Civil Nonprofit Communications

Every election season is a barrier to connection, with people overwhelmed by 24/7 messages from multiple campaigns via multiple channels. But connecting this fall, with a presidential campaign as contentious and bizarre as the Clinton-Trump contest, is tougher than ever. That’s a real concern as we plunge into Giving Tuesday and Year-End.

Tonight’s debate will, once again, highlight our dukes up, all-rules-broken political arena. Pile on the chaos we face on so many fronts—from Hurricane Matthew recovery to racial profiling, and the refugee crisis—and it’s almost impossible to get attention, much less motivate action. We can’t fight it, nor can we sit it out.

Here’s how to get (and stay) close to your people right now:

1) Show your people you get them. The shifting of norms—who is presidential material and how the campaign is run, caring for refugees fleeing nations that brutalize them, public safety for all—is unnerving. People are feeling vulnerable, and the candidates’ fear mongering fuels our anxiety and sense of powerlessness.

Acknowledge that this is a tough time for all of us, and that you respect and care about your people and their families.


Nancy Schwartz on September 27, 2016 in Strategy | 0 comments
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We’re officially one month into summer, so don’t waste a moment in heating up your communications and results with season-specific approaches.

To find the most effective ways to do so, I asked colleagues in the field what (if anything) they do differently to heat up summer giving and other actions. These superstars came back with this slew of great practices:

Is Summer: Sizzling or Slow for Your Organization (and Your Role)?
The Jury’s Still Out

Some Slowdown! We Plan, Invent, and Prep for a Fast-Paced Fall

Plan & Prep
I’m going to take the time to revamp our approach to email timing and volume, and I’m very excited. We have a broad idea of where we’re going right now but it’ll take a few months to plan the exact details and roll out our new program.   –Anna Besmann, Marketing and Communications Associate, Interfaith Youth Core


Nancy Schwartz on July 20, 2016 in Strategy | 1 comment

Read Part One HereMark Dessauer

Guest blogger Mark Dessauer is Director of Communications at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation.

Frank: A gathering of communicators who work for the common good (or public interest). Here’s the final challenge we discussed, with core takeaways:

How do we shape our communications to engage audiences TO ACT for change?

  • Humor: The most reliable way to folks hearts and minds is through laughter:
    • Satire has played a critical role in bringing in Millennials into the news via the Daily Show, Colbert Report and similar programs.
    • If you want to make an impact, you have to change how people think. Engaging critical thinking via satire (and humor) is an effective way to start.


Nancy Schwartz on July 16, 2015 in Strategy | 1 comment
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Summertime Shifts: Nonprofit CommunicationsHey you! I’d love to know how you adapt your organization’s communications for summertime impact, for a blog post!

Do you:

  • Change timing
  • Shift topic, tone or language to make it more seasonally relevant
  • Adapt your campaign focus, channel and/or frequency
  • Tone it summer—light and fun
  • Something I haven’t mentioned yet
  • Change nothing at all?

Please share your summertime approach here. Specific examples appreciated—they’re SO much easier to learn from. Thanks so much!

Nancy Schwartz on June 17, 2015 in Strategy | 2 comments

Mark DessauerGuest blogger Mark Dessauer is Director of Communications at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation.

Frank: A gathering of communicators who work for the common good (or public interest). I found myself there this past winter, delighting in northern Florida rain while the rest of the country was being buried under snow.

Frank brings together communications practitioners, funders, experts, students and speakers in a petri dish of transformative ideas and exceptional people. Here are three key challenges we discussed—can’t wait to hear your thoughts:

How can we best communicate with unbelievers?


Nancy Schwartz on June 16, 2015 in Strategy | 1 comment
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Must-Knows from #15NTC

As Technology Program Manager at the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, guest blogger Kevin Martone helps nonprofits use technology to meet their business goals.

NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) is one of the best learning opportunities I know. Then there are the wonderful folks who participate, but that’s another story.

I know many of you weren’t at the recent NTC, so I want to share my greatest takeaways with you—insights from great sessions like #15NTCvisualmedia, #15NTCemaileq, #15NTCsurround and #15NTCembracesm.

Be Visual—Here’s How
Despite recent news that photos no longer outperform other types of content on Facebook, orgs DO benefit from creating, curating and sharing relevant visuals. Here’s why:


Guest Blogger on March 18, 2015 in Strategy | 6 comments
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Connect First

Part Two: Content, THEN Channels, Follows Connection

I had a real treat this past Monday, when I guided 400 smart and focused fundraisers to build their marketing skills at the Practical Planned Giving Conference (PPGC).

Whenever I speak, on whatever topic in whatever format, I get one question more frequently than any other—What is the marketing magic bullet?

That may take the form of asking me what specific combination of emails, social, letters and face-to-face meetings works best, or what messages to feature in which campaigns, or how to get colleague and leadership support for your marketing work or…., but ultimately, it’s all about your quest for that magic bullet.


Nancy Schwartz on September 25, 2013 in Strategy | 2 comments
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Diana Nyad’s epic 110-mile uncaged swim (video here) from Cuba to Key West was a tremendous achievement. But even more remarkable than setting this record was 64-year-old Nyad’s perseverance in reaching her goal (this was her fifth attempt in 35 years).

There’s so much nonprofit communicators like us can learn from her. Here are 6 vital lessons we can take from her experience:


Nancy Schwartz on September 4, 2013 in Strategy | 0 comments
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Change is hard!This week has been a tough one for me.

After more than five years of heavy reliance on one email distribution platform/service, change was overdue. And even though I knew it would be hard work—our list of 30,000 precisely-segmented, long-time loyal subscribers to the blog and e-update is a huge asset for us—I had no idea how hard. I bet you know what I mean.

I partnered with our 1/2-time manager (and yes, we have the same “not enough time” challenges most of you do) to prepare as much as was humanly possible. We:


Nancy Schwartz on June 20, 2013 in Strategy | 0 comments
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Thanks to co-guest-bloggers Amy Sample Ward and Allyson Kapin. Allyson is acclaimed for her leadership role in technology and social media, and runs Rad Campaign. Amy is the Membership Director for NTEN and blogs for Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Getting the attention of your supporters and engaging them in your campaigns on one platform is hard enough. But the key to campaign success comes in engaging people across platforms—email, social media, your website, and even offline. In the just-released Social Change Anytime Everywhere: How to Implement Online Multichannel Strategies to Spark Advocacy, Raise Money, and Engage your Community, Allyson Kapin and Amy Sample Ward guide nonprofit staffers through developing and powerful integrated approaches to asking for money, time or support.

To start, Amy and Allyson recommend you take these four simple steps to ensure your next multichannel campaign generates the most attention (and action) possible:


Nancy Schwartz on May 22, 2013 in Strategy | 0 comments
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