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Five things we get wrong when we say hello

16 Aug


This is Part I of a two-part series on introducing yourself.

The easiest thing in the world is saying hello. The toughest thing in the world is saying hello.

I’m not being flippant here. I’m just making the point that the way we introduce ourselves makes the difference between being remembered and being forgotten – or worse, being tuned out.

Picture this. You’re at a conference and bump into hundreds of people every day, many of whom have interesting things to contribute to your work (and we’re not talking just donors.)

How do you say hello, so that the person you’re talking to thinks, ‘This is something I’d like to know more about’?

Before we get talking about what to say and how, let’s look at the five things we often get wrong when we say hello.

  1. Throw out acronyms faster than the speed of sound.

“Hi, I’m from AICCKACKACK, and we work in CBR in MP and UP.”

Of course I’m exaggerating, but no matter how cool we think our acronym sounds, the other person hears “ack-ack” or some sound like that.

We aren’t all blessed with organisations that have names that roll off the tongue. So if we are stuck with a name that’s a tough acronym, let’s remind ourselves – the listener will not hear it. Even if he hears it, he will not remember it. So, how can I make it easier for this person? (Answers in the next blogpost – What to say when you say hello)

  1. Produce a laundry list of every single thing we do.

 “We work in rural development, female empowerment, adult education, pond restoration and sanitation.”

 Listener’s response: Blank. When we cram every single thing we do into the introduction, we ensure that the listener doesn’t remember anything.

  1. Mumble your own name.

I’ve seen this very often in workshops. We seldom think that our names might be difficult on the ear, and that it needs to be enunciated clearly. This is our one chance to get it right. “My name is Bond. James Bond.”

  1. Pack in the development jargon.

“We catalyze communities and create an enabling environment to decentralize at the state level and strengthen endowment of the local government with sufficient autonomy and resources to respond to local needs…”

Uh, what? Jargon drowns out all meaning, leaving the listener with a glazed look on her face.

  1. Make it all about I, me and myself.

This happens when we ignore where the listener is coming from, what her interests are or why he should care. So instead of leading to a dynamic dialogue, our introduction ends up being a monotonous monologue.

In our next post, we look at how to say hello and get it right.

How to write the first draft of the story

15 Aug


We know all too well that feeling of putting pen to paper or sitting poised in front of the keyboard, all set to hammer out this story that moved us so much when, blank!

The perfect first line that we would like for the story will just not form. And because we wait for that elusive first line, the story refuses to take shape from the rubble of our memory.

For people working in not-for-profit organisations, this is a daily battle. Beautiful stories confront us each day. And not all of us are writers – we are doctors, planners, preachers, health experts, educationists, programme experts, data analysts, researchers… it’s an endless list of specialist skills. But in the course of our workday, we see these uplifting stories all around us.

How can we capture that story and tell it with passion, so that somewhere in the office, a fundraiser can use that story to give other people the opportunity to be part of that story? For many small NGOs, there’s no fundraiser out there in the office. We ourselves must find a way to tell the story.

So here are a few tips on how to get the first draft of that story down.

Ray Bradbury, in Zen in the Art of Writing, says:

“Find a character, like yourself, who will want something or not want something, with all his heart. Give him running orders. Shoot him off. Then follow as fast as you can go. The character, in his great love or hate, will rush you through to the end of the story. The zest and gusto of his need… will fire the landscape and raise the temperature of your typewriter thirty degrees.”

In other words, don’t spend too much time thinking about how to tell a story. Recall the rush of emotion that you felt when you saw it, and write it down. Write it in the language of your heart. Write it also in the language in which you think. So if English is not your natural language, write it in Kannada, Tamil, Hindi, Bengali or whatever comes naturally to you. This is critical. Writing the first draft in your own language ensures that you get past the language impediment and tell the story as you would to your friend, your daughter, or your neighbor.

Put yourself in the character’s shoes and tell it like the character lived it.

Here’s a brilliant example from Indra Sinha for the Bhopal Medical Appeal (found on


“Please, I don’t like being a monster!”

Amir who’s eight sadly holds up his hands. His fingers are joined together as if he’s had an accident with a tube of superglue.

‘Who called you such a thing?’

‘A lady in Hamidia Road. She looked at me and said, Ugh! Too many monsters.’

‘Why do you listen? Don’t cry!’ said his mother. …

Amir is one of hundreds born damaged in a certain cluster of neighbourhoods in Bhopal. What all have in common is that they are near Union Carbide’s haunted, derelict factory.” (Story continues; this is an excerpt.)


Once the first draft is done, the next day, you can look at it through the eyes of a stranger (practise doing this) and edit it. Read it out to other people. Get some help. Get it translated into English, if required.

Bradbury continues:

“The history of each story, then, should read almost like a weather report: Hot today, cool tomorrow. This afternoon, burn down the house. Tomorrow, pour cold critical water upon the simmering coals. Time enough to think and cut and rewrite tomorrow. But today – explode – fly apart – disintegrate! The other six or seven drafts are going to be pure torture. So why not enjoy the first draft, in the hope that your joy will seek and find others in the world who, reading your story, will catch fire, too?”

So today, burn down the house. Write down the story exactly as you felt it. There’s plenty of time tomorrow to edit. And who knows, someone sitting far away in an office cubicle might read your story during his lunchtime and will catch fire too?

PS If this post has encouraged you to try and write a story, do send it to us at We will give you feedback on your story, and if you allow it, share it with others on this blog.

No post on Sundays

14 Aug


This is a special post – it’s to tell you that we’re making a special commitment to all of you who have been reading our blogposts. The commitment is this: Starting 15th August (well, we started on the 13th, but Independence Day has a nice symbolic touch to it), we will serve up an original blogpost every day on this blog. Every day, that is, except for Sunday. Because, as Vernon Dursley says, there’s no post on Sundays!

That means 313 posts in a year – minus the 52 Sundays in there. Brand new, original content with tips, how-to’s, thoughts, book reviews, great campaigns, and anything else we come across in the course of our work. This is a huge thing for us to commit to – but we’re taking the plunge. If we miss a day, please feel free to point it out, and we will make it up to you in some special way.

Thanks for being there on this journey: appreciate all the love.

PS In which book of Harry Potter does Vernon Dursley say, “No post on Sundays”? Write your answer in the comments below and we’ll give you a shout-out.

PPS Also, tell us what you think about our new commitment. And if there are any specific topics you’d like us to write about, let us know, and we’d be happy to do a post dedicated to you! Thanks and have a lovely long weekend 🙂 

Change we can believe in

14 Aug

Ever seen those irritating ads for magical reduction of bellies that pop up on the web? How many times have you thought to yourself, “That’s Photoshopped!”?

Why do we think these photos have been digitally altered to tell a lie present a false case? It’s because the transformation is so sudden, so drastic, that it is seems unbelievable. There’s often no change in the subject’s clothes, accessories, hair or even the light that falls across their forehead. Nothing to indicate that the person has been through a journey that took months or years, and not 10 minutes on Photoshop.

Where am I going with this? In the direction of my favourite topic, non-profits and the stories they tell.

All too often, the stories we tell – of change in the lives of people, families and communities – sound too pat sudden to be true. In the first sentence, the protagonist is in the throes of the problem. In the very next sentence, the protagonist’s life has completely transformed.

“Harry was an introverted young wizard who lived in a cupboard under the stairs for years. Now he’s defeated his arch-enemy, married the girl of his dreams and is very wealthy, thanks to an undisclosed source of income.”

There’s only one place where such a construction works: if you’re using it as a teaser to get people to read more, find out more, ask questions, approach the table, and so on. We’ve used this often in posters (another topic for another day.)

In all other places – in our annual reports, brochures, websites, direct mailers – a story needs detail. Lots of detail. Till the reader can see the protagonist, as clearly as if they’d met her.

“How do we know Rani badly wanted to go to school? She’d watch students in their uniforms pass by her home every day. Why wouldn’t her father let her? What was the one thing that led him to changing his mind? How were her first few days at school? What did she like to do best? What did she have the most difficulty with? I heard she dropped out a couple of times. Why did that happen? Who supported her and got her back to school? What are the things she does now that she would never have imagined doing a year ago? How does that make her feel? What do her folks think? What are the things she still finds a challenge?”

Asking such questions gives the story detail. (To know what kind of detail to avoid, read Stop documenting, start communicating.)

Detail helps with a very important story-telling device: Tension.

Tension is what enabled JK Rowling to spin seven books of pure magic and millions of pounds in earnings. Tension is what made kids and adults pre-order the books and then queue up at 5 am on the date of the launch.

Tension is what makes the donor appreciate the challenges that Rani has been through.Tension will help the donor understand that some of this change takes time, and that it’s important to stay the course.

Tension is why your reader donor remembers believes in your story. Because now, they’ve walked the journey with you and with Rani. That’s change they can believe in.

Stop mumbling into the blackboard and look your donor in the eye

13 Aug

imagesRemember the scene in the film, The Mirror Has Two Faces, where Jeff Bridges attempts to teach his class math, but spends the entire class mumbling into the blackboard? After a chat with his wife who tells him to talk “to the audience” instead of to the blackboard, he changes his method, looks his students in the eye, finds examples that make sense to them, cracks a joke or two, and sure enough, the students, for the first time in his class, pay attention.

Non-profits often mumble into the blackboard when talking to donors. So many direct mailers and brochures are written in the third person:

“The Sorcerer’s Stone Society helps individuals live for 300 years and longer.”

It doesn’t quite have the effect that this line has:

“Do you want to live for 300 years or longer? Join the Sorcerer’s Stone Society.”

When we talk about ourselves, but don’t bring the donor in, it’s like a RELATIONSHIP that only has I in it (two, in fact), but no U.

Let’s see how we apply this in real-life situations.

Just yesterday, we sent out an email newsletter to donors of a charity. The main point of the newsletter was to promote a social media campaign where a generous donor had promised to donate a certain amount for every Like, Share or Comment on a Facebook post.

The first email subject line that we wrote focused on the benefit (which is usually a great idea) – real change in the lives of boys in a charity’s hostel.

But then we asked ourselves, what did we want the newsletter to achieve? We wanted people to read it – and then quickly head to the Facebook page and like, share or comment on the post. So a more direct subject line was called for.

The first such header we came up with was:

Like, share and change lives: till Aug 23rd

It still didn’t have the effect of looking the donor in the eye and making the ask. So we changed it to:

Your chance to like, share and change lives: till Aug 23rd

Suddenly, the donor looked up and we talked 🙂

Bringing ‘you’ into the copy works not just in headlines, but in all your writing. If you want your donor to sit up and listen, use the word ‘you’. And watch the relationship grow.

Drowning in a sea of logos?

7 Aug

In our last post, we asked you what you would do if you faced a case of Logorrhea.

I had said that we would get back to you the same week, and it’s been a few months now – my apologies, especially to those of you who cared enough to write in. We were faced with work priorities in which the blog came low on my list. Sorry, and thank you for writing in.

What you said

I’d like to share two of the responses that came in:

Chriselle Bayross writes:

“We faced a similar situation when we were doing a project for the shipping industry. Soon we had so many people we took sponsorship from that giving all logo space became a huge issue. Of course we also had the event logo which was brand new and the new society that was formed for shipping welfare had a new logo too. Case of Logorrhea for sure -Phew!

Faced with the case you’ll mentioned, I think I would design a plate, how they do in TV sponsorship and everyone gets similar leverage on the plate. So all six brand logos get the same size and colour and that becomes what you use, not each individually. Nobody gets to put their banners in either as you would provide info on your partner agencies anyway.”

Shwetha H.S. writes:

“If I were in that situation, I would make the brand logo bigger than other logos. Why? Because if you are building a brand then you need to make its logo more visible than other logos. About including every contributor’s logo in each communication material, a. In the brochure/catalogue: Brand logo at the top of the cover and at any top corner of each page. Other logos next to brief introduction of respective contributors. Or as usual, at the bottom of the cover. b. On banners: At the top middle would be the brand logo just above the name. At the bottom of the banner would be all other logos in a line.”

What we would do

The only logo that would get prominent flex space would be the logo of the project. Since all the partners – the major Indian NGO and the four implementing partners – have come together under the umbrella of the project, they should be willing to promote the identity of the central brand. At the most, we might create a plate, as Christine suggests, with not the logos, but with the names (in text) of the participating organisations, and have that accompany the logo.

Here’s why

If your project logo is buried in a sea of others, you might as well not have it there at all. Putting all six will not build any brand, let alone the one you truly want to build: the main project’s. Putting all logos is the same as putting none. Have you seen a Unilever logo on a packet of Surf Excel? Take a look at the website of another detergent, Tide – do you see P&G’s logo displayed anywhere on the homepage? That’s something to think about.

What about the donor

Donors are at the heart of all our communication. Individual donors, small donors, corporate donors, donors who go out of their normal line of work to give, deserve to be celebrated. I would make sure that donors are thanked many times and in special ways: they become part of the non-profit’s story, share space with us on stage and stand together with us.

If the donor’s logo is a must, do put it in. But keep it in a much smaller size than the project logo, and nowhere near the main project logo.

The donor will understand why you’ve done this. The problem is not with the donor, but with us not wanting to go that extra space to make sure our communication does not merely meet a reporting need, but is effective.


12 May


Here’s a plot idea for an episode of the Samaritans, a mockumentary from Kenya on the development sector.

Scene 1       A project on improved nutrition for infants kicks off in a remote village in India. The project has a large international donor, a major Indian NGO that has been awarded the project, and four organisations working in the village with whom the NGO partners to implement the project.

Each of the names involved has a specific – and large – role to play. The donor brings in the money; the large Indian NGO designs the project; and each of the four organisations on the field brings in a certain specialized knowhow. The project is kicked off with much fanfare and also gets its own brandname (in the local language).

Scene 2        In comes a communications agency, entrusted with designing communications material for the project. “We want to use the brochure to talk to donors about supporting the next phase of the project. Above all, we want to build the brand of the project,” the agency is told.

On every piece of communication, the agency is told, there need to be seven logos. The donor’s, the major Indian NGO’s, the four implementing partners’ and the project brand name. The consortium is firm that every partner who has contributed must have representation – and the representation must be in the form of the logo. Hit by this sudden onset of logorrhea, the agency throws up its hands.

Scene 3                       The consortium decides to design its own material. On the day of a major event, the event banner is unfurled, every foot of the flex taken up by a logo. The project brandname is buried in this sea of logos. Each partner decides to bring their own banner as well, just to make sure that their name doesn’t get missed out. The final photo that graces the cover of the annual report: A child beams up from his bowl of khichri, surrounded by seven banners and an eighth with seven logos and some text that no one can read.


In psychology, logorrhea is a communication disorder, sometimes classified as a mental illness, resulting in excessive wordiness and sometimes incoherent talkativeness (Source: Wikipedia). While that sounds like a general condition afflicting a majority of the communications NGOs put out, we’re using the word to describe this magnificent obsession that NGOs have with logos. Soon, in the game of portioning out credit, we will all stop making sense to the very people to whom we must clearly communicate – our donors.

So, what would you do if you were faced with a case like the one outlined above?

We have a recommended solution (we always do) – but we’d like to hear your thoughts first. Write in with your solution within 48 hours, because the nail-biting climax will be unveiled this Friday. Write in to 

Keep Calm poster from the web, via Creative Roots.


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