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Posts Tagged ‘Nonprofit’

Don’t retrench. Self-assess.

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Build an organization ready for a unified trip into the future. Prepare the hearts and minds of the junior staff to senior level managers during this terrible economic time. I wanted to share one of few bright lights in the economic darkness in today’s “Inside Higher Education.”

It is tempting to freeze hires and cut budgets, but now may not be the time. Adjustments are surely needed. We can learn now from the crisis of higher education endowments and from Bard’s president Leon Botstein as reported at Inside Higher Ed.

Name the programs that should prevail and grow them.  Everyone and everything cannot be treated equally. We can all take a lesson from the endowment debacles of most large universities and the announced plans to cut programs equally across the board.  Think about it: Given the sprawling nature of the large college or university, there may have been no other decision to take. Higher ed is not in the habit of differential treatment of valid programs and less-effective research centers or teaching programs. (Community colleges may operate differently, when current income is by necessity closely tied to program expansion or contraction.)

Set expectations. A college president who has always thought differently, Bard’s Leon Botstein is focused on the current endowment crisis. Importantly, he has already set an expectation within Bard about change and growth, although I expect this dynamic approach has earned detractors as well as supporters. I think Botstein’s wisdom pertains to nonprofits in the present moment. Just substitute “income” for the word endowment in the following:

Institutions should be going through programs, eliminating some, but building others — and spending their endowments to make institutions (themselves) more creative. Operating on the assumption that endowment growth or losses matter “ is a tragedy (says Botstein) that makes everyone risk averse.”

There are three “take away” messages here:

(1) Endowments gave false confidence during good times and promote growth for growth’s sake. As Botstein says, highly publicizing decline on endowment by wealthy institutions may backfire form them. Everyone knows despite the decline the institutions are still wealthy and can afford to be thoughtful about what next.

(2) It’s not possible to produce a responsive and creative leadership group mid-stream. Nonprofit leadership needs to start now to create a culture over time in which everyone buys in to effective strategies for change. Again, this may be a significant cultural change for your and your nonprofit.

(3) Today’s news of broad cuts is a cautionary tale about restricted funds and growth for growth’s sake. In the first case, take the example of creating a program to suit a particular donor) that may be related to mission but taken out of the context of the entire organization’s goals and revenue projections. 

Next steps? How does this translate to nonprofits small or large? Start now to:

-Make it safe for people to look at programs that aren’t working.

-Create ways re-deploy program directors and mid-level managers in shaping new priorities so people are more willing to shed old jobs or outdated roles.

-As the CEO or communications senior leader, be public and consistent in the ways you will encourage growth, self-assessment and change, and the best possible work within your organization.

On the marketing front - John Deveney (Deveney Communications) advises that during times like this, nonprofits can’t afford to miss the target: You must know your audience and carefully pick and implement the social media that will help you meet your goals. Shel Holtz interviewed John recently after he received PR News Nonprofit Award for his work on behalf of New Orleans.

Having done quite a bit of pro bono work on the Gulf Coast myself, I know that the recession visited the Gulf Coast at least three years ago. It takes optimism and creativity to pick ways to promote the city when so much mythology still circulates about its ability to “come back” Could there be a harder PR challenge?

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Bev Freeman is a communications consultant to nonprofits and higher ed based in Boston, specializing in planning and implementation of communications strategies to support fund raising and visibility efforts. Her clients have included Harvard School of Public Health, The Harvard Humantarian Aid Initiative, MIT, Tufts, Oxfam America, Screening for Mental Health, and leadership organizations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (post-Katrina) where she has done visibility work, federal-state relations to keep federal sources of funds flowing to the area, and fund-raising for summer camps and mental health services. Prior to consulting, from 1991-1999 she was public affairs director at the Harvard School of Public Health and also special projects coordinator for Harvard’s provost. She was director of a national infertility counseling nonprofit, RESOLVE, Inc. for 8 years and also has experience in state-level social services.

Economic Crisis Is a Social Media Opportunity for Smart Nonprofits

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Hi to all. I’m sending you this quick post during this time of extreme economic crisis in our country and around the world as a possible result of greed on Wall Street.

Sad economic state of affairs - I don’t mind saying this to you because on behalf of nonprofits everywhere, doing the hard work of keeping people together, this next year or more will be very difficult. See this special report by the Philanthropy Journal. Read this article with a grain of salt in the palm of your hand.

Keep learning - I find that the traditional national associations of nonprofits or even grant makers are a little behind the curve where communications strategy is concerned. By this I mean, many senior folks are not tuned in to social media. Everyone says they don’t have time to learn how to use the media. This is a silly excuse. I am sorry to sound tough on people whose leadership has resulted in the wonderful array of 501 (c) 3s in the U.S. that competently serve the disenfranchised. But during the next year, not a single CEO or communicator can afford not to think about how to use social media. Also, join the Center of Nonprofit Excellence in Charlottesville. I have not yet seen a more nimble web presence able to provide info and wisdom to nonprofits. 

Debating the value of social media vs. use of traditional media - see my letter to the editor in The New York Times Magazine, Sept, 21.  It is a comment on an article published two weeks prior in the New York Times Magazine, Sept. 7 (Clive Thompson, “Digitally Close To You”).  All of you should/could read and benefit from this.

Just Do It - All is not lost. I am not encouraging you to fold up your nonprofit tents and go home. Quite the contrary: keep in mind that social media can boost your fund-raising, help reach an audience or audiences you haven’t even touched yet, and give you hope for the future. Also look for upcoming information about a new media conference sponsored by the Society for New Communications Research on November 14 in Cambridge, Mass.

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Nonprofits—Begin to learn about the social media

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

In this post, I want to repeat what I mentioned in my first post: Set aside time every week to learn more about the social media. Nonprofit communicators have a unique opportunity to employ any of an array of social media tools – these are low-cost (often downloadable for free) and very often effective. Here are some suggestions:

Combat your biases: Shel Holtz, marketer par excellence and observer of social media, warns in a recent podcast about communicators who have a “visceral” reaction to social media and therefore don’t explore it. The emotional reaction is palpable: it often has something to do with feeling “old”, perhaps out-of-step and feeling self-conscious about it.

New resource: Every Dot Connects is a group originating in Austin, which has opened a store online (via Facebook) to help you with social media:  Every Dot Connects.

FIR produced by Shel Holtz – Go to the latest podcast and see what you can learn about social media applications: FIR.

Pass “Go:” When you identify a tool or platform that might have an application to your campaign, you can pass go after you do some thinking and planning. Example: If you work with the fundraising unit (or person) at your nonprofit:

(1) Define your audiences and their preferences,
(2) Identify all the media to be used and sketch out some deadlines, and
(3) Set your financial goal. Be sure to include a build-up in your marketing plan.

Example: Think about how to “reel in” your audiences, i.e., inspire interest and potential loyalty. Entice donor prospects with not only new information but also real-time, breathtaking reports about the issues you represent. You have to build your audience’s loyalty step-by-step, decide how you’ll identify the point at which you can make your “ask.” Think hard about how to ask, what medium to use, and what sort of repetition will work for you. If anyone has examples of the “step by step” to increasing loyalty to your nonprofit, please share.

Nonprofit Marketing – Using a Plan, Considering Social Media

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Hello nonprofit marketers. This short article will review the benefits of a plan, encourage you to engage in planning and help you understand where social media may fit in. See the rudiments of nonprofit marketing in my earlier post Nonprofit Marketing Really?.

A red flag goes up for me when a CEO puts off the idea of communications planning. Or she says, “This (being strategic) is my communications manager’s responsibility.”  Communications planning is by its very nature an organization-wide, integrated enterprise, concerned with constituencies inside as well as outside our agency.

A marketing plan is not a “ho-hum” one-time event. It is a dynamic way to track your progress toward defined outcomes (quantifiable or qualitative) and keep you from tumbling off your seat when additional demands on your time occur. For once, it is a way to be proactive – not reactive as most communications managers find themselves.

Nonprofits fail to realize there are economies to be realized in a strategic multi-layered plan. They sometimes don’t realize they can leverage existing materials to support different marketing needs. Planning helps you identify these opportunities.

Example of using what you’ve got: A national mental health organization was funded for some years by one large federal grant, a risky prospect for a nonprofit. As the grant was about to end, the urgent need to generate new and diverse sources of income put the senior staff in crisis mode.

Staff had initiated a few webinars as a customer relations-education effort. In a strategic planning meeting, their attention turned to webinars as a marketing tool for cultivating other audiences such as clinicians and educators. Staff realized there was a strong match between the professional development needs of busy care providers and the expertise of the organization.

Thus, recruiting and enrolling eager clinicians in webinars (at a minimal cost to participants) provided the basis for generating a council of allies, who could in turn champion the training kits published by the nonprofit for use in a wide variety of settings. These allies can also serve as informal ambassadors for the agency’s mission. Later, social media can be employed, in conjunction with the webinars, to bring together people with similar questions or concerns, consolidating their relationship to each other and to the organization.

Recognition of these potential, interlocking opportunities and the leveraged use of available tools and resources requires strategic thinking. A plan puts boundaries around your strategic thinking and gives you a road map.  Here are a few ways to take steps toward developing your marketing plan.

Become a trusted channel – Like any for-profit, your agency will gain from a disciplined marketing effort. A recent webinar offered by Forrester Research and Umbria refers to being a “trusted channel,” meaning this: Make your organization a trusted communication channel for your audiences. If you gain their trust, you can better guide their thinking and even their actions.

Optimize by using the Internet and social media - In your agency, a marketing or communications budget per se may not exist. You can optimize your scarce resources by using social media. This is a Web 2.0 world – the huge variety of social media (Facebook, Basecamp, iTunes, blogging, etc.) that are advancing communications across the world – and rapidly transforming business, politics, medicine, public health and all the human services. Many of these platforms are free or low-cost. Here are a few key things to think about and execute.

• Know thy audience. Conduct a brief survey or a few focus groups to clarify and confirm your constituencies’ needs and, importantly, how they receive and use information.

• Second, create an informative Web site and have a strategy to tell people about it. Include ways to bring your customer closer (something interactive such as a sign-up for an e-newsletter). Resolve to measure traffic and think hard about ways to increase it.

• Third, reconsider your direct mail. If you are as well resourced as The Nature Conservancy or the Mayo Clinic, print mailings may make sense. Perhaps you are so local (or Internet is unavailable in your area) so that distributing regular mail is a sensible approach.

The humanitarian effort profiled in my first post is now using Basecamp to work collaborative in working groups on new ideas (deliverables) for the next summit meeting.. Discussion, co-writing, communications is all organized by Basecamp. This means no matter where one is – or what time zone – it’s possible to look in on the activity and provide input.

Social media – yes! Skeptical about Web 2.0? Over half of adults are buying services online and a much higher percentage of young people use social media on a daily basis.

And for you skeptics – There is growing evidence that Web-based communications launches a pervasive word-of-mouth, ultimately encouraging the transmission of information in the old-fashioned way – face-to-face. 

How does this happen? When you get an open invitation to a local fundraising event, you might forward this to a dozen or more friends and colleagues. This quickly builds interest in the event or the cause. Recipients can click on the agency’s Web address for more information. This sort of “fast-forwarding” can produce new inquiries for a nonprofit. It can lay a foundation for a conference call to discussions issues in greater depth, or an important breakfast meeting with new donor-prospects.

If your agency’s funding doesn’t grow on trees, consider reducing your direct mail and print budget. You will save trees, and more importantly, probably be more effective. Revert to online communication. Try a brief, focused electronic newsletter, archived and indexed on your Web site. Minimize the graphic art so that it downloads easily, especially by someone without a color printer. Consider offering the option of a text-only file

Think before you leap - The Web may be wonderful for some, but a small nonprofit may solely focus on a strong relationship with the local news media because newspaper coverage generates just the type of inquiries it seeks. On the other hand, for those of us ready to reap the benefits of a lively Web presence, avoid the pressures to blog or to incorporate any other social media unless these tools are imbedded in a well-thought out communications strategy. Compelling narratives about your services or  advocacy effort will stimulate people to sign up for more information. See www.imcworldwide.org as a good example of this.

So, put your toe in the water - You are not behind the curve – yet. It’s safe to say that we in the nonprofit sector are still sorting out the best social media tools to use. Facebook master Chris Hughes said, keep it real and keep it local, mirroring the offline world. Think of the Internet as simply the connective tissue.  Internet aside, on-going your agency’s meaningful one-to-one relationships with clients, the quality of care and your nonprofits distinctiveness and relevance will determine if your organization stays on top.

A final thought - If you push marketing to the bottom of the priority list, you will always feel like you’re not doing enough or that you’re constantly playing “catch up.”  If you have this nagging feeling, your communications manager or your board’s media committee may not be the culprit—the absence of careful planning is.

Consider the biggest hurdle to marketing success in the nonprofit sector: organization-wide commitment to setting strategic goals, developing a marketing strategy to support those goals, and identifying the funds to support the marketing effort. Jump this hurdle and you are well on your way to reporting to your board that your goals have been met.

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The views and opinions on this blog are solely those of the contributors and do NOT necessarily reflect the official opinions of the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association.