communications network

Last week, I had the absolute pleasure of diving deeper into the science of communications with Ira Flatow, host of radio show Science Today, and Sendhil Mullainathan, Professor of Economics at Harvard, who specializes in behavioral economics.

These rare birds—science specialists fluent in bringing scientists and the public together in dialogue—quickly jumped into a compelling discussion on how the mind interacts with messages and data to understand the world around us, and decide how to act.


Nancy Schwartz in Branding and Messages | 1 comment
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At last—funding for communications!  This RFP is focused on development organizations but I hope more funding will follow from Gates and other foundations, as a recognition of communications’ essential role in achieving organizational and programmatic goals.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a call for communications proposals to “help change the narrative on foreign aid.” For its first-ever Grand Challenges Explorations in communications, the Foundation plans to fund up to 10 “game-changing ideas” that creatively use communications to “motivate the public in the wealthy countries of the world to change their minds about aid, and take actions to demonstrate their support.”


Nancy Schwartz in Grants and Other Funding | 1 comment
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I recently returned from Boston, where I co-presented a session titled “How to Tame the Social Media Monster” at the Communications Network conference.

Just two years ago, I moderated a similar session at the same conference. And although the focus was a bit difference (back then we recommended listening as the almost-always way to start, and talked mostly on that), the motivation for most participants to join our session was the same — fear of social media. READ MORE

Nancy Schwartz in Social Media | 2 comments
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They “Get” It from Communications Network on Vimeo.

Invest 4 minutes in watching this energizing video from the Kids Count program team at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Here program staff Laura Speer and Don Crary discuss their conviction that effective marketing is integral to program success (hallelujah!) and their experience in putting marketing to work for Kids Count.

According to Julee Newberger, online communications associate at Casey, Laura and Don are ideal partners for the Foundation’s marketing team. Here’s how the teams have collaborated for increased reach and impact:

  • The Kids Count team integrates communications into their program planning, from the very beginning.

    • In most organizations, marketing is an after-thought, discussed only after the program is planned and about to launch. That’s way too late to get the most from your marketing.
  • Laura and Don work closely with the Foundation’s communications team in planning and execution.
    • Each team contributes their unique expertise.
  • Kids Count leverages its network of grantees — who have the knowledge and experience to communicate most effectively at the local level, including with policymakers — as messengers.
    • The Foundation bring credibility and brand to the outreach agenda; the grantees bring their network of relationships.
  • Kids Count makes it easy for its grantee messengers to succeed.
    • Grantees across the nation are equipped with the tools and content they need, such as a widget that makes it easy for them to insert a feed of new content on key issues into their websites.
    • Messengers are trained in framing, social media and other communications techniques.

Laura, Don and Julee are fantastic models. Their experience demonstrates that collaboration — when done strategically and respectfully — is so much more than the sum of its individual parts.

How do your marketing and program teams collaborate and what makes it work? If you don’t, or you do but it doesn’t work, what’s getting in your way? Please share your experiences and questions here.

Nancy Schwartz in Strategy | 0 comments
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Humor is tough to integrate effectively into marketing, especially nonprofit marketing. We see a lot more of it in consumer marketing, where the issue covered isn’t so serious or meaningful.

Frankly, it seems to be that we in the nonprofit sector can just take ourselves a bit too seriously sometimes, and that can be a barrier to connecting with our networks. And it’s hard to get the ok for using humor…we’re scared.

No kidding.

But the folks in your network are humans, too, and enjoy a good laugh just like you do. And, as when you share a laugh with a new-ish colleague or friend, that grin or guffaw can draw the two of you closer together, enriching your relationship. Humor brings people together.

Here are 4 steps to using humor to connect more strongly with your network:

1) Know what your organization and your network have in common and play on that in your humor. That’s the point of connection for all messaging, but especially for humor.

Take the example at top..which was what I saw when I went to my LinkedIn page on April Fools Day. It works because the LinkedIn folks know what we have in common: We both know who Albert Einstein and Robin Hood were (being that LinkedIn is mainly a professional networking social media tool, and the assumption is that participants have completed high school or above in most cases). We shared the joke!

Without knowing your common ground, you’re treading on dangerous ground and may offend.

2) Keep your humor brief and use only periodically. Humor is a “less is more” tactic.

3) Delivery is everything. When you integrate humor into a video, e-news, annual report (I’m still waiting to see that) or conversation, it’s crucial that you fine-tune delivery…from where it falls in the flow of messages, your tone, the pause before or after…

4) Wrap it up while they’re still laughing. Don’t push it. Instead, pause, return to your more typical tone (although serious doesn’t mean deadly!) and cycle in humor from time to time when opportunity surfaces.

Please share your take on:

  • What are key humor do’s and don’ts?
  • How is your organization using humor — effectively or ineffectively — to strengthen your relationships?
  • What models, or huge fails, have you seen from other organizations?

More: How to Use Humor in Fundraising Campaigns

P.S. Get more in-depth case studies, templates and tools, and guidance for nonprofit marketing  success — all featured in the twice-monthly Getting Attention e-update. Subscribe today.

Nancy Schwartz in Tactics | 3 comments
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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. Note that relief donations are far below those for the Haitian earthquake relief effort, and some groups are questioning whether Japanese relief giving is beneficial or necessary.

It’s likely that your nonprofit is facing one or more of these challenges right now. Read the full article for more practical guidance on how to move your marketing forward, despite the troubled times.

For organizations providing disaster relief services in Japan

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

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.
  • Explain why your organization has chosen to get involved as a pass through for donations.
For other nonprofits continuing with fundraising and communications outreach
  • Be sensitive to inappropriate pitches.
  • Relate your work to relief work when relevant—but don’t distort or overstate.

More guidance on communicating in the shadow of the Japanese disaster.

Your Strategies?
What are your strategies for communicating and fundraising productively in the shadow of disaster? Please share your strategies here.

P.S. Learn how to strengthen your nonprofit’s marketing impact with the new 2011 Guide to Nonprofit Marketing Wisdom.

Nancy Schwartz in Branding and Messages | 2 comments
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nonprofit social mediaLet me introduce you to guest blogger Celeste Wroblewski, vice president of external relations at Donors Forum in Illinois.  Celeste is a longtime friend and colleague, and one of the smartest minds in the field…

As I review advice on social media for nonprofits, I often come across rules like these:

  • It’s about conversing and listening: It’s not about sharing your own news.
  • Post X times a week on your blog and X times a day on Facebook.
  • For every tweet about your organization, tweet four times about others.

While this advice works well for some, I think it overwhelms beginners and those working in small organizations.  Moreover, this approach generates a flood of content for those who read these posts, updates and Tweets.

At Donors Forum in Illinois, we believe that there are no rules or,  at least, that it’s time to reexamine them.  Our strategy is to:

This streamlined approach is shaped by the limited size of our communications team (1.5 people) and by the knowledge that our constituents are already overloaded.

As social media proliferates, the messages have become overwhelming and the conversations  recursive. And we know that, consistent with our mission,  our constituents want us to filter and curate information.

Our social media strategy follows suit.  We do not converse simply to converse—we don’t do #FollowFriday, we don’t retweet a lot, we don’t provide accounts of mundane activities.

What we do is to concentrate on what is most important to grantmakers and nonprofits in Illinois.

So, what do you think:  Can less be more in social media? Please share your comments here.

Guest Blogger in Blogging for Nonprofits, Social Media | 10 comments
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How to Generate Buzz via Social Media Real Life Dos and Don'tsHas this happened to your organization: You experimented with social media tools and found that nothing happened at all?

If so, you’re not alone. One of the most frequent complaints from organizations trying social media out is that after taking the plunge–whether tweeting, blogging or launching a Facebook fan page–nothing happens.

Now there’s help: I partnered with NTEN ED Holly Ross to share guidelines and case studies on using social media tools to build buzz (and reach) via this webinar for the Communications Network. And now the video recording and slide deck are available to you, at no cost.

Our presentation covers the nuts and bolts of social media success, the readiness required to put them to work and a laundry list of dos and don’ts. Although the case studies are about grantmakers, the examples and findings are equally relevant to nonprofit organizations.

I recommend you take an hour out to make sure your social media buzz building is all it can be. Here’s what one participant had to say (and another, just in).

P.S. More effective messaging is a priority for all organizations. Learn how to craft the most essential message — your tagline. Download the free 2009 Nonprofit Tagline Report, filled with must-dos, don’t dos, case studies and 2,500+ nonprofit tagline examples!

Nancy Schwartz in Nonprofit Communications, Professional Development, Recommended Resources, Social Media | 1 comment
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Best First Step into Social Media -- Monitoring Your Nonprofit's Reputation and IssuesI had the fantastic opportunity of facilitating a conversation (slides here) on this vital topic at the Communications Network conference recently. Here's the problem we were helping participants to solve:

  • The daily volume of content and conversations created in social media channels – blogs, Facebook, Twitter and more – is huge, and growing exponentially. These conversations were always happening but you couldn't hear them. Now you can.
  • You need to know how they cover your organization, leaders, programs, or issues.This is information critical to your decision making.
  • Beyond listening, you need to respond appropriately, in addition to all your other communications responsibilities. 

Making sense of all the content and conversation out there is challenging, but the right listening strategy and tools enables you to filter out the key conversations.  That's the first step in any effective social media strategy.

Here are three guidelines for effective listening from panelists Larry Blumenthal, Director of Social Media Strategy at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Laura Braham, Web Officer at the Open Society Institute; and Holly Ross, Executive Director of NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network: 

  • How to use what you hear: 1) To better serve your networks by knowing what they're saying to others and to you — instant audience intelligence; 2) To respond to and/or engage critics; 3) To stay abreast of the latest developments in your area of work.
  • How to overcome objections that listening is unnecessary: Compile and share online conversation on critical keywords and themes over a
    week or a month. Provide some concrete examples of how not listening or
    participating meant that others spoke for (and defined) your organization. Others speaking out is fine, but your organization's voice should be in the mix.
  • What to listen for and best free listening tools: 1) Google Alerts and RSS feeds (searches blogs, websites) for keywords (org name and URL, issues, leadership names, competitive/colleague org names); 2) Twitter search. Here's more guidance on putting together a one-stop listening dashboard.

Very frankly, avoiding these conversations is just putting your head in the sand. If you do, you're missing hugely valuable insights into the world in which you work and the opportunity to respond to them proactively.I urge you to take these guidelines in hand and get listening today.

P.S. Don't miss out on in-depth articles, case studies and guides to nonprofit marketing success — all featured in the twice-monthly Getting Attention e-update.  Subscribe today.

Nancy Schwartz in Nonprofit Communications, Social Media | 1 comment
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Talking with Grantmaker Communicators -- What Do You Want to KnowI’m headed to the annual conference of the Communications Network, tonight through Friday, to reconvene with some great old friends and meet some new ones. All of us Network members are communicators, either foundation staff members or consultants/firms who work with foundations.

The Network is a great group of smart folks and I always find conference conversations useful, particularly because I work with nonprofit organizations (a.k.a. grantees) as well as grantmakers. It’s a hugely valuable forum for learning what organizations need to know about grantmaker thinking on grantee communications — both best practices and funding visions.

P.S. Don’t miss out on in-depth articles, case studies and guides to nonprofit marketing success — all featured in the twice-monthly Getting Attention e-update. Subscribe today.

Flickr photo: Ségozyme

Nancy Schwartz in Nonprofit Communications | 1 comment
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