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For these times, they are a-changin.

in Communications, Leadership by Amy Wong Leave a comment

Maybe I am dating myself. And yes, I admit to overuse of an oft-quoted Bob Dylan song lyric as an entry to a blog/article. But as a near life-long resident of northeast Ohio (minus six years during college and in my early 20s) I have noticed more change in the last five years than I have seen in a long time.

Something just “feels” different. I can’t put my finger on it, but there seems to be a positive energy cast over the region – an aura that signals some really great things are on the horizon.

I see increased collaboration, new ideas, faster project iteration, a focus on innovation, and even investments in technology and programs that aren’t quite the norm or a guaranteed slam dunk. There are changes in leadership at many levels. Young people are being given a chance to head up organizations and projects, and even though there is still a gender gap, increased opportunities supporting women are emerging.

Leadership Akron’s Community Leadership Institute (CLI) collaboration with Women’s Network of Northeast Ohio is one such emerging opportunity.

I was fortunate to be selected for the CLI Class II, which completed its three-month program in early May. I didn’t know what to expect when the program started, but I knew the content would be valuable since both organizations have a reputation for delivering high-quality programs.

I was certainly not disappointed, but was surprised by how much more I took away from the program than I anticipated. As a CEO, I am constantly looking for ways to do things better for clients and staff. The CLI gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in something that will help me improve and grow personally as well as professionally.

During CLI…

  • I met people who inspired me and that I likely wouldn’t have met otherwise.
  • I learned to embrace the energy and knowledge from our group discussions.
  • I enjoyed that no one talked about how to communicate with a specific age group – baby boomers, Generation Xers or millennials. What we did talk about was how to harness our own strengths and understand the strengths of others to build a better workplace.
  • I made new friends and business connections that will be invaluable.
  • I joined 25 other women in looking for ways to create change in our workplaces and our community.

While heading up my own company and a household with three busy teenagers, I must work to be a good leader and role model. I’m not perfect by any means and I have certainly made mistakes. But I am willing to learn. I think women need programs like CLI to make it easier to gain leadership skills. CLI gave us a “safe zone” where we could be a little vulnerable and honest, while speaking about real issues without being judged.

I am a firm believer that being better requires change, whether it is changing leaders, a habit, an attitude or process. And I truly believe times ARE changing here in northeast Ohio, definitely for the better. And I love it.

What to do when communication misfires

in Communications, Uncategorized by Jeanine Black Leave a comment

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

 

Effective business communications is an art form. Whether you are a professional communicator, like me, or an accountant or a plant manager, how you interact with employees, co-workers, colleagues and clients/customers is one of the most important keys to success. And with today’s ever-increasing digital world, non-verbal communication is almost non-existent leaving much of what we say up to interpretation, leading, so many times, to miscommunication.

It’s all in the delivery

We’ve heard this phrase a million times and we all know how true it is, yet somehow, we seem to keep missing the mark. Almost daily, if not more frequently, I receive or am copied on at least one email or text that has the ability to throw me off my game because of someone’s “tone” or because the message is vague and hard to understand.  Yes, there is email etiquette and best practices for communication, but how you handle that negative email, text, phone call or comment on social media will make all the difference in world.

Here are some things I’ve learned along the way that help me in communicating with others:

  • We are all human. We all have hopes, dreams and back stories. We’ve all felt happiness and we’ve all been hurt. Being empathetic to those around you will always give you an upper-hand in your communications. I’m willing to bet that nasty email you received had nothing to do with you. Someone is having a bad day, week or year and you happened to be on the receiving end. Not fair? Possibly…but we’ve all done it. Keep an open mind.
  • Some people just don’t get it. Your hackles go up when you see their name in your inbox or their number comes up on your phone. They are direct, blunt, mean, cold…call it what you will. But they will forever not understand the nuances that go into communicating effectively. It’s how you handle it that will determine where the relationship goes from there. Do you let it ruin your day? Do you shoot back an equally tone-deaf email? Hopefully not. Choose your words carefully and engage them directly. Chances are you will find out they are not upset at all and had no ill intentions – in fact, are very nice people! But they simply don’t know how to express themselves.
  • Digital communication breeds false bravado. We see it every day on Facebook, Twitter and in inter-personal communication. People hide behind the distance email can provide or the anonymity of social media. It’s easy to “speak your mind” when the person you’re addressing isn’t standing in front of you. So buck the trend. Pick up the phone, schedule a meeting or simply go talk to the sender. Bravado disappears when met face to face (notice I didn’t say confronted?) making it that much easier to tackle a difficult issue, situation or communication. And if you have to have a difficult conversation, take some time to evaluate whether email is the proper channel to use; most likely, it is not.
  • Do unto others. How do you feel when you receive a negative email or voicemail? Remember that the next time you’re the one doing the sending. Are you watching your tone? Are you being specific vs. vague? Are you keeping it concise? Are you making it easy for the receiver to figure out what you need so they can prioritize their day? If not, start over.

 

Patience, empathy and treating others how you would like to be treated can go a long way in communication and relationships, in life and career.

 

Five tips for fashion-forward communication and fundraising

in Communications, Giving by Amy Wong Leave a comment

In full disclosure, I am not a fashionista. In fact, I hate shopping for clothes. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have some knowledge of what is going on in fashion. I have a teenage daughter – need I say more?

However, I pay close attention to what is happening in marketing communications and fundraising. I spend a great deal of time reading, listening to experts in the field, fielding questions from clients, trying new things and making sense of it all. What I have found over time is that there are many similarities to fashion. So, as a nod to some of my favorite fashion designers (Coco Chanel, Donna Karan), I compile this list of Five Tips for Fashion-pearlsForward Marketing and Fundraising.

  1. Stick with tried and true– not trendy: Well-written content, proper grammar, attention to detail and forging strong relationships never go out of style. While industry trends come and go (QR codes and telethons anyone?), strong writing and relationship skills continue to be the basis of every successful campaign.
  2. Accessorize: If you stick with what is tried and true, adding trendy accessories is definitely acceptable, as long as they don’t take over the outfit! One of my colleagues says it well. “Social media is a tool not a strategy.” So use tools/accessories such as social media, to enhance your basic outfit (plan). But, don’t use them without some strong wardrobe basics.
  3. Stay classy: Just as a revealing outfit speaks volumes about the person wearing it, so does inappropriate communications and fundraising. I am amazed by people who forget their manners and resort to tactics that compromise their integrity and that of their organization. Yes, today’s society is much more accepting of poor language, revealing clothing, etc. But that doesn’t mean it should make its way into your communications and fundraising efforts. Stay classy. You never know who you may offend.
  4. Edit: Yes, there can be too much of a good thing. So, just as you take a look in the mirror before you head out the door, take a look close look at your campaign before you launch. If there is too much there, do some editing. Or if there is not enough, add some more.
  5. Change with the seasons. Just as you change up your wardrobe as the seasons change, consider making modifications to your materials and messages. They also get bored easily. So don’t be afraid to try new things and make changes to keep things fresh.

 

Take a minute and look at your fundraising and communications plans just as you would your wardrobe. Consider making necessary adjustments so you too can be fashion-forward in your efforts.

 

Donor Communication – Comparing it to “the big game”

in Communications, Giving, Planning by Amy Wong 3 Comments

In the spirit of yesterday’s “big football game,” I thought it could be fun to think about donor communications in the context of the pregame and four-quarters.Football scoreboard

Pregame:For nonprofits, the pregame is typically the year-end appeal. A strong year-and campaign often dictates what an organization will be able to do in the next year. If this is the only appeal you do, make sure it includes a mix of mail, social media, email communication and phone calls. You are competing against many other quality “teams” for your donor’s dollars.

 

The First Quarter: In the first quarter, your donors are still interested – similar to those who are just sitting down to watch the game and much-anticipated commercials. They have come to the party by making a gift at year end, and your organization is still fresh in their minds. Keep your organization front of mind and set up the coming year.  Consider:

  • Sharing goals for the coming year and how donor gifts will help achieve those goals
  • Producing a calendar of events for the coming year
  • Explaining any changes you anticipate for the year

 

The Second Quarter:The second quarter can go either way. If your team is still in the game, they will remain engaged. If your team is way behind, you may lose donor interest and they will find something else to do and support. So it is important to keep them in “the loop.”

  • Maintain regular communication – once a month is recommended through e-newsletters or print if your budget allows.
  • Use social media to share photos, organizational events, etc.
  • Keep donors apprised of special events, newsworthy items, etc. through special communications

 

Halftime:This is a great time to showcase your talent. Your audit should be done and you can share success from the prior year.

  • Create an annual report. It doesn’t have to list donors unless that is important to your constituents. It can be a simple year in review completed in-house and sent out electronically via email and social media channels.
  • Send reports to donors who have endowed funds. Tell them how their gifts were used, the value of their fund and other relevant data.

 

The Third Quarter:The game is more than half over, but there is still work to be done. Update your donors on your goals. Don’t lose steam as you prepare for year-end. Continue regular communication like you did in the second quarter. If your donors continue stay engaged, this will help your year-end appeal success.

 

The Fourth Quarter:At this point, you don’t want to rely on a Hail Mary pass. Controlling the game is where you want to be. Make sure you are very strategic and thoughtful in planning and executing your annual appeal.  A strong game plan is going into the fourth quarter will make a significant difference and carry your organization through the end of the year.

 

Post Game: Take time to celebrate, assess your program, and reflect on the good you do.

Don’t exceed the bugging quotient

in Communications by Amy Wong Leave a comment

For the record, I live in Ohio.

If you have followed the presidential race, you probably noticed our Midwestern state was a pretty popular place leading up to the election. Daily visits from candidates, a barrage of unsolicited phone calls, mail – LOTS of mail, and more mudslinging television commercials than you can imagine.

But that’s not even the beginning. We were home to some of the most-watched Senate and House races in the country. So, more mail, mudslinging… you get the idea.

This election reached my “bugging quotient.” What is a “bugging quotient” you ask? Bugging quotient” is a term I use to describe my threshold for communication. When you exceed it, I tune you out and you have lost me.  I am sure there are quite a few battleground state residents who feel the same way right now.

I can’t say I coined this term, but throughout my career, my “bugging quotient,” has been exceeded many times. Usually it results in removing my name from a subscription list, hitting the delete button, un-following, etc.

There is a fine line between developing a plan that incorporates regular communication and “bugging” those who you want to pay attention to you.

 

Ideas to help keep your “bugging quotient” low

  • Speak to your consumers – not at them.
  • Keep it fresh.
  • Give your audience a little credit – and have a little fun.
  • Make it relevant and original, but don’t overdo it.

 

Speak to your consumers – not at them.

Think of how your target audience will receive what you are saying. It is not about you – it is about them. The messages that exceed the bugging quotient the fastest are those that don’t speak to the consumer.

Keep it fresh.

The definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If it worked 6 months ago, it doesn’t mean it will work now. If you notice a drop in readership or followers, change up the message or promotion so audiences don’t get bored and tune you out.

Give your audience a little credit – and have a little fun.

I am amazed (and maybe a little jaded because of the election) how many messages are “dumbed down.”  Give your audience credit that they know something and give them helpful information. But have fun with it. Good information doesn’t have to be boring and everyone needs a chuckle now and then. (The Allstate Mayhem commercials do this brilliantly.)

Make it relevant and original, but don’t overdo it.

People are always looking for relevant information. That is why top bloggers and journalists have such great followings. But too much of a good thing can be dangerous. So, keep the topics real for your audience and pace the messages appropriately. It is not a matter of who sends the most wins.

 

Today is election day and I am looking forward to a quieter phone, regular commercials and less recycling.I hope you voted and exercised your right as an American! I did and I am hitting the reset button on my “bugging quotient” meter, ready for the next annoying thing.