Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why is donating unlike buying a pair of shoes?

This ain't a donation
There’s quite a lot of talk these days about how charities should spend their money. There have been stories in the media about charities that spend more on fundraising than they do on supporting research. There have been stories about the size of charity CEO salaries and how they need to be capped. There have been stories back and forth about what a charity should spend on overhead and whether that is really fair. If we were talking about the retail business none of this would apply. Why is making a donation different than buying a pair of shoes?

On the face of it the two are the same. You spend $30.00 on a set of new shoes. You spend $30.00 on a donation. You use your credit card for both. Both organizations – the shoe retailer and the charity – count them as “sales” (although the charity will use a different description). Both use the same marketing techniques – advertising, website, social media, PR, celebrity endorsement and more. Both often use the same sales techniques – face-to-face sales, online sales, events, etc. So, what’s different?

It all comes down to the purchase. When I buy something from a retailer it is for me. I buy it to use or to give as a gift, but it is mine. When I give something to a charity, I buy something for someone else. There are those who donate because of tax reasons, but most give because they want to help someone in need. Or it can be a cause that is in need or even an animal in need. The person or thing in need is the end beneficiary of the donation, not the charity itself. When I make a donation to a charity that help endangered animals the end beneficiary are the animals and not the charity that does the work to save them. I give the money to the charity but I want it to go to the animals.

When I donate to help an end beneficiary the charity makes me an unwritten promise that they will do the helping on my behalf. I make a donation to the charity to help those animals because they say they will help them. And I believe them, so I give.

So, in one relationship, I see, I buy, I consume. In the other, I see, I give, I get a promise to help someone in need.

Here’s where charities get into so much trouble. What happens if the unwritten promise the charity made isn’t kept to the satisfaction of the donor? As we have seen, by definition, the donor has a stake in the operation of the charity. I give, they help on my behalf. That is something that doesn’t happen in for-profits. I don’t care what the retailer does to get me those shoes after I buy it, unless they are exploiting child labour in a Third World country. Usually, my relationship with the retailer ends once I buy the shoes. But implicit in a donation is a stake in the helping the charity does.

Because of all this, built into the donation is a responsibility that a charity must live up to. Anything that impacts a charity’s ability to do the helping they promised is an issue for a donor. This can be real or imagined. It can be fair or unfair. Since often times the promise in unwritten and not very well explained donors fill in the gaps. They make assumptions about the charity and what it will do. And when those assumptions are challenged, there is a disconnect.

How does this help? It shows that charities need to clearly say how they are going to spend their money at the time of the donation. Many charities often leave this to a later date, such as in an annual report. That does nothing to solve this problem, and in fact could make it worse. Second, it underlines the need for the charity to make reporting about their activities a priority. Many charities are afraid to say too much about what they do and how much it cost in order to avoid possible trouble from donors who don’t like their practices. This simply perpetuates the problem. One charity I know illustrated this by not publishing its annual report this year and instead put up a link to their public tax return at the Government of Canada website. This is after they published annual reports for several previous years. What message do you think that says to their donors?

Don’t treat your donations like shoe purchases. Be clear about why you are raising money, how you will use it and how you spent it. It will avoid a truck load of problems.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Be your own media

You're the media now

Last time, I talked about the problems facing media relations. There’s too many media outlets and not enough listeners, viewers and readers. Worse, there’s a growing divide between young and old on how they consumer media. The younger prefer online, the older still like print and TV.

None of that should be surprising to you.

But here is something that may astonish you.

If the world of local media is in disarray and isn’t giving you the PR/advertising venue that it used to then why don’t you just become your own media.

Yes, I mean you.

Start by realizing that these days anyone can start their own media empire quite easily. An email newsletter, a Facebook page or a Blog is all it takes. Yes, none of those will ever have the same circulation as your local newspaper, but that’s actually a good thing. Your local media have to be everything to everyone and more times than not they take a least common denominator approach to news. The result is that the value of the content is often diluted. You, as the upstart media outlet, have none of these challenges. The benefit of being a small niche media outlet is that you can attract real audiences who seek your content. And finding one of those people is a gold mine. If you can reach one person who believes in your cause that is worth ten people who aren’t.

Next, take a look at your communications channel. If you’re like most organizations likely you will have neglected some of these – they may be old, out of date, their content is dry and their format is less than perfect. No matter. Give them a shake. Take each one and make it content-ready. You need to add news streams to your website. You need to connect your news feed to your social media. You should add an email newsletter to push content out the door. And you need a database that is ready to receive “subscriber” information (such as emails). Plus, buy a real camera that can shoot pictures and short videos. Don’t skimp and buy something more geared to holiday snaps. Get something easy to use, but as near professional as possible. If necessary, add software that automates things like movie-making. Now, you’re ready.

What do all media outlets need? Readers, viewers and watchers, of course. Many of you likely have few of these to start. If you’re lucky, you might have an existing email list or Facebook fan list. No matter. The first thing to do is go out and recruit more readers. Set up a system to connect to your database and find as many people who want to sign-up for your “media channel” as possible. Ask every one of your stakeholders if they’d like to get your email newsletter or sign up for updates at Facebook. They won’t do it out of niceness. You’ll have to give them a reason to sign-up. That’s what you already did in asking questions about what they want and how to give it to them. Figure out what the value is and pitch it to them.

Here’s the hard part. Stop thinking like a pitiful, helpless non-profit organization who is at the mercy of the traditional media. You are now the reporter, the editor and the publisher all in one. Act like one (of three). Begin by asking yourself what kind of content do your stakeholders want. Then ask yourself how to give it to them.

Say you’re in health care. Great. You’re now in the health media business. Find stories in your own organization and push them through your own media system. Add in some freely available related health news stories from the web (such as government health authorities). Say you’re an environmental charity. Great. Now, you’re part of the Green media. Do the same thing. Find your own stories and others available online and combine them into one media product.

Now, add in interactive material. Good media don’t just tell you things, they ask things. So add surveys and polls. Here’s a hint. People love seeing their name and picture in the media. So, run quotes, pictures and even videos. Make your stakeholders superstars.

Finally, don’t be boring. People will only be a part of your media empire if there’s value in it. If you’re boring, too opinionated or annoying they’ll drop you. Spice things up with a contest or two. How about a free lunch with your CEO as a prize? Simple, easy and fun. That’s what’s needed.

Measure everything as you go along. You need to be able to monitor what people do in your media channels. Find out where they go and what they click on. Draw insights and give them more of what you think they want. Every once in a while, stop and evaluate things. Ask for feedback from your loyal readers. Be brave and ask them hard questions and don’t be afraid to hear their hard criticism.

And here’s a trick. Aim for a subscription target. Don’t just start publishing. Push yourself to hit a specific number of subscribers and keep increasing it.

So, you’re the media now. And when the traditional media won’t use your press releases, fail to come to your events or spell your organization’s name wrong, don’t worry. Your media channels will always be there to assist you.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Local media is a moving platform

This is so yesterday
It should be obvious by now that local media is changing. There’s more media than ever. All this is having a surprising impact on local communities, according to How people learn about their local community, a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and Internet & American Life Project.

The study found that most Americans use a blend of both new and traditional sources to get information about their local community. The biggest source for local community news and information in the US remains local TV. However, the study found Americans tend to rely on the medium for just a few topics—mainly weather, breaking news, and to a lesser degree, traffic. People rely on other sources for most other local topics. The study also says that younger adults rely on local television less, a fact they say “suggests more vulnerability for the medium in the future.”

There is also bad news for newspapers, which in Canada as well as the US have seem consistent declines in readership. The study found that 69% of American say that if their local newspaper no longer existed, “it would not have a major impact on their ability to keep up with information and news about their community.” Without local newspapers, local news might actually take a nose dive, but that is the perception. The study found that newspapers are a major source of local information. However, most of the topics that people expect to find in a newspaper are also “are ones followed by fewer Americans on a regular basis.”

“In other words, local TV draws a mass audience largely around a few popular subjects; local newspapers attract a smaller cohort of citizens but for a wider range of civically oriented subjects,” the study says.

Not surprisingly, the web comes out as one of the most powerful sources of local information, although the study did not cover certain kinds of websites. Of the American who are online the internet is the “first or second most relied-upon source for 15 of the 16 local topics examined”. The study also found that nearly one in five Americans say they get local information on social networking sites like Facebook at least monthly.

The most surprising finding to me is that nearly half of all respondents said they did not have a favourite local news source. And that is the key to understanding the entire local media system. There is simply more choice and because of that less media loyalty.

All this means something.

First, using advertising or media relations is in fact getting harder. Reaching your stakeholders means using more media sources than ever.

Second, this creates an opportunity for some local non-profits. If stakeholders are seeking local news from a variety of sources, why not create your own news source? In a world where the local media consumption is in chaos non-profits in some cases have more power to influence stakeholders on certain topics than local newspapers, radio and TV stations.

Join me next week when I unveil my "Be Your Own Media" strategy.