Kim Cubine

Celebrating Our Staff

Each year, we set aside some time where we can acknowledge important miles stones and have a little fun together, and last week, CCAH held our annual staff appreciation day.

Our Spirit Week did look a little different this year. Typically, we have a week of fun filled activities in our East Coast and West Coast offices. Traditionally we have a day of service on 9/11 here in the DMV, and we spend the day with AARP packing lunches for Seniors in need, and our West Coast office does a day of service with one of the awesome groups that we work with out there.

Kim Cubine
Kim Cubine, President

So, for the second year in a row, we found ways to show our appreciation Covid Style! Celebrating our employees with food, cheer, and an afternoon off on Friday so everyone could start their weekend early.

But, before we all left for the week, we took a moment to reflect on three key areas of our firm: Client Success, CCAH Internal Initiatives, and Exciting Company Growth.

Client Success

First, the work of our clients … most of us are here at CCAH because we want to make a positive impact on the world—and we want our work to make a difference.

And since the pandemic shut down the world, the work that our employees do has proven even more important than ever.

In this past year and a half, Email, Direct Mail, and Mobile were the only form of communication with donors for many organizations. While the world was going to hell in a handbasket, our clients dove in head-first to help address the multitude of crises happening in 2020. As a matter of fact, some even posted their best fundraising year ever because of the work and commitment of their CCAH team. I am so proud of what we delivered. When we look back on this whole “Covid time” and think about what we did to make a difference—well, we get to answer:

I helped hospitals expand their services to meet the Covid Crisis … 

I delivered PPE to thousands of people for our clients … 

I helped people down on their luck get reintroduced to society and get a job and start a new life … 

I helped raise the funds to open the doors of the International African American Museum … 

I helped make sure that hundreds of thousands of voters had were educated on where and how to cast their ballot—despite a massive voter suppression effort … 

And we even had the energy to help take back Congress, get rid of Trump, and elect the first biracial woman as Vice President in our nation’s history!

And I could go on. Every day you are helping these amazing organizations make someone’s life a little better … and that’s not something to take for granted, or something everyone can say they did. I am so honored to lead these dedicated people in making this difference.

CCAH Internal Initiatives

We have embraced becoming a more flexible workplace and trying to work with each of our employees on their personal needs to help balance work and life. After a few surveys and some informal focus groups, the management team has made a big push to meet our employees where they are. 

We’ve expanded where we’re registered and now have employees in 14 different states, allowing staff to relocate and significantly expanding our hiring pool. We added additional vacation days to our schedule and increased the “supervisor discretion” time off over the summer. And at the beginning of this year each employee started receiving a monthly stipend for home office supplies.

But we all know, nothing really replaces the ability to have human interaction: whether at the office or your neighborhood coffee shop, people need a change of scenery and a real person to talk to from time to time.

And unfortunately, that’s something I can’t fix nor can I promise when it will change. But I can promise you that at CCAH, our Partners and Management spend a lot of time thinking about how we can help our employees, each and every one of them, navigate these new challenges. We know we may not get it right every time, and we are open to all ideas and suggestions for new ways to approach any issue, and we’ll never stop striving to make things better.

Exciting Company Growth

And finally, looking toward company growth and future. We have launched a number of new internal divisions in this past year or so.

For example, we launched the new Nonprofit Ads Department. And in January, when we had the unofficial launch of our CCAH Ads division, and within the first few months we were invited to participate in RFPs for five well-known nonprofits (after we had only been “live” for ~45 days!), introducing ourselves to at least 100 influential folks in the nonprofit space who were very impressed with what they saw. And that is how you start to build the business.

QCT data management has been another tremendous success. This outstanding team has been expanding our portfolio of data services. And they plan to continue to grow their team and bring in even more data management for the company.

And after Testing a Co-op model for Senate Candidates, our CCAH Political Team is delving into critical voter education and get-out-the-vote work and has built out two teams now focusing on this endeavor.

So not only are we doing great work for our clients, we’re expanding our services across the company and watching for trends that provide other new business opportunities.

What's Next?

As I look towards the future, there is nothing more valuable to our firm than our incredible employees. With new partner and management team voices, and a laser focus on challenges and opportunities in 2022, the company leadership is hard at work looking for answers to the tough questions, tackling challenges head-on, and staying on top of trends that put us ahead of our competition. To all of you, a huge thanks. The work we do is important, but it is this dedication to excellence that has kept us going strong for over 35 years.

The expectation of our company leadership is that we approach all challenges and opportunities with culture and values leading the way.

We must ensure that our company continues innovating, offering our employees the best skills training available and professional development opportunities inside and outside the company. And that we lean into our diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities — even and especially while we are remote. We need to look inward to see how to improve and make those changes outwardly as we continue to drive toward excellence in the industry.

But most importantly, as our staff appreciation week comes to a close, and we continue looking forward and reflecting on the year so far, I want to take a moment to tell our employees, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for all you do at CCAH.

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Postage Rates Will Officially Increase

The PRC has approved the rate increase to take place on August 29, 2021.  Postage rates will be increasing by an average of 6.8%.

6.8% is made up by adding the Consumer Price Index (CPI), funds for retirement costs, a “density” factor (delivering less mail to more homes), and another tenth of a percent because they it wasn’t used during the last postage increase. This is not the last time you will see an increase like this – expect to see it again in 2022 and beyond.

The Postal Service calculates what they determine to be the rate authority granted by the PRC’s formula, and then consider the minimum they will need from this to mitigate lost income. After this consideration they determine how much they believe they can increase rates. Then this  authority is used to propose a rate case for the PRC to approve. 

The rate increase varies by class of mail, sort density, and piece size.

Shannon Murphy, Principal & SVP of Print Production

Nothing has changed in the rate case filed at the end of May – it’s just been approved. There are things you can do to help mitigate the increase.  

  • The Informed Delivery Promotion that starts on September 1 will give you 2% off your letter and flat mail, at least through November. 
  • You should also consider removing bad addresses from your files – ACS users still generally find 1% – 2% undeliverable addresses even after NCOA processing. 
  • Run your data files through PCOA also. Just because people are moving doesn’t mean they are reporting it to the USPS.
  • Make sure you get your flat work out by August 27, 2021.

To learn more about this change and what it may mean for your and your organization, you can see detailed rate charts here: https://www.ccah.com/usps-price-increase-2021.pdf

There are lots of moving parts in the direct mail production world  more updates to come as we get them! Please leave any questions in the comment section below or send me an email at smurphy@ccah.com.

USPS Proposed Changes to First-Class Mail Delivery Service Standards

You may have seen, back in March, that the USPS published a 10-year strategic plan to achieve financial stability and service excellence. This plan includes adjusting the current 1–3-day continental U.S. First-Class delivery standard to 1-5 days. These changes are expected to be rolled out on October 1. In theory, the USPS expects this change to not only allow them to better meet delivery standards, which they’ve failed to meet over the past 8 years but also reduce their cost of delivering First-Class mail.

The summary of the proposed service change is as follows: mail that is currently delivered within 1 day (3-hour drive time from entry to delivery point) will not change. However, they are proposing stretching the 2–3-day delivery period out to 2-5 days. 

The chart below compares the current 2–3-day service standard against the proposed service standard. Ultimately, 81% of the current 2-day volume should keep a 2-day standard, with the remaining 19% flowing into 3-days. The current 3-day volume would be changed to 3-5 days, with 47% remaining the same, 36% going to 4-days, and the remaining 17% changing to 5-days.

Basically, 70% of current 1–3-day delivery would remain the same and 30% would be adjusted to 4 or 5-day delivery based on distance and destination-cost-impact.

*Note: Figures in the chart above are rounded and therefore may not add up to 100%

Between March and July, the USPS requested the US Postal Regulatory Commission consider the proposed service standard change which was completed and released on July 20, 2021. In summary, the Commission did find that extending the service standards would help the USPS meet delivery requirements but is concerned that the USPS has not tested their theory and thus they are lacking supporting evidence that they can operationally make these changes and have the overall expected service and financial impact.

Additionally, the Commission did not find that changing the service standards would have any financial impact, especially without supporting evidence. The USPS doesn’t need the Commission’s approval to change service standards. Kim Frum, USPS spokeswoman, said they are reviewing the recommendations of the Postal Regulatory Commission, and will consider them as we move forward with our plan. This statement further insinuates that the USPS will move ahead with their plans, despite the Commission’s findings, on September 1, 2021.

Mid-level Nirvana: Recap from Bridge Conference 2021

When there are multiple agency partners and internal departments playing a role in one mid-level giving program, how do you achieve success year after year? If you attended “Mid-level Nirvana: Achieving Channel Integration Bliss” at the 2021 Bridge Conference, you’d know what to do! Session speakers were Genevieve Paul, Director, Annual Giving at the National Park Foundation (NPF);  Kathy Swayze, President & Creative Director, Impact Communications; and Pete Carter, Principal & Senior Vice President, CCAH (and if you attended Bridge but missed the session, you can still watch the full presentation here).

Over 100 attendees participated in the virtual session and walked (or navigated) away with these takeaways:

Pete Carter, Principal and Senior Vice President
  • How to unify your message across digital and direct mail channels
  • Real-life tips on getting your agency partners and vendors to collaborate effectively
  • How to escape the mayhem and find nirvana (and more revenue) in a mid-level program

The NPF mid-level program is called the Champion’s Society, with membership beginning at $1,000 a year (or $100/month). Revenue has shown impressive year-over-year growth; this has been achieved with a collaborative approach to fundraising. Channel experts worked together to move donors up the giving ladder using truly integrated digital and mail strategies, with buy-in from membership, mid-level, and major/planned gifts staff.

Ensuring integration across channels is a reality, and not just wishful thinking begins with creating shared goals with channel-specific components. Then, as strategies emerge, maintaining open channels of communication is vital. These formal and informal meeting opportunities where ideas are freely exchanged require breaking down the walls that often divide us since defensiveness and territoriality ultimately will only hold us back from hitting our budget goals.

As ideas are developed, it’s important to avoid rejecting new concepts because they’ve never been tried before. For mid-level programs, in particular, fresh cultivation concepts are essential. Cultivating donors with special “insider” updates and appreciation messages will produce a glow of goodwill and lead to a long-term payoff from deepened relationships. 

For example – in November 2020 NPF leveraged a series of Thankful Thursday emails intended to show heartfelt and personal appreciation for the commitment shown by its donors. The final piece of this cultivation approach was our Find Your Park Friday, which is traditionally sent the day after Thanksgiving and encourages our park enthusiasts to find and visit their favorite park. Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we needed to be nimble and switch gears a bit in 2020. So instead of a focus on in-person park visits, we encouraged members to find a digital way to interact with their favorite park – from taking a virtual tour of a park or “joining” other park enthusiasts on social media to share their park stories.

After November’s cultivation emphasis, the focus shifted to the most lucrative fundraising time of the year, starting with #GT and lasting through year-end. We call this our 31 Days of Giving. In December we leveraged both a match gift offer and a downloadable thank-you gift for contributions. The number of online and offline year-end contacts in 2020 increased over the past 3 years, as did file size. But this graceful “cultivation, then donation” approach, with more opportunities to give, did not generate a rise in donor complaints about contact volume. In fact, to our delight, we saw an increase in total year-end revenue for the Champion’s Society, up a total of 35% since 2017. What’s even more impressive is that while digital income grew dynamically in that time, direct mail was also up a bit – meaning digital largely represented additive, not shifted, income.

Other new ideas launched over the past year include a dedicated Champions Society ad campaign on Facebook, which is gaining traction with each passing month. Targets include former Champions Society members and new-to-file prospects. This is an important part of our channel agnostic approach to donor recruitment and reinstatement – allowing an increased investment in channels that show promising results.

Here’s a summary of the keys to nirvana recommended by Kathy, Genevieve and Pete:

  1. Set clear goals.
  2. Communicate!
  3. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
  4. Be nimble and be prepared to switch gears.
  5. Focus on the long-term return in relationship.
  6. Be channel agnostic.

To find more strategies and to work with our experts, reach out to work with us!

The Future of Digital Advertising

Preparing for a Cookieless Future

The only constant is change.

This mantra could never ring truer than for those of us who spend our days focused on digital advertising. With technology advances, shifts in policy priorities, and an ever-evolving user base adjusting its online activity, we know change is always around the corner.

But when you’re tasked with bringing in mission-critical revenue for some of the nation’s biggest nonprofits, you can’t be afraid of that.

The latest wave of change in the online ecosystem? The looming sunset of the third-party cookie. Or rather, the decision to retire support for it in Google Chrome (several other browsers have already retired third-party cookie support in recent years, citing privacy and other concerns). But with Chrome’s 65% market share (and 70% on mobile!) this decision effectively puts the nail in the coffin.

Last year, Google announced its decision to sunset support in Chrome in 2022, and since then a flood of bad puns have filled the advertising space and industry papers about cookies crumbling, half-baked tech responses, and other groaners. Google has since adjusted its timeline to delay this change to 2023, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start preparing now.

Why does this matter? First- and third-party cookies are a big part of what makes the internet function. They help websites deliver a customized web experience to you (think leaving an item in your online shopping cart), and they can ensure that the ads you receive (and that keep your favorite websites online) make sense for you as the individual.

We (Van Do, Senior Strategist, and Mike Crump, Digital Advertising Manager, along with Pete Ellard of Nexis Direct) were fortunate enough to present on what’s next in the digital advertising space without a third-party cookie as a part of DMAW’s Digital Week. (For a deeper dive than we’re able to fit in a blog post, take a look at our presentation here).

Here’s the thing though: despite a lot of chatter on the end of the third-party cookie, for 90% of your nonprofit advertising and fundraising efforts, you’re not going to see a real change.

You want to raise the most revenue for your programs, and the strongest direct results in the nonprofit world right now are generally coming from the “walled gardens” of Google, Facebook, etc, with robust first-party user data. Could this change? Sure. Soon? We’re not betting on that.

But there will be an impact on programmatic advertising like banner ads on websites, which use web signals (anonymous) and credentials to build out and fine tune user profiles for optimal ad delivery and to remarket. Historically, programmatic delivery has relied on third-party cookies that help connect a user’s web activity across different websites.

As we already noted, the third-party cookie has been on the decline for several years.

And the industry has been preparing for that. New tech like Google Turtledove and Privacy Sandbox have been under development to specifically address the sunset of the third-party cookie. And while those tools will take some time for full development and rollout, rest assured that they are on the horizon.

So let’s look back at first-party data, which is where we’ll need to focus in the short term.

What can you do right now?

  • Take a look at your access to first-party data. Are your Google Tag Manager and Analytics accounts fully set up to maximize data collection?
  • Look at your users. What additional information can you gain about your customers to tease out new targeting models? What are some overlying interests and demographics? What content sources do they follow? How can you use this information strategically?
  • Start testing. Start your testing now — if you’re quick you may even find some learnings that can be applied at year end.

What can you test? Some areas of opportunity to consider (and for more information on these, take a look at our presentation):

  • Native and Contextual Targeting to supplement programmatic display budgets
  • Direct buys with content creators utilizing their internal user data
  • Other data sources like IP targeting
  • Robust targeting lists from data vendors
  • Inventory from niche sites relevant to your mission

The TL;DR: If your organization is small or new, or otherwise has a small ad investment program, focus on high-impact, high-result channels first (Google Ads, Microsoft Ads, Facebook & Instagram). Prioritizing these platforms while results are strong will limit the impact of the cookieless future on your program.

And for your programmatic and display budgets? Dig into the data and start testing! But don’t scale until you see results coming in to warrant a spend.

We’re always up for a discussion with other nonprofit professionals and marketers about digital advertising. You can reach me at mcrump@ccah.com or Van at vdo@ccah.com. For more information on how this may impact your organization, reach out to work with us!

Paper Availability — Going From Bad to Worse

Paper is increasing in cost again!  And the timing to get paper is becoming longer and longer.

Custom stock and roll sizes can take several weeks to source as mills are running into the same issues as many other businesses: getting folks to come to work, fill equipment to run, and keep up with the demand.

The latest word is that by July 1, paper will see an increase of $4.00cwt (that’s $4 per 100lbs).

This would be an increase of 8% — an unprecedented increase. When a Mailshop gives an estimate of how much a job will cost your organization, paper typically represents 50%-60% of a quoted price. The remaining cost goes to labor, overhead, delivery, ink, folding, etc.

That means that with an 8% increase in paper, your quoted price for envelopes, letters, etc. will be about 5% higher than expected.  cwt

Shannon Murphy, Principal and Senior Vice President of Production

The Next Step

The dreaded word, allocation.

For those not familiar with how this one works, it basically looks like this:

Mills can’t meet demand. So they allocate inventory to printers and converters based on how much they buy and how much they have used over the last year.

Example

Let’s say company “A” bought $10,000 worth of paper in the past year. When put on allocation, they can only buy:

      1. The same as last year
      2. 90% of what they bought last year, etc.

The percentage they get will be based on supply.

The scary part is some printers could struggle to get paper. This is where suppliers’ strong relationships with paper manufacturers or merchants will play a key role in getting paper when needed.

How does this affect you? 

Factor in more time for projects. Getting paper will take longer, and of course with these announced price increases, it will cost more.

How Can CCAH Help?

    • We are starting early — making decisions on packages sooner so production can order paper before the art is released.
    • We’re talking with our production managers directly, asking about specialty stocks far in advance of wanting to use them.  We’re thinking about places we may have flexibility with the paper stocks we are using.
    • We’re being thoughtful on where strategy can change and where we won’t have wiggle room. Making major changes to package specifications midway through a job may spell big problems — if we have already ordered a special paper and the paper specs change — that original paper is still yours … the good news is you would have it available for your next mailing, or you could sell it to another supplier client if the need arose.

There is some uncertainty still, but it looks like the fall will be very similar to last year with paper challenges. Please plan ahead. And if you have any questions, please leave a comment below or send me an email at smurphy@ccah.com.

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Postal Increase Proposed

Postage has increased every year since 2012. Of course, no one wants to see rate increases, but these increases were nominal and capped at the consumer price index (CPI).

Last November, this changed when the Postal Regulatory Commission decided they were going to allow the postal service more flexibility in pricing for mailing services. Meaning the post office can raise rates above the CPI based on certain factors, like the growing number of delivery points a carrier delivers to 6 days a week, funding retirement for USPS employees, a penalty for underwater rates, and any unused rate authority from previous increases.

Friday’s proposed increase will be the largest we have seen in a one-year period in the last decade (or ever for that matter) — with an average increase of 6.8%!

But, the good news (if we can consider it that) is that the USPS will not be asking for an increase in January 2022 as they have in past years.

Shannon Murphy, Principal and Senior Vice President of Production

What does this mean for nonprofit organizations?

A significant increase in the cost per piece budget for all direct mail campaigns. In a typical campaign, postage accounts for 30-70% of total cost. That means in a program that spends $5,000,000 annually on direct mail, an increase like the one proposed (assuming postage accounts for 30% of total campaign cost) would add $340,000 in additional cost over the course of a year. Imagine if you spent double or triple that. Can your organization afford this?

So, what can organizations do?

Although the proposed increase is currently being challenged in the court of appeals, my advice is to:  

  • Adjust your budgets, the court decision could take a while. And this likely isn’t a one and done  chances are, we’ll see this again for the next five years, at which time the regulators will take another look at the rates.
  • Take a more critical look at how spend is allocated across your program: Is it optimized? Should you consider adding a new channel to your program?
  • Work with your agency or mailshop to analyze each mail file to sort to the best possible sort level. Even when that means splitting the file up between SCF, NDC and commingle. The more we can do on the front end to maximize sort levels, the lower the postage rate.
  • Test! For example, with the proposed increases, flat rates will crush your budget!!! If you have a 9×12 calendar, test a 6×9. Maybe you have done this in the past and found the larger calendar as the winner  but that was 10 cents ago. Ask yourself, do you really need to mail $50+ segments at first class rates? Maybe you’ll get similar results mailing third class. SRE’s are great and increase response  but will they give you the needed ROI when the additional 3 cents for first class postage is added?

With all that said, I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Direct mail accounts for a large portion of overall nonprofit revenue — for one organization CCAH works with, their direct mail fundraising accounts for 70% of their annual fundraising budget. 

Bottom line, it takes all channels for a successful fundraising campaign. Break down silos between channels to make decisions based on your organization’s key performance indicators and long-term goals.

There are lots of moving parts in the direct mail production world  more updates to come as we get them! Please leave any questions below or send me an email at smurphy@ccah.com.

World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a topic that is at the very core of CCAH. But some may ask, “how are diversity, equity, and inclusion different?”

Diversity is the who and the what: who is sitting at the table, being recruited, and being promoted. Although organizations measure diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, or gender, the truth is diversity covers a much more comprehensive range of characteristics, such as disability, education, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic background, etc.

Equity is the fairness, accessibility, opportunities, and advancement of all people. Are we treating everyone equally?

MJ Johnson, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Administration

Inclusion is the how. Inclusion is the behaviors that welcome and embrace those differences by creating a workplace that allows everyone to participate, thrive, and contribute their best work while being their authentic selves.

“Diversity is a mix. Inclusion is making the mix work.” -Andres Tapia

In early 2019, CCAH formalized our commitment to the DE&I space. We are focused on our culture, practices, and client-facing approaches to uphold diversity, equity, and inclusion on all fronts. Over the last year, our dedicated DE&I committee has rolled out initiatives, formalized training, and encouraged meaningful and thought-provoking conversations. We believe in the power of diversity and inclusion to create a culture that is both welcoming and resilient. CCAH is committed to closing the opportunity gap by embedding a DEI lens in our agency’s culture and continuing to drive impact in the world. We are committed to building a sustainable, equity-driven, and inclusive work environment where diversity is celebrated and valued. For a diverse workforce to feel included and heard, you have to begin by facilitating conversations that cultivate understanding.

CCAH challenges you today on #WorldDayForCulturalDiversity and every day to:

  • Activate your activism
  • Push yourself out of your comfort zone
  • Be aware of your own bias
  • Be an ally
  • Commit to learning & listening
  • Contribute to DE&I work, inside and outside of your workplace
  • Recognize your privileges
  • Champion positive change

At CCAH, we recognize and embrace that we all have something different to offer. CCAH will continue to use our voices and platforms to elevate issues such as racism, inequalities, sexism, bias, and prejudices to encourage dialogue that will influence and impact positive change in our country and around the world.   

Let’s keep moving forward together!

Close-up Of A Person's Hand Marking Error With Red Marker On Document

How to Make Sure Your Message Is What Stands out in Your Writing

Here’s why picky Grammar Police Officers like me point out errors: because mistakes in written materials communicate the message that details just don’t matter. So if you’re writing a project proposal, a grant funding request, or a direct mail letter, and the reader gets the impression that you don’t care about details, your request won’t rise to the top of the pile.

Here are a few of the most common errors and some tips on how to avoid them:

Apostrophes are used to indicate possession and contractions.

  • First up: Possession: Jane’s dog. Abdul’s cat. The Robinsons’ car. One exception: its is how you spell this particular possessive pronoun … as in “When I put my sweater in the dryer, it lost its shape.”
  • Next up: contractions. Words like don’t and can’t use an apostrophe to indicate there’s a letter or two missing (do not and cannot). Another example is it’s which always means it is.
  • Note that apostrophes never make a word plural – so if your see a sign reading No Dog’s Allowed on the Playground, please do me a favor and sneak over at midnight and paint over that apostrophe.

Effect and affect.

Effect is either a noun or a verb – “The sunshine is having a positive effect on my mood.” Or “The only way to effect change is to make your voice heard.” Affect is also either a noun or a verb, but most commonly a verb: “I didn’t think his insult would affect me so much.” Or “Sometimes people in shock have a flat affect, where they don’t react at all.”

Fewer/less.

Use fewer when there’s a set number of whatever you’re referring to, and less if it’s vague. For example:

Wrong: Less than 100 people were in my graduating class.

Right: Fewer than 100 people were in my graduating class.

Right:  Since fewer people go to restaurants now, there’s less crowding.

i.e. and e.g. are not interchangeable

 i.e. is Latin for that is to say or in other words. e.g. is Latin for for example. E.g.:

Right: He brought all kinds of desserts to the party, e.g., ice cream, cake, and cookies.

Right: Chris had adopted their gender-neutral name and pronoun a few years ago, when they began to publicly identify as nonbinary, i.e., neither male nor female.

And please, always add a comma after either abbreviation.

Me, myself, and I.

As the proofreading website Vappingo says, “I is the doer, and me is the done to.” As in “After I have finished shopping, please pick me up.”

It seems like people often use I incorrectly, just because it sounds fancier, so it must be right. So often, it’s not. For example:

Wrong: The party invitation was addressed to Buddy and I.

Right: The party invitation was addressed to Buddy and me.

One way to tell what’s correct in this example is to remove “Buddy and” – that way, you’ll see that “I” doesn’t work.

A couple of general rules for using myself correctly: Myself is never used in a sentence that doesn’t contain the word I. And myself never takes the place of me or I.

Wrong: The meeting attendees will include Sherry and myself.

Right: The meeting attendees will include Sherry and me.

Right: Thank you, but I can do it myself.

Yes, there is a place for an automated Spell Check in your process...

but it’s not to check spelling! Spell Check is notorious for incorrectly “correcting” grammar and spelling, so don’t count on it for that. Instead, run a Spell Check after you’ve finished proofreading your document. It will help you clean up by finding extra spaces and repeated words you need to delete, problems with capitalization, and more.

Please don’t use what I call decorative quotation marks.

These quotation marks curiously surround a word for absolutely no reason. Here’s an example:

We went to lunch at a “soup and sandwich” place and I had the “Blue Plate Special,” while my mother had the $5.00 “Senior Lunch Deal.”

These quotation marks are unnecessary and make the sentence more complicated than it needs to be – some of the quoted words are regular words that are easily understandable. Others are already highlighted by being capitalized, so you don’t need the quotes. My rule: if you’re tempted to use decorative quotation marks, remove them and see if the sentence is clear without them. I promise you, it almost always will be.

Proofreading includes fonts and graphics.

Double check your consistency with headlines and subheads (are some all upper case, and some a mix of upper and lower case?) Also, if you’re using a Table of Contents, make sure the entries in the TOC match what’s in your document, and that the page numbering is consistent. Same goes for bulleted text, font size, boldface text, etc. Consistency is key.

Also pay attention to what might be missing.

Page numbers? Date? Signature?

And just a note about making your writing resonate.

Help your readers by making everything you write crystal clear. Assume that not everyone is familiar with jargon, so avoid it if possible instead of peppering your prose with terms people might have to Google. And it’s always a good policy to spell out all abbreviations or acronyms (at least the first time) so you don’t inadvertently leave your readers behind.

If you’re not sure about a word usage or grammar rule...

… remember the Internet is your friend. Sites like Vappingo, Grammarly, and my favorite: GrammarGirl (especially her Top Ten Grammar Myths), all provide easy-to-understand rules and examples.

One last piece of advice:

It’s much easier to spot mistakes in other people’s writing … so find a friend and help each other out. It’s harder to see the mistakes in a document that you wrote and are familiar with.