Category Archives: Nonprofit Management

Two Left Feet

Have you ever felt like the answer to one of life’s great problems was on the tip of your tongue? Like, if you could just articulate an issue things might be resolved? Lately I’ve been feeling a bit mopey, which has primarily manifested itself through my complete saturation in the blog-o-sphere. And, since I’m an udder nerd, my primary focus has centered around non-profit blogs.  Imagine my elation when I came across this post.  Too lazy to click? It’s called “Dancing the Marketing-Fundraising Tango” and illuminates how connected development and marketing tactics can be.

Now, you’re probably thinking… “who the F cares?”.  Most people probably don’t, but for me it was one of those tip-of-the-tongue type answers – something that I’ve probably known all along, but just needed to hear from someone else’s mouth (or blog).  You see, I’ve been thinking about life and what the hell I’m doing with mine.  My current career (if we can call it that) is in development, but I constantly feel myself being pulled toward marketing.  What good is my fabulous new membership program if no one is aware of it? Who is going to donate to our annual fund without knowing the things we’ve accomplished this year? Which of our sponsors will donate again if they haven’t been appropriately (and publicly) recognized?

The disconnect between fundraising and marketing at my work shouldn’t be so great – I actually sit so close to our marketing person that it often feels like we’re tripping over each other to get things done.  But in the odd space-time continuum that is our universe, I realized the vast void between us when she asked me the other day what the annual appeal was.   Umm…you know…only our largest fundraising campaign of the year.  How should she have known that? And how could she promote something she didn’t really understand?  Thankfully, it’s exactly that continuum where our answer can be found – as this 2nd post on claxon tells me, marketing and fundraising are just two ends of the same stick, two forms of the same dance (ah ha!).  Whether you’re focused more on marketing or fundraising really just depends on if you’re broadcasting information to groups or tailoring a personalized message for individuals….or something in between.  Maybe my next job will be in funketing (or markraising?)…whatever that middle ground is called.

So, my Ah Ha moment was simple.  My fundraising job is sometimes a marketing job.  Now, I just have to find ways for me and my colleagues to help each other depending on where on the spectrum our efforts lie.  Once we figure that out, I’ll be dancin’ in the street!



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I really don’t know how many tips and tricks for nonprofit outreach I’ve read, but pretty much all of them beg you to stop using text emails.  I am here to beg you, again.  Yes, it might cost you a little bit of money to pay for an email marketing service.  I recently signed up with because they are offering a free basic service for lists under 1,000 (you can send up to 6,000 individual emails with the account).  Not too shabby.

As you probably know, there are many reasons to use an email service that go beyond pure aesthetics.  For one, you can track how people use your email – do they forward it, click on links…are they even opening it?  With MailChimp (and probably other providers as well), you can  see who opened your email and what they were interested in.  In fact, you can see how many times they opened the email – and, if they have any sort of avatar, you might even see their picture and location.

Do you really need another reason to invest in an email marketing provider?

I hope I’m painting an idea for you…some way where your impersonal email account allows you to make personal connections with people on your list.  Say you notice someone always clicking on links to volunteer opportunities, but they never show up to your regularly scheduled work days – maybe you should reach out to them personally and see what barriers are preventing them from coming.  Or maybe you’d notice that your board members aren’t opening your emails – probably time to talk to them about how they prefer to receive information about events.  Novel idea, eh?

Ok.  You got the point.  I’m going to assume you already use something like Constant Contact, Email Now, or Mail Chimp.  If you’re not, just know that I stopped listening.  I won’t be opening your emails anymore, and it doesn’t matter how loud you shout.

Painful in my inbox.

Want to take your email marketing to the next level? Check out Network for Good’s Email Fundraising Guide.

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The Difference Marketing Makes

As most of you probably know, October 23rd was Make A Difference Day – the largest day of service in our grand ol’ country.  Let’s think for a minute…there is MLK Day in January, National Volunteer Week in April, the National Day of Service and Remembrance on September 11th, and quite a few other service days or weeks that are recognized throughout the year.  So, what exactly is it that makes Make A Difference Day so great? In my humble opinion…Marketing.

Marketing, huh? That’s right – MADD, as I’ll call it from now on, is sponsored by USA Weekend Magazine.  Yup, that little insert in your Sunday paper (if you still get one) that’s always mixed in with the coupons, ads, and comics is actually helping to drive more than 3 million volunteers to serve their communities on the third Saturday in October.  And, not only are people serving, they are also sharing their story of service through video, photos, and more!

On MADD 2010, I was one of those people – I spent the day travelling around with my new friend (and AmeriCorps member) C.  We had a video camera and captured volunteers doing step-one weatherization in local homes.  Part of me felt a little guilty, like here it was, MADD and all I was doing was dropping into homes and talking to people (well, I also managed to score some quality Halloween candy).  It was nothing like last year when K. and I were stepping over cat poo to measure windows or getting spray foam all over ourselves.  Was I really doing anything of use, let alone making a difference?

The video isn’t done yet, but I’ll just go ahead and say YES.  Plus, there must be value in people taking a minute to describe what they are doing and why (that whole reflection thing).   Which I suppose gets me to my point – in your every day work volunteering or managing volunteers, or whatever it is you do…take a minute to capture the moment and share it!  Your organization’s ability to broadcast its mission has a huge impact on how well you engage volunteers and donors.

Here are a few basic tips and tools for making sure your organization is sharing its story:

– Sign up for and ask your current supporters for reviews.  The stories they share will appear on the site, but will also be tied to your GuideStar account (hopefully you have one) where many informed donors research 501(c)3s.

– Apply for’s Nonprofit Program so your organization can tie donation buttons to videos of your most recent project

– Don’t have videos of things your organization is doing? Consider connecting with a local university’s media department for a service learning project.  Or, get in touch with community television in your area.  Here in Portland, Maine we have a wonderful resource in CTN5 – they even made an annual appeal video for my organization.  Shameless plug HERE.

– Ask for free advertising from local papers and radio stations.

-And of course, use social media, blogs and other online tools like email marketing in a way that works for your cause…find the format that reaches new audiences without over-stretching your time and money.

How is your organization getting the word out about the great work it does? Share it here!

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When I Hip, You Hip, We Hip

Recently, I received an email from a good friend in reference to the Maine Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (MCLU). Here’s the gist of it:

The MCLU has a solid group of traditional, white-collar members over 30 who are active in the organization.  They want to attract a younger crowd, blue collar workers, and people within the arts community.   What are some ideas for outreach events that’ll help make some inroads into those communities, or at least educate those communities about the basics of civil liberties, why they’re important, why they’re taken for granted, why they’re violated more than people think, how the MCLU is working to protect them, etc?

I don’t think the MCLU’s situation is unique – they have their core group, but want to increase their breadth.

Here are the things I suggested.  I hope they’ll be relevant beyond this particular case, so feel free to post your own ideas.

– Start by thinking about why your organization wants to engage a different demographic.  Without a clear goal, it is difficult to be effective.  Most organizations struggle with engaging the under 30 crowd, partially because young people aren’t really at a place in their lives where they can be committed to an organization.  At the same time, there are many young people who are super-committed to service and engagement and would love to be involved – they just need to be asked/informed.

– Look at your current outreach.  The MCLU happened to have no current events and no volunteer opportunities listed on their website (it’s in the works).  You can’t expect people to read your mind, so tell them how they can be involved. Same thing with social networking sites – keep them relevant and up to date.

– Start with the easy things.  Here in Maine, there are many outreach fairs offered by local businesses and events.  A lot of non-profits and advocacy organizations have tables at the farmer’s market on a weekly basis to promote their cause.  If you have an outreach table, make sure you give people the opportunity to take action right there – at minimum this would be signing up for an email list, but you could have a petition or postcards to send friends about a particular relevant issue or event.

– Look at what chapters are doing in other states.  The Colorado Chapter of the ACLU provided a great model as they have a number of upcoming events that could easily be replicated by the chapter in Maine – things like a 5k run with a festival are easy to do because you can start small and grow every year.  Colorado’s festival includes a GraFREEti wall, which is a great way to incorporate art into the event.

– Partner with existing organizations, but *use caution*.  Partnering with other organizations for an event can be difficult – you don’t want to spend too much time collaborating only to present a diluted message of what your organization does.  Try to find a partner that compliments rather than competes with your mission.  If you bring in partners that aren’t directly related to your organization’s activities, you should have a good reason for the partnership other than sharing the costs of an event.

– Bring someone from your targeted audience into your core by making them a board or committee member.  Obviously, you want them to have other credentials, but be willing to work with them even if they don’t have the traditional skills of your typical core member.

Sometimes organizations spend too much time thinking about how to attract the “hip” crowd.  My most important suggestion is this: if you’ve got a good thing, don’t mess with it. If you bend over backwards to involve a more diverse group of supporters, you’re probably sacrificing something. Focus on your strengths – if you do them well (and put some effort into promotion), you’ll be attractive without a whole bunch of fanfare.

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Walk Like an Egyptian

On a recent conference call for AmeriCorps Alums, I was introduced to a new idea that’s been helpful for me to think about building our local chapter.  W., who was running the call, mentioned the concept of a “Pyramid of Involvement”.  You can probably infer what it means from the name, but the basic idea is that in every organization, there is going to be a small, committed group of people that form the core of the organization.  This core is the group that comes to most events, helps with planning, probably is willing to donate money, and feels a strong connection to the organization.

There are a few different models for this pyramid – some focus on organizational structure while others focus on level of engagement. Wiser Earth, and Groundwire’s concepts (here) are two of my favorites.  Groundwire offers the model that I find most useful, as it breaks each level down to talk about goals and metrics with examples of what a participant in your organization might be willing to do, depending on how engaged they are.

So, how can you use the engagement pyramid to build your organization? First of all, accept that there will only be a small group at the top – make sure you’re finding ways to reward them and acknowledge their contributions.  This group should also rotate  – whether it is a formal board or a leadership group, the same person should not always be in charge.  Give others a chance to be leaders.  The lower levels of engagement provide a range of ways to activate someone’s interest in your organization.  Some people will never go beyond simple things like “liking” your facebook page.  Others want to have a dialogue, and the value of “touch points” or human interaction is invaluable for keeping them involved.

Now, the pyramid looks great – it’s a neat and tidy way to think about interactions, but is it really useful?  Guess I’ll have to try it out and let you know for sure, but my first thoughts are that it is a great way to start conceptualizing and brainstorming (or revamping) your outreach strategies in conjunction with development strategies and volunteer recruitment/retention.  If you can get someone to volunteer and then be a donor, you know they are moving up the ladder.  But, do you then push them to be a board member? How do you know what their upper level of involvement is? I’m guessing there are times where you’d also see slippage on the ladder – a burned out board president who only reads your e-newsletter….are there ways to change that?  The other point I see is that the ladder may help you focus your energy by putting energy into those groups that will give you the best response.  Because sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get everyone in your organization to walk like an Egyptian (or think like one).  At least we still have the Bangles.

[Ay oh whey oh, ay oh whey oh]

Pyramid of Involvement

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A short list

So, I’ve been slacking a bit lately, but check out my guest blog on–-a-collection-of-trends-related-to-the-third-sector

More soon, I promise!

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