November 19, 2016
I was recently part of a small group offering advice and counsel to a young nonprofit trying to improve its visibility and develop new sources of financial support, as a large grant that has carried them will be expiring.
Here’s a summary of my advice to them:
- Broaden the population you serve. That means more stakeholders, and more people motivated to tell your story.
- Seek media coverage.
- Create tools top tell your story — articles, white papers, audio podcasts, short videos, etc.
- Become a thought leader. Offer authoritative opinions, clear professional advice, quotable quotes that the media can use.
- Encourage other thought leaders to use and recommend your program. They will then help tell your story.
- It will be hard for your program staff to focus on such public relations work at the same time that they are passionately involved in program activity. Seek earmarked funds to hire a full time (or maybe part time) professional publicist.
When asked what should be included in an Executive Director’s report to the board, I responded with this model of “OARS” to help the board be aware of the steering environment:
- O = Opportunities . . . that the organization can (and perhaps should) pursue
- A = Accomplishments . . . both little and big successes
- R = Risk factors . . . things that look like they might go wrong, including action taken to mitigate these.
- S = Surprises . . . that the ED encountered. Yes — even in a well run organization, with very professional staff, there are surprises
This model was inspired by the “Significant events” report I had file each week when I was a mid-level manager at General Electric. Each of my staff had to write such a report to me, and I distilled and condensed these, along with my own list, in my report to senior management. Our “significant events” were named differently, but functioned in the same way to alert our managers about situations that would likely develop — either into more mature problems, or into inspiring successes.
The underlying value here is truth telling. I knew it was easy for my staff to report great successes, or opportunities that seemed to be developing. It was much harder to report those out of control situations that could get worse, those stakeholders whose dismay was escalating, those situations that seemed only to work against us. But my job was to know of such situations, and to organize appropriate responses. Were I kept in the dark, I couldn’t really do my job.
October 27, 2013
I’d offer these thoughts:
1. Few nonprofits engage in a real conversation with the donor. Ask me to support your group, when my funds feel slim, and I might resist. But ask me which of your programs excites me most, I’d be inclined to think some, perhaps review your web site or reports to see what your group is doing, and give something.
2. Donors need permission to give less. This may seem counter-intuitive, when your group needs more rather than less. But the message is that giving less still makes a difference. Many donors will postpone any donation, rather than give less than they gave last year. Getting them to give something brings in some funds, and keeps donors active.
3. You can present your appeal as a request for funds . . . or as an opportunity to make a difference (by supporting your group). That positive slant may be more effective.
4. Tell it like it is. I’ve NEVER gotten an appeal that said, “We spend $34.25 to get you included in our donor community . . . hope that money will not be spent in vain”. (I’m not sure what the cost per donor is, and the figure you use may reflect cost of getting donors in a particular giving bracket.)
5. You may just not be telling your story in ways that are vivid, compelling, and encouraging. I’ve been running workshops helping nonprofits find and tell their story. If you’re not sharing great stories with your donors, they may not feel motivated to give (even though they may have been loyal supporters for years).