Add marketing strategy into your nonprofit strategic planning

“Which road do I take, she asked?” “Where do you want to go?” responded the Cheshire Cat. “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it doesn't matter!”

“Which road do I take, she asked?”
“Where do you want to go?” responded the Cheshire Cat.
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter!”

“Okay,” the executive director said. “We really need to do some nonprofit strategic planning.”

“Why,” said the board members. “We’ll spend a lot of time and money and the plan will sit somewhere on a shelf.”

This isn’t an atypical refrain. There are, however, important reasons for your nonprofit to do strategic planning. Nonprofit strategic planning answers the 4 big questions:

  1. Where are we?
  2. Where do we want to be in the future?
  3. What part of the status quo do we need to change to get us where we want to be in the future?
  4. How do we make it happen?

But, the planning process doesn’t need to be a chore. Nor does the plan need to sit on a shelf.

I had the distinct honor of working with Bridging The Gap Foundation. I was a consultant for their Strategic Planning, Board Development and Fundraising Grant. This opportunity was made possible through the generosity of The David and Lucile Packard Foundation’s Organizational Effectiveness and Philanthropy Program.

The main lesson I learned is that there isn’t one perfect strategic planning model that works for every nonprofit. There are a number of variables that must be considered, including:

  • the culture of the nonprofit
  • whether or not the organization has had success in strategic planning
  • the volatility of their environment
  • the main reason for doing the strategic planning at this time

My most recent engagement was with a small nonprofit with a hard working and committed board. After some preliminary discussions, we decided on a planning process that integrated vision-based and marketing strategy.

Vision-based strategic planning model:

  1. Identify your purpose (mission statement)
  2. Establish a vision statement
  3. Select the goals your organization must reach if it is to effectively work toward your mission and achieve your vision
  4. Identify specific approaches (or strategies) that must be implemented to reach each goal
  5. Identify specific action plans to implement each strategy (or objectives to achieve each goal)
  6. Compile the mission, vision, strategies and action plans into a Strategic Plan document.
  7. Monitor implementation of the Plan and update the Plan as Needed

Add marketing strategy into your nonprofit strategic planning:

Strategy is not planning. Strategy is about making smart strategic choices. Strategy helps create strategic planning and action into real-time.

La Piana Consulting identifies 5 principles for strategy development that I weave into the strategic planning process:

  1. Know Yourself
  2. Know your market
  3. Build on Your strengths
  4. Make decision-making criteria explicit
  5. Identify Your Big Question, e.g., your greatest challenge

Do you have any thoughts about strategic planning or weaving marketing strategy into the strategic planning process?

We’d love to hear from you!

Positioning your nonprofit for 2013

“The future ain’t what it used to be.” – Yogi Berra

Whew, 2012 is over! Before you get bogged down in your everyday business, take a few moments to explore trends that will impact your success.

Over the last month I’ve been consumed reading and analyzing articles and blogs about trends that will impact the nonprofit sector this year. I’m still digesting the excellent information. However it is time to ‘put pen to paper’ and share with you what I see as the most important trends so I can help ensure a good start to 2013.

Leveraging Technology

Leveraging Technology is number one on my list. However, you will need to distinguish the trendy from the useful. You also need to make a commitment to really know your supporters, so you can effectively take advantage of new technologies to ensure your nonprofit’s impact.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review posted Ten Technology Trends to Watch, an excellent article by Mark Tobias president of Pantheon, which provides online technology solutions for nonprofits, associations, and government.

Mark suggests you should consider these trends as you develop your technology strategy for 2013. Read more details and explore links in the post by clicking SSIR.

  1. Measurement and transparency. What gets measured gets improved.
  2. Consumer-oriented online engagement. People who interact with your organization online don’t want to have to work to make sense of it.
  3. Deploying data to answer burning questions. Think beyond your web analytics dashboard. Instead, what are the core questions your organization wants to answer? Research shows nonprofits are collecting tons of data but aren’t using it.
  4. Knowledge hub rising. To survive and thrive, nonprofits and associations must add value beyond membership and advocacy.
  5. Mobile plus. More and more organizations are creating mobile-friendly websites, but the future of mobile is finding ways for people to accomplish even more when they’re away from their desktops.
  6. The unfettered conference. Recognizing that the world and its travel budgets are changing, nonprofits and associations would be wise to rethink and retool conferences.
  7. New types of products. Nonprofits and associations are using a series of technology-propelled products to make a big difference for both their members and markets (such as health or education).
  8. Whole Foods-ification. It’s organic! Nonprofits are slowly learning not to treat their website and technology as they do their annual reports—projects that are perfected and completed.
  9. Digital learning is soft. The explosive growth in online courses proves how much America likes to learn. So, it’s important to keep in mind that the way people engage, learn, and behave online is changing.
  10. Proof and standards for digital learning are hard. As learning transcends time and place, colleges and employers are challenged to develop meaningful proof that a degree or certificate reflects the knowledge and skills necessary for job success.

 Anticipated Changes in the Nonprofit Sector

Change is pretty much assured for nonprofits in 2013. Nell Edgington, president Social Velocity provides 5 Trends to Watch in 2013. These are hot off the press! You can learn more detail and explore Nell’s links by clicking her post on HuffingtonPost.

  1. More demand for outcomes – nonprofits will need to articulate what results they hope their work with achieve and track whether those results are actually happening.
  2. Decreasing emphasis on nonprofit overhead – More and more people are coming to realize that you can’t just invest in programs without the staff, infrastructure and fundraising to make those programs happen.
  3. More advocacy for the sector as a whole – we will start to see the sector organize, mobilize and build the confidence necessary to claim its rightful place.
  4. Savvier donors – Because nonprofits are getting more savvy, donors are as well. In addition to an increasing demand for proof of outcomes, donors are slowly starting to that there is a difference between revenue and capital in the sector.
  5. Increased efforts to rate and compare nonprofits – As nonprofit outcomes are increasingly in demand, donors become savvier, and the “nonprofit overhead” distinction diminishes, we will increasingly evaluate nonprofits based on the results they achieve, not on how they spend their money. But that requires that a whole infrastructure for evaluating and rating nonprofits emerges, just as it has for the financial markets.

Please share this posting with your community. Create robust discussions. Explore how these trends will impact your nonprofit. Use these issues to help position your organization to take advantage of opportunities in 2013.

Do you have any more trends that you see impacting nonprofits this year? I’d love to hear from you!

PS my next post focuses on some user-friendly fundraising tips and strategies.







It’s not too late to improve year-end giving!



Okay, I know it’s late. But, there’s still time to ensure that your organization is primed to reap the benefit of end-of-year donations.

So, as you get ready for your end-of-the year push, I want to share my personal pet peeves that make me think twice before supporting a nonprofit. These were originally posted last year – Putting together the puzzle pieces for your end of the year fundraising:

  • No way to send an email and/or make a phone call to a specific staff member
  • Sending me a letter and/or an email addressed to ‘Dear Friend” – There’s just no excuse. You need to send personalized email and letters.
  • No one to answer the phone and/or respond to email the end of December – It boggles my mind when nonprofits completely close down during this most important fundraising period. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard from ‘almost’ donors who moved on to support organizations where they could reach a human being.
  • Making me hunt for a way to make a donation – A donate now link is not enough. Visitors to your website need to see a donate button regardless of where they land when they enter your site. Complement each page with a donate pitch with an easy to find donate button
  • Donate now buttons that don’t link directly to the donation page – For each extra click you are losing potential donors.
  • Donation pages without contact information and an address for regular mail – Personally I like to charge my donations. But, there are still people who like to send a check. Be sure to invite visitors to do so.
  • No way to make a tribute donation – I’ve developed deep relationships with nonprofits who provide a phone number and/or email address for tribute donation details. On the flip side I’ve crossed off nonprofits that don’t have some mechanism for making these gifts.
  • No personal thank you notes for online donations – Most online systems have an automated response system. Be sure and follow up with a personalized thank you.
  • A registration that promises an online newsletter that never comes

Recently I read an interesting article by Curtis Chang, founder and CEO of Consulting Within Reach, posted in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. I found myself nodding my head as I read the article.

Here’s a summary of End-of-Year Appeals: Five Bad Habits to Kick. (I strongly suggest you read the article. It contains a number of great links).

1. Sending everyone the same message

Do you really want to send the same message to people who have already donated this year and to people who have never given? Not acknowledging a previous supporter’s donation is like greeting a good friend at a party by extending your hand and saying, “Hi, it’s nice to meet you.” With all of the database technology at hand, every organization should be customizing their appeals.

2. Over-reliance on emotional stories

Stories are important to appeal to prospective donors. But end of the year letters also need to contain data that demonstrates the overall impact of donations. Don’t forget to compile your stats, and display them in a compelling way to help persuade people to support your organization.

3. Killing with words, words, words

In our communication era, people have a decreasing capacity to consume long stretches of text. During the holiday season, as more and more physical and electronic letters arrive than usual, that capacity plummets even further. Nonprofits would be well advised to look for other media to embed in their annual appeals.

4. Neglecting the little things

Almost ¼ of all email opens occur within the first hour of being sent. This means that a little thing like when you’ve scheduled delivery of your electronic appeal can make a real difference. Your placement—and testing—of your hyperlinks to a giving opportunity can also have out-sized impact. For physical mailings, the biggest little thing you can do is to include a handwritten message: Some studies show that this increases the chances of a donation by 300 percent.

5. Botching the thank you

One very obvious bad habit is to forget to send a timely thank you to donors. Thank you cards matter—but beware: According to other studies, thank you gifts can backfire by ruining the donor’s sense of altruism.

Don’t let these stumbling blocks keep you from reaping the end of the year fundraising benefits.

Do you have any further suggestions? Would love to hear from you.





On joining the NPO Connect Team

I was invited to join the NPO Connect Team. Another opportunity to empower nonprofits to do good!

NPO Connect is a brand new online platform designed to build the skills of nonprofit professionals and volunteers. NPO Connect offers a comprehensive approach to professional development and networking for the sector.  

How exciting to join such an incredible team. Now I can continue to learn and explore while participating in this new venture.

NPO Connect Content Experts:

So, please join us!  Take advantage of NPO Connect’s no-cost, 30-day trial membership!

While you’re on the site take a look at the Forums. We’re building community and sharing insights in fundraising, marketing & communications, and program planning & development.

Please let me hear from you. I’d love to know what you think!





Insights into Nonprofit Social Media

How can you squander even one more day not taking advantage of the greatest shifts of our generation? How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?”” Seth Godin

I admit I didn’t understand the significance of social media until the 21st Annual Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture featuring Al Gore in 2009. It was the first time that I incorporated a social media strategy into the marketing communications plan.

The goal was to increase awareness of the lecture series and the host organization. By all measures the lecture was a resounding success! Social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, played a significant role.

The yearly Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report, sponsored by Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), Common Knowledge and Blackbaud, focuses on social media trends in the nonprofit sector. The 4th annual report provides interesting insights.  More than 3500 nonprofit professionals responded to an online survey about their use of social media.

Two social networks were part of the study:

  • Commercial Social networks, e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Myspace, Flickr and Foursquare.
  • House Social networks –networks built & managed by the nonprofit in-house.

Here are a few of the 2012 social media insights:

  1. Only Facebook and Twitter increased from 2011 to 2012. Respondents accumulated an average of 8,317 Facebook members & 3,290 followers on Twitter, an increase of 30% and 81% respectively from 2011.
  2. A consolidated brand strategy, which focuses most or all branding & marketing  on one Facebook page and 1 Twitter account is the norm.
  3. The average value of a supporter acquired via Facebook Like is $214.81 over the 12 months following acquisition. This includes all revenue from individual donations, membership, events, etc.
  4. Facebook advertising is mainly used to raise awareness and build a support base, not for fundraising.
  5. 54% of respondents said they were not fundraising on Facebook. An Ask for an individual gift is the most common fundraising tactic on Facebook. Event fundraising was the 2nd highest category.

What I found to be the most telling were the top 3 factors for success on Social Networks. They speak to the same focus that is necessary for all successful initiatives:

  • #1 – Developed a strategy
  • #2 – Prioritization by executive management
  • #3 – Dedicated social media staff

In other words – Develop a plan, get buy-in and identify a knowledgeable key team member to lead the new initiative.

Is your nonprofit using social media? I would love to hear what is working best for you. Please contact


Don’t shoot yourself in the foot: Revisit your communications plan before you speak!

“If you don’t know where you’re going it doesn’t matter which way you go!”

How could one of the country’s most trusted nonprofits end up in a no-win situation with its supporters and corporate partners?

How could a well-liked and respected organization that does so much good for so many find itself on the defensive?

Below is a brief overview of how the Susan B. Koman Foundation landed in such a difficult spot.

On January 31st AP reported that Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the nation’s leading breast cancer charity, was halting its partnerships with Planned Parenthood affiliates that provided breast screening services through a Komen grant.

This caused a bitter rift between the two organizations. Planned Parenthood responded immediately and launched a fundraising initiative to replace the lost funds; at first the Komen Foundation was quiet. By the time they responded it was too late.

The ongoing effects were almost instantaneous. The once venerated Komen Foundation found itself on the defensive and it appears it will remain there for a long time to come.

It is hard to imagine, but as Kivi Leroux Miller describes in the Accidental Rebranding of Komen for the Curethe foundation waded into an area of highly charged public feelings without a communications plan. Or, I would suggest, without using their marketing communications plan to guide their actions.

This is not the first time that Komen has hurt itself. Nancy E. Schwartz, in Getting Attention, describes corporate relationship snafus Komen made, and how the brand suffered.

So, what can you do to prevent your nonprofit from shooting itself in the foot?

Here are some guidelines:

  1. Always keep your marketing communications plan  updated & use it!
  2. Always market your mission.
  3. Carefully define whom your mission serves. You need to meet the needs of your core stakeholders.
  4. Measure your constituents’ needs. Research, research, research to ensure your programs & services resonate with your target audiences.
  5. Evaluate the success of programs & their relationship to your mission.
  6. Communicate regularly & consistently.
  7. Craft your messages to reflect how our mission affects your different audiences.
  8. Communicate in terms of your ROI even when it is not in monetary terms; quantify your economic impact.
  9. Celebrate your successes. Show how your ‘market diversification’ creates the funding to provide your services.
  10. Know your organizational elevator speech so you can articulate your vision & Competitive Advantage Statement.
  11. Keep a “face” on your marketing initiatives.
  12. Evaluate often & be prepared to refocus your efforts.
  13. Do not go into the dark. Have a crisis communications plan and be prepared to use it.
  14. Keep your social media outreach up-to-date. If/when a crisis strikes be prepared to address issues head-on. Make sure your posts & tweets are relevant to the issue at hand.

Not certain your new initiative serves your better purpose?

Test it before you launch!

I would love to hear your thoughts on ways to ensure your communications integrity and success.

Interested in a CS&I Marketing Communications Template? Contact me at


Role of the Board & Successful Fundraising Techniques

The rollercoaster ride that nonprofits have experienced since the beginning of the ‘great recession’ has been anything but fun!

Although the great recession began in 2007 according to the National Bureau of Economic Statics, the reality of its effects on nonprofits really hit home the day the venerable brokerage firm Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in September ’08. Pretty soon nonprofit leaders and staff came to realize that how nonprofits managed their fundraising would be changed forever.

The Nonprofit Finance Fund provides financing, funding and advocacy services to nonprofits and funders nationwide. For the researchers among us, they are a fount of data. Their “Guide to Navigating Changing Times” provides answers and resources to help weather these difficult times.

An October 11 blog posting from David King, president Alexander Haas highlights “10 Lessons Learned from the Great Recession.”

  1. Relationships matter more than causes
  2. Serving on a board in not an honor, it is a real job with real responsibilities
  3. If you stop fund raising, you will stop raising funds
  4. Endowment is not an insurance policy against declines in earned and donated revenue
  5. Take donors for granted and they will take their donations elsewhere
  6. Financial acumen is, in fact, a requirement for nonprofit executives
  7. Your next campaign does not “have” to be larger than you last campaign
  8. We have a new definition for what we “need”
  9. The donor pyramid has been pinched in the middle (think hour glass)
  10. Fear of multi-year pledging has reshaped how capital campaigns are executed.

I have always been committed to a fundraising board. Last year I was asked to do a presentation on the “Role of the Board & Successful Fundraising Techniques.”

This presentation is a Call to Action for nonprofit boards to encourage ownership and enthusiasm for fundraising.

You are welcome to share with your nonprofit’s board of directors. I’d love to hear from you to learn of their response.

I know this is an extremely busy time for fundraising. We at Creative Solutions & Innovations wish you the very best in your quest.

Power of Positioning

“If you don’t know where you’re going it doesn’t matter which way you go!”

While putting together my PowerPoint slides for an upcoming marketing session at GCN’s Nonprofit University, I had an ‘aha’ moment. I clearly saw that positioning was key to virtually everything we were going to discuss in the session.

A positioning statement is a tight, focused description of the core target audience to whom a brand is directed, and it provides a compelling picture of how the nonprofit wants its targeted audiences to view them. A well-constructed positioning statement brings focus and clarity to the development of a marketing strategy and tactics. Note: Brandeo is an online marketing resource and provides an excellent description of positioning and what is needed to craft a positioning statement.

I truly believe that the only way to be heard above the noise, and to create and sustain what your audiences think about your organization is to position it correctly.

A couple years ago, I worked with a dynamite team on AMA Atlanta’s pro bono project. The Team conducted a SWOT analysis, reviewed and critiqued all written materials provided by the nonprofit client and the website, and conducted audience discovery calls.

The audience discovery consisted of 11 interviews from members, funders, sponsors, partners and a legislator.  Looking at the interviews by audience segment, it became clear that their Funders found the message and purpose of the organization to be clear and concise, and felt that they were valued partners. However, its sponsors/members/partners and the legislator believed the client needed a clearer message statement. They wanted more involvement with the organization to feel included as a valued stakeholder. The organization had an opportunity to gain additional funding through its members/sponsors/partners by having a clear message and involvement with this core group.  There was also much to gain on the advocacy front with these segments knowing the defined mission, vision and services.

After analyzing the results of the SWOT and Audience Discovery calls, the team decided to create a Vision Statement, two positioning statements [The client separated its advocacy and program/services into separate units] and to provide a list of marketing communications opportunities in the short term.

If you would like more information on positioning and audience discovery calls please contact me at

Don’t Ignore the Warning Signs!

“In the complicated world of nonprofit organizations, it can seem like everything goes wrong at once.”

Barbara Kibbe and Fred Setterberg, Succeeding with Consultants

I know when I take on a new assignment I am going to step on some toes. After all, I am usually hired to work with nonprofits facing challenges – a struggling board, a scheduled special event without implementation plans, an organization without a strategic plan or a rainmaker founding board member who decides to leave, but won’t let go.

Many times, the stressors are external – loss of funding, harsh political climate or a lack of buy-in from donors on signature projects.

Be sure and conduct a thorough situation analysis to begin. Identify challenges to focus your work. Here are 10 key questions to guide the process:

1)      Does the organization have a fundraising plan that identifies different sources and funding activities?

2)      Do all the board members contribute money?

3)      Is there a donor management program in place?

4)      Is there consensus about the organization’s vision and mission?

5)      When is the last time the bylaws were updated?

6)      Are marketing and development programs based on services and programs instead of the mission?

7)      Does the community know the nonprofit?

8)      Is the IT infrastructure adequate?

9)      Is there an updated strategic plan and is it followed?

10)   Does the organization have published ethical guidelines for governance and fundraising? Are they followed?

So, be prepared to ruffle some feathers. And, be prepared to read the warning signs when it is time to go.

But, before you leave, be sure and share the nonprofit’s successes that were accomplished while you were there.

It Started with a Simple Question – Building a Website

Building a website from scratch

It started off as an innocent request – “I need a few important changes to the website today!”

“Well, first you have to make a request. Then the webmaster has to schedule the changes. Don’t make any until we see the cost.”

Anyone who works in communications knows how important the website is. This is especially true for nonprofits struggled to ‘cut through the noise’ and raise much-needed funding.

 To some, the word “technology” is titillating – it conjures up excitement and pumps adrenaline to the brain. But to others, “technology” elicits an uneasy feeling in the gut that makes them want to curl up on the couch with a blanket and a book. Exposure to too much of the geeky stuff causes them to just shut down. From a webinar description presented by Jay Wilkinson, CEO of Firespring

So, instead of making that request I wrote the rationale for having a website built on a platform that the organization could manage – without an outside webmaster.

Then I started on a most interesting journey. Although I had designed, not in the technical sense, websites for organizations, I had never actually worked on one. I knew that if I could manage the process . . .well, just about anyone could.

So, please see for yourself. I’d love your opinions on

It is a constant work-in-process, which is just what the DeKalb County Police Alliance wanted.

Are there glitches? To be sure. Do I make mistakes? Absolutely. But, I can fix them.

Now, if I could only find those extra hours in my day.