Revolutionise your publications – in an afternoon

Keeping creativity high can be tough for charity communicators.

You produce the same publications, about the same subject, day after day. It’s easy to get stale.

But it’s also easy to inject some zing back into your communications. There are quick, simple and cheap ways to make your publications better.

Set aside just one afternoon on your own or with your team to do the four below – and start seeing the difference immediately.

1.30 – 2.30pm: Come up with alternatives

Do you find yourself trotting out the same phrases and clichés again and again in your charity writing? Do you have a stock set of stats and facts that end up in everything you write?

Stop being dull and repetitive. Write out the phrases you use frequently, and make a list of alternatives for each – creating your very own word bank.

One trick is to make your common phrases more specific. Why not turn “we improve children’s lives” into the more powerful, more detailed “we give children a chance to go to school – so they can have a brighter future”?

Another is to make your writing more relevant to your reader. You might write “60,000 square kilometres of rainforest are cut down each year”. But who really knows what a square kilometre looks like? Why not have the more relatable “each year, an area of rainforest the size of Ireland is cut down”?

Create a word bank document and put it on the wall. Remember to add to the list when you come up with a new alternative.

2.30 – 3.30pm: Go back to the basics: audience and purpose

Your new word bank isn’t the only thing to prepare for your office wall.

As a charity communicator, there’s one question you should ask yourself constantly. Before and while you’re producing a publication or writing an article.

“Who is my audience and what do I want them to do when they’ve read this?”

Write every word with this in mind and your publications will improve – guaranteed.

For each article you’re writing or publication you’re producing, take time to discuss it in depth. Then write an answer on a piece of paper and stick it above your desk, where you can see it at all times.

Be as specific as possible. For your audience, don’t just write “young people aged 14-18″, for example. Create an “average audience member” in your mind – give them a name, think about their lives and their likes and dislikes. You could even cut a picture out of a magazine to represent them.

3.30 – 4: Break

4 – 5pm: Do a mini publications review

Use this hour to read through your own publications. Come up with five specific things you don’t like about them.

Are your publications boring and repetitive? Are they irrelevant to your audience? Are they too text heavy? Do you have dull headlines? How is your design and photography?

Write a two-column list – problems, and how you’re going to solve them.

5 – 6pm: Steal ideas

There’s inspiration for your publications everywhere.

Start by looking at other charities’ publications – especially the big names with the big budgets. What are they doing effectively? Could you do something similar?

Go through mainstream magazines and newspapers too. Everything from the Sunday supplements to trashy magazines like Love it! will have a format you can steal, including new ways to present case studies and dozens of ways to structure features – from Question and Answer or FAQ to Ten Things You Didn’t Know… or 5 Ways To…

Homework!

1. Regain your passion

Your best writing will happen when you feel deeply passionate about your subject matter. Keeping your excitement and interest levels high is important.

But it’s not always easy. With deadlines at every turn, a charity communications office can turn into a conveyor belt of case study after case study, feature after feature – with little time to immerse yourself in the story.

Take time to reignite your passion. Plan a day visiting some of your services and take your notebook and camera along with you. Speak to service users and volunteers about how they feel. Their passion, energy and enthusiasm will help breathe life back into your writing.

2. Ask people what they think

It can be difficult to be objective about your own writing and publications. So why not ask your readers what they think?

If you can gather some readers to discuss their thoughts for an hour, all the better. But even colleagues from a different department, friends or your family could give you some valuable insights.

Need some help with your publications? Contact me now.

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