SSC Toolbox Social Source Commons Blog

Nonprofit Tech, Tools and Social Media

A program of Aspiration 

Matt’s Tools for Putting Together an HTML Email Newsletter

By Matt on April 18, 2012
Email Newsletter

Continuing the email newsletter support that started with Why HTML Email Newsletter Editors Suck, I put together a toolbox on Social Source Commons of tools that I use at Aspiration to create our HTML email newsletters.

The Custom Description Text of each tool tells you a little bit about why I use the tool and why you should care. Check ’em out below!

What tools do you use to stay on top of HTML email newsletters?

Why HTML Email Newsletter Editors Suck

By Matt on April 5, 2012

One of the biggest complaints we get from nonprofits as they mature in their online communications is that creating properly-functioning formatted (i.e. HTML) emails in their email blaster is a pain in the @$$. The trouble is that having regular email blasts as an organization is seen as a baseline measure of organizational online competancy after having a web site. So it’s important to at least know what’s going on and what’s going wrong when you’re sending out your email blasts.


When you’re putting together an email in your email blaster with images, links and formatting, you’re really writing a piece of HTML code (*gasps*).

Editors in blasters like VerticalResponse or MailChimp use what are known as “WYSIWYG” (What You See Is What You Get) editors so that instead of having to know how to code something to, say, look bold in HTML, they can just highlight some text and click a bold button. Anytime you see buttons like “bold” “italic” “left align” font size, etc. like you would in Microsoft Word or Open Office, you’re most likely using a WYSIWYG editor. So why is this even an issue to bring up?

WYSIWYG Screenshot


The long and the short of it is that WYSIWYG editors almost universally suck. And the problem is that, unless you know how to code HTML, you’re stuck with them to build your HTML email. Let’s take a look at why WYSIWYGs by nature are problematic and give you some tips around how to work with them so that you’re not pulling out your hair.

Many Ways to Do the Same Thing in HTML

The first thing to know about HTML is that there are many ways to do the same thing. For instance, let’s say that I want to add space around an image so that the text isn’t butting right up against it. In HTML, I could increase the “margin” around the image OR
Increase the margin around the text OR add some non-breaking spaces OR put it in a table and increase the “cellspacing” OR a whole host of other things to give that image some breathing room from the text. When I’m using a WYSIWYG editor, though, all I see is space between the image and the text. It has to guess which technique I want to use.

Issues with margin

This can cause problems down the line.

For example, in the WYSIWYG, I’m just visually separating the image from the text probably with my mouse.

The WYSIWYG interprets this as adding margin around the text.

Later, let’s say I decide I don’t need that image after all. I delete it.

Because the WYSIWYG added margin around the text rather than the image, the margin stays because the text is still there and now the edge of my text has extra white space and doesn’t line up with my other text.

Argh. Because WYSIWIG editors have to guess which of many HTML techniques you want, your email suffers.

Formatting Invisible Containers

Another basic point to understand about HTML is that it is a language built of containers. In HTML, you define containers and put containers inside other containers. Like tupperware, HTML containers (ideally) fit nicely into one another.

Most of the time, these containers aren’t visible when a browser or email client is displaying the email. The contents of the containers are visible.

In code, to make the contents of the container look a certain way (font size, family and color), you format the container. The problem with this is that when you’re using a WYSIWYG, all you see is the contents because the containers are usually invisible. So if you select some text and click the “bold” button, the WYSIWYG has to guess which container you’re trying to format.


HTML Containers


Because WYSIWYGs don’t show the containers that are being formatted only the contents, deleting content in WYSIWYGs, many times, leaves HTML “crumbs” behind. In other words, deleting content in WYSIWYG editors many times leaves empty, previously-used containers that may be formatted a certain way. With all of these invisible, empty, formatted containers lying around your email template, it’s only a matter of time until you place content into one of them without knowing and the format of your text is completely different.

Because of this reality, it’s important to use a fresh, empty template every time you send an email instead of taking a previously-sent email, deleting its contents and inputting new content. Templates provided with email programs are specifically designed to work with that particular program’s editor and quirks. So remember that when you upload or input a new branded template that you have created outside the program, it may not work as well as the templates that the email blaster automatically provides.

Common HTML Email Editor Problems:

Let’s look at some other common problems that people encounter when working in an WYSIWYG editor and why they’re happening:

  • Tables and bulleted lists (sometimes known as “unordered lists” or UL) automatically changing the font family and font size

    This is because when you insert a table or bulleted list, you’re actually creating a new container. Depending on your editor, these containers may have specific formatting that is different from the rest of your email.

  • Small images take forever to load when someone looks at the email

    When you upload a large photo (think high-res photos from a digital camera) and then resize them in the WYSIWYG, the email will actually load the big picture (and its huge size) inside the smaller frame that you set for it when someone looks at it. Best practice (and courtesy to your constituents) is to resize photos and images before uploading them into your email blaster.

  • Copying from Microsoft Word or “Rich text”

    Whenever you’re working in code, whether it’s HTML or CSS or whatever, you don’t want to be copying from Microsoft Word or any other “Rich Text” editor. “Rich Text” as opposed to “Plain Text”. Rich Text allows you to format your text (bold, left align, font family) while Plain Text is just text. The extension for plain text files is .txt while Rich Text is .rtf and Microsoft Word is .doc.

    Any text editor that allows you to format text will insert its own invisible code around the text so that the computer knows that it should show it a certain way. When you copy this extra code and paste it into your HTML email editor, it can cause a slew of errors because the editor is expecting only HTML code not rich text or Microsoft Word code. Plain text doesn’t have any of this extra code. It’s simply text. Nothing more.

    Before you copy any text into your HTML editor, make sure you first paste it into a plain text editor and see if there’s any extra invisible code floating around. A plain text editor will only show text so you’ll immediately see anything that isn’t the text of your email. Remember that even if the code looks unformatted, it might still have rich text or Microsoft Word formatting code around it.

  • Weird codes like “ show up where there’s supposed to be a character

    Smart Quotes are Bad for HTML

    Sometimes Rich Text or Microsoft Word will change certain characters to look more fancy. The most common two examples are quotation marks and ampersands. Some rich text editors will automatically change quotation marks to what are called “smart quotes”. Smart quotes curve depending on whether they are to the left or right of the text. These “smart quotes” replace the plain text ” with a bit of code to make them “smart” so that when you paste the code into HTML, they get pasted as a string of code instead of a quotation mark. This is a big deal because quotation marks are a critical piece of HTML code so that if they are switching to “smart” mode because of your editor, a whole host of things can go to hell because of it.

  • My editor says my file is too big!

    Sometimes you may try to send your email and your editor says that your email file size is much too large. This can be caused by many things but one thing that happens often is that an email created in a WYSIWYG editor creates a new container for every new type of formatting. In regular non-WYSIWYG HTML editing, you can apply multiple formats to a single container.

    For instance, if you wanted to make a paragraph have orange, bolded, underlined and italic text that was 20pt in size you would format the paragraph container orange, bold, underline, italic and 20pt font. In WYSIWYGs, many times instead of formatting the same container in multiple ways, it creates a new container for each format. So in our orange text example, it would make a new container around the paragraph and style the new container with underline text and then enclose that container in another container and style it with orange text and then another enclosing those two styled as bold and so on. All this extra, unnecessary code means the file size of your email increases and looks more and more like spam or a virus.
    Code Bloat

Things you can’t do in email because it looks like viruses

  • Embed videos

    Alternative: have a screenshot linked to the video page

  • Embed surveys

    Alternative: Link to the survey with a screenshot

  • Flash animations

    Alternative: Create an animated GIF


  • Use a plain text editor (Notepad in Windows, TextEdit in Mac (make sure in the preferences that you’re editing in TXT and NOT RTF)
  • Use a fresh template for every new email. Don’t copy a previously-sent email and delete its contents.
  • Resize your images before you upload them

What are your experiences using WYSIWYGs for HTML Emails?


Tips to Manage Your Online Identity Through Your Gmail Account

By jessica on February 1, 2012

Tucker filters junkmail

As an Americorps VISTA, I am forbidden from taking a second job while serving my year here with Aspiration. In an effort to possibly win some money or other free things, I have found myself registering with a few online survey companies. Understanding that their legitimacy and security may not be utmost and weary of the spam that I have to deal with – I’m pleased that I know a few tricks to adjust my Gmail address to better manage my online identity. Let’s check out a couple to tricks that you can use to manage your own email intake.

Using “+” in a Gmail address

In your Gmail address, you can insert a “+” after your username and then add any words or numbers between your username and the “@” to create alternate email addresses that are still delivered to your inbox. Whatever you add between the “+” and the “@” is ignored by Gmail and all mail will still be delivered to your account inbox. =
For example:

When I sign up for Aspiration’s eNewsletter, I give them my email address that looks like this:

“Aspirationtech” is ignored by gmail, because it is between the “+” and the “@” and the eNewsletter is delivered to However, in the inbox, you’ll be able to see that it was sent to

There are many different ways that one could use this trick:

  • Create multiple accounts with services that require you to have a unique address.
  • Set up filters, using the “To” line as a qualifier so that messages from services you sign up for don’t clutter your inbox (e.g. Set up a filter for all emails that were sent to to be labeled “Aspiration”)
  • Know what sites are passing your email address along to others. (e.g. If you get prescription drug spam being sent to, you’ll know somebody sold your email address)

Using “.” in a Gmail address

Another trick that Gmail users and their friends may not be aware of is that Gmail does not recognize “.” as a character within a username. So, adding, moving or removing a “.” from a Gmail address won’t change the actual destination address. = a.j.s.a.m.p.l.e.@gmail.comYou can use this trick in many of the same ways as the “+” sign.

This is also good for people who are emailing Gmail addresses to remember: Can’t remember where to put the “.” in your friend AJ’s email address? Good news! It doesn’t matter! = = =

However, if you are part of an organization that uses Google for their domain, this will not work for those email addresses.

Here are a few other posts that can help you manage your online identity:

Do you have any tips or tricks for managing your online identity?


Managing Multiple People Doing Online Communications

By Matt on January 13, 2012

Social networks were not invented for ease of organizational use. Individual accounts… Attached to personal networks… New Year’s Photos seen by all… Cats and Dogs LIVING TOGETHER. Many a sticky situation has arisen from the organization using tools designed for individuals to try to get actual work done. Then trying to add a couple more people into that mix to have multiple online communicators at a single organization? Gag me with your preferred food intake device. Managing more than one person speaking for the organization can be pretty tricky in this distributed online identity world we live in. However, there are some things an organization can do to start getting organized. Let’s check ’em out.

Have a Point Person and Regular Meetings

Point Person

However your organization slices up its communications pie, it’s important and many times necessary to have someone overseeing Communications as a whole. Usually this is a Communications Manager but it could be an Executive Director or anyone else who can be the final word. This point person acts as the gatherer, the organizer, the tie-breaker and the straightener-outer (it’s a word, I swear). Having someone whose responsibility it is to make final decisions and keep different communications streams going smoothly is essential for having a functioning communications team.

In addition to having a point person, it is also important to set up a regular check in for those people who are communicating for the organization. If there are many messages going out, a weekly meeting to check in about communications for the coming week is a great way to get everyone on the same page, update shared documents and untangle any snags before they happen in realtime. If weekly doesn’t make sense at your organization, find some timeframe (and keep it regular) to check in with all communicators. It not only acts as an organizer for your communications but also gives communicators a resource in the form of bouncing ideas off each other and receiving support and encouragement.

Have a Shared Message Calendar

An important part to any communications plan is a calendar to make sure everyone is aware when and how much content is being pushed out to whom. With multiple communicators and streams, the name of the game is “Avoiding Spamming your Constituents”. Following a message calendar and tracking your email statistics (e.g. open rates, unsubscribe rates) can help you prevent this from occurring. A message calendar can also serve as a place to plot out communications for different programs and people so everyone is on the same page in terms of who is pushing out the content for what.

For more information about putting together a message calendar, including a couple templates to get your started, check out:

Have an Agreed-Upon Publishing Matrix

Publishing Matrix

Publishing Matrices can be an effective way to have a skeleton communications plan at your organization. The simple grid dictates to what communications channels different messages go. For instance, when there is a new blog post, do you tweet it? Post it on Facebook? Call up your members on the phone and tell them to read it? What is in bounds for each type of content that you’re trying to push out? Agreeing upon these standard procedures can give multiple communicators more freedom in the content that they need to push out to their individual communities.

For more information about setting up a Publishing Matrix check out:

Have an Organizational Online Communications Policy

Agreed-Upon Plan

What is in-bounds and what is out of bounds for the content of the communications at your organization? Do your fellow staff know? Do you know? Having agreed-upon standards for what your organization comments on, the language that is ok to use and the process to get it done is essential to have a fully functional communications team at your organization.

Consider Scheduling Content to Post Automatically

Many communications tools like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, VerticalResponse and WordPress allow you to set up content to go out automatically in the future. This can be useful if you’re working with another person on content. Communicators, at their weekly meeting, can agree on content AND publish dates while everyone is present. These messages can be added to the message calendar and then set up to go out automatically thereby getting group buy-in for communications.

Consider Multiple Accounts

Multiple Accounts

For most small nonprofits, having one Facebook page is enough of a committment. Building up a community, engaging allies in conversation and providing collaborative space can take time. The thought of doubling that committment to have two Facebook pages? Yikes. Bite off only as much as you can chew. Start with one social media account, work with it a while and see how it goes. If your organization has got that account down pat, think about adding another if there is an organic reason to (e.g. a separate community within the work that you do, a specific news stream that isn’t relevant to your general audience, etc.) AND if you have staff capacity to do so. Hopefully, if and when you do decide that you want to have more than one Twitter or Facebook account, you will have the other tips above in place (e.g. regular comms mtg, shared strategy docs) so the account addition is logical and makes sense for the organization.

If you do have multiple accounts here are some general tips in addition to those above:

  • Some orgs find it useful to “sign” their posts so people know which communicator is posting. One convention (on Twitter) is to use a karat with your initials:

    Check out this new article from @aspirationtech: ^MG

  • Use the main organizational account to repost content from the the other accounts. For example, selectively retweet tweets from program-specific Twitter accounts through the main org account to highlight the different programs and issue areas.

To wrap up, remember a few things as you embark on your merry multiple-communicators strategy at your organization:

  • Share documents
  • Check-in regularly
  • Have a point person for communications as a whole
  • Take small steps

What are your tips for managing communicators at your org?


Using Closed vs. Open Web Site Tools as a Nonprofit

By Matt on December 2, 2011

Recently, we had a conversation with an organization who was getting pressure to use a closed tool called Jimdo rather than the open-source tool, WordPress for their web site. Jimdo seemed easier and quicker and they wanted to know what we thought about it. Here’s a couple points that we brought up with them:

  • Using solutions like Jimdo, they basically control your destiny:
    • Your data is on their servers, meaning they “host” your web site.
    • Your online identity routes through their domain name, meaning your domain will be something like unless you pay for JimdoPro or a Business plan which still leaves your data in their control
    • You can only use the features they choose and extend the platform in ways they enable.
  • Using a solution like WordPress, you have more control of your data (your actual asset)
    • WordPress is freely installable on your own server or any host you choose, meaning that you can choose where your data (web site) lives.
    • You can route your online identity through any domain registrar you choose, meaning you can choose with whom you register your domain (
    • Because WordPress is open source, it is being improved by a large network of contributors, meaning anyone can take WordPress, improve it, add onto it, create themes, plugins, additional functionality, resources, etc.

    The gains in ease of use have been dramatic over the past few years, and we believe that they will continue.

  • is a solid and simple alternative to Jimdo. I’m sure it is not as plug-and-play, but I liken it to eating well. Jimdo is fast food, tasty and easy now, but not healthy in the long run. WordPress is healthy food – less sexy, and more attention and work to use/consume, but much healthier and beneficial in the long term.

In short, we recommend things like WordPress because we recommend modeling for success and long-term sustainability.

While solutions like Jimdo (and there are many) enable short-term success through ease-of-use and good features, they are not suitable vehicles for long-term publishing strategies. They are technological cul-de-sac’s that we actively encourage people not to drive down, unless you don’t mind abandoning your vehicle parked there at the end.

Remember BEFORE committing to ANY technology or tool, it is critical to examine what the “divorce strategy” would be for that particular tool. In other words, if it turns out that the tool is horrible after you’ve already input data and invested time, how will you get your data out? What options are available so that you retain control of your data?

What do you see as the value in using open source tools rather than closed tools?

Engaging Network Hubs

By Matt on October 28, 2011

One of the best ways to take advantage of social networks is to realize that they work just like in-person social networks. Well. Maybe not JUST like in-person social networks. There isn’t much handshaking going on, but the underlying strategies and mutual back-scratching of in-person relationships and network-building are still there.


One tactic to broaden your organizational reach that becomes infinitely easier in the world of social media is this concept of engaging “network hubs”. What is a “network hub”, you ask? A network hub, in this case, is a person or organization that routes information and social connections around a topic.

Learn From the Frog

For instance, Kermit the frog would be a network hub for Muppets. He has many connections in the Muppet world, some would say even leads them and is one himself. You can imagine if he had a social media presence, he would post about muppet-related news, his love of pigs and the trials and tribulations of being green. He would follow other muppets and share the news that they are pushing out as well. Kermit would then be a point in the Muppet network where people could find reliable Muppet news, discover new people to follow from his posts and expand their networks.

The trick to broadening your reach in social media and strengthening your network (thereby being able to leverage that community to reach your goals for social media) is engaging these hubs. In other words, being more effective in online community spaces means building relationships with these hubs to take advantage of their status and networks for the work that you are trying to get done.

Network hubs that know you as part of their community are more likely to engage in your community and help you spread your message. Because of their connections and social clout, your messages will then be shared with a new network who may have no idea who you are but have the informal backing of someone they trust as a source for valuable information in that topic-space. But “engaging network hubs” is easier said than done. Just like in-person relationships, online relationships have to be built. Introductions are made…conversations are had…mutual respect is established… In short, a connection is made.

Be a Real, Conversing Human Being

The point of social media is to be social. Engage network hubs in the conversations they are trying to have. Be a valuable contributor to the conversation. Be a contributor with your own voice, views and questions. Because online connections work similarly to in-person connections, there is some general advice you can follow to be a good network connection.

  • Add valuable content or ask real questions. Don’t just say “Great post!” to get on their radar. No one likes to be patronized or pandered to.
  • Expand on their topics with posts of your own, linking back to theirs. Show the topic from your point of view or how you disagree or agree with their point.
  • Forward their content to your network
  • Link to their content when it’s relevant
  • Focus on personal interaction with the person. Try starting with an email asking to get their views on a particular topic you’ve been struggling with.
  • Be a genuinely, not annoying, person who wants to talk

Tips on Engaging Hubs on Different Channels

These connection engagements look different depending on the channel you’re using to communicate:



  • Start by following them
  • Retweet their posts
  • Mention or “CC” them on tweets that you want their input on (but only when you have some repore with the person you’re “CC”ing. Otherwise you’ll look like Twitter spam)




Google Plus

Google Plus

  • Comment on their posts
  • Join their hang outs if they are open to the public
  • Add them to one of your circles

In short, engaging network hubs is all about treating them like a real person. Don’t be annoying. Try to help them out with what they’re doing and finally, talk to them. Like people. Expanding your personal network through social media is a great way to extend the reach of your message and meet some great people along the way.

How do you engage network hubs online?

Breakups are Hard: Departing Staff and Tech Security

By jessica on October 6, 2011
Admin Cat

Photo courtesy of zebedee.zebedee

Ending any relationship is hard. Creating a standard set of processes can ease the pain of the schism. When a marriage ends, there are legal filings, transfer and division of property and the surrendering of keys and changing of locks to ensure security. When an employee leaves your organization, similar processes should also take place. A two week notice is filed, position-specific information is passed on and access to the office and organizational accounts are surrendered to ensure security.

At least in theory…

Temptation: Organizational Data for the Taking

Recently, I left another job at a nonprofit organization to start a position doing great work with Aspiration. Like the most sought-after break-up, the split was amicable and we remain friends. So, when I noticed, a week after leaving, that I still had access to my former email through Google, I was concerned, but not alarmed, “They are busy, someone will get to it,” I thought. Then, when I noticed that two new employees’ email messages were showing up in that email’s inbox, I became a bit more alarmed. Although the ability to spy on my replacement was intriguing, it was not good for my sanity and violated the privacy and security of my former employer. But the fact was that I could.

Big ol’ Red Flag

In an effort to alleviate any ill feelings should they find out that I had access to all this information, I put on my Aspiration hat (not my halo) and emailed the office manager to let her know about the problem. I sent this link to the Google apps help forum that offered one possible way to remove my user access. She thanked me for the heads up, said it would be taken care of right away and threatened to de-friend me should we not meet for lunch whenever I’m in town. It was completely painless and I was relieved to find later that night that I could no longer access my former email.

Making Sure Your Organization’s Data is in the Safe Zone

It’s important for organizations to have a well-defined user-tech separation process when changing staff. Changing passwords, revoking access, forwarding email addresses… These are all best practices to ensure that your organization is in the safe zone. With tools like Google, this process becomes an even stickier situation because the line between personal accounts and professional accounts is so fuzzy. Having your professional account tied to your personal Google account can streamline many work processes when you work at an organization. But when you stop working there? That convenience blurs the line between personal and organizational assets and adds another layer of ties that need to be cut when an employee departs. If you are not careful, you may find yourself searching Google apps help forum for this, “Disgruntled former employee hijacked account, deleted email, docs, calendar, can’t re-create…

To avoid this horrible fate, try, as much as possible, to keep organizational assets (this includes accounts, access and most importantly DATA) as organizational assets. The best way to do this is by being prepared. Here are some tips to safeguard your organization:

  • Have forwarders for outside accounts. When an employee leaves, delete their forwarder.
  • Change passwords on a regular basis. Depending on your organization, anything from quarterly to monthly to even weekly may be feasible. Make sure that part of your “Losing an Employee” workflow is changing the passwords. For more tips on passwords, check out How Do You Manage Your Passwords?
  • Limit, as much as possible organizational accounts and access being attached to personal accounts and access (e.g. Do not use personal email addresses for work purposes.)
  • Lastly, take a second, open up a text editor and draft a plan about how to sever online ties to former employees once they move on. Every organization has different fingers reaching in different places online. Make sure your plan addresses the specific characteristics of your organization.

What does your staff-tech divorce procedure look like?

What ways do you ensure organizational security and ownership online?

A Template for Calendaring Your Messaging

By Matt on September 30, 2011

One of the best practices often overlooked by many “I’m spinning too many plates on long skinny poles” nonprofits is calendaring out the messaging your organization is going to send ahead of time. Akin to flossing, calendaring your messaging ahead of time is something that organizations think that they should do but don’t see the benefit on a day-to-day level to actually start doing it. Why is it a “best practice”, you ask? Well, let’s take a sec and check out some of the benefits!

Message Calendaring and You

Keeping a message calendar allows you to…

  • keep a consistent presence in your contacts’ inboxes (you don’t want to appear once a year).
  • make sure you aren’t spamming your contacts (you don’t want to appear once a day)
  • manage messaging for multiple programs
  • ensure that programs and campaigns are messaged and not forgotten
  • construct a single email with multiple people providing content
  • plan a “narrative arc” for your campaigns

    • A new law is on the ballot and it’s horrible! Sign our petition!
    • Look at all these signatures we’ve received! Help us email our lawmakers!
    • The vote is tomorrow! Come and show your opposition!
    • We won! The law didn’t pass! Help us continue this important work by donating!

Consequently, calendaring your messaging, especially as an organization with multiple people, gives your online communications a structure and (God-forbid) a process in which to have believable, effective messaging as you use email (or whatever other tool) for your organization’s work to save the world.


A Template for Calendaring Your Messaging?

Well, here’s the issue. Traditional calendars in their monthly display aren’t the best for tracking any of the things in my unordered list up there. Emails and communications efforts are thrown into disparate days without any way to examine them in a systematic way. As a result, I’ve been trying to put together a simple, DIY template that anyone can use to track their messaging across time. Let’s check it out, shall we?

Below is the basic component of my messaging calendar template.

  • Across the top, going horizontal, is simply the continuous listing of upcoming months. I gave each month four columns corresponding to four weeks (thinking that at our organization the most we will send in terms of emails is one per week and even that is heavy for us).

    Underneath the running months is an “Important Dates” line where you can mark out important campaign, fundraising and programmatic dates through-out the year as check points and touchstones from which to build out message arcs.

  • On the left side of the template are different rows that correspond to different areas of our email blast template. The idea here is that you can plan out your message placement in the actual email itself through the message calendar. Whether your communications person is filling in all the rows or multiple people are contributing, the message calendar can act as the shared document to get multiple content pieces organized.

For each email that I’m planning, I first find the week that I want to send it, then start filling in cells in that week’s column based on the content I want in each template area. Notice that I put the actual send date of the email in the “Important Dates” row.

Hover over the image to see it filled in with example content (click for a larger version). If you’re reading this post in an RSS reader, you may have to click through to the actual site.

The above example is a simple message calendar. I have email content assigned to weeks in January and areas inside the email. I can see when other emails are coming up and space them out accordingly. As a result, we can track our messaging across time.

Additional Elements to Track

We can also add elements to help us keep track of other information with the message calendar (after all, it’s just a spreadsheet).

Programs and Campaigns

One additional area we can add is a Program and Campaign section. This will help us keep track of which programs and campaigns the emails are updating our audience on. When an email mentions a specific program area or campaign we mark it in the Program and Campaign section.

Hover over the image to see it filled in with example content (click for a larger version).

Together, a message calendar tracking content in the email template as well as programs and campaigns might look like the example below. Notice that each email has areas marked in the Programs and Campaigns section to note what subjects that email covered. This way, we can always see how we are messaging around a specific program or campaign throughout the year by looking at that specific program’s message calendar row.

Template Totally Filled


Another addition that we can add is a Statistics section to track metrics surrounding our email campaigns over time. This way we can keep track of what email content is engaging our audience to open and click and what content is being ignored. In other words, we can start tracking our measurable communications goals and see if we’re actually succeeding.

Stats Template Filled

Other Communications Channels

Another change to consider is if your messaging is not “email centric” and you’d rather see other channels tracked on your calendar. In this example, we have Social Media channels over time rather than sections of the email template:

Hover over the image to see it filled in with example content (click for a larger version).

An alternative to this is to use a simple message calendar for calendaring out your email and, in conjunction, using a Publishing Matrix to coordinate that messaging with your other communications channels.

Exhale. Your Turn!

Calendaring your messaging is a great way to get more organized about your organizational communications as well as be intentional about your appearance in people’s inboxes (no one likes spam.). Whether your goal is to improve the narrative arcs around your campaigns or keep track of messaging from multiple departments, having a document to keep track can save you frustration and time while allowing you to track progress to your goals.

Looking at time as a line like in our message calendar template (vs. in a traditional calendar) allows you to track individual programs, multiple messaging arcs and statistics much easier. If you’re thinking that you might try out our message calendar template, you can download it here (XLS file).

Does this template seem like something that would be useful for your work? What would you change?

How do you calendar your messaging?

Are Your Emails Skim? Or 2%?

By Matt on September 16, 2011

The first rule of email messaging as an organization is that no one reads emails. People skim emails. Making your email blasts as skimmable as possible is the best way to get your point across to the people you are trying to reach.

When it comes to email newsletters, skimmability becomes even more necessary as your Executive Director adds 8 new content pieces each with a dire “ask” for your poor, weary, sleep-deprived, email-inundated readers. (I can add more adjectives if you’d like)

A few standard tips go an incredibly long way to make your newsletter more skimmer-friendly.

  • Headers

    Who doesn’t like larger, bolder text? Lame-Os, that’s who. Headers, whether using the official HTML tag or not, are a great way to break up a large amount of text. Usually bold and a larger font size, they pop out and summarize the section underneath. Readers can pick up the main ideas of the content quickly and easily by skimming the headers. As icing on the cake, search engines like Google put extra emphasis on terms used in HTML headers, so if you’re archiving your emails on your website there’s extra incentive to use them. #winning for everyone.

  •

    Read More Links

    At Aspiration, we always emphasize having a measurable goal when using communications tools in order to track your progress (and determine whether or not the tools are worth your time and resources). Well, if one of your measurable goals is to drive more traffic back to your web site through your emails, a “Read More…” link (include elipses according to taste) kills two birds with one stone. Writing a shorter content piece in the email makes your email shorter and more skimmable while the Read More link redirects interested readers to your web site to read the full piece. People who don’t care don’t have as long to scroll through and people who do care go to your web site, get the information they’re looking for all the while driving up your web site traffic.

  • Side-Bar Pull-Outs

    Side Bar-ing

    One way to make your emails much more “to the point”, is to pull out the essential information along with the “ask” into a sidebar. The sidebar consolidates the necessities ideally with bright colors and buttons near the top of the email. For the uber-ADD, they can open your email, see the bright shiny buttons with a simple ask, click, contribute and be on their way. No unnecessary reading necessary. This also keeps the must-have information of the email above the “fold” or the area of the email immediately visible without scrolling down. This golden zone is the sweet spot of people with no attention span (i.e. email readers).

  • Table of Contents

    Table of Contents

    Even if your email is chock full of Headers, Read More links and cute buttons pulled out in the sidebar, it might still be hella long. Let’s face it, there is a lot to tell your email readers and they need to know NOW. The best way to class us your email newsletter and take it to the next level is to include a table of contents. Usually, in your email program this is done by inserting an “anchor” in front of the text of each Header throughout your email. Then, create a link at the top of your email to the corresponding anchor. If you’re an HTML geek like me, it would look something like this:

    <h1>Table of Contents</h1>
    <a href=”#chicken”>Great Chicken Recipes</a>
    <a name=”chicken”></a>Great Chicken Recipes

    Table of Contentseses tell your reader everything that is in your newsletter without telling your reader everything. They also make navigating through the email much easier and give your email essential information in that golden “fold” zone. Friends don’t let friends build email newsletters without Table of Contents…

Happy Emailing!

When doing any kind of organizational email blasting, it can be a big job with what seems to be a little payoff. I hope that these tips for making your email more accessible and user-friendly will help you work toward your measurable goals around using email for your organization.

::Thumbs Up::

Are You a Twitter Spammer?

By Matt on September 7, 2011
Barrage of @s

Recently one of the organizations that we work with had their account suspended on Twitter. The situation looked something like this. The organization started tweeting about a video/petition. No biggie, right? Well, they started to tweet at people (putting the @username at the beginning of the tweet). A lot. And not just anyone. Celebrities, big names, people with large follower counts…

Bam. Account: Suspended

Twitter can’t monitor the content of individual tweets and therefore they can’t tell if accounts are pushing out petitions and happy things or evil viruses and sad things. This means that accounts that are acting like spammers but pushing out good stuff are still spammers.

Twitter says that they “usually suspend accounts posting multiple unsolicited @replies that contain the same links.” For a complete list of posting activity that will get you labeled as Spam or Abusive, check out this link:

The Twitter Rules

Too late? Here’s a help article explaining how to appeal a suspension:

My Account’s Been Suspended

Remember that in the world of the internet, spam can simply mean you’re bothering someone. Make sure that you focus on value to your Twitter followers and remember that it’s a give a take relationship. No one likes a moocher…

Are YOU a Twitter Spammer? ::Law & Order Music::

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