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3-Step Communications to Re-engage Volunteers

We are delighted to have Colleen Farrell, Senior Director, Marketing and Communications at New York Cares, join us as a recurring guest blogger.

New York Cares is New York City’s leading volunteer organization and runs volunteer programs for 1,000  nonprofits, city agencies and public schools, enabling more than 50,000 volunteers annually to contribute their time, expertise and energy to a wide array of organizations that address critical social needs citywide.

Every fall I feel like a kid going back to school. I don’t have to worry about pop quizzes these days, but there’s a big shift as we transition from the slower summer months into our busiest time of year.  New York Cares’ inventory of volunteer projects increases dramatically -– doubling between August and November.  Volunteer interest also ramps back up after summer, with a spike around Thanksgiving.

Our communication and management challenge is to quickly re-engage volunteers after the summer, and ensure we mobilize the right number of people at the right time as projects expand. Here are three things we consider:

1. Ensure capacity is in place so volunteers can act now.

We calculate the volunteers we need each month, then create a communications plan synced with our project roll-out schedule.  For example, we scale back new volunteer orientations during the summer.  In late July, we begin asking volunteers to become project leaders for fall (which is critical for starting new projects).  From August onward, email, social media, and orientation schedules accelerate to bring in more volunteers.

There have been times where volunteer demand has outstripped our capacity –- it’s disappointing for volunteers, and something we work hard to avoid.  The volunteers you turn away may never come back.

2. Start with existing volunteers.

The adage, it’s more efficient to get business from existing customers than win new ones, applies to volunteers, too.

We track and analyze volunteers’ histories through our database.  This helps us forecast how many of last year’s volunteers are likely to return (about 50%) and how many new people we need to recruit to fill our available opportunities.  We target communications accordingly.

3. Build a monthly messaging plan.

We create an editorial calendar aligned with our programs, and try to unify messaging across channels.  We pick a lead theme each month or season  – in the fall, we’re all about education.  Messaging is simple and action oriented.  We provide context about the current volunteer needs, paint a picture of the impact they can make, and provide clear direction on how to get involved.

Some of our most experienced volunteers will be too swamped to re-engage: that’s reality. But we stay in touch, and try to offer other, less time intensive ways to help – fundraising, donating, and friendraising, for example.

What are your Fall strategies for re-engaging volunteers and other supporters?

Making It Work – Nonprofits and Pro Bono Creative

Welcome back to guest blogger, Susie Bowie, Communications Manager at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County

There’s an unexpected stranger standing at the intersection between nonprofit organizations and creative agencies offering “free” website, advertising or marketing services.  He has many names, but is most commonly known as “Why did we say yes?,” “We should have thought about this more” and “Man, this is a disaster.”

The danger can come from both sides. Small to mid-sized nonprofit organizations are notoriously (but often unfairly) characterized as unsophisticated when it comes to marketing prowess. Boards and grantmakers alike often don’t want to fund basic marketing. Nonprofit staff can underestimate the investment of their time required—even in a pro bono project. On the agency side, creatives may get into the business of over-promising and under delivering to the simplistic nonprofit client who shouldn’t have been such a big deal.

I recently spoke with Patricia Courtois, Principal of Clarke Advertising and Public Relations (based in Sarasota, Florida), about how to make it all work from both sides of the fence. A long-time award-winning veteran of the advertising and public relations field with clients from Tropicana to Sara Lee and ClosetMaid, her team’s campaigns have won national recognition. Her recent engagement with All Faiths Food Bank here in Sarasota included a television spot that won a National ADDY. It was a great experience for both, by the way. And if anyone knows the ground rules for a healthy and productive engagement, Patricia does.

Here are some checkpoints, based on her extensive experience in the field:

For Nonprofits:

  • Free isn’t always better than nothing. Use discretion when it comes to choosing your creative consultant. Just because a company or individual offers their services without a fee doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for your organization. Do your homework—check references, find out what the agency might expect from your nonprofit in return. If they want to promote their firm on your collateral material, for example, that may be something you need to consider carefully.
  • Understand that you share the commitment. Pro bono creative still involves staff direction, availability and support from your nonprofit. Know that many times, agency staff work after-hours on your pro bono project so they can still fulfill obligations from paying clients. Respect that with flexibility and being super-organized so your meetings are efficient and productive.

For Creative Agencies:

  • Make sure your staff is fully committed to the cause. Is the nonprofit’s mission a fit with your agency’s mission? Is it something everyone is on board with? If not, your account executives may feel resentment about the use of their time on the project. And finally, the nonprofit engagement should be much more than a way for you to market your own services.
  • Make sure there’s skin in the game. Creative services can be undervalued if there is no cost at all to the nonprofit. Patricia recommends payment for some portion of the service—even based on a nominal amount a nonprofit may have budgeted—so there is some level of devotion to the project.
  • It’s a business contract, even if it’s pro bono. Providing a full scope of work to be jointly signed—along  with timelines, the number of hours being provided by the agency, graphic assets provided by the nonprofit, etc.—is key to avoiding frustration and inconsistent expectations.

The name of the game here is clearly defined boundaries, expectations and intentions. Keeping in mind that not every creative agency is a match for your nonprofit (and visa versa), you can use these guidelines to find the right partner and to firm up relationships with existing ones.

6 Steps to Stronger Relationships – Share Your Relevant, Valuable Content

Email marketing strategies have matured and are no longer strictly about increasing the number of subscribers.

Today, the priority lies in building a quality list of names. And the 2011 Email Marketing Benchmark Report is a must-read guide to getting there, highlighting what works best to grow relationships with an engaged base and prospects.

The Report is based on survey findings initially billed as insights on building a stronger email list. But the strategy I’m going to share with you goes much further than that.

Effective marketing is rooted in strong relationships with the right target audiences – those with whom your organization’s shares wants and/or needs.  I write about that time and time again.

Assuming that’s so (it is!), content marketing — creating and distributing relevant content to your target audiences — is the best way to strengthen those ties and raise the engagement level of your base.

Here are 6 steps to effective nonprofit content marketing:

  1. Build your understanding, and your boss’ and colleagues’, that relevant content helps your organization develop trusted relationships which motivate your prospects to share email addresses and contact information.
  2. Review models: The Environmental Working Group is a wonderful example of an organization that shares most of its practical, unique content at no charge and, in doing so, has built a huge cadre of loyal supporters!
  3. Do do the audience research it takes to find the point of content connection, based on where your organization’s wants meets those of your audiences. That’s the he sweet spot.
  4. Inventory your content. Most nonprofit organizations are rich in useful content, but don’t know where or what all of it is so can’t use it to build engagement.
  5. Plan and launch your first content marketing campaign. Make it small and focused so you can get clear and quick results.
  6. Fine-tune and get out there again!

Is content marketing one of your strategies? If so, how are you implementing it? If not, why not?

Ramp Up Your Marketing Budget to What You REALLY Need: Nonprofit Marketing Budgets, Part 2

Dive into this second installment in my series to learn how to get what it takes to fund your nonprofit marketing plan. You’ll find Part One here.

Q: OK, now I get how much it’s going to take to do our marketing right. How do you propose we ramp up our marketing dollars from zero to what we really need?

A: Connect the dots between your marketing goals and what it will take to get there.

Start by reviewing your marketing goals (or articulating them, if you haven’t already) to ensure they represent the best way you can put marketing to work to advance your organizational goals. Once you review those goals with leadership, and get approval, then clearly and concretely connect the dots between your proposed budget and what you want to accomplish in a way that’s easily accessible. Your goal is to translate the actions outlined in the plan — what it will take to meet those goals — into expense.

In most cases, achieving marketing goals requires financial outlay in addition to human resource (time, effort and skills; in-house or outsourced). There’s no way out of it: You have to pay for services such as reliable web hosting, flexible email marketing tools and postage. And if you want to design a high-impact website, analyze targeted email marketing or implement successful fundraising campaigns, there’s a price tag associated with doing that well.

All too frequently the barrier to a sufficient budget is that your colleagues (staff and leadership) don’t understand what communications really is, what it can accomplish and what it takes to do it really well. I recommend you guide them to that understanding by sharing your marketing plan (talking through it is far more effective than simply circulating the document) and making that clear connection between goals and budget in a one-page spreadsheet.

When you do, you’ll find that budgeting is a completely different way of looking at your marketing work, serving as both a clear framework for your decision-making on wants vs. “nice-to-haves” and a powerful tool for getting the marketing dollars you need to meet agreed-upon goals.

Nonprofit Marketing Budgets: Part One

What’s the barrier to getting the budget you need to achieve approved marketing goals?

7 Steps to Motivating the Actions You Need (Case Study)

Thanks to New York Times  writer Jane Levere, I was pointed to this print ad campaign from Action Against Hunger (AAH). The first ad features a line-up of paper dolls, with one figure much thinner than the others — but no clear call to action. The second ad features this pizza box with mini pizza inside (much less than you and I are used to eating), highlighting that the 3.5 million children under 5 worldwide who die from hunger on annual basis don’t have enough to eat. Readers are asked to visit AAH’s website (for what?) or text in a small donation.

Jane covered the campaign in her advertising column in yesterday’s Times, and called to get my take on the ads — generously designed pro bono by G2 USA — that will run in December issues of high-end consumer magazines including Esquire, Saveur and Harper’s Bazaar. Ultimat Vodka is the cause partner, and purchaser of the ad space (pricy, believe me). Stylistically they’re much like the typical consumer ads in magazines like these — spare, graphically-compelling, more about aesthetics than anything else.

If you read through to the very end of Jane’s column, you’ll see that she quoted my questioning the choice of corporate partner. She also featured my characterization of the ads as abstract in her headline, but what she didn’t include is the balance of my recommendations for productive calls to action, that are far more important. 

Note: It’s common that a journalist focuses on points you made but weren’t what you emphasized or thought were most important. You’re contacted as a subject expert to help the journalist do her job, not to tell the story you want to tell.

Here are seven steps to take to motivate your network to take the actions you need:

1) Abstraction is deadly. Be concrete and specific.

  • The ads are abstract and high-styled, typical of high-end consumer advertising. They mimic the look-and-feel of what I promise you most of the other ads in these magazines will look like, so will be easy to miss.
  • A concept or abstraction is far harder to grasp than a story about an individual like you, or someone you know. Abstraction is a burden on the reader flipping through.  Make it easy.
  • Plus, pizza is not nutritious!

2) Feature a single individual, rather than a group or — far worse — daunting stats that seem absolutely insurmountable.

  • Stats on the enormity of problems like child malnourishment (3.5 million children under 5 perish every year from poor nutrition) are daunting, and tend to generate the response…well, I can’t do anything about a problem that’s so huge.
  • Instead, feature one child who has been restored to health through the proper nutrition. Relating to a single individual enables your network to relate to her — one-to-one — far better than to even a small group of kids. Think about how you relate when speaking to a group of 10, versus a one-to-one conversation.

3) Avoiding negative imagery (a.k.a. starving child) is spot on. But focus on a positive story  — with specifics — of someone who’s life is improved as a result of your organization’s work!

  • Bring her (let’s call her Anna) to life with a photo.
  • Add specific details about how AAH’s work has helped restore Anna to health, and what her day is like now–the “after” (now, everyday after school, Anna plays soccer with the girls and boys in her neighborhood, until her grandmother chases her in to sweep the hut and get dinner started for her four younger brothers and sisters).
  • It’s details like this that make Anna’s story real, and enable your prospects to relate this story to the children in their own lives.

4) Write to a single person (Judy), not the many you hope to motivate to act. This transforms the interchange to a one-to-one; more conversation than lecture.

  • These ads seem written to the “general public.” Can you imagine speaking the words of either one? You’d never do it.
  • Keep a single member of your target audience (let’s call her Judy) clearly in mind as you craft your concept and content — Judy’s wants, values, morning schedule, face, etc. — to connect. Crafting a persona is a valuable and easily doable way to close the gap with your target audiences, and get to know them so you can shape your messages most effectively. Here’s my how-to guide to persona creation.

5) Reach out to Judy’s heart first, head second.

  • The ads are all head, with their abstract imagery and their stats. They are designed to engage a reader via logic.
  • You’ll be much more successful engaging Judy emotionally (so she can immediately gauge whether there is a match, or not). Her emotional connection (or lack thereof) will direct her rational response.

6) Emphasize a clear, easy-to-do call to action.

    • The paper doll ad has no call to action. The pizza ad features a clear call to action but it’s in small type and the last element in the text block. You really have to work to find it.
    • Any outreach without a clear, doable call to action is a waste. You don’t have to convert (motivate her to give, sign, volunteer) Judy in any one call to action, but you do want to move her forward to the next step.
    • If you want Judy to take that next step, you have to ask her to do so. And make it easy for your her to find and digest the call to action — large and simply-stated is the way to go.

7) Start at the end and work backwards. What is the benchmark you’re trying to hit with the specific marketing project you’re working on now?

    • I’m unsure what AAH is going accomplish with these ads. Building awareness is a valid high-level goal, but is not a benchmark (can’t be measured).
    • There is a chance that AAH will bring folks in the door for the first time, but if they don’t text that $10 contribution, there’s no way they can follow up with these potential supporters.

I want to emphasize that this ad space was an opportunity that AAH was right to accept — premium timing in premium media.

Also, it’s often challenging to direct pro bono contributions, especially on the creative side. Jane Levere cites the originality of the creative direction for focusing on abstract images, rather than those of starving children — that the ads are something that magazine readers are likely not to have seen before for a nonprofit. However, they’re similar to all the consumer ads that run in those media — so are likely to be overlooked. It could have been much different: I see many nonprofit campaigns that are original, sophisticated and effective — in imagery and content — without using the “starving child” approach.

Do these ads work to engage you, and would you be motivated to visit the AAH website or make a text donation? If not, what would you change to increase the effectiveness of these ads?

Where to Begin with Nonprofit Marketing

I’m so proud of my friend and colleague Kivi Leroux Miller for crafting the excellent Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause (partner link). And Kivi’s been gracious enough to make Getting Attention the first stop on her virtual book tour.

I recommend you purchase the book today. Here’s why:  It’s a source every time-strapped communicator can count on time and time again – comprehensive, accessible and smart. When you buy the book before midnight tonight (June 1, 2010) and forward your receipt to book@nonprofitmarketingguide.com, you’ll be entered to win a free Getting Attention tagline review. You’ll also be entered into a drawing on Friday for several All-Access Passes to the Nonprofit Marketing Guide Webinar Series.

Here’s a small taste of Kivi’s practical nonprofit marketing advice…

“Where do I begin?”

That’s hands down the most frequently-asked question that nonprofit communicators ask consultants like Nancy and me.

Like any good consultant (or therapist), I always respond with a question of my own: What is it that you want people to do?

I can usually tell how long – and difficult – the conversation will be based on the answer I get. Responses like these signal a long conversation ahead:

  • “We want them to support . . .”
  • “We want them to care about . . . ”
  • “We want them to understand . . . ”

The problem with responses like these is that there isn’t any specific action involved. No one is doing anything. So I ask the same question again, but using the language from the response.

  • What does someone do when they are supporting you?
  • What does someone do to show they care?
  • What does someone do when they understand?

Now, we start to get to more specific responses, like

  • “Give us money.”
  • “Call their legislator.”
  • “Talk to their children about it.”

With these more specific actions as our goals, we’re equipped to shape a nonprofit marketing strategy. The conversation continues by discussing

  • Who needs to take these actions (helps us define the target audience)
  • What will motivate them to act (aids in creating a powerful message)
  • How and where to reach them (guides us in channel selection).

Writing an email newsletter or updating your Facebook page may end up as key elements of your strategy, but tactics aren’t the place to start . Instead, take some time – even just five minutes of quiet behind a closed door – to sort through these questions. That’s where to begin.

The Power of Special Event Taglines – Enter Yours Today

Welcome back to guest blogger Tamara Mendelsohn, Director of Marketing for Eventbrite for Causes, a sponsor of the Nonprofit Tagline Awards (a.k.a., The Taggies). Tamara focuses day in and day out on making events more productive for nonprofits and has a valuable recommendation to share…

This year, the Taggies have added a category for special event taglines. If you’re reading this, you already know that a live event represents a unique fundraising and awareness opportunity. But you may not be aware of what event taglines can do for your cause.

Here are 5 reasons special event taglines are so helpful:

  • They set your event apart from similar events – Attendees have a limited amount of time and resources for events. Imagine they’re picking between two great benefit concerts, one clearly branded with a tagline and one without. Which one do you think they’re more likely to remember, spread the word on and more likely to attend?
  • They make it easy for attendees to become your best marketers – For attendees to convince their social networks to join them at an event, they need to be able to explain why it will be great. By creating a potent tagline, you’re doing much of that work for them.
  • They’re built for social media – A great special event tagline is a snap for attendees to drop into the small text spaces of Twitter and Facebook. And drop again. And again.
  • They promote repeat attendance – Even a great event can fade from attendees’ memories if it lacks a distinctive identity. A strong tagline makes your event unforgettable, and can give it a permanent place on attendees’ monthly or yearly calendars.
  • They’re fun – A little humor, even a well-placed pun, communicates to attendees that you know how to show them a great time. And—especially since many organizations are raising money for quite serious causes—it’s key to remind them that your event is a gathering they’ll enjoy and feel good about.

How to Earn Income (and Autonomy) for Your Nonprofit

“What?,” you may be saying? Our job isn’t to generate revenue. We use the generous gifts and grants we receive to deliver programs, services and products to our community.

That’s what I hear from most nonprofit organizations intent on doing things the way they’ve always done them — relying on money from funders (private and government) and individual donors to sustain them.

Unfortunately, that model isn’t sustainable. And counting on a weak funding model leaves your organization vulnerable to everything from the volatile economy to the retirement of the program officer who had funded your organization for so long.

Nothing is more critical to your organization’s health than your budget. And a very effective way to stabilize your income is to earn some of it.

Here’s an example of how that can work for your organization:

  • Public Health Solutions sought to supplement grants and gifts with a more stable income source, and asked me to help develop an earned income stream for them.
  • They asked me to focus on developing a product or service within PHS’ fiscal management program, which focused on helping HIV- and AIDS-related organizations build skills in financial management.
  • I began by inventorying current programs and services, and looked for the gaps when comparing findings with our audit of  programs and services available from other sources to serve other types of organizations. What was PHS’ fiscal management program providing well to its core constituency that could fill a gap in services currently available to other types of nonprofit organizations?
  • The result: Common Cents Training — The Fastest Path to Financial Accountability for Your Organization. Since the department already provided the core of this program to its constituencies, the basic curriculum, materials and expertise was already in place. What was new was packaging it, marketing it and providing it (as a fee) to organizations outside of PHS’ traditional network.

Keep posted–I’ll be featuring earned income case studies and guidance in the months to come.

Please tell me: 1) What programs, services and/or products is your organization already providing to your core community, that you could repackage and sell to other sectors, and 2) What do you need to know about earning some income?

BTW, Public Health Services has changed its fiscal management program’s name to Nonprofit Consulting Services which leads me to believe that more earned income streams are in the works!

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

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