Over the past few years, text messaging has become a core organizing tool for advocacy orgs, even more so in Europe than it is here (yet). So it’s not surprising that NARAL Pro-Choice America put texting to work to motivate citizen advocates to contact their representatives on to protect choice.

What is astonishing is that (and how) Verizon Wireless rejected NARAL’s application for the short code required for texting:

VZW will not accept programs that are issue-oriented from lobbyist [sic], PACs, or any organization that seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that…may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users. 

Seems that because NARAL makes Verizon Wireless cringe, users of the service can’t get the text messages they have subscribed to. And, since texting is not legally protected by telecom legislation, Verizon Wireless censors because it can.

Happy ending though, and a great example of how a nonprofit that’s on the ball can turn a crisis to its advantage. NARAL (a Verizon Wireless customer) worked this story big time:

  1. Getting a story placed on the first page of today’s New York Times (they never would have been there otherwise)
  2. Putting its highly effective online organizing machine to work with an email campaign to Verizon Wireless promoted to its email list (got mine at 10 this morning) and via its Web site, most effectively targeting Verizon’s action as a censorship issue. NARAL generated 20,000 emails in two hours.
  3. Writing (and publishing on its Web site) a blistering letter to the company from NARAL president Nancy Keenan.

Result? By 11:25 this morning, when I combed the Times online for the censorship story, I found that at 10:30 Verizon had reversed its decision. Win-win-win for NARAL now able to text, better known than ever before and even perhaps piquing the interest of civil liberties supporters not previously involved in pro choice activism.

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Nancy Schwartz in Advocacy, Case Studies, Nonprofit Communications | 0 comments

I asked fellow bloggers to weigh in on best practices in nonprofit use of online video (the faintest outlines are just appearing as it’s a whole new world) for this week’s Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants.  Here’s my take, which I’ll introduce by sharing a Greenpeace video that had a huge impact on me and explaining why it works:

  • The imagery grabs me:
    • It’s so different from how we’re used to seeing children — we’ve comfortable and familiar with seeing children in bright colors, playing happily. This child narrator is almost post-apocalyptic; frightening but 150% compelling.
    • It’s stark, monochromatic and exceedingly simple. I think it’s yet another example of less is more.
  • His narrative is startling; angry, grave, serious, graphic. I feel that as an adult, I owe it to him to listen, and to act.
  • Blame is assigned to adults, like me. It makes me want to do better. The immediacy of being blamed makes me sit up and listen.
  • It’s short(1:43) but includes everything I need to know, including a call to action.
  • Surprise is the strategy of success here. Just as I find that surprising my 4-year-old (let’s say with a new strategy to get her to dress quickly for school) always works, we all respond to what’s different. Here’s a child demanding his rights, which he does deserve. Video offers an almost endless number of opportunities for surprise — in narrative, in background sound or music, in imagery.

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Nancy Schwartz in Advocacy, Branding and Messages, Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants, Video | 5 comments

These two case studies are compelling examples of effective use of a host of new communications tools, most of which fall under the ‘social networking’ umbrella. Because these are new tools, and most of us don’t have a lot of time or money to experiment in depth, case studies are more important than ever. Look for more to come in the course of the next few months.

Read the complete case studies here.

DeadElephant.ORG – Fall 2006

  • Tool: MySpace
  • Goal: To distribute 500,000 downloadable bumper-strips in the two weeks pre-election

The Genocide Intervention Network – Ongoing

  • Tools: MySpace, YouTube, FaceBook, Flickr
  • Goal: To inform anti-genocide learning and motivate advocacy and giving.

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Nancy Schwartz in Advocacy, Case Studies, Nonprofit Communications, Social Networking | 1 comment


  1. Peter Franchot won, easily
  2. Read my comprehensive interview with Jacob Colker here to learn his six steps to building and maintaining a loyal social network for your nonprofit.

Frogloop, a blog published by the online progressive community Care2, reported recently on an amazing primary victory by Peter Franchot, a candidate for Maryland Comptroller. It was amazing because the victory was generated primarily (claims Frogloop’s Justin Perkins) via volunteers recruited and motivated by the power of social networking — MySpace and Facebook to be specific.

As the election nears, and I hear and read constant coverage of the bitter, hard-punching battles between incumbents and their challenges, I’ve been thinking a lot about how social networking can be put to work for campaigners. This recent MD victory, reported first in a great article by Chicago Tribune reporter  Mike Dorning on social networking’s role in the 2006 elections,  is just one of many influenced by social networking. NOTE: I’ll dive into Dorning’s article for more social networking being put to use in these midterm elections in another post.

What’s particularly interesting about the MD campaign is the warp speed — only four weeks — with which 23-year-old organizer Jacob Colker recruited 80% of the entire volunteer base (by searching for college students in the region whose profiles indicated a poli sci major and liberal perspective). and put them to work making 15,000 phone calls and dropping the 50,000 pieces of campaign literature.  Pretty incredible, very inexpensive, very easy and very likely to have implications for your nonprofit.

Colker credits the success of his online organizing skills to his experience promoting his band, Medici. Strangely enough, even prior to this win, the folks at Care2 had produced Think Like a Rock Band: How to Use Social Networking Sites for Political Campaigns which guides nonprofits and campaign staffs alike to use the Web and social networking sites to engage and motivates audiences.

Remember — If your target audiences include those under 35 (and that ceiling is likely to change), your nonprofit can’t afford to ignore this increasingly important channel. Take a look at the free first chapter for a useful checklist of prerequisites to effective messaging in an online social network.

Social networkers, take your mark. The elections, and your issue areas, are up for grabs.

Note to readers: Care2 and Getting Attention are both members of the Nonprofit Blog Exchange.

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Nancy Schwartz in Advocacy, Case Studies, Nonprofit Communications, Social Networking, Unique Approaches | 0 comments

Here’s the latest Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants – on the theme of nonprofit marketing this week.  I tell you,  I’m more impressed than ever by the great bloggers out there focused on the nonprofit sectors. So, read away, and don’t forget to comment, and to participate in next week’s Carnival.

Always funny (as in haha, not weird) Joe Waters at Selfish Giving jumps off from the somewhat-successes of the Verb campaign, guiding nonprofits on how to be Merchants of Cool. Hats off to Joe for nudging us nonprofit types to put ourselves out there a little more boldly.

Beth Kanter at Beth’s Blog offers an incredibly practical post on Using Flickr as a Visual Resource for Presentations. Beth makes introduces some very specific ways to increase audience engagement in presentations, and outlines the value of Flickr images as a no-cost, high-engagement presentation component. Thanks, Beth. Love the how-to stuff.

Pithy, punchy Jeff Brooks at Donor Power Blog cautions against The White Man’s New Burden,  reporting on a recent change in the way international relief organizations like the International Red Cross are limiting images to those that convey the “dignity” of the subject. Jeff contends that when the needs disappears (as it does in these more dignified photos), so do the level of engagement and giving. I’m with you, Jeff.

Kivi Miller at Writing911 discusses Activities v. Accomplishments in Annual Reports. Kivi’s on-target recommendation to focus on what your nonprofit has achieved, rather than the work its done, is particularly relevant as we plunge into annual report season.

Marc Sirkin, VP of eMarketing at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) and blogger extraordinaire at npMarketing Blog shares a useful Case Study in Online Event Fundraising. Make that events, as the campaign was put into place at the national and chapter/local level. In his post, Marc details the strategies – most centrally, a wiki —  LLS used to ensure that chapters shared experiences, materials and successes. And no, Marc isn’t a consultant, but he’s an insightful, innovative communicator in our field who shares some very useful recommendations and perspectives. Just coloring outside the lines a bit.

Celeste Wroblewski of Studio 501c pitches her concept that a blog can be like a business lunch. There’s nothing I relate to more than food metaphors, Celeste. Ideal for a nonprofit CEO blog, but applicable in other situations as well, Celeste’s approach is a great way for nonprofits to start blogging. What’s next, the all-you-can-eat-buffet blog?

Betsy Harman of betsy’s blog advises nonprofit organization on Reaching Donors Under 40. Especially important is Betsy’s point about executing multiple marketing strategies to different target audiences to ensure you engage each one (or, to put it conversely, to make sure you don’t alienate anyone). That’s a particularly vital technique when segmenting donors and prospects by age.

And last, and maybe least, Nancy Schwartz, of GettingAttention, shares the story of How a Small Nonprofit Shaped a Clear, Memorable Brand – Five Steps to Low-Budget Branding for Big Results.

Next week’s Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants hones in on Young Professionals in Philanthropy. Don’t forget to submit your post, and to read all on Monday, October 2nd.

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Nancy Schwartz in Advocacy, Blogging for Nonprofits, Branding and Messages, Case Studies, Cause Marketing, Don'ts, Fundraising: Innovations & Research, Nonprofit Communications, Recommended Resources, Unique Approaches | 4 comments

Believe me, I’m used to frequent advocacy requests from the nonprofit organizations I support via participation and/or contributions. But yesterday’s email from Continental,
asking me to email the U.S. Department of Transportation to request approval for Continental’s Shanghai flight proposal, was the first request from a corporate entity.

Don’t get me wrong. I was actually sort of tickled pink that Continental had strategized so effectively, asking those who had flown their Beijing routes to campaign for route extension in China. Our trip to China two years ago was life-changing — we picked up and adopted our wonderful daughter, Charlotte. So maybe that strong emotional connection makes me a little different from the folks flying to China for business on a regular basis.

Nonetheless, I do want more convenient flight access to other areas of China, and I did as Continental asked. I guess they’ve made me a loyal Continental flyer to China, whether I realized it or not.

But I do wonder what corporate advocacy (frequently requested to shareholders) means for issue advocacy? If I was the Asia management at Continental, I’d do the exact same thing. What happens though, in my email box this morning, was that I choose to advocate on this request. If I had ten requests for advocacy in my email box this morning (as I sometimes do), I’d be likely to pass over one of the issue advocacy campaigns.

What this suggests is that we, as nonprofit communicators, need to get more strategic about when, and on what, we launch email advocacy campaigns. Probably a good idea to profile registered advocates on specific issue interests, and focus advocacy emails around those selects, just to reduce your emails to those most likely to generate a response. Any other ideas?

Nancy Schwartz in Advocacy, Email and E-Newsletters, Nonprofit Communications, Unique Approaches | 1 comment

I always have a strong response to Arianna Huffington, because she has very strong opinions (I like that, don’t get me wrong). She also has a way of cutting through the hype to convey the essence of whatever issue she’s discussing. So when I heard her interviewed as a blogger extraordinaire (The Huffington Post, is the most compelling group blog I know), I listened hard (scribbling notes even though I was driving–shhhh).

Huffington was interviewed from the Aspen Ideas Festival, where she participated in sessions on all topics media. To jump start the conversation, the interviewer probed her characterization of blogging as "the return of Thomas Paine." That hooked me.

Thomas Paine, of course, is the revolutionary thinker and activist known for his incisive, biting commentaries. His most famous pamphlet, Common Sense , mobilized public opinion in support of the American Revolution. Widely available and written in powerful and accessible prose, the pamphlet appealed to a broad cross section of people, from farmers to bankers. Invoking the democratic spirit,Paine famously argued that "the cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind."

According to Huffington, blogs work in much the same way — accessible (usually more simply written, in a compelling personal voice), shorter, sometimes more pointed. And so blogs have the potential to make a huge impact, including bringing forward issues or perspectives not covered (or not covered well) by the mainstream media. Agreed, Arianna.

She cited an early example (late 2002) when Trent Lott made racist comments at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday celebration. No major media picked up the story, but dedicated bloggers beat it to death, forcing the major media to pick it up in time (they still looked pretty silly).

What this means for your nonprofit is that you finally have a way to reach your known target audiences, and a lot of folks you don’t know yet, via blogging. And you get to do so in an unintermediated way.

On the other hand, other bloggers can frame the conversation on your nonprofit, especially if you’re not tracking that discussion. Read more about why it’s vital to know what’s being said about your nonprofit in this article.

Thanks Arianna, for your doggedly refreshing perspective. And welcome back, Thomas Paine.

BTW, it’s not that I think blogging is the be all and end all of communications, but I do think the medium introduces a huge new opportunity for nonprofits to communicate with (yes with, not just to) target audiences, including other nonprofits.

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Nancy Schwartz in Advocacy, Blogging for Nonprofits, Nonprofit Communications | 1 comment

I received an email this morning from Howard Dean (no, not personally), alerting me to Party Builder (PB), the Democratic National Committee‘s new online social organizing and fundraising tool. Aha, I thought, now there’s an alternative to the RNC portal, And I wanted to see how they stacked up against each other as two very different community building models you could launch for your nonprofit’s members, donors and/or program participants. I joined both communities to gather data for this report:

  • begins with an option-filled homepage on the MySpace model, while the Party Builder homepage is a blank slate, ala Facebook. Personally, I like to get right to my options DNC, so that I can decide whether I’m going to buy in.
    • More importantly though, why re-invent the wheel when MySpace and Facebook are so heavily used already? (A question I’m going to be addressing in a future post on DoGooderTV, the nonprofit version of YouTube).
  • The DNC’s Party Builder is all about building and communicating within a community.
    • The party has integrated all of its action tools into Party Builder, except for its blog which is also accessible via the DNC home page.
    • DNC party builders create a profile, join groups, make "friends," create/join events, fundraise, sign petitions and send letters to the editor.
  • The RNC’s Action Center and its portal are separate features on the RNC site, but link to many of the same functions.
    • At the Action Center, users can host a party, take a survey, contact their legislators, call talk radio, get GOP paraphenalia, join teams, recruit volunteers and register people to vote.
    • At MyGOP, supporters can do all the above and show off their progress. Why have two
      portals then?
  • Here’s why–this bi-fold entranceway gives the RNC the opportunity to build supporters (and a database of their key info) at different levels of engagement. The RNC has feature-specific logins, such as those for the blog and volunteer recruitment center.
    • As a result, the GOP is able to capture supporters at different levels of engagement (they can participate in one facet of the action center, without committing, right off the bat, to the whole enchilada).
  • The DNC takes a different approach.
    • Party Builder members submit basic information to the DNC upon joining.
    • The continues to gather additional information through PB members’ profiles, signed petitions, signed letters to the editor, and network/group memberships.
    • These users are likely to become the party’s next loyal supporter and volunteer base. And the depth of data the parties have on these folk will determine the strength  of  their online activism in election years to come. 

I’m going to track coverage of how these communities evolve, and interview folks at both parties, over the next few months. I’ll report back what I find.

Meanwhile, any gut reactions to these two very different, but very characteristic, strategies?    

Nancy Schwartz in Advocacy, High-Impact Websites, Nonprofit Communications | 0 comments

I was among the ten people (all 35+) who spent a recent Sunday afternoon seeing An Inconvenient Truth, and swallowing the graphically-powerful, and surprisingly moving, presentation of the global warming challenges we face. Yep, that’s ten people. And I live in a community renowned for its political awareness and activism.

At the end of the movie, pre-credits, everyone got up to leave. I was looking for a call to action, but saw none. A few of us glanced at the credits on the way out, and stopped in our tracks. The call to action (a list of ten or so ways to action), was interlaced in the credits. Get this…one credit, one call to action, one credit, one call to action. Believe me, no one but the most dogged watcher would try to interpret how to take action.

LESSON ONE: Make it easy for your audience.

Anyway, I am dogged, so I hung on and got the URL of the movie site (, which was easy to memorize. Then, headed out into the sun.

Later on, I realized how frustrated I was. I understand that the film had to remain non-partisan to ensure the broadest audience possible. But I was stuck. I had been moved both intellectually and emotionally, but there was no way for the folks behind the film, or other environmental groups, to capture my engagement as an activist, volunteer or speaker.

LESSON TWO: When you succeed in engaging your audiences, harness their motivation to act, immediately. Otherwise, you lose them.

I was thrilled to see an announcement, just a few days later, that a few families in the community  were sponsoring a free showing for junior high and high school students. And even happier today when I got a community-wide email announcement that the film’s director (who’s filming his next flick locally) will be at the post-film Q&A session.

Extending access to the film and enticing folks to come with the opportunity to meet the director, provoking thought and conversation via the Q&A is just the right strategy to build interest and inspire activists. Other community-based organizations across the country have taken this on themselves, with significant effort and expense. So why not take this national? Why didn’t the filmmakers and producers partner with one or more environmental groups to educate and organize around the film? Other community-based organizations across the country have taken this on themselves, with significant effort and expense. Great opportunity. lost.

LESSON THREE: Partner with subject experts and existing networks.

Today, when I visited the website, I did have the option to Take Action (although this category was buried smack in the middle of the menu). Whew. But when I clicked through to What You Can Do, and Become Active, I was faced with laundry lists of possible activities. Please, make this easier for me to digest and select my course of action. (Ditto LESSON ONE)

I persisted and dug into the blog, where I eventually found the opportunity I wanted. Join the Cause will explode the distribution of the Climate Project slideshow (the core of the movie) by training hundreds of facilitators across the country, starting in fall 2006. “Utilizing solid scientific data and user-friendly media tools, these trained individuals will become grassroots messengers to spread the word and inspire a call to action.”

Finally, a grassroots strategy. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely many people will take the time to find this opportunity on the site. It’s new, it’s the first opportunity of its kind — why not a link right from the film home page? (Ditto LESSON ONE)

I’ll keep you posted on An Inconvenient Truth‘s communications and organizing strategies, and would like to hear about your impressions, and related activities in your community.

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Nancy Schwartz in Advocacy, Nonprofit Communications, Strategy, Unique Approaches | 1 comment

Pirates do exist! Think those who fish illegally rather than Captain Hook. And Greenpeace is fighting, hard, to rid the seas of these pirates. And documenting their campaign via a mini-blog.

In April 2005, a Greenpeace team embarked on a year-long voyage on two boats (both equipped with inflatable dinghies for interventions), setting course for a direct confrontation with the Japanese whaling fleet on the high seas. The team blogged the story as it unfolded in Undercurrents, including meeting the crew, mapping the trip, and action shots of the Greenpeace crew hindering the whale harvest process.

What a great way to  bring a far-away venture to life for Greenpeace supporters and advocates.  And to motivate those  audiences to give and take action, which they can do with the click of the mouse via the blog.

Certainly Greenpeace’s example is one filled with drama. But the mini-blog is a versatile tool you can use in many other ways to deliver exposure to your nonprofit’s activities and goals over a set period of time. Here are a few ideas on how your nonprofit can put a mini-blog to use:

  • To chronicle construction or renovation — and any changes in traffic patterns, opening hours, etc. — of a new YMCA wing, symphony hall,  hospital ward, research facility, or another capital improvement program.
  • To capture programs in progress — to chronicle the construction of your Habitat for Humanity houses, volunteers building new trials in your adopt-a-park program or the opening of the new new outdoor amphitheater at your museum.
  • To report back on your group’s advocacy effort during the legislative session in your state, recording who’s on board and who’s opposing and who’s on the fence, and dialogue as it evolves throughout the course of the session.

Nancy Schwartz in Advocacy, Blogging for Nonprofits, Case Studies, Nonprofit Communications | 0 comments

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