunity to feature other parts of their site the user might not know about.

6. Starbucks – Own your mistakes and provide clear solutions

From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the Starbucks 404 page seems a bit dated; however the content is incredibly helpful and effective. Starbucks lays out a clear explanation of how you could’ve ended up on the page and provides multiple solutions. Perhaps some navigation at the top of the page would be helpful, but this is still a strong example how to provide your users with ways to get back to your content.
Like any other page on your site, you want to keep the branding consistent and the information on the page relevant so it’s not jarring to your visitors. Including a search bar on 404 pages is also a great way to get your users to interact with proper pages on the site, and might even help them find what they were originally looking for. 

The reality is, you never want your site visitors to see your 404 page. In a perfect world, links would never be broken and everyone would type URLs without error. But, we all know that will never happen, so you might as well have fun with your 404 page and keep your users engaged!   If you’re interested in more 404 pages, check out 404notfound.fr which features a ton of humorous and interactive 404 pages, and of course it has an amazing 404 page of it’s own.

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A great direct mail letter comes in many forms whether it’s a standard package with a four-page letter or a brief postcard. But no matter the package, what you do with the space you’re given is what matters.

So personalization, variable data and drop dates aside, let’s focus on the few elements that should be in every single direct mail piece whether it’s two sentences long or contains 500 words.

Push Toward Empathy

The single most important goal of every letter or chunk of copy that you write with the intent of soliciting donations should be written with one purpose in mind: to evoke empathy in your reader. It doesn’t matter how small or large the issue/problem is that you are asking donors to help with; if it isn’t presented in a way that evokes empathy, then most readers will zone out before you even make the ask.

Through thoughtful storytelling, you can quickly get reader emotions to a place that motivates action. Do so by making connections between the issue or story and their personal lives. If you’re writing about children, appeal to their parental instincts. If you’re writing about a social issue, appeal to their humanity and their love of freedom and safety. Strong content writing can motivate a reader to action for any kind of issue.

Provide hope

No one wants to hear about children starving or droughts across a nation unless it’s accompanied by a tangible solution. If you’re going to talk about problems—especially sensitive ones—you must make sure you offer hope in the form of a tangible or actionable answer.

Let’s say you want to motivate people to help build wells somewhere in Africa. Present the issue: Every day people die from thirst or from consuming contaminated water. Next, provide hope: But together, we can stop that by building fresh water wells to supply villages with clean drinking water. After you spend time massaging copy and creating a compelling case for clean water, you make the ask.

Minimize the Organization, “Heroize” the Reader

When you make an ask, you must always minimize yourself (and your organization) and highlight the reader. It’s not your organization that is making the difference—it’s the donor.  They make everything possible through their faithful and generous giving, so tell them that.

After highlighting the issue, take your organization out of the equation, and show the readers that the only way the issue will be resolved, the only way lives will be saved, is if they contribute to the cause. Their gifts make your work possible and without their help, the impact stops. They are the real heroes of the story.

We all have some degree of a savior complex within us, and when we are shown that we truly can make a difference—that we can make an impact in someone’s life—then we are moved to action. Everyone wants to do something meaningful, so give your readers the chance to do so with every single appeal you make. 

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We get it. It can be a little scary to hire an agency, especially for the first time. Like any committed relationship, you hope it will be mutually beneficial and that it will challenge you while still letting you be true to yourself.

One of the most nerve-wracking parts of hiring an agency can be letting them write for you. How can someone outside of your organization really know you that well? Is it actually possible preserve your brand voice while outsourcing content?

Whether your agency does a few ads or writes entire blog posts, it’s likely that they will end up creating content for you in some form or another. And as people who write for organizations other than ourselves everyday, we’re here to tell you that it IS possible to get it right – with a little help from you, of course. Here are five things you can do to build a successful agency relationship, without losing your brand voice:

1) Know yourself

Here’s the bottom line: if you don’t know your own brand, you can’t expect anyone else (an agency or your audience!) to really know you. Your brand voice is made up of two main factors: your brand essence and your tone. Your essence is the key elements and emotions that capture your brand. It is the qualities you feel, even if they’re unspoken: luxury, adventure, quality, warmth, hospitality, tradition, etc. Your tone, often born from the essence, is the way you talk to your audience: Is it casual? Playful? Sarcastic? Warm and familiar?

Spending time defining your brand will help you clearly and directly communicate the essence and tone to your agency, which will equip their content writers with basic style guidelines they need to know to get started.

2) Spend time together

One of the best ways for your agency to get to know your brand voice is to spend quality time together – face-to-face, in person time. At the start of any long-term marketing relationship, The A Group will typically spend few days at your organization, seeing, feeling and experiencing the work you do. In addition to the conversations had during these sessions, the first-hand experience allows us to pick up on culture and emotions that often remain unspoken.

On an ongoing basis, look for ways to connect personally and spend time together, whether that be regular in-person meetings or at least by phone if distance is a factor. Email is great for efficiency, but when it comes to brand voice, it can’t replace a real conversation.

3) Provide specific feedback

As much as a good agency will work on their end to understand you and adapt to your brand voice, they can’t read minds. If there’s something you don’t like or that doesn’t sound like you, be specific in your feedback. Explain not just what you don’t like but also why it’s not in line with your brand voice. This coaching will help your agency understand practically what works and what doesn’t and adapt their voice to yours.

4) Be patient

As in any relationship, it’s going to take time for your agency to get to you know you really well. While we do all we can to discover who you are, understand your tone and essence and develop strategic content, nothing can replace the knowledge that comes with time. Don’t abandon the relationship too soon; brand voice is something that is developed, and it can sometimes take several months of collaboration for the magic to really happen.

5) Let go, just a little bit

Consistent brand voice is important; believe us, we’re all just a little bit neurotic when it comes to brands over here. However, at times, ego or internal sensitivities can cloud the conversation and over complicate the process. Keep in mind that your brand is a marketing tool, not everything that you are, and that you might have certain preferences or nuances that have little effect on how your audience perceives your brand. Your agency’s job is to hone in on a few core elements that make your brand connect with an audience and communicate those clearly and simply – not to capture all of your many, wonderful complexities. As you work with an agency, you must be willing to speak up when necessary but also to let go and let your agency offer outside perspective – one of the main reasons you hired them.

At the end of the day, you want an agency that “gets you” – and we get that. For starters, remember that for someone to truly get to know you, you have to know yourself. That, combined with time, relationship-building, great feedback and openness to learning from each other, can lead to a very successful agency relationship where your brand voice is not just preserved but perfected.

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Blogging, who even does that anymore, right? Well, we’ll let the numbers speak for themselves:

  • Companies who blog receive 97% more links to their website (via Bussiness2Community).
  • Marketers who have prioritized blogging are 13x more likely to enjoy positive ROI (via HubSpot). 
  • Almost 50 percent of people voluntarily seek out blogs more than once a day (via Business2Community). 

You can’t beat those stats. Ideally, every organization should be blogging because it forces the company to keep its audience updated on new trends and developments in its particular industry. It also sets up consistent communication between organization and audience, boosts SEO and Google rankings, AND creates content to curate on social media.

But unless you’re the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, you can’t just wave a magic wand and create a stellar dress. I mean.. Blog. Blog, I meant blog.

But maybe we can still learn something from this age-old fairy tale.

Employ some mice.

Even Cinderella, the magical (would-be) princess, had help every now and then. 

So find some good mice. Figure out who on your staff has strong writing and marketing skills and has the capacity to take on blogging capabilities. If you don’t have someone that meets all three of those criteria, hire someone. Hear me here… DO NOT pass this responsibility to just any Mary, Dick, or Jane in your office.

This is where too many people slip up. After setting out with good intentions, the task is then either passed to an overloaded or unmotivated person and after a few weeks, the consistency dwindles along with the quality and soon the word blog gathers dust and is forgotten. So decided if you can be truly committed to this venture, and once you go all in, go all in and vow to keep it that way. 

Establish some presence. 

Imagine if Cinderella had looked at Fairy Godmother when she first showed up, screamed and locked her out of the house. Absurd, right? I mean, it’s the Fairy Godmother for goodness sakes! Thankfully for our childhood romantic hearts, the story didn’t turn out that way and Cinderella still had her happy ending. 

Here’s what you can learn from the magic lady: Established presence is invaluable. When the Fairy Godmother showed up, Cinderella knew exactly who she was right away. That knowledge led to a life-changing interaction. That’s what your blog should do for you. Through clever and thoughtful blogging, you can introduce brand new people to your non profit, organization, or company without placing any pressure on them to make a big loyalty decision during the first interaction.

Make steady and consistent posting your goal. If you plan to post twice a week, make sure that you have at least one month of content created before you start your blog, giving yourself plenty of room to stay ahead of the schedule and avoid last-minute thrown-together posts.

These steps help you maintain a top-of-mind presence with your audience which leads to brand loyalty and long-term customers or donors. Now when you show up to ask for a donation, try to sell a product or introduce a new service, your audience is familiar enough with you that making a decision to purchase or donate feels much less pressurized and much more natural. 

Don’t be boring. 

Your blog is competing with state-of-the-art videos, gifs and infographics. So what’s going to make your audience pay attention to your information instead of a Buzzfeed or NewsCred article saying relatively the same thing? Bring a little magic of your own. Make the sparkles pop in your readers’ faces.

How do you do that? First, by being educated. Stay updated on what’s happening in your industry. Tap into current events. Here are some great places to start to stay on top of technology, communications and social media changes:

Next, make your new education work in your favor. Take that new policy change or internal update and talk about how it specifically impacts your organization and your audience. Don’t just tell the facts; make them relatable to your specific reader.

Lastly, filter everything you say through your well-developed and exercised brand voice to talk personably with your audience. The story of Cinderella has been retold and remade and redone more times than we can count, but almost each time, the rendition works. Why? Because each new storyteller, film director, or writer filters the story through his/her own lens of understanding and personal tone to bring a new edge to the masterpiece. You can do that too. Just by having a style of communication that’s unique to your organization, you set yourself apart and help your audience instantly recognize your writing.

Remember, if you’re bored by what you’re creating or producing, then your audience will likely be fast asleep before they finish the first sentence. We might not be able to take people to Disney Land, but maybe we can still sprinkle some magic into the written space and educate people at the same time.

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The A Group
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Phone: (615) 373-6990
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