Tag Archives: marketing

Don’t wait: evaluate

You don't have to brag like a pro wrestler! (rmwhittaker1012000/flickr under CC license)

I haven’t fallen off the grid, but I’ve been very busy helping organizations wrap up their holiday campaigns, take stock and prepare to improve their marketing, fundraising and communications programs in 2010*.

Even if the executive director or Board isn’t asking for it, everyone who leads one or all of these functions for a non-profit should document their evaluation of their 2009 program.  (Look for a suggested evaluation process outline in tomorrow’s post.)

Here are some comments I’ve received when I suggest doing such an evaluation:

  • I don’t have time
  • They’re not asking for it
  • Wouldn’t that be bragging if I’m a department of one?

I’ll come back to comment #1 and #2 in a moment, but I thought I’d share with you my response to #3, which I received by email on Friday from a capable staffer who is about a year into a new position with a small but thriving non-profit:

Don’t be sheepish about reporting how you did on performance metrics that were visible to the board.  You are evaluating the function, or, alternatively, the plan.  Even if you are a department of one, it’s important to show the Board that you are a good steward of the organization’s limited resources.  It shows that the function continues to learn and adapt.

Internally, it’s important for the chief executive to scrutinize and evaluate every major aspect of the operation.  Especially when a function is relatively new, it’s important to shape the conversation about how it should be evaluated.  Start with the details and work backwards to the information that is “board worthy” in your situation.  For example, your one or two page executive summary for the Board should report results for metrics that rise to the level of a dashboard, key measures that are directly related to the organization’s health.  But it’s also wise to capture major conclusions from new things that you tried this year.

Your executive summary is an opportunity to continue to educate the Board – bring them along with what you’re learning.  Although you don’t seem to face this challenge, it’s pretty common for Board members to ask management to “do an ad” or implement some kind of marketing tactic that is not well founded in strategy (at best) or harebrained (at worst).  Finally, if the Board had a responsibility for implementing some of the tactics, it’s also good to hold the mirror up so that they can have a conversation about their own follow through.

As for comment #1, make time.  An evaluation helps you figure out where time and money are being wasted.

And as for comment #2, that’s code for “if they can’t pin me down, I can’t look bad.”  Two of the main drivers of any non-profit’s success are fundraising and communications/image.  Begin to lead the dialogue about how the Board should keep its finger on the pulse.

*Of the three organizations that I’ve been intensely involved with this year, two raised 20% more than year prior and one came out about even, which isn’t bad for a difficult year.  Woo hoo!

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Not-to-late for the holidays tip #2: Set up a Google Alert

Old fashioned public relations has a lot to offer as part of the holiday fundraising mix, even in this time of the Great Shrinking News Media.

National news stories researched and reported by sources like the AP are having have an increasing influence on local news outlets.  Besides using their content outright, editors may hunt for a local tie-in.

So here’s not-to-late tip #2:  take advantage of Google Alert.  Google Alert is a cheap way of staying on top of news that might represent an opportunity for your non-profit, besides its value as a basic listening tool.

Example:  the US Department of Agriculture released a report this week that documented a rapid rise in hunger, which triggered an AP story.  Cynthia Hubert, a Sacramento Bee reporter, localized the story of the federal data by reaching out to local non-profits that provide emergency food and shelter.  Having a Google Alert set up for “hunger”, for example, could give food closets and other emergency social service providers a chance to suggest a local angle to key news organizations.

Even if your call to an editor or reporter doesn’t result in a story, you can still construct a brief news release regarding your organization’s data or experience, and use the information  in electronic or printed materials to add credibility to your messages.

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Can non-profits succeed in the post-apocalyptic media era?

Peter Francese of Ogilvy and Mather is making the rounds announcing the death of Joe Six Pack, the average American.  His new white paper, written for Ad Age, is looking ahead to the 2010 census, when the U.S. population is expected to surpass 300 million (yours for a mere $249).  Audiences will splinter, he says, and traditional ways of segmenting consumers – e.g. married with children – will no longer be meaningful.

Bummer.  That’s another nail in the coffin of mass media.

So why am I not depressed?  Because I work with local non-profits, which have the greatest chance of developing and managing personalized relationships to some sort of positive outcome – be it volunteering, advocacy or charitable giving.  Their smaller scale and local focus makes it possible for them to experiment with new forms of outreach.

Here are two examples of wonderful things that have happened for a small non-profit just in the last week:

1.  The organization invited several hundred people to attend an event – for free.  This was a means of expanding their circle of friends.  A number of people came as guests who had never heard about the organization.  The group was decidedly younger, on average, than attendees at past gatherings.  And here’s the kicker.  Unsolicited, the organization received more in donations than the cost of the party.

2.  The organization continues to have steady, moderate growth on Facebook.  More importantly, Facebook is helping the organization to reach a younger, connected constituency (people who will tell their friends about the organization) and they are using the FB fan page to DO something.  One constituent checked out the website at our invitation and sent a suggestion for content.  That’s golden.  Another said she wanted to organize a charitable activity at work.  Even better!

While both the event and the Facebook page are test-and-learn experiments, they were highly strategic.  More in the next post about how marketing planning must change in this brave new world, and after that, implications for technology.

Clay Shirky, writing online for McKinsey Quarterly, pointed out the self-organizing capability of the Internet that is now in everyone’s hands:

Until recently organizations of all stripes were better able to get their messages into the media than any motley groups of individuals. That is no longer true, because two critical organizational advantages—the ability to coordinate group effort and to coordinate group access to the means of publishing—are now ubiquitous, global, and free.

While access to the Internet means that people can self-organize to criticize, it also gives small non-profits unprecedented access to people who might become advocates for or supporters of their cause.

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An incomplete taxonomy of social media for communicators

An incomplete taxonomy of social media:  comments welcomed!

An incomplete taxonomy of social media: comments welcomed!

We amateur cartographers have been trying to map the changing landscape of social media.  While lots of smart people have put together some visually interesting taxonomies (including this nebula-like graphic just about Twitter, created by Brian Solis as shared by Beth Kanter), I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around how to classify and organize these things in my head.  When there are 19 Twitter clients, and counting, it can be daunting (maybe even impossible) to try to keep up with every new entrant in this rapidly changing arena.  Any list or directory that you create is out of date in about a day.

I’ve been using this Powerpoint chart (handily available on SlideShare) as a means of charting the territory that communications professionals really need to understand.  We need to know how people are communicating with one another, finding people with like interests, and sharing interesting content.  We also need management tools.   We need convenient ways of scanning social media, finding people of interest, listing ourselves in directories, organizing our stuff and so on.  And, of course, we need ways of monitoring communications and measuring the impact of campaigns.  Understanding the range of social media tools and tactics can help us do a better job of efficiently and effectively implementing strategy.

My taxonomy is an attempt to think about social media and tools in terms of how they function and what we do with them.  As the web – and particularly mobile – technologies evolve, there will be new functions.  So many of the buckets on this Powerpoint chart arose in response to problems people encountered in their social media experience.  For example, at one point I said something like, “Ack!  I’m overwhelmed with the blogs I’m reading through my email!  What do I do?”  I started using an RSS reader.  As soon as you hear someone complaining about something, like more SPAM coming through Twitter, you can bet someone’s developing a new tool that solves that problem.  Maybe someday there will be something that doesn’t feel soldered on.

Any PR agency or corporate communications department should have someone who is familiar with and actively using at least one channel or tool in every single bucket depicted on this taxonomy.  There’s simply no excuse to be unfamiliar with these capabilities.  They’re too important.

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Blogs: not close to extinction yet (what I want is “Friend Suck”)

Steve Rubel's Future of Blogging Mind Map

Steve Rubel's Future of Blogging Mind Map

Steve Rubel of Edelman Digital has taken a shot at describing possible evolutionary futures of blogging in the following mind map.  His prognostication, expanded in his Mashable post:  “One possibility is that blogs remain the primary social hub for many of us on the web but turn into lifestream sites that syndicate our content to and/or aggregate it from anywhere.”

Now, to be honest, that was a bit of a “huh?” for me.  Especially “lifestream sites.”  (I betcha Edelman has service marked that one already.)  But let me ‘splain what I think he means with this example.  Right now, I have several tools that I use to support my relationships in various spheres of my life including Facebook for friends and family, and LinkedIn for professional relationships.  LinkedIn is my professional hub.  I installed their wordpress tool so that this blog shows up in snippet form on my public LinkedIn profile.  I joined a couple of LinkedIn groups, such as the Social Media Caffe.  Highlights from that group show up on my LinkedIn page, as do publications and recommendations that are posted by people in my network.  I’ve found some of these updates and recommendations to be useful, although there’s a bunch that I consider to be SPAM.

I’d love it if there was a way to see all of my social media at once.  Thus far, I haven’t seen anything that, in one screen, gives me windows into the various social media places I hang out.  I’ve seen people experimenting with their own RSS feeds/displays (kind of like Mashable, but personalized).   Tools like TweetDeck are nibbling around the edges by allowing you to see real-time status updates from Facebook (it shows up in an added column), but you can’t feed LinkedIn updates that way.  And, of course, TweetDeck wants you to love Twitter best and just bring other social media as second fiddle.  Amplify and Friend Feed let you share stuff you’ve read and liked across social media platforms, but they don’t work in reverse.  I guess what I need is a social media vacuum, but something called “Friend Suck” just doesn’t sound right.

In foreseeing the possible demise of blogs, Steve ignores the important role they play in Search Engine Optimization.  Blogs keep website content fresh, and have a big effect on natural search results, at least the way that the Google algorithm works right now.  Blogs as we know and love them aren’t going away any time soon.  But I can hardly wait for “Friend Suck” to deliver my favorite blogs and social media status updates in one place.

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Look over Wendy Harmon’s shoulder to learn about social media

Yesterday and today, I’ve seen blog posts referring to an amazing work-in-progress being created by Wendy Harmon of the American Red Cross, The American Red Cross Social Media Strategy Handbook.  At this point, I’m far more impressed with what non-profits are doing with innovative communications than commercial enterprises; perhaps they’re less stuck in their silos, or maybe they’re just more desperate.  Non-profits like the ARC are leading the way, figuring out not only how to use social media, but to do so strategically.  If there’s anything I love, it’s strategery (to quote our former president).

Why check out Wendy’s draft document, intended for staff and ARC chapters?  You’ll get a great tutorial in what five social media Wendy considers critical to ARC’s success:  blogs, Facebook Pages, Facebook Causes, Flickr and youtube.  She’s not breathless about these new media, however.  She talks about how to tie these media to ARC’s strategy so that they contribute to the brand, and further the results of the organization.  Check it out.

Hat tip to the Case Foundation and Beth Kanter for sharing the link to Wendy’s document (in PPT format).

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Searching for Mr. Right Now: my top 5 tips for non-profits

Read this!  (Image thanks to 427 via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Read this! (Image thanks to "427" via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

There’s Mr. Right, and there’s Mr. Right Now.  The blogosphere is rife with opinions about the very-most-important tools and tactics for non-profits.  When working with small, local non-profits, it can take six months (or more) to implement the very most basic of basics.  While I think that Facebook in particular is an important part of the marketing mix, it’s a “Mr. Right” but not necessarily a “Mr. Right Now.”

Here are my top five nominations for “Mr. Right Now” when it comes to non-profit tactics:

  • Website – All roads lead to the website, or they should.  Whether people stumble across you through search, or are looking for your website to respond to something, you need to make sure your website is prepared with the right content to inform people, the right look and feel to move people, and the right navigation to help people.  Websites are digital brick and mortar.
  • Email/e-newsletter – Even if Facebook traffic now rivals emails, many of the constituents who will give to your mission still prefer email.  Email and enewsletters are also superior for their ability to target both cultivation and appeal messages.
  • Blogging – In my experience, this is the hardest sell.  Misconceptions abound: blogs are full of snark, blogs are a waste of time, blogs will send forth droves of creepy stalkers after me or my staff.  Blogs are a great, immediate way to collect and share stories about the work your non-profit is doing.  They are also one of the very best ways to keep websites fresh and attract search traffic.
  • Media relations – This now incorporates both traditional media and online media.  It’s hard to beat the boost in credibility that comes with a feature story.  I’ve written a lot about how non-profits need to begin to identify who blogs about their issues locally, given that most traditional news outlets have had to make radical cuts in staff.  Online newspapers, like Sacramento Press here, are also gaining steam.
  • Messaging – OK this doesn’t fall into the tactical bucket; it’s strategic.  Many bootstrap non-profits have poor names and rely on their mission statements to communicate their value.  Short of name-changing, it’s vital to have a brief – like seven words brief – tagline or statement that informs and inspires.  No wonder America’s Second Harvest changed their name to Feeding America.  It’s also important to put appeals in a context by “campaignizing” them.  How much do you need now, by when, and why?  In today’s turmoil, people need a really good reason to part with their dough or get involved.

I blogged back in April about John Kenyon’s perspective on chicken-or-egg dilemmas when it comes to non-profit marketing.  John’s a strong believer in website and emails being top priority.  Yesterday, Beth Kanter published a guest post from Jordan Viator who interviewed David Neff of American Cancer Society’s High Plains division for the Connection Cafe.  David’s top five includes website and email, but he also puts Facebook, videos and file sharing on his list.  About Facebook, he says, “If you concentrate on one social networking tool that’s out there, I would say get on Facebook and make sure you make your presence known.”  You’ll find David’s tips explained best in the video embedded in Jordan’s post.

I’m recommending Facebook, too, but often in the second six-month period of a plan, after the very-most-important pieces are in place.

What’s in your top five?

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Holiday philanthropy guides may not be in non-profits’ interests

Blogs are awesome tools for wondering “out loud”.  Last week I was working on a non-profit’s marketing and communications plan and realized they were putting time and energy into lining up businesses to sponsor listings in printed philanthropy guides.  Did they have a positive ROI, I wondered?

Not for most non-profits.  It could even hurt them by diminishing the amount of dollars available for direct contributions from potential corporate sponsors.

How so?  Here in Sacramento, we don’t have a lot of corporate headquarters.  We do have a large number of businesses that are regional operations of national companies.  When they underwrite a listing in a philanthropy guide, they take the money out of their contributions budget, not their advertising budget.  The amount of available money in their budget goes down.

When non-profits approach them for direct contributions or to sponsor events that may result in friendraising or fundraising, the businesses may figure they’ve already done their bit for that organization.  Or they may not have the money left to spend.

It may be good for the business’ reputation to be seen as a community good guy, but better use can be made of the money for the non-profit.  Several non-profits say they have received a donation or two based on the info published in the guide, but they might have gotten a better return if they had worked directly with the business.

P.D.  My Twitter pals were uninterested in my query, but I did get a few responses from friends in the non-profit world whose perspective I value.  I didn’t quote or name them here in case on the off-chance that local publishers wouldn’t take kindly to their skeptical view of these guides.

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Don’t skip to tactics until you know what you’re trying to do

The Camppaign for Female Education took 13 years to build its list to 10,000 supporters and is now picking up 5,000 members a day on Facebook Causes

The Campaign for Female Education took 13 years to build its list to 10,000 supporters and is now picking up 5,000 members a day on Facebook Causes

Non-profit social media rock star Beth Kanter is making a cross-country move.  Rather than taking a hiatus from blogging (as I did last month), Beth wisely lined up some cool guest bloggers.  A post today by Brian Reich, author of Thinking About Media, got me thinking about what’ s been missing in several non-profit marketing plans I’ve seen lately:  a hypothesis about what will cause a desired action to happen (be it donations or advocacy) and a strategy about how to achieve that momentum.

The plans I’ve seen are a bucket used to hold a bevvy of popular tactics (including social media) – with no educated guesses about how they will contribute to the desired outcome, and no prioritization.  I’d call them a listing more than a plan.

Brian’s post is focused on Facebook Causes, about which he’s skeptical, but his comments go to the heart of my concern about lack of strategy:

You can’t expect your audience, no matter how passionate they are about your work, to make an online contribution only because you ask – or to continue to make donations after they became involved through an event or opportunity.  Those are all actions that you, as an organization define.  Your audience, and particularly those who donate, want to be directly involved in your work and empowered to help support your efforts in the ways, and using the tools, they feel most comfortable with…. Stop developing new features and tools until you have found ways to get your users more invested in the setup you already have.  Find ways to better educate and support all your nonprofit members, as well as the users that power your success. I’m not suggesting you stop innovating or improving your tools, but the needs of your audience should drive that work, instead of the technology driving how the users are able to get involved.

Many of the organizations I’m working with as a pro bono consultant haven’t clearly defined why the world needs to support their organization or cause, nor have they raised awareness.  To use Brian’s suggested five-part process, they have to start by listening, introducing and educating their target audiences before they turn to engagement and mobilization.  His process is a variation on a traditional marketing communications pyramid model (from awareness building to preference, trial, use and loyalty) but it’s a nice update for the non-profit world.

If you’re thinking about Facebook Causes or any other form of social media, read Brian’s post first.

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Results of the LIVE United launch

United Way's flash mob June 2009

United Way's flash mob June 2009

In yesterday’s post, I wondered how well United Way of California Capital Region’s LIVE United launch achieved its ambitious goals.  I think the team — Amber Murry (VP, Marketing and Communications), Gabrielle Stevenson, PR/Communications Manager, and Allison Fuller, Marketing and Events Manager — pulled off a Herculean effort to do what they did in less than six months.  Was it all worth it?

The results:  According to Gabrielle, the goal of engaging at least 300 new volunteers was achieved, and many were younger than United Way’s traditionally older demographic, as hoped.  She reports, “We had people from 16 to 66 at each of the [Toilet Paper drive] sites, and even involved with the street teams and flash mobs.  A majority of the new people who had never done anything with United Way before were in that sub-30 category. We had a lot of sub-20s too. It was very exciting and amped the energy level quite a bit.”

According to Steve Heath, executive director, most of the donations received came through workplaces rather than directly from individuals.  More people were engaged in the TP drive than in the flash mob or other activities.

United Way did secure emails from many of the volunteers, although the number isn’t available yet.  (The staff is still entering some of the registration data that came in paper form.)  As the UWCCR staff and committee weighed tactics a few months back, it asked the age-old (and everlastingly useful) question:  What’s volunteers’ WIFM?  Why would someone give their email address?  Besides t-shirts, volunteers were given free tickets to a River Cats baseball game.  Baseball and United Way, how American is that?

I was skeptical about two things:  how well a flash mob would work in Sacramento, and how likely UWCCR could pull off a pretty major website overhaul within its 6 week project plan timeframe.

Happily, I was wrong to be such a curmudgeon.  Gabrielle notes, “The flash mob went VERY well! Lots of fun, lots of people showed up to participate and lots of people watched.”  Seventy people turned out at Arden Fair, the local retail hotspot; this youtube video tells the story of how the team put the flash mob together, and then shows the final result.  Lots of fun, indeed, but I don’t think most of the gang is quite ready for “You Think You Can Dance.”

And the website worked and didn’t crash!

According to Steve, the most successful part of Launch Week was the TP drive (and what’s not to love about something that quirky).  It attracted coverage from the Sacramento Bee, regional Business Journals, the major television news stations and local daytime programs, and Newstalk Radio KFBK.

Gabrielle personally rigged up what PR folks like to call a 3-D media kit, and she delivered it about 30 places.  “Does that still work?” I asked.  Delivering a celephane covered roll of toilet paper along with a few other goodies and a fact sheet was just quirky enough to get past the front desk and into the news room.

Even though thousands of hours (staff and volunteer) went into making the events last week a success, the toughest part may be still ahead.  OK, guys, you got the intro to some new folks who want to play with you, now how are you going to continue to build the relationship?

Toward that end, it’s important that UWCCR keep at it with social media.  They were just getting started by the time the launch arrived.  Gabrielle took a shot at Twitter (@gabstevenson) but she acknowledges it fell lower on the priority list compared to traditional media and organizing volunteers for events (plus, wrapping all of those rolls of TP for the news media!).  Facebook Causes was down when I wrote this post, but I know UWCCR quickly attracted 400 supporters after establishing the page 4-6 weeks ago.  Presumably the numbers climbed quite a bit after that. 

Energizing these new relationships — whether through social media or other means — will be important.  Gabrielle notes:  “Yep, we’re planning and fine-tuning [things] now, based on the launch week. Our goal from the beginning has been to keep this group of volunteers engaged. There was a lot of energy last week and we don’t want to lose that momentum.”

I enjoyed the chance to work with my fellow volunteer advisors:  Terry Halleck, Chair, President and CEO, Golden 1 Credit Union; Lori Aldrete, ACS Quantum Strategies; Jim Caster, Vice President, Eyefinity; Sara McKinley, Sara McKinley Market Research; Dick Colvin; and Doug Kim.

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