My Formatting Checklist for Self-Publishing Your Book

I’m in the middle of formatting two books for self-publishing – one for a client and one for myself. I thought I would share my formatting checklist while it’s fresh in mind. It’s the details that can make the difference between a “published” book and a professional-looking book.

I have a long history of self-publishing experience, and I am particular about how things are done. It’s possible to take shortcuts, but I don’t recommend it. Creating a book is a lot of work. Don’t drop the ball when it comes to the final stages of formatting your book. You deserve the best!

The following checklist is my minimum to create the quality book I desire. Fortunately, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing has made this much easier and more affordable than when I first started out 15 years ago.

1. Title Page

Be sure your book begins with a Title Page, which contains simply your title, sub-title (if any), and author name, all centered in the page and spaced appropriately. Just list your name. Do not use “By” (on your Title Page or on your book cover), as that will be the first sign of an amateur publication. Your Title Page should be a right-facing page, i.e., on the right side if the book were open.

2. Copyright Page 

The Copyright Page is the very next page, which would be a left-facing page on the reverse side of your Title Page. Space all the way to the bottom of the page and include your copyright text. Center your text. I keep mine very simple:

Copyright © 2018 Janet Lynn Eriksson

All rights reserved.

[Scripture copyright info, if relevant]

ISBN: xxxxxxxxxx

ISBN-13: xxx-xxxxxxxxxx

Unless you want to be your own publisher and purchase your own series of ISBNs, Kindle Direct Publishing (and probably most self-publishing services) will give you a free ISBN. For Kindle e-books, an ISBN isn’t even required.

Where you see (above) “scripture copyright info,” please be aware that if you quote from the Bible, you need to list the copyright info for the particular translation(s) you have used. Visit the website of your Bible translation(s) and you will find a copyright “blurb” that you can insert into your book. You will also find on their website what your limitations are. In other words, your Bible quotes cannot exceed a certain percentage of the total word count of your book.

Note that on Word, you can make the copyright symbol simply by writing (c) and then hitting “Enter.”

3. Dedication 

The Dedication is a page that comes after the Copyright Page, and it should be a right-facing page. Write a short dedication in the center of the page – ideally just a few words and no more than a few lines. The Dedication is optional – only if you want to include it.

4. Table of Contents

The Table of Contents comes next, and again this is a right-facing page. At the beginning of your book, you will have several of these right-facing pages. This means you will need to leave a blank left-facing page in between each right-facing page. If in doubt, stop by your local bookstore and look at how this is done in different books. Be sure you are looking at books from reputable publishers, as they will have produced a book with correct formatting.

Your Table of Contents should make it easy for readers to navigate the chapters of your book. You might include main chapters as well as larger divisions like “Part I” and “Part II.” But don’t get too cumbersome. If you have a lot of sub-titles within your chapters, it’s not necessarily helpful to include this in the Table of Contents. Think about your reader and keep it simple.

I edited and formatted a book for one client whose book contained several hundred one-minute reflections, each on a different page. While I would love to have included a Table of Contents, it would have been 20+ pages long. That’s too much. So his readers have to search a bit to find a particular reflection.

If you are creating a Kindle e-book, it would be helpful to use an actively linking Table of Contents format (such as the one that comes with Word) so that your readers can click on the link and be taken directly to that page. Kindle is very hard to navigate if the Table of Contents does not include active links.

5. Acknowledgments 

Your Acknowledgments (be sure you spell it right, I always have to triple check!) comes next and is also a right-facing page. This page is optional. Many people enjoy the opportunity to thank those who have helped and inspired them in preparing their book. If you don’t want to include this page, that is okay too.

If you plan to write mostly Kindle books (with less emphasis on print books), you might want to skip this page. Kindle readers often prefer to dive straight into the meat of the book. Kindle gives your readers a free preview of a certain number of pages. Reading this preview is often the key that helps readers decide to purchase your Kindle book. They start reading, get caught up in your story, and they want to keep going. When you include a lot of acknowledgments and other preliminary info, this takes up many of the free preview pages. Your readers will get less exposure to the meat of your book, and they might even give up and stop reading the preview.

That being said, it’s your book! You’ve worked hard to write it, and you deserve to include whatever sections you would like. Set it up in a way that pleases you.

6. Introductory Insertions

After the Acknowledgments, you can jump straight into your first chapter if you want. Or you can include a brief introduction or some type of lead-in note. For example, in one of my books I included a separate page that contained the scripture verse (written out in the center of the page) that was the theme of the book. These types of introductory material are all optional. If you choose to include them, be sure they are right-facing pages.

Please be aware that most readers skip introductions. If you can do without an Introduction (and make your back cover copy and Amazon book description do the heavy lifting), then go ahead and dive right into the content of your book. If you still feel that your book needs an Introduction, I strongly encourage you not to label it as “Introduction,” especially if it’s important material that your reader needs to be aware of before beginning to read the book. When the word “Introduction” appears, readers skip!

If you need to include introductory material, just include the content – with no label. You can write an entire introductory section before Chapter 1, with no label, and readers will probably read it, thinking it is a prologue of sorts (but don’t call it Prologue, or they will skip it). Just let the material sit there on its own, and your readers will probably read it, thinking the book has already started. Or you can simply repackage your introductory material and call it Chapter 1.

7. Chapter Titles and Sub-Titles

You will want to format your Chapter Titles and Chapter Sub-Titles using a larger style “heading.” Depending on the formatting software you use, you might have options available to select for this.

If you are using Word, you can use a style heading and sub-heading. This will also help you create active links in your Table of Contents (Word formatting helps you choose what types of headings or sub-headings you want to include in your Table of Contents). I have found it helpful to use a different type of formatting for pages (such as the Acknowledgments and About the Author pages) that I don’t want to appear in my Table of Contents. I only want my chapter titles to appear in the Table of Contents, so those are the only ones where I will use actual style headings.

You can also insert “separators” – such as three asterisks or three diamonds or some other symbol that you select – to break up long content within a chapter. Or use more sub-titles or sub-headings (but be aware that your Table of Contents will probably pick these up automatically unless you set them up manually).

If you want, you can also style your first paragraphs of each chapter (and first letter of each opening paragraph) differently. Look at different samples of published books to see how this is done.

I prefer that each chapter begins on a right-facing page. Chapter One (or introductory page, if you go that route) should begin with page number 1, which means all right-facing Chapter Titles should be on odd-numbered pages. Some publishers do not follow this standard (I know paper is expensive), but it makes for a cleaner and more professional-looking appearance. If you have larger divisions in your book, such as “Part I” and “Part II,” they would also get their own right-facing page.

It is your choice whether you want to write “Chapter One” before the title of the chapter. You can skip that and just write the title itself, or you can write the numeral 1 followed by the title. If your chapters don’t have titles, just write 1, 2, 3, or One, Two, Three. Novels (fiction) usually have just numbers. For non-fiction books, chapter titles help readers know what to expect from each chapter.

8. Fonts, Line Spacing, and Indentations

Your font selection for your chapter content should be easy to read. Think about your reader. What will be the easiest font to keep your reader turning the pages? Some writers prefer serif fonts (like Times New Roman) and others prefer fonts without serifs (like Arial). Likewise, readers have their own preferences. Resist the temptation to use a font (such as a slim cursive font) that looks beautiful to you, but that your readers will find almost illegible or difficult to read.

Personally I use Garamond size 13 font, and I use a multiple 1.1 spacing between lines. I decided on this after many years of experimenting. Ultimately I chose what is easiest on my (52-year-old) eyes. It is not large print, but it is bigger than regular print. I can actually read it while wearing my (otherwise dysfunctional) trifocals.

You don’t want too much spacing between lines, but you want enough that it looks professionally published. I studied a lot of different published book formats before deciding on the line spacing I use now.

Ultimately you have to choose what makes you happy and what you think your readers can navigate easily. Study professionally published books from reputable publishing houses. Try out different options. Share samples with people and ask for their feedback on ease of reading.

Keep in mind that the larger your font size, the more pages your printed book will have. This is not an issue for Kindle, but if you want to offer a paperback version of your book, more pages means the cost of the book will be higher for your readers. Find a happy medium.

Also, your book will look much more professional and be easier to read if you use full justification. The world will not end if you leave your paragraphs on left justification (I did that for one book – not intentionally, I simply forgot, and it was fine). But it just looks a lot better if you use full justification.

While some writers may prefer the block format of paragraphs (such as the format I’m using on this blog article), your book will look more professionally produced if you indent your paragraphs. (It is a stylistic choice, and you can choose what works best for you.) If you do indent, be sure to use an indentation spacing that is appropriate for published books. This is not the typical five-space default tab indent that you find on most Word documents. It is more like a two-space indent, and it looks more professional.

9. Headers and Page Numbers

Before you format your book, I recommend that you study samples of professionally published books to see how they use their Headers. Many of them will show the author’s name on the left Header and the book title on the right header. Others use different variations. Some are in all upper case, while others are not. The font, ideally, should match your page content, and you might need to change the default if you are using Word.

Page Numbers either appear in the upper corners or at the bottom center of the page. If you are new to self-publishing, I recommend looking at what is standard in your genre before choosing your Header and Page Number format. Who are the top traditional publishing houses in your genre? Check their books and see how they set up their Headers and Page Numbers.

Ideally, these Headers and Page Numbers should appear only on content pages, not on blank pages or preliminary pages (like the Dedication Page, etc.). This requires the use of section breaks. To be honest, this is one place where I compromise my standards. Word section breaks are not as friendly as I would like them to be. I rarely have the patience to deal with them. While my Headers and Page Numbers do not appear until my first chapter, they do appear on blank pages between chapters, and I would prefer that they didn’t. (I think I managed to achieve that with only a few books, and it was a frustrating process.) It’s something I have learned to live with.

10. Trim Size and Gutters

You need to format your book based on your chosen Trim Size (the size of your printed book page). I typically use 6 x 9 for non-fiction books, although with some clients I have used 5 1/2 x 8 1/2. Your format also needs to account for the Gutters. The Gutters are the larger space that you need on the inside margin of a page where it will be caught up in the book’s binding. Keep in mind when you open a book, there is a part of the page in the center, near the binding, that you can’t see or read. An extra-long margin is needed for that Gutter, and the Gutter alternates from left to right as you move through the book.

I self-publish with Kindle Direct Publishing, and they provide a free downloadable template for formatting the book according to Trim Size and including Gutter margins. (They even have one template that includes all of the preliminary pages discussed above.) I highly recommend using some type of pre-formatted template whenever possible. In the old days, the early days of self-publishing, I had to do all of this manually, and it was a lot of extra work. Templates and formatting software help tremendously.

11. About the Author

Your book should end with your About the Author page. It should also be a right-facing page. The content should be formatted just as you have done throughout the chapters of your book, with paragraph indents as needed and full justification. Some templates try to center this content, but I disagree with that format. As always, check samples of professionally published books to find the style you prefer.

Include a short bio of what you want your readers to know about you as the author of this book. If you write multiple books, your author bio can change to reflect different genres. It should be relevant to the readers of that book. You can write your author bio in first or third person.

Include your website, if you have one, or some way for your readers to contact you, if you would like to hear from them. You might want to set up a separate email account for this to minimize spam on your regular email account.

You can include your photo. If your photo is on the back cover of your book, you don’t need to include it again on  your author page, unless you just want to. I know many writers who are reluctant to include their photos. Let me encourage you to please share your photo with your readers. They want to see who you are. It helps them to identify with you.

As you write more books over the years, your bio will no doubt change. It is not necessary to go back and update your originally published bios. People grow and change, and readers are aware of that. However, if you want readers of all your books to have your latest contact information, you might consider going back and updating your old published bios. It may or may not be worth the effort, and only you can decide. If you have an active author website with an email newsletter subscription, along with actively updated author pages on places like Amazon and Goodreads, your readers should be able to find you and keep up with your latest publications.

12. Index

Not every book needs an index, but it’s important to be aware of this option and make the right decision. I have edited and formatted books for various business professionals where an index was important for their readers. Word makes this very easy. The index function allows you to select your words for your index, and then Word will automatically scan your book and compile an index.

Learn from Studying the Professional Publishers

The above is my checklist on book formatting. There is a lot of detail involved, but once you go through this process a few times, it will seem second-nature. Admittedly, formatting is my least favorite part of the book preparation process. But it’s necessary, and it is worth the effort when you see your book in print. As you go along, you will find ways to make the process easier for yourself.

My biggest recommendation, as I have mentioned throughout this article, is that you study books that have been published by the best publishing houses. Figure out what makes their appearance work so well. Mimic what you see.

While I am a big fan of self-publishing, I was trained in traditional publishing. I believe all of us who are self-published can learn a lot from those publishing houses that have been producing high-quality books for such a long time. I don’t have their budget, and I know my books will not look like theirs. But I want to do the best I can with what I have. So I still set my standards to theirs and do my best to meet those standards in whatever ways my budget and time will allow.

My Experience with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing

As I have also mentioned, Kindle Direct Publishing has made this process so much easier. I have downloaded the free “Kindle Create Add-In for Microsoft Word,” and this has alleviated many of my formatting struggles. I do need to give a disclaimer – This software is still in beta, and it has made my Word program a little buggy sometimes, even when I am not using the add-in. However, because I intend to do a lot of Kindle publishing, I’m willing to put up with the bugs. Others may not be quite as willing.

At the very least, you can download Kindle’s free template. I’ve made adjustments to my copy of the template over the years, but I still use that basic template for all of my Kindle Direct Publishing books.

When I tell people I publish with Kindle Direct Publishing, the first thing they ask is, “How much does it cost?” Actually, it doesn’t have to cost anything except the percentage they take out of your book sales price. I literally have put no money into this process, and I receive royalty payments like any other published author when my books sell.

There are certainly areas where you can invest if you have the budget. It’s nice, for example, to hire a professional artist to create a customized book cover. That was always one of my priorities when I had the funds. Maybe it will become a priority again some day. For now, I am content to use the free online “cover creator” provided by Kindle Direct Publishing.

You can also invest in hiring an editor and a proofreader (these should be two different people, and my article “Are You Ready for an Editor?” explains why). I used to hire out for those services as well, and today I offer editing services to self-published authors. But when those kinds of services become a luxury, you can still write and publish your book. You can ask people you know to read over your manuscript and give you feedback on areas they found hard to understand, or places where they would have liked to see more details.

My fifth book is about to come out on Amazon, and I have not put anything into the book other than my time in writing it. Granted, I am an experienced writer and editor. But my point is this: the process of self-publishing doesn’t have to cost anything except your time. If you have a story or message to share (and as a Christian writer, you do!), I would encourage you not to let anything stand in your way of sharing it.

12 Simple Questions to Bring Your Organization’s Blog to Life

With all the amazing work your organization is doing in the community, it’s not easy to find time to keep your blog up to date. But your blog is one of the first places people will visit to learn about what you are doing.

How do you keep adding to your blog when you don’t have much time?

Keep it simple.

Answering questions is one of the easiest ways to fill a blog post with useful information that also shows your passion for your work. You can even speak the answers into a tape recorder and have them transcribed quickly. Your answers will sound so natural that your readers will think you are talking directly to them.

There are many questions that lead to great blog posts. Often, those questions are the ones asked by your customers and supporters. Check through some of the inquiries you receive by email. You will probably find good topics for your blog. If one person is curious about something in your organization, others will be too.

If you would like some help in getting started, here are 12 questions relevant to your blog. Answer these 12 and you will have one blog post for each month of the year. You can blog more often (and probably should), but this will help you hold down the fort in the meantime.

Blog Questions:

  1. What is your organization’s mission, and what are 3 specific ways you have carried out that mission in the past year?
  2. What is the biggest problem your organization helps people solve?
  3. What are 3 ways your organization is unique from other organizations in your field?
  4. What is your favorite success that you have witnessed in your organization’s work this past year?
  5. What do you like most about the people you work with? (You don’t have to name names; just describe the qualities, personalities, goals, and atmosphere.)
  6. What is the biggest challenge your organization has faced, and how did you overcome it?
  7. What is one major change/improvement your organization wants to help create in the world?
  8. What are 3 things most people probably don’t know about your organization?
  9. What one thing has surprised you the most about working in your field?
  10. What do you like most about your customers or supporters and/or what are the qualities you appreciate about them?
  11. What is the latest “new thing” your organization has done? (It can be big or small.)
  12. How and why did you get started in this business?

Don’t overthink it. Just answer from your heart. Base your answers on the experiences that come first to your mind. As you answer the questions, just be yourself and speak/write in everyday conversational language.

You will be amazed at how your responses will connect with the people who visit your blog. Your answers will help make your company feel more three-dimensional, more real to them. They will see themselves wanting to get involved with your organization.

And you will have a blog that helps you stand apart online.

Sharing Your Legacy of Leadership through a Book

If you have served in leadership for a while, in any environment (business, family, nonprofit, education, healthcare, military), you have lived through many challenges. You’ve experienced things – good and bad – that you never expected. You’ve learned that encouragement and humility win the day. Probably you don’t regret a moment of this journey, even though some things didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped.

What you may not realize is how much people need to learn from your experiences and from the wisdom you have encountered along the way. They need your words of encouragement. Wouldn’t it be great if those who come after you don’t have to make discoveries the hard way?

One thing I’ve learned in working with leaders is how humble the best leaders are. If you’re the kind of leader I enjoy working with – and I believe you are – you probably don’t even think of yourself as a leader, let alone someone who should be putting words of wisdom in a book. The thought probably embarrasses you and goes against everything you’ve been taught about humility.

But reality is that you are a leader. It’s evident in the way you live, encourage, mentor, empower, and inspire, and by the roles you play in people’s lives.

You have so much to share. I would go so far as to say you have a responsibility to share what you’ve learned, and to teach by example how to lead. We, your readers and future generations of leaders need this!

You may feel like the more you have experienced, the less you know. But it’s your unique leadership experiences and your view of the world that the rest of us need to read and learn.

The world needs your legacy of leadership. It really does. One of the best ways to pass your legacy to others is through writing. Have you ever thought of what a gift your book would be for people who have yet to walk where you have walked?

I have spent 15 years ghostwriting and editing books for leaders like you. Leaders with real heart who have led through the trenches of life, work, home, and community. It has been a privilege to get to know each author and each story. I enjoy recommending these books and buying copies as gifts because I know people will be blessed by them.

To see a partial list of some of the books I have edited, please visit my Testimonials page. I don’t have any financial stake in recommending these books. I’m just incredibly proud of these authors for stepping out and sharing their life and wisdom in a book. If you have been considering writing a book to share your experiences, I hope seeing their books will inspire and encourage you.

 

The Best Way to Write Your Book Is Your Way

Many people have asked me the best way to put together a book. I’m talking here about non-fiction books. (Fictional novels are different. Story structure is a whole different art.)

The beauty of book writing is that your book will be as unique as you are. And wouldn’t your readers be sad if it wasn’t? There is no right or wrong way to create your book. The best way is the way that works for you. You need to find your way to bring your words to life for your readers.

And the same thing I teach about all writing applies for book writing as well: Get your heart on paper first, in whatever way you can. All the rest is editing. If you see yourself writing a book, you need to find the best way to get your heart on paper, and then shape the material from there.

Books are like puzzles (except you don’t have the nice picture on the box). You create a book by first creating each puzzle piece. Then you figure out how they link together.

Here are several very different ways of putting books together that are followed by various non-fiction book authors. Maybe these will inspire you. But resist the urge to mold yourself to a particular way. You have to discover what works for you – and God will help you with all of this.

1. Create an Outline

For those who think in a very logical and orderly way, sometimes it’s easiest to start with an outline. The outline might change as you go along, but it gives you a way to get your thoughts on paper. You might list a few topics, and treat each one like a shorter piece of writing – maybe like an article or a journal entry. And just write what you want to say about that topic. When you finish responding to each topic in your outline, you will already have the basis of your book. You can then tweak and shape to your heart’s content. But you’ll have something to work with.

2. Write from Your Heart

For those who prefer not to outline, just write from your heart about the subject of your book. Get everything out that you want to say. Then read through it and label paragraphs with relevant topics. You will start to see topics in common, or themes and threads emerge. The puzzle pieces will start to take shape, and you will see how they fit together into a book.

3. Brainstorm Your Ideas

If you prefer a combination of free-writing with a little outlining, you can try brainstorming about all your ideas on a particular subject. Instead of writing paragraphs, just list your ideas as bullet points. Once you’ve exhausted all your ideas on the subject, look through your bullet points and group items that are related. Those can be the roots of your chapters.

You might even realize that you have more than one book on the subject, and those bullet point topics will help you narrow down your first book. Sometimes brainstorming is the most helpful way to discover which specific topics you are most passionate about concerning your book’s subject. It might surprise you!

4. Talk into a Voice Recorder

Sometimes it’s easiest to talk into a voice recorder. At one time, I ghostwrote a novel for a client, based on his life story. Once we had mapped out the scenes, I literally “talked” the scenes into the voice recorder. This helped the characters and scenes come alive for me. (It was fun!) I then transcribed the voice recordings and molded and edited the material into what would become the finished book.

5. Write for Your Blog

Another way to create a book is to blog on a particular subject. Take time to label each blog post with the most relevant categories and tags. (You should do this anyway; it will help people find your blog on search engines.) After you’ve written a number of posts, search by category and see what you’ve written. You might find a way to combine those into a book. It doesn’t matter that your blog posts are already published. That just means more people will be ready and eager to read your book.

(Keep in mind that I focus on self-publishing. If you plan to publish your book with a traditional publishing house, they have different legalities for using blog posts. You will do best to check with them before you start blogging. Traditional publishers also have requirements for completing outlines, sample chapters, and book proposals in advance. If that’s your path, you need to learn as much as possible about how it works before you ever start planning and writing. The best Christian source for learning about this, in my experience, is Jerry Jenkins.)

6. Compile Your Written Articles

Right now, I am editing and consulting on a book for a writer. It is a compilation of previously written articles. To organize the chapters, I started going through each article, one by one, deciding on an appropriate topic label (a label that was specific to the topic, yet general enough to include other articles). I wrote each topic label on a separate document, and beneath each label I typed the article title. As I read through more articles, I reached a point where 10 labels was enough, and the rest of the articles fell under one of those categories.

At the end of this process, I had a list of 10 chapter titles and a list of about 5-8 articles in each chapter. Perfect! I rearranged the chapter titles in a sequence that made sense. And under each chapter title, I rearranged the order of that chapter’s articles in a way that would best engage readers.

7. Answer Questions or Record Your Teachings

I’ve learned of several writers who create books by answering questions. I took this same approach years ago, in which I wrote a book entirely based on questions people had asked me. I’m working with another writer who is anointed for teaching. She has recorded her teachings (including her answers to student questions) and those teachings will become the basis of one or more books. I’ve learned of other writers who record video teachings on YouTube and then compile the transcripts and summaries into a book. This also gets them a following who will be eager to buy their book.

Remember – the best way to write your book is the way that will work for you. It’s a matter of getting your heart onto the page. You can mold and shape and edit from there. But you have to get your heart on paper first, in whatever way it takes. There might be one way that works for you, or if you’re like me you might use different ways for different projects. Try things out. Experiment. See what works best for you and your next book.

 

 

Creating a Corporate Culture of Giving: An Inspiring Example

I just read the most inspiring article about a company that gives back to the community: “Most Influential 2017: Charles Antis wears his heart on his socks, spreads messages of corporate social responsibility,” authored by Theresa Walker and published in The Orange County Register. 

I think every business owner and every community would be inspired by reading this article.

Here is what I liked most in this story, and these are important takeaways for any business owner who is interested in making the world a better place:

  1. Mr. Antis has cultivated a habit of giving and has woven that throughout his business practices. In the article, he shares insights about how the company’s giving and profitability have gone hand in hand.
  2. Through his board leadership in the National Roofing Contractors Association, he has encouraged and challenged fellow roofing professionals to help meet a specific need around the nation.
  3. He has donated his specialized roofing work to nonprofits. His commitments cover a wide range of needs. The company’s focus on giving fully embraces the local community.
  4. This roofing professional has shared his personal story of why giving is so important to him. It is those stories, and that willingness to share them, that helps others identify their own “why.”
  5. He desires to help other companies learn from his experiences in how to make social responsibility a part of their corporate culture. He also demonstrates what a small-to-medium-sized business can do to make a difference in the community.

I was excited to read and learn about a company that is modeling and sharing insights into corporate social responsibility. If you desire to cultivate giving through your company in creative ways that impact lives, this article is a great starting place for inspiration.

Why I Chose to Give a Toy Lamb (Anatomy of a Giving Campaign)

When you’re designing a gift campaign, sometimes it helps to look at other campaigns from the perspective of a donor. See what makes the campaign appeal to you; suggest improvements; and discover whether the campaign actually prompts you to complete a giving transaction.

Let’s look at a campaign that caught my eye on Thanksgiving Day. In this campaign, led by a nonprofit organizaton, donors could purchase a particular gift to be given to a child or family living in poverty. The campaign focused on how a small purchase price could provide a gift with a much larger impact.

Gift Campaign Attractions

Why did this campaign grab my attention?

Several reasons:

(1) It makes giving affordable. I won’t hesitate to spend under $10 for a good cause. I don’t have to go over my bank records or think whether or not I can afford it. For coffee lovers, giving up two or three seasonal designer coffees at Starbucks would cover the cost.

(2) I could tell visually from the LinkedIn ad photo and from the website landing page that the campaign offered a lot of variety. We all have different preferences, in terms of what we’d like to give. I could tell immediately that this campaign would allow flexibility of choices. That made me feel empowered as a giver. I could connect with an opportunity that spoke to my heart.

(3) The offer was simple: I could choose my donation and the organization would take care of distribution to the people who most needed this gift. I have given to this organization before and am familiar with their work, so I trusted their promise.

Here is where your year-long content creation efforts – blog posts, case studies, newsletters – pay off in year-end giving. Those year-round efforts create and nurture relationships; they help people become familiar with what you do on a daily basis; they build trust.

With this organization, I didn’t have to investigate or think. I just wanted to give. Had I needed more information, I could easily click on the website’s navigation links to experience the organization and learn more about what they do. The risk there, of course, is that I might not have made it back to the donation page. Hence, their year-long efforts to keep me engaged kept me focused on the donation process on the screen in front of me. This was not the time to learn; this was simply the time to give.

(4) The final attraction to this campaign is that the donation was for a specific item. People love to give something tangible where they can imagine their gift being given and used. I could decide if I wanted to pay for chickens for a family; blankets; hot meals; recreational items; food for a baby; and more. These items were $10 and under, and this was a suggested (not required) donation. I could give less, knowing it would still be put to good use in helping children and families.

If I had more to give, I could choose from a different list with items priced above $10. These included house repairs; medical procedures (from a list of even more specific needs); water filters; and more. For high-cost items, like surgery, I was given the option to pay a portion around $25, knowing my gift would be pooled with gifts from other people to make that surgery possible.

In the end, I chose a $10 gift that provides 4 plush lamb toys for children. While this might not sound as helpful as a water filter or feeding a baby, I know from firsthand experience of working with children in trauma how comforting a plush animal can be. I was wanting my gift to provide comfort, and a little toy animal was for me the ideal way to deliver that emotional comfort.

Areas for Gift Campaign Improvements

Having participated as a donor in this gift campaign, I got to experience the process from beginning to end. This is a helpful way to learn how to improve the donor’s experience. Going through several of these campaigns from other organizations, looking closely at the experience, will help you improve your own campaign.

(1) The website was formatted beautifully on my iPhone and easy to navigate. However, I prefer to do financial transactions on my computer. When I opened the website on my computer, the formatting didn’t fit well on my screen. I could never fully read the item description at the bottom of the screen, and I could see only half of the “Add Item” button.

If I hadn’t been familiar with this organization, I would have been tempted to give up. Instead, I pressed through because I knew I wanted to support this campaign. Even so, the formatting caused confusion and I spent more time on the transaction than I might have liked. It’s important to test the layout of your campaign on multiple devices and screen sizes.

Don’t assume donor loyalty will be enough for people to press through. Even the most loyal customers are concerned about online security of financial transactions. If everything doesn’t appear straightforward, they might withhold their donation, simply because the layout makes them uncomfortable.

(2) Because I could not read the full item description on my computer, I wasn’t really sure what my $10 was providing, other than it coincided with the picture of a plush lamb toy. I didn’t know the toy was musical; that $10 was enough to provide toys for 4 children; or that the toys would be given to the children along with their Christmas gift boxes. I had to return to my iPhone and open the item description there to learn more about what I was giving. Not everyone will be that diligent or take that extra time.

Even on my iPhone, when I opened the description, the top line showed over some other text, so it was hard to read. This might seem like a minor detail, but keep this in mind: Formatting errors make the process appear rushed. I know this organization well, and I know how busy they are and how much they are handling this time of year. I’m willing to give them some leeway and understanding.

However, not everyone who visits your campaign knows you. Some might be visiting for the first time and not yet sure if they want to support your efforts. When they see glitches in the formatting, they might wonder if this reflects how well your organization is run, or how much they can trust you with their money. People are very careful where they give their limited funds. They will be overly cautious in looking for telltale signs that cause them not to trust.

(3) My payment transaction linked me with my PayPal account (by choice). However, PayPal (by default) told me the items were being shipped to my address. This caused me to leave my computer screen, go back and look over the information on my iPhone, to be sure I wasn’t getting any items sent to me.

My understanding was that I was simply providing a donation, whereby these items would be sent by the organization to the children in need. That was, in fact, the case. But it took time to make sure, and in the process, I abandoned my computer screen before completing the transaction. We all know that when a person walks away from a transaction screen, that person might get distracted and never return to complete the transaction.

Better messaging along the way would have helped, e.g., the item description might have reassured me that I was donating to provide 4 lamb toys, which the organization would ship to children in need. Those little extra details can make all the difference in helping someone feel secure with an online transaction.

(4) The thank you note that I received online, after my purchase was complete, took time to appear on the screen. I was “told” that if the note did not appear I could refresh my screen; but most people don’t want to hit the refresh button in the midst of a financial transaction. I might have left without reading the note, and it is the thank you note that makes a huge difference in bringing a donor back again.

That thank you note is what helps the donor really feel the difference he or she has made in a person’s life. With an online transaction, you have to work extra hard to give a donor a tangible way to feel what has taken place. The thank you note is one of the most important pieces of your campaign messaging.

As it was, when the note opened, it was in a text-based font and hard to read.  The wording caused confusion, making me think I would not also receive a copy by email. I had to go check my email to be sure a copy was sent before I exited the screen.

Takeaways

On the whole, I appreciated the opportunity to donate plush lambs to 4 children to help them feel comforted and loved. That’s the main reason I gave the donation, and I chose to give through an organization I knew would be faithful to deliver those lambs to the children. I will also return to give again in the future because of my long history of giving with this organization and the trust I have with them.

However, if I were new to this organization or to this campaign, I might not have completed the transaction or returned. Just a few simple tweaks with the layout and messaging would have given me a better experience.

When you set up a giving campaign, I strongly recommend you gather a team of people you trust to test out your process and give feedback before you launch. Test the process from beginning to end. Be sure these are people who can be objective and critical.

It’s the little things that will build trust and assurance; help people complete transactions; and bring them back to support you in the future. It’s also in the details where people will feel empowered by their experience. This helps nurture a desire to keep giving and an interest in learning more about what you do throughout the year.

Thankful

I am thankful for the wonderful clients I have worked with this year.

We’ve experienced some amazing writing and editing adventures: websites, books, articles, blog posts, autoresponders, newsletters, e-books, reports, and case studies. I have learned and grown as a writer.

The best part was getting to enjoy working with my clients.

Thank you for the privilege and opportunities. I look forward to more adventures in the coming year.