Christmas in July

It’s been 106 degrees here in Austin for weeks, but at S+G headquarters, we’re dreaming of a snowy winter wonderland. Yes, that’s right, we’re all about Christmas in July. 

And sure, part of that is to counter the truly excessive heat (did you know that Mel Tormé wrote “The Christmas Song”—you know the one…”Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”—to cool himself off during a sweltering July?), but another part is that now is when we start prepping for Q4 fundraising. Yes, really. 

As we work with clients to set them up for a successful year-end, we’re sharing a few of our best “Christmas in July” tips with all of you! 

  • Get your lists in order. Want to talk to more people in Q4? Better start finding them now! (For inspiration, check out this great acquisition experiment from Next After and Save the Children!)
  • Communication calendars are your best friend. If you’re anything like us (or many of our clients), September through December is a crazy season. Events, reports, holidays, thankathons, vacations, and, oh yeah, probably a big campaign (with direct mail and everything)! How do you fit in all those competing priorities (and their many associated messages)? One word: smart calendaring. We’d love to help you build your strategy and create a comms calendar that works for you! 
  • Do your content audit now. What stories and stats do you have in your arsenal? And, just as importantly, what are you missing? How will you fill in the gaps—and how can you squeeze the most life out of what you already have? 
  • Remember the attitude of gratitude. As you prepare to make big asks at the end of the year, think about how you can celebrate and thank donors now. Deepening your relationship with some good, old-fashioned cultivation will help your campaign shine when it’s time to launch. 
  • Turn up those holiday tunes—and dream of cooler weather. Listen, we know it’s July. December seems miles away. But thinking ahead will set you up for success—and lessen the pressures of an inevitably stressful season. So join us as we crank some Mannheim Steamroller, pull out our calendars, and make plans to absolutely rock our Q4 fundraising. 

Want help with your own Q4 planning, strategy, or implementation (yes, we’ll happily write all of your communications for you!)? Get in touch! Or if you know a nonprofit that could use support in the back half of the year, let us know! We’d love to connect and help you bring your vision to life! 

Early Adopters, Sound Off

Last week, our entire team joined Threads on day one. In technology models, you could consider us “early adopters”—the people who jump on a tool or application right away, kinks, errors, and all. We figure it out as we go, watch as more people catch on (or don’t), and hope that most frustrating elements are fixed fast. 

As we played around on Threads, we got to thinking about the other times we’ve been early adopters—and how those tools have remained integral in our lives (or, you know, not). When is jumping on a trend a great idea? And when is it a waste of time? Hard to know, honestly. But here are a few of our team’s experiences…

Lindsey rented clothes (and doesn’t any more).

I think the cat is out of the bag now, but Nuuly is, or at least was, awesome. For $88 a month, you could choose six pieces, wear them, and send them back. When I first started my subscription a few years ago, I rented everything: wedding guest dresses, everyday sweaters, fun outfits to wear to the office, Citizens of Humanity jeans, and more. For a while, those six pieces were integral to my closet. 

The beauty was in the selection. They had tons of inventory, and not that many people trying to rent it. But, slowly, the secret got out, and for a few too many months in a row, none of the good stuff was available when it came time to choose my pieces. The more people that signed up, the worse it seemed to get—and I paused my subscription.

I still do it, on and off, for special occasions or trips, but it’s no longer the wardrobe workhorse it used to be.

Allison’s test turned into an addiction. 

I don’t know how strong your mid-2010s memory is, but in August 2016, Instagram launched a new little tool called Stories. Maybe you’ve heard of it? 

At the time, I was living out of backpack, traveling around the world full-time (yes, it was awesome), and preparing to hit the road for a leg of the trip on behalf of Opportunity International, an incredible nonprofit organization. I already had Instagram (and I was rocking those filters), but my team and I were excited about the “raw, behind-the-scenes” potential of Stories. So we made a deal. I would “story” every day about my travel escapades from the Opportunity account. It was part travelog, part client story, part we-have-no-idea-what-we’re-doing-but-we’re-trying-anyway. And it was so fun.

Fast forward seven years and I’m putting increasingly strict screen restrictions on my phone because I cannot stop scrolling Stories before bed. That “little tool” that I started using the very first week it came out has become ubiquitous to the point of addiction. Who would have thought? 

When it comes to tech, you never know what might happen—some apps hit, some apps flop, and some apps rule our lives—so sometimes it’s fun to just jump in and play. Those early days are the best, anyway—no rules, no strategy, and no big deal if you fail. 

Amanda tried to up her cooking game (and it didn’t work).

It was November 2019, and all I wanted for Christmas was an Our Place pan. I was intrigued by its sleek design, bright color options, and ability to be “nonstick.” Every time I opened Instagram, there it was, showcasing itself and convincing me it was an absolute essential. In addition, it came with a steamer basket, a wooden spatula that could perfectly lay on top of its handle, and a specialized sponge for washing it. I was SOLD—but with an $145 price tag, it left many skeptics wondering if it was really worth it. 

Fast forward to late January 2020, when I finally received my pan. It was everything I ever expected and more. Its smoothness and ceramic finish was beautiful—and way sleeker than my old All Clad, TFAL, and Cuisanart pans. It was also oven safe (up to 450℉). I loved it.

However, the sizzle quickly came to an end when, after a few months, everything was sticking to the pan’s coating. Its sleek exterior was stained and there was no product I could find that could revert it to its base ”spice” color. 

The Our Place pan is still all over Instagram, with collaborations with Selena Gomez and new versions of an improved product. But I’m back to using my older pans since they have kept their integrity through and through. 

Ian wanted to see your face. 

So there I was, a super early adopter of Marco Polo. No, not the game we love playing in the pool (though that game and I do go way back…). I’m talking about the video messaging app that nobody paid attention to when it was released back in 2014. Yeah, that one. But then the pandemic hit, and suddenly everyone was desperate for connection. And guess what? Marco Polo seemed like the perfect solution. Conversational video to the rescue!

I dove right into the app like a champ and invited all my friends. Some chats were livelier than others, but I was the loyal soldier, always there. I mean, I was invested. I started my day with Marco Polo, continued throughout the day, and even sent my final messages as I drifted off to sleep. Talk about dedication.

It worked. I could see my friends, no need for boring Zoom calls, and I actually felt connected. It was like magic, or maybe just really good software development. But then, things changed. I can’t pinpoint the exact day, but at some point, I realized I hadn’t opened the app in days. It happened so subtly, but I was done, now switching my attention back to good old text messages. I had given it too much, too quickly.

Sometimes, you’re an early adopter and your enthusiasm burns hot but fizzles out quickly. Poor Marco Polo, still lurking on my phone, untouched for at least two years now. I guess we had our moment, but like a summer fling, it faded away. So, thanks, Marco Polo, for the memories, we had something special. Maybe one day I’ll remember to uninstall you or check that unwatched message you’ve been emailing me about for the last year.

Threads Are Here

For a creative agency that spends lots of time thinking about social media (hey, that’s us!), today has already been a BIG day. As Twitter sputters out (and yet, still lives?), the all-powerful Meta saw an opportunity—and, last night, launched Threads, Instagram’s text-based updates platform. Within 7 hours, they passed 10 million users. 

So, yeah. This is big. 

We are all about early adoption and experimentation, so we jumped right on to experience the excitement. Here’s what we’re loving about Threads so far…

  1. It’s all about the text. We love a well-designed graphic or beautiful photo as much as the next person (helloooo, Instagram addiction). And you know we can waste hours watching memes and videos (TikTok sucks you in for a reason). But sometimes, you just want to say something—and words are the way to do it. In real life, we use words to connect, converse, debate, and engage. We’re excited to have a new place to do the same digitally. 
  2. You don’t need special skills (or tons of time). Since it’s all about the words, anyone can participate. You don’t need to tap in your designer or photographer. You don’t need to create a sweet flat lay or figure out how to animate static text into a Reel. You can just write what you want to say. And that’s exactly what people are doing. It feels a little bit unhinged right now (in the absolute best way—like kids on the playground without any rules), and people and brands alike are just going for it—with a level of kindness and civility that has long been absent on Twitter. 
  3. It’s connected to tools we already use. Threads is created by Instagram, so your existing username carries over to your Threads account. When your Instagram followers set up their own Threads accounts, they’ll be prompted to follow you there, too. Built in audience, check. 
  4. It’s designed for conversation. Social media at its best is a place where we can, ya know, be social. Yet much of my own social media behavior has become incredibly consumer-driven (I watch, read, absorb creators’ content—but the conversation is often lost). I’m hoping that Threads will create new opportunities for engagement, especially for nonprofits like yours! 
  5. It’s a cool new place to share your story. Some social media platforms are sizzles in the pan—becoming the hottest thing for a week or two before cooling off and eventually falling into oblivion (remember Clubhouse? I’m pretty sure it still exists…). Other platforms reshape our daily lives (looking at you, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube…). We don’t know what Threads will be, but we do know that it has BIG power behind it—and we know that regardless, the best time to take advantage of a new platform is when everyone is talking about it. So why not jump on Threads today and see what it’s all about? You already have words about what you do. You’ll take advantage of a super curious and excited audience. You’ll show your followers that you are tech savvy and on top of trends. And if your organization has an Instagram, you should be able to carry over your info and jump right in! 

Our invitation for you today is simple: Join the S+G team on Threads! We can’t wait to have a conversation with you! 

If you need help getting started on Threads—or on any social media platform—get in touch! We’d love to help you build a strategy, then execute on it with excellence, creativity, and fun. 

Lists for Living

In the corner of my living room, there is a cello. 

You might assume it is my 13-year-old’s—a logical guess given how regularly we encourage middle schoolers to try their hand at band and orchestral instruments. (The elementary school recorder, on the other hand, remains a mystery to me. Truly, why??) 

But no, the cello is not my teen’s school project—it is my 41-year-old husband’s current interest, inspired by a piece of advice from Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine. 

On the occasion of his 68th birthday, Kelly compiled 68 bits of advice for his adult children and posted them on his blog. When he turned 69, he published 99 new lines of wisdom. And on his 70th birthday, he added 103 more. Now, his advice has been made even more widely available with the release of the full compilation (plus 150 more nuggets) in book form: Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier

Our family loves these lists—and when I started thinking about what I wanted to share with our +good community this week, I found myself back on the Kevin Kelly train. 

A few favorites from the original 68: 

  • Being able to listen well is a superpower. While listening to someone you love keep asking them “Is there more?”, until there is no more.
  • The more you are interested in others, the more interesting they find you. To be interesting, be interested.
  • Acquiring things will rarely bring you deep satisfaction. But acquiring experiences will.

And from the 99: 

  • Being wise means having more questions than answers.
  • Calm is contagious.
  • If you can’t tell what you desperately need, it’s probably sleep. (Can I get an amen?!)
  • History teaches us that in 100 years from now some of the assumptions you believed will turn out to be wrong. A good question to ask yourself today is “What might I be wrong about?” (Reminds me of the wisdom of Adam Grant’s Think Again.)

And from the 103: 

  • Denying or deflecting a compliment is rude. Accept it with thanks, even if you believe it is not deserved.
  • 90% of everything is crap. If you think you don’t like opera, romance novels, TikTok, country music, vegan food, NFTs, keep trying to see if you can find the 10% that is not crap.
  • We tend to overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can achieve in a decade. Miraculous things can be accomplished if you give it ten years. A long game will compound small gains to overcome even big mistakes.
  • Take note if you find yourself wondering “Where is my good knife? Or, where is my good pen?” That means you have bad ones. Get rid of those.

As a business, tech, and innovation leader, Kelly also knows a thing or two about management and creativity—and so much of his advice aligns with core tenets of our work at Swell+Good: 

  • Don’t be afraid to ask a question that may sound stupid because 99% of the time everyone else is thinking of the same question and is too embarrassed to ask it. (As a fully remote and asynchronous team, we remind every new hire that the worst thing they can do is not speak up when something is unclear. Always always ask the question!)
  • Art is in what you leave out. (The magic of design is in the white space.)
  • Be governed not by the tyranny of the urgent but by the elevation of the important. (There is no such thing as a marketing work emergency.)
  • Train employees well enough they could get another job, but treat them well enough so they never want to. (Start by treating your teammates like humans.)
  • Your work will be endless, but your time is finite. You cannot limit the work so you must limit your time. Hours are the only thing you can manage. (Hellooo timeboxing.)
  • Efficiency is highly overrated; Goofing off is highly underrated. Regularly scheduled sabbaths, sabbaticals, vacations, breaks, aimless walks and time off are essential for top performance of any kind. The best work ethic requires a good rest ethic. (This is the magic of team lunch.)
  • You can be whatever you want, so be the person who ends meetings early. (Or better yet, cancel them entirely.)

And finally, the piece of advice that inspired the cello: 

At a restaurant do you order what you know is great, or do you try something new? Do you make what you know will sell or try something new? Do you keep dating new folks or try to commit to someone you already met? The optimal balance for exploring new things vs exploiting them once found is: 1/3. Spend 1/3 of your time on exploring and 2/3 time on deepening. It is harder to devote time to exploring as you age because it seems unproductive, but aim for 1/3.

For my husband, this one bullet point on a list of 103 made him realize that the best (and easiest) time to try something new is right now. He didn’t want to lose his knack for exploring, but he felt it slipping as he got older—so he did the only logical thing. He fought back. He went to the music shop, rented a cello, and Googled teachers in our area. And guess what? You can do the same thing. 

Maybe your new hobby isn’t cello lessons—but I imagine you have something you might like to try. I’ve decided I’m going to give vegetable gardening a go (once Austin isn’t four billion degrees), and I am all about sampling new restaurants.

 What’s your “try something new”? And are you willing to actually go for it? 

As I wrap this up, know that while Kelly’s lists are great (and I align with so much of what he says), they aren’t the be-all and end-all. They are starting points. As he says himself, “Advice like these are not laws. They are like hats. If one doesn’t fit, try another.”

20-Minute Reading

Last week, I listened to a short podcast from Emily P. Freeman and was inspired. In it, she described her “reading rhythms”—the types of books she reads at various times of the day. For her, mornings are for spiritual books, afternoons are for personal and professional development, and evenings are for fiction and memoir. 

First, I love this. I love that it sets you up for reading success, I love that it assumes you are reading multiple (different) things at once, and I love that it feels so true. (It totally resonates that reading a professional development book at night feels weird!) 

Second, it clicked with another experiment I’ve been playing with over the past few weeks. Inspired by author and podcaster Laura Tremaine, I’ve been testing a 20-minute reading timer to give myself a way to consume more nonfiction. 

You see, I am a big-time reader. Our house is (basically) a library, with floor-to-ceiling built-ins filling three rooms. I have a stack of books I want to read that’s a mile high—but I only have so many hours in the day. 

Like Emily, I love reading fiction at night, so that tends to be what I prioritize. For whatever reason, I don’t have trouble making time to plow through romance novels or the latest best-seller. 

But I also want to read nonfiction. I know that business and psychology and productivity and creativity books have been hugely helpful for me in the past, but I have trouble prioritizing them within the very real limits of my daily schedule. 

I also know that I am better at my job when I make time to grow. I have to invest in inputs if I want to continue producing high-quality outputs. If I want to benefit from the riches of being a lifelong learner, I have to prioritize, well, learning! 

Enter: Laura’s 20-minute timer experiment

Every day, I pick up a nonfiction book and set a 20-minute timer on my phone. I put everything else away (my computer, and even the phone itself!) and read. And then my phone buzzes and I go back to work. 

I set out to do this first thing in the morning (and that is still my aspiration), but life sometimes gets in the way. No worries. I can use some of my lunch break, or even an afternoon chunk of my timeboxing

I’m primarily choosing books that fall into Emily’s “personal and professional development” category—books that will spark thoughts on how to be a better marketer, a better manager, or a better human. And after two weeks, I can safely say that I am learning a lot—and loving this practice. 

If you want to test your own 20-minute timer, I asked the S+G team for a few recommendations of nonfiction books that have changed the way they think about life or work. A few ideas: 

  • Atomic Habits by James Clear, the seminal classic on how to get things done (recommended by Lindsey)
  • Range by David Epstein, the book that gave me words around why one of my favorite qualities in people (and employees) is curiosity (recommended by me)
  • It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the book that guided us to develop our unique (and uniquely non-crazy) culture at Swell+Good (recommended by Ian)
  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, our go-to guide to creativity (recommended by Lindsey and me!) 

Next on my list are The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control by Katherine Morgan Schafler and The Creative Act by Rick Rubin—and I can’t wait to let you know what I learn!