Thursday, April 26, 2012

Advocacy sells

There’s a cheap, efficient way for your non-profit’s  to reach more people than you are now while at the same time giving you a higher profile and positioning you as the leader among other similar charities.

What is it? Advocacy.

One of the key things that separates for-profits from non-profits is their ability to speak out on public issues. A charity can contribute to a public discussion on a given topic where a retailer cannot. Our society recognizes that not-profits have a bully pulpit. When they speak, they are seen as selfless advocates. So, built in to almost every charity is the inherent right to advocate.

At the same time, there is also a demand for advocacy. If you look carefully at the world of buzz you will see that many non-profits get the most positive attention from the media, politicians, stakeholders and the public when they advocate on their key issues. When a cancer charity announces a big donation, they get zip. When they publish a report on a critical lack of cancer services in their area, they get attention.

As a communications tactic, advocacy has many advantages. Reports, studies, articles, conferences, even one-to-one – there are many ways of advocating. And the threshold for starting an advocacy program are low. It doesn’t take much to point a finger at a key issue. Most times, what is really needed is packaging the advocacy – the issue explains itself. Anyone in the organization can do it. It doesn’t require special skills. Often times, all that it takes to lead an advocacy project is drive and commitment to the non-profit’s mission. It is also the perfect tactic to flow across all communications channels and is an excellent content filler.

In fact, most non-profits already advocate to one degree or another, they just don’t do so publically. Their efforts are often too subtle to have much communications value. But it wouldn’t take much to elevate that to something more.

The jewel in the crown of advocacy is that effect it has on the not-profit’s brand. The more you advocate, the more people recognize you as the leader, the authority on your given issue. So, when you advocate, you are reinforcing the best qualities of your brand.

It also has a positive impact on fundraising. Donors are hungry to do good, but sometimes the donation options they have are lacklustre, especially when they give to things that have no face such as pieces of equipment or scholarships for students they will never see. Advocacy has a real immediacy that quickly and efficiently illustrates the need for fundraising like no other marketing vehicle. An university could easily ask for donations for their bursary endowment fund with some success. But it would have more traction if it at the same time published a report that said deserving students were having to turn down admission offers from the university because they couldn’t afford it.

There are limits to advocacy. It has to be real and powerful, and that makes it a tactic that can only be used sparingly. Advocacy for the purposes of marketing can’t happen every day. If it does, the issue will become over-saturated. It is best used once in a while, but with great flourish and emphasis.

Also, while the public will accept advocacy, it will not tolerate partisanship. Society expects charities to be somewhat neutral in their political stance. Too much right or left, and the non-profit will start to sound like a political organization.

As well, many countries have rules about how much lobbying charities can do and still be charities. There may be a ceiling for how much advocacy a charity can do.

Within these limits, advocacy still remains a powerful and useful tactic. Some non-profit leaders feel squeamish about using it because they make these risks out to be more than they appear. There is a way to advocate and not get into trouble. You don’t have to attack the rich to advocate for the poor. You don’t have to blame politicians for the sorry state of mental health services. You don’t have to dump on manufacturers to get your point across about air pollution.

The place to start is with your issue. Think carefully about what your non-profit is trying to achieve and the thing that is preventing a solution. In  the case of poverty, perhaps it is low incomes. For the environment, maybe it is a lack of education. For health care, it could be our eating habits. Find the hot button, and then push it.

Now package your issue into something that will attract attention. Do a study, a survey or even a review of your issue. You’re looking for a key statistic that will turn people’s heads. When you find it, explain it in simple terms and then publish it across as many communications channels as possible – web, email, social media, PR, events and more. Use it as an excuse to go visit people who should be better connected to you, such as politicians, government leaders, leader donors, business leaders and more.

You’ll find that, pound for pound, advocacy is one of the best marketing vehicles for your non-profit.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The New Partnership

Most non-profits have some kind of partnership. They partner with other agencies on delivering some services. They may share certain suppliers. They may have a friendly business or major donor who likes to offer their staff as volunteers or their offices for meetings. These are all common.

But there's a new form of partnerhsip. It's not about buying photocopier toner together in bulk. It's not about collaborating on delivering a program. And it's not about getting a donation or a sponsorship. It's about partnering for communications.

Instead of looking at partners as organizations that can help buy things or deliver services, look at them again as potential communications partners. They could help you create communications programs, and better stilll, they can help you deliver them.

Let's start with the obvious. You can't do it all alone. Your non-profit doesn't have the resources it needs to communicate. None do. You're always a bit short on people, money, time, skills and experience. A partnership with other organizations for communications will give you exactly what you need -- more resources.

Chief among their resources is their distribution network. They will reach different people than you do. In some cases, they may reach more people than you do. Imagine how effective your communications would be if they could send your message through their network to their people? Getting your partner to mention you in their existing newsletter or their big event is a cheap, effective way for you to extend your reach.

But partners also have access to the things that make communications work -- skills, technology and relationships with the media and others. These can be valueable to you as well.

The place to start is to take a long look at the non-profits and for-profits around you. Can some of them fit this role? What about the workplace that gave you a donation? Could they send your message to their clients? What about the non-profit that does similar activities? Could you partner with them on something like advocacy or education?

A partnership has to be mutually beneficial. So, you need to offer something of value to them. Can you give them a higher profile? Can you make their stakeholders feel good because they are helping you? Would you be willing to send the partner's messages to your stakeholders?

The benefit of a strong communications partnership is more than the sum of its parts. One major side benefit is that it shows you are the leader. When you partner with others, you're being proactive. This will give you a higher profile. And in these days where competition is an issue, being seen in this light is very important.

So, start partnering. Look for communications opportunities and take advanatge of them. It will help you, your partners and the community.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New US study shows social media “not quite there yet”

The vast majority of non-profits don’t raise any donations on Facebook. That’s one of the conclusions of a new survey of more than 3,500 non-profits in the US.

The 4th Annual Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report 2012, published by NTEN, Common Knowledge and Blackbaud, found that 98 per cent of non-profits on Facebook do not raise any donations through Facebook. The remaining two per cent reported raising less than $10,000 a year on Facebook. Fourteen per cent raised donations using Twitter and five per cent through YouTube.

At the same, the report found that 93 per cent use social media, and that it is growing fast. Facebook & Twitter communities grew significantly. However, the entry into social media is recent for most non-profits. Nearly half of all respondents said their organization had started using Twitter and YouTube only in the last 12 months. Facebook, in comparison, is the granddaddy of social media. Nearly half of non-profits reported being Facebook users from more than two years.

The study shows that while social media is a powerful communications tool, it has yet to become a major fundraising tool.

For the first time, the study attempted to determine the cost and the benefit of recruiting social media community members. According to the self-reports of non-profits in the study, average cost of a Facebook Like is $3.50 and a Twitter Follower costs $2.05. That means the benchmark for spending to acquire 1,000 new Facebook Likes would be roughly $3,500. The report also found that the average value of a Facebook Like is $214.81 over the 12 months following acquisition.

Many non-profits value social media because it is “free”. However, the time and effort required to create and maintain social media has a real cost.

Overall, only 20 per cent of respondents said social media was “very valuable” to their organizations. The majority, some 61 per cent, said it was “somewhat valuable”. Some 16 per cent said it was not valuable at all.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Find your tapestry

Most non-profit marketing and communications operations are all about threads.

There’s the website. There’s likely some social media – Facebook, Twitter, maybe a few others. There maybe an email newsletter or, if they are really backwards, a print newsletter. There’s events of various kinds, large and small. And there’s media releases on everything from the latest annual report to the big honking donation they just received. All pretty standard stuff. Each of them is a thread.

But a thread, no matter how ambitious it wants to be, cannot be a tapestry. We all know this. Here in Canada, we understand that a dozen superstar hockey players don’t necessarily make a team. In the US, the metaphor is more likely about baseball, and in the UK it could very well be about football (soccer). These marketing threads on their own are nothing compared to the beauty and power of the larger tapestry that they make up.

And yet, too many non-profits don’t understand this. The threads simply don’t work together. The ads don’t relate to the website which doesn’t relate to the Facebook page which doesn’t relate to the Twitter feed which doesn’t relate to the print newsletter and so on. In fact, the only real connection they have is that one acts a direction-finder for the other. So, the website has the Facebook link, but not any real meaningful connection to it – their content is either blissfully separate or just a repeat of the other. There is no give or take, no playing off each other, no pushing and pulling to get the most value out of visiting one or the other.

So, while the threads might appear to be a tapestry because they are physically woven together the picture they create is confused and fractured.

There’s a number of problems with this. The first is obvious. They could be more, perhaps much more, but they aren’t. The second is all about return on investment. Maintaining all these threads is expensive in terms of cost and other resources. Bringing them together into one whole tapestry will make each one more effective and that will likely save money and time.

The likely culprit for all of this is poor communications planning. So many non-profits don’t have a master communications or marketing plan. Many who do just have what amounts to a “menu” of threads and no more. No one has sat down and done the hard thinking required to make all the pieces work with each other. And for some of them, no one ever will.

What I tell my clients is that the biggest challenge they face is coordinating the overall effort. They have to do whatever they can to create the tapestry out of the raw threads with clever ideas and smart planning. Some get it, others don’t.

If you look at your non-profit marketing and see just threads then stop what you are doing and take a step back. If the threads are the how, then content is the what. Assemble you content and chart a course for it to flow across each thread that unites them all into one larger storytelling machine. Give each thread its due, but make sure they reinforce each other. When visitors go to your website they should see something that motivates them to go to see your Facebook page. Your Facebook page should have content that will interest them in your newsletter. And so on. Part of what you are doing is cross-promotion, but part of it is that you are trying to deepen your engagement with visitors.

Threads are nice, but tapestries are better. Take the time to see the big picture and your non-profit marketing will be more than the sum of its parts.