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Writing guidelines for international non-profit organizations (Internal document at PEPY Cambodia)

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This is a document I made in 2011 before I left my job managing PEPY, an education and youth leadership organization in Cambodia. It combines a few tools we had made over the years - from writing guidelines to our views on do's and don'ts in international development marketing. Another former PEPY team member just sent it back to me, and I realize some of it is still relevant in my current job, so I thought I'd post it here in case it might be useful to others.

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Writing guidelines for international non-profit organizations (Internal document at PEPY Cambodia)

  1. 1. PEPY Writing Guidelines Workshop
  2. 2. PEPY Writing Guidelines Workshop 1)  How we write & speak about PEPY 2)  The PEPY Voice 3)  Editing Process 4)  PEPY Writing Do’s and Don’ts 5)  Social Media/Web Do’s and Don’ts
  3. 3. How We Write & Speak about PEPY Pretend PEPY is you. Wait, it IS you! So speak about it humbly as you would about yourself.
  4. 4. Keys to Successful PEPY Writing 1)  Be Humble 2)  Focus on our Work 3)  Focus on the Impact 4)  Be Accurate 5)  Be Clean and Clear 6)  Be Cogent 7)  Know your Audience 8)  Know the PEPY writing standards
  5. 5. Keys to Successful PEPY Writing 1) Be Humble No one wants to hear how great we think we are!
  6. 6. 2) Focus on the Work: If it is going to be in print, on the web, or in our newsletter, imagine that many of our donors will read it. What would someone who has given some of their hard earned money to our projects want to read--the party last night? Or the programs they are funding? Make sure the overall emphasis of our messaging is on our work here in Cambodia. Keys to Successful PEPY Writing
  7. 7. 3) Focus on the Impact Its not about HOW MUCH MONEY we raised. Its not about the new motorbike we just bought or the school we just built, it’s about the impact on people. Writing “Help us reach our $50,000 goal!” on twitter is focusing on money. Adding “so that we can expand our child club program to three more communities” lets people know WHY funding matters. Keep impact as the focus of our messages, our newsletters, and our work! Keys to Successful PEPY Writing
  8. 8. 4) Be Accurate: Check your facts! If you are not sure, ask! Or don’t write it! We need to make sure we are giving a consistent message and that our facts are correct in order to be a credible source of information. Keys to Successful PEPY Writing
  9. 9. 5) Be Clean and Clear: And by that we mean that the grammar/punctuation/spelling should all be correct. Triple check! Always have three eyes read the final version before printing as sometimes it is harder for an author to find those errors. (We don’t want to tell people we are “improving children”!) Keys to Successful PEPY Writing
  10. 10. 6) Be Cogent: People should be able to read the first paragraph and understand the theme of the piece. This is especially important for articles where there will be a “read more” link to connect people to the rest of your piece. In longer pieces, the final paragraph should summarize the key themes. If appropriate, end with a call to action. We want to change the way people give, travel, and live – so inspire them first to read all the way through and second, to take action! Keys to Successful PEPY Writing
  11. 11. 7) Know Your Audience: Consider who will be reading your final work. Is it someone in the industry? A potential donor? An interested PEPY Tours participant? A PEPY veteran? Make sure you are addressing them as appropriately as possible. Keys to Successful PEPY Writing
  12. 12. 8) Know The PEPY Writing Standards: -  American not British English -  Single space after a period -  Use a comma before “and” when listing -  Use a comma before “which” -  Make sure to use parallel structure -  Minimize “is” and “get”; use action verbs; avoid a passive voice Keys to Successful PEPY Writing
  13. 13. The PEPY Voice So, you are writing for PEPY... how exciting! How do you know what “voice” to use, when it is ok to use your own style, and what to include in your writing? You know by reading this document!
  14. 14. The PEPY Voice To determine how much flexibility you have with your writing, first determine if you are writing with your own voice, or with PEPY’s. ------------------------- YOUR VOICE: Your own Facebook/Twitter/personal blogging about PEPY, emailing PEPY people in a non-formal capacity YOUR VOICE, BUT WITHIN PEPY-IFIED LINES: Team Journal/newsletter articles which have your name or are written in the first person, emailing PEPY contacts in a work capacity THE PEPY VOICE: Team Journal/newsletter articles which are not in the first person, grants, any PEPY materials for print or presentations
  15. 15. The PEPY Voice YOUR VOICE: Your own Facebook/Twitter/personal blogging about PEPY, emailing PEPY people in a non-formal capacity If you are writing for any of the above reasons, you are free to use your own voice. We still want you and the organization to come across professionally and dedicated to our mission, but your own personal writing style can and should shine through in these pieces.
  16. 16. The PEPY Voice YOUR VOICE, BUT WITHIN PEPY-IFIED LINES: Team Journal/newsletter articles which have your name and are written in the first person, emailing PEPY contacts in a work capacity Perhaps you have been asked to write an article about your recent visit to a PEPY project or a trip you lead... GREAT! You can write this in the first person, but as it is specifically being requested of you, there is likely a specific message that we are looking to get out to our readership. Make sure you find out what that message is before you invest a lot of time in writing. Also, be flexible with editing for this type of article. If you feel like it is losing your personal voice, see if it is possible to remove your name from the by-line.
  17. 17. The PEPY Voice THE PEPY VOICE: Team Journal/newsletter articles which are not in the first person, any PEPY material for print or presentations These pieces will likely be edited, edited, and edited again. Words will be argued over, dictionaries will be consulted, “You don’t know how to punctuate!” might be yelled out in the heat of the moment... and the end result will be a fabulous conglomerate of PEPY voices. When writing a piece like this, please be prepared from the beginning for a long and arduous editing process and make sure to write with passion, sincerity, and professionalism. Thank you for adding yours to the PEPY Voice!
  18. 18. Things I Usually Edit I went through old newsletters I have edited and racked my brain to come up with a list of things I most often edit out of our public material (newsletters, brochures, emails to supporters, etc). These are things that bother me, are important to PEPY branding, or are just incorrect which I wanted to share with you to help keep the PEPY voice consistent, humble, transparent, fun, and honest.
  19. 19. Exaggeration about the state of Cambodia, PEPY’s program, or any other issues We should avoid saying: Cambodians are poor. Cambodians are a happy people. Cambodian’s have great smiles. These are stereotypes, so we can acknowledge them as such, but not propagate them. We could acknowledge the stereotype by saying “Most people believe Cambodians are poor.” or, “As if fulfilling the Cambodian stereotype XXXX seems to always be wearing a smile.” Or, use “in general” before statements which are indeed both a perceived and true generalization: “In general, people in the most rural villages of Chanleas Dai are farmers, many of whom look to Thailand to find ways of making an income after the harvest season.” Things I Usually Edit
  20. 20. Ego UGH. This is the NUMBER ONE worst offense to me in our newsletter or in the works of others. AVOID SAYING HOW GREAT YOU THINK SOMETHING-PEPY IS! Talk about it, but let OTHERS decide for themselves if they think it is great or not. You will see red lines over these words if you write them in a PEPY newsletter article: PEPY’s amazing programs We are so proud of our success Our programs are successfully pulling people out of poverty Things I Usually Edit
  21. 21. Ego What we can say: We are honored to have had the chance to work with XXX partner, or be recognized by XXXX organization for our work – Just like if someone tells YOU you are great, it’s not ok to respond with “Yes, I am, thank you!” We should express why we are honored to have been called so, or, if the compliment was for something we feel is still a work in progress (like Yut would remind us that we each are!), then let’s acknowledge that! Things I Usually Edit
  22. 22. Ego We are proud of Sarakk, PEPY’s Supplemental Program Mananger, for xxxx -- It is ok to complement staff, but not Daniela or PEPY’s top management? Why? Because, for all general purposes, the newsletter and writing of PEPY IS the voice the the management. There is nothing more irritating that opening a website or a newsletter and having the writing be about how awesome the founder or director is, as they are the ones whose voice it is meant to be coming from! (Side note: I interviewed a guy for the Managing Director position whose website for the NGO he had run before said across the top “Created in the vision of founder, Joe Smith…”. I knew he wasn’t going to be hired before he even started speaking!) Things I Usually Edit
  23. 23. Ego So in otherwords, don’t say “Here is a piece written by our (INSERT POSITIVE ADJETIVE HERE) Director, Daniela Papi”. It’s nice that you are trying to be nice to me, but there is no room for brownnosing and no need to say anything other than the title! The xxxx program has had these detailed results this year…. But we know there is still more to be improved, and we are excited about working towards these new goals next year, etc Things I Usually Edit
  24. 24. Things I Usually Edit With each new person we add to our team, PEPY changes slightly, and the dynamic of how we work is adjusted. We think that’s GREAT. We welcome new ideas, look for people who are going to take actions to make improvements, and believe we need to be flexible and open to change. But, there are some things that make PEPY “PEPY”, and those are things that the founding team holds close to their hearts. These things are open to change as well, as needed, but only upon discussion and agreement with the PEPY board and wider PEPY family. These are the things we believe in, and help keep us all working together towards the same goals. In order to help preserve the PEPY Brand, please keep these things in mind:
  25. 25. PEPY Writing Do’s and Don’ts We Don’t Use We Use Why? "our schools", PEPY Schools schools in Chanleas Dai, our partner schools, PEPY partners These are government schools (not “our” schools), and we should use vocabulary that recognizes our partnership
  26. 26. We Don’t Use We Use Why? Not only is "poverty" subjective, it also doesn’t always apply to everyone in the areas we work in. Use more concrete descriptions relating to specific cases. "poor people" disadvantaged communities (at the most extreme vocab choice), rural communities PEPY Writing Do’s and Don’ts
  27. 27. We Don’t Use We Use Why? Most of us are from a "village" somewhere, but wouldn't describe people from our areas as "villagers" "villagers”, “the locals” members of Chanleas Dai community, the people from xxxxx village, etc PEPY Writing Do’s and Don’ts
  28. 28. We Don’t Use We Use Why? No one would want to be the "before" shot in a teenage magazine - or the "poor person" photo. Avoid using any photos which you would not want to put up if it were YOU in the photo. heartbreaking photos of "poor people" honest photos of our work which highlight our programs successes and failures PEPY Writing Do’s and Don’ts
  29. 29. We Don’t Use We Use Why? One of PEPY's hallmarks is fundraising in non- traditional ways. We focus on tours/ engagement. Our biggest criticism & least response came when fundraising via our newsletter rather than engaging. "fundraising" strategies "engagement" strategies PEPY Writing Do’s and Don’ts
  30. 30. We Don’t Use We Use Why? We believe NGOs should admit mistakes & donors shouldn’t be trained to expect constant success. Transparency about process engages donors in a learning process hopefully benefiting the larger NGO community. our egos, excessive praise, constant focus on successes honest appraisals of our successes as well as our failures, humble vocabulary PEPY Writing Do’s and Don’ts
  31. 31. We Don’t Use We Use Why? We don't want to highlight sad stories, especially of children, which could be considered exploiting individuals for fundraising or publicity. It’s not our place to share people’s stories if we don’t have that permission. allow press and visitors to highlight stories of individual students our staff's stories if they want to share, and our overall program information PEPY Writing Do’s and Don’ts
  32. 32. We Shouldn’t We Should Why? We speak a lot about “focusing on impact” so our voice and the topics we choose to speak about should reflect that Focus only on things going on in the office (among English speakers) Have a process from which we connect with the people and programs and make sure our voice is focusing on programs and impact PEPY Social Media/Web Do’s and Don’ts
  33. 33. We Shouldn’t We Should Why? This is our voice. We don’t want people associating PEPY with “young kids” via the vocabulary we choose Use colloquial or potentially offensive vocabulary or statements or slang which might come off as very unprofessional: coolio, dude, rockz Be professional, young, fun, and transparent! PEPY Social Media/Web Do’s and Don’ts
  34. 34. We Shouldn’t We Should Why? Because that is one of the things that makes us US – BE HUMBLE! Talk about how great we are or focus only on successes Talk about our failures and lessons learned PEPY Social Media/Web Do’s and Don’ts
  35. 35. Adventurous Living. Responsible Giving.TM

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