Blog writing is an art. Stay with me for a minute—it’s true! In its best iterations, blog writing balances a bit of the personal with a bit of the public, a bit of the closed with a bit of the open, a bit of the crosslinkedly referential with a bit of (or better, a lot of) originality.
Even though blogging always seems just about to go completely out of style, blogs have been around for a couple of decades. And they're still going strong.
That's partly because the best blogs share analogue ancestry with universally familiar forms of writing, especially old-timey diaries and commonplace books (those scrapbook ledgers The Atlantic once called “Tumblrs of an Earlier Era”).
It's also because blogs that are both artfully personal and usefully public, referentially aware and inventively original will always find eager readers.
Creating this kind of balanced blog is hard, though. And today’s guides spend a whole lot of time advocating a content-rich, social-media-driven, imminently scale-able approach.
That works for some, but to do more than saturate, to be a blog-writing artist and eventual influencer, we advocate approaching blogging as an art, specifically the art of bricolage.
Bricolage means creating something new with whatever is at hand. The bricoleur (described by anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss in The Savage Mind) is someone who “shapes the beautiful and useful out of the dump heap of human life.”
The blog-writing bricoleur uses the tools from the collective online dump heap—the rich content, the labyrinthine links, the trending tweets—to create a story that both imitates and initiates.
Jason Kottke is a bricoleur, and so is Tina Roth Eisenberg, and so is Austin Kleon.
And—lest the lineage feel too scant—so, too, is William Shakespeare.
According to a February report in the New York Times, the plagiarism software WCopyfind helped scholars discover new sources—especially George Noth’s unpublished manuscript--for many of Shakespeare's plays.
He would have received an F for plagiarism, but by building out his “mental landscape” with the relevant content all around him, Shakespeare “stole like an artist,” helping to substantiate the bricoleur tradition that reaches its (potential) apotheosis in the internet age.
Shakespeare, the forefather of so much in the English writing, was also, in creating something newly brilliant from derivation, a bricoleur.
So if you’re starting a new blog, dusting off an old one, or looking for fresh inspiration for a blog already well-run, consider the strong (and Shakespearean) tradition of bricolage. Look at what's already-out-there old and make it new.
As anyone in the third sector knows, the 2016 election dramatically altered the landscape in which nonprofits operate. For some, these changes may even pose an existential danger.
So, what's a nonprofit to do? How does an organization strategize in the face of an uncertain future?
This isn't a hypothetical question for some of our clients, who are faced with the necessity of significantly expanding their pool of potential donors and partners. And for faith-based organizations (which face both shrinking government funding and shrinking congregations), connecting with a larger (secular) audience poses unique challenges.
Those challenges (and their solutions) provide useful insight for any mission-driven organization.
We talked about the challenges of communicating in an uncertain environment with one of our recent clients, Cheryl Behrent, director of Sarah's… an Oasis for Women. Sarah's is a Saint Paul-based nonprofit program that provides housing and crucial services for women who have experienced severe violence and trauma. Because it offers a safety net for women who don't have access to any other resources, Sarah’s works primarily with immigrants, whose position in the United States is increasingly tenuous. And like many other nonprofits, Sarah's faces an ever-increasing demand for the services.
What does the uncertainty of the current landscape mean for Sarah’s message?
Cheryl says that flexibility is key. Sarah's was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St Paul Province (CSJ). The CSJs and their ministries foundation provide approximately 50% of Sarah’s funding. The other 50% comes from individual donors and grants from private foundations.
"When I'm in a church setting or faith-based community, the emphasis is that we're a ministry—people are naturally interested to hear about the history of the Sisters, and our connection to the Province," she notes.
But as Cheryl points out, it's important to be able to adopt other frames of reference, depending on the audience. She says, "The CSJs value interfaith connections," so Sarah’s has always given priority to reaching beyond its primary stakeholders and creating broad connections.
That means being adept at considering a wide range of ways that people might find to connect with an organization. For example, Cheryl often prefers to start talks with a Q and A, to understand what her audience's interests are.
This kind of flexibility is predicated on having a solid foundation of clearly defined values and a clearly articulated mission. That foundation gives an organization the ability to adapt its mission statement into an audience-focused positioning statement—that is, a statement that describes why an organization is uniquely qualified to accomplish a goal that a specific audience cares about.
That sort of attention to audience is something that's easy to overlook for nonprofit organizations that are (rightly) focused on accomplishing their core mission. But, as Cheryl recognizes, it's a key example of the kind of nimble thinking that's required of nonprofits now more than ever.
English PhD, former arts administrator, obsessive cook, native East Coaster, and mom to two rabblerousers.
English PhD, former high school teacher, obsessive organizer, native Midwesterner, and mom to three troublemakers.