Author Archives: Mandy Chatsworth

Alter the Paradigm: From Writer to Compiler

Ascentive BloggingAs a blogger, you’ve probably been taught that content is king, and that there are three keys to maintaining a successful blog that will eventually start paying dividends: write, write, and write.

But creating meaningful content isn’t just confined to staring at the blank page until your forehead bleeds and summoning up nuggets of wisdom from your imagination. More and more bloggers are discovering the advantages of three different keys to content: research, research, research.

No expert exists in a vacuum, no matter what niche you’ve nestled yourself in. Readers crave more than just your unique take on the world, your expertise, your wisdom, and your humor (though they do indeed crave these things). They want the latest and greatest information about what’s new, what’s happening, and what’s trending. They want a sense of context for what’s going on, a commentator to guide them through the “information overload” and tell them what’s important and what can be ignored. And that’s why research is so essential.

Whether it’s aggregating news articles, incorporating block quotations (properly attributed and linked to, of course), or taking the kernel of a news story and then running with it with your own commentary, being a newshound and sharing your research creates a whole new and valuable kind of content for your readers.

And don’t worry: your voice and your personality will inevitably emerge when you switch from writer to compiler and commentator. Like a painter choosing his paints, part of what makes your content unique and valuable is what you’ve chosen: just ask Matt Drudge or Arianna Huffington. You’re not a link farm: you’re a portal, a commentator using your taste and discretion to pluck the very best of what’s out there and make it make sense to your reader.

This is not to suggest that all or even the majority of your blogs will suddenly become compiled news items or statistical tidbits. But you’re doing yourself a few favors when you incorporate some compiling/aggregation into your blogging routine. First, you’re assuring yourself of good content no matter what kind of writer’s block you’re struggling through. Second, you’re keeping your blog fresh and “with it,” the kind of website that becomes a must-visit destination. And lastly, by including subjects and perspectives that might not be your usual cup of tea, you’re inviting the kind of reader comments and debate that keep a blog vital. Think about it.

What experience have you had with content aggregation? Has it worked for you? Share your thoughts!

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Use the “Wow Gift” to Change Your Customer’s Outlook

There are a few reasons why you want to go out of your way in a customer service environment to “turn around” unsatisfied customers. Remember that only a fraction of your customer base uses conventional customer service. When customers are mad/disappointed/confused enough to contact you and air their grievances, chances are they’re also likely to share their bad experience with others. A customer service truism is that bad news travels much faster and farther than good news. And in a world of permanent chat forums where bad feedback is there—forever—for prospective customers to see, your business needs to be especially alert to disgruntled customers.

Enter the concept of the “Wow Gift.” The Wow Gift is some sort of freebie offered to disgruntled customers that represents your best weapon for turning a mad customer into a glad customer. The secret is in the degree of the freebie. The trick is to offer a gift that significantly outstrips the perceived grievance, to the point the pleasantly surprised customer says, “Wow!”

Offering a gift does several things, the benefits of which FAR outweigh the actual cost to you of the gift. The Wow Gift is: a) a proactive gesture that shows a forward-thinking, engaged service approach; b) a clear acknowledgment of and restitution for your customer’s perceived pain and inconvenience; and c) a way to turn lead into gold, so to speak, and to turn a negative experience not just into a neutral experience, but into a positive one. So instead of complaining to friends, family, or the world, customers will be bragging about you.

What is the Wow Gift? Naturally it depends on your business, what goods or services the customer has purchased, and the severity of the perceived grievance. Here’s a list of freebies to consider:

• Discount on the present purchase
• Discount on a future purchase
• Offering one or more months of subscription-type service at no charge
• Offering free products
• Making the present purchase free of charge
• Adding to the quantity of the present purchase
• Free upgrades of products or services, present or future

Remember, the goal is to overcompensate, to offer a gift that has a “Wow” factor in relation to the customer service issue. By using the Wow Gift, you will completely undermine the customer’s position. In fact, a natural reaction for the customer is a gentle rejection of the gift: “Well, I never expected THAT.” That’s when you know you’ve won the customer over.

Have any other tips for defusing angry situations and getting customers back to your side? Let us know!


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7 Ways to Add Personality to your Nonprofit Thank-You Notes

Ascentive Thank You CardShowing donor appreciation is always a key component of long-term nonprofit health. Just as with any business, nurturing existing relationships creates the potential for “return customers.” Instead of scrounging around for completely new donors, you can begin to rely on an existing donor pool which requires less work (and time, and marketing budget) to meet your donation goals.

By far, the cheapest and most effective form of donor appreciation is the Thank-You Note. Unfortunately, far too often organizations miss an opportunity with this crucial correspondence. With the Thank-You Note, there’s a chance for a deeper and more personal connection, creating the sort of invaluable “customer loyalty” that pays large dividends down the road.

If the most important element of the Thank-You Note is the personal connection, how can you personalize this document? Here are seven simple ways to help forge that connection:

  • Share exactly how the donor’s money is being spent – If donors know specifically what good their money will do and is doing, they are more likely to donate in the future. In this regard, it’s generally a good idea to go light on the statistics, and go heavier on human interest. Donors want to help people, not add to figures.
  • Include photographs of your organization in action – Imagine the donor’s reaction if, instead of the usual form letter, they receive several photographs of the people they have helped?
  • Pair your Thank-You Note with another special Thank-You Note – In special circumstances, your note can be particularly touching if paired with, say, the handwritten thank-you note of a beneficiary, or the actual drawing of a child who has been helped.
  • Actually sign the Note – Sure, it might not be feasible to have your President or VIP physically sign every note, but every note he or she can sign can contribute positively to personal donor connections. People can tell when a signature is real and when it’s digitally applied.
  • Multiply the Thank You’s – For an embarrassment of riches, create Thank You Notes from both your VIP at the top rung of the ladder as well as the volunteer at the low rung. This serves to give your organization added dimension and an additional “face.”
  • Provide lifetime donor totals – For long-time donors, providing a tally of all donations to date does two things. It shows you’re paying attention, and that you’re not just thanking them for their most recent donation, but for their history of giving. Lifetime totals are also often a pleasant surprise for the donor.
  • Add swag – If your marketing budget allows, consider including unexpected items. Anything from buttons to stickers to refrigerator magnets to office supplies to T-shirts show your appreciation in a way that a sheet of paper sometimes can’t do. People love swag!

Hopefully these 7 tips will help you spur some of that essential donor loyalty for your non-profit. On a tangential note, while thank you notes are certainly an inexpensive and effective way to thank donors, it’s not the only way. I’m curious to know what other non-profits do to thank donor’s in new and unique ways. How does your non-profit thank donor’s in ways that are outside of the box?

Please share your answers in the comments or email me at chatsworthm [at]

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5 Brainstorming Techniques for Project Managers

Project ManagementAs we all know, sometimes the solution to a project management problem isn’t obvious. There may be many moving parts: clashes of personalities, supply problems, technology limitations, personnel shortages, or any number of other challenges. That’s why it’s often useful to sit down in a room with key staff members, throw things at the proverbial wall, and see what sticks.

Here are five brainstorming techniques that are specifically useful in a project management environment. They can be used in a meeting of any number of people, and in a variety of industries. The key is structuring the meeting properly, including introducing each technique effectively, and leaving criticism at the door (that is, at least until you actually get down to evaluating the ideas everyone has generated).

Examining Parallels – How have others in your field tackled the same problem you are tackling? What successes did other organizations have, and where did they fall down? The “others” you are examining could be direct competitors, but it also might be a related but distinct industry. This technique is all about emulating success while at the same time learning from others’ mistakes and making corrections. A brainstorm session using this technique might lead to some competitor research, which can then spur new ideas.

The Mind Map – The mind map is analogous to a tree, with a central trunk (the end project goal) branching off into broad and then more specific sub-categories. For example, if your goal is a “successful acquisition,” you might list “information technology,” “personnel,” and “facilities” as sub-topics and then riff into more sub-topics.

Survival of the Fittest – Do some brainstorming in a freeform, “anything goes” style. After an initial round, knock out the least viable ideas and concentrate on the ones most people feel are promising. Then, do a second round of brainstorming, but with ideation triggered by the “survivor” ideas of the first round. With a third and even fourth round, you’ll likely arrive at brainstorming gold.

Devil’s Advocate – Yes, in this method you get to tear down ideas. But it’s actually much more productive than a first glance would tell you. In Devil’s Advocate, you challenge some basic premises of the goal itself. If the project schedule is three weeks, why? Can it be four? If the goal involves the entire company, could it involve just a few departments? These are broad questions, but Devil’s Advocate can get quite specific as to your individual goal. By challenging assumptions, you’ll arrive at new ideas.

Wall Siege – In this technique, you switch from the project goal to the impediments in the way of that goal. Which of the “moving parts” I talked about in the introduction are in the way of a successful project? And how can these obstacles be reduced or eliminated?

Are there any brainstorming techniques we missed that you’ve found particularly helpful in the boardroom? I’m always up for trying new techniques so please share them in the comments!

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5 Strategies for Leveraging Diversity

DiversityWhen the phrase “leveraging diversity” pops up in a boardroom or a leadership seminar, it often conjures up notions like equal opportunity, breaking the glass ceiling, or sensitivity training. But if President Obama's election ushered in a “post-racial America,” the corporate strategy of leveraging diversity can probably use an update that goes beyond merely addressing racial and sexual discrimination. Check out five perspectives on modern diversity, and how your own company's leverage strategies measure up.

Beyond Black and White – Diversity goes beyond race and the kind of EOE decision-making that dominated labor relations from the 1960s on. Diversity also means age diversity, sexual diversity, geographical diversity, linguistic diversity, and cultural diversity that often cuts across (or ignores entirely) racial lines. Diversity leverage is all about bringing different perspectives together to improve organizational efficiency. Race is only one piece of that puzzle.

Beyond Customers – Sure, ultimately it’s all about growing and maintaining your customer base. But you can leverage diversity with respect to suppliers, franchisees, overall work culture, and different levels of your corporate structure, in addition to creating more profound relationships with customers. And naturally, given the realities of globalization, diversity can be leveraged at both the domestic and international levels.

Beyond Political Correctness – Diversity is not simply some sort of “make-nice” gesture or comfortable moral imperative. Diversity can be leveraged to increase the bottom line and provide the kind of high-impact growth that will get everyone engaged from the C-level down. When diversity is a concrete business strategy, and not just a nebulous state of mind or politically correct PR tactic, it provides big-time dividends and gets people excited.

Beyond a Burden – The best organizational diversity strategy is less about red tape or regulatory hindrances, and more about freedom. A company which truly embraces diversity puts talented people where they will function best, and where they can make a difference. Diversity never has to be about slighting one group and favoring another. Proactive diversity leveraging is a “win-win” situation where all perspectives are valued and can thrive.

Beyond the Mission Statement – Diversity is never a “written in stone” mission or empty platitude. Diversity is also about adapting to new challenges, and keeping up with the diversity out there in the world, whether it’s new technology, new markets, or new cultural developments. The world changes, and for successful companies, diversity is a journey, not a destination.

Please share your thoughts on what leveraging diversity means to you and your company.

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