Kivi's Nonprofit Communications Blog | Nonprofit Marketing Guide
I'm the president of Nonprofit Marketing Guide.com, and a leading author, trainer, and adviser to nonprofit marketing and fundraising professionals, executive directors, and boards of directors. This blog Written for do-it-yourself nonprofit marketers and one-person nonprofit communications departments.
This question likely looms over you daily if your job is to pitch stories to the media or create content for your organization’s owned media channels.
To get your story picked up and noticed, it’s critical to have something current to latch on to — a hook that adds a sense of urgency by connecting to something that’s happening right now.
The good news is that there are plenty of good hooks out there.
And if you’re creative enough, you can find ways to connect your work to what’s current and relevant.
Yes, it’s a challenge — especially in an era where stories and issues often appear and vanish quickly.
But if you know where and how to look, the right hook can often appear.
To show you what I mean, here are five common news hooks you can use — along with examples of how those in and around the nonprofit world have used them to place opinion pieces in the media.
Hook 1: Pop Culture Events
We often think of the work of nonprofits through the lens of their missions. Sometimes, you can find ways to connect that mission to big pop-culture events like the release of a blockbuster movie, the finale of a popular show like Game of Thrones, or a big sporting event like the Super Bowl.
These big cultural moments offer excellent hooks because media outlets are looking for unique ways to connect their audiences to these events through their coverage — and because the public is often interested in consuming stories about them.
The New York Community Trust used the release of the movie Black Panther to place an opinion piece in the New York Daily News about the importance of diversity in the arts.
Hook 2: Anticipation
Sometimes, a pause in the action can be its own hook.
The period between a new bill getting proposed and the final vote or a public official wins an election and gets sworn in — or before a high-profile trial — can offer a great opportunity to comment on the big action that lies ahead.
If you can offer a thoughtful perspective on the impact of that action on the people you serve or the community you work in, you have an opportunity to tell a compelling story.
The upcoming decision by the Supreme Court on whether to allow a citizenship question on the 2020 US Census gave the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan a perfect opportunity to talk about the importance of the census on its region. Earlier this week, it penned this piece for the Detroit Free Press.
Hook 3: A big announcement
You don’t need to be making your own news to draw attention to an important issue. Sometimes, a big announcement from elsewhere can give you the hook you need to make a point.
Controversial news topics — particularly those that center on high-profile issues — often provide great opportunities for opinion pieces.
Recent publicity surrounding donations by the Sackler family, which owns the company that invented and marketed OxyContin and is accused of helping to start the opioid crisis, has opened the doors for a number of those working in the nonprofit world to chime in with opinion pieces. Here’s one recent example from The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Hook 5: Public Data
Some hooks are more evergreen. By smartly using and interpreting publicly available data, you can often create compelling narratives — narratives that are supported by cold, hard numbers.
This is especially true if you can use the data to help counter conventional wisdom or identify a problem others haven’t seen.
While each of these examples are connected to opinion pieces, the hooks they’re attached to can also be used for pitching reported news stories, pieces for your nonprofit’s blog or newsletter, or through your social media channels.
Ultimately, the key is to pay attention to what’s happening around you with an eye toward how the news of the day connects to your organization’s mission and key messages.
The more you look for and use these hooks, the better chance you have of landing media placements and getting more people to connect with your content.
“In the world of ideas, to name something is to own it. If you can name an issue, you can own the issue.”
This is an incredibly powerful strategy for those of you who feel like you should be in charge of various aspects of communications or marketing or fundraising, but aren’t. If no one is really accountable or everyone (including the misinformed and clueless) thinks they should have an equal say, your expertise may be dismissed.
One way to lead is to be seen as “owning” the issue in your organization. And as Friedman points out, if you can name something, you can often own it.
Own Marketing and Communications Planning
Here’s an example: What should your nonprofit communications goals, strategies and objectives be? Well, for starters, not everyone agrees on the differences between goals, strategies, and objectives generically, so you are already at a disadvantage. Now apply that to marketing and fundraising communications, and it’s chaos — unless someone (like you!) NAMES the options.
We’ve given you a huge head start with our 12 most common nonprofit marketing goals, strategies and objectives.
By naming the styles and deciding upfront which style should be used for any given piece of communications, you are then asserting some level of control over what that piece should look like. There’s a big difference between news writing and donor-centered copywriting, for example. If you can name and articulate the differences between the styles, you’ll have a bigger role in saying when the piece is ready for publication.
Ever been asked to create a marketing strategy or a communications plan for your nonprofit without any further guidance? You aren’t alone!
Let’s sort it all out, so you can figure out what you really need to create.
First, let’s address the definitions. Right or wrong, marketing and communications are often used interchangeably in the nonprofit sector. Even if you are clear on the distinctions in your own mind, odds are extremely high that others around you use the words differently. You need to talk about what people really mean and what they are asking for when they request these documents from you.
I don’t want to start any arguments, but here’s how we generally use these terms, although we too use them interchangeably sometimes.
Marketing is primarily about strategy. What are the goals and objectives? Who is the primary target audience, what’s the message to those people, and which communications channels will best deliver that message? These are the questions you answer in a marketing strategy. You are making the decisions infrequently — you make them and stick to them for a while.
Communications is primarily about tactics. How, when and where are you communicating? You make these decisions much more frequently, constantly adjusting to match your current needs. When we talk about communications plans, we are most often referring to two documents, the Big Picture Communications Timeline and the Editorial Calendar.
Naturally, there’s a lot of overlap because you need both marketing and communications to effective.
Let’s look a little deeper into these documents.
What Goes into a Marketing Strategy
If you are creating a strategy, you’ll want to look at
Here’s a one-page Strategic Communications Plan Outline that we recommend. Yes, we are covering all the terminology bases! You can fill this in and create a document that is anywhere from 2-20 pages depending on how detailed you want to get.
What Goes in a Communications Plan
What if no one is particularly interested in talking about the organization-wide goals, strategies, and objectives? What if they are really asking you for a plan for what content you are going to create and what you are going to post in all of your different communications channels?
The timeline maps out all of the events and milestones (both within and beyond your control) that will drive your communications in the coming year, along with your primary calls to action and the major storylines you want to share. It’s completed with all parts of the organization in mind: programs, fundraising, and marketing/communications.
Of course, you also need an Editorial Calendar. This is your day-to-day working plan. At a minimum, it outlines what you sharing, in what communications channels and when. You can add much more detail, including who is responsible for what, internal deadlines and workflows, and more. You’ll find lots of advice on nonprofit editorial calendars here.
Creative briefs are also very helpful when you are doing more project- or campaign-oriented planning.
So which document are you being asked to create? Who knows! Talk about the contents of this post with others and decide what you need to work on together.
Welcome to the latest installment in our series on the “Day in the Life” of nonprofit communicators! This series lets you describe your workday in your own words.
Madeline Kronenberg is the Communications Manager at Dressember Foundation, a non-profit utilizing fashion & creativity to fund anti-trafficking work around the world. Through Dressember’s annual campaign, thousands of men and women take on the challenge of wearing a dress or tie every day during the month of December, and use the challenge as a way to start conversations about the reality of modern slavery, resulting in over $7.5 million raised since 2013. When Madeline isn’t creating content for the Dressember campaign, you can find her perusing the internet for travel deals or researching conspiracy theories.
And this is her typical day:
Before 8:00 a.m. – My alarm goes off at 6:20. I head straight for the Nespresso machine before grabbing my yoga mat & sleepily strolling to the yoga studio at the end of the block.
8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m – After a quick smoothie and a wardrobe change, I’m out the door to take on L.A. traffic.
Once I’m at the office, I open Hootsuite to scan an overview of our scheduled communications for the day, and to answer any messages we’ve received on our social channels from the night before.
I read through our daily blog post, and send a little love note over to our editorial intern to let them know their blog post has been published.
10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. – Once our social media communications is rolling, I dig into the email inbox to correspond with grant partners, brand partners, and my *incredible* interns.
Once I’ve cleared my inbox, I formulate my to-do list the old-school way – through a handwritten checklist.
12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. – Lunch is leftovers from dinner the day before, and is almost always eaten at my desk.
I read through ‘The Skimm’s’ daily newsletter to catch up on the latest news, then peek at my personal inbox to see when my Amazon packages are being delivered.
2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m – The afternoon is where I lean into the creative side of my job. I create advocacy resources, dream up new ways we can support our advocates, and work through the projects on my to-do list. Right now, it’s mostly content creation to prep for our winter style challenge.
After 4:00 p.m – By 5:00 pm, I’m on my way home, catching up with my friends on the Marco Polo video app, before stuffing my face with string cheese and whatever edible snack I can stuff in my pockets before heading out the door to German class.
After German, I eat dinner with my husband, pack up lunch for the next day and pull out my planner to see what’s in store for tomorrow.
Thanks for sharing your day, Madeline!
Want to be featured in this series? Tell us what you do in a typical day as a nonprofit communications pro by filling out the form below.
Successful social media strategies demand authenticity. But what does that actually look like when you are juggling a million different tasks, trying your best to stay strategic, and work in a boring office environment that’s not exactly photogenic?
Here are 15 ways to bring some authenticity by doing a quick recorded or live video or creating a photo post with a great caption or overlay. This is perfect Story content for Instagram and Facebook too.
All of these ideas will feel like a window into your organization and the people who work there, and that’s authenticity in a nutshell. And they are all pretty easy (don’t overthink it!).
If you do all of them, that’s three weeks of weekday posts! They can all be repeated with different staff members, creating even more content.
Explain why you are doing what you do in a few sentences.
Talk about a day that make it all worth it.
Talk about how you keep doing it, even when it’s hard.
Talk about the flubs and frustrations.
What do you love about your work and why?
What do you talk about after work about your job with friends and family?
What are some honest reactions to news and culture?
How about a meme that reflects how everyone is feeling in the office today?
Do a quick post before the meeting (what do you expect?) and after the meeting (how did it go?).
Take us on a little tour . . . “Let’s go see what’s happening today with . . . “
Zoom in on something in the office (a bookshelf, the mug collection). What does it say about your organization?
Describe your own creative process.
Describe teamwork and friendships at work.
Show learning or new skills building.
Anything silly or quirky – individual staff members, teams, happenings.
If you use any of these examples as inspiration, share them with us! You can post links in the comments or tag us @npmktgd.
A post shared by ACLU (@aclu_nationwide) on Apr 30, 2019 at 4:43pm PDT
So don’t use “we have nothing to photograph” as an excuse to ignore Instagram. Follow the ACLU and other organizations like it, and you’ll see lots of ways to successfully engage supporters even without beautiful photography.
This week, we’ll dive into some more thoughts on making that ask.
First off, if you aren’t getting the results you want from your emails, appeals, and social media posts, you might be sabotaging your asks.
Here are five mistakes nonprofits make when they ask:
1. Assuming One Size Fits All. There is no such thing as the general public. Know your supporters, donors, participants or whoever you are talking to, and customize the way you ask for support to that group. You should talk to your long-time volunteers differently than you talk to someone you just met. Your major donors have different expectations of you than someone who just clicked “like” on your Facebook page.
2. Being Too Vague. Don’t ask for “support” or “help” or use any of these other weak calls to action. People don’t know what you are asking for. Be specific.
3. Failing to Make It Relevant. What’s in for them? Why should they care? What good will it do? You have to answer these questions or people won’t follow through.
4. Not Making It Super Easy to Do. Put yourself in their shoes and walk through the exact process you are asking others to follow. How can you make it easier and faster? Is donating online super easy? Is getting the right person on the phone super easy?
5. Asking Sheepishly. If you seem embarrassed or guilty when asking, that’s a clear sign to your volunteers or donors that they might feel embarrassed or guilty themselves by following through.
Here are three steps in making your ask:
1. Get Your Call to Action Right. Be sure to not making any of the mistakes we mentioned above. You need to be specific when asking someone to do something. Can you make a video of someone else doing it? Or include pictures? Try breaking your ask into simple, ordered steps or make a checklist.
2. Inspire Them to Follow Through. Combine their interests with your mission. You need to help busy people do what’s important to BOTH of you. Goals are very powerful motivators. What goals could you ask your readers to work toward over the next month? Social proof is also important. Share how others have acted and praise them.
3. Ask, and Expect a “Yes!” Your readers will mirror your attitude about the ask. As we said above, if you are embarrassed to ask, they will be embarrassed to do it. If you present it as an obligation, it will be disregarded. You can’t be wishy-washy with your requests. Be confident and excited! Your followers will be too.
Finally, remember, asking is not about taking. It’s about giving people the power to make a difference.
Include an ask – or a next step – with every article. It’s the green light for your supporters to do or learn more!
Titles are free. Give people a nice title that they can use proudly.
Set people up for success in their roles.
For heaven’s sake, have a training budget!
Be honest with people when you’re looking to employ them.
Deal with the problems you have, don’t expect a new hire to solve them.
Consider having one week a year where you close your office.
Consider expanding your paid vacation.
Have one time a week that management sits down casually with any staff who wants to come and talk.
Food helps people be happy.
Be sure to check out the full article for more insights into each tip.
Some Factors that Can Affect Morale
Implementing those tips may not help if you don’t address the root causes of bad morale.
Leadership. Probably the biggest contributor to morale is whether or not employees believe in their leaders and share a vision for the organization’s future.
Communication. It’s hard to share a vision when nothing is being said to employees. It’s also hard to know when something is wrong if you aren’t checking in regularly with your team.
Feedback/Appreciation. Most people like to know when they are doing a good job. Give your team some positive “shout-outs” whenever you can.
Training. You can’t feel satisfied with your work if you feel lost because you have no proper education. (See tip 4 above)
Outside Issues. It’s possible that you are doing great at keeping morale high, but sometimes outside complications like mental health or family concerns may impact attitudes on the job. Make sure you are doing what you can to support employees if this is the case.
Your turn to share! How do you and your organization help keep morale high? Or what do you wish your organization would do? Share in the comments…