Hear expert insights from Foundant’s copywriter on how to craft compelling copy. In this episode we cover the importance of considering your audience, writing for different mediums, where to find inspiration, adding personality when you are writing for an organization, and the power of stepping away.
Katie Sproles, Marketing Copywriter | Foundant Technologies
Throughout her 30-year career in marketing and communications, Katie feels fortunate to have been able to dedicate her skills to writing compelling copy about organizations that serve others or enable the work of those who do. Before joining Foundant’s team in 2021, she focused her efforts on writing about the programs and services offered by a public university art museum, a customer-owned utility, and local government in Eugene, Oregon—all of which make a difference in the lives of those they serve. That’s what brought Katie to Foundant.
She is energized every day by the work its clients are doing to make the world a better place. A mountain girl at heart, Katie is happy to have finally planted her roots in the city of Foundant’s headquarters, Bozeman, Montana. When she’s not working, you’ll likely find Katie outside, looking for different ways to explore the local trails, rivers, and lakes. It’s hard to say whether she has more photos of Bozeman’s breathtaking sunrises and sunsets or her beloved dogs, Moby and Max. One thing is sure—she has fewer photos of her husband and two teenage daughters whom she loves deeply but are far less willing subjects.
- Blogs Katie Has Authored: resources.foundant.com/authors/katie-sproles
- “Everybody Writes” by Ann Handley: annhandley.com/everybodywrites/
- Ann Handley Newsletter: annhandley.com/newsletter/
- Wordifier: claxon-communication.com/wordifier/
- “Communicate for Good” Recorded Webinar with Erica Barnhart: resources.foundant.com/education-webinars-for-grantmakers/communicate-for-good-raise-awareness-revenue-and-impact-one-word-at-a-time
- Compass: Connect with other members of the philanthropic community at Community.foundant.com
- Social: Follow Foundant Technologies on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and Instagram
Katie Sproles 00:00:00:02
I do think voice is very important. It's what interests the reader. It's how they get to know you. And it requires you to relax a little bit.
Logan Colegrove 00:00:13:10
Welcome to Connected Philanthropy. In today's episode, we are talking with Foundant copywriter extraordinaire Katie Sproles. Katie shares some helpful writing tools and tips that she's used throughout her career and also pulls back the curtain to talk about her process. We discuss a multitude of topics, including the importance of considering your audience writing for different mediums. Where to find Inspiration?
Logan Colegrove 00:00:40:07
How to add Personality. When you're writing for an organization. And the Power of Stepping Away. Let's join the discussion. Well, first of all, I would like to thank you for stepping out of your comfort zone and recording an auditory podcast when you are in fact a copywriter. And you'd probably much rather send me a blog or do this in written form.
Logan Colegrove 00:01:03:22
So thanks for stepping out of your comfort zone.
Katie Sproles 00:01:06:09
You're welcome. It's an honor to be here. Is it too late to send you a blog?
Logan Colegrove 00:01:09:22
No. No. Yeah. If this goes terribly, I'll follow up and say
Logan Colegrove 00:01:13:09
You know what? Letâ€™s do this.
Logan Colegrove 00:01:14:00
Let's do this blog
Logan Colegrove 00:01:15:09
Logan Colegrove 00:01:16:14
Could you introduce yourself and how you came into this role at Foundant?
Katie Sproles 00:01:20:20
Sure. So like you said, I am Foundant's marketing copywriter. I'm part of our marketing communications team. As are you. I actually started my career. I went when I was in school. I studied communications. So and I was driven to that by my love of writing. So this dates way back that I really enjoy writing. And then ever since graduating, my career has been focused on marketing and communications and all my various roles.
Katie Sproles 00:01:48:11
So I have been a marketing and public relations coordinator for a university art museum where I had the opportunity to do a full rebranding after a big renovation and expansion project. And in that role, I actually managed their membership program and worked very closely with our development director. So it was my first exposure to the philanthropy space. I have also been a Web editor for a public utility where I manage all their web communications and social media and then managed a website for a local government for the city of Eugene and Oregon, also managing the web communications and participating on their public information team.
Katie Sproles 00:02:30:04
So throughout all those positions, writing has been the thing that I have enjoyed the most in every role. So I feel very lucky that here that's what I get to do all the time. I've also been very lucky in each of those roles that I've always been able to write about things that I really believe in that I think are making a difference in people's lives.
Katie Sproles 00:02:52:12
And I get to do that here as well. I really believe that the software and the solutions that Foundant makes makes our clients work easier. And so as I've heard people talk about, we're helping people help people help people. For me, it's important that I'm passionate about what I write about, and I'm lucky to get to do that here.
Logan Colegrove 00:03:14:26
Well, it definitely comes through and found and is very lucky to have you. There's an old saying, people will want to work with you if the work you do is really good or you're a pleasure to work with and you are both in all the projects we've collaborated on. So thanks so much for all the great work you do.
Katie Sproles 00:03:31:07
Well, right back at you.
Logan Colegrove 00:03:33:01
I think just all your experience thinking about the philanthropic sector, you kind of have to be a strong writer. There are so many jobs in the philanthropic sector, whether, you know, you're doing a grant proposal or newsletters or donor communication. Just having strong writing skills seems like a like a must. So it's so exciting to get you in the studio to kind of talk about some of the things you've learned.
Logan Colegrove 00:04:00:12
We could start with the importance of considering your target audience.
Katie Sproles 00:04:04:25
I think that's probably the most important thing. I think when you're writing, you need to make sure it's relevant to whoever you're targeting and it's personal and valuable. So I think whenever you start to write, that should be your first question is who is this for and why does it matter to them? And how can I make this you know, why?
Katie Sproles 00:04:28:01
Why is this interesting to them? I think those are very, very important questions to consider.
Logan Colegrove 00:04:33:17
I also love how your work is so scannable like I am. I love visual and auditory things, but like your blogs are just so efficient as you can get the key points scanning and you can actually keep reading further. It's just such an efficient medium.
Katie Sproles 00:04:51:29
Well, that's very nice and I think that comes from my experience and writing for the web where I really learned the importance of the they'll talk about chunking because people online really do scan as particularly, particularly when you're on your phone. And so I think it's really important to break up that text. It doesn't mean you can write a long blog article.
Katie Sproles 00:05:13:15
That's okay, but you should break that up with headlines subheadings. Keep your paragraphs short, your sentences short, look for opportunities to add bullets, whatever it is, to break it up so the reader can jump to the the place in that article that's most relevant to them I think is really important. Something that really I learned when writing for the web.
Katie Sproles 00:05:32:24
But I think it really carries through to a lot of different types of writing.
Logan Colegrove 00:05:36:18
How do you think about how to choose the right medium for the message?
Katie Sproles 00:05:41:15
That's a good question, and I think it's I feel lucky that I'm part of a team where we can help brainstorm that. But I would say I think having that combination is really important because everybody's brain is different. Everybody's schedules are different, different things resonate with different people. So what when you have the opportunity and it obviously depends on the resources within your own organization, but to provide information in a variety of formats or channels, you know, maybe you support that podcast with a real short blog article and it can reference a longer webinar or, you know, and you can have little snippets and social, whatever that combination is, people are going to jump in,
Katie Sproles 00:06:26:20
in different ways, but you can cross-reference it and reinforce those messages. So I just think having that comprehensive campaign or, you know, toolkit is important.
Logan Colegrove 00:06:40:28
Absolutely. Hitting all the different learning styles. I think some of the best work we've done is an embedded video in a blog with our past content theme. I think being able to push play and those people who just want to see the video can watch that. Or if you're like me, I usually push play and then get bored within 10 seconds and just scan, see your beautiful writing and then highlight some parts or bookmark the blog.
Logan Colegrove 00:07:07:08
It's it is it is helpful when you can hit people with multiple mediums.
Katie Sproles 00:07:11:07
I totally agree. And you never know after your 10 seconds you might be so engaged that you might decide, I want to go watch a full hour long video and you didn't know that going in, but it's just finding different ways to capture people's initial attention. And then depending on how much that topic resonates with them, they can dig deeper.
Katie Sproles 00:07:32:16
And it's nice to have that deeper, deeper conversation. But it's so much of as just capturing that attention to begin with.
Logan Colegrove 00:07:40:08
I think starting with that in mind is kind of a key to success.
Katie Sproles 00:07:44:14
There's a lot of competition out there in terms of content and attention.
Logan Colegrove 00:07:48:16
Exactly. It's kind of yeah, it's overwhelming to think like you are literally competing with a cat video on YouTube in terms of like what people could click on. So what's going to add value to your to your listener?
Katie Sproles 00:08:01:26
Logan Colegrove 00:08:02:18
A reader. And yeah.
Katie Sproles 00:08:03:16
That's that's tough competition for sure. And you're right. So that's why that value and personalization is and keeping that audience in mind. It's you know as much as you can really target someone specifically whatever challenges you think they're facing, that's I think when you're going to get them to engage.
Logan Colegrove 00:08:21:28
A key part of my process is finding creators who do what they do really well. Like I think being inspired by other people's videos or podcasts is almost kind of a prerequisite to any project. Do you feel the same way?
Katie Sproles 00:08:38:28
I completely agree, and I know when I was doing work on websites, one of my first questions when I would be was given a project as to whoever was assigning that is, do you have any examples of things you love? It really helps to understand what what's inspiring someone else, but also just for myself. I love to make know when I see something that I really like.
Katie Sproles 00:09:02:16
And in terms of writing, I think it's important to write as much as you can and practice whether that's, you know, personally, professionally. But also reading is really helpful because then you can, like you said, you're inspired by what you see others do that really captures your attention. There's a writer that I love, her name is and Hanly.
Katie Sproles 00:09:24:23
She's a marketing and a writing expert. She has a book that I often refer to called Everybody Writes, but she also has a newsletter. And we all subscribe to newsletters and we have the best of intentions. And they come and go, and you're busy and they sit in your inbox. I look forward to hers every week. I always learn something about writing and I laugh.
Katie Sproles 00:09:47:11
And so, you know, I have learned a lot about from reading from her, about writing. And so everybody finds different inspirations, but I can relate to that.
Logan Colegrove 00:09:55:12
Yeah, that's awesome. We'll link to those in the show notes as well as a bunch of your work. I want people to binge some of your blogs and get inspiration from you. Do you have any other resources that you would recommend in terms of inspiration or even like tools that you find yourself using on projects?
Katie Sproles 00:10:14:25
Well, I was thinking about my process and a tool that I use every time because actually referring back to Ann Henley, she talks about she has this thing called the writing piece, and it's a 17 step writing process, which is a lot of steps I don't necessarily follow all 17 and every time I write, but there are several I always follow.
Katie Sproles 00:10:36:01
And she talks about having the robot edit before the human edit, and I use Grammarly. So I find that really useful. You know, everyone uses spellcheck and whatever word processing, tool word or Google that you use, but then I'll use Grammarly and it helps me catch some of those grammar things and think about it. Whether you accept or reject it, it's really a useful tool for me.
Katie Sproles 00:11:00:25
So that's one that comes to mind.
Logan Colegrove 00:11:03:02
Well, now I'd like to shift to talk about how you humanize or maybe find your voice as a writer, or even seeing as you do a lot of like proofing or punching up other people's writing. What's an effective way to make your writing not seem just bland, to actually put some personality and voice into writing?
Katie Sproles 00:11:30:27
I do think voice is very important. It what it's what interests the reader. It's how they get to know you. And it requires was you to relax a little bit, depending on the situation, maybe have a little bit of fun and kind of open your heart a bit. So I think having that voice, it's in terms of your own writing, I think it just is a matter of practicing and getting comfort, of showing your personality a bit.
Katie Sproles 00:12:01:18
I found it. My responsibility is to make sure I'm writing and found its voice and making sure that's consistent in all of our communications. And so similarly, I need to think about what is our personality as an organization. And so we even went through an exercise and this is common with organizations to think about what are our personality traits, and that's really helpful.
Katie Sproles 00:12:28:25
And it's something I encourage organizations to do, you know, come up with a handful of adjectives to describe who you are. And then when you're writing, you can think about that. It's as if your organization is a person. It really helps to humanize it. And I think the more you can interject, depending on the piece and the assignment story telling, like you said, I mean, there's some opportunities when I can share an experience of my own that, you know, in some blog articles that's appropriate.
Katie Sproles 00:13:00:13
But whether you're telling the story of your organization, a team member, someone that you know in your programs, impact stories, obviously this is very common for organizations in the philanthropic space to use storytelling. But I think the more personal you can make it that just gives people more of a sense of who you really are.
Logan Colegrove 00:13:22:02
Yeah, I agree. I think that's so wise, starting with the personality traits of your brand and you've also put together writing guidelines that anyone can reference. What all do you have in your writing guidelines for found?
Katie Sproles 00:13:37:17
And it's interesting, they're pretty varied. Some of them are just restating some some basic grammar tips that sometimes people forget just to keep that in front of them. And then some have to do with word choice. And this gets back to voice. For example, we make a conscious effort to refer to our team members versus employees, so that just feels more human.
Katie Sproles 00:14:01:21
And so depending on your organization and how you describe your programs and services, we like to talk about solutions versus products. You'll have those words in your organization that that I include those as well, and so that anybody can reference that as their writing and that can help them keep that a consistent voice and language.
Logan Colegrove 00:14:24:18
Yeah, that's that's a super helpful resource. The power of words. Team member.
Katie Sproles 00:14:29:23
Logan Colegrove 00:14:30:17
Yeah, they really do like how you feel is kind of in your word choice. Erica has a cool thing on her website. Like word, What is it called? It's like a word.
Katie Sproles 00:14:44:15
I think she calls it the word of fire.
Logan Colegrove 00:14:46:01
Katie Sproles 00:14:46:27
And it's a tool. And I'm not exactly sure how it works, but you can put in a word and it will tell you if it's overused. And an example I remember, I think is the word provide. And can you think of something that feels a little bit more active? And so it's an interesting exercise. There's a lot of tools out there like that that might help you try to rethink, freshen up, energize your copy.
Logan Colegrove 00:15:14:26
Yeah, I will link that in the show notes. Erica was a speaker earlier in this quarter with our content theme, so definitely check that out. If you're looking for a better you a better word to use. Okay. Next question. What's the most challenging part of your job?
Katie Sproles 00:15:33:10
You know, the first thing that comes to my mind, I think probably a applies to people in the philanthropic space more than anyone. And it's just time. There's not enough hours in the day and it's time management thinking about, you know, you have these important larger projects, these larger writing assignments that require more thought and sort of strategizing.
Katie Sproles 00:16:02:19
And how do you make the space for that when you're getting those day to day urgent? They can be small requests, but they really take you out of that space of trying to be creative. And I know that people listening can really relate to that because you have these urgent fires every day and they take you away from that bigger, more strategic work.
Katie Sproles 00:16:22:08
And so it's just learning how to manage that.
Logan Colegrove 00:16:25:11
I'm so grateful that you now do the scripting because that was the hardest part, is getting into that creative zone, being able to shut down everything else and just focus on the one task. My process back when I was doing it was going on walks and then just having my speech to text app open on my notes on my phone.
Logan Colegrove 00:16:48:17
And I would just kind of stream of consciousness talk that way. Do you have any like wacky getting words on paper or processes that you do? Is it a time of day? Is it Yeah. Glass of wine?
Katie Sproles 00:17:02:22
Well, you know, I I'm going to refer to Anne Handley again, but she talks about the ugly first draft. And so for me, it is important just to start by just letting whatever's in your head out on the page. Don't think about spelling, don't think about grammar, don't think about structure, don't second guess anything. It's just throw it up on the page and then walk away.
Katie Sproles 00:17:27:23
Depending on the assignment and your deadline, you may have more or less time to do this, but I agree walking helps a lot. You. For me, I really do need to clear my head and then things will come to me sometimes driving. If I just, you know, whatever it takes to to let everything else out of my brain.
Katie Sproles 00:17:47:18
I also have a notepad beside my bed. I will wake up in the middle of the night with an idea. So obviously this is churning in my head and I'll wake up and it's sometimes it's gibberish in the morning, but that's one of the strange things I do. But yeah, I can relate to walking as well.
Logan Colegrove 00:18:05:21
And I think walking away, like you said, is such a valuable part of the process. I find that all over in the work I do, it's just diminishing returns. If you're looking at the same thing, you can get lost. And also, I mean finding collaborators you trust like, Hey, I'm at the stage where I just love a second opinion.
Katie Sproles 00:18:26:01
Absolutely. And I think that's something that takes time. I think early in my career I would be nervous to share it and you'd want it to be perfect before you let anybody see it. And so it takes a little bit of vulnerability. But I love getting those early opinions. And I think again, that's why I feel lucky to be a part of this marketing communications team, because there's anybody on this team that I can go to and say, All right, here's what I've got.
Katie Sproles 00:18:53:28
Give it to me, bring it on. I and I love feedback. It can be call it constructive criticism. I don't care how harsh it is. I love to hear it, but that took a little time to feel okay about asking. But that's how you get the best work, I think is by getting input from people. And if you're able to do that at different points along the way, it's really great because then you're not, you know, spending all that time trying to get to perfection before you share it, only to find out that you've gone down the completely wrong path.
Logan Colegrove 00:19:25:14
This is also valuable. I love hearing these little nuances in your process. I think this could be really valuable to our listeners. Is there any other sort of thing in your process that you can think of that might be valuable for listeners to hear?
Katie Sproles 00:19:40:15
I would just reiterate right, As much as you can practice, Right, right, right. You just get better read, like I said, read and write. I think less is more. Avoid jargon. That's something that you hear often, but I think it's really important to keep it simple. Don't assume that your audience knows some of the more industry specific words.
Katie Sproles 00:20:07:13
And kind of getting back to the question about voice, try to relax a little bit, have some fun with it, and I guess I would end it with do look for those opportunities to walk away, clear your head a bit and and come back.
Logan Colegrove 00:20:21:09
Katie, thank you so much for all the nuggets and thank you for sitting down with me and speaking as opposed to writing. I very much appreciate it.
Katie Sproles 00:20:29:20
Thank you for the opportunity. I welcome feedback from anybody about my writing. And if you change your mind about this podcast, I'll still send you a blog.
Logan Colegrove 00:20:38:20
Okay, Appreciate that. Check out Katie's writing in the show notes and the other things we mentioned. And thank you for all the work you do.
Katie Sproles 00:20:49:00
Thank you, Logan.