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April 11, 2011

Telling the World What Your Nonprofit Does

Has anyone else noticed that NPR has started interspersing little self-marketing spots amidst its regular programming? Like this morning, I heard one describing what its foreign correspondents do when there's not much going on in their area -- no immediate conflict or other pressing news. "Trekking in Asia" is all I remember, but it was fun to reflect, for a moment, on what's going on behind the scenes in order to bring me NPR programming.

radio_microphone_medium.jpgSo what took NPR so long to use its airwaves for its own marketing purposes? The network has long been announcing taglines of its supporter foundations, as described in this 2009 article from L.A. Philanthropy Watch. Maybe NPR finally wised up and realized its own listeners could use some reminders of what it's all about, too.

And that's a lesson that a number of nonprofits could probably learn. Even your most devoted supporters may be a little vague on the details of what your group does. Some have a pretty good idea, but have ceased to be inspired by it. And then there are the new supporters, who are still getting a sense of your group's identity and personality.

So, finding ways to get your group's message across (most likely without the benefit of airwaves) can be crucial. To this day, I sometimes go to nonprofit websites where the home page doesn't even make clear what the group does, much less why or how. To this end, a "tagline" can be helpful.

For advice on developing a good one, see Nancy Schwartz's recent blog post: "How to Create a Tagline that Connects and Motivates."
March 29, 2011

Fundraising Kudos to: Winners of DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards

Looking for a little inspiration regarding how to create videos that get people interested in your nonprofit's cause? Or more realistically, that attract them to press "play" without pressing "stop" soon thereafter?

Check out the 2011 winners of the DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards. They include:

  • For best small-organization video: The Post Carbon Institute, with "300 Years of Fossil Fuels in 300 Seconds"
  • For best medium-organization video: Ronald MacDonald House Austin, with "Meet the Digits"
  • For best large-organization video: American Jewish World Service, with "A Public Service Announcement Not Approved by AJWS"
  • For best thrifty video: Watershed Management Group, "It's in Your Hands."
Even if you don't have time to view all four videos in full, it's worth watching at least 20 seconds of each, to get a general sense of their tone and enjoy the creative variety in their approaches. Even with that variety, however, the videos share certain winning features, namely:

  • Takeaway factoids. Each video tells us something we didn't already know -- facts we can tell our friends, like, "Did you know that studies show that children heal better if the people they love are close by?"
  • Humor. Whether it's fun cartoons, finger puppets with silly hairdos or offbeat ethnic one-liners by Sarah Silverman, each video finds a way to take a lighthearted approach to a serious subject. (The Watershed Management Group is the one exception, but it uses a gentle, artful, cinematic approach instead -- another way of avoiding pounding viewers over the head with a dire message.) Viewers can watch them for enjoyment, not out of a sense of duty.
  • Hope. The Watershed Management Group video, for example, highlights the simplemadagascar_wash_schools.jpg solution of getting kids access to soap and water using "tippy taps" as a way of reducing by half the instances of deadly childhood diarrhea. Viewers instantly think, "That's doable!" (What's a tippy tap? The video makes it clear, as does the photo to the right, from USAID.)
  • A call to action. There's no point in getting us interested without giving us a way to follow up, and each video does that, whether by asking for support of the group itself, or with tips like, "Learn to live without fossil fuels" (and an image of a bicycle), or "Understand the issues and pitch in." 
Well done, I say!
February 17, 2011

Know What You Want to Say Before You Write

pen and paper.jpgThat title is actually one of my cardinal rules for writing, whether we're talking about a nonprofit grant proposal, a book, or a letter to Mom. When I'm having trouble putting words on the page, a little looking inward often reveals that the real problem isn't in the writing process, it's in the thought process. In other words, I don't really know what I'm trying to say.

So it was nice to see an articulate reminder of and expansion on that topic, by Rebecca Leet, as guest blogger for Nancy Schwartz's Getting Attention blog, with her article, "Can't write the message? Maybe it's not your fault."

Rebecca addresses the added complexity of trying to get all the key players in an organization united around its core message -- no small challenge, with fundamental issues at stake!
February 10, 2011

The Groupon Super Bowl Oops

Little did I know that the REALLY Big News from the Big Game would not be the lack of Pepsi ads (as I discussed in my last blog), but the misguided Groupon ads. By now, you've probably seen them twelve times over, but if not, here's where to view their oddly combined, wannabe satirical melding of real causes and flippant consumerist appeals to "Save the Money."

It's a sad tale, because humor invariably involves risk. When someone tries to be funnyChicken Feathered.jpg and fails, it makes the rest of the world --particularly the nonprofit fundraising world, which is already prone to an excess of seriousness -- chicken out (with all due respect to the chicken) and stick to the tearjerker appeals, which can be real yawners.

When done right, humor is a great way to make donors smile -- and then give. But how to do it right? Here's a helpful article, "When Humor Can Be Very Effective in Fundraising Marketing Campaigns," by MP Mueller, for the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

February 4, 2011

Pepsi Chooses Nonprofits Over Super Bowl Advertisers!?

Even I, who never comes within 25 yards of a television that's showing a football game,Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for superbowl2.jpg knows what a big deal the Super Bowl ads are. Heck, I think I've even visited websites that compile the best ads after the game, just for the fun of watching what America's most creative marketers can do with a big budget (or whatever budget is left over after actually paying for the air time).

So, it's clearly Big News when Pepsi announces that it's pulling its ads from this year's Big Game -- and bigger news still, for anyone interested in charitable fundraising, when the reason turns out to be a shift in focus to its program of giving grants to nonprofits that muster up the most online support via social networks like Facebook and Twitter. It's called the PepsiRefresh Project.

Get the details in The New York Times article, "Pepsi Bets on Local Grants, Not the Super Bowl," by Jennifer Preston. And if you're with a small group that's thinking, "We'll never win one of those grants," read right to the end of the article, where it describes how a high school marching band got a $25,000 grant from Pepsi for its uniforms. Yay team! (By the way, who's playing this year?) 
January 7, 2011

Not Every Nonprofit Needs to Issue a Calendar!

I had no idea how many nonprofits were sending 2011 calendars to their donors until I saw the pile on Nolo's conference table, free for the taking. Many of them were supplied by the relative of a staffperson, who is apparently very generous to charity -- but perhaps hasn't gotten the memo about how you're more likely to make a difference by focusing your gifts on a select few groups, rather than giving a little to each one, thus prompting all of them to follow up with endless and expensive mailings.

In any case, looking at the array of calendars, and at which ones got snapped up first to grace people's walls, has led me to a few conclusions:

1) Too many calendars! Many groups are wasting their money, producing calendars that will only compete with other groups' calendars, and possibly end up in the recycle bin. Each donor has only so much wall space, and is going to choose carefully which images to look at every day. Sure, maybe some people will pass the calendars on to friends, thereby increasing the nonprofit's visibility, but given  the pile of "No one wants 'em" leftovers on that table, I wouldn't count on it.

2) Depressing images don't sell. There's a calendar sitting there from a veterans' memorial group, where each month's photo features a flag-draped coffin or a grieving relative. Are these photos important and relevant for people to see? Yes. Might they work in a newsletter or as Facebook entries? Absolutely. But I have trouble imagining who would, given a choice between a calendar with cute puppies or the one with coffins, choose the latter.

3) Photos of clients' faces don't sell well, either. This one's a little harder to explain, but it's clear that calendar choosers aren't drawn to looking at the faces of anonymous people being served by a nonprofit. Maybe it's because you have to read the text to "get" what's going on, or maybe it seems unfair to have this face take up a lot more wall space than photos of one's kids or grandkids. In any case, the cute puppies are clearly winning out again.

What does sell? Animal and nature photos are the big winners. I snagged a calendar from the California State Parks Foundation, where each month features a beautiful photo of a park -- allowing me to imagine, or actually plan, which parks to visit next. It will replace the calendar I picked up last year, by a nonprofit that serves kids with cancer -- but chose to feature photo of birds each month. It's not entirely logical, but I put it on my wall! Happy 2011 to all . . . . 
January 4, 2011

Fundraising Oops: The Susan G. Komen Foundation's Use of Donor Funds to Sue Smaller Groups

The Susan G. Komen Foundation has done an admirable job bringing the phrase "For the Cure," and the color pink, into people's consciousness.

Unfortunately, its efforts to stop smaller nonprofit groups from using any similar branding seem less than admirable. According to reports in the The Huffington Post, the Komen folks are spending big bucks (originally, donated money) to sue groups that use the phrase "for the cure," any variations thereof, or even the color pink, in their own marketing efforts.

I predict it's going to backfire, as others echo the sentiments of one nonprofit director facing legal action from the Komen Foundation. She told the The Huffington Post, "They seem to have forgotten what charity is about."

In fact, their protectionist strategy has already backfired, if you believe that Stephen Colbert wields any influence; here's his pithy sendup. Let's hope we see a shift in course from this group soon. 

December 15, 2010

Fundraising Kudos to the Friends of the Packard Library

. . . for its creative spin on the walkathon idea, and one that non-athletes can get involved in. This Friends group had volunteers line up sponsors for guerrilla readings of poems by Emily Dickinson, at unlikely spots throughout the town of Marysville, California -- such as a bar, gas station, and laundromat.

The amount earned wasn't overwhelming -- $1,000 -- but it no doubt raised the library's visibility, and it got some press coverage, to boot -- read all about it in the Sacramento Bee, here.
December 7, 2010

Is Your Nonprofit on Jumo Yet?

I don't pretend to understand Jumo -- in fact, the name reminds me of a fictional African dictatorship on the TV show 24 -- but I do believe in trying to keep your nonprofit's Web presence up to date, and taking advantage of social networking tools.

To that end, here's a clear and helpful description of what Jumo is about, and how it can help nonprofits make their place in cyberspace, from the folks at Nonprofit Tech 2.0. Take particular note of the description of how, if you don't get on their and manage your profile, someone else might!

October 13, 2010

Your Charity Benefit Events: Will They Interest People Who Don't Know Your Group?

The season of both charity benefit performances and germs is upon us, as I was unhappily reminded last night when stomach flu kept me from seeing comedian Robin Williams at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. He was doing a benefit performance for the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society, whose facility serving homeless dogs and cats was recently destroyed by fire.

Why look, here's one of the dogs they placed for adoption before the fire!

Anyway, as far as I know, the people who got my tickets were simply eager to see Robin Williams, no matter who the event benefited. With that kind of star power, the event itself is  practically a guaranteed success.

But the more interesting question, given that not every organization will be lucky enough to sign up Robin Williams, is whether those guests who were just there for the fun went away with some interest in supporting the Humane Society in the future? I'll never know for sure, but it's an interesting lens through which to view your own events. How do you make sure your message will reach not only your loyal supporters, but friends of friends, substitutes for people who stayed home sick, and so forth -- who may have only a dim idea of what your organization does?

Putting up posters and other visual representations of your organization's work is a good start, as is a rousing speech during intermission. I believe the Humane Society brought a dog along. In any case, remember that such an event offers a rare chance to compellingly and succinctly state what your organization does, why it does it, and why someone who just walked in off the street should care. Let your message outlive the event!

Now, back to my cup of ginger tea.