Posts

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.

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?