New Challenges


We're in tough times (as if you didn't know). Everyone is, even if the toughness is relative.

The world around us is changing, fast, as practices and institutions we believed in collapse. Many of us feel disrespected by these institutions (employers, banks, etc.) we've invested ourselves in. Plus, we don't know where things are going, and that's anxiety-provoking.

That's why it's vital that you're precisely in tune with your organization's base right now, and convey that in all your interaction. We want to be understood and respected, and that's the way to do it.

The Council on Foundations (COF) showed it gets its base with its recent decision to cut its weekly e-news and replace it with a bi-monthly e-journal on critical issues.

This decision, and COF's effective email announcement
on it, shows audiences that the organization is committed to their needs while the Council demonstrates that it's facing tough times too and is responding appropriately by evaluating all programs. Here are some excerpts from the email:

  • The current economic downturn has every organization reviewing how and why it does all aspects of its business. Here at the Council, we are closely examining all our communication vehicles to ensure they address the current and future needs of our members.
  • From communication surveys, we know that ..,This Week in Philanthropy (TWIP), it is not a vital source of information. That is why this will be the last issue of TWIP.
  • In deciding to stop publishing TWIP, we sought a more useful and compelling
    replacement, and last week we launched a new bi-monthly e-journal, 
    Thought>Action>Impact…on topics that are timely and matter most to you.

This is truly effective planning and communications for now, when responsiveness and respect is everything.  Make sure your organization puts your base front and center in everything you do, and don't forget to let them know about it (show, don't tell, as always).

P.S. Yes We Can! When a powerful tagline is joined to a compelling mission…nothing is impossible! Download the free Nonprofit Tagline Report for must-dos, don't dos, case studies and 1,000+ nonprofit tagline examples!

Nancy Schwartz in Branding and Messages, Case Studies, New Challenges, Nonprofit Communications | 0 comments
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How Are You Adapting Communications Plans, Products or Messaging to the Economic DownturnMy friend and fellow blogger Steve Cebalt wants to know. Then he'll share the results down the line, giving us all a clearer frame for our marketing agendas.

Take five minutes now to respond to Steve's brief survey. This is an environment we all need to understand better.

P.S. Learn how to craft the marketing message that matters most — your tagline. Download the free Nonprofit Tagline Report for must-dos, don't dos, case studies and 1,000+ nonprofit tagline examples!

Nancy Schwartz in New Challenges, Nonprofit Communications, Strategy | 0 comments
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Summertime, and the Marketing Is HardNow that it’s really summer, the living might be easy but the nonprofit marketing sure is hard.

What with the presidential campaign heating up with the temperatures, and people enjoying summertime distractions, it feels more challenging than ever to  get attention.

Yet I believe that there’s a real opportunity for you here to hit hard with focused, immediate-term calls for action. Clear, finite calls to action that can be swiftly accomplished, before attention veers off to the town pool or coming vacation. After all, nonprofits and corporate messages alike are a bit less prevalent during the summer. So there’s less attention, but also less clutter.

Focus hard to define what you want your audiences to do, and launch that targeted campaign. Relate to key issues being discussed in the campaign, or other page one stories, and you’re more likely to catch  interest.

As for me, I’m following my summertime muse and taking off, in 10 minutes, till next Monday. Just staying around home, spending some time with my family and garden, and listening to a bit of Gershwin, with and without bongos.

Have a great 4th!

Nancy Schwartz in New Challenges, Nonprofit Communications | 0 comments

Macy's Celebrates Earth Day How to Get Heard When Your Org's Issue is MainstreamedI was amazed to open the first section of the New York Times this morning and see Macy’s full-page, full-color ode to Earth Day heralding green living on page 3. Who would have thunk it back in 1970 when Senator Gaylord Nelson of Washington state introduced the Day as a protest effort to push the environment onto the national agenda? I guess it worked, in a way.

What could be better than having your issue heralded by mainstream institutions (and Macy’s tops that list) in the mainstream media? It’s great that
Macy’s is broadcasting the word, urging us to “let it grow,” and is reinforcing that by giving away thousands of saplings for customers to plant. They’ve even developed their own tagline — Turn Over a New Leaf — which is pretty good.

So that’s the upside. Here’s the downside — Nonprofit marketers, Macy’s is trodding on your space! Macy’s and their ilk are getting your prospects’ and base’s attention on Earth Day/environmental issues. Even while I was drafting this post, I received an email from lifestyle Vendor Garnet Hill inviting me to purchase their reusable totes.

When everyone is jumping in on what’s become a popularized message and cause, your nonprofit has to be more pointed and consistent than ever in conveying how it impacts environmental issues (or whatever your issues are). That’s the way to differentiate your organization not only from the retailers trying to capture green attention and assure individuals that they’re doing they’re part just through buying, but from the plethora of other nonprofits doing good work to save our planet. Here’s how:

  • Articulate your organization’s distinct focus, and the impact it makes on the specific areas in which it works
  • Use stats and stories to make this impact more tangible
  • Reinforce that impact with a compelling brand; graphic identity is particularly important here
  • Feature clear, succinct ‘call-to-action’ messages to engage your base, and show them the pathway to getting involved.

And don’t forget to mobilize your base to build supporters, advocates and members. They’re the best marketing channel you have.

P.S. Just got an email from Crate & Barrel, subject line “A Beautiful Place to Spend Earth Day.” Think I’ll go to the park instead.

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Nancy Schwartz in New Challenges, Nonprofit Communications, Strategy | 2 comments

Call me Carrie Bradshaw. Ok, I’m musing on nonprofit communications, rather than thirty-somethings and sex. Small difference.

But like Carrie, as the host of this week’s Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants, I get to tackle a critical issue, noodle on it myself and ask colleagues for their points of view. Love it. Move over Sara Jessica Parker.

Today we’re tackling a biggie — how do nonprofit communicators engage audiences who are saturated by marketing messages and images? And how do we compete with for-profits who bring more resources to the table?

Got incredibly pointed, useful, inventive posts from Carnival participants this week. Three major strategies emerged:

No More Marketing — It’s a Two-Way Conversation
R. Craig Lefebvre sums it up: "It’s no longer about getting attention, it’s about earning it. Once they find you, you have three seconds to engage them, or they’re lost – maybe forever."

Nonprofits should be communicating with, rather than at, audiences, says Allison Fine. Focus on participation, not dissemination.

Cut the B.S.
Flip the funnel, and let your donors/volunteers/board members/program participants do the talking, suggests Seth Godin.

Mark Rovner couldn’t be more on target as he celebrates the death of b.s. and the rise of passion and genuineness. Mark includes some concrete tactics you can put to work today — nothing like the tangible.

From across the pond, Whitewater’s Anna Crofton stresses the importance of integrity and authenticity and messages that are simple and compelling. Fellow UKer Steve Bridger recommends the power of storytelling, especially when it’s visual — nothing more direct and genuine than that — and has a great example in The Water Buffalo Movie.

Two expert communicators – Michele Martin and  Michael Gibbons emphasize that sticky messages have to be emotional and concrete. They both cite Made to Stick as the guide of choice. Add me to the list.

Find the Tactics that Do Work
Houtlust’s Marc van Gurp showcases some powerful, inventive and CHEAP examples of cutting through the noise. You won’t believe these incredible models for us. These are great ways to get attention, the first step in true audience engagement.

Stay nimble and creative. Katya Andresen sees success coming from a mix of pithy messages, accessible ideas, celebs showcasing your cause, and intelligent risk-taking.

Denise Graveline sees blogs as a powerful secret weapon for nonprofits.

Engage your audiences where they do pay attention, advises Nedra Weinreich. Don’t spend time or money fighting the clutter of traditional marketing venues. Jump into making it easy for loyalists to spread the word and working fan communities. Nedra suggests some great tactics to put into play.

Higher ed marketing expert Bob Johnson recommends, "paying maximum attention to people who are already engaged with your organization. And using their favorable word of mouth to use your stellar service in the nonprofit universe to recommend you to others with similar interests."

Nothing better than "word of mouth on steroids," agrees Michael Hoffman.

The folks at Frogloop have some great tips on cutting through the noise, including honing email subject lines to perfection, personalization to the nth degree and online storytelling.

Thanks much to all contributors. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

What do you think we can do to engage our audiences in this world of marketing overload. Please share your ideas in the comments box below.

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Nancy Schwartz in Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants, New Challenges, Nonprofit Communications, Strategy | 8 comments

I can’t tell you how many  nonprofit clients I help to build a blog where comments are accepted or an online message board, wiki (collaborative Web site), listserv, or any combination of the above. Then, despite what we’ve discussed on what it takes to keep an active conversation going, the effort falls flat.

But there’s hope. Yes, it seems that these online conversation strategies failures are quite common. But at the same time, more organic online conversations — via channels like MySpace and Facebook — are flourishing. And online communications experts are focusing on finding out why. Here are some initial insights from Web writer and online conversation specialist Amy Gaharan:

  • Conversations demand attention, time and effort.
    • These are three highly-valued and heavily-guarded resources.
  • In-person conversations are more demanding, so participants have to be more selective about which ones they participate in.
    • They usually require you to interrupt what you were doing, listen and make eye contact, and observe social conventions that take time and interpretation.
    • When you abruptly end an in-person conversation, you are perceived as rude.
  • Online conversations require less from participants, and provide more control over when or how you participate.
    • You can divide your attention with other tasks, or delay your response, making them ideal for less crucial discussions, or for those where you want to participate intermittently.
    • The barrier if far lower for all participations, so expectations of you are very limited.

Here’s what Amy’s observations imply for your nonprofit:

  • Be realistic about the time and focus participants will bring to your online conversation.
    • Don’t count on online conversation as your only community-building strategy.
    • There has to be a reason for folks to participate even once in a while.
  • An online conversation is a perfect supplement/complement to other communications strategies:
    • Conference pre-quel or sequel
    • Teleseminar or webinar.
  • Save your most important conversations and meetings for face-to-face.
    • Still nothing like it.
    • Once you’ve established a relationship with your colleagues and other audiences, then online conversations are a perfect way to continue talking.

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Nancy Schwartz in New Challenges, Nonprofit Communications, Social Networking | 1 comment

Here’s the most striking observation from last week’s DMA Nonprofit Conference in New York: There were only 4 other marketing/communications folks, plus me, among the 450 conference participants. That means only 1% of attendees were marketers/communicators.

So where was that crucial conversation and alignment? Lots of discussion about the musts of integrating online and print fundraising communications, but next to none on organization-wide integration of effort and brand.

I was astonished. Donors are volunteers are spokepeople are prospective board members, etc. Prospective funders and donors are news readers are parents of volunteers and program participants. Volunteers are prospective donors are referrers are spokespeople are board members. Program participants are prospective donors are news readers. You get the idea.

This gap amazed me. Gotta say — I always guide my clients to ensure marketing/communications and fundraising teams work together, and know what the other is doing.

The marketing/commmunications and fundraising partnership is equivalent to the marriage of sales and marketing folks in the corporate world. The researchers behind Sales & Marketing Alignment, a new report on this vital relationship just released by MarketingProfs, tell us that companies in which the sales and marketing teams are closely aligned grow more quickly, close more proposals (a.k.a. gifts) and lose many fewer customers (donors, in your case). You can certainly extrapolate these advantages to the value dervied from close alignment of your nonprofit’s communications and fundraising teams.

So why aren’t nonprofit fundraising and communications folks working closely together? What’s to lose? There’s everything to gain.

Any ideas? We’ve got to solve this problem, asap.

Nancy Schwartz in Leadership, New Challenges, Nonprofit Communications, People | 4 comments

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