Direct Mail Reality Check: Outakes from Fundraising Day in New York

Here are some very interesting tips from folks who do direct mail 24/7 and shared their expertise at a recent session at Fundraising Day in New York (remember, this work is 99% fundraising). But I gotta say, I was shocked by the bubble some of these experts are trapped in; read on for details:

  • How much you say depends on who you’re reaching
    • Prospects respond better to longer (4pp.) letters
    • While in-house lists (current donors) prefer a shorter letter (2pp.)
  • People assume you’re customizing the letter to them
    • So it’s not always necessary to explicate that
    • Members who received mailings for an annual fund campaign responded at a higher rate to the test that didn’t address them as members, or refer to their membership at all.
  • Be as tangible as possible for higher impact
    • A fundraising mailing that featured a ribbon drew much better when a real cloth ribbon, rather than a ribbon sticker, was used.
  • Too much nitty-gritty can depress response
    • When the Special Olympics(SO) integrated testimonials from the families of its atheletes, response rate fell
    • My guess: Perhaps SO’s current direct mail donor base (60+) doesn’t want to hear the truth. The rest of us crave it. And so will we when we get older. Look alive, direct mailers.
  • Companion emails increase response to direct mail by 12%, especially when the ask in is the first two paragraphs of the email
    • This is no surprise to those of us immersed in integrated marketing, but most of the speakers (and listeners) at FRDNY are all mail, all the time.
  • Authenticity rules — handwritten cards (real, not printed handwriting) work

All useful to know. But here’s what really startled me. When I asked the panel of three direct mail experts why they’re focusing only on folks 60+, they stared at me like I was crazy. The universal response was that the other prospects were handled by other parts of the organization (online only), and that they don’t give much. What about shepherding folks teens up into supporting nonprofits in all ways? What about people now 60 who’ve been using the Web for 15 years? What about all those confused audiences who are getting snail mail and email that are completely uncoordinated?

Wake up, direct mailers, and break out of your bubble.

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Your Nonprofit’s Message Platform: Association Staffer Asks “What’s a boilerplate, and where does our mission statement fit in?”

I heard recently from Sarah Sturm, an editor with the Forest Landowners Association. Like many staff members with nonprofit organizations, she wears multiple hats, including the nonprofit marketing chapeau.

Here’s Sarah’s question: “I define boilerplate as a ‘who we are’ statement as opposed to the mission statement which is ‘what we do.’ Is that accurate? Are there any particular elements it should contain?”

Thanks for the great question, Sarah. It’s one many folks have, but few are brave enough to ask about something they think everyone else understands! So here goes:

==> What’s boilerplate?
(from Wikipedia): “Boilerplate is any text that is or can be reused in new contexts or applications without being changed much from the original.”

==> Your org should be using several boilerplates, from tagline to key messages, and mission statement: Your organization’s boilerplates include all messaging developed for ongoing use by your organization. Ideally, elements include: Tagline, positioning statement (the who we are Sarah refers to above); and key messages.

  • Mission and vision statements are also boilerplates, in that you use the same statements repeatedly, but these statements are usually more focused on internal audiences (staff, board, maybe volunteers) than the other elements of the message platform!

==> Your positioning statement (what Sarah’s referring to) is a one to three (only if they’re short) sentence statement that conveys what your org does for whom to uniquely solve an urgent need—the  value that your org delivers. Here’s a list of key components your positioning statement should  convey:

  •     Who you are
  •     What business you’re in
  •     For whom (what people do you serve)
  •     What’s needed by the market you serve
  •     What’s different about how you do your work
  •     What unique benefit is derived from your programs, services and/or products?

Here’s a positioning statement I crafted recently for a client:
“The National Association of Mothers’ Centers (NAMC) supports mothers and motherhood through its network of mothers’ centers and MOTHERS advocacy initiative. NAMC’s connection to mothers throughout the country is the core of its impact as a support and advocacy leader for the good of mothers and families nationwide. Working both at the grassroots level providing mom-to-mom support, and at the policy level to engage citizen advocates in the battle for fair treatment of family caregivers on economic, social and political agendas, NAMC is the collective voice of U.S. mothers today.”

Hope that helps in getting your messages out there, Sarah!

Strengthen your nonprofit messaging with the Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Report. You’ll get a free copy when you subscribe to the Getting Attention e-newsletter (featuring in-depth articles and case studies on nonprofit marketing).

Make Your Web Site Press Friendly, So Journalists Cover Your Org

Web usability guru Nielsen’s latest Alertbox post emphasizes the imperative of press area usability for journalists, finding that plenty of the Web sites reviewed don’t provide adequate info for media (traditional or “citizen journalists”).

He cautions that poor site usability and missing info in online press areas can turn journalists away from covering your organization or force them to get their information from third-party sources (definitely not your messaging and likely to be incorrect). A shabby online press area is a lost PR opportunity.

Once journalists get to your site (you have to make sure they can), they need access to:

  • Easy-to-find online newsroom: Make sure you have a clean site with a clearly-labeled section called “Press,” “Media” or “News,” where journalists can get quick answers to their questions.
  • Press contacts: Being able to contact a real human being is essential for journalists researching stories. Deadlines mean that information is needed within hours or minutes, so most people would be reluctant to use an email address or contact form with no guarantee of a speedy response.
  • Basic facts: Reporters often need to confirm dates, spellings and more. To help reporters get that information quickly, make sure your sections are clearly labeled.
  • Your org’s perspective and actions on your issues: This is the stuff that differentiates your organizatons from colleagues and competitors. Make it easy-to-find, succinct and clear.
  • Financials: A core credibility meter.
  • Images to use in articles: Also, video and audio for online media. This is the stuff that enages readers which is a journalist’s ultimate goal.

6 Steps to Showcasing Your Marketing ROI

I was really jolted by this Ask Nancy query I recently received. Jessica (names have been changed to protect the innocent) asks for help with the most challenging (and most critical) step in nonprofit marketing — getting the support of decision makers and colleagues for doing it right.

Q: Help — We’re losing ground past and we need professional marketing help. How do I get the budget and support to get it?
      
My organization has been in existence since the 1960s, longer than any other environmental group in the state. But, like many nonprofits, we’ve never been good at marketing ourselves, and therefore don’t have the membership base we need. As a result, we’re beginning to lose our historical advantage.
       
We clearly need professional marketing help. I’m an implementer, but I’d be far more effective working with a marketing expert who has analyzed our challenges and designed a strategy for me to implement. While leadership recognizes our need for professional marketing help, they are not moving forward in that
direction. Help!
Jessica, Outreach Manager, State Natural Resources Council

Believe me, lack of support isn’t uncommon, especially now when tensions are high and budgets low. Many nonprofit professionals either don’t understand or doubt the value (or, in some cases, the seemliness) of marketing. Others see value in marketing but are in the “just do it” camp, not understanding that professionalism is as essential here as in other fields. It is these organizations that are frequently eclipsed by competitors in membership, fundraising and awareness. As a result, their impact is significantly limited.

Build support for marketing in your org by learning how to showcase your marketing ROI (return on investment). Read my guide to building support for doing marketing right today.

Flickr Photo: William Hartz

Two Don’t-Miss Tools for More Effective Nonprofit Events

In a time when we rely more and more on virtual interaction, face-to-face gatherings are more important than ever.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m a big believer in building relationships, and community online. But face-to-face can’t be replaced. So often, face-to-face gatherings can bring a movement or a campaign to the next level, further engaging your base.

Here are two tools I’ve discovered that will help you take your organization’s events to the next level.

1. Event-management service Eventbrite has just introduced Eventbrite for Causes, a discounted program (no fee for free events) are  designed for nonprofit needs. This new program that makes it easier for
orgs to leverage tech tools and best practices to manage,
promote and raise money through successful events. In talking to colleagues about Eventbrite, I’ve found several fans of its capabilities such as the once-click opportunity for attendees to share event info with their Twitter and Facebook networks.

Current org users include The Craigslist Foundation, Full Circle Fund, Citizen Effect and NTEN.

2. Analyze This, just released by Event 360 is 18 pages packed with practical guide on event analytics. You’ll learn how to pinpoint what’s working best so you can do more of it in the future, and what’s not working well, so they can avoid it down the line. Traditionally, event managers have used this data to review events once they’re over; it’s even more valuable to shape those coming up.

The featured case study on the Komen Global Race for the Cure is particularly useful, as it highlights how analytics showed the way to transform a popular event into a fundraising phenomenon.

P.S. More effective messaging is a priority for all organizations, campaigns and events. Learn how to craft the most essential message — your tagline. Download the free Nonprofit Tagline Report, filled with must-dos, don’t dos, case studies and 2,500+ nonprofit tagline examples!

Photo: OneWoman

Communicating in the Shadow of Disaster – Practical Tips for Nonprofits

What is the place of nonprofit communications in the wake of disaster, particularly when this most recent crisis of epic proportions—the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disasters in Japan—is rightly dominating our minds and conversations, as well as the media?

For a nonprofit, the answer lies in the way (if any) your organization is involved in the relief effort. The following guidelines derive from an analysis of news of, and fundraising for, recovery efforts around the Japanese earthquake and Pacific tsunami disasters.

For organizations providing disaster relief services in Japan

Make it clear why your organization is well-equipped to help. Be as specific as possible.

  • The Salvation Army, having worked in Japan since 1895, was well positioned to provide immediate rescue help and medical care before many other organizations could get going.The Salvation Army immediately crafted compelling messaging emphasizing the value of its long-established operations and relationships in Japan, and the breadth of its services: “The Salvation Army in Japan immediately dispersed teams following the disaster to the most severely affected areas where they are distributing basic necessities to survivors. These teams will also assess the damage to discern the next steps in their relief efforts.”

    “The Salvation Army has been at work in Japan since 1895, operating more than 80 centers there, including two hospitals and four childrens’ homes. We have nearly 200 officers, 3,000 members and nearly 1,000 employees already at work in the country. We are a part of Japan’s communities and dedicated to their recovery.

  • Save the Children’s appeal focuses on the unique role it provides in disaster relief—helping children and their parents deal with the trauma. The organization is creating “safe places” in Japan that provide the structure and routine children crave.I learned about this much-needed focus via a moving interview of a Save the Children staffer in Japan. He told a number of stories about the children and families he’s working with, which made a huge impression. Here’s one family’s story.
  • Mercy Corps stresses its close partnership with Japanese charity PeaceWinds to deliver emergency supplies. The partnership enabled MercyCorps to get the effort going within a few days, getting “tents, blankets, cooking fuel, tarps, rice and bread to families evacuated from homes in the tsunami-devastated city of Kesennuma. Your donation will be used to meet immediate and longer-term needs of earthquake survivors.”

Communicate broadly, clearly and visually (if possible) about how donations are managed, where they are going and what your organization’s relief effort is achieving.

That comes after thanking donors immediately (and often) and adding them to your donor database for follow-up. Donor behavior in giving to the Haitian earthquake relief effort showed that interest in the relief effort fades much more quickly than your organization’s need for support.

More immediately, you’ll need reliable, timely reporting out, even though you’re frequently working with technological and logistical constraints. This is the time to put social media tools, from Skype to Twitter, to work for all they’re worth. Communicating on disaster relief work is where these tools make a huge difference in sharing the focus and impact of your work on the ground in real time via podcast, photos and/or video.

  • The American Red Cross’ home page features the many ways it’s communicating to donors, prospects and others right on its home page. Channels include video, blog posts and press releases. Its report-out on aid and impact is outstanding, as it has been with previous relief efforts.
  • U.K. charity ShelterBox is documenting the progress it’s making in delivering its trademark shelters in a box via this blog, supplemented by photos that do a great job of telling the story. The posts are thorough and specific, a style that conveys the organization’s expertise and value and builds trust on the part of prospective donors and other supporters.In addition, Shelterbox is keeping its community up to date (and enabling them to spread the word) via its twitter feed.

Be thoughtful in your use of graphic photos of the disaster.

  • The press is working for you by publicizing shocking photos of the disaster (not to mention the videos floating around YouTube, and the tens of thousands of photos on Flickr).
  • Some journalists argue that graphic photos (such as those of dead children) are too much. Others assert that the seriousness of disasters like this one necessitates the use of photos to convey the gravity of the situations, especially to a jaded U.S. audience in the midst of an economic downturn.

Follow-up to transition disaster donors into loyal donors.

  • Giselle Holloway, IRC’s Director of Direct Response, reminds us that “a person doesn’t truly become a donor until they make their second gift. When donors join your organization through an emergency, you need to start cultivating them immediately so you can retain them after the crisis is over. Send them an e-mail or letter that thanks them for their support, welcomes them to your organization and educates them about your broader mission. You also might want to make welcome phone calls to new donors at higher giving levels or try to convert them to monthly giving. And don’t forget to send all your new donors updates on a regular basis that show how their gift is making a difference.”

For organizations fundraising for relief efforts, but not directly providing help

Be proactive and specific in conveying the process for distributing donations and where/how/when the money will be spent.

  • Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) launched a Japan Earthquake Relief Fund to solicit donations for nonsectarian earthquake relief efforts, carried out through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), a 94-year-old humanitarian aid organization that works in over 60 countries worldwide. JDC is “partnering with the Japanese Jewish community to provide funding to a local NGO for emergency needs including food, water, and shelter in the disaster region. JDC acquired substantial expertise in earthquake and tsunami-related response in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Maldives, and India following the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004.”

Explain why your organization has chosen to get involved as a pass through for donations.

  • This role, which is probably an unusual one for your organization, has the potential to confuse your established audiences. Help them understand what you are doing, and why.
  • JFNA does a great job of explaining why it’s getting involved in raising money for relief work. Several reasons are cited including its ability to reach out to its national network of regional Federations to encourage them to raise money for JDC’s relief work (a fundraising machine, already in place).

For other nonprofits continuing with fundraising and communications outreach

Be sensitive to inappropriate pitches.

  • You may actually go as far as to acknowledge the magnitude of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disasters, and the contributions your donors and prospects are likely to have made. In doing so, you craft the opportunity to talk about your issues (the environment, shelter and health are directly related) and/or service recipients and the fact that these needs persist in the face of these tragedies.Fundraiser Jeff Brooks characterizes disaster giving as “above-and-beyond giving,” and cautions, “There’s no need to take away from the need in [Japan]. Relief giving is not taking gifts away from you.”
  • Remember that your audiences have been immersed, whether they have wanted to be or not, in disaster coverage.

Relate your work to relief work when relevant—but don’t overstate.

  • Make sure you don’t overstate a connection between your organization, services or programs and the disaster.
  • At the same time, acknowledge the earthquake. Pretending the disaster didn’t happen is the worst mistake your organization can make. And homelessness is homelessness, be it among survivors in Sendai or Philadelphians living in poverty.

Continue with your planned communications and fundraising campaigns.

  • Don’t get nervous and pull the plug on carefully designed plans. Yep, many journalists are focused on the Japanese relief effort and other front-page news. But if you have a timely pitch, make it.
  • However, if you are planning a once-a-year bash or fundraising campaign and it coincides with the week of a disaster, consider delaying it. Otherwise, move full steam ahead.

Plan to communicate even more effectively around the next crisis.

  • If your organization isn’t focused on relief, or passing through contributions, it’s likely that you’ll be on the sidelines next time round.
  • While this experience is still fresh, sketch out a one-page plan of what you’ll do next time round. This approach will help you avoid panic at that point, and stay as productive as possible with marketing and fundraising communications.

I recommend you continue to track how these organizations, and others, are communicating on their relief efforts or in the shadow of the disaster in Japan. There’s lots to learn about how your organization can improve its outreach, in times of disaster or, better yet, days of calm.

How to Create a Nonprofit Style Guide: 7 Steps to Greater Consistency and Impact

Here’s a problem nonprofit communicators like you share with me time and time again: Due to the ubiquitous nature of information and promotion, we’re all bombarded by content—every waking minute.

In the face of this flood, inconsistencies in your organization’s content—both editorial and graphic—make it difficult for your audiences to digest, at a glance, that these varied communications are all coming from your organization.

 

Here’s the problem with that: When you’re recognized, it’s much more likely your email or envelope will be opened, which is the only way it will be digested and acted upon.

Consistency Is the Long-Term Solution

Consistency – cross-channel and over time – is the key to your audiences absorbing your messages, and for them to be able to “whisper down the lane” – repeating those messages to friends and family. Keep in mind that this consistency must stay flexible, to be adapted when the channel, audience or other factor is radically different from the norm.

No other form of communication is as powerful as this natural network which exponentially extends your organization’s reach. And a style guide helps you make it happen.

A Style Guide Is Your Path to Consistency

An easy way to ensure clear and consistent communications is to create an editorial and visual identity style guide, made available organization-wide as an ever-accessible PDF.

Everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to getting the word out. The standards featured in your style guide will make it easy for them to do so, reducing time spent, errors made and endless frustration.

A style guide also makes it unnecessary for you and your colleagues to re-invent the wheel each time, saving you a great deal of effort while increasing your marketing impact.

How to Create Your Organization’s Style Guide

Here is a step-by-step approach to putting together, or updating, your style guide.

  1. Review your communications by spreading a full range of them out in front of you, including pages printed out from your website, e-news, blog, Facebook page and online fundraising campaigns, as well as print materials.
  2. Jot down standards that work best for the editorial and graphic guidelines outlined below. Traditionally, style guides covered punctuation, spelling and other editorial guidelines. I suggest you expand this concept to include visual guidelines as well so you and your colleagues have a single point of reference to shape communications.
  3. Craft a usage policy, outlining who (partners, volunteers) can and should use your organization’s graphic identity elements and how.
  4. Get input on your draft from colleagues and external audiences if possible. These conversations are a key way to get insights from the folks who matter most (your audiences) and buy-in from your colleagues who you want to use the guide.
  5. Make it as brief as possible—ideally a max of 6 pages—so people can quickly find what they need.
  6. Feature the contact info for the Consistency Czar—the person on your team in charge of the style guide—so that your colleagues can easily ask questions. You’ll revise the style guide to include responses to frequently-asked questions, and revise existing content more clearly when you hear that colleagues don’t understand it.
  7. Launch it with a training session for your colleagues—See below.

Editorial Guidelines

The primary purpose of editorial guidelines is to address topics specific to your organization that are not adequately covered in the standard published style guides, such as The Chicago Manual of Style or The Associated Press Style book.

In addition, your style guide summarizes your organization’s approach to the most-frequently-raised questions of style, topics that are dealt with in greater detail in these manuals, in order to offer a quick, but more comprehensive, reference tool.

Questions of style, unlike many questions of grammar, usually do not have a right or wrong answer. Instead, establishing a preferred style is helpful so that your consistent presentation can be maintained throughout an array of materials that may be produced by many different individuals.

Having a set of predetermined guidelines will also save those individuals the time and energy required to develop their own guidelines.

Guidelines should include:

  • Your organization’s name (spelling, abbreviations or acronyms that work)
  • Names of your programs and services
  • Your address, phone number, emails, website and social channels (should you begin writing your url with “http://” or simply with “www”)
  • Your tagline
  • Your positioning statement: The two or three sentences that establish your position in the philanthropic world and how it should be included, as a whole, in most communications
  • Talking points for staff and board members: Key messages that briefly cover the who, what, when, where, and how of your group, and how they should be incorporated in most communications
  • Person, tone and voice
  • Word style preferences (preferred spelling and capitalization, e.g. web site vs. website, grant making vs. grantmaking)
  • Words not to use
  • The title of the published grammar style guide that your group uses: Share the title of the guide that your writers need to follow when deciding whether to insert that final comma or not, or selecting the right preposition to follow the word parallel (to or with). Most importantly, buy print or online copies for all who need to use it!

Review these top two published grammar style guides, talk to colleagues, and select one if you haven’t already (partner links):

Graphic Guidelines

Since the power of a strong visual identity can only be realized through consistent application, these standards are crucial for colleagues throughout your nonprofit to follow.

Elements should include:

  • Organizational and program logos: Sizing; colors; position on the page; what elements should be included when logo is used
  • Color Palette: Official colors and details on how those colors are to be used
  • Typeface (e.g. all newsletter headlines are in Times New Roman, Bold, 14 pt.).
  • Layouts, templates
  • Web, e-news and other online templates
  • Photo and image library.

Putting Your Style Guide to Work

Your next step is to distribute the guide and ensure that staff and consultants are clear on its content and how to use it.

An in-person training session is often an effective way to introduce the guide, answer any questions and ensure that your colleagues view it as an aid (fewer open issues, decisions, delays) to them, rather than a dictum imposed upon them.

Remember to refresh your guide on an ongoing basis as questions come up and preferences are determined.

Useful Models–Nonprofit Style Guides

You’ll see that these examples range from a one-pager, which might be enough for your organization, to Rutgers’ multi-page guide. The more complex your organization, programs and audiences, the more depth (and, unfortunately, length) you’ll need in your style guide.

Consider contacting your communications colleagues at these organizations to learn more about the development or implementation of these guides:

Does your organization have an editorial and/or visual standards guide? If so, please share the link and/or how the guide has helped (or not) here.

8 Ways to Craft a Communications RFP Process that Works

As the founder of a 15-year-old marketing firm serving nonprofits and foundations, I’ve probably reviewed over 600 RFPs in my time, all from nonprofits and foundations seeking communications services. And I can tell you, no more than 100 of them were designed well enough to motivate specific and thorough responses from top contenders.

Accuracy, of course, is key. Because if your nonprofit’s RFP doesn’t cover everything you’re looking for, in the way you want it delivered, your organization won’t get what it needs. Trash in, trash out as they say. So put some time and effort into the RFP process.

Here are some guidelines for implementing a RFP process that will motivate high-quality service providers to respond eagerly, thoroughly and accurately:

1. Be realistic…

In the work you’re asking for in a particular timeframe, within a specific budget. If you don’t know what it takes (time- or $-wise), ask colleagues in peer organizations.

2. Be thorough…

In what you include, and format the proposal with care so it’s easy for the recipient to scan and review.

Put the effort into making the proposal easy to digest, just as you would your brochures or website.

3. Cover these areas:

Organizational background (brief), project description, why you’re implementing this project now, goals and objectives, challenges (if you know them), deliverables, timeframe, who to contact with questions.

4. Know what you’re looking for.

Your organization can select the right expert(s) only if you know what you want — personality, skills, style and experience-wise. Don’t use the proposal process to try to figure out what you want. That will backfire, big time.

I recently received an RFP from an organization sending it out for a second round to four communications firms this time (it was released to six firms first time out). When I asked what was missing from the initial set of six proposals, the prospect said she didn’t really know, but that none of the proposals had “hit it on the head.” When I asked what the head was (i.e. what they are looking for, what does the staff team think it takes to make this process work), she couldn’t answer. Believe me, they won’t find the right firm until they do know what they’re looking for.

5. Ask recipients to let you know within a day or two whether they’ll be responding or not.

That way you can send the RFP out to additional marketers if you need to.

6. Give bidders two weeks to respond.

Crafting a proposal is extremely labor intensive if it’s done right. Give firms the opportunity to do it right.

7. Be prepared to answer these questions:

  • How many firms/individuals will be submitting proposals?

I never jump in if a prospect is expecting more than five proposals. That says to me that they are fishing for ideas or may not know what they want until they see it (or not) in a proposal. If that’s the case, I know that we don’t have a good chance of getting the work.

  • What’s your budget range?

Some  prospects are reluctant to  share this information, thinking that the bidders will just mark up the work to that level. Most of the time, believe me, the budget isn’t enough, and knowing the range enables us to define what we can provide for that fee.

  • What are your criteria for selecting a consultant or firm?

I like to know what’s most important to a prospective client, and also get a sense of the culture of the organization. A good fit is crucial.

  • How did you hear about me/us?

It’s the kiss of death if the prospective client tells me she doesn’t remember. Finding me on the Web is a sign that I have to probe more, to ensure she has done her research thoroughly and her findings (on experience, focus, perspective) match her needs.

  • Who is your point person on this project?

It’s difficult to succeed in bringing a project to life when there’s not a single point person. Your point person should run much of the review and approval processes inside your organization; synthesizing (solo or via a group process) what are bound to be divergent opinions.

8. Be aware of the firm or consultant who submits a proposal without asking questions.

Doing so indicates a player who’s not serious about the job or not putting the required time into the proposal development process. The proposal you’ll receive from those who don’t contact you for more information is likely to be generic. Not a good sign!

I’m looking for a sense of connection, as well, when I call a prospect with questions. That’s a critical component of project success, and can’t be assessed until speak we speak few times, even if only by phone.

Readers, follow these guidelines and I promise you a much more successful communications RFP process, and product.

Media Relations Planning–11 Steps to Success

Nonprofit organizations, particularly those on the smaller side, need every advantage they can get. And good media relations planning can a be a significant advantage for your organization.

But relax and breathe a sigh of relief.

Once you buckle down to this media planning process, it’s extremely doable. Depending on the time you can dedicate, the process can be executed in a variety of ways.

For example:

  • If time is extremely tight, allocate two hours weekly to this process. It will take longer but it will get done.
  • If you have a bit more time, spend six hours a week on this process. You’ll be done in two weeks max, assuming you have a colleague or freelancer doing the research for you.

The staff or consultant primarily responsible for media relations should own this process and do the initial strategic thinking. That person, or another team member, can be assigned to research (e.g. to develop your press list).

Here’s How to Start

  • Begin by reviewing this list.
  • Next, dive into the low-hanging fruit (#1-5 below). You should be able to complete these tasks without additional research. Run by colleagues to ensure you are on target.
  • Assign an intern or assistant (you could even hire a virtual assistant for this) for tasks #6 and #7 to start researching key media to follow, and to draft a top ten press list.
  • Take these findings, finalize the press list, and address the balance of the planning tasks (#8-11).
  • Review the draft plan with key colleagues, and revise as needed.

11 Steps to Media Planning Success

1.  Estimate what you can invest in building your media relations program; time and budget.

2.  Set goals.

What are your three main program goals? How can media relations be used to achieve these goals:

  • Build awareness.
  • Shift opinion.
  • Motivate action.

3.  Define realistic objectives, both output and outcome.

  • What do you envision your media work will generate?
  • These objectives serve as the measures you’ll track to evaluate your success.

4.  Identify three or less primary target audiences.

  • Define each group’s connection to each issue or story, what you want them to do, what is important to them, and what they read, watch and listen to.
  • Audience definition shapes your key messages and press list.

5.  Tell your story. Pinpoint the key messages you’re trying to communicate.

  • Try to distill your message into a 25-word (maximum) statement that will get the point across.  Add supporting messages of one to two sentences each, max.
  • Make sure these messages are integrated into all of your communications.
  • Mixed messages are confusing. Consistency ensures that your points are heard and recognized and likely to be repeated.

6.  Build your media database/press list but include no more than 10 to 15 journalists. Identity key media (and that means bloggers and other online writers as well as the traditional media) covering your issues, themes, geographies via these strategies:

  • Capture information on reporters who contact or cover your organization (log conversations and emails with media folks so you have this information).
  • Find related stories via Google news, noting sources and journalist’s names.
  • Exchange media contact lists with your colleague organizations.

7.  Read, watch and listen to these media over a month or so to pinpoint your top-ten press list.

8.  Identify the best way to get journalists to cover your story.

  • Through news releases? Personal visits to reporters? On-air interviews? Each approach has its own advantages and disadvantages.

9.  Craft the timetable.

  • Consider external events, editorial calendars and date-based news hooks.
  • Organize key media outreach efforts chronologically and prioritize, being realistic about what you can accomplish.

10.  Define the work plan, and roles and responsibilities.

  • Remember, everyone on your staff and your external supporters are communicators. Give them what they need to spread the word directly as well as via media contacts.

11.  Track, measure and fine-tune (ongoing, forever).

  • Log all contacts with the media.
  • Make the log easily accessible to all. You never know who might have to field an incoming media call.

Let me know how this process works for you! I’ve used it with client organizations time and time again with strong results.

And please leave a comment below if you have any steps to add to this process, or guidance on those listed here.

Should Your Nonprofit Launch a Blog?

What’s a Blog?

An abbreviation of “weblog,” blogs are websites that take the form of online journals, updated frequently with running commentary on one or many topics.

A blog is the absolutely easiest way to provide regularly updated information to your audiences. Because blog creation process is simpler than website creation or print design and production, blogs enable nonprofits to easily publish a stream of constantly updated, linked content. And search engines love fresh content.

Most blogs are directed towards external audiences and cover alerts, news clips, human interest stories and volunteers. What’s very distinct to blogs in the personal voice in which these stories are told.

Blogs usually feature:

  • Brief entries running one-three paragraphs in length.
  • One or more columns on the page, with new content added to the largest column.
  • Sidebars linking to other blogs, previous posts or other comments.
  • Updates added at the top of the blog, so that entries read in reverse chronological order. This approach makes it easy for readers to find the most recent content.
  • Lots of links within blog entries (to other blogs, websites, and articles in your e-newsletter, as well as audio and video files). Some blog entries also feature photos.
  • Frequent updates, with updating schedules from several times daily to two-three times each week.

Here are a few examples of nonprofit blogs:

  • Citizens League

What: Frequent updates to educate Minnesota’s citizens and motivate action on legislation.

  • Oceana

What: Reports from the field from marine biologists and conservationists around the world on the battle to save the oceans. Readers are invited to participate in the discussion by adding to the blog.

How to Put Blogs to Work for Your Nonprofit Organization

Here’s how you can put blogs to work for your organization.

  • Quickly summarize and point to other articles on the web that are relevant to your audience.
  • Include audiences (or selected audiences) in conversation on critical topics.
  • Invite experts in your field or issue area to contribute as guest bloggers.
  • Get timely information out without tech staff or web designers. You can even do “real-time” reporting from a conference, field visit or legislative session.
  • Cross-promote and re-use all the content you create for your website, print magazines and e-newsletter.

Here’s a nonprofit blog scenario:

An association of healthcare nonprofits uses their blog as a highly efficient means of communicating with its members. The membership staff posts three-five new entries daily, which range from quick announcements on members’ special events to multiple entries about sessions at the association’s recent conference. Using the blog, staff members easily get this info to members in minutes.

How to get audiences to read your organization’s blog

  1. Add your blog headlines to your organization’s home page.
  2. Syndicate your blog via RSS format.

When you syndicate your organization’s blog content (RSS=real simple syndication), readers can use a type of free software called a “news aggregator” to automatically retrieve the latest stories from your nonprofit and thousands of other sites and blogs. The news aggregator pulls your blog right down to your audience’s desktops so they receive blog entries without having to open their web browsers!

NOTE: The BBC has posted a great explanation of RSS.

3. Form a network with colleague organizations to run your blog headlines on their own websites, and vice versa.

Use trackback (a link back to the initial entry on which the current entry comments), commenting on other blogs and re-posting of other blogs’ key stories to strengthen your network and motivate audiences when important issues need attention (e.g. pending legislation).

Readers, I urge you to take a look at the blogs I mention above, and start talking with your colleagues about the blogs they read. Blogging is a vital complementary communications vehicle, and one for which you should know the pros and the cons.