All posts by Richard L. P. Solosky

Richard has over 25 years of business development and marketing expertise. He is the founder of two software development companies and has over 10 years of nonprofit experience serving at various levels bridging both staff and board functions. He consults nonprofits in the areas of marketing and organizational development, earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from Western Michigan University, and a Master of Nonprofit Management from Regis University. With a natural love of the outdoors and outdoor activities, Richard is an experienced skier, climber, and mountain guide; a twelve-year field-active team leader with Alpine Rescue Team, serving as President, Training Director, and as Chairman of the Rocky Mountain Region of the Mountain Rescue Association, he has resided in Evergreen, Colorado since 1990.

5 Steps to Crisis Management Nonprofits can learn from Emergency Managers

crisis image ropeJust imagine, your organization is humming along, donations are at par with your goals, your staff is happy and motivated, and there is genuine synergy among stakeholders. What if this good situation were to go bad?  What if… you were to lose a major donor, sponsor, collaborator, or key individual? What if a negative story on one of your programs were to appear on a major news source? What if?

Do you have a contingency plan in place to deal with the unexpected? Planning for every possible scenario is of course counterproductive; but, having an understanding of the process necessary to put an effective plan in place quickly is well within your reach.

Emergency management professionals are experts in dealing with the unexpected. I spent 12 years performing search and rescue operations throughout the Rocky Mountains, mostly in Colorado with Alpine Rescue Team, but also nationally and regionally, with the Mountain Rescue Association and the Colorado Search and Rescue Board.  I would shout from any mountaintop that those years contained some of the most valuable and rewarding experiences of my life.

Nothing can compare to seeing the joy on a lost person's face when they have been found, witnessing a mother's relief when her child has been returned, or the personal gratification of being physically spent and emotionally drained when a mission has been successfully completed.  I'm immensely thankful for this experience; it's where I gained an appreciation for nonprofit work; the collaboration, commitment to a cause, and sense of purpose being the ultimate motivators.

The lessons I learned over those years could fill a Chinook helicopter (yep, they are big), but one analogy recently came to mind while consulting with a nonprofit working through an unexpected executive transition. Crisis management is not something most nonprofits prepare or plan for, the crisis just happens, often out of the blue, and they're usually one of those sink or swim situations. They are similar to the calls I used to get in the middle of the night, those where Aunt Edna was expected home for dinner from her favorite hike and it's now 10 PM and storming. 

We had a process for planning on the fly and the simple steps I learned from emergency management training fit perfectly for any organization experiencing an unexpected situation.

  1. Is the scene (of the accident) safe? Do you understand what the situation really looks like? Are there any hidden traps? Before you leap, this is the perfect time to take a close look around in order to thoroughly assess the situation, understand it, and then determine a reasonable response.
  2. Triage the patients/problems. There is often a hierarchy to your situation and its many inherent problems. Think beyond the obvious to understand where the bleeding is worst and set your priorities accordingly.
  3. Develop an evacuation plan. You're looking to evacuate yourself from the situation as quickly as possible. Public relations efforts are usually the first place to start; you need to get ahead of the developing story, so it doesn't get worse, or better yet, so it is perceived as positive.  Next steps are often found in a broader assessment of your organization to learn why the situation got out of hand. Stepping back before stepping forward is often a good strategy.
  4. Implement your plan. Whatever the plan, set a timetable, budget, and measurement system to ensure success.  But most importantly, don't be afraid to adapt as the situation evolves. These situations are often fluid.  New twists can appear around any turn in the trail, behind any rock, or tree; so make sure you don't step off a cliff. 
  5. Mop up the scene. This is often overlooked. Part of your clean up beyond putting away the gear is an overall assessment of the operation.  In the military it's called an after-action review. It looks at what went right, what went wrong, and what can be learned from the gap.

Noted scholar and teacher, W. Edwards Deming once said: “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you do not know what you are doing.”  Always think of your actions as a process, even when you are in crisis mode.

One Africa Award – A Model for Success

Kids 001 1038x250 pxFood Nutrition Foundation is a Zambian organization I am proud to have worked with now for about two years.  It's been fun to watch them grow and mature and begin to shape ideas into programs and programs into community impact.  They asked me what I thought about applying for the ONE Africa Award, a $100,000 award which aims to recognize, reward, and advance the exceptional work of organizations founded by Africans that are based in Africa. 

They are a small organization and so my first thought was it may be a bit beyond their current capacity, but upon further consideration, it dawned upon me how great it was that they have the raw ambition and willingness to give it a go.  But, what really struck me was how the contest itself was an excellent model for a well-structured, efficient, and effective organization.  I couldn't help but notice how the words demonstration and impact were liberally applied and how an emphasis on measurement and collaboration were critical to an award. Any organization that commits to adopting these principles, would find impact improving in their community. Take a look at the rules and see if you agree…

2013 One Africa Award Criteria

The 2013 ONE AFRICA Award will award best practices by an African organization or individual addressing social development issues through innovative advocacy in promotion of Millennium Development Goals (MDG) attainment.

  1. Extent to which the organization has designed and implemented an innovative advocacy program that employs new approaches to impact in a given sector(s).
  2. Ability to demonstrate and communicate specific indicators of progress and impact linking work to a given sector(s) in a clear results-oriented framework.
  3. Demonstration of the ability to replicate efforts of the organization to take intervention to scale.
  4. Demonstration of strong internal and constituency accountability mechanisms (i.e. community leadership consultations and involvement in programs to demonstrate the interventions are relevant to the majority of the poor in the target community and empowers them in a sustainable way) along with transparency of operations.
  5. Extent to which the organization has employed creative partnerships to achieve its goal(s) and ensure coordination with other development actors. These partnerships may include public and/or private sector players.

As a result of this contest, FNF is now looking at these parameters with an eye towards their internal and external methodologies and with the goal of applying them to organizational growth for the future. Organizations will do well to understand that an innovative, well-organized program complete with measurement systems that target community relevance, progress, and impact are critical for growth and sustainability in today's highly competitive funding environment.

Indicators, Benchmarks, and Ice Cream.

Ice CreamGuest blog post by Jerome Stiller:

If you're like me, you have to be vigilant to be sure that your waistline does not keep growing as you get older, like rings on a tree. It’s tough for me because I consider pastry, ice cream, and beer to be three of the four essential food groups (the other being coffee). So I exercise and try to watch my diet. But how do I know if my efforts are successful (or not)? Of course I could step on a scale every day or every week, and compare my weight to some ideal weight. I could do something similar by measuring my body fat percentage and/or BMI. Or I could use a tape to measure the circumference of my waist just below my belly button (don’t ask).

I've tried each of the methods above and don’t care for any of them. Weighing myself every day or every week means that I have to remember to do it, and it can be downright depressing because I am always heavier than I think I am. And what does “ideal” weight (or body fat or BMI) mean anyhow? Ideal for whom? Maybe not for me.What I do to measure my progress towards my weight goals is:

"I do not buy pants with a waist larger than 30 inches."

I wore size 30 pants in college, and I continue to do so today. When my pants are too tight, its time to increase my efforts, and when they fit quite well I know I’m doing a good job of managing my weight. In fact, discomfort from tight pants is an excellent and constant reminder that I need to do better (i.e., put down the cheese danish!) to meet my goal.

The example above takes a basic evaluation question (how am I/we doing?) and highlights some considerations of indicators and benchmarks.

An indicator is proxy measurement providing information to help answer the evaluation question. A benchmark is an explicit statement that provides a point or target for comparison.

And there is always a choice of benchmarks. For example, I could have chosen to compare my weight to some external standard (the “ideal” weight) , some self-determined target (to weigh 10 lbs less or to weigh 150 lbs); however these benchmarks would not be relevant to the tight-pants indicator. Notice that the indicator(s) you choose is crucial in choosing the appropriate benchmarks, and vice versa.

So, I have an indicator (how tight or loose my pants are) and a benchmark (a not-larger-than 30 inch waist) to help me assess my success in managing my weight. My evaluation strategy is to monitor the way my pants fit me and to use that data to inform my eating and exercise habits – looser means ice cream; tighter means no ice cream.

I chose this indicator because I am able to derive useful information from it (too tight -> need to workout and diet more), and it requires minimal time and effort because its something that I do already. While it doesn't measure my weight directly, it is easy and provides the information necessary to manage both my short-term and long term goals.

I hope you've found this useful in understanding some basic design considerations in program evaluation. Most importantly, remember that:

a) there are a wide range of options in determining evaluation indicators and benchmarks (many of which are not costly or even free); and

b) that your program evaluation will be successful if you choose indicators and benchmarks that are clearly aligned with your evaluation goals.

I chose an evaluation strategy that:

a) gave me meaningful information relevant to my evaluation question (are my exercise and diet efforts successful?) and

b) used minimal resources.

In designing and implementing a successful program evaluation, you can choose from a variety of strategies and their appropriate indicators and benchmarks to meet your evaluation needs. Me? I’m going to get some ice cream.

This Hip Tip is provided as a guest post from Jerome Stiller, Senior Data Analyst and expert in program development and evaluation. Jerome believes that data can and should be used to paint a compelling picture that will guide program and organizational development and provide persuasive evidence of impact. At Questus Strategies, we measure performance to guide development and improvement, and we measure impact for demonstrating success in achieving organizational goals. In today's highly competitive funding community, these data-driven demonstrations are increasingly important to funding sources.

Is Your Board… Bored?

Bored Board

We've all experienced a rut. You fall in and it seems like all you do is spin your wheels in that proverbial ditch. It can happen with the best nonprofit boards as well. 

You know it’s happening when… You've been talking about revisiting your vision, mission, and values statements, for like… forever! When you've gone through several board members in the last year and you suddenly find half your team is gone. When your meetings consist of nothing more than business as usual, or when your query for questions on the Treasurer's report is met with silence. When members are more interested in their mobile devices than the discussion at hand, or when you spend the majority of your board meetings discussing reports or policy rather than the future of the organization.  Yep, you guessed it; these are all signs you're in trouble.

An organization can hit these speed bumps at any stage in their lifecycle.   It's easy to become mired in minutiae, tactical details, or malaise rather than a big picture that creates excitement and enthusiasm. Here are some Hip Tips to get you out of that rut and with a little luck, perseverance, and strategy, steer clear of it!

Raison d'être

Nothing gets a group more excited than a higher purpose, a common goal, or shared vision. As explained by Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, a shared vision is: "the capacity to hold a shared picture of the future we seek to create" (1990: 9). As such, a shared vision has the power to be uplifting and to encourage experimentation and innovation… It works to transform your nonprofit into a learning organization, which continually evolves and grows.

When a vision is shared, "People talk about being part of something larger than themselves, of being connected, of being generative. It becomes quite clear that, for many, their experiences as part of truly great teams stand out as singular periods of life lived to the fullest. Some spend the rest of their lives looking for ways to recapture that spirit." (Senge 1990: 13)

Routinely revisit and refresh your vision, mission, and values. Work to get your team excited about a new project, strategy, program, or campaign. Just as important is finding evidence of your impact to the community you serve.  Evaluating and understanding your Triad of Value will guide you to better service and better service creates a sense of purpose, which leads towards personal fulfillment and deeper commitment.

Embrace Opinion and Encourage Debate

Beware when all you encounter is agreement. If your meeting conversations lack strong opinions, passion, or questions and if they are generally measured, or worse, nonexistent, you may have a problem.  These may be signs that your team lacks the enthusiasm to rise beyond the day-to-day agenda and consequently, is just going through the motions. 

Despite what some may think, spirited debate means your members have genuine interest and concern. Difference of opinion creates a pathway to creative solutions, better understanding, evolved thinking and strategy. Remember to remind everyone to do their part and ensure they "understand what the other side is saying."

Also understand that diversity and inclusivity run deeper than you may think. You need to involve each member of your board and other stakeholders at a deeper level. There are demographics beyond race and ethnicity that shape a person's culture; great ideas and understanding can come as a result of a range of experience.

Recognize, Utilize, Reward, & Celebrate

Nothing drives a board member battier than when they offer their expertise only to have their experience and talents rebuked or ignored. More importantly, your organization may falter as a result.  Understand why a member wants to be involved and create a position that provides satisfaction for that member.  People are your MOST valuable asset. Anyone who volunteers and makes your organization a priority should be celebrated and nurtured.

Take note that some individuals may desire to learn something new or perform something different from their day job. As my father used to say, "You never know unless you ask", so ask! If you desire to maximize your team's effectiveness, dig deeper by getting to know each of your members on both a personal and professional level.  Then, encourage the rest of your team to do the same and you'll create a winning atmosphere. 

Look Beyond the Playbook

Often policies and procedures are the focus of board development.  That's because aside from being good governance, they are tangible and much easier to get your hands around than really important issues like strategy, or impact.  A good foundation for your organization is important, so make sure you have a copy of Robert's Rules; apply them during your meetings to give them weight and importance.  Just understand that policies and procedures don't necessarily create an effective organization. People do! Inspire them, employ their talents, and reach for the stars!

 

No Magic Bullets

speeding bullet 2"Nonprofit organizations are stuck in a vicious cycle that threatens their ability to raise the resources they need to succeed." – "Underdeveloped", CompassPoint

Like many of you, I subscribe to several industry groups and newsletters in the interest of staying on top of trends, notable wisdom, and topical conversations of interest to my community. So, a question posed to the Linkedin group, Alliance for Nonprofit Management, which revolved around a development director raising his/her own salary, caught my eye. That's because, I've heard this argument before, most notably from a colleague who led a rather large nonprofit association. At the time of his remark, I remember suddenly getting that cold prickly feeling.

Around that time, I also heard a statistic that proclaimed the average length of employment for a development director to be 18 months and for an executive director, 36 months. That's never sounded like a positive solution for a sustainable organizational future and it certainly doesn't create a positive environment for a team approach to growing relationships with donors.  So, I found the following quote from Compass Point's study: UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising more than simply poignant.

"For years now, there has been widespread concern in the nonprofit sector about premature turnover of development directors, lengthy vacancies in the role, and the seemingly thin pool of qualified candidates from which organizations can choose. The development director is commonly labeled a “revolving door” position, and “the hardest to fill and retain” by executives, board members, funders, and capacity builders alike."

Fundraising/development is by and large a sales function. You need someone who will get out there and sing your praises, but it's not that simple. With years of experience as a sales manager and development director, I understand the pressures associated with these positions as much as anyone. And, with over 25 years of marketing, business, and organizational development expertise, I know there is a simple solution to this turnover problem: fundraising is not a singular position. You can't expect one individual to arrive with a box of magic bullets, or a Rolodex full of donors interested in your mission. Here are some hip tips to help you reframe your expectations about this important organizational function:

  1. Stop looking at fundraising as a burden. If you are convinced of the importance of your work, that you are performing your best, and if you believe the world is a better place because of your impact, then asking donors to invest in your mission should be the easiest thing in the world. Everyone should want to participate. 
  2. Resist the urge to hire someone with the goal of placing fundraising soley in their court. Rather, give this person the responsibility of rallying the troops and giving all your stakeholders the opportunity to sing your praises.  Your development director is your quarterback, not your running back. Don't hand him/her the ball and hope he/she crosses the goal line.  Everyone on the team should be focused upon tearing down the goal posts.
  3. Think holistically, understand that your entire organization is a system, with each functional area reliant upon the other.  Program drives impact, impact attracts funding, marketing spurs interest.  It is circular not linear.

By applying a holistic strategy to your organizational development you'll automatically create a team environment where everyone wants to win. 

 

Billboard in the Sky

New Rules of Internet EngagementBack in the early 90's, looking over the shoulder of my office manager, I'll never forget the first time I saw a webpage on the Internet. It was part of something included with her new computer and it was called America Online.  My first thought was: "another place for me to receive advertising pitches, or perhaps just waste my time." "It's like a billboard in the sky!" …Turns out, I wasn't far off the mark.

A great deal has changed since my first exposure to the net.  Today, the Internet touches virtually every aspect of our lives and how we interact, relate to, and communicate has changed forever.  It's a critical component of your marketing efforts and so it's important to get it right.  I've been busy and haven't written much lately, as I migrated this blog and Questus Strategies to a new platform.  As a result, I've learned some new tricks of Internet engagement that I hope you will consider.  

Lego-like Building Blocks

Remember Lego, those neat little preformed, colorful, construction pieces that made it easy to build just about anything?  I don't consider myself a web-developer, but over the years, I've built about a dozen websites. Each time I've had to pour untold hours into learning or relearning a development application to get the job done. It sure has gotten easier!  Now there are lego-like tools to make building a website pretty darned easy. 

My latest venture was to dive into WordPress.  It is known as a blogging platform, but it has some great tools for building complete websites. One of its main features is its (CMS) content management system. CMS makes it easy for non-techies to organize and manage websites, giving you flexibility and an easy interface for building pages, adding pictures, and other content. 

Wordpress has nearly 1800 free and hundreds more custom "themes"; templates which detail how your webpage will appear and give your site a unique layout, look, and feel.  In addition, there are countless "plugins" and "widgets" that make updating and further customization a breeze.  WordPress is probably the most popular CMS, but there are dozens of others with interesting names like Joomla and Drupal.  It's important to have an ever-evolving, dynamic site that refreshes your message and encourages your audience to return on a regular bases.  So, the bottom line is, if you can't update your website content yourself, you are way behind the curve. 

That's because…

"Content is King"

First coined back in 1996 by Bill Gates and still true today. You literally have only a few seconds to capture a veiwer's attention, so you need to get right to the point: what do you do, why is it important, and what is the benefit to the community?  Not effectively communicating answers to these critical questions are probably the biggest problem I've found among nonprofit websites. You can avoid making this simple mistake by employing the Triad of Value in your web presentation.  It's a structural issue, one that doesn't rotate, flash, or scroll, but is focused on the reader's expectations, which will lead to greater understanding, empathy, and emotional connection.  It's easily remedied with just a little effort by using the Triad to define your value proposition

So, your first step is both simple and hard.  Understand what your audience wants and then to give that to them, hopefully in a manner that creates an emotional connection. Take some time to define your target audiences and then research what they find interesting. A dynamic well-organized site that is easy to navigate is best, so try to avoid static copy-heavy pages. 

To create this dynamic look and feel, remember that people naturally gravitate towards images.  Appropriate images will move you up the ladder and garner greater impact.  You should also consider: calendars of events, contests, product reviews, testimonials, reference materials, forums, newsgroups, knowledge bases, blogs, and photo galleries.  The lynchpin is that your content should be as unique as possible, so you distinquish yourself from the crowd. 

All this will work to fulfill another branding fundamental… positioning. You should use your website to showcase your good deeds, your impact, and value to the community.  Remember that: "donors want to be investors in a well-managed organization that has an exciting plan for the future." Show them how exciting, organized, and impactful you are through your website.

SEO, Analytics, Mobile, Smoke, and Mirrors

For the longest time, I felt that (SEO) search engine optimization was not that critical to the nonprofit community, because after all, we're in the relationship business, right? Well, yes and no.  SEO is important in widening your audience and presenting your organization as a leader and expert.  So work to get your ranking higher up the food chain.  There are plenty of resources to help you understand the basics, like this one, or you may want to consider hiring someone who understands the algorythms more thoroughly. 

Web analytic tools are now within reach of even the smallest nonprofit organization. Analytics are those metrics that track trends and visitor behavior. Website success is more than content and design, it’s about knowing who is visiting, how they arrived, where they are landing, and how long they are staying.  Analytics can help you understand what really drives visitor actions, providing a clearer picture of your website's performance. You may learn that donors spend a good amount of time viewing your about us and program pages, prior to a donation follow through.  Armed with this information you can massage and tailor your website for growth and continued success.

Understand that the world is going mobile, so by all means make sure your site is optimized for smart phones, tablets, and other on-the-go devices.  That means the site recognizes the type of viewing medium and adjusts accordingly. You want viewers to get your message on all their devices.

But, be careful not to get caught up in the latest trends, further complicated by technical jargon.  There are thousands of sites with great visuals and technical wizardry that fail to get the message across.  Determine up front the goals for your site. Do you have a clear vision of what you want your website to accomplish?  For instance, is it a donation tool, informational site, marketing piece, or all of the above?  Defining your website goals will help you align your presentation needs to match your brand.

These are just a few new rules for Internet engagement and for successfully defining your "Billboard in the Sky".  These basics can all easily be applied by you, or if you choose to hire expertise, following these simple rules will help you stay on course.

 

Balance

balance1-crop 800x224We all understand balance, it's yin & yang, light & dark, heavy & light, just enough stuff on both sides to keep the equilibrium.  But, in the world of nonprofit leadership, do we really understand what that means?

While, board & executive staff relationships fall on both sides of the fulcrum, all too frequently, they land on the downside of sustainability. One well-know organization recently lost it's founding executive director because a new board didn't feel they should be responsible for fundraising.  Another has recently tossed out team-work, inclusivity, and transparency deciding to deliberately set aside time at their board meeting sans executive director. Of late, I've been coaching several executives and they all have the same complaint, it's me vs. them! Yes, I too have found myself staring at this same chasm.

Why is there often a delineation between staff and board? Frequently, a leadership job description requires passion for the mission.  That passion should indicate there is a mutual bond, a shared vision, interest, and a collective soul. So, why is there often this permutation, which considers the operational leader an outsider? Peter F. Drucker in his article titled: "Lessons for Successful Nonprofit Governance" wrote:

"Boards of nonprofit organizations malfunction as often as they function effectively. As the best-managed nonprofit organizations demonstrate, both the board and the executive are essential to the proper functioning of a nonprofit organization. These administrative organs must work as equal members of a team rather than one subordinate to the other. Moreover, the work of the executive and the board does not divide neatly into policy-making versus execution of policy. Boards and executives must be involved in both functions and must coordinate their work accordingly."

I became involved in the nonprofit community with the high-minded ideal of an elevated process for achieving the greater good.  All for one, one for all, let's make the world a better place!  Through trial and error, I've learned that top down management is not always effective in a collaborative environment and debate, dialog, and creative difference is healthy. Teamwork is a beautiful thing when implemented in an environment of inclusiveness, common interest, and confirmed direction.

So, as to boil this down to the essential, I urge nonprofit leadership to remember the following…

  1. It is not about you, or even us, it's about them: our constituents, our consumers… yes, THE mission.
  2. For high-level effectiveness and mission success, both vision & leadership should be shared.
  3. Remember, we're all in this together; check your ego at the door.

Work to make this an integral part of your organization and embrace all stakeholders, both paid and volunteer as equal partners.  Let everyone know, their business and life experiences are important and they are welcome to the TEAM.

Lessons From a Trust Fall

We build trust through positive actions and then use marketing channels to promote that trust.  The best nonprofits understand effective marketing communications is critical to their success. So why is there so little emphasis on measurement in so many marketing campaigns?

I saw this video the other day and it really made me laugh and then it got me to thinking. Communicating exactly what you want your audience to understand is a tough business!  How effective are you in your communications?

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPOgvzVOQig&w=560&h=315]

What we have here… is a failure to communicate!

How often have you presented a simple message only to encounter an undesired reaction?  As nonprofit professionals, we understand the value of effective communications.  But, do we really know whether our message rings true and if so, to what extent?

How often do you find yourself stating and restating your directives? Are your presentations, or "asks", falling flat?  Has attendance at your events become lackluster? Do you find yourself wondering why the phone is not ringing after implementing a great new fundraising appeal?

The answer may be found in our innate inability to hear ourselves. It always sounds better in your head! We think our message is clear, but we often fail to adequately express our value in ways in which our audience will connect and understand.  Often we use too many, too few, or the wrong words, or we promote our significance in areas where our audience is not listening.

If what we are striving for is to get our great mission understood by as many in our target population as possible, it's important to first craft a great message, but then we need to know if it really is a great message.  Has it been heard, comprehended, and most importantly did it resonate? Here are five Hip Tips to get your message off and running and then humming along like a well-oiled machine.

  1. Understand your target audience.  Know what they read, listen to, watch, like, and think. Remember you can have multiple audiences for your message, so make sure your tailor your communications to each group.
  2. Test, test, test and then test some more.  In every good marketing campaign the message is test marketed and then tested some more during implementation.  Set up specific measurement tools, which will allow you to gauge your success.
  3. Find out what works and keep doing it until it doesn't.  That's how you create and maintain a consistent voice and a develop a real brand.
  4. Remember that multiple touch points reinforce the effectiveness of your message.
  5. And, don't forget the old sales adage: Tell them what you're gonna' tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you just told them.

Employ these Hip Tips in all your communications efforts and your audience's hearing will improve dramatically.

Core Strength

Seals Training - crop1The very best companies and organizations realize that marketing is a core component for success and they place its importance at a high level within their operation. So why do so many smaller organizations only consider marketing efforts as secondary, or as an after-thought?

Risk is inherent in all business and it's those businesses and organizations who minimize their risk that find themselves opposite (or, separated) from the unsuccessful. Minimizing your risk means being smart with your marketing budget. You need to focus on what is working and keep doing that until it doesn’t work anymore.

An effective marketing strategy should be at the core of your fundraising activities. While sometimes a great idea may appear from out of the blue, effective strategies are typically developed only after a great deal of research.  Understanding your "market" and separating yourself from your 'competitors" with a unique value proposition is the first step in developing your strategy. Armed with this positioning, your next step is to create a blueprint designed to inform your target audience(s) as to why you're so awesome.

And, that’s where a marketing plan comes in. Those organizations without clear marketing plans find that their marketing tends to be reactive, unstructured, and usually ineffective.

Marketing Process"If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you do not know what you are doing."
W. Edwards Deming

The trouble with the marketing efforts at many organizations is they are typically only implemented when their backs are against the wall.  An effective marketing plan is on-going and dynamic; it expands and contracts as you learn from your measurement activities.  It's these metrics, which help you understand if your message is effective.  It's a process that should evolve as you and your audience progress.

Marketing without a plan is a risky gamble; marketing with a dynamic plan can minimize your risk and potentially pay off big.  Here are the core components: 1) Research your "market", 2) develop a strategy, 3) set a budget, 4) identify best tactics, 5) implement the plan, 6) measure your effectiveness, 7) research, refine, & refresh, 8) stir and continue.

One last thing, a marketing plan can have several campaigns.  Campaigns are well thought out methods of attracting donors, constituents, new stakeholders, or informing the general public.  All campaigns have a goal and they clearly state what happens next. This is important because it keeps all your stakeholders on the same page delivering a consistent message and persistent experience. This reinforces and solidifies your brand in the minds of your community.

Running an organization can be a risky business, but nonprofits can mitigate their risk with knowledge. Don’t risk everything on the roll of the dice, or the toss of a coin.  Improve your core strength by planning for success.

Social Media Matters

While for many, how to best use social media to promote and publicize their organization appears to be an amorphous creature that continues to escape their grasp, it's really fairly straightforward, and it's time to join the conversation.

social-networks-V2 crop

And, that is pretty much what social media is all about; it's a conversation between you and others, via the Internet, primarily with your network of constituents, but also with the outside world.  Think of it as a cocktail party, a business meeting, or networking event where you share what's new, your interests, and things you think would be valuable to those with whom you are talking.

Just as when you are in these other social settings; you do the same for your social media network.  Your goal is to create a conversation around mutual interests. So, in this dialog, you share your successes, your exciting new plan to make the world a better place, your shiny new program, or your impressive new hire.  But, you also want to talk about the community to which you both belong and you want to provide valuable information to that community.  When you think about it, it's pretty basic public relations; there are just some basic guidelines that you need to keep in mind to remain relevant (so you're not tuned out by your audience).

Mashable, a leading online news community, lists 21 rules of engagement for using social media to your advantage, here are my top 3 picks from their list:

  1. Become a true participant in each community you wish to activate.
  2. Establish and nurture beneficial relationships online and in the real world as long as doing so is important to your business.
  3. Give back, reciprocate, and recognize notable contributions from participants in your communities.

And, here are my hip tips:

  1. Start today; jump in and get your feet wet, you just need to participate. But, be careful about what you post; set up some guidelines that fit with your brand ideal and work to promote that message.
  2. Post regularly, but not constantly; keep the conversation going, but try not to dominate the conversation.
  3. Remember your audience, rather than simply entertain like you might at a cocktail party, think about your conversation as a luncheon meeting.  It's casual, but on point and message; talk about something you both find interesting.
  4. Operate outside your immediate sphere of influence, in other like arenas where interaction can be beneficial.

If you want to keep someone engaged, have a meaningful conversation that you both enjoy. If you're still stuck about where to start, give me a call, I'd be happy to help you get the conversation going.