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Archive for November, 2009

Creating Change from Spare Change

The various social media (Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, blogs, more) offer lots of ways to build out communications for community benefit (aka nonprofit) organizations. Remember when your group got started? Maybe it’s been around too long for current leaders (staff, board) to remember, but at some point there was something missing in the community. So, this is the USA, and we love to get together to right the wrong or forge the missing link or put on the show. So, we form a nonprofit and apply for tax exempt 501(c)(3) status.
And as our group grows, raising some money, making new friends, fighting the good fight, parameters take hold (federal/state/local law, by-laws, accounting standards, ethics, etc) and calcification sets in.
Of course, we need to play like good boys and girls and obey laws.
But we need to figure out how to keep that innovative, revolutionary spark kindled that was there at the outset. How can we overcome the needs of the bureaucracy to keep things as they are and get those creative juices flowing so we might achieve the impossible?
Here are a few things to keep some forward motion:

  • Commit to reaching out to bring new voices and ideas coming in.
  • Activate the commitment by using Twitter, Facebook, blogging.
  • Keep the rules of the road in mind, but loosen up the reins so there’s a free flow if ideas.

Identify allies on the board of directors who are open to the new. Who know change is the green energy source that helps attract the resources you need to make the mission a reality. Without energy, the mission is dead in the water.

Jordan Viator, writing for Connection Cafe (, quotes Seth Godin, a bright light on social media:

“Take a look at the top 100 twitter users in terms of followers. Remember, this is a free tool, one that people use to focus attention and galvanize action. What? None of them are non-profits. Not one as far as I can tell. Is the work you’re doing not important enough to follow, or is it (and I’m betting it is) paralysis in decision making in the face of change? Is there too much bureaucracy or too much fear to tell a compelling story in a transparent way? …..Where are the big charities, the urgent charities, the famous charities that face such timely needs and are in a hurry to make change? Very few of them have bothered to show up in a big way. The problem is same as the twitter resistance: The internet represents a change. It’s easy to buy more stamps and do more direct mail, scary to use a new technique…Please don’t tell me it’s about a lack of resources. The opportunities online are basically free, and if you don’t have a ton of volunteers happy to help you, then you’re not working on something important enough. The only reason not to turn this over to hordes of crowds eager to help you is that it means giving up total control and bureaucracy. Which is scary because it leads to change.”

So, what do you think? Is this ringing a bell for you?

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If You Got the Money, Honey I got the Time

Nothing vexes nonprofit boards more than fundraising. It’s a never-ending battle, to generate the revenue to get the mission done. Why is this the case? How come there is so much frustration over raising bucks?
True, we’re in some challenging times. Supposedly, we’re emerging from what may be the worst recession since the Great Depression. And we’re learning, daily, that unemployment continues to rise and new job creation lags behind a recovery. How can we deal with this misery and get some energy to raise the money we need to do the work that needs to get done?
Here are just a few tips that come from my days as a fundaising executive with the American Lung Association, including three-time Gold Award winner (in New Hampshire) for fundraising achievement:

  • Tell our story. In our holiday appeal, in our newsletter, on our website let’s tell our story about what we’re doing for our clients. Be sure to make the appeal focused on those we serve, not “poor us.” When we whine about hard times it sounds like we want the $$ for the organization, not for those we benefit with our service. Keep it simple, and ask.
  • Check out our website.  Have information (more stories!) that make the site attractive for return visits both for our clients and our supporters (donors!). Use Flash Player and have video, changing it weekly so there’s fresh new material to bring people back. Post a weekly blog with fresh material on what’s up with the benefit you bring to the community. Is it easy to donate? Are you using PayPal or credit cards?
  • Re-tool event to raise more $$. Events raising under $10,000 should be evaluated for their capacity to raise significant $$. Your development committee needs to formulate a plan that’ll get you step-by-step to the goal you need to reach. All folks connected to you need to engage their networks to help somehow raise appropriate amounts that’ll get you where you need to go. A sound plan well executed will go a long way to getting you there!

There are lots of folks out there looking for organizations like yours doing good work in your community who they want to support. Times may be tight, but particularly at the holiday season most people will find a way to help their community at the same time they do their best to make Christmas merry for family and those nearest and dearest.

It’s do-able!

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The Board Role in Marketing: The Plan and Its Execution

Nonprofit boards of directors can learn and become very helpful in applying principles of marketing to advance the mission of the nonprofit they pledge to support.
The concept of “marketing” is in transition as people gain comfort and experience employing social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook LinkedIn, YouTube, and more). Fortunately, marketing is not rocket science: it’s built on some pretty common sense concepts.
When I write or talk or consult about marketing, I’m thinking about this:
A set of strategies designed to influence behavior of target audiences by preparing beneficial exchanges that will build a relationship between the individual and the organization (Alan Andreasen, Strategic Marketing).
I advise nonprofit organizations to formulate a marketing plan that coincides with the strategic plan. And I advise that the strategic plan be rooted in the primary customer(s) of the nonprofit: the people you serve whether you’re providing education, health care, or a direct human service; or, if you’re an arts organization running a community theater or any creative arts program. When your nonprofit organization is clear on whom you serve (primary customer) and the thing or service you deliver that has value to that customer, and you can measure the impact you’re having, your nonprofit has taken the basic steps in executing a marketing plan.
The Marketing Plan addresses components of the marketing mix and how your nonprofit will apply it. The marketing mix includes Product, Placement, Price, Promotion. If we’re lucky, we have a Marketing and Communication Committee among whose members are professionals who know how to apply the mix to bring maximum benefit to the primary customers, bring recognition and supporting customers (donors!) to the nonprofit, and advise the nonprofit on how to measure results in a low-cost way.
A tool I like to use when training boards in their governance role in marketing is Gary Stern’s booklet, Champions With a Cause: The Nonprofit Board Member’s Role in Marketing (First Nonprofit Education Foundation). Among other things, Gary points out that the board needs to

  • Root all marketing decisions in the mission
  • Develop Governance policies that guide marketing
  • Use care and diligence in developing the nonprofit brand
  • Develop clear marketing roles for board members, collectively and individually

Developing this Marketing Plan will help keep everyone strategically focused and mission focused.

Board members are not always fond of having to do this kind of work. If you have one or two members with professional marketing or communication experience, they can create and reinforce the kind of message you’re reading in this blog. Enlist these volunteers to help lead the effort and coax the kind of behavior out of the board that will put your nonprofit on the map in your community. It’s a challenge to get the energy together to move the board in this direction. Think of these words of Eleanor Roosevelt as you embark on this effort: Do what you feel in your heart is right, for you’ll be criticized anyway. Better to take the “damned if I do” approach. “Damned if I don’t” is the road to nowhere.

Steve Smith is Principal of It’s The Results, LLC, a consulting company focused on board development, strategic planning, fundraising. Learn more at Follow Steve on Twitter @STEVENETWORK. E-mail:

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