Dramatic and quickly-implemented changes like the United States government shutdown—even when known in advance to be a strong possibility—are challenging to respond to promptly and well.
Nonprofit marketers like you are already limited in bandwidth and budget so when a change of direction comes fast, it can be hard (psychically and literally) to redirect. But it’s an imperative to jump on these opportunities communications-wise if 1) your issue or services are likely to be directly effected and/or 2) you can newsjack this top-of-mind story to bring attention to your issue or cause (and that’s many of us). Relevance rules but has a short lifetime!
I saw some of you were doing just that this week and reached out to solicit more examples to guide you. Here are a few of the most effective models I’ve seen:
From Organizations Facing Increased Demand for Services
A government standstill on food stamps, shelter and other essential human needs generates more demand for those services from nonprofits that provide them (and a second wave coming from people who won’t be receiving their regular paychecks due to being furloughed, or their employers being hit by a decrease in sales due to furloughs).
Feeding America, the national network of food banks serving 37 million people daily, does great right-things, right-now marketing so it’s no surprise that they re-focused their content strategy immediately after learning of the shutdown. “We are referencing the shutdown in all channels—social, website, email. We had to quickly coordinate all those messages and assets as soon as it was announced,” says Dan Michel, Feeding America’s manager of digital marketing.
Other food banks followed suit, including Food Lifeline (serving Western Washington) which posted a timely update for its community the second morning of the shutdown.
Note: Feeding America shaped its response to highlight the ongoing fragility of the nutrition and hunger relief program, setting up a powerful frame for future campaigns. I’ll share more in a future post about how Feeding America wins time after time with its responsive, relevant marketing.
From Organizations Whose Staff and/or Services are Cut, or Will Be
1) The National Head Start Association responded early Tuesday morning with this statement to the media that generated a lot of coverage. I was dismayed to learn yesterday that some Head Start programs have already closed.)
The Association has followed up with calls to action on its Facebook page and other channels. But there’s a huge opportunity (and need) for the Association to train its local agency members to spread the word in their communities to motivate their support as volunteers, donors and advocates.
2) The Association for Public Lands has done a great job of asking, training and supporting its members to spread the words. The Association emailed all members—not-for-profit organizations that support America’s public lands, most of whose employees can’t work due to the shutdown—first thing Tuesday morning, highlighting the potential for “$3 million in lost revenue from cancelled educational programs, unsold interpretive products and the lack of other visitor services if the shutdown runs a week.”
The Association urged employees of member organizations to spread the word on the impact of the shutdown in their regions, as well as the letter (built on member feedback submitted through a right-before-shutdown survey) that the Association had already sent to legislators. Even better, the Association created this website overnight to support members its members in building out this viral campaign.
3) The Americans for the Arts Action Fund jumped on this opportunity to link the shutdown to the closing of federally-funded museums, parks and zoos, and delays in the distribution of NEA grants.
This call to action was heralded across channels, on the website (above), this blog post and via an email to supporters.
From Orgs Piggybacking Their Cause or Issue on this Top-of-Mind Story
(Most of you)
There’s also an opportunity to connect the shutdown to your organization’s issue or cause—even if its not directly impacted by the shutdown now (more examples here please)—or to extend the right-now impact to the long term. Just tread carefully to ensure you don’t step on the toes of front-line impacts such as loss of access to food and shelter.
Talons Out Honor Flight, a Michigan hub of the national Honor Flight organization—which takes WWII vets to D.C. to visit the memorials, has already seen results from its moment-of newsjacking. Talons Out jumped in on the first day of the shutdown, piggybacking their cause (vets and the org’s inaugural trip taking vets to D.C. later this month) on the story of WWII vets already in D.C. to see the memorials who were turned away due to the shutdown.
This effort generated an immediate response: A local TV station–WXMI FOX17–asked to talk to Talons Out staff about the shutdown, its cause and the pending trip to D.C. Nicely done!
In another approach, the Americans for the Arts Action Fund extended its shutdown-spurred call to action by positioning the shutdown as as preview of what the arts world is likely to look like if the threatened 49% cuts to the NEA budget are passed.
P.S. You Can Easily Do Better than the Federal Government’s “Blackout” Approach
Communications from government agencies came to a dead stop by Tuesday noon ET (October 1, 2013), with static content on websites as well as social channels like Facebook and Twitter completely disabled. I’m unsure why the government decided to hide useful content on its agency websites, but it’s definitely a disservice to constituents:
How are you connecting your cause or issue to the shutdown? Please share your stories here, including the response you’re getting.
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