Stop Doing This/Start Doing That

Tomorrow arbitrarily begins a new year. I’ve honestly never been really into the idea of New Year’s Eve – it tends to encourage stupid behaviour and poor decision making (including making promises to ourselves and others to make changes that we seldom make.) Any day can be a new year’s day if you make the decision to bring about positive changes. I also think we need ongoing encouragement to replace bad habits with better ones.

In the spirit of making changes for the better, here’s my list of nonprofit habits to stop and things to replace them with. Let’s examine our bad habits, raise our eyebrows in disgust, and move forward into something new.

Stop Emailing/Start Collaborating

Everytime you share a collaborative document via email, seven kittens die of confusion. Make 2014 the year you stop working on documents via email and end document confusion – sign up for Office 365 or a similar collaborative service and start working smarter.

Stop Jargon/Start Plain Language

Your overuse of buzzwords and sector-specific jargon impresses no one, especially donors. Nothing closes ears faster than unintelligible bullshit. Let’s aim for simplicity and transparency this year, ensuring your donors, co-workers, stakeholders, fellow human beings not only understand what you’re talking about, but actually give a shit about it.

Stop Saying Yes/Start Saying No

Say yes to no, say no to yes! What? Stop saying yes to unrealistic requests, stop taking on tasks that you can’t manage, stop following along the trail of bad ideas, stop being silent when someone needs to speak up.

Stop Giving A Shit About SEO/Start Creating

Seriously. Barf. I never want to hear about it ever again. And when I say start creating, I don’t just mean content, though that’s what you were expecting me to say. While it’s true that you’re never done marketing, not everything your organisation creates needs to be about selling yourselves to the next big donor. Create content, yes. But create relationships – that’s something that takes more heart than strategy. Create a unique space. Create a healthy organisation where program staff and communications people and fundraisers create together. Create an actual movement. Trying to trick robots to trick people into finding your donation page is just dumb. Creating an organisation, relationships and (yes) content that make people want you is smart, and necessary.

Stop Auto-Posting/Start Flavouring

When I see “@blahblah just posted a photo to Facebook” I shut down. When I get “Greetings earthling and thank you for the felicitous gift of your follow, please now give us money or follow this link to another place where we invite you to follow us” I either unfollow or respond with 140 characters of binary code.

Look, I get it. There’s so much to do and so little time. It is so easy to just have everything spew out at once to multiple places, like a teenage SpiderMan prematurely webbing everyone in the crowded bank being robbed. But if you feel you have too much to do, you should do less or think about what you’re doing and do it better. What do people want in a Facebook post? On Twitter? What works well on Pinterest? Flavour your content accordingly.

Stop Telling/Start Showing

If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class, you’ve heard “show, don’t tell.” Chances are, your communications are doing a lot of telling and not a lot of showing. This isn’t just about using more images, infographics, videos, choreographed live dance. It’s about using language paired with graphics that entice the reader. There’s a reason why people enjoy reading graphic novels and not economics text books.

Stop Super-Strategizing/Start Smart Planning

“So our plan for the next five to seven years is…” Seriously? You’re setting yourself up for failure. Instead, let your mission and vision (which are super well written, easy to understand, and universally accepted by staff and stakeholder alike, right? No? Try again) guide plans that focus on shorter periods of time. For example, a two year “master plan” that is broken up into 6 month chunks. Or a yearly plan that is revised quarterly. The super-strategy staff and board weekends? Stop that, too.

Stop Asking Everyone for Support/Start Asking The One For Specifics 

The general public likely doesn’t care about your cause. But there is that one person who does – your donor. Yes, there are many donors. But only one matters – the one you are asking. And “support” or help”? No one knows what that means. Be specific in your ask.

You wouldn’t go to a crowded street and propose marriage to everyone, hoping someone said yes. You’d ask the one, in a very personal, very specific way.

And probably pronounce/spell their name right when you do it, too.

Are there any other habits we need to toss this year? What do you think we need to start doing – collectively and individually – to make things a bit better/easier/brighter in 2014?