Tag Archives: Nonprofit Marketing

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. 

 

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.

Spin Cycle

Spin Cycle crop 800x224You never really know when negative press may hit your organization and switch your communication efforts to the spin cycle. It can easily hit the best organizations; just consider the disparaging developments at organizations like LiveSTRONG, Central Asia Institute, and Susan G. Komen.  Preparing in advance for these speed bumps, can minimize your risk and save you some pretty big headaches.

This issue was recently brought into focus by a friend who posted the following image on Facebook with the comment: "Wow, I had no idea…"

PETA imageI thought it was pretty incredible and a little shocking, so did my friend, who happens to be a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). That's because, while many may consider PETA a bit extreme on some issues, I think everyone agrees they hold the rights of animals first and foremost.  So, my red flag went up on this one and I decided to dig a bit deeper.

The first thing I looked for was a values statement from PETA that might provide some guidance and insight into their organizational foundation. Throughout my search, I learned that PETA has strong and deep-seated position statements that identify their views on just about everything.

"PETA's "Uncompromising Stands on Animal Rights" is an overview of what sets PETA apart. Our positions may be controversial, but they are always true to our driving mission: to stop animal abuse worldwide."

True to form, I found a list of positions on animal rights, including euthanasia:

"Euthanasia is a sad reality caused by people who abandon animals, refuse to sterilize their animals, and patronize pet shops and breeders instead of adopting stray animals or animals from animal shelters." Read the rest of their position here.

So, that pretty much answered my question.  At the ready, PETA had provided a reasoned and pragmatic position on an important and unpleasant issue they have thoughtfully considered and then decidedly presented as their stance on the problem.  Most importantly, their preemptive strike rendered the aforementioned attack pointless and that is exactly the result you want to achieve.

So, let's briefly take a look at some of the important take-a ways on spin; it's a double-edged sword that can work to present a reasonable alternative, but it can also be used to incite and provoke.

 

 

  1. Remember that even the most innocuous statement can get spun in a different direction than intended. We see this every day on the 24 hour news programs, as they digest, regurgitate, and spin every single statement made by politicians and celebrities into something often unrecognizable from the original.
  2. You never know who is going to take a pot-shot at your work. The smart organizations are pro-active in their communications.  They develop comprehensive values statements, stick to them, clearly think through all their positions, and post them front and center.
  3. An active PR campaign with a comprehensive media contingency plan, available at the ready, can save you a great deal of heartburn, especially if they are developed in advance to a potential attack or misunderstanding.
  4. Remember that not everyone's red flag will pop up when they see something that may stray from the truth, popular belief, or reality.

I never found a values statement for PETA, but they probably don't need one, that's because they are true to their values and clear in their vision, which they share widely.  Being true to yourself and confident in your beliefs will take you a long way, just don't let them become your little secret. Make sure you let the rest of the world know.

Building Bridges

Understand these basics of building strategic partnerships and you'll see your organization blossom. Get off in the weeds and you'll spin your wheels in the ditch.

More often than not, many organizations lack a thorough understanding of what their strategy should be in building collaborative partnerships. They know they need to have them, but they're often unsure of where strength might live.   Strategies for developing good partnerships always revolve around each organization’s goals’, a common interest, and a good relationship.

Therefore, the best partnerships always offer mutual benefit, where all parties bring something to the table and all parties receive a return from their investment.  Arrangements structured in this way create synergy, longevity, and satisfaction.

To facilitate clear goals, the best nonprofit organizations commonly break their partnerships into at least into two categories and understand the difference. The first are complimentary organizations; those whose missions, visions, and values resonate within your area of service.  These types of partnerships are typically collaborations and the kinds of cooperative activities might include any of the following: combined fundraising events, program exchanges, or causal activities like advocacy initiatives, or public benefit activities.

These types of partnerships can work to leverage public relations actions, which can lead to greater awareness, promoting membership, volunteer commitments, or individual donations.  They can also work to promote our second category, corporate partnerships.

For the most part, corporations are all about making money and returning it to their shareholders.  Except for those with a triple bottom line strategy, they are not typically in the business of giving their money away.  Therefore, corporate partnerships are characteristically sponsorships, which work to brand the corporation or business as favorable to a segment of the community to which they wish to promote themselves.  In many ways, there is no limit to where leverage may exist in your community and synergy may be found among any number of companies.

It's always more important to understand the why of building bridges, rather than the how of building bridges.  The key to a successful corporate partnership then, is in finding an angle that will lead to crafting a mutually beneficial campaign.  So, the critical questions to ask and answer are: “what does your organization have to offer a partnership, why would a prospect’s management be interested, and then, who might be interested?

Finally, always remember that each bridge is built on a relationship and if that relationship falters, so will your bridge building.  You never know where each relationship will lead and you should know that sometimes a bridge can appear from out of thin air as a result of an unassuming relationship.

Practice these principles and you'll build a bridge to greater awareness, powerful partnerships, and subsequent sustainability.

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.