Tag Archives: donors

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. 

 

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.

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.

30,000 Foot Strategies

flight_dispatcher_training-cropAs we are propelled head long into a new year full of uncertainty, but rich with promise, consider these 30,000' strategies to jump-start your 2013…

1. Identify your strengths and align your responsibilities.  In his book, "Let My People Go Surfing," Entrepreneur, climber, and founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard professed this simple truth: "Managers have short-term vision, implement strategic plans, and keep things running as they always have. Leaders take risks, have long-term vision, create the strategic plans, and instigate change."

Most board development resources agree that one of the fundamental responsibilities of a nonprofit board of directors is to set the organization’s mission and overall strategy, and to modify both as needed.  Yet, I often see boards placing their attention on tactical issues (like laboring over a new logo) instead of pursuing broad strategies for a sustainable future.  In order to make the most of 2013, use Chouinard's common sense observation to your advantage.  Get your board to take a step back and focus on the big picture, while you let your staff do their job of handling operations and implementing your strategic plan.

2. Focus on building your "business". Dan Pallotta, the author of  “Uncharitable,” exposed the unfair rules imposed upon charitable organizations, including the biased view of overhead (investment in infrastructure) as something sinful. Rather than simply asking, “How much of donations will go to programs?” you should consider expanding to a broader discussion about investment and capacity building to achieve more meaningful outcomes and greater impact.

Every successful business takes risks, they invest in themselves, and leverage their vision by investing in people, capital equipment, advertising, and product development. Your organization would do well to do more than spend on program, but to consider how to better solve problems for those you serve, re-evaluate your outcome measurement infrastructure, examine how you reach out to a greater audience and who that audience may be, and to invest in your people.

3. Renew & widely promote your "Theory of Change". Your "Theory of Change" is that set of building blocks that when all lined up lead to a long term goal, desired outcome, or community impact. When a donor clearly understands your process, it becomes a critical link that works to convert a donation into an investment in your organization. When donors become investors, they are consigned to your mission and their personal fulfillment leads to greater funding.

Recently reported by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, "More than four out of five donors conduct research before they give. And many of those donors are looking at your organization's website for information about how their money will support your mission."  In a related Chronicle article: "More nonprofits have shown that data collection and analysis can change the way an organization operates and improve its results in fundraising and carrying out its mission…"  Refine your process for greater and greater impact and efficiencies in order to maximize every dollar you earn.

Finally, don't leave the public's understanding of your "Theory of Change" to chance.  Test market how you explain your process, first among insiders, and then to a larger and larger audience.  When people "get-it" and appreciate your theory, it paves the way to a greater recognition of the importance of your work.  This, then becomes the value proposition from which you implement tactical marketing initiatives to grow mission and achieve vision.

All the best in 2013!

Bring the Rain

If you saw my last post, a humorous look at starting a movement, (if not, check out the 3 minute video under "Leadership & the Courage to Follow", it's worth your time) you may be thinking a bit about your leadership style. Perhaps you're shifting towards a better understanding of what makes followers (the critical sauce for success), well… follow!  If so, here is the question that is probably uppermost in your mind: "Is there a formula for how leadership develops a strong following?"

The answer is yes!  You can think about this process as you do with most things you build, step by step, layer by layer.  An overarching fundamental is an understanding that is best expressed by Daniel H. Pink in his book: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, "The secret to high performance and satisfaction – at work, at school, and at home – is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world".  So, here are the basics…

  1. Organizations don't have needs… People Have Needs.  Remember to embrace your followers and recognize their needs, desires, and participation. Keep this in the back of your mind as you build your programs and campaigns and you'll find your recruitment and retention efforts to be much more productive.
  2. There is one leadership fundamental that has inspired organizations for thousands of years and it’s the capacity for all involved to envision a desirable picture of the future. Building Shared Vision, illuminated by Peter Senge in his book "The Fifth Discipline", is a vision that is shared by all stakeholders that creates a rallying point, which fires up the base and gets the sauce to simmering. Shared vision is what we hope to accomplish, it's how we see the world, and it's our raison d'etre.  Shaping your vision is critical.  In order to become followers, individuals need to relate and understand; often at a primal level and for that you need to carefully build your case.
  3. Understand the Need: In order to build an effective case for gathering support, you need to develop a thorough understanding of the problem. This shouldn't be based upon a hunch, or a personal opinion.  It takes research into what the community perceives, what already exists in the environment, and an awareness of best practices.
  4. Once you have this knowledge under your belt, the next step is to: Develop an Exciting Plan, which serves to fill the need, or which solves, or alleviates the problem.  But listen closely, because here is a CRITICAL COMPONENT… Your plan needs to be both easy to understand and exciting, so as to build enthusiasm and to acquire and retain interest.
  5. Share Your Victories: Your constituents need to know, but always keep in mind that different audiences will respond to different messages and they respond best when they are moved by powerful stories of how your work affects the lives of those you serve. Remember that a brand is what people think when they hear your name. Message consistency across many touch points and lots of it are the keys to building an effective, accurate brand. A brand that lives on in the mind of donors and constituents must be developed through years of message layering. Creating campaigns designed to inform, motivate, and educate through many touch points, from web, to collateral, to white papers, which build relationships, is essential to success.

Finally, my father often used to say: "You never know unless you ask."  I never connected the dots until it was brought into focus just yesterday, while listening to an interview with former President, Bill Clinton. Essentially, he said: "People are dying to help; they just need to be asked." Click!

The key is to ask in a way that presents the community need, your vision, and your exciting plan in a way that allows each individual to see themselves as part of the solution.  That means providing a rallying point, which includes a compelling and detailed rationale for how they can participate.  You can't simply just talk about generalities.  While a vision: "World peace", or "ending homelessness" is a fundamental goal post, simply talking about your vision without a road map, will not create excitement, or commitment.

Nurture your community with personal details that help them understand and engage and you will see your followers multiply.

Build Your Brand Through Actions!

As a career-long marketing professional, I believe in truth in advertising. That is not to say you can't spin or slant your argument to present a fresh alternative, or provide a different perspective, but you need to back up your claims!

This brings me to the state of customer service, about which I often find myself wondering aloud. Haven't we all found ourselves arguing with many of our service providers?  It seems like the only way to get anywhere is by kicking and screaming and threatening to quit.  Yet, they all claim to have customer service as their number one priority.

We have also of late been inundated with political advertisements; with each candidate pointing out the others flaws, rather than presenting the case of why we should vote for them over their opponent.  In some incidences, they have been downright dishonest, presenting not just half-truths, but what I would characterize as outright lies.

These are not ways to build your ideal brand!

We have all been told that actions speak louder than words, but how often do we market ourselves by words alone?  That's why I promote a holistic approach to your nonprofit marketing activities.  Marketing that takes a holistic approach to promoting your organization is developed by thinking about your organization as a whole, which includes its place in the broader community and society, in the lives of its consumers, and its niche among other service providers.

All your activities should be viewed through the prism of your stakeholders: constituents, consumers, donors, employees, volunteers, and the community at large. Holistic nonprofit marketing takes an active and prominent place at the decision-making table.  It plays an active role in programming; examining and influencing outcomes measurement and community impact, aligning your programs and activities to coincide with your values and your vision. Marketing tactics then glean success from program and work to effectively communicate your accomplishments.

Most importantly, promoting your brand starts from within, so it lives throughout your organization. Top-down commitment and involvement of each person in the organization is fundamental to success. Your brand should become a shared vision.  It needs to live in the hearts and minds of every stakeholder in the organization; it must be embraced and promoted from inside out.

Plant these seeds, nurture them, and watch as your vision becomes reality, and your funding and sustainability grow. Remember, there’s no substitute for simply being remarkable. Work towards excellence in all things you do.  Aspire for greatness and your vision, the brand you imagine will come with ease.

A recent interview with Bob Ottenhoff, CEO of GuideStar produced some pretty folksy, but relevant advice for nonprofits looking to improve their funding position.  His comment was brilliant in its simplicity: "When asking for donations, make sure to answer the following questions:

  1. What do you do?
  2. How do you do it?
  3. How are you doing?

To these, I'd add one more question:  Why do you do this?

It's not always clear why your work is important. "The Need" should be carefully explained, so as to provide a frame of reference to your work and illuminate the uninitiated to the plight of your constituency and the significance of your mission.  Miss this point and you won't grow your audience, or win donors.

Most importantly, by answering these questions, you correctly apply the holistic marketing strategy – Triad of Value:

Triad of Value

  1. UNDERSTAND community need,
  2. DEVELOP & IMPLEMENT effective programming to address the need, and
  3. DEMONSTRATE consumer impact through outcomes measurement.

While this seems brilliant in its simplicity, you would be surprised by how many organizations that miss these important points.  Over the years, I've talked with many program officers who often shake their heads in bewilderment with regard to requests that simply don't add up.  Often it's because they miss these basic elements of building an effective argument for funding.  You need to explain why your programs are important and sing praise to your efficiency and to your success.  This means when possible, to provide numbers that enhance your success stories and that provide relevance to your work.

One last thing, don't forget to extend this messaging to all your collateral materials in order to expand your audience to new individuals.  To ensure your future growth, you need to reach out to a greater and greater audience, you never know when you will encounter a donor sympathetic to your cause.  But, only if they understand and connect emotionally!

Holistic Marketing – Your Gateway to Sustainability

Hold the presses, because here's a revelation; are you ready? …marketing is at the heart of all your nonprofit activities.  Yes, you heard correctly; marketing is an integral component of achieving your mission.  It's critical to your successful fundraising and to your on-going sustainability; it should not be an afterthought.

If the community doesn't fully understand your good work, they won't line up to get involved.

It is important to understand that marketing strategies for a nonprofit organization are much different than they are for marketing products to customers.  Nonprofit marketing is much more inclusive to your mission, and therefore it is critical to look at the whole enchilada. Please listen carefully; contrary to popular opinion, nonprofit marketing is not advertising, it is not about a cool logo, or a flashy website; it is… ready? …about effectively communicating your value in the community.

In order to effectively communicate your value, a systemic marketing strategy is vital.  First, you must understand your significance to the community and then you must present your case of achievement in a manner that is understood by the appropriate audiences. To effectively communicate your worth, it is important that you apply the "Triad of Value":  1) UNDERSTAND community need, 2) DEVELOP effective programming (with measurable outcomes), and 3) DEMONSTRATE consumer impact. Once your strategy is designed, all your marketing tactics should be carefully intertwined with these three principles.

At Questus Strategies we call this process, "Holistic Nonprofit Marketing". It's a nontraditional approach to developing your marketing strategy.  At the core of this approach is an understanding that marketing is at the center of the organization.  A "holistic” strategy is developed by thinking about your organization as a whole, which includes its place in the broader community and society, in the lives of its consumers, and its niche among other service providers.

Marketing Integration

Holistic marketing works to develop and maintain multiple perspectives of all the organizations' activities in regard to the broader universe. It should be applied early, and liberally, and permeate the organization at a high level.

I'm interested in your thoughts on marketing's importance in sustainability and your comment is appreciated.

Framing the Argument

There has been plenty of chatter of late in the nonprofit community regarding the Susan G Komen and Planned Parenthood organizations.  The mistakes of SGK and the success of PP contain greater lessons in understanding the importance of strategy in all your decision-making activities.

Let's first take a look at the loser…

Any way you slice it; defunding PP was an extremely contentious decision for SGK to make.  Let’s not discuss the politics of the decision; they simply lead to a bottomless pit.  But at the very least, let’s agree that it is hard to believe that it was not obvious to everyone involved that this would be perceived negatively by many, many, people.

So, when you can be absolutely certain that your decision will be controversial, the very first point to remember is that how you explain your decision is just as important as why you make your decision.  Your message needs to be extremely clear, concise, and if possible, bounced off a sampling of those who will disagree in order to determine the extent of any possible damage.  It is imperative to look at both sides of the coin and to frame your argument in a manner where the opposition will take the least path of resistance.

In today’s social media fueled environment, you can’t stick your head in the sand and hope that everything will be OK.   And, you can’t assume that a controversial decision will eventually blow over.  And that leads to bad decision #2; in light of this obviously contentious decision, SGK failed to get out in front of the issue with an appropriate communications strategy.  They sat idle while the media storm built to category five hurricane proportions.

The damage they created hurt women on both sides of the issue and SGK may now be facing even closer scrutiny; they may never fully recover from their mistake.

Now the winner…

Planned Parenthood took advantage of this sleeping giant by leveraging social media to properly frame the argument in their favor.  They heard the rumblings of defunding and spent weeks preparing to debunk SGK’s decision.

Their strategy was simple and elegant; first they courted the Associated Press with an exclusive story and then they garnered support through social media presenting their argument by posting: “ALERT: Susan G. Komen caves under anti-choice pressure, ends funding for breast cancer screenings at PP health centers.”

They further leveraged social media by suggesting to interested parties that they donate, sign online petitions, post their PP badge, or tweet about the issue.  The rest was left to mainstream media and roughly 24 hours later they had won the battle.

When faced with tough decisions, developing a dynamic plan to frame your argument in the best possible light is akin to other strategic planning efforts.  You can leverage any decision if you understand the dynamics.  Marketing, branding, PR, and other communications are not for the untrained and best left to professionals who look at the world from the 30,000 foot level.

Pulling Weeds

Nonprofit organizations can take a tip from successful realtors.  Well-groomed houses, those with curb appeal, sell!  Home buyers can easily see that sellers have taken care of the property and that creates demand.

In the nonprofit community, where donors want to be investors in well-managed organizations, we can learn from this well-known real estate paradigm.  Donors just like home buyers need to be reassured that their investments are sound.

Your brand is a reflection of what the community (investors) think about the value of your work.  So you need to effectively communicate your success in a clear and understandable manner, but first you need to know whether you are effective.

The best way to understand your effectiveness is through metrics.  But, it is much more complicated than simply counting how many meals you have served. You need to know what works and what doesn't. Defining success, setting goals, and measuring progress help you evaluate and refine your programs.     When you transparently polish & improve your program you demonstrate that you are well-managed.

Cultivating your program by pulling weeds like redundant activities, ineffective processes, and sometimes by eliminating program components creates curb appeal for your organization.  A garden free of weeds grows and so will your organization, if you groom it.