A nonprofit organization undoubtedly has a level of indebtedness to its donors. If donors are dissatisfied with how their money is put to use, they have the ability to simply stop the flow of cash. This does not mean, however, that placating the donor is a nonprofit’s number one priority.
For example: the traditional mindset has been that donors are more likely to give to organizations with low overhead, rewarding those that keep administrative budgets on an absolute shoestring. So somewhere along the line, low overhead became equated with organizational effectiveness. A study by the Nonprofit Overhead Cost Project at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy came to the opposite conclusion.
The study makes this compelling case: Donors must be reeducated to understand that costs associated with capacity building — including compensating well-qualified executives and professional staff, as well as investing in strategic planning, marketing and development efforts, are not superfluous. Instead, they yield a greater return on investment, just as they do in any for-profit enterprise.
As the Harvard Business Review’s Dan Pallotta says, “It’s courage time for the humanitarian sector.” In an economy where donations are more difficult than ever to come by, organizations must remain confident in their mission and ignore the tendency to acquiesce to outdated donor perceptions of what makes for an effective nonprofit. Instead, they must make a case for strategic business and development models.
Read the full post in the Harvard Business Review, or read more about Pallotta’s book Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential,” to see how he fully defends this case.
First let me say: Let's hear it for organizations who continue to believe in the power of the thoughtful annual report. In the wake of annihilated budgets, so few companies commit the dollars to produce them anymore. But I believe there is great value in the process of taking stock of the year that has passed. Where were the successes? The surprises? What are the lessons learned?
We are fortunate to produce several annual reports at RP, including this one (just completed) for the Central Carolina Community Foundation. We thank Tonia Cochran of CCCF and our friends at R.L. Bryan for a wonderful collaborative experience. We are particularly pleased that JoAnn Turnquist, CEO of the foundation, is using the theme "Community Building / Building Community" in her many presentations to community partners and donors.
We believe an annual report is a great opportunity to look back, learn and celebrate. It is also an opportunity to fortify a brand position — an investment smart companies and nonprofits are continuing to make, even in this challenging economy.
Here’s what I won’t tell you: be human.
If you’re reading this, I guarantee you’ve been advised to “be human” before—and really, how helpful is advice that obvious? I’d rather tell you some things I’ve learned about Twitter along my journey.
When I started at Riggs Partners, my boss and mentor (that’s @cathymonetti to you) handed me the @RiggsPartners Twitter account and told me to go. After several months of developing, curating, and managing content for our agency’s contributions to the Twittersphere, I can say it’s been an educational road trip. We’ve got good destinations in sight, so I thought I’d share my road map for professional Twitter accounts with you (do forgive the coffee rings):
Establish the purpose.
If you’re ready to claim your Twitter handle and get going, pause. What is your purpose for opening this channel of social media? Anything worth doing has a purpose. Before you start firing off tweets, make sure that Twitter fits into your organization’s marketing strategy—and determine how it will strengthen that strategy.
Consider your audience.
This is the most important lesson you can learn: your Twitter account is not about you. Critically evaluate your target audience and provide content that will be meaningful and relevant to them. Or, as my friend Grant says, “Twitter is not your diary.”
Cultivate your voice.
Most likely, one or two people at most will be constructing/managing your tweets. It’s important that those tweets reflect the company in style, content, and tone. For us, this means striking a balance between tweeting original content, interesting/thoughtful links, and peeks into our world. What is unique about the things you say and the way you say them? Find that sweet spot and park.
Use the tools.
Twitter is a powerful tool for engagement, with a lot of functionality. Be smart and tweet strategically:
- Use relevant #hashtags so your target audience can find you. A word on hashtags: #doesn’t #this #get #annoying? Don’t overload your tweets with hashtags.
- Use lists. Twitter allows you to create up to twenty lists, where you can monitor other Twitter users without following them. Lists help you stay abreast with industry experts, online influencers, or whoever sparks your interest without clogging your home stream.
- Follow with respect. You can read lengthy ideas about Twitter etiquette elsewhere, so I’ll say simply: There are connections worth building; organic growth is best.
Of course, there’s more to learn (there always is), but working in the constraints of 140 characters has taught me to say what needs to be said—and move ahead.
I'm still recovering from a weekend in NYC of red, flustered cheeks, curls flattened by arctic wind, and toes smashed together in heels. I lived in New York for the summer of 2005 and in the six years since that time, I had completely forgotten how inspiring and visually stimulating the whole experience could be. I had forgotten the smells of food vendors, the trash that accumulates and creates puddles of color on street corners, and I had never seen snow piled up as tall as my head — waiting for spring to clear it away. I had forgotten how every storefront looks like a well-prepared theatre stage rather than a lifeless landscape for mannequins. I had forgotten the thrill of riding the subway, enjoying the car sway and screech while people watching is the only thing to do. I had forgotten the beauty of the subway map. I had forgotten how to walk fast.
I had not forgotten the feeling of being humbled and awakened by the accessible art and design of the city.
I also had not forgotten how the architecture of the city felt — like the architecture of typography. I had not forgotten how leaning back and looking upward between steel, marble, glass and brick skyscrapers reinvents negative space.
Designers need to love negative space — the silence between solid shapes. I think designers often forget how important it is to study this space, to try to live in it and to give each designed piece the silence it deserves. So often we are confined to limited space, enormous amounts of content with little wiggle room.
Our pieces are much like the landscape of Manhattan: filled, stacked, crowded, and busy. But if we stop and take a moment to look past the shapes (just as we do in the city), we will find negative space that is monolithic.
Photographic studies from the trip:
~ Maria Fabrizio Powelson
For those of you who’re wondering how you’re going to get home today in time to pull off Valentine’s Day, complete with the rushed romantic dinner, the obligatory bouquet of flowers, the box of bad chocolates, and the $5 card that absolutely must sing, I’ve got great news for you.
There’s a chance to breathe new life into this holiday of retail clichés. It’s called Generosity Day, and it’s happening right now.
Yes, there’s hope to insert some real meaning into today, thanks to three social entrepreneurs who teamed up over the weekend to reboot Valentine’s Day and turn it into an opportunity for meaningful action. What better day for Ellen McGirt, Katya Andresen and Sasha Dichter to harness the power of social media for social good?
Generosity Day is a call for all of us to get reacquainted with saying the word “yes” to those who reach out for help. The implications are extraordinary for people and for causes, and the event’s potential for accomplishing real social good is limitless.
So get on over to your social networks right now and spread the word about Generosity Day. Track it on Twitter at #generosityday.
Finally, a light in the retail darkness that makes my heart sing. How about yours?
"The health of the eye demands a horizon.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
On the night I turned sixteen, I wrote all of my dreams on small slips of paper and dropped them in a mason jar. My life list was born. I am a staunch believer in the power of the life list. Give me five minutes, and I’ll convince you to whip out some paper and a pen (or a crayon—whatever works) and start writing. Much has been said about goal-setting. Goals are good. But a life list is about more than items to accomplish or places to see.
A life list is a journey toward an ever-shifting horizon, and no traveler disembarks from a journey the same as he began. Making a life list could be one of the most valuable things you do for your career. It reminds you of where you’ve been, who you are, and where you’d like to go. And, ultimately, you are the most valuable resource you bring to your job.
In Nature, Emerson theorizes that looking forward is essential to our wellbeing: “We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.” This concept of forward motion is key to creative progress and personal growth. One of my mentors introduced me to the “state of possibilities.” The idea is simple: if you’re stuck (mentally, emotionally, creatively), move. Take a walk, step into a different environment, look at the sky. When you return, you’ll be surrounded with new ideas and closer to a solution.
Making your life list is kind of like keeping a state of possibilities on tap. Our dreams inspire us to act, and putting them on paper is the first step. So you want to spend three months sailing the deep blue sea? Great. Now it’s out there, and you can take whatever steps are necessary to make that adventure possible. Feeling particularly uninspired at work someday? Look at your list. Remember that you are a person who aspires to taste a thousand different fruits—that’s interesting. You’re interesting.
I firmly believe that the best way to ensure creative success at work is to pursue your own passions. As you enrich your life with experiences, you’re gathering education and inspiration. And when you reach one horizon, another always beckons.
I've always longed to take a freewheeling road trip. You know, the kind of journey where you head out, no real destination in mind, no particular route to follow. You just go, following the option that looks most interesting at the moment.
Where would it lead, I wonder? Where would I end up?
I made that journey last week, albeit vicariously. Sitting right on my sofa, right in my pretty little keeping room, I jumped into a blog I love, saw something interesting, clicked on a link, which lead to a link, which lead to a link, which lead to a link, and before I knew it, I was joyfully lost amidst the wild DIY wonderland that is Etsy.
There were beautiful treasures everywhere I clicked. Such creativity. Such originality. Such inspiration. I wandered. And then I landed at Jaros Designs. Every pretty offering spoke to me.
I wanted that pair of Vintage Valentine Red Freshwater Pearl and Antique Brass Drop Earrings! And the Mixed Metal Petal hoops. And that sweet, pretty Ocean Droplet Pearl Seafoam Necklace. I needed them. They needed me! And so I ordered, and just two days later, the little box of boxes arrived on my doorstep. I tore into it.
The joy of a simple blue bow. There they were—a collection of pretty little chocolate brown jewelry boxes, each with simple, gorgeous, happy blue bows. And suddenly my shopping spree (oh, the guilt!) became a wonderful indulgence (presents for me!)
Inside, the pretty treasures were wonderfully cocooned within fold after fold of tissue paper, secured with yet another pretty bow. Analisa Jaros had included a handwritten note, thanking me for my purchase. "That's the difference in handmade," I thought. "There's a human being on the other end of this purchase."
Minding the details. The package from Jaros Designs made me think about the power of an exceptional brand experience. I landed rather randomly on Analisa Jaros' Etsy shop, but in the midst of my freewheeling click click click excursion, something about her merchandise, and its mouthwatering photographic presentation, made me stop. And stay. And buy, even though that night's cyberspace journey was begun with no conscious intention to shop. Analisa's personal touch and attention to the tiniest details brought her Etsy "handcrafted jewelry" brand promise home to me, full circle. I loved buying from an artist who included a personal note and with whom I have now had several pleasant email exchanges.
That, I believe, is a brand experience done right—well defined, differentiating, consistent, relational, and intentional. Nicely done, Jaros Designs.
It’s almost too good to be true: there’s this free, easy thing out there you can use to sprinkle nuggets o’ goodness to the whole wide world, 24/7. A nonprofit’s marketing dream. Until people grab the social media remote and tune you out.
What? Why would anyone who “liked” your organization on Facebook become less than enthralled with your important and worthwhile information?
Here’s a consumer engagement insight that will take you far in life:
ALWAYS let it be their idea.
In other words, avoid pontificating about your nonprofit and the work it is doing in general. This is the equivalent of “superlative-based advertising” in traditional media forms that we in the industry have bemoaned for years. That is not to say you can’t get a great message out about your nonprofit, however. It’s a style issue.
Here are some examples:
Don’t laden Facebook posts with long articles that highlight your cause.
Do post one compelling fact and ask for additional data or insight from your followers.
Don’t brag on your staff members for something great they did today.
Do send a shout out to other colleagues in your sector for a job well done.
Don’t bombard followers with organizational diatribes.
Do share inspiring stories about real people your organization has helped.
Don’t cram your blog down their throats.
Do invite them to contribute.
So put your point of view in reverse and think about what really, honestly appeals to the kinds of folks you want to build a relationship with through social media networks. It’s all about them and their world, not yours.
It’s easy, as a nonprofit leader, to expect your organization’s cause to market itself. To you, your cause is the most important one in the world. You work for it passionately every day because you believe it addresses an urgent need in today’s society.
Your audience, however, requires some convincing.
When someone encounters your nonprofit brand for the first time, they do so as a blank slate. In that moment, you must give them enough compelling evidence to get them to take one small action that will connect them to your cause. If they find no personal incentive to act, they will disengage and seek fulfillment elsewhere. Your message must be clear, swift and meaningful to them.
Once you’ve captured a supporter’s initial attention, it’s incumbent upon you to listen generously to what they’re saying and how they’re behaving. In taking cues from them, you can respond with opportunities for engagement that will bring your supporters closer to your nonprofit in the long run.
Commoditization: it’s a force many commercial brands combat today, none maybe more so than financial institutions. With free checking, cheap trades and omnipresent ATM’s the norm among our nation’s banks and brokers, it is becoming difficult to differentiate between them.
While we may not like to believe it, commoditization threatens the nonprofit world as well. Many organizations target similar causes, and with limited budgets, their offerings can begin to look the same.
Nonprofits must borrow from the for-profit sector for solutions to the threat of commoditization. How do today’s best banks distinguish themselves? They successfully position their brand in an unmet niche. Citi demonstrates an understanding that your life is about much more than money. Regions focuses purely on personal banking. Ally offers creative opportunities for your traditional bank account to grow.
Similarly, if a nonprofit can find a distinctive, truthful and brave branding position — and communicate it effectively — it can begin to establish its own niche and separate itself from the lookalike organizations that compete for the same funding.