Saturday, November 7, 2009

Here, Check, Check, Check. It's Simple, It's Easy; Why Aren't You Using It?

image from tinyfarmblog

After writing the post about 5 Common Design Mistakes, I thought it might be nice to talk about something simple that could save your nonprofit career life. Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but if you've ever seen something in print that you put together and only then noticed there was something important missing, you know that "OMG - I am so fired" feeling you can get.

Your website, brochures, plea letters, tweets and FB updates - any communication you have with your constituents and stakeholders should have a consistency that makes them easily identifiable as coming from your nonprofit. However, we sometimes we focus so much on the consistency of style and voice in presenting that we forget about the "duh" stuff, which is way worse than not using the right typeface in all the right places.

What "Duh" Stuff?

The really simple stuff that you know has to be there. For example:

  • Logo and organization name
  • How to Donate
  • Website address
  • Contact information

You can see where leaving out any of this information could hurt you, but you'd be surprised how many times it happens. I've even seen invitations to fundraisers where the date was left off. Or or even the address. And one time, both.

There is an easy tool you can use to avoid ending up in that situation too often; it's called a checklist.

Checklist. Are You Kidding Me?

Nope; in the words of the immortal Jack Paar, "I kid you not." I told you it was simple. We've all used them, especially when starting out in a new job. They come in different flavors - when I worked as a software project manager, I used WBS charts and Gantt charts, which were just complicated versions of checklists. But for most purposes, a simple list works best.

Unfortunately, as we become more familiar with our jobs and duties, familiarity starts to breed contempt for the once-indispensable and we give up the checklists; we become cocky. Oh yeah, I know my job; I don't need no stinking checklist...

But you do. 

Check This Out

Crafting a communication isn't easy. Knowing the right tone to take, being clear on the action you want the person receiving it to take, supporting the message with appropriate graphics, and making sure the whole thing flows like water takes thought and editing, editing, editing.

And sometimes, when we're editing, things get lost. Important things, like the items in the list above. Having a checklist will make sure they get back in.

When I started in technical writing back in the days of clay tablets, one of the first things I learned from the guys who had honed their craft during military service was a military maxim: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

A checklist is simple, and it can certainly keep you from looking stupid. Of course, it only works if you use it, but if you make it a habit, it can keep some mighty unpleasant chickens from coming home to roost.

How do you keep track of your "duh" stuff?


Ann Ostermann said...

This is a great reminder! I have fallen into the trap of "I know this event, I don't need a check list" a few times and it's such a drag. It's amazing how easy it is to get caught up in the "look" of a press release, invitation, newsletter or posting that you overlook the basics.

Ann Ostermann, Events Manager

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Nancy Quinn said...

Have you read Atul Gawande's CHECKLIST MANIFESTO? I think you would love it. I did. And I agree - it is easy to forget the basic things that you were sure you would remember.