Friday, January 28, 2011

Other People's Money

The first words most non-profit people say to me after “Hello” and “I really like your work” is usually “We don’t have any money.”

This is sometimes said because I’m a consultant and they don’t want my pitch. Sometimes it is said because it gets them off the hook for trying something new. Most times it is said because the non-profit they work for doesn’t fund their marketing and communications operation consistently.

My reply usually stops them in their tracks.

“Have you tried using other people’s money?” I say.

I’m sure, at first, many think I’m counselling them to rob banks. But then I explain that what I’m really talking about is partnership.

You don’t have any money. However, you do have a cause and, likely, a distribution network of people who believe in you. That’s worth something.

Now, think. Do you know any other non-profits who have similar needs as you, who aren’t necessarily direct competitors and who have either more cash or a different distribution network? Chances are you do.

Think some more. Often times “We don’t have any money” means “We don’t have any people who can do stuff”. Well, do you know any local groups that are rich in volunteers? You’re looking for a group that would give you their people if you had the right cause and the right type of commitment.

Now, think one more time (sorry, this blog is really taxing you). Do you know any local businesses that have money and want to reach your stakeholder group? This should be a business that your stakeholders would not object to. So, likely, used car salesmen need not apply. However, investment advisors, law firms or even real estate agents might do nicely.

Here’s the tricky part. Can you think of a big idea that would be the basis of a partnership for all of these organizations, including yours? It doesn’t have to be so big that you need to notify the UN. It just has to be bigger than what any of the organizations could do by themselves.

So, for example, what if you wanted to get into planned giving, but you can’t afford any money for marketing. Try this big idea. Contact some other local charities who are in the same boat and offer to lead a partnership to market estate gifts together. Then, contact the local seniors club. Wills and estate are an issue for them. How can you get them to participate in this? Maybe they could host an event? Now, bring in an investment advisor. Ask them for cash to make the thing work. Presto, you’ve got a marketing partnership.

The trick in partnerships is to make everybody a winner. So, to make this work, you’ll need to understand what everybody wants and what they bring to the table. Cash is great, but sometimes getting their distribution network to reach potential customers and stakeholders is better. Work out the rules in advance and do your homework!

So, next time you say “We don’t have any money” do some thinking. Ask yourself “Can we use other people’s money?” and see where it leads you.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Why should your stakeholders care?

Did you forget something?
 Do you ever get the feeling there's something you've forgotten? Something big, like you left the kettle boiling when you work or you forgot your spouse's birthday and you think it's today?

There's one of these in non-profit marketing. It's forgetting to ask yourself what your stakeholders, volunteers, donors and funders want. Yes, what they want. Not what your organization wants.

Sounds like a dumb question, doesn't it. After all, by now your non-profit should know what these people want. But think about it. When was the last time you ever asked them? If you're like most, your true answer will be that you haven't asked for a while. For many, a long while. In fact, some haven't asked since their organization started.

That's bad for a couple of reasons. First, how do you know you're still delivering what your stakeholders want? If you don't ask, you won't find out. Second, things change. Your stakeholders may have lost interest in you, they may have found something better to be associated with or perhaps the issue that led to your creation has changed.

Here's a trick. Every once in a while ask yourself this. Why should your stakeholders care? When you start a new project, ask. When you publish your next newsletter, ask. When you look at your web site stats (which I hope all of you do), ask.

Be brutally honest with yourself and with your team. If you, the people who are in charge of marketing and communications at your non-profit, can't honestly come up with a very good reason why people should care than chances are your stakeholders won't give two hoots about it.

This brings up the question as to what to do if the answer is negative. One hospital exec once told me it didn't matter whether stakeholders wanted what the hospital sent them or not. What mattered was that they got it. The exec was worried that asking this question would invalidate what the hospital and its foundation were already doing. To an extent, the exec was right. Most of their activities would not have passed muster. But it is better to know this and change than it is to keep cranking out stuff no one cares about and see your fortunes slowly sink into oblivion.

Here's another trick. Ask your stakeholders. Don't be afraid to do a quick online survey or a focus group to get a frank answer to this questions straight from the horse's mouth. Through this, you'll be able to get insights into what your stakeholders really want.

Remember, in this day and age, what matters to your stakeholder is what they want, not what you want. You must create something they need -- a community, a way of thinking, a happy ending, whatever. The key to marketing is to listen to what your stakeholders tell you and then give it to them in spades.

Friday, January 14, 2011

How to figure out whether you need to hire an outside marketing agency

Hold your nose!
You know you can’t do it all. And you know that there is a lot of talent out there who could really help your non-profit market and communicate itself. But you hesitate. There’s a concern about spending too much money. There’s a worry about whether the outcome will be what you want it to be. And there’s the problem of selling the idea to the rest of your non-profit at a time when finances are very, very tight. How do you proceed?

The place to start is by setting your priorities. Ask yourself what are the things you need to achieve this year or in the next couple of years. I like making lists. Make one of your own. Put down 10 top things your non-profit needs in marketing. Don’t talk about the deficits – this doesn’t work or that sucks and needs to be replaced. Think in terms of what the outcomes will be – we need more people visiting our website, we need more people in the public recognizing our name, we need more fundraising income, etc.

Sit down with a cup of tea (or coffee) and look at your list. Narrow it from ten to three by asking which issue is the greatest opportunity. An age old military saying is “don’t reinforce failure”, and it makes good management sense. It is sometimes more effective and efficient to invest in something that will add to success rather than simply fix an existing problem.

Now, the tricky part. Ask yourself honestly what current skills, experience and resources you have to tackle your top three issues. If you’re like most, the answer will likely be that you can do something about these issues, but not enough. Now, look at the gap between what you can do and what needs to be done. Is there a place in-between where an outsider could do this work? You’re looking here for something that is definable as a project. It has to have a clear mandate, timeline and outcome. Resist the temptation to focus on what is outside your gap analysis. It is all too easy to look at others and do what they do or to look at available packaged solutions and then try to fit them into your analysis. You must hold true to what your organization needs and how it needs it.

By now, you should have one, maybe two, projects for your list. The best way to proceed is to write these up. Describe them in detail, including what you want, how you want it and what success will look like.

The next step is often overlooked. Take your project to the rest of your organization for input and consensus. Maybe there is someone in your organization who can do some or all of this. Maybe there is training available for you or someone at your office to do part of this. Maybe there is someone who has done one of these projects before and who can help with advice. This is also time for you to start building the case for these projects. You don’t want to engage your co-workers on going to an outside contractor just before you do it. Get their feedback early in the process and try to involve them in the project. This way you’ll be able to identify opposition and potential support before you commit to a course of action.

Now, you’re ready to find out what the market will bear. First, remember that there are rules to contracting. If you are funded by or through government, chances are you will likely need to follow their supply rules, and in some cases use their procurement system. Some people think these rules are silly. They read like they were written by someone who had nothing better to do than dream up ways a project could self-destruct. That’s partially true. They are about risk mitigation. But they are also about fairness for potential suppliers. They need you to tell them exactly how you want to engage them. Follow the rules as best you can. Ask for help if you don’t understand something (don’t be too proud to ask – I used to do this all the time when I worked for a university).

Here’s where the homework you did on your gap analysis comes into play. Very, very clearly explain what you want. I’ve seen hundreds of RFP and I’ve only read a handful that actually did a good job on telling suppliers what they really need to know. The most common sin is being too vague. One RFP I read just said the non-profit wanted a communications plan. That’s it. Nothing about their goals, the outcomes, what resources they have now. Zippo. Be specific. Tell suppliers what you want in detail. If you don’t know, say so. Tell them you’re looking for a creative solution to reach a certain outcome and let them handle the rest.

I strongly recommend that you include a suggested budget range in your RFP. Some people I know disagree with this. That’s because if you say your budget is $25,000 then all your responses will be exactly $25,000. They argue it eliminates lower prices. I believe that it is better to tell your potential supplier in advance what you can afford to spend. I’ve experienced things the other way where a great supplier withdrew hallway through the RFP process after we finally told them how much we wanted to spend. Also, most challenges have scalable solutions. By telling them a range of expenditures you’re giving them the information they need to find a solution that fits.

Finally, don’t be afraid to walk away if you aren’t satisfied. RFPs are about getting responses. If you don’t like what you see, then tell the suppliers and stop the process. You can always go back and do another RFP later. The needs of your non-profit come first, not the suppliers.