nonprofit messengersI just delivered a new message platform (positioning statement, tagline and talking points) to the passionate team at the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC).

The passionate EHC team builds grassroots campaigns to combat the unjust consequences of toxic pollution, discriminatory land use, and unsustainable energy policies. Through leader development, organizing and advocacy, EHC improves the health of children, families, neighborhoods and the natural environment in the San Diego/Tijuana region.  (That’s the positioning statement).

These folks do an incredible job with few staff members and a tight budget, even as the scope of their work grows to encompass a larger region. So when communications director Jason Baker asked me how to make the most of the messaging, I recommended that his first step be to train his colleagues, board members and large volunteer base as effective messengers.

Training your staff and supporters is a highly-effective, low- investment nonprofit marketing tactic, but one simply overlooked by most organizations. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Make sure you have a clear, relevant message platform that’s been approved and is in use (or about to be).
  2. Craft an email to each group (colleagues, leadership, volunteers/donors if relevant) emphasizing their potential impact as organizational messengers and what it’ll take to make that work – training, practice and feedback. Include the message platform and context such as why these new (if new) messages were developed and what colleague organizations are doing. Also, share a summary of your marketing strategy.  It’s hard to be an effective messenger without an understanding of the larger framework. Post everything on your website.
  3. Invite colleagues and leadership to join you for an in-person messenger training. At that meeting, review the message platform, inspire your messengers with examples of how this can work (e.g., next time you’re at a conference and are asked what you do, here’s what you’ll say and how it’ll make a difference), and train them. Role playing demos and break-outs are effective techniques for increasing comfort level and effectiveness.
  4. Make it easy for them to succeed by providing takeaways (email to their smartphones – or 3×5 cards  for non-smartphone-users – with the message platform. Also, have a messenger hotline (or email address) for ongoing questions and guidance. Monthly email outreach sharing success stories is a great way to keep your corps of messengers focused and confident.

Another boost to nonprofit messaging impact is a style guide, a blueprint to ensure staff, leadership and consultants talk about and visually portray the organization in a consistent way — to ensure a recognizable, rather than confusing, identity. And here are a few other ways to build your colleagues’ support and understanding of your communications work.

P.S. Get more in-depth articles, case studies and guides to nonprofit marketing (and video) success — all featured in the twice-monthly Getting Attention e-update. Subscribe today.

Photo-Flickr: LiveatJ&R

Nancy Schwartz in Branding and Messages, People | 2 comments
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Born to Help How to Engage Altruism to Advance YOUR CauseI wasn’t surprised to read about yet another high-priced study confirming that altruism is innate in today’s New York Times (covering the just-published Why We Cooperate).  After all, we read time and time again about the emotional benefits of giving. So it makes sense, evolution-wise, that we’re wired to help and give.

But the article does make me wonder how we, as nonprofit communicators, can best work to engage this innate quality? If we become more selective about the focus of our helpfulness at age three, as researcher Michael Tomasello asserts, then how do organizations competing (and that’s the reality) for donations and volunteer time steer prospective supporters towards their nonprofits?

My take is that humans can truly help only when they understand the problem and the goal, and that kind of true understanding is fairly rare. That’s where we as communicators can step in — building awareness of the problem and our strategy to address it. Then, once that understanding is there, our charge is engaging folks to help by telling them what is needed and showing them the impact of that gift of time or money.

What’s your take? Add your perspective in the Comments box below please.

P.S. Don’t miss out on in-depth articles, case studies and guides to nonprofit marketing success — all featured in the twice-monthly Getting Attention
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Nancy Schwartz in Nonprofit Communications, People | 0 comments
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3 Ways to Make Board Members Better MessengersAs a board member, now for NTEN and in past years for other organizations, I'm been highly aware of how organizations manage their boards. I have lots to contribute as a board member but that's more in the skills and relationships department, rather than a major gift that's going to be a life-changer for the organization. I love an org that puts its board to work, doing.

So I was pleased to see a recent Nonprofit Times e-article on training your board to be effective marketers. The article suggested ensuring your board members can deliver your key messages and writes letters-to-the-editor (that needs to be a carefully-monitored strategy, as I see it).

Here are the my recommendations on how to put your board to work as effective communicators:

  1. Make sure they know your org's talking points and elevator pitch cold. Provide board members with 3×5 cards (or an email they can save in their smartphones) with three or four key messages. The elevator pitch is theunder-a-minute spiel that can be given in the time you're in an elevator. It should be short, simple and make an emotional connection. No more than two to three sentences.
  2. Share your marketing strategy and clarify how board members can help. It's hard to be an effective messenger without an understanding of the larger framework. Review how you're putting communications to work to advance organizational goals, communications goals, target audiences you need to reach to make that happen, strategies, work plan and how you'll be evaluating impact.
  3. Train, don't tell. It's far too easy for us communicators to forget that real people don't know what we do. I urge you to have a real, sit-down training session (60 minutes should do it) to give board members some practice and increase their comfort level with their new role. It'll make a huge impact in their impact.

P.S.  Need to strengthen your messaging? Download the free Nonprofit Tagline Report for must-dos, don't dos, case studies and 1,000+ nonprofit tagline examples!

Photo: Flickr terrierman

Nancy Schwartz in Nonprofit Communications, People, Planning and Evaluation | 0 comments
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Ask Experts, Share Issues, Get Inspired -- Join Getting Attention Discussion Group on LinkedIn
Looking for marketing answers? Stuck and need inspiration? Surprised at something that's worked great and want to spread the word?
Please join me and (already) 400 fellow nonprofit communicators in the Getting Attention (GA) Group on LinkedIn.

Here's the deal. For years, folks have been sending me queries on nonprofit marketing dilemmas (Ask Nancy). I do respond via the GA blog or e-update when possible, but…

  1. I just can't respond to the volume anymore, and more importantly…
  2. You'd get a lot more from hearing from your peers, as well as from me. They're the ones out in the field, testing, testing testing. 

So I'm shifting discussion to the Getting Attention LinkedIn Group (we'll have a Facebook group soon). Already have 400 nonprofit communicators there, including several in every issue arena, org size and budget, etc.We already have lots of topics in play and through those discussions, I've been getting tons of new ideas and "meeting" new colleagues.

And, if you're not yet on LinkedIn, it's the perfect motivation for you to spend 10 minutes putting up a profile — great networking, discussion groups from all perspectives (I put queries out and get great responses).

Here's how to join now, in 10 minutes or less:

  • If you're already on LinkedIn, sign up here today. And welcome, in advance.
  • If you're not on LinkedIn yet, sign up here (see Not a User yet line at bottom of page), then join the Getting Attention group. You're going to love being on linkedIn, and part of the group.

Once you're in, ask a question, tell a story, get involved. Like anything else, the more conversation, the richer the experience. Welcome one and all!

Nancy Schwartz in Networking Op, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Marketing News, People, Professional Development, Special Opportunities, Web 2.0 | 0 comments
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Make Your Communications Planning a Team Effort, From The Very BeginningThis afternoon, in my meeting with a prospective client for a re-brand, I was struck with how vital this maxim really is.

The COO of this well-known, long-lived, positively-perceived nonprofit reviewed for me why the org is pursuing a new brand just a few years after its last rebrand (every brand should last at least five years, if not ten). Branding has to be flexible enough to embrace your org through continual evolution, but specific enough to engage your audiences — a challenging balance.

Anyway, the story here is that there was trouble with the current brand even during the development process, and the board (not marketing experts) ended up picking and choosing (and changing) some of the brand elements. The result, not surprisingly, was an alienated staff (who remain marketing-avoidant as a result) and a weak brand.

Making marketing planning a team effort — from the  get go — is the way to avoid  this  disaster. Here’s who to include and what they can contribute:

  1. Executive Director/CEO: Senior leader support validates your efforts and influences other key players to get involved. Also, can get rid of some of the institutional red tape out of your way.
  2. Functional Support: Make sure your plan is technically feasible via consults with IT, HR, finance and other related functions.
  3. Fundraising colleagues: This team is marketing’s other half. You need this perspective as these are your big (if not biggest) messengers.
  4. Program & Issue Experts:  These folks are the source of accurate, relevant topical content and context.
  5. Regional/Site Staff: These on-the-ground colleagues can provide vital input on the customer/donor/volunteer experience, and what’s important to them.

When your marketing plan reflects the insights and knowledge of key stakeholders (including your colleagues, too often left out), it’s more likely to generate the buy in critical to real success.

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Nancy Schwartz in Nonprofit Communications, People, Planning and Evaluation | 1 comment

How to Get Your Nonprofit Team's Bios Right -- Small Changes, Big ImpactWhen it comes to building trust with prospective donors and volunteers, service users or program participants, board members and other key audiences, the smallest details can make a huge impact. And pithy, punchy staff bios–with photos–can have prospects intrigued you before they even dig into the details of what your nonprofit has to offer.

Here are some tested tips for crafting bios that will help audiences connect with your organization:
1. Make the bios should be brief (no more than two paragraphs) but punchy

  • Skip non-essential details. Avoid listing your hometown and all of your degrees.
  • Include items of professional interest. Do make note of any professional designations, associations and awards. These show you have deep connections in the field.
  • If you have written any articles or books, make sure you mention them. This becomes a subtle third-party endorsement.
  • Add a personal endnote as a finale. This is the kind of info that readers can relate to on an emotional level.
  • Longer versions of senior management and other key player bios should be offered as PDF downloads and as  separate, high-profile pages like this warm intro to NARAL president Nancy Keenan.

2. Don’t forget bios of program, communications, fundraising and other directors — these are the folks audiences will be dealing with every day

  • When I’m probing an org I’m thinking of giving to the first time, one where I may volunteer, or a prospective client, I want to know who’s on the ground, not just who’s running the show.
  • These are the folks that the media will want to source as experts in the field.
    • Remember to link to bios via your Newsroom and Experts listings, as well as in your About Us/Leadership content.
  • Plus, the perspectives and expertise of your organizations directors and managers add up to a strong take on your focus and values.
    • Sometimes showing it is just (or more) important than saying it.
  • Remember, different audiences will want to make connections at different levels. A prospective board member may limit his digging into senior management; but a prospective new organizational partner or hire is going to want to learn more about his possible colleagues-to-be.
  • Beware though — this isn’t the mainstream approach.
    • AmnestyUSA, NARAL and the Appalachian Mountain Club tell me nothing about who’s doing the work on the ground. As a matter of fact, each of these stellar orgs provides only one bio, that of the CEO/president.
    • The ACLU shows its strength by featuring compelling bios of its senior and mid-level leadership.
  • If your organization is huge, and it’s not feasible to feature all directors, cycle their bios on your Web site.

3. The photo makes the initial connection — make sure it’s a good one

  • Use a pro to shoot your entire management team; group pricing tends to be more reasonable and no bio should run without a photo.
  • Use a great headshot that is in color and at least 3×4 inches. Some prospects will just look at your photo and draw a conclusion; the picture needs to be so good it can stand alone.
  • Make eye contact, and dress neatly and professionally. As my mom used to say, “appearances matter.”

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Nancy Schwartz in Nonprofit Communications, People, Strategy | 1 comment

Why I Turned My Back on a Compelling, Well-Paid Nonprofit Marketing GigI love getting calls out of the blue — from Getting Attention readers, peers I've never met and, of course, prospective clients. So I was pleased as punch to hear from the communications director at a New York City nonprofit.

He (let's call him Eddy) had found me via a Google search and wanted to discuss a branding project up for grabs. Eddy outlined the project specs which really grabbed me: The organization had evolved dramatically since its founding near the turn of the 20th century, is now focused more broadly than its original immigrant audiences and offers a wide range of programming; but is perceived as being what it always was. Now the leadership had identified the design and launch of a new organizational brand as a springboard to the success of the pending capital campaign (obviously oriented to funding the organization's future, not its past).

This is just the kind of challenge I love to take on; complex, a puzzle, a moment of organizational change and a leadership corps truly supportive of the work at hand. But I didn't submit a proposal for the work. Here's why:

  • Eddy rushed through our conversations, clearly not wanting to invest time in talking me through the organization's needs and preferences, and any clear barriers to success.
    • My understanding of these factors is critical to shaping the right approach, and a persuasive proposal.
    • Most immediately, the gap in understanding makes it difficult for me to accurate size the job.
    • And, if a prospective client isn't willing to spend the time to discuss these vital issues with me, I get the sense that he isn't going provide the vital in-house insights prerequisite to project success.
  • When asked, Eddy said he planned to solicit seven to 10 proposals for the project.
    • Through hard experience, I’ve learned that when prospective clients solicit a large number (e.g. more than four or five) proposals, they aren’t sure what they’re looking for. This organization falls squarely into the "don't know what we want so we'll throw out a hook and see what bites" category.
    • In addition, evaluating proposals for strategic work is time-consuming. It's almost impossible to give more than five proposals their due in has to be an exhaustingly thorough proposal review process.
    • Not to mention that the probability of getting the work is so low.
  • In most cases, it’s the big shops willing to crank out a proposal in this context, and it's usually a boilerplate
    • For a small firm like Nancy Schwartz & Company, where clients get senior-level expertise across the board, crafting a proposal is a huge investment. We want to make that investment for the right projects when pay off is a real possibility, but when it's not… 
    • The more insight we get from you up front, the better prepared we are to show you that we're a good fit with your marketing needs, or not.

P.S. Get more guidance on working effective with your nonprofit marketing consultant or firm: Read How to Write a Marketing RFP that Gets the Best Consultant or Firm to Deliver Everything You Need – On Time and on Budget.

Missing out on the Getting Attention e-newsletter? Subscribe now for in-depth articles and case studies on nonprofit marketing.

Nancy Schwartz in Jobs and Hiring, Nonprofit Communications, People | 1 comment

How to Write a Marketing RFP that Gets the Best Consultant or Firm to Deliver Everything You Need – On Time and on BudgetAs the head of a long-time marketing firm serving nonprofits and foundations, I've probably reviewed over 500 RFPs in my time, all from nonprofits and foundations seeking marketing services. And I can tell you, no more than 50 of them are effectively designed to motivate responses that are comprehensive and accurate.

Accuracy of course is key. Because if your RFP doesn't cover everything you're looking for – in the way you want it – delivered, budget and time frame are bound to be off. Trash in, trash out as they say. So put some time and effort into your RFP.

Here are some quick tips for writing a marketing services RFP that'll get high-quality service providers to respond eagerly, thoroughly and accurately.

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Nancy Schwartz in Nonprofit Communications, People, Strategy | 2 comments

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

I recently spoke with three nonprofit communicator colleagues and four graphic designers who outlined this three-fold path to a process that will ensure high-impact design for your nonprofit. But your even get to the design process itself, remember to follow these five pre-design steps to effective graphic design, from finding the right designers to crafting a creative brief.

Your colleagues advise:

  • Be clear, comprehensive and realistic
  • Build a solid, candid, ongoing relationship with your graphic designers
  • Don’t try to be the graphic designer

For the complete story, and the nitty-gritty of the how to, read the full article.

And don’t forget to download the Getting Attention Creative Brief  template.

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Nancy Schwartz in Graphic Design, Nonprofit Communications, People | 1 comment

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