Wednesday, August 8, 2012

One idea to change the world?

What would you do if your charity had a great idea and wanted to tell the world about it?

On the face of it, that's a daunting challenge. There is so much competition. There must be tens of thousands of non-profits large and small out there. They spend millions of dollars to promote themselves. And there must be a million ideas already at work. The world is a big place. How could  one charity speak to the entire planet without spending a fortune?

Many would think this would be an impossible task.

Enter a small, UK-based international charity called Aleevee8. They have a radically new idea about how to fight poverty in the Developing World. They want to use eco-tourism to help local communities in mountain areas like Nepal. Right now, local mountain people don't really benefit from tourism. The tour guides come from away and they bring their own equipment and food. All that tourists leave is their garbage. Aleevee8 has a plan to develop a series of locally-owned and operated eco-lodges that would pump money into the community. It would be a hand-up, not a hand-out. Great idea. 

How is Aleevee8 going to tell the world about this? They've created an impressive social media machine, mostly using volunteers and supporters from around the world. Their first video was released August 8th and it's perfect. Short, simple, entertaining and right on message. 

And they're planning a special launch in October that will really knock your socks off. I've had a sneak peek at what they're planning. And as non-profit marketing goes, it's brilliant.

Want to know how one charity can sell their idea to the world. Keep watching Aleevee8. I will.

Here's where you can find them:

And if you can help, please use your social media to spread the word. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Broken Clock is right twice a day

Picture two charities. One has a really bad Facebook page and even worse Twitter feed. The other has no social media. Which is better?

This surprisingly is the issue that a number of smaller charities are struggling with. They know that social media is important, but they hesitate to commit to it. The stumbling block is usually the time that it takes to make social media work. The reasons are many.

Some have practically no communications to begin with. To them, social media represents a major change. Entering this realm means that for the first time they need to ask some tough questions about themselves and their stakeholders. They suddenly need key messages and content, where before they did not. They need to start thinking about “selling themselves”, which is something they’ve avoided for one reason or another. And most important for this change, they need to invest more time and money in communicating. It’s no secret that many smaller charities run with very lean staffs or by using primarily volunteers. Up until now, communicating has just not been a priority for resources.

Others have some kind of communications capability, but realize that it is not enough to do an effective job on social media. These are the charities that perhaps have a communications coordinator or a committee of volunteers who produce things like a quarterly print newsletter, media releases and some static web content. But social media is more demanding. They realize that while it is mostly free, it can be very labour intensive. Someone has to post to Facebook and Twitter and manage the YouTube Channel. Here, the main challenge is not the mechanics of setting up social media, but understand what they should do with it. The communications they have mastered in the past were easy-to-understand and have become so commonplace that almost anyone knew how to do them. In contrast, their understand of social media is very limited. Social media is a blank slate and they have no idea what to write in that space.

All of these charities know what you and I know. Most social media is in fact boring. Even worse, much of it is out-of-date – the kiss of death to anyone wanting to connect with any kind of social media. Go to any small charity’s Facebook page and you’ll see many have gaps of weeks and even months between postings. They know that is wrong, and yet they cannot or will not see a way to overcome this.

So the dilemma they face is should they invest in social media knowing that they will do a miserable job of it, or should they not do social media at all. I know many charities that have agonized over this.

I’m a non-profit marketing consultant and I often get this question. I tell my clients that there is an answer.

I call it the broken clock. Picture a clock that has its hands stuck at 12 Noon. The clock is not very effective. People cannot tell the exact time by looking at it. And yet, it does serve as a point of reference. People will talk about it. At least twice a day it does tell the exact time. So, having the clock is better than having no clock at all.

The same is true with social media. It has become the standard for communications. It is expected by stakeholders, many of whom find social media essential for the daily lives. It is connected to a host of other communications channels. It literally is the key to a world of opportunities. And it is growing. There are still pockets of people who do not use social media and never will, but there are fewer of them every day. We all know where social media is leading us.

As well, there are new ways to do social media that can automate some of the process. You don’t have to go to a dozen social media sites to post things, a dashboard can do that for you.

And while many charities don’t have people with social media skills, the good news is that learning how to use social media is relatively easy. It really just takes time.

That brings us back to our question. Is it better to have really bad social media or no social media? The right choice is to do social media the best you can, even if your effort pales in the face of others. No matter how terrible you think your content is it is better than having nothing. You will find that social media, good or bad, will yield more results.

So, hold your nose and start investing resources in social media.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Magic Bullet

I know a secret. It can make a lot of money. It can radically transform your non-profit communications. The results are absolutely amazing. And it’s so simple anyone can do it. It’s the magic bullet you’ve been waiting for.

Before I tell you what it is, let’s look at why non-profits are so interested in magic bullets. There is a hunger out there for the simple, single solution that will do it all. That’s why so many agencies are pushing things like social media and fancy logos. Their magic bullets range from Facebook and Pinterest to Twitter to online advertising to shiny new brands. Their ads and their sales people claim they have the solution that will change everything.

The reason why these pitches are appealing is because non-profits realize that things are changing. They can see that marketing and communications is being transformed by the new online reality. They are afraid they will be left behind if they don’t act. And the great thing about some of the magic bullets that are being pushed on them is that they are easy to start. They can take action immediately, and that sometimes makes it appear that the challenge is being addressed.

But the truth of the matter is that most non-profits don’t know what they are doing. Many have ignored their marketing and communications for a long time. They’ve hired coordinators instead of managers to run it. They’ve underfunded it. They’ve not demanded results and many don’t even measure the impact of their efforts at all. The level of their sophistication is quite low. When you don’t know anything about personal finance, a pyramid scheme looks inviting. When you don’t know much about health, snake-oil seems like a sure-fire cure. So, when you don’t know anything about marketing and communications, the social-media-can-make-you-millions pitch looks equally inviting.

It all boils down to want non-profit leaders think about marketing and communications. They see it as about tools, not strategies. They see it as a today issue, not a tomorrow one. They see the problem as a handyman would see a broken stair on the back porch. They assemble the hammer, the nails, the screwdriver and the replacement wood and they get to work tinkering with it until something is resolved. They don’t think whether the stair is the symptom of a more serious problem of rotting wood. They didn’t think to put ongoing maintenance into the porch before the stair came loose. And they don’t think that maybe they need an entirely new porch. They see a problem and they react without much thought at all. And that’s the problem.

So, when these leaders see social media they see a get-rich-quick solution instead of a new, vibrant communications channel. The results speak for themselves. They pour time and money into Facebook without a lot to show for it.

And that brings us back to my magic bullet.

Is it a new way to do social media? Is it a new website? Is it a new smart phone app?


My magic bullet is called a long-term strategic commitment to creating the best possible non-profit marketing and communication.

It will make you money.

It will transform your organization.

The results will be amazing.

Yes, anyone can do it.

The only difference between my magic bullet and all the rest is that mine will take time and effort, and there’s won’t.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Picture this. You have done a good job driving stakeholders or donors to your charity’s website. Maybe you used some cheeky advertising. Maybe you were lucky and got some positive press about your organization. Or maybe you did it all through social media. Whatever you did, you did it well, because people are coming in droves.

So, the job is done. Time to sit back, relax and enjoy the fruits of victory. A great accomplishment.

But here’s where the victory turns into the defeat.

You spent so much time seeking and finding that you didn’t give a thought about retention. And so, the avalanche of people that you attracted to your website come, see nothing of interest and then leave AND NEVER COME BACK.

In my experience, this is an all-to-common problem with non-profit marketing. I know of many organizations, large and small, who have spent a great deal of time and treasure on getting people to their website only to lose them once they get there. When that happens all the seeking and finding, and the resources that went into it, become worthless. Not only is it not a victory, it is in fact a crushing defeat.

It’s like throwing a party at your house. You may be amazingly clever and creative in getting out your invitations. People may call or email to RSVP. But if they come, stay for one minute, make excuses and then leave it’s not much of a party, is it?

The lesson is that to be successful, you need to keep the stakeholders and donors you capture in your marketing. This is called conversion. It’s a term used widely in marketing, especially in for-profits. Basically, conversion is a planned process to convert a stranger into a customer over a period of time. For-profits think of customers in terms of their lifecycle. They plan how to take them from one stage to another until they are loyal customers. It is not always easy, but they have a process to make it work. And when it does, it delivers incredible value. Without conversion, an organization needs to go out again and again to attract the same kinds of people. With conversion, it can capture a portion of those people, turn them into customers and keep marketing to them at a fraction of the price. Converting strangers into stakeholders and donors will in fact save you money, time and effort.

The process of conversion can be as complicated as you want it to be. For most non-profits, it should be simple. I’d recommend that they drive people to an e-newsletter sign up or a social media connection. You’re looking for something where they take a deliberate step to keep connected to you and a platform that can both identify who they are and allow you to keep sending them information.  

One key ingredient in conversion is content, and this is why social media or e-newsletters by themselves will not solve the problem. There needs to be a clear and compelling reason for people to connect to you. If there isn’t one, all the social media links and e-newsletter sign-ups won’t work. You have to create something of value that they want. In other words, the same creativity you put into seeking and finding is required to make conversion work. Think it through. Do some research. But find a reason why they should keep connected to you and use it.

The result will be a captive audience that you can communicate with easily, quickly and cheaply.

And that is a great victory.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Waste not want not

The debate about how much charities spend on overhead has been ranging for many years. On one hand, you have the public and a number of crusaders who are worried that too much of their donations are going into the charity’s pocket instead of helping change the world. And on the other side, you have a number of gurus and charity leaders who say that artificial limits on spending are unreasonable.

I was siding with the gurus and charity leaders until last week when I had to give a talk to a non-profit. I was giving examples of the differences between my competitors and my consulting company. To prove that I delivered better return on investment because I specialize in non-profits I did some research. I went back in my mind to look at non-profit marketing examples I knew and went online to search some more. After compiling everything and looking it over I realized that perhaps I was wrong. Maybe, the people who say charities spend too much on overhead have a point.

I can only speak to marketing, not all the other functions of a charity. But even on this narrow field I found many examples of waste, including poor planning, bad strategy, terrible execution and more. And we’re not talking about small mistakes only. There were some rather large, costly ones, too. I had to admit that a lot of what goes on in the name of non-profit marketing is often wasteful. Donor money did go down the drain in a lot of these examples.

Often times, the reason for the waste had a lot to do with a poor understanding of modern marketing. I saw a charity spend money on advertising without including any contact information. Dumb. I saw another build a website that could not be measured – they didn’t know who went there or why. That’s bad. I saw another charity create a fantastic social media platform with lots of nice videos and glitz but failed to promote it. Hardly anyone went there, but it did look nice. A failing grade. And I know one charity that made an expensive video, that went on and on and on for about 60 minutes. Anyone who tried to watch it would be dead from boredom if they tried to see the whole thing. Yech.

Let’s face it. Non-profit marketing and communications suffers from lots of problems. It’s dominated by people who often have experience, but poor strategic skills and knowledge. It’s no wonder they make mistakes. I blame non-profit leaders more than their communications people. Communicating is often an unloved child. No one want wants it until they really, really need it. It is consistently underfunded, and is usually the first place cuts are made. Worse, there’s a trend towards downgrading communications positions to the lowest possible level. So, they have no managers, only coordinators. The non-profit saves on salary, but gets less in return. Big surprise, that often results in waste, too.

To be fair, non-profits aren’t the only ones to waste money on failed marketing and communications strategies. Small business and even big business does, too. The difference is that we expect businesses to spend lots of money on marketing, but not charities. So, when a charity does screw up, it looks much, much worse than when a small business makes a mistake.

The answer to this, however, is not to spend any money on marketing and communications. That would be a mistake. The answer is to try and get non-profits, and especially their leaders, to start spending wisely. This will take education and time.

So, before we write off criticism of how non-profits spend their money let’s admit that sometimes this is true. And, let’s try and get everyone working to try and improve marketing.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Advocacy sells

There’s a cheap, efficient way for your non-profit’s  to reach more people than you are now while at the same time giving you a higher profile and positioning you as the leader among other similar charities.

What is it? Advocacy.

One of the key things that separates for-profits from non-profits is their ability to speak out on public issues. A charity can contribute to a public discussion on a given topic where a retailer cannot. Our society recognizes that not-profits have a bully pulpit. When they speak, they are seen as selfless advocates. So, built in to almost every charity is the inherent right to advocate.

At the same time, there is also a demand for advocacy. If you look carefully at the world of buzz you will see that many non-profits get the most positive attention from the media, politicians, stakeholders and the public when they advocate on their key issues. When a cancer charity announces a big donation, they get zip. When they publish a report on a critical lack of cancer services in their area, they get attention.

As a communications tactic, advocacy has many advantages. Reports, studies, articles, conferences, even one-to-one – there are many ways of advocating. And the threshold for starting an advocacy program are low. It doesn’t take much to point a finger at a key issue. Most times, what is really needed is packaging the advocacy – the issue explains itself. Anyone in the organization can do it. It doesn’t require special skills. Often times, all that it takes to lead an advocacy project is drive and commitment to the non-profit’s mission. It is also the perfect tactic to flow across all communications channels and is an excellent content filler.

In fact, most non-profits already advocate to one degree or another, they just don’t do so publically. Their efforts are often too subtle to have much communications value. But it wouldn’t take much to elevate that to something more.

The jewel in the crown of advocacy is that effect it has on the not-profit’s brand. The more you advocate, the more people recognize you as the leader, the authority on your given issue. So, when you advocate, you are reinforcing the best qualities of your brand.

It also has a positive impact on fundraising. Donors are hungry to do good, but sometimes the donation options they have are lacklustre, especially when they give to things that have no face such as pieces of equipment or scholarships for students they will never see. Advocacy has a real immediacy that quickly and efficiently illustrates the need for fundraising like no other marketing vehicle. An university could easily ask for donations for their bursary endowment fund with some success. But it would have more traction if it at the same time published a report that said deserving students were having to turn down admission offers from the university because they couldn’t afford it.

There are limits to advocacy. It has to be real and powerful, and that makes it a tactic that can only be used sparingly. Advocacy for the purposes of marketing can’t happen every day. If it does, the issue will become over-saturated. It is best used once in a while, but with great flourish and emphasis.

Also, while the public will accept advocacy, it will not tolerate partisanship. Society expects charities to be somewhat neutral in their political stance. Too much right or left, and the non-profit will start to sound like a political organization.

As well, many countries have rules about how much lobbying charities can do and still be charities. There may be a ceiling for how much advocacy a charity can do.

Within these limits, advocacy still remains a powerful and useful tactic. Some non-profit leaders feel squeamish about using it because they make these risks out to be more than they appear. There is a way to advocate and not get into trouble. You don’t have to attack the rich to advocate for the poor. You don’t have to blame politicians for the sorry state of mental health services. You don’t have to dump on manufacturers to get your point across about air pollution.

The place to start is with your issue. Think carefully about what your non-profit is trying to achieve and the thing that is preventing a solution. In  the case of poverty, perhaps it is low incomes. For the environment, maybe it is a lack of education. For health care, it could be our eating habits. Find the hot button, and then push it.

Now package your issue into something that will attract attention. Do a study, a survey or even a review of your issue. You’re looking for a key statistic that will turn people’s heads. When you find it, explain it in simple terms and then publish it across as many communications channels as possible – web, email, social media, PR, events and more. Use it as an excuse to go visit people who should be better connected to you, such as politicians, government leaders, leader donors, business leaders and more.

You’ll find that, pound for pound, advocacy is one of the best marketing vehicles for your non-profit.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The New Partnership

Most non-profits have some kind of partnership. They partner with other agencies on delivering some services. They may share certain suppliers. They may have a friendly business or major donor who likes to offer their staff as volunteers or their offices for meetings. These are all common.

But there's a new form of partnerhsip. It's not about buying photocopier toner together in bulk. It's not about collaborating on delivering a program. And it's not about getting a donation or a sponsorship. It's about partnering for communications.

Instead of looking at partners as organizations that can help buy things or deliver services, look at them again as potential communications partners. They could help you create communications programs, and better stilll, they can help you deliver them.

Let's start with the obvious. You can't do it all alone. Your non-profit doesn't have the resources it needs to communicate. None do. You're always a bit short on people, money, time, skills and experience. A partnership with other organizations for communications will give you exactly what you need -- more resources.

Chief among their resources is their distribution network. They will reach different people than you do. In some cases, they may reach more people than you do. Imagine how effective your communications would be if they could send your message through their network to their people? Getting your partner to mention you in their existing newsletter or their big event is a cheap, effective way for you to extend your reach.

But partners also have access to the things that make communications work -- skills, technology and relationships with the media and others. These can be valueable to you as well.

The place to start is to take a long look at the non-profits and for-profits around you. Can some of them fit this role? What about the workplace that gave you a donation? Could they send your message to their clients? What about the non-profit that does similar activities? Could you partner with them on something like advocacy or education?

A partnership has to be mutually beneficial. So, you need to offer something of value to them. Can you give them a higher profile? Can you make their stakeholders feel good because they are helping you? Would you be willing to send the partner's messages to your stakeholders?

The benefit of a strong communications partnership is more than the sum of its parts. One major side benefit is that it shows you are the leader. When you partner with others, you're being proactive. This will give you a higher profile. And in these days where competition is an issue, being seen in this light is very important.

So, start partnering. Look for communications opportunities and take advanatge of them. It will help you, your partners and the community.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New US study shows social media “not quite there yet”

The vast majority of non-profits don’t raise any donations on Facebook. That’s one of the conclusions of a new survey of more than 3,500 non-profits in the US.

The 4th Annual Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report 2012, published by NTEN, Common Knowledge and Blackbaud, found that 98 per cent of non-profits on Facebook do not raise any donations through Facebook. The remaining two per cent reported raising less than $10,000 a year on Facebook. Fourteen per cent raised donations using Twitter and five per cent through YouTube.

At the same, the report found that 93 per cent use social media, and that it is growing fast. Facebook & Twitter communities grew significantly. However, the entry into social media is recent for most non-profits. Nearly half of all respondents said their organization had started using Twitter and YouTube only in the last 12 months. Facebook, in comparison, is the granddaddy of social media. Nearly half of non-profits reported being Facebook users from more than two years.

The study shows that while social media is a powerful communications tool, it has yet to become a major fundraising tool.

For the first time, the study attempted to determine the cost and the benefit of recruiting social media community members. According to the self-reports of non-profits in the study, average cost of a Facebook Like is $3.50 and a Twitter Follower costs $2.05. That means the benchmark for spending to acquire 1,000 new Facebook Likes would be roughly $3,500. The report also found that the average value of a Facebook Like is $214.81 over the 12 months following acquisition.

Many non-profits value social media because it is “free”. However, the time and effort required to create and maintain social media has a real cost.

Overall, only 20 per cent of respondents said social media was “very valuable” to their organizations. The majority, some 61 per cent, said it was “somewhat valuable”. Some 16 per cent said it was not valuable at all.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Find your tapestry

Most non-profit marketing and communications operations are all about threads.

There’s the website. There’s likely some social media – Facebook, Twitter, maybe a few others. There maybe an email newsletter or, if they are really backwards, a print newsletter. There’s events of various kinds, large and small. And there’s media releases on everything from the latest annual report to the big honking donation they just received. All pretty standard stuff. Each of them is a thread.

But a thread, no matter how ambitious it wants to be, cannot be a tapestry. We all know this. Here in Canada, we understand that a dozen superstar hockey players don’t necessarily make a team. In the US, the metaphor is more likely about baseball, and in the UK it could very well be about football (soccer). These marketing threads on their own are nothing compared to the beauty and power of the larger tapestry that they make up.

And yet, too many non-profits don’t understand this. The threads simply don’t work together. The ads don’t relate to the website which doesn’t relate to the Facebook page which doesn’t relate to the Twitter feed which doesn’t relate to the print newsletter and so on. In fact, the only real connection they have is that one acts a direction-finder for the other. So, the website has the Facebook link, but not any real meaningful connection to it – their content is either blissfully separate or just a repeat of the other. There is no give or take, no playing off each other, no pushing and pulling to get the most value out of visiting one or the other.

So, while the threads might appear to be a tapestry because they are physically woven together the picture they create is confused and fractured.

There’s a number of problems with this. The first is obvious. They could be more, perhaps much more, but they aren’t. The second is all about return on investment. Maintaining all these threads is expensive in terms of cost and other resources. Bringing them together into one whole tapestry will make each one more effective and that will likely save money and time.

The likely culprit for all of this is poor communications planning. So many non-profits don’t have a master communications or marketing plan. Many who do just have what amounts to a “menu” of threads and no more. No one has sat down and done the hard thinking required to make all the pieces work with each other. And for some of them, no one ever will.

What I tell my clients is that the biggest challenge they face is coordinating the overall effort. They have to do whatever they can to create the tapestry out of the raw threads with clever ideas and smart planning. Some get it, others don’t.

If you look at your non-profit marketing and see just threads then stop what you are doing and take a step back. If the threads are the how, then content is the what. Assemble you content and chart a course for it to flow across each thread that unites them all into one larger storytelling machine. Give each thread its due, but make sure they reinforce each other. When visitors go to your website they should see something that motivates them to go to see your Facebook page. Your Facebook page should have content that will interest them in your newsletter. And so on. Part of what you are doing is cross-promotion, but part of it is that you are trying to deepen your engagement with visitors.

Threads are nice, but tapestries are better. Take the time to see the big picture and your non-profit marketing will be more than the sum of its parts.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Marketing could be your salvation

There's trouble brewing.

That's what I took away from a presentation by one of Canada's best economists, Don Drummond. A former banker and ex-civil servant, Drummond was the leader of the recent omnibus review of government finances in the Province of Ontario. The Drummond Report, like many others in many other jurisdictions in Canada, the US and the UK, tells pretty much the same story. Governments are awash in red ink. Economic growth is slowing. The answer is to cut spending. A lot of spending. Drummond says that when it comes to making the world a better place governments will increasingly only do the minimum. The rest of it is pretty much up to communities to figure out for themselves. And things will not get a heck of a lot better for some time.

In short, we’re on our own.

This is not new. We’ve seen this message play out in the UK with the Big Society. In the US, many state governments have said the same. Government is becoming less and less of a player in our work. More precise, government funding will be an uneven and challenging way to pay the bills for many non-profits in the foreseeable future.

The knee-jerk answer for many non-profits is to simply slash and burn. The first target is usually marketing and communications. Hold spending and cut jobs, many non-profit leaders will say. But this is exactly the wrong thing to do.

In this new environment one thing will separate winners from losers – results.

The non-profit that can show it does the best job will win. But there’s a catch. How do you show success?

Here’s where marketing and communications comes in. Success has to be public. If your non-profit tells its success story to three government mandarins than you will surely fail. You need the politicians to know. And your stakeholders. And the entire community. The one who is the tells the most people how successful they are will survive. To do that they will need the best communications possible. And you can’t do that if you just laid off your communications people.

There’s more. Most non-profits I know have poor communications to start with. They don’t connect well with their stakeholders and they rarely connect with the community. So, keeping the status quo for them isn’t an option. More of this kind of communicating won’t save them.

So, what needs to happen is an investment in new communications. Don’t blow the budget on ads or fancy new logos. Just get a plan together that tells your story and then figure out a way to go and tell everybody as cheaply and effectively as you can.

In these troubled times, non-profits have to communicate more, not less.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New For Us

I’ve been basking in the glow of my new eBook, The Revolution, for a few weeks. Surprisingly, the one big question that has come out of the book launch is whether anything in it is actually “new”. My answer is that it is “New For Us”.

The free mini-book has now been downloaded 600 times. Thanks to the people who pointed out all the typos. I’ve had lots of feedback, most of it positive. The more critical thinkers among my many readers have pointed out to me. and now through this blog to you. that there is nothing novel in the book. Everything that it says has been said before. After thinking about it, I have decided that they are right.

It is more than true that the message of The Revolution is not new. However, it is also true that the acceptance of the message has not been universal.

If you are an web guru or deep marketing thinker than this is all old hat for you. The death of advertising, the fractured media landscape, the mounting cost of “free publicity” and the dearth of strategy in favour of tactics – these will all be familiar.

But most of us in the non-profit world are not gurus or deep thinkers. We toil in the trenches of community service, health care, education and international development. We know the world has changed, but we aren’t sure how. For us, we know less than what these gurus forget in a single day.

Worse, there was no one place where all these ideas live. I have read dozens of books, attended many webinars and viewed too many blogs that carried these messages. What seemed to be missing was a single, easy-to-understand narrative designed just for non-profits.

Finally, the hard truth is that too many non-profits just don’t get it. I know too many charities who have foolishly wasted their money on old strategies and tactics that have no hope of doing anything except spending money they don’t have. And they don’t even know that they’re using out-of-date communications.

So, this isn’t new and yet it is.

And because of that The Revolution has done its job.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

“The Revolution” rewrites the book on non-profit marketing & communications

A new e-book is promising to change the way the non-profit sector looks at marketing and communications. Concise, simple and easy-to-understand, “The Revolution” takes readers on a journey through the transformations that have fundamentally changed how marketing and communications works.

Author and non-profit marketing guru John Suart calls the shift a revolution, and the most important change to impact non-profit communications in more than 100 years. While most people understand that times are changing, Suart says most don’t understand what the change really is.

“The change isn’t just about technology, it’s about how technology has changed who we are and what do. Many people get hung up on how social media has changed the non-profit world. Instead, the key to understand the revolution in non-profit marketing and communications is to understand how social media has changed all of us,” says Suart.

“The Revolution” covers a lot of ground: the death of advertising, the looming battle for the minds of stakeholders and the commoditization of the non-profit world. For the first time in a simple and short book, it puts all the pieces together into one story that will change the way you think about the challenges facing non-profit marketing.

Suart is one of Canada’s foremost experts in non-profit marketing and communications.
Based in both Kingston and Toronto, he is the author of the Non-Profit Marketer Blog, the moderator of the Canadian Non-Profit Marketing Group at Linkedin, a frequent guest blogger at the Guardian Newspaper in London and the creator of NP Humour, the world’s only non-profit comedy website.  He is the author of four other influential non-profit marketing publications:
  • The 2010 Non-Profit Marketing Year-in-Review
  • Page Not Found: Canadian Hospitals & Their Websites
  • The 3% Give or Take Marketing & Communications Budget Benchmark
  • Reforging the Bond – A new approach to Alumni Communications

The Book, normally a $18.00 value, is available FREE for a limited time only at

Friday, January 27, 2012

Nope, you aren't the best

There’s nothing like a snappy slogan. We all love those cute one-liners that touch us on an emotional level. They seem so effortless to say that they appear to be simple to make. One has to remember that making a brand and a slogan isn’t easy…unless you want a really mediocre one.

There’s one major trap in brand and slogan making – the over-promise. Some people wrongly think that the brand should be a dream painted very large. They argue that a big brand has to have a big promise. It has to sound “big” or what good is it?

The problem is that these “big” brands can’t always deliver what they say. They say something too “big”. It can be a promise that cannot be met. Or it can be a promise that doesn’t work all the time – a fair-weather dream.

In my opinion, the classic example of this is Ford. In the 1980s, they come up with “Quality is job 1” to combat Asian imports eating into their market share. They did invest more in quality, hence the slogan. However, quality was still not perfect. And so, for thousands of people who bought a Ford the slogan was a joke. I know one of them. She bought a Ford. In her case, quality was definitely not job one. Her car never ran right. And what happened when she experienced this disconnect between the brand and her reality? She told everyone about it. And so, Ford’s marketing was all for naught with everyone she told.

A quick look around Ontario shows that the over-promise is still alive and well. I recently saw a new brand for a local economic development agency. “The possibilities are endless,” the slick brochure screamed at me. On first glance it didn’t look too bad. That changed when I discovered it was for a town of 6,000 people with lots of brownfield sites, few major industries and limited services. This gave the idea of endless possibilities a new meaning. I guess there’s lots of possibilities when there’s nowhere to go but up.

Another brand for another city caught my eye. “Prepare to be amazed,” it proclaimed on its website. Then I saw that the major employer in the town cut their workforce from 12,000 workers to 3,500 a couple of years back. Amazing indeed. They still use the slogan, though.

And then there was my favourite city brand – “Where you want to live.” It sounds lovely and I’m sure it was intended to make the city it was created for sound more homey and attractive. But the city, which I won’t name, is not in fact the place where people want to live. The last census says it grew at a rate four times LESS than the provincial average.

So, before you go saying your non-profit is the best, is perfect, can do anything and such, think again. Resist the temptation to say you provide the best care or that you are making a better world. You are, but unless you can do that ALL the time, it will come back to haunt you.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Social media not tied to strategy will fail

I love reading the many blogs, emails and social media pages I get each day. My favourite are the "top ten best ways to use social media" I see tjhese all the time. Considering how many people have created or read one of these "top tens" you'd think that there would be no one left in the entire non-profit sector who wasn't a social media genius. Obviously, there are still plenty of non-profits who need help with social media, so what gives?

The problem isn't with social media, it's with the non-profits and, to some extent, the mainstream ad agencies they insist on using. These top ten tips actually make sense and in many cases are very helpful. That's not in question. The real problem is that they are done in isolation. They are done without much thought about strategy. That's why they don't work very well and in some cases fail miserably.

Social media is a tool. It is very powerful, but at the end of the day it is just another tool. In most cases, it is not a strategy. And yet, when people read these top ten lists it sounds like one. Facebook can do this. Twitter can do that. Use both and all your communications problems are solved. These are coupled with the myriad number of success stories where a modest sized charity has become ridiculously successful with social media. It makes it appear that social media alone will carry the weight of a non-profit's communications program. For most non-profits, this just isn't true. Social media needs to be part of the mix and may even need to lead the pack, but it can't do everything all by itself.

The real problem with social media is not creating it. It takes a heartbeat to put up a Facebook page. No, the real challenge is integrating it with the rest of the non-profit's communications. The Facebook page has to work with the website and the print materials and the events. There's usually little in those top ten lists that tells you how to do that. It takes a strategy to make it all work. Too often, charities have no communications strategy and that's why their social media doesn't achieve the miracles that the top ten lists talk about. A tool without a plan is like a road trip without a map. You can drive, but you can't easily get where you want to go.

Your strategy must look at the big picture. Who are you targeting? What is your message? What do you want to achieve? It has to figure out how all the pieces fit together. It also has to work out how the strategy will flow across all the tools in the arsenal. The biggest sin when it comes to social media is to treat it like another news feed. Social media has the power to deliver much deeper relationships with your stakeholders, but that won't happen if you just post shortened versions of your media releases to Facebook. Your strategy needs to work out how social media will do what it does best -- engage and interact with your stakeholders. Creating a strategy will be hard and take time, but it is worth it.

So, before you invest more time and effort into social media take a look at your overall strategy. Do your homework and figure out the big picture. When you do, your social media will work better and achieve greater results.

Monday, January 16, 2012

To the ends of the earth

I had a chat a while back with a non-profit leader who ran a charity that was an organization of organizations. Each of their members represented smaller organizations which in turn had their own local "members". This person couldn't seem to understand why I was suggesting they create a communictaions program that not only reached their members, but also their members's members. "That's not who we communicate with," they said.

Big mistake. The key to non-profit communications is to pursue every potential stakleholder to the ends of the earth and back again.

Their way of thinking is common. It literally is "short-sighted". They see as far as their immediate internal audiences. Everything else is so blurry to them that they lump it all together in one big "external" category.

This particular non-profit had a very common communications challenge. No one knew who they were or what they did, except of course their members. "We can't seem to reach people," they lamented. This was no surprise to me. They were spending time and money trying to communicate to their immediate members and no one else. And yet here was a very large group of allied stakeholders sitting almost at their fingertips. Their member's members were all connected to their organization indirectly. Even better, the non-profit knew who these people were and where to find them. They could double or even triple the reach of their communications program without much more effort by connecting to their member's members. It would make their overall program much more cost effective.

Technically, this non-profit's internal audeince is only their member organizations. That's what their rules and regulations say. That works for mission and vision statements, but not a modern, efficient communications program. The neat categories that this non-profit had made up in their heads didn't reflect the reality of the world they lived in. The local members were as close to being an internal audience as they could possibly be. All that kept them from being part of the internal stakeholder group was an artficial barrier.

Like many organizations, this non-profit relied on their member organizations to deliver the non-profit's message. The non-profit talked to the members and those organizations talked to their members. The member organizations had varying levels of communications infrastructure and the result was an uneven distribution of the message. Some people got it, some didn't. The non-profit didn't realize that they had a stake in how their members did their communicating, and so, much of the message was lost and much of the communications wasted.

To this non-profit, the cure to their problem was advertising. That's how they would reach the public. Imagine how much more money they had to spend because their existing communications couldn't even reach their member's members. And, at the end of the day, when the ads were finished they still had the same problem -- they were ignoring some of the people who were very close to them.

The whole point of communicating is to capture as many people as possible to communicate with and keep on communicating with them. The ultimate goal is to convert as many strangers into friends, which makes the lines between internal and external audiences moot. Every potential stakeholder is a target. None can be ignored. And if you want your communications program to be effficient and powerful you will pursue every person, every group and every organization to convert them. To the ends of the earth if necessary. And back again.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Empty Message

Can you have a message without action?
If you look at a lot of non-profit marketing you’d have to say yes. Many non-profit ads have a strong message, but a weak or non-existent call-to-action. Why?

To understand we need to look at how many of these ads are created. For too many non-profits buying an ad is an exercise devoid of deep thought. Many do not have brands to guide them, and many more have brands that aren’t much more than logos and colour schemes. Many also have no communications or marketing plan to give their advertising structure and purpose. I’ve read many communications plans that read more like budgets and less like a blueprint for communicating. So, the ads are often created in a strategic vacuum.

A second factor is that non-profits often turn to others to make their ads because they don’t have in-house marketing resources. These could be designers, big ad agencies or media outlets who produce cookie-cutter style ads by the thousands. This means the ads are often made by outsiders who invest little in doing the homework about the non-profit and its needs.

A final issue are the communications goals of the non-profit. Often these are poorly defined. They may have a goal like “raise our public profile” but not one that approaches anything like “We want people who hear our message to do X.”

One can begin to see how challenging finding a call-to-action can be. However, for-profits also have a challenge here as well. One reason is that finding a call-to-action is hard. Anyone can put up a website URL or phone number and call that a call-to-action. Making something more than that takes precisely the  kind of thinking that non-profits don’t usually do. With new QR code technology this has become more of an issue. Many for profits put something valuable at the end of a QR code, such as special video or a coupon. Non-profits do this to varying degrees, but many times I have seen QR codes simply lead to their website as if their URL wasn’t enough.

There is another bigger issue to think about as well. If a non-profit puts together an ad with a call-to-action, good or bad, do they have the communications infrastructure to exploit the responses?
What’s the point of the call-to-action is it doesn’t actually result in some form of engagement? But you know as well as I that when some people go to a non-profit in response to an ad they are turned off by what they find. They find content that isn’t very compelling and few things that speak to them. Worse, many non-profits spectacularly fail to capture who these new visitors are in order to turn them from strangers into stakeholders. Visitors are not presented with an email newsletter sign-up or any other way for the non-profit to figure out who they are. And so, the visitors come, see a few pages and leave, never to come back.

All of this makes it obvious to me and I hope to you that creating a call-to-action is important, but takes hard work. However, I firmly believe that taking the time to think through the entire process is very valuable.