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Alanna

I think blogs that get attention and build community have a strong individual voice. "Institutional"-sounding blogs don't gain passionate follower. If your authentic voice is snarky, use it. That's what will draw people to you and your organization.

Pamela Slim

I think people are very tired of "organizational" voices which, by their nature, water down opinions and try to appeal to a mass audience.

The real question is not individual vs. organizational, but rather which voice is the REAL you? That is the one people want to hear.

Where things can get tricky in a nonprofit is addressing the needs of those you are serving, staff, partner organizations and funders. Not all want the same things.

But if you are clear on your purpose and committed to sharing the very best of who you are and what you have to offer, things will shake out as they need to. Those that don't agree will move on, to be replaced with those who do.

I love "snarky" when it means quick-witted, speaking the truth and funny. I do not like it when it is mean-spirited or intended to humiliate or demean another.

Good luck!

David

It's no different from a conversation you might have with someone in the hallway at a conference, where you're acting in your capacity as executive director. If you would be able to say something sarcastic there -- in an appropriate way -- there's no reason you shouldn't be able to do the same thing on your blog.

Of course, neither is your blogging voice a free pass to be sarcastic all the time -- any more than it's okay for people to say "Oh, I'm mean and nasty, but I can't help it. It's just my personality." (Not that I think you're doing that!)

If you'd say it to colleagues or peers at a conference, as part of an informal conversation, you should feel free to say it on your blog.

Chad

I too have a blog that is turning into a nonprofit, and I think the voice should always be the individual. Why? Because readers are increasingly becoming tired of reading marketing copy, and want to connect with people. Twitter is teaching us this, and companies that alow staff to connect directly with followers are winning (see Dell), and companies that are setting up corporate pages are losing (see CapGemini).

If there is a big donor that won't mesh well with your blogger, setup a lunch with a board member.

Maryann Devine

People want to hear authentic voices, no matter what the vehicle. Since you noted that your nonprofit grew out of your blog, I think it's also important to clearly identify your blog's purpose -- to educate? inspire? advocate? take people behind the scenes? build awareness? How is your blog serving your constituents, and how does the tone of your writing fit into that?

Sarah Chapman

I've just started blogging (for a charity sector organisation) but my background is in journalism. The way I see it, a blog, albeit a corporate one, is like a column in print media. It needs a clearly defined audience and style and substance to appeal to those readers.

Accordingly, if a chatty tone is appropriate to the audience, then I think it gives a blog identity and personality.

Maureen Meyer

Think back to grade school... what's the number one rule in writing? Know your audience, both the current one and the one you are hoping to attract.

casey

As the original blogger and co-director for the On Your Feet Project, this is something I have struggled with as well. Different members of the executive board all contribute to the same blog. On one hand, it's great - we have a number of different voices and personalities that will appeal to a broader audience. On the other hand, we risk losing people's attention if they don't like the blogger of the day.

The other thing we struggled with was the topic of the blog - should it be about being a non-profit, or should it be about something that will attract our target demographic, which is the young professionals who aren't necessarily that passionate about volunteering?

We ended up going with a mix, with more emphasis on events that the potential volunteer may find interesting. Maybe we should be blogging about the hottest new nightclub spots in Boston, but that just feels too far away from our original purpose. Hopefully some of those clubbers will happen upon our blog, be entertained and convinced to try volunteering. I have dreams. :-)

Back to the main point: You may want to consider inviting another blogger on board, at least on occassion - it will show people that there's room for more than just one personality type in the non-profit organization. Unless, of course, there isn't.

Audrie Schaller

Been offline trying to migrate my blog to it's own URL (and all that lovely tech "stuff" that comes with it). But I couldn't resist weighing in on this, since I've had a draft post in reserve on it for a while. So I blogged on the topic on my "old" blog.

I agree that a genuine, non-institutional voice is important. Ultimately, however, it’s what YOU feel is appropriate. Here’s the test I apply:

Realize you can be quoted…not just on another blog but in your professional life.
Are you willing to “live” with what you said?
If a prospective employer, potential donor to your organization, etc. saw what you wrote, how would it reflect on you and your abilities? (If you don’t care, that’s okay too…sometimes we all get passionate about issues).
Be accurate.
Be courteous.
Have an opinion, then back it up.
Before you hit the “publish” button, walk away and come back later. How do you come across to those who don’t know you?

It's a balancing act I deal with every day.

Audrie Schaller

And, as if to make my own point... I used "it's" instead of "its"--at least I'm being "genuine?" (Lesson--never finish a post while family is just getting home and expecting dinner). LOL

Priscilla

There is no "best" way re organisational vs personal voice. The way your organisation talks to its audience depends on the target audience and what you hope to achieve with your blog.

Emily Turner and I are giving a presentation about the two different perspectives and how you can make each of them work for your organisation at the Connecting Up conference in a couple of weeks' time (in Australia) ... I look forward to your words of wisdom afterwards, Beth :)

Beth Kanter

@priscilla - no, I look forward to you and Emily's words of wisdom and hopefully getting my n95 to work from Brisbane and do an interview with you both.

Alex Steed

I certainly agree with the advice about knowing one's audience. Also, I think that typing in a conversational voice is important and in an authoritative voice when tackling subject matter that requires that. A style-guide is definitely something to consider as well.

Jayne Cravens

The comments so far have been *really* terrific. I agree that a blog should sound more personal and chatty than a standard web page. A nonprofit blog can certainly be opinionated, use sassy (but not insulting) language, be provocative, speak from the heart of the writer and offer challenging ideas -- but it always needs to be related, somehow to what it is the organization is trying to achieve. And the words are "forever" -- there's no taking them back once they are out there.

But I do have this word of caution: a nonprofit is a mission-based organization; all of its efforts need to contribute to meeting that mission. That can (and should) limit the content of a blog -- if you are an environmentally-focused organization, it's inappropriate for you to talk about, say, "Desperate Housewives" in the nonprofit blog, unless it's *somehow* related to the nonprofit -- and that can include a humorous way. As someone mentioned earlier, your nonprofit blog needs to have a focus and purpose; it's not just a place for you to rant.

Also, a nonprofit is *not* owned by one-person; even if the founder is the executive director and the only employee, a nonprofit is, officially, owned by its board of directors and, unofficially, by its donors and even its volunteers. A founder who speaks as though he or she *is* the nonprofit risks alienating donors, volunteers and other supporters.

Mark G

I'm having a similar dilemma at my nonprofit. Our leadership wants to use blogs to disseminate information of a more factual and knowledge-sharing nature. I've been trying to educate them on the purpose of blogs, which I believe is that of delivering perspective and opinion. They are also fearful of posting anything that anyone in their broad audience or sponsors may disagree with.

I can't seem to put it in the right words. But there must be a way to convince them that if their main concern is avoiding disagreement, then they are in direct conflict with the very purpose of a blog.

Marie-Claire

It's interesting, I struggle with the same issues. I starting blogging, as a concerned citizen, and just four months later... that collection of rough thoughts and concerns is turning into a nonprofit organization.

There are some really rough posts in there, but from what the (few) readers that I have are saying, they are really liking my genuine voice. It's human, it's real and they are really enjoying seeing it all come through the digital world to the physical. The evolution is strangely fascinating to them. Here's where I write: Digital Inclusion in Grand Rapids, MI Project

Some of the things that I'm concerned about however are potential investors. Will they read my posts and think, 'this person started out as a flake' or will they read it from a human to human point of view?

I hope they see it as that I'm thinking about every aspect of the organization, playing devil's advocate, and that's it's an important artifact of the process.

We'll see right?

Lisa @ Corporate Babysitter

Fantastic feedback!

Katie

I really agree that the key word you used is 'authenticity'. We use that word a lot in our own company as we help non-profits raise money because it's real, it's natural. Readers (and also prospective donors/investors to your organization) can make a personal connection with you, which leads them to involvement in your organization (by participation on your blog, or even financial involvement). Our founder, Tom Suddes, has written a lot about authenticity on our own website. Here's just one article: http://www.forimpact.org/2008/01/the_year_of_authenticity.php

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