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

5 Steps to Jumpstart Your Tagline Development Process

Developing a high-power tagline for your nonprofit can be a daunting task, especially with so many competing priorities.  Whether you are creating a first-time tagline or revitalizing an existing brand, here are five steps to jump start the process:

  1. Confirm that the tagline (or lack of one) is a problem. Feature a few talking points about your organization (or your tagline, if you already have one) in conversations with colleagues, members and volunteers.  Make a note of their reactions.  Does your messaging inspire people to dig in and ask more questions or get involved, or does it create confusion about your organization’s work and impact?
  2. Get your colleagues on board.  Let your colleagues know that it’s time to develop stronger messaging for your organization based on what you’ve heard in your listening research, and that you’ll need their help. Be as specific as possible about your goals and outcomes, and how you’d like them to help.
  3. Uncover some audience intelligence, Sherlock Holmes.  Ask colleagues (and volunteers, if you need to) to insert your organization’s messaging (or current tagline, if you have one) in their own conversations in the field and report back to you what they find. Make it easy for them to report back in a way that’s easy for them and useful to you.
  4. Summarize the feedback you get and your recommendations for moving forward.  What does and doesn’t work? What does that suggest about revising existing messaging or shaping  a new tagline?
  5. Is more research needed? Decide if you need to take your audience research one step further or you’re ready to kickoff the tagline creation process with a brainstorming session.

These five steps are a proven stepping stone to developing a strong tagline for your organization. Supplement them with our free guide to powerful messaging for your organization: The Getting Attention Tagline Report features don’t dos, must dos and over 2,500 nonprofit tagline examples to kick-start your message brainstorming.

By Amy Kehoe, Manager – Getting Attention

Flickr photo: Jeff Carlson

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

Busted Nonprofit Brand: Anatomy of a Corporate Sponsorship Meltdown (Case Study)

Read the analysis of how the Komen-KFC partnership damaged the Komen brand.

Judging by the list of corporate sponsors on its website, it’s hard not to conclude that Susan G. Komen for the Cure® (Komen) has aggressively sought out partners to further its cause of breast cancer awareness and prevention.

There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s always dicey when you rent out the warm glow of your organization’s hard-earned identity in exchange for additional exposure and financial support. You, your colleagues and your supporters build your nonprofit’s brand every day with every action you take. And Komen — which runs the famed Race for the Cure® — is the largest grassroots breast cancer organization there is, so careful screening of corporate suitors (and other partners) is absolutely critical.

You’d think with the kind of corporate sponsorship success enjoyed by Komen, they’d have a sophisticated vetting process that ensures they work only with partners whose corporate identities complement and enhance Komen’s mission—not undermine, erode or call it into question. That has to be the baseline for judging such things.

But it seems something went wrong at Komen.

Let’s take a look at the events over the last few weeks and see what lessons can be learned for you and your future partners.

Here’s the full story of Komen’s misstep. Use it to learn how to keep your organization out of this kind of mess:

The Colonel Wears Pink: The Deal and Launch

At a quick glance, KFC’s Buckets for the Cure campaign (launched in early April 2010) seems harmless. For each pink bucket purchased by franchise operators, 50 cents goes to the Komen for the Cure campaign.  KFC’s goal is to make the single largest donation ever to Komen. What’s bad about supporting breast cancer research, education and advocacy?

But wait a second. KFC is a leading purveyor of fried food. And the KFC-Komen partnership was announced shortly after the fast-food giant introduced its heart-stopping Double Down sandwich.

The absurdity of the partnership is really there for all to see. There’s no way around it. How can funding breast cancer research with the proceeds of fried chicken sales (yes, 22% of KFC chicken sales are for grilled chicken) make good sense? Especially when fried foods are known to contribute to obesity and other health problems, and obesity increases the risk of breast cancer.

The deal appears to be a significant strategic blunder on Komen’s part.

Background: KFC launched its partnership with Komen in early April 2010, via a huge Komen-KFC TV ad campaign. This followed KFC’s introduction just a week earlier of its much criticized Double Down, one of its biggest, most fat- and sodium-loaded sandwiches.

As is typical in Komen partnerships, the organization stepped back and let KFC take the lead in marketing the program, according to Komen spokesperson Andrea Rader.  KFC distributed its press release on April 14th as Komen uploaded its largely uninformative page on the partnership.

In a phone interview with me for this article, Rader said Komen saw this campaign “primarily as an education/awareness and outreach program…We have the opportunity to reach people who aren’t served by our 900 local affiliates.”

She described the lids of the pink buckets as building awareness and likely to motivate readers to get a mammogram or take other preventive action. When asked if the lids featured breast cancer prevention how-tos, Rader clarified that they simply drive people to the Pink Buckets campaign page. That page is focused mainly on fundraising, not healthcare.

Public Response: Disbelief, Disappointment and Anger

stop-komen-kfc-facebook-campaignWithin two days of the campaign launch, Komen was under fire.

Blogger Scotty Henderson started it off with his post condemning Komen for throwing its mission under the bus for a quick buck. “Cause dissonance,” is the phrase he used (very apt).

Soon bloggers and broadcast media alike were writing critically about this very odd pairing, with only a few posts and articles positioning the partnership positively.  And, as happens with social media, readers shared the content and their outrage with friends quickly and easily, building a broad base of push-back to Komen’s deal, including this

After I blogged and tweeted the story on April 21,  nearly 20 peers (nonprofit communicators, fundraisers and others) commented on the post, universally condemning Komen for moving so far from its mission. But one of them brought up a very good question: Is it just over-sensitive nonprofit folks who have such a strong negative reaction to the KFC-Komen partnership?

To test the waters more broadly, I reached out to friends and family via my personal Facebook page and to my women’s triathlon group. Here are excerpts of what I heard in response:

Let’s see: “Join the fight against breast cancer! Buy supersized servings of hormone-infused, breaded and deep-fried animal protein!” Nope. It doesn’t work for me.

—Elizabeth Castelli, NY

I’m always happy to see corporations donating to Komen, but it’s absurd to see KFC giving with one hand and taking with the other by selling food that’s so utterly damaging to the overall health of Americans, especially low-income Americans, who are still disproportionately people of color. I’m not entirely sure what Komen was thinking in making this particular pact.

—Aliyah Baruchin (health and medical reporter, breast cancer survivor), West Orange, NJ

Next comes Marlboro’s.  Many organizations have to make hard choices about accepting donations from certain sources, but this one seems over the top.

—Deborah Strauss, Chicago, IL

Having just returned from radiation treatment for breast cancer and having walked in the rain on Sunday for the Komen Race for the Cure, I have to say that my initial reaction to the Komen/KFC partnership is surprise and disappointment.

While I appreciate the very sound business reasons articulated below in Lesley’s thoughtful comments, I would hope that an organization that advocates on behalf of women’s health and wellness would partner with a corporation whose values and mission are in sync with the vision of the organization. Fast food, particularly fried fast food is the antithesis of health and wellness for women and their children and communities.

While I understand that KFC is trying to “healthy” up its image by providing salads and grilled food along with the more unhealthy options, I find it distasteful for a women’s health organization to sanction fried food as good for women and their families. It is important to reach out more to underserved communities but there are more effective and meaningful ways to do so.

Rather than a “win-win” for both sides, my reaction to the partnership is that it is expedient and cynical. I would hope that in its effort to educate women about the risks of breast cancer, Komen would also make an effort to educate women about the risks of poor eating habits and unhealthy choices such as fried foods. If this partnership with KFC keeps Komen from speaking out against corporations that make foods that increase our risk of heart disease and the risk of obesity in our children, then this partnership is a losing proposition.

—Carol Schlitt (Komen walker, currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer),
West Orange, NJ

Ouch! Hell hath no fury like a volunteer and donor spurned. As you can see, committed volunteers and supporters of Komen have a deep and visceral reaction to this choice of partners.

Let’s look at what’s going on.

The Reason Why: It’s a Betrayal of Trust

“It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and only 15 minutes to destroy it.” —Warren Buffett

As I see it, Komen’s decision to partner with KFC has damaged the trust that exists between it and its supporters. Specifically, their actions thus far have:

  • Undermined its credibility. (It’s hard to believe they are focused on women’s health.)
  • Eroded its authenticity. (What does the organization stand for if they can’t see what’s wrong with this partnership?)
  • Alienated its supporters. (See the comments above from walkers and donors.)

I think my disappointment in Komen’s partnership decision is not unlike the betrayal a family feels when a spouse is discovered to have been having a long-term affair. The person you thought you knew is really someone different, which kills your trust.

It works the same way — on a smaller scale — with organizations we believe in. Your nonprofit brand is the essence of your organization, your promise to your base. It represents the intersection of your organization’s wants and interests, and those of your target audience.

Once that “brand promise” is defined, branding is the art of creating a consistent, recognizable and distinct unified voice or personality that conveys your org’s focus, credibility and unique contributions via positioning, message platform, graphic identity and partnerships.

Authenticity is a prerequisite for successful branding. Komen has been trusted as a force for improving women’s health and, on its website, touts its #1 spot in the Harris poll for most-valued brand.

It’ll be a long time before a lot of us will believe in Komen again. Brand gone bust!

Mess Upon Mess: Komen Flunks Crisis Communications 101

Getting into a mess happens for all of us from time to time, as individuals and as organizations. But once you’re there, it’s critical to salvage your organization’s brand by strategically navigating the situation, a.k.a. crisis communications.

Within three hours of my blog post on the deal, KFC spokesperson Rick Maynard added his comment. Maynard summarized KFC’s perspective in a clear and respectful way, opening up the dialogue. That’s good crisis communications.

What about Komen’s response? Dead silence. No comments on any blogs or stories online as of two weeks after Henderson’s post. Silence on its Twitter feed, Facebook page and website; and those of its affilitates.

When I contacted spokesperson Andrea Rader, she was extremely helpful. She did emphasize that she had responded to incoming calls from health bloggers at ABCNews, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, but had not proactively participated in any social media conversations on the partnership (such as blog comments).

In remaining largely silent (although responsive to incoming calls), Komen has opened up a huge vacuum for critics (journalists, citizens, supporters and other organizations alike) to define its actions. You never want this to happen.

By failing to speak out quickly, consistently and frankly, Komen also opened the door to Breast Cancer Action (BCA), its direct competitor for attention, dollars and volunteers.

In a fine example of nimble, quick-thinking outreach (and a great model of jumping on a hot news item), BCA launched its own “What the Cluck?” campaign protesting the KFC/Komen partnership.

In just two weeks — through active conversations via its website, Twitter feed and Facebook page — BCA motivated over 3,000 people from all over the country to write letters to Komen and KFC, criticizing the deal.

The first rule of crisis communications is to listen and KFC’s Maynard did a great job of that. The second is to act quickly but calmly to respond to any negative perceptions, joining the conversation and showing that your organization is on top of the situation.  The third rule is use the reaction to enter into a meaningful community dialogue.

Komen flunks on all three fronts and is now in middle of a real mess. It will be fascinating to track its next steps.

What’s Your Take?

What’s your take on the Komen-KFC deal? What should be the standards for partnerships of all kinds? And what should Komen do now to pull itself out of this hole?

Please post your thoughts in the comments below and I’ll share them with the Getting Attention community.

Thank you.

NEW Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template—Right-Things, Right-Now Marketing


Download a copy of the template to customize for your organization.

Insights are your key to marketing that’s more relevant than ever. Simply dive into this insight-driven approach to marketing planning—built on the rock-solid foundation of relevance—to connect more quickly and strongly with supporters and partners, and to motivate them to take the actions you need (to give, volunteer, sign a petition or…).

This Template outlines a marketing planning process driven by three types of insights you gather, learn from and act on now to shape an initial plan, and on an ongoing basis to ensure your approach stays relevant.

Follow the clear path outlined below, focusing on these three insight action items, to get to the right marketing actions for your organization to take right now. Then repeat the insight action items on an ongoing basis to ensure your marketing remains relevant to your audiences as their wants and preferences, and the environment in which you work, change over time. That’s right-things, right-now marketing.

This approach guarantees right-things, right-now marketing for the duration. It will highlight priorities and not-worth-its-whiles,  diminish those annoying fears that you’re not doing the right thing, build your personal confidence and skills, and boost your organization’s marketing impact now. Relevance rules!

Part One: Your Organization

a.    Goals—What you want to accomplish

  • Organizational Goals: What are your organization’s main one to three goals for the next 12 to 18 months?
  • Marketing Goals: What are your one to three marketing goals (how you’ll use marketing to reach those organizational goals)?


    • Organizational goal for Environmental Health Partners (EHP)
      • Improve regional health by significantly reducing exposure to toxic chemicals—lead in homes, bay contamination, and air pollution from trucks, ships, power plants and other sources.
    • Marketing goals
      • Build awareness about EHP’s work and impact.
      • Motivate 15 area residents to attend a two-part community meeting (to be held in each of four neighborhoods in the region), to build their understanding of the relationship between health and the environment and train them as effective advocates.
      • Forge partnerships with key partner organizations in the region with existing relationships with citizens and policymakers.

 → Right-Things, Right-Now Marketing Action Item

b. Situation Analysis—Conditions inside and outside your organization

  • What is the environment in which you’re working—competitor and colleague orgs, marketing audit, policies and more?

You can assess the situation in several ways:

      • Environmental scan: What policies, practices, or other factors could help or hurt your marketing success?
      • Competitive analysis: What are other organizations providing in terms of content, programs and resources? How successful are they?
      • Audience research: What does your audience think about your organization, its work and/or the issues you work on?
      • Marketing audit: What current marketing work is succeeding, and what needs to change and how?
      • Internal audit: What are the perceptions, hopes, ideas and concerns of staff and leadership in relation to the marketing agenda?
  • Gather Insights from data, what you know/see/hear, and asking and listening.
  • Use them to shape your marketing plan, then update it regularly to keep it relevant.

c. Calls to Action—What you want your audiences to do

What do you want your target audiences to do to achieve your marketing goals? Be specific.


  • Subscribe to our e-newsletter.
  • Like our Facebook page and share your question there.
  • Participate in our community meeting.
  • Share your story.
  • Learn about environmental dangers in and around your home.
  • Collaborate on a project with us.

Download a copy of the template to customize for your organization.

Part Two: Your People-Target Audiences & Segments

  • Who are they? Who are the one to three groups of people whose help you need AND are most likely to help OR most risky not to engage?

Alert: If you try to reach everyone, you will fail to engage anyone well.

→ Right-Things, Right-Now Marketing Action Item

a.   What are their points of view? What do your target audiences want and care about, so you can connect with them?

  • Gather Insights from data, what you know/see/hear, and asking and listening.
  • Use them to shape your marketing plan, then to update it regularly to keep it relevant.
  • How can you segment them, so you can reach them most effectively? How does each group break out into one to three segments (that share perspectives, habits and wants)?


    • Target audience: County residents—Build their understanding of the environmental health dangers in the region and how they can improve the situation, so they are motivated to advocate for cleaner environmental behavior on the part of corporations.  Their main want—for their children to stay healthy.
      • Segments: Parents of children 12 and under; parents of children 12 to 18; school administrators; homeowners.
    • Target audience: Staff members and leadership of prospective partner orgs working in the region—Build understanding of EHP’s role and impact in fighting for community health so prospective partners see the partnership as providing value to their own impact, and want to collaborate.
      • Segments: Staff and leadership of organizations serving the communities within the region that are most at risk; staff and leadership of other regionally-focused environmental organizations; neighborhood home owner associations.

Part Three: Your Messages, Methods & Tactics

a.    Framing the Message—Benefit Exchange and Barriers to the Call to Action

  • Benefit Exchange: Why should your supporters care? What’s it in for them?


      • Seek to ensure that their children, other family members and friends are healthy.
      • Want to ensure property values.
  • Barriers:  What’s in the way of you motivating the actions you want supporters to take?


      • Industry owners in the region have implemented well-resourced campaigns to promise safe and healthy living to residents.
      • Parents have too many choices and time constraints.
      • Partners don’t really trust us yet.

b.    Best Methods—To achieve your marketing goals

  • How can you best motivate your supporters to act? Options are: Branding / Positioning, Message Development, Content Creation, Training, Relationship Building, Community Building and Organizing


    • Build the network: Nurture relationships with prospective “supporters” within relevant local organizations, from the Lions Club to the Chamber of Commerce.
    • Message development: Shape and deliver messages that will clarify for, connect with and engage your audiences. Consistent, memorable messaging helps your base to keep your organization top of mind, recognize its relevance to them, and spread the word about it.

c.    Best Tactics—To put your methods into action

How can you connect with your supporters via these methods, e.g. the nitty-gritty? Will be based on your target audiences’ habits and preferences, as well as which tactics work best to achieve your goals.


  • Message development—Audience research; write positioning statement, tagline, talking points; test and refine; develop style guide, train staff and board on messaging, develop style guide; launch.
  • Standards guide—Create a guide (PDF) for staff and volunteer messengers to use to make decisions on messaging and “look and feel” of communications.
  • Develop a one-page “leave behind” flyer summarizing the value of partnering for prospective partners, and a series of follow up emails (to follow in-person visits to prospective partner organizations).

Part Four: Put It All Together

a.    Resources—What it takes

  • Roles and Responsibilities
    • Who does what?
    • Existing staff or new staff? Outsource? Social capital (board members, volunteers, other connections)?
    • How much time will it take?
    • Training needed?
  • Budget
    • How much does your plan cost?
    • Ideal to begin planning process with an idea of what you can spend so you can plan realistically.
    • Goal is to develop an understanding of greatest ROI (return on investment) by tracking expenditures and results in coming year, to inform planning for the following year.

b.  Benchmarks and Measurement— Get to goal & stay on the path to move supporters

  • Benchmarks: What are three to five concrete, specific and measurable (when possible) steps to complete en route to achieving each marketing goals? Warning—Vague benchmarks will get you nowhere.


    • Finalize partnerships with two organizations to cross-promote advocacy campaigns within the next six months.
    • Initiate building six additional partnerships.
    • Increase the number of incoming inquiries (coming from a partner org website, a volunteer advocate or another source) from prospective volunteer advocates by 10% in 2014 and by 15% additional in 2015.

→ Right-Things, Right-Now Marketing Action Item

  • Measurements: How to measure how you’re doing against your benchmarks?  You need to know:
    • What is working best so your org can do more of it?
    • What targets are engaged and which segments do you need to engage differently?
    • What content is most compelling to your base?
    • What messaging generates action and what fails to motivate?


    • Incoming inquiries.
    • Website usage analytics: “What are the most visited pages on your site” to “What keywords are users searching on to get to your site?”
    • Response rate to direct mail, telemarketing.
    • Open and click through rates to e-mail fundraising and other e-communications.
    • Online survey findings and other audience research.
    • Change in volume of incoming inquiries from each source (website, volunteer referral) in 2015.
  • Gather Insights from data, what you know/see/hear, and asking and listening.
  • Use them to shape your marketing plan, then to update it regularly to keep it relevant.

c.   Step-by-Step Work Plan—Start with a 30-day plan, begin implementation build out your plan to  90 days

  • What do you need to do to build understanding, buy-in and participation among leadership and colleagues? Then what?
  • Elements: Every discrete task that needs to be done, who tackles each task, start date and deadline for each task.

Download a copy of the template to customize for your organization.

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.

Nonprofit Messaging Crisis Cripples 8 of 10 Organizations

The overwhelming response to our recent survey on nonprofit messaging reinforces how vital it is for your organization’s messages to connect with key audiences.

Relevance (i.e., connection) is a prerequisite for conversation and thus, for communications success. If your messages are off, your organization will fail to engage your base. And, without that engagement, there’s no way you’ll motivate them to act – give, volunteer, register or advocate.

So, based on our findings, it’s clear that strengthening messaging is a priority for many of you. I urge you to digest the findings below to learn more about the state of nonprofit messaging today, and how you can shape messages that do connect.

Here’s the survey if you’d like to review questions asked while digesting the findings.

Most Nonprofit Messages Don’t Connect Strongly with Key Audiences

Eighty-four percent of nonprofit communicators say that their messages connect with target audiences only somewhat or not at all. That’s 915 nonprofit communicators working with organizations of all sizes, issue focus and geographies who rate their messaging as failing to generate the conversations they need to.

Looking at the flip side, only 16% of nonprofits rate their messages as connecting well. This is a dismal success rate, especially since it’s not due to lack of effort. Survey respondents report working extremely hard to achieve their marketing goals: huge effort with minimal results.

That’s a very serious problem.

Behind the Disconnect: 86% of Nonprofits Characterize Their Messages as Difficult to Remember

Most nonprofits report that their messaging suffers from lack of inspiration (73%), poor targeting to audience wants and needs (70%), and difficult to remember (86%). Three strikes and you’re out.

Few communicators laud their messaging for its strengths: Only 13% of organizations characterize messaging as cogent while 8% describe their messaging as potent.

These comments from survey participants explain why their messages fail to connect:

  • “Our messages need to be more succinct to communicate how effective we really are.”
  • “We don’t move our base to action.”
  • “We have individual elements that are ok solo, but no unified path.”
  • “Our messages aren’t hard-hitting or targeted enough. So they fall flat.”
  • “We need to shape messages that are simple enough for staff to remember and feel comfortable in repeating it to others.”
  • “Too much jargon. I can’t even understand what we’re saying.”

Inconsistency Reigns Supreme, Leaving Confusion and Annoyance in Its Path

There are numerous tactics to craft more relevant messages. However, when aiming to increase relevance, it’s imperative to go beyond delivering a few relevant messages here and there. The real challenge is to consistently deliver messages that connect.

Here’s the rub: Less than 50% of nonprofits report consistent use of their core messaging (organizational tagline, positioning statement and talking points). That means that even though most organizations have taken the effort to craft messages, those messages aren’t used consistently across channels (website, direct mail, email), audiences or programs.

Inconsistency breeds confusion and annoyance. When your network has to decipher what organization is reaching out to them (because the messages are unfamiliar) and what you’re trying to say (because it’s new to them), you’ve failed. They just won’t do it in the noisy, cluttered message sphere.

Your Checklist for Messaging that Connects

Most nonprofit communicators (78%) see these characteristics as crucial for messaging that connects:

  • Clear
  • Focused
  • Concise
  • Engaging
  • Unique
  • Memorable

What’s Getting in the Way: Effective Messaging Stymied by Lack of Focus and Leadership Support

Survey respondents share many of the same barriers to (and frustrations in) improving messaging. Here are the leading obstacles to doing better:

  • Lack of leadership support
  • Too busy
  • Concerned about expense
  • Diverse audiences
  • Complex programming
  • Blinders, e.g. lack of external perspective
  • Colleagues, volunteers, members untrained as messengers.

Here are respondent comments about their barriers to creating messaging that connects:

  • Lack of Leadership Support and/or Understanding
    • “Funds are prioritized for fundraising, not marketing. Our leadership doesn’t understand how the two are halves of a whole. How can I build that understanding?”
  • Staff and Leadership
    • “Too many cooks. Each department and location has their own ideas and frequently don’t check in with marketing to see if it’s ok to use them.”
    • “Hard to engage, reach and train staff in our 41 locations.”
    • “Hard to shape a useful message development process, as board members have widely divergent perspectives and are very involved in communications. Help.”
    • “No time to train/educate/empower staff, board and volunteers to understand and deliver messages.”
  • Complexity of Issue Focus
    • “It’s tough to create effective messages for an anti-poverty project that focuses on education and long-term change over time in a foreign country that is not in ‘crisis’ mode (such as Sudan or parts of Africa), yet is still one of the poorest in the Western hemisphere.”
  • Diversity of Program Work
    • “How do we find a way to speak for more than 32 programs in a targeted way while maintaining consistent organizational messages?”
  • Lack of External Perspective (a.k.a. blinders)
    • “Our messages are typically crafted from the ‘inside out,’rather than shaping them to the wants and needs of specified audiences.”

There’s Huge Potential for Stronger Nonprofit Messaging: Three Steps to Take You There

These survey findings are incredibly useful in showcasing what’s critical in making messages work, and what it takes to get there.

Here are my recommendations for your first three steps to stronger messages.

  1. Ensure that your organization’s strategy and goals are crystal clear
    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hired to develop a message platform (tagline, positioning statement, talking points) for an organization but can’t get to ground zero because there’s no agreement on organizational direction and goals. Without clear organizational goals, marketing goals can’t be defined but without them it’s impossible to define the right audiences to engage. If this is your situation, your problems are bigger than weak messaging. Get on it!
  2. Build understanding and support of leadership and colleagues — You need their insights and reach
    The three most-cited barriers to effective messaging (lack of leadership support, too busy, and concern about expense) underscore the degree of messaging crisis. Communications succeed only when it’s built on effective messaging. Refusing to invest the time and money it takes to craft those messages will undermine your entire communications agenda. It’s an investment your leadership can’t afford not to make. But here’s what you’re up against: Nonprofit staff members most focused on making the most of their messages are communicators (58%), fundraisers (40%) and program staff members (21%) in order of survey participation level. That’s important because it highlights that communicators have a lot of work to do to develop support for and input in the message development process. Cross-organizational participation is even more vital once your messages are ready to roll. Your colleagues are your primary on-the-ground messengers via their workday conversation and communications.
  3. Start with your tagline — Less is more
    It’s always harder to write something shorter than longer, and your tagline is as short as it gets. It is the absolute essence of your messaging. Moreover, your steps in the tagline development process build the insight you’ll need to craft a potent positioning statement and key messages or talking points (the other two elements in your message platform).

Consistency is the Be All and End All of Messaging Impact

There are a numerous tactics to deliver more relevant messages. However, when we aim to increase relevance, we don’t mean that we simply want to deliver a few relevant messages here and there. Simply developing a compelling welcome email is not enough. The real challenge in email marketing is to consistently deliver relevant messages.

Make it easy for your network to recognize that a communication is coming from your organization by being consistent – in language and tone – in your outreach to each segment.

Tell Me about Your Messaging Hopes, Challenges and Strategies

Please leave a comment below on what you’re doing to strengthen your messages (at the organizational or program/campaign level) and what’s getting in your way. Thank you.

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.

Testimonials Can Spur The Confidence and Actions You Want

You tell me you’re always seeking more effective ways to build interest and action. Well, there’s no better way than letting your supporters and partners do the talking with testimonials.

You’ve seen testimonials for every type of program, issue and organization imaginable. They’re brief quotes from a member of your nonprofit’s network—donor, volunteer, client, staffer, member or community stakeholder—that clearly and briefly express how your organization’s work has benefited her life or that of her family or community. But still, few of you use testimonials to full effect.

Today, I hope to motivate you to start putting testimonials to work via this easy-to-get-to success story from Help a Reporter Out (HARO).

HARO tweeted a request for testimonials, and got stellar results (in 140 characters or less) tweeted out. HARO then retweeted these mini-testimonials to its own 61,000 followers. Trustworthy referrals and exponential reach, at no cost, and little effort.

Look at these responses they received from satisfied customers, the first from an expert source and the second from a journalist who found the sources he needed.

Nonprofit Testimonials

Take a look at what could be…these powerful examples are drawn from nonprofit websites:

Volunteer: The hours that I spend volunteering for HOM are the best part of my week. I always look forward to coming into the office and seeing other volunteers and the delightful staff, and I especially cherish the times when I go visit patients. I feel that discovering Hospice has been one of the greatest events in my life.

Donor: I had the opportunity to witness the growth and development of children in need when I volunteered at Berea Children’s Home and Family Services while in college. The children had experienced so much hurt from the past. This season, our families just really wanted to make a difference…so we all made gifts to BCHFS. [We] could not be more satisfied and confident knowing that our gifts positively impact children’s lives.

Client: I came into the hospital a very nervous hip replacement patient. I left confident and relaxed, comfortable with my ability to care for myself and my family…You cared for me intensely when I needed care, and let me care for myself when I was ready. What more could a rehabilitation patient ask for?

Add a name, title and employer name and testimonials power up:
It is always wonderful to see what we accomplish during our projects. We really feel like we make a difference by improving the land and beautifying the urban wilds,” said Matt Lynde, a Boston Cares project leader who works with EarthWorks Projects to spruce up and landscape wildlife sanctuaries in Boston.

Add a headshot, and the testimonial comes to life at its strongest. 

Nothing you or your colleagues say is as strong as the words of your supporters’ peers, friends or family.

Why Testimonials Work

For prospective clients, donors, partners and others, there’s nothing more valuable than hearing from peers on what their experiences have been with your organization and its programs and services. Testimonials carry more credibility than anything you could say yourself.  And, others speaking about your nonprofit may have glowing comments about your work that you would be embarrassed to share yourself.

Your prospect expects you to go on and on about the impact of your nonprofit or the importance of your new program. However, when you have someone who has experienced that benefit first hand, their comments are much more convincing and accepted!

Keep this in mind though: The most powerful testimonials aren’t about your organization; they’re about how someone much like the prospect has benefited from involvement with your organization. So the more specific and genuine the testimonials, the more they’re likely to move your people.

How to Get Testimonials and Use Them for All They’re Worth

  1. Follow up regularly with clients, volunteers, donors and others, asking for feedback. Doing so via an online survey such as Survey Monkey can be effective, or mini-polls via Facebook and Twitter. Follow up as soon after your interaction with your audiences as possible, while the experience is still fresh.
  2. Ask for one or two sentences describing the value of the experience with your organization whether it be program participation, giving or use of your counseling service. Try to focus testimonials on an objection your prospects are likely to have, such as volunteering takes a lot but doesn’t give much back.
  3. Provide an example to make it easier for your supporters to craft a useful statement. You can even draft a testimonial to be OK-d or revised.
  4. Request permission to use the testimonials in your marketing and fundraising campaigns.
  5. Take the testimonial you get and shape it into a brief but powerful statement. Limit testimonial length to one or two brief sentences, with a photo whenever you can get it.
  6. To ensure credibility, include the name and title of the person contributing the testimonial and the name of their business or organization if relevant. In some cases, issues of confidentiality will make attribution impossible. If this is the case, create a profile to serve as an attribution, e.g. “Donny R., 30 years old, and WHR dental patient for over ten years.”
  7. Integrate testimonials in general and more targeted communications, both online and offline. I feel that spreading testimonials throughout your online and offline channels and campaigns has far greater impact than concentrating them on a single page. By spreading them out, prospects are more likely to see them even if they don’t read every page.
  8. Make sure to refresh your testimonials on an ongoing basis to reflect current programming and campaigns.

Start Your Testimonial Collection Campaign Today

Yes, get out there and start soliciting testimonials from audiences today. Remember to ask for testimonials whenever possible, and use them often and wisely!

In addition to great marketing content, you’ll be getting useful insights to strengthen the way your organization does business. Bonus!

How Do You Put Testimonials to Work?

Please share your take on gathering, shaping and sharing testimonials here.