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Not Making Cents

Not Making Cents

Beyond • July 9, 2013

So, I\'m checking my emails today and I see a message from a nonprofit organization. Not that unusual, given that I’m involved with several groups and am on the mailing list for more than a few others. Since I do what I do (and have for 22 years), I tend to look at the communications and fundraising strategies of other organizations from a completely different perspective than most people. The email stated that the charity really could use some help this summer. Um ... well, yeah. Is there any charity that can\'t use a little extra at this time of year, in the middle of a never-ending recession that has impacted many nonprofits (and other businesses)?  I don\'t know too many charities that are doing just fine, thank you. The author of the email went on to say that she hoped I would write a blog post about their organization, or tweet about them, because the readers of my blog might be interested in helping kids. Now, I have all the faith in the world that my readers are, in fact, caring people who would like to help kids. They might even already support this particular charity. Here\'s the thing, though: I haven\'t. Other than recognizing their name, I have absolutely zero connection with this organization. None. I\'ve never made a contribution. I don\'t Like them on Facebook. I don\'t follow them on Twitter. I\'ve never been to their website. I don\'t know anyone who is involved in this organization. I don\'t know the author of the email and I don\'t know how she knows of me. I’d be interested in that information, actually, just from a professional courtesy standpoint. Has she read my development-related tweets? Is she a regular reader of my blog? Do we have a mutual colleague in common? Did we sit next to each other at a conference? So, this is where my absolute flabbergasted-ness over this solicitation comes into play. Given my complete disconnect from this admittedly worthy group and cause, how does this even make any iota of sense? How can I endorse something that I know nothing about or ever been a part of? Sure, I could write you a nice post saying that the XYZ organization is great, they do great work, look at their fancy banner, you can follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook, you should donate some money to them RIGHT NOW. I could say all of those things, but there\'s a key credibility issue here - again, because I am not involved with this group. I don\'t know that they\'re not cooking their books. I don\'t know their ratio of administrative costs to program costs. Frankly, I\'m not inclined to do the research to find out such because there are other causes that I do support and that I am closely connected to. In this economy, donors are limiting the number of organizations they support because there\'s too great of a need and too few resources and funds. So one\'s philanthropic decisions are made on the basis of connections - which organization you\'re connected with, charities that have helped you or a loved one out. Donors are sophisticated and much smarter than ever before. We have more tools at our disposal. You can tell when someone is bullshitting. You know when someone is just paying lip service to a cause, when someone doesn\'t have the passion. Similarly, you know when someone does. That\'s what powers real, authentic, genuine fundraising. That\'s what will get you the big bucks. We\'ll all finding our way in this \"new normal.\"  As fundraisers and communicators, we\'re all chasing that proverbial pot of gold at the end of the URL, trying to figure out how to raise money through this not so newfangled social media thing. It\'s really not all that difficult or all that much more different than what we were doing long before Al Gore invented the Internet. It\'s about trust. Ethics. Credibility. Connections. That\'s what has always made sense. And cents.


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The Nonprofit Strategist’s Summer Reading List

The Nonprofit Strategist’s Summer Reading List

Beyond • June 11, 2013

As you’re reading this column, I’m preparing for our annual vacation to a small, barely-on-the-map island on the real-life Jersey shore. Our family’s cottage is the sort of place where Internet access is spotty, at best. For a week, that’s how I like it. Immobile and unplugged, with only the ocean and a book by my side. Forget the sunscreen. Books are the most important item that I need to pack. (I kid. Clearly, sunscreen is a must.) Books are a close second. Note the plural, because one must always have a Plan B … and C and D, if the first book doesn’t work out. I can be an anomaly when it comes to vacation reading. Although I love literary fiction, more often than not I’m the one on the beach reading something related to business or philanthropy or social media. Perhaps you also shun the pulpy paperbacks and are looking for a few intelligent reads this summer. Here, then, are five titles that have made it onto my radar for the hazy, crazy days to come. Hello, Goodbye, Hello: A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings, by Craig Brown I tend to believe that we meet everyone in our lives for a reason. We may not know that reason at the time, but it’s there – and there aren’t any coincidences. “Hello, Goodbye, Hello” looks fascinating for this reason; it’s a glimpse into 101 meetings among famous authors, entertainers, politicians, etc. If you like the whole concept of six degrees of separation, this book is for you. Down the Up Escalator: How the 99% Live in the Great Recession, by Barbara Garson Recessionary journalism is a trend – practically its own genre – with the devastating economy affecting hundreds of thousands of Americans, myself included. I’m interested to read Ms. Garson’s take on our modern-day society with its stagnant wages, long-term unemployment and underemployment, and how everyday people are coping. Blogging for Badass Small Businesses, by Shawn Graham Fans of Seth Godin will probably like what Shawn Graham has to say. And if this e-book is anything like the smart, thought-provoking, strategic advice Shawn offers on his excellent blog, this promises to be one of the business bibles of blogging. This comes at a perfect time for me, with a few new business-related projects happening. To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, by Daniel H. Pink Regardless of what we do for a living, Daniel Pink says we’re all in sales. He’s absolutely right. I’m a fan of his work (I reviewed “Drive” on my website and loved it) and this one looks like another great blend of Pink’s thinking. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain This one has been almost unanimously praised on the book blogs, and has been on my to-be-read list for a while. It also seems to be a nice complement to the Daniel Pink book, which posits that extroverts may not be the best salespeople after all. I’ll tell you about these in future Nonprofit Strategist columns. In the meantime, what books should I add to my ever-growing summer (or all year-round) reading list?


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Making Non-Profits Click

Making Non-Profits Click

Beyond • May 14, 2013

We\'ve all experienced the \"click.\" The feeling of being instantly attracted to and connected with another person. It’s almost as if we\'ve known him or her forever when, in reality, we\'ve just met. If we\'re lucky, sometimes it happens more than once, with several different people throughout our life. This phenomenon of \"clicking,” this immediate connection on a deep level with another person or becoming completely immersed in an activity, is described by brothers Ori and Rom Brafman in their book, Click: The Magic of Instant Connections (Broadway Books, 2010) which I recently read (I’m an avid bibliophile). There\'s no distinction made here for this happening in a romantic/significant other type of context or in a workplace environment. I think there are some interesting applications for our non-profit work. \"We wanted to understand the building blocks of quick-set intimacy - what the factors are that lead a person to click with someone else or become fully alive in a specific activity….What causes people to be fully engaged with the world around them? The most rewarding part of our research has been hearing the stories of people who have clicked. You can see the excitement in their eyes, the change in their voice as they tell you their story.\" (pg. 186) Now, I\'m one of those people who believe that we meet the people we meet in life for a reason. There are just too many people in this world for us to be meeting the ones we meet for no good reason ... hence the people we meet need to matter.  Call it karma, fate, providence, whatever you want. But this clicking business ... I always thought it was sort of serendipitous, a bit of magic. As it turns out, magic is actually part of it but there is more psychology involved than one might think.  What\'s even more fascinating is that it is actually possible to create these moments because in almost every instance when we click with someone, the same five factors (or, \"accelerators\") are generally at play. To me, that’s magic for us in the non-profit business. The Brafmans write about how magic intermingles with vulnerability (\"our willingness to risk being vulnerable can deepen the quality of our relationships and make us more likely to connect with others\"), proximity (\"even the smallest distances that separate us from others play a major role in determining who we\'re most likely to hit it off with\"), resonance (\"being fully present [can] help us create resonance, a quality that can draw others to us\"), similarity (the more qualities that we have in common with someone, the better, because similarity \"can help to create an in-group dynamic that brings people together. The more we can zero in on and accentuate the similarities we have with someone else, the more likely we are to hit it off with that person. This is especially useful in trying to connect with someone ...from a different cultural background or a different profession or industry.\") and the environment (\"overcoming challenges or adversity together can help to stimulate or encourage clicking, as can being  part of a shared, defined community.\" (pg. 188-189) While reading Click, I found myself thinking about the myriad of ways we as non-profit professionals can make these connections happen. We already do this, but how many of us do this with these principles behind our thinking? So, the next time we pair up a volunteer with a staff member, or a veteran board member with a new recruit, or assign tables at a gala, it may be worth thinking further about the vulnerability and similarity factors as we continue building our “shared, defined community.” This is just a start. What other ways can you see this clicking for non-profits?


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Spring Cleaning Your Non-Profit’s Message

Spring Cleaning Your Non-Profit’s Message

Beyond • April 9, 2013

Here in Pittsburgh and many other places, it has certainly been a long, cold, lonely winter (you’re welcome for placing The Beatles singing on a loop in your head). Traditionally, I’ve never been one for spring cleaning (just ask my mother). As my eleven-year-old twins accumulate more and more things, I’ve come to appreciate the value of de-cluttering every so often. And if that needs to coincide with turning a calendar page or becoming a year older, even better. Recently, it occurred to me that this notion of de-cluttering is also applicable to what we do in our non-profits. Think about it. Chances are, your non-profit has some crap to get rid of. Now, I’m not talking about people. God knows the unemployment numbers are dismal enough and nobody wants to see them get any worse. What I am talking about is evaluating your communications in order to figure out what works and then eliminating the extraneous, the outdated, and the irrelevant messages that you as a communications professional are sending to your donors, your prospects, your circle of friends, your employees, your volunteers, and your clients’ families (hopefully there is some overlap in that list). By communications professional, I don’t care who you are: you can be the Executive Director or the Board President or the Social Media Manager or the volunteer newsletter editor. It doesn’t matter. If you communicate in any way to any internal or external public connected to your organization, I’m talking to you. This process is a non-profit de-cluttering, also known as a communications audit. Just like death and taxes, nothing is immune with this. Everything from your annual report to your Facebook statuses is fair game and open for scrutiny, as it should be. Are you still using letterhead with outdated board members’ names? Are your newsletter and annual report photos in need of freshening up? Is every single thing on your website current? Are you :(ing a little too much about dreading Mondays and LOLing about getting the hell out of Dodge on Fridays on your non-profit’s Facebook page? Does your organization’s Facebook presence consist of inspirational quotes that everyone’s read ad-nauseum after another? All of the above are real-life examples, from real-life organizations. Believe me, they’re out there, untethered. It happens slowly, over time, because we get caught up in the minutiae of the hard, hard work of fund-raising and running a non-profit organization in these tough times. Or, we glom onto what self-proclaimed social media gurus, ninjas, and rock stars tell us we should be doing and our communications take on a life of its own. Which is why into every communications plan an audit must fall. Think of it not as a way of attacking the messenger, but as a process to determine whether or not your words are indeed ringing true to what you want to convey about your organization’s mission, goals, and vision. Sometimes we’re a little too close to the situation to do this kind of job effectively, in which case it can be beneficial to bring in a consultant or tap into a board member’s communications or marketing expertise. It’s absolutely essential. Indeed, I propose there is nothing more crucial. Communications audits are a non-profit’s way of spring cleaning – a way of seeing the ice slowly melting and smiles returning to your donors’ faces. What questions do you have about non-profit communications audits? Email meand I’ll answer them on my blog or in a future Nonprofit Strategist column. As always, thanks for reading. ~ Melissa


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Blogging: The New Professional Networking Event

Blogging: The New Professional Networking Event

Beyond • February 12, 2013

How many of you have attended a professional networking event? Most of us have been to more than a few such shindigs where we’ve collected and exchanged a few business cards, munched on a few crudités, and smiled while pretending to be on a Very Important Call on our cell phone. For people in sales and other industries, these functions are a requirement of the job. But for those of us in the non-profit profession, networking events can sometimes feel difficult and awkward - even though we’re told we must also be salespeople for our worthy causes. (I don’t always buy that analogy, by the way.) Still, we go because we need to Make an Appearance, or because our boss expects us to get out of our office from time to time, or because our competition is going to be there, or because we need to drum up new sponsors for our next special event. All valid reasons for showing up. Sometimes we make a connection that’s worth the registration cost and sometimes we feel like all we did was spend the evening stumbling over our elevator speeches. For many non-profit organizations, these events can be costly and time consuming. That’s where blogging and guest blogging have become the new professional networking events and ones with much potential for non-profit communicators. So, how can you make blogging and guest blogging work better for you? If you don’t have one, create a blog on your website, or by using WordPress or Blogger. Generate a list of “evergreen” topics that can be used for posts. Do you have an FAQ section on your website? Start there by using several of those questions or issues as topics to write about. Use Evernote as place for capturing ideas (I currently have about a dozen possible blog post ideas for this column in my Evernote app on my phone). Connect with local bloggers. Read and comment on local blogs. Get to know them and their niches. Invite them to your organization for a Bloggers Event or a TweetUp so they can see what your non-profit does. Or, alternatively, host your bloggers’ event at a local business. (This can be preferable for organizations such as domestic violence shelters that may have confidentiality issues.) Many individuals have a presence on LinkedIn – but does your organization? If not, make sure it does. For guest blogging, seek out opportunities with your local media organizations (the newspaper, your local Patch.com site) to write a guest post on an issue. The large metro papers might be harder to pitch initially (maybe a board member has a connection?) but the smaller weeklies and online publications often welcome contributors. Share buttons are your best friend. Once you’ve written a post, remember to share it everywhere: on your website, your Facebook page, on Twitter (several times!) and LinkedIn. Encourage your supporters and board members to share it as well. Look at your corporate donors’ websites: many of them highlight the charitable activities they support in the community and would welcome the chance to feature yours. It’s tempting to want to try everything immediately or to mimic what the larger organization down the street is doing. Start with what works for your organization and your capabilities. Figure out what a comfortable ROI (return on investment) is. What does it cost in terms of time to craft a blog post and promote it on various channels? Could other staff members be tapped to help (they may be delighted to be asked!) or a volunteer, or is it more cost-effective to hire a “ghost blogger” on a consultancy basis? I’m honored to join the Benchmark team as a guest blogger. Starting with this column, each month I’ll be writing on topics that I hope will be of interest to non-profit professionals. Since 1991, I’ve worked in fundraising and communications with small grassroots non-profits as well as national, chapter-based organizations. My area of expertise is in individual and corporate giving, grant writing, development writing, social media and content management. I’m excited about this new opportunity and connecting with you. Do you have a suggestion for a future The Nonprofit Strategist column or feedback on this one? Send me your thoughts at thefirmangroup@gmail.com.


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3 Ways to Turn Your Non-Profit’s Presence into Presents

Beyond • September 26, 2012

When I saw my friend’s text, I immediately went into cruise director mode. (Those of you who are children of the 1980s like me can just call me Julie McCoy for the remainder of this guest post.) Coming to Pittsburgh next week! Never been. No idea what to see or do. I was thrilled with the possibility of catching up with my college friend, meeting his partner and showing them the highlights of my new city. Knowing their interests, I sent a Facebook message back with suggestions of places to see – museums, cultural attractions, historical sites. While looking over my list, I realized that I hadn’t been to any of these places. None. So, in making my list for my friends, what was I relying on to try and make sure they would have a great time here? The presence of these organizations. For the most part, all of the must-see places I included are small to medium-sized arts and cultural groups. In today’s challenging economy, that means they’re probably facing many of the same issues as many non-profits. But they have something else in common. All of the organizations I suggested to my friend are bolstering their real and virtual community presence in a variety of cutting-edge ways, which leads to capital of a different sort. Two new visitors may become new ambassadors who may have a great experience at their venue. They may tell others, may write a great online review, may become donors. 1) Monitor Your Non-Profit’s Presence Online In today’s online age, this one should be a given – but for many organizations, it isn’t. Monitor what’s being said about your organization online. Use Google Alerts. If you do nothing else, make sure your own house is in order. With competition for donors at an all-time high, sites with out-of-date information don’t convey good messages about being trustworthy with donated funds. As an example, on the website of one non-profit I once worked with, the latest blog entry in their “Latest News” section carries a date-stamp of December 31, 1969. Most likely this is due to a shrinking staff and more demands being placed on a handful of people, but if this were a place where I was thinking of sending my money or my visitors to Pittsburgh, I’d assume they had shut their doors (or hadn’t opened them yet). 2) Present Your Employees with Opportunities to Bring Their Personal Lives into the Workplace At the Light of Life Rescue Mission on Pittsburgh’s North Side, the development director’s connections through her blog were the catalyst for a group of Pittsburgh bloggers to create a spontaneous, grassroots fundraising campaign. Dubbed #givingskivvies, the effort raised $1,000 in two days through social media to provide much-needed new underwear and socks for the men, women and children served at the shelter. More importantly, it sparked a desire among the Pittsburgh bloggers to find ways to creatively use their social media power to try and help other non-profits. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink writes that employers need to give their staff “autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” Light of Life did just that by allowing their development director to mingle the personal with the professional – and it paid off. 3) Present Your Board Members’ Passion to the Public At a recent event, I met a board member with the Toonseum, a new and vibrant museum in Downtown Pittsburgh that celebrates the art of cartooning. This guy was passionate and exuberant, telling me about upcoming exhibits in a way that made me feel like I was getting a behind-the-scenes tour. Later that evening, he introduced me to the Toonseum’s equally enthusiastic executive director – and now whenever I see Joe Wos’ name in the newspaper, I remember that connection and conversation with that board member. That’s where your board members’ passion for your organization’s mission can shine, be put to good use and become virally contagious. That’s also why the Toonseum will be getting three new visitors next Thursday. a Rafflecopter giveaway


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