Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Do You Stand For?

When I was in my 20s I worked for The Ritz Carlton.  I spent my first two weeks on the job learning how to check-in guests and provide "world class customer service."  I was also being indoctrinated into the Ritz Carlton culture.

It turns out the Ritz Carlton doesn't sell hotel rooms.  It sells elegance.  That's why rather than point to the Women's Room, all employees are urged to escort guests to the loo.  That's also why my voicemail used to say, "Thank you for your call.  Please leave your name and number and it will be my pleasure to serve you."

Ensuring that guests EXPERIENCE the Ritz Carlton as the most elegant place to sleep, eat and dream is key to its' brand promise.  It's also what enables the hotel chain to charge a ridiculous $500 per night.

I was musing on my experience as an employee at The Ritz while attending, Breakthrough Branding for Nonprofits yesterday with Carol Cone and Jocelyne Daw.  Specifically, I was reminded that a brand is SO much more than a logo or tagline.  According to Cone and Daw (and I agree) "a brand is the set of expectation and beliefs that the marketplace has about you." 

Think about that for a minute.  It's deep.

What DO people think of your organization?  Are you considered a leader in your field?  Do you have a powerful rep that stands for something? Or, are you a unremarkable player?  How do you know?

I know you are not the Ritz Carlton.  Nevertheless, you have a brand.  And, here's the really important part - a strong brand should help you to attract more funding, great employees and media attention.  This isn't rocket science.  It just makes sense.  People want to affiliate with GREAT organizations!

What do you stand for?

The first step in getting a hold on your brand is to do a brand evaluation.  This is a fancy way of saying that you should spend some time TALKING to your donors, members and volunteers to determine what they think about you.  Engaging in a process like this can be eye-opening.  At the very least, it will help you to stop navel gazing and see your organization from the inside out.  Use the feedback to bring more FOCUS to your programmatic work.

Next, do some internal soul searching.  What do you stand for?  What do you do better than anyone else?  What should you STOP doing tomorrow? 

If you're interested in learning more about what it takes to build a "breakthrough brand," I encourage you to read the book.  And, remember.  Like it or not your brand is alive and well.  Make sure the brand you have is the one you want.



Monday, January 24, 2011

Nonprofits and New Blood

To be a great fundraiser you need to be able to tell a great story!  You need to be creative, grateful and interesting.  But to be a great fundraiser you also need someone to market to!  Just as any small business needs a constant stream of new customers, nonprofits need a steady flow of new donors, members, volunteers and advocacy supporters. 

In fundraising, the practice of finding “new blood” is called ACQUISITION. 

Direct mail has long been the staple of the acquisition diet for nonprofits, especially for the big guys.  (It’s why you get all those appeals in the mail from nonprofits you’ve never donated to.)  But for the small guys - with small budgets - direct mail is often out of reach. 

In addition, in case you haven’t heard, direct mail is in trouble. For example, a report from Blackbaud, the Target Analytics 2009 Index of National Fundraising Performance for the Third Quarter, shows direct mail declining rapidly in effectiveness as a way to acquire new donors. According to the report, in the past five years, new donor acquisition from direct mail has declined almost 20 percent!

What’s a nonprofit to do?

If you’re short on cash and worried about the effectiveness of direct mail, online acquisition may be right for your nonprofit.  Here are 6 techniques for “filling your fundraising pipeline” and finding new prospective donors online. 

1. Put a sign up box on the home page and other key pages of your website.  This should be a no-brainer, but from my review of many nonprofit websites, it’s not. 
Give folks an opportunity to give you their contact information in exchange for something – a new piece of research, a great whitepaper, access to your e-newsletter, etc.  The key hear is to make it EASY for folks to sign up.  ONLY require First Name, Last Name and Email Address.  (See above.)  Requiring a prospect’s first name will enable you to personalize your communications to your new recruits. One caveat: If you think you'll do direct mail in the future, require Zip Code as well.  This will enable you to append postal addresses so that you can forward your print communications.

Some nonprofits are bold and actually show an email sign-up before you enter their website.  (Remember Obama for America?)  Sometimes called a “splash page” or an “interstitial,” this pop up box prevents a reader from entering your website until they “give up goods.”  The key here is to enable readers to skip the splash page if they don’t want to complete the form.  Also, be sure to use this tactic conservatively as it can turn some readers off. 

2. Ask people for contact information at your events.  Simply add a column for "Email Address" on your intake form or event collateral.  The key hear is to be clear with folks about what they can expect to receive from you and to honor that promise. 

3. Include an email sign-up box on all of your print materials, including donation appeals, print newsletters and annual reports.  Think about all those catalogues you receive in the mail.  They ALWAYS encourage you to go online and provide information about how and why you should visit their website. 

4. Use your email signature to drive people to your website and encourage them to share their contact information.  Again, entice them with access to great content, a FREE webinar, report, your e-newsletter, etc.  Email signatures are a great, FREE marketing tool!

5. Use advocacy as a tactic to engage new “leads.”  Even if your nonprofit doesn’t pursue advocacy as a program strategy, you can still start a petition or pledge to get people involved with your work.  At Care2, we will host your petition.  You can link to it from your website and use your email newsletter to promote it. Check out the Activist Toolkit on Care2 to get some ideas about how to position your cause and use advocacy to engage more people in your work.

6. Encourage your current supporters to market for you!  As any business knows, the best source of new leads is referrals from existing clients.  Be sure to make it easy for your donors to tell their friends about your work.  Include "Tell-a-Friend" opportunities on your website.  See example above.

In summary, all businesses need to find new customers or die.  It’s no different for nonprofits, whose lifeblood is the constant flow of new donors, advocates, volunteers and members.  There are numerous ways to acquire new prospects to fuel the work you do.  I hope some of these tactics help.


Friday, January 14, 2011

A Call for Compassion

This thoughtful and moving video comes from Charter for Compassion.  Thanks to my Beloved Mother for sending it on.

I hope you will watch it and read it and sign it.  And, I wish you more compassion and peace in your world this year.

Warmest regards,


Friday, January 7, 2011

When Brand Awareness is For the Birds

  • Do you attend conferences where no one knows your name?
  • Do you spend most of your “elevator speech” explaining where you work vs. what you do?
  • Do funders ignore your calls because they’ve never heard of your nonprofit?
Then you may have a problem with brand awareness, a concept which refers to "the extent to which the public are aware of a product, company or brand."

Part of your marcom effort should include a plan (and budget) for increasing awareness about your nonprofit’s mission and services.  That said, traditional PR tactics like sending out press releases and mass advertising may do more harm than good.  Unless you have a thoughtful plan in place for reaching a particular audience, brand awareness is for the birds.

Think Activation vs. Awareness

You want more people to know about you.  That’s Ok.  But don’t make the mistake of approaching brand awareness as an end in itself.  Instead, engage in public relations as a way to MOVE people to DO SOMETHING like donate, volunteer or take action on your issues. 

This means being wary of impressions based advertising, where you pay for “eyeballs” alone; it may not deliver the results you seek.  Sure you know you’re reaching someone but are you actually CONVERTING the right people into new supporters, members or donors?

Who Really Cares About You?

Building awareness without thinking about who you are trying to reach is like going on a weekly blind date.  It may be exhilarating (NOT!), but is it really getting you closer to your goals?  Before you start “spraying” your messages into the Universe, take some time to reflect on whom you are trying to reach, what you want them to do and why they might care about you. 

In sales, we call this creating a persona.  You actually sit down and draw a picture of your ideal customer.  You give her/him a name, professional title, address (and cat or dog)!  You can do this with donors too.  For example, if you work on educational reform, you might focus on reaching High School parents in Washington, DC with one stay at home parent.

Once you have this persona in place, it is much easier to envision ways to meet and introduce your audience to your issues.  It’s also easier to imagine the barriers your target donor will face (and that you will have to overcome) in order to get her behind your cause.

Most people really don’t give a lick about you and what you do.  They’re busy thinking about how busy they are!  Don’t waste time and money trying to REACH anyone and everyone to tell them about your cause.  Instead, ruthlessly focus on a core constituency and do your darnedest to tailor your outreach efforts to them alone.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Look for the Big Dipper and 4 Other Things You Can Do More of This Year

Behavior change is hard.  That is why resolutions don’t work.  But what can I say?  I’m a sucker for lists.

Here is my list of 5 things I’m going to do more of this year.  You can too! 

1. Be Quiet - I’ll think I’ll throw up if I hear another marketing guru wax on about the importance of “listening” via social media.  It’s become such a cliché.  Thing is, as far as cliché’s go, it’s true.  Chattering on and on (which I am very good at) is bad for relationships.  It’s bad for meetings.  It’s bad for marriage.  Heck it’s bad for Happy Hour.  No one is that interesting and people tune you (and me) out. 

It turns out that being quiet is really important.  It’s a skill that all adults must master.  (Note: I said adults.)  I’m going to try very hard to be quieter in 2011.  If you see me out, remind me to Shhhhhh! 

2. Look for the Big Dipper – In college I used to walk home to my apartment late at night. If it was very late, my walk included a jog downhill. (This was Seattle.)  Right before I slipped inside my door, I would look up and try to find the Big Dipper, you know that constellation of seven stars, which follows the rough outline of a large ladle or dipper.  Regardless of my mood, locating those stars comforted me and altered my state of mind. Seeing that cup in the same spot stopped my head from spinning.  It made me feel safe. 

Work is tough.  Life is tough.  Find those special moments, points of connection and stars that guide to help you put things in perspective.  And, remember.  Regardless of how bad things get, we’re all part of a much greater and deeper mystery. And, that is good. 

3. Write – I love to write.  An idea or “subject line” pops into my head and I’m done.  Head over heels with a phrase that I simply must expel. It’s my primary way of expressing myself and “getting to the truth.”

I hate to write too. Writing doesn’t let you off the hook.  No matter how tired or tiresome you feel, words distract and batter your brain until you get them down.  The good news is that writing is both science and art.  Writing well is about exercising your heart and brain (and hands) and trusting that somehow the words will come together to make sense, even inspire.  In other words, you don’t have to be Alice Walker.  You just have to practice.

Write more this year to become a better writer.  But also write more to become a better you.  Writing will free you.  It will bless you and your life. 

4. Breathe – This probably sounds strange.  How can you breathe more?  We’re always breathing aren’t we?  Well, yes and no.  If you’re like me, you’re anxious and easy to unnerve. Someone cuts you off in traffic, your co-worker is way late to a meeting, and your spouse forgets to call.  In short, the shit hits the fan and suddenly you realize you’re hyperventilating.

The best way to avoid a melt down and regain perspective, in situations like these, is to be quiet (see point #1) and BREATHE.  If you breathe deeply for just a few minutes, your brain will calm down. 

The Buddhists have figured out something here. The ability to self-soothe is a critical skill to develop in our hyped-up world. Focus on your breath and it will help you to relax and be kind. 

5. Play – I’m bad at play. I’m one of those types that internalized the Protestant work ethic when I was much too young.  I’m into delaying gratification.  Eating the frosting last and spinach first.  I love making lists and checking them twice.  Heck, I’m into work.

The problem is, the older I get the less I play.  (For me, play is work!)  For example, my new frolleague (friend and colleague) Susan has invited me to go Salsa dancing four weekends in a row.  Unfortunately, I can’t seem to figure it out.

I’ll never be able to sit down with my eight year-old and play Barbie’s or build a go-cart but I am going to try to be silly for 15 minutes a day.

If you too find that life has become all work and no play, schedule an office outing (without alcohol). Bowl.  Go for a hike.  Sing Karaoke (OK, you might need a little alcohol for Karaoke).  Do something totally frivolous - together.  It will help you remember why you came here and what you really like about these folks.