Marketing problem solver Nancy Schwartz helps nonprofit organizations hone messages and campaigns to grow loyal relationships with key supporters and spur them to donate, volunteer, and participate. Read Guidance, ideas and models for nonprofit communicators striving to help their organizations succeed through effective marketing.
We all have an incredible resource right in front of us — our colleagues, board, donors, volunteers, and members. Just as you discuss your work and affiliations with your friends, family, and colleagues, these messengers share information on your organization’s focus and programs. With the right training, support, and incentives, this team of messengers can power up, helping you boost donations, program participation, membership, and more.
Unfortunately, most of us look right past them, as we stay
head down tackling our responsibilities in the way we’ve always done so. Or we
can’t get approval from the powers that be, who are afraid to lose control over
how the organization is presented. I urge you to push through these barriers;
it’s worth it.
Just look at how Road Scholar trains and supports its Global Ambassadors to spread the word about its education travel programs to their family and friends. Or how the Alzheimer’s Association of Nebraska recruits, trains, and thanks its Purple Profiles of Courage to motivate others who touch the disease to get the support of the Association. These powerful programs advance both organizations goals (and ultimate impact) in ways no other campaign could. YOUR organization can do the same.
Learn how to ask, train, and support your team in this free webinaron July 23. Registertoday. I’ll walk you through this doable, 4-step process. You’ll finish ready to launch this highly-effective but underutilized approach, and on target to meet your fundraising, program, and impact goals.
1. Design your pilot campaign
Identify best opportunities: Start by putting messengers to work on a current campaign, with a clear deadline and goal
Build a small team most likely to act or have the greatest influence with the people your organization needs to engage.
2. Shape your program: Policies, benchmarks,
tools and training to make it easy for your messengers to do it right
Design clear policies and guidelines
Define benchmarks for success
Create tools and templates
Require hands-on training.
3. Support, thank, and reward your
Boost success via ongoing supports from coaching to a private Facebook group.
Thank and reward your team.
4. Launch, then assess, analyze & modify
pilot impact and analyze return on investment (ROI) — what’s working, what’s
not working, how does the program ROI compare to that of other marketing
program as indicated.
Chances are you
haven’t mobilized your team of messengers yet, much less trained and supported
them to engage your audiences and motivate the actions you want.
Join me to learn how to transform their potential into wins for your
Register now for this free July 23 webinar and I’ll guide you through the practical, productive process building a team of all-organization messengers. You’ll finish ready to launch this highly effective but underutilized approach, and on target to meet your membership, revenue, and impact goals. I can’t wait to show you how!
Are you preparing an important communication? Whether it’s a report to your boss or board, [annual report, or donor thank-you campaign], its success depends a lot on whether people can remember what you said.
Because if they can’t, all the [time] you spent [researching], organizing your thoughts, and crafting your copy, video, or presentation just went down the drain.
The good news is I’ve developed a step-by-step process for shaping a repeatable-retweetable phrase-that-pays. Here it is:
Step 1. Condense Your Main Point into 10 Words or Less
What is a change you want people to make? An action you want them to take? Condense that into a single sentence with a verb to prompt people to take the desired action. Follow Elmore Leonard’s advice and “leave out the parts people skip.” You know it’s perfect when you wouldn’t change a word.
Step 2. Use Word Play to Turn that Sentence into a Phrase-That-Pays
What’s a phrase-that-pays? It’s a crafted one-liner that is repeatable and retweetable. You want it to resonate—”to have extended impact beyond that which is apparent”—and for people to be able to repeat it after hearing it once. …If they can’t repeat it, they didn’t get it. And if they didn’t get it, [they won’t take the action you want.]
Step 3: Put Your Rally Cry Into a Rhythm
In one sentence, what do you want people to do differently? Write it down even it doesn’t sing. See those words as a jigsaw puzzle. Right now, the words probably don’t fit. They may feel awkward or sound clunky.
Start talking out loud and experimenting with synonyms. Try different word combinations. Keep playing with variations until the words fall into place. Your ears will tell you when you’ve found the perfect mix because there will be a rhythm—a cadence—that sounds right.
For example, say, “If you see something, say something.” “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” Feel how easily those words roll off the tongue?
When a phrase is fun to say, people voluntarily share it which takes it viral. This Week Magazine reported that “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” is “one of the most recognized ad campaigns in any industry and has generated billions of dollars in additional revenue.” That’s just one example of why crafting a rhythmic rally cry isn’t petty word-play, it’s a bottom-line pay-off.
Step 4: Use Words That Start with the Same Sound
Have you ever put one of those cardboard insulating sleeves around a hot cup of coffee so you didn’t burn your fingers? Entrepreneur Jay Sorenson saw an opportunity. He knew it’s hard to build a business around an unpronounceable name. So, he played with alliteration, came up with Java Jacket, and cornered the market.
Jay says, “Customers who meant to call our competitors call us instead because they can’t remember our competitors’ name.” Wouldn’t it be nice to have people calling you because they so vividly remember what you said? Increase the likelihood of that happening by using alliteration to craft a name, tagline, [or message] that is music to our ears.
Step 5. Use Rhyme So You’re Remembered Over Time
The U.S. government was concerned about the number of injuries from car accidents. So, they launched a public service campaign to convince people to wear their safety belts. “The original tagline? “Buckle Up for Safety.” Yawn. No one noticed. No one cared. No one changed their behavior.
Back to the drawing board. Second time around, they incorporated rhyme and rhythm and came up with “Click It or Ticket.” That intriguing phrase not only got people’s attention, but compliance also went up and injuries went down.
What does that prove? That a well-crafted phrase-that-pays can change behavior. It might even save lives.
Step 6. Pause and Punch Your Phrase-That-Pays so It POPS
People often race through high-stakes, high-pressure communications. They’re so nervous, they are subconsciously trying to get the presentation over with.
The problem? People can’t remember our content if our words are a blur.
Arthur Levine, editor at Scholastic of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, came up to me at Maui Writers Conference after watching me emcee and said, “Sam, I like the way you speak. You put space around your words.”
When I coach clients, we craft a repeatable, retweetable call-to-action for their big idea.
Then, they rehearse putting space around their words. To prevent “rushing and blushing,” they practice putting a three-beat pause before … and after … important points so people are more likely to absorb them and imprint them.
So, what’s an important communication you’re preparing? What do you want people to remember? What action do you want them to take?
Do you have your pithy, profound one-liner to reinforce that point? … If not, use this process so you’re the one people remember, your [organization is] the one they talk about, and…the one whose words make an enduring difference.
Intrigue Agency founder Sam Horn is on a mission to help people create quality communications that scale their impact for good. Sam and I share a passion for getting attention: In her book Got Your Attention, she reveals what it takes to connect with others clearly and compellingly.
That’s the subject line of this morning’s email from our local Jewish Community Center (JCC), asking for my input on its member survey.
My immediate response was to delete it because it’s all about the JCC’s needs and not about what us members need. At least that’s what the subject line conveys!
Has your organization ever alienated its audiences doing something like this, something totally narcissistic?
Here’s what’s really annoying: The JCC folks do get it right in the first sentence of the email itself: “There is only 1 week left to take our online JCC feedback survey. Please take a few minutes to complete it. Your opinion is extremely important as it helps us focus our improvement efforts on the areas that matter most to our community. We hope to hear from all of you!”
But that’s the only sentence in the entire wordy email that speaks to serving members’ wants and needs. The problem is that most folks won’t even get there because the subject line is so JCC-focused.
Let me say it again—it isn’t about you and your organization. The engagement you crave comes only when you identify, understand, and speak directly to the wants of your target audiences in language they’ll connect with.
If anything, I recommend you over-emphasize your audience focus! My suggestion for a far more effective subject line is this: Pls take 5 minutes to tell us what YOU need. The same request flipped to address member needs. Huge difference!
Eeesh! Those New Year’s resolutions—including the ones we set for marketing and fundraising work—are so hard to keep.
That’s because most marketing resolutions are specific action items (to-dos)—I am going to get this email list cleaned up this month, or I’m going to start posting our available dogs twice daily on Instagram—rather than guiding goals—the real “what we want to achieve.” Then, when things change in the environment in which we work—making those actions irrelevant or too difficult— or there’s no clear framework for assessment and adaptation, our aspirations come to a dead stop. As your marketing resolutions fade, you’re stuck in the same place you’ve been.
Articulate your marketing goals (a.k.a. resolutions) —start with a max of three smart, realistic, and attainable goals for the next six months. If you get pressure to go beyond that timeframe or add goals, push back as hard as you can. Planning too far ahead in this quickly-changing environment is a waste of time and effort. Establishing too many goals is pure self-sabotage.
Outline the specific, tangible benchmarks that will indicate you’re making progress towards these goals. You have to be able to SEE these benchmarks for them to show how you’re doing. Include metrics and other insights such as anecdotes.
Create a nitty-gritty work plan of the actions likely to get you to goals, most likely to get you there, including the frequently-overlooked 1) skills and time required for each task; and 2) who does what.
Monitor your benchmarks on a frequent, ongoing basis and adjust actions accordingly. Even if this means you don’t execute all planned communications, you’ll get better results. Stay accountable to yourself and your colleagues. Action without benchmarking wastes your time and effort.
Dear Nancy: Our last two year-end campaigns were centered around client stories, each powered by a photo or two. We got fantastic feedback on these stories and I planned to feature similar profiles this year.
That plan changed radically last month when our social workers urged us to put our clients’ privacy first and stop using client photos. Our staff has agreed to respect their expertise and honor their request.
What are some practical alternatives I can put to work in these last few weeks? And how do I move forward with client photos in the future, as our stories are far less memorable without them?
Answer: You’re facing a tough situation, but you can still mobilize stories and photos in for year-end (and beyond).
You’re 100% right to rely on stories as a quick and reliable emotional hook. They help bring your stories (and your people) to life, making it quick and easy for prospects and donors to feel like they’re “meeting” your protagonist. The more real your protagonists, the more supporters will relate to them personally, e.g., this could be my friend, my family, or even me.
When you connect the dots between your organization’s impact and what supporters already know and care about (such as their family’s and friends’ well-being), you’ll build trust and rapport with them.
There’s more—Your stories about individuals who have benefited from your donors’ gifts show supporters the impact of their donations, which brings them closer. In turn, they’re more likely to donate again now and in the future, and to share your organization’s stories and successes with friends and family.
How to Handle this Year’s Year-End Campaign
But right now, time is short. You’re nearing the finish line on this year’s campaign although your digital platforms enable last-minute revisions (blessing and curse, right?) Take these three steps to tweak this year’s campaign to maximize giving given your unexpected constrictions:
1) DON’T use client photos as is for this year-end campaign.
Trust your social workers’ understanding of what is best for your organization’s beneficiaries. Despite the late timing of their request, your mission comes first. Respect their expertise.
2) DO feature client stories and testimonials with any or all of these adjustments as guided by your social worker colleagues:
Change client names
Revise story details to make protagonists unrecognizable
Create a composite story based on a few individuals to illustrate a fuller picture of your program or service.
3) DO use any or all of the following to illustrate your beneficiary stories:
Photos of staff members or volunteers (for example, a staff nurse giving a flu shot to a client whose back is turned to the camera or a volunteer team packing bags of food for holiday distribution)
Use edited client photos with faces obscured, individuals positioned, or shots cropped so that the individuals won’t be recognized. You should have releases from subjects even if they can’t be identified, and clear this approach with your social workers.
“We have experimented with non-identifying photos of the child and photos of volunteers and parents. To our surprise, some of these photos have proven to be even more powerful than the kids’ expressions of excitement,” says Angela Crist, former executive director of Findlay Hope House.
Feature photos of elements central to your client’s story such as the set of keys and drivers license pictured below.
“[I look] forward to everybody sharing what is going on…[and] hearing that people are positive, always seeing the silver lining.” – Shaun Grady, Brain Injury Survivor & Co-Facilitator of Advocates’ Brain Injury Survivor Support Group. Read more about the support group that meets twice a month for survivors to share their struggles, stories, and resources: http://bit.ly/2JcwB57
CAVEAT: If you use stock photos, change story details or client names, or create composite stories, say so!
Here’s a model disclaimer from fundraising copywriter Lisa Sargent: “At [org name] we respect everyone who comes to us for help – and many are working toward a fresh start in life. So while their stories are true, client names and images may have been changed to protect their privacy. Thank you for understanding.”
Maintaining client dignity and safety is crucial for every organization. However, photos and stories are too valuable an engagement tool to forego altogether. Follow this 7-point checklist for ethical storytelling to shape photo-illustrated stories that meet client privacy standards and spur your people to donate and spread the word.
You STILL HAVE TIME to launch your team of messengers to advance your year-end campaigns. They’re already fans, so many of them will be eager and effective fundraisers. So that’s all good. However, your ambassadors’ reach, engagement, and ultimate impact on donations is directly related to saying the right thing at the right time. And it can’t be a script, repeated from everyone to everyone. Spamming robots just don’t work. But…
Provide these three message tools to your ambassadors, and you’re golden. They’ll ensure your ambassadors’ comfort and confidence, so they’re more likely to reach out to friends and family members (a.k.a. donors and prospects). Plus they’ll boost the odds prospects hear the kind of consistent yet personal outreach that generates true engagement and the actions you want!
1) Your #1 tool! Ready-to-use email signatures make it easy for your ambassadors to close their emails in a way that’s hard to ignore or forget. That means more recipients will respond and spread the word to family and friends.
1) Identify what drives you MOST crazy, and tackle it first thing in the morning, every morning.
My graphic designer’s trigger is an overflowing inbox. Mine is a messy desk that will distract me all day long if I leave it that way. For Beth, who works from a home office, it’s the dishes in her sink.
What’s yours? Whatever your crazy-maker is, clear it out of your way first thing.
2) Protect your sleep with a calm bedtime routine. Although it may seem productive to check your email or social channels just one more time before bed, it’s likely to cannibalize a solid night’s sleep. Establish a realistic bedtime routine and stick to it on work and weekend nights.
3) Walk more to reboot your brain. Whether walking is your preferred exercise or not, it’s one that’s always doable. Beth cautions us to avoid the seduction of powering through. She takes a 10-minute walking break (working walking) every hour.
4) Build in some quiet time for reflection during your workday, even if it’s just five minutes. “Sometimes I schedule meetings with myself at work, so my calendar looks full and people leave me alone,” says Jill Biden.
Best way to maintain your well-being for the long run?
Help integrate it into your organization’s culture. Beth advises that your personal well-being practice will be more sustainable if you do it with others. She is a strong proponent of building an organizational culture of wellbeing within every nonprofit, and shared these steps to success:
Ask and support fellow self-care champions to activate a culture of well-being. Beth shared the story of Gina Schmeling who, as a fundraiser at Hazon, jumpstarted a weekly walk. Interest was slow to build, but Gina persisted, tweaking her approach and, bit by bit, she succeeded. Today, a Hazon group takes a regular 20-minute, post-lunch walk to build connection and recharge for the afternoon. Also, Gina brought in her standing desk from home so colleagues could try it (several colleagues loved it, and got or hacked one of their own). How can you champion self-care at your organization?
Convince the powers that be of the value of self-care, from fewer absences and sick days to lower healthcare costs and increased employee satisfaction. Bonus: Employees of organizations that prioritize well-being are likely to be compelling ambassadors for the organizational brand.
Encourage leaders to model self-care by example.
I’m a believer in the power of building a sector-wide culture of wellbeing to sustain and amplify our impact. Thanks to Beth for sharing this important guidance and leading by example.
Sometimes we have so many strong stories available that it’s hard to select the best ones to feature in a specific campaign. At other times, it seems impossible to source the right story or find a fitting one to harvest from the story bank. I’ve been there.
Luckily, there’s a proven, two-step solution to both problems:
Pinpoint what your people need to understand about your organization’s focus (problem or cause), and about your solutions and impact.
Select or find a story that provides those answers.
This approach works even if the problems or causes you focus on, or the solutions you use, are complex. The right story—of people overcoming obstacles and moving forward—will showcase your focus and answer crucial questions in relatable and accessible terms. In fact, this kind of vibrant, relevant, and repeatable storytelling is a benchmark of G.R.E.A.T stories.
Here are the three main story types to use, and the answers each typically provides:
OUR IMPACT: Before and after. Shows the impact of your organization (and, by extension, your supporters) on the communities and individuals you serve.
– Answers: Does this work?
– Answers: Where will my dollars go?
OUR PEOPLE: Donor, staff, volunteer, beneficiary profiles.
– Answers: Are people like me doing this?
– Answers: What do others think about this organization/program/campaign?
OUR STRENGTHS: How your organization’s specific approach increases impact.
– Answers: Does this organization provide a more effective solution than other organizations?
Additional story types
Our Founding: What makes this organization unique?
Our Focus: Where will my dollars go?
Our Future: What is the change we want to make in the world, a.k.a. vision?
When you are clear on the questions you need to answer, source and build out a few stories of each relevant story type. Use these stories in coming campaigns and test the response (e.g., launch an A/B test with one version of a campaign email featuring a relevant, answer-revealing story and the second version featuring a classic (story-free) narrative appeal.
I’m betting that your work identifying the answers that prospects want and sharing those answers via the right story generates quick comprehension buoyed by emotional connection. And, in time, will motivate the action you need, whether a donation, registration, or petition signature. Let me know!
Every election season is a barrier to connection, with people overwhelmed by 24/7 messages from multiple campaigns via multiple channels. But connecting this fall—through the noise of so many contentious midterm elections—is particularly tough. That’s a real concern as we plunge into Giving Tuesday and Year-End.
Pile on the chaos we face on so many fronts—from the mass murder at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue to constitutional threats and the refugee crisis—and it’s almost impossible to get attention, much less motivate action. We can’t fight it, nor can we sit it out.
Here’s how to get (and stay) close to your people right now:
1) Show your people you get them. The fast-moving shifting of norms we face is unnerving. People are feeling vulnerable, and the candidates’ fear mongering fuels our anxiety and sense of powerlessness.
Acknowledge that this is a tough timefor all of us. Emphasize that your organization cares about your people and their families and friends.
2) Connect with what’s top of mind. I urge you to reframe the midterm elections as a fantastic community-building opportunity, highlighting so many crucial issues.
Identify how your organization’s work touches top-of-mind issues. Connect there—on the issue, not the candidates’ take—at the moment it’s hot. That means being ready to roll with relevant outreach on your core issues and causes.
Caveat: Stay out of discussions on issues that aren’t your organization’s sweet spot, even if that’s all people are talking about.
3) Illustrate your impact with concrete details and stories. Convey how your organization helps SOLVE problems emphasized in campaigns and headlines. Demonstrate your impact via specific details and stories to increase the probability people will remember and repeat them to their networks.
4) Stay clear and consistent. When candidates and other world leaders change their minds and rhetoric on a daily basis, and practices and people we’ve depended on turn out to be unreliable, consistency is more important than ever. When you communicate clearly and consistently, you make it easy for your people to recognize a communication from or about your organization, digest it, be reassured by the known, and spread the word.
5) Offer hope. Show your people they can count on your organization to build the kind of country and community in which they want to live. We need that now, more than ever.
Does the protagonist of your story know what she’s getting into—how you’ll use her story, and the risks are of sharing it? Probably not, if you’re like most communicators. Let’s change that.
Organizations like ours—that share stories regularly to activate our people—wield power and influence. When a protagonist lends us her story to share, she opens herself up to curiosity, criticism, misunderstanding, and sometimes even physical harm. It is our responsibility to respect those whose stories we share, ensuring they 1) are comfortable with the way we use their stories and 2) stay safe.
Now, thanks to innovators in our field, we have a framework for screening stories–the ethical storytelling pledge. Commit to ethical storytelling, then use this seven-point checklist to select and shape stories that are ethical to share:
1) Solicit input on whose stories to tell and how from the people you serve, and those most directly affected by the issue you work to advance.
2) Assess those stories:
Whom do you help by telling this story?
Whose perspective is highlighted; yours, the protagonist’s, or…?
5) Ask for your protagonists’ written informed consent. Make sure story subjects know what they’re getting into—where you’ll use the story, what you’ll include, and how you’ll depict the impact of your services on them. Witness’ tip sheet guides you through an effective conversation on informed consent.
6) Shape stories to maintain the protagonist’s dignity and humanity. Avoid oversimplifying or dramatizing the story, even if that makes your story more compelling. Avoid stereotyping—it strips dignity away and weakens your stories.
7) Minimize potential harm to your story subjects. You may need to set ground rules for comments on a Facebook page and deleting as needed, blur faces in a video or photograph, use a fake name and identifying information, or decide not to use the story at all.
Ethical storytelling is a foundation of G.R.E.A.T. stories that engage your people and are most likely to be remembered and repeated. Keep posted for more guidance on…