It Matters How We Communicate

Post 22 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

This weekend is the Prairie Star District of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Annual Conference in Ames, IA. I will be part of a panel called It Matters How We Communicate and speaking about my experience as a Communications Coordinator for a large UU church.

I’m excited to hear the questions and have some conversations about how to do communications in a rapidly changing environment. The information I plan to share goes beyond churches, I tend to focus on nonprofit organizations in my freelance life through www.AidanWebServices.com and I feel these tips work well for smaller organizations or businesses.

Website Advice:

  • Make it easily updated and don’t invest in a design for a lifetime, invest with a plan that it will need to be done again in 3-5 years (closer to 3 if you want to stay current).
  • I strongly recommend using WordPress.com or WordPress.org. This platform allows you to get a site up quickly, has a professional look and feel, and is easily updated by people without knowledge of html or programming languages. WordPress.com is easier to do, WordPress.org gives you more options and control.
  • Use Google Analytics (more on this below).

Social Media:

  • Facebook first, then the rest. If you are going to do social media and don’t know where to start, Facebook has the largest audience and the most functionality. It will change at the whim of Facebook but it will change for everyone.
  • Make a Page, not a Group.
  • Get a short URL for your Page (i.e. facebook.com/yourorgname). You can’t change it, so think about it first.
  • Once you start it, keep content going up there at least weekly.

Digital Communications:

  • Less is more. In  both design and content, I tend towards as simple as possible. If you need to have lots of text in a digital newsletter, try having a lead sentence or two and a link to the whole story on your website or blog.
  • Email Newsletters: www.constantcontact.com or www.mailchimp.com. They are simple to use, affordable, and you get a nice end product with the ability to track open rates and clicks.
  • DON’T BCC your email list to send out your newsletter. This leads to your organization being labeled as spammers and is difficult to fix (I know, it happened to an org I worked with once).

Print Communications:

  • Less is more, less is more, less is more. Sunday Bulletins, Print Newsletters, Brochures. All of these should be a concise as possible. Just a bit about a select few programs happening, stories of success, and then how to find out more online. Or better yet, how to get in touch with a real person to have a conversation.

Office IT:

  • Google Apps (www.google.com/apps). You can have email set up to @yoursite.org, along with google’s powerful suite of tools (docs, calendar, chat, and more) for free. Your whole organization can be running them anywhere they have an internet connect.
  • Cloud File Storage. If at all possible ditch the office file server for www.dropbox.com or www.box.net. This is an easy way to keep your files backed up, shareable with colleagues, AND accessible form multiple and computer with internet access. Also copies of the files stay on your computer as well so if you don’t have internet access you can make changes and they will sync when you get online again.
  • Analytics. Track what is happening with your communications. With your email newsletters and facebook page you can easily track how many people open, click, or “like” your organization.
  • Google Analytics. Also free, a GREAT product for accurately tracking visits and activity on your website.

These are my starting points, I also plan to talk about Branding and why I think it is important even for small nonprofits and I’m sure individual questions will take me in other directions as well.

Other ideas? Feel free to add on in the comments!

Advertisements

What is Vocation Anyway?

Post 13 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project

vo·ca·tion [voh-key-shuhn]
–noun

  1. a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling.
  2. a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career.
  3. a divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life.
  4. a function or station in life to which one is called by god: the religious vocation; the vocation of marriage.

Source: dictionary.com

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin vocare(verb to call). Often the call comes from a divine source or the community for one to walk a particular path in their life. The most common form of this is the call to the vocation of ministry, clergy, or religious leader or even for an individual to become deeply involved in a particular religious path. So why is this something of interest to a twenty something non-profit professional whose experience resides mostly in marketing? Because I disagree with the source of “the call.” Instead, I agree with Parker J. Palmer and his amazing book where he illuminates the Quaker saying: “Let Your Life Speak.” The call isn’t something you find outside of yourself and it doesn’t tell you what to become. Rather, it is about being aware of yourself, deeply aware, and taking note of all that you have already done in your life. Your own life and experiences are the real guideposts. The next step is not to change into something else; it is to take off all the roles you have assumed and ideas you have absorbed about what you should be and work on the hard task of figuring out what you truly are, what you always have been, and what you could grow into by being yourself. “Be yourself” may sound simplistic, but in a world that constantly pushes you to be something you are not, it takes a lifetime of unlearning and uncovering to find the core of your actual identity.

I do admit that when I decided to think about vocation, I went to a religious source. I began meeting with a spiritual adviser, spent time thinking about what I have done, and what I want to do with my life. I also became more involved in a religious community. Upon personal reflection, I reached out to ministers to find resources to read about vocation. I continue to read on the topic and have spent considerable time thinking about the term and about my life to this point. The biggest step forward on my current vocational path has been to spend time reflecting on my accomplishments. The experiences, moments, and readings that energize me are those of which I take particular note and try to see where several are pointing. This reminds me of high school math classes where it took several points to create a trend; one or two random dots didn’t really amount to something but 5-10 really started to make a pattern. The core question (paraphrasing from “Let Your Life Speak”) is not “What should I do with my life?” It is “Who am I?”

Here is what I have discovered about who I am:

My passion is connecting people to what they need. This could be connecting people to people, people to resources, or people to a community. Reflecting on snapshots throughout my life, the most significant themes I have found so far are:

  • I love to learn, especially about how people work and how they come together
    • Examples: College Degree, Majors: Anthropology, Criminal Justice, Forensic Science Minors: Biology and Psychology
    • All of these study how people think, function physically, or come together in society (both in positive and negative ways)
  • I enjoy building a sense of community and connecting people to resources and concepts larger than themselves
    • Examples: Involvement in non-profit community organizations, Working within religious communities, Being involved in projects to disseminate information
    • Facilitating the connections between individuals and making contributions to my community have been some of the most rewarding volunteer and career moments of my life.

While these are merely cursory examples, other experiences in my life have also pointed to an inherent fascination and sense of energy around the way people join together to do more than any single person could on their own, be that through a religious community, community organizing, or self-constructed families. I have always enjoyed the D.I.Y. or Build Your Own approach to careers, spirituality, and families. Nothing prepackaged seems to do it for me. By my own means, I discover lessons in theology, philosophy, or amazing human beings to add to my personal worldview, social circle, and my created family. I work on multiple projects, in multiple volunteer capacities, and on many freelance gigs outside of my full-time job to create a career that is multi-faceted and with a depth that encompass a community I love. Mine is a career about forging connections—sometimes through marketing, tabling at conferences, networking events, one-on-one conversations, online social media, or my religious community. Each conversation I engage in is first a connection between myself and the other person, and at any point the connection can grow to more people.

This blog is not just for others; driving my involvement is an agenda very personal in nature. Through writing, reflection, discovery, and sharing pieces of my answer I hope to not only help others find what they are looking for but to continue the path of discovering that for myself.

So what is vocation anyway? Frederick Buechner might say it is “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” I really think it is finding that place of energy and sense of purpose within each of us, and then centering all the ways we engage our world on this powerful place. So my personal understanding of vocation is the point when I can align all of my unique gifts and my entire self to what I do in the world. Not a simple goal, but one worth taking the time to get it right.

P.S. those of you that know me might recognize this post from another project. I was going to tackle a more extensive rewrite but was surprised that this article still sums up my feelings on this topic and I’ve seen a significant amount of progress in the ten months since I originally worked through this article.