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.

 

 

 

 

Looking back – moving forward

As 2012 begins, it is the perfect time to look back to move forward.

What worked? What didn’t? What could have been even better?

Be sure and invite board members as well as staff to look back to 2011 with you so you can productively move forward.

Make the session upbeat. Celebrate your successes and learn from your challenges.

I’ll help you start with a few opening questions. These are based on lessons I learned over the past year – and beyond.

Did you –

  1. Create/update your strategic marketing plan? Did you really use it?
  2. Base all your marketing communications messages on your mission? Or did you go off message?
  3. Cull/update your database? Identify from whom you had not heard?
  4. Reach out to donors and volunteers and thank them – and then thank them again?
  5. Stay the course and build on your successes, or were you swayed to deviate from your project plans? If so, did it work?
  6. Capitalize on your branded special events or try something new? Were you as successful?
  7. Build-in evaluations throughout the year? Create benchmarks to ensure quality?
  8. Ensure that you know your audiences and that your audiences know you?
  9. Invite new voices to participate in your brainstorming?
  10. Launch a social media campaign? How did it work, how can it grow?

Please stay in touch. Let me know what’s on your mind and how I can help you launch a very successful 2012!

You can always reach me at deborah@creative-si.com or visit our Facebook page .

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 deborah@creative-si.com.

Increasing Attendance with Social Media

Your special event is planned. Now, the critical question is – how do you  increase your attendance?

Everyone points to the benefits of social media to drive your attendance. Social media is a vehicleyou use to enact your strategy. You can increase the value of your special event by integrating social media into your marketing strategy.

But, before you develop your strategy, ask yourself these questions developed by Stacey Ruth, a marketing consultant with Atlanta-based Actio Marketing :

  1. Are your attendees active in any of the social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube or blogs/forums)?
  2. Do you have an awareness problem, and are you trying to reach large number of attendees quickly (and perhaps inexpensively)?
  3. Do you have someone on your team with enough time on their hands to populate a social media site effectively? (That means building content that can be pushed out every day in most cases.)
  4. Do you have knowledge (or access to someone with knowledge) of best practices for the social media platform you want to apply? Social media is not an “if you build it, they will come” scenario. There is a definite approach to each social network that is uniquely effective — and any number of approaches that are equally ineffective!
  5. Would you like to build an extended life to your event and create a community around it? 

If you answered yes to more than one of the above questions, social media including Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter, is worth integrating into your event marketing strategy. However, don’t overlook the value of tried-and-true ‘social media’ platforms including Word Of Mouth marketing or WOMM.

Word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM), is an unpaid form of oral or written promotion—in which satisfied “customers” or your organization’s ambassadors tell other people how much they like your nonprofit and invite them to participate in your event. Word-of-mouth is one of the most credible forms of advertising because people who don’t stand to gain personally by promoting something put their reputations on the line every time they make a recommendation, according to Entrepreneur.

Bottom line – know your audiences before you invest the time and energy as part of your event marketing strategy. Use your social media strategy as a way to involve your board and volunteers.

Any questions about specific social media vehicles to use for your event? Be sure and contact me at deborah@creative-si.com.

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.

The Power of Thank You

It All Starts With Thank You!

“Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” GB Stern

Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Well, it is unfortunate how many nonprofits do not fully thank their donors.

Of course we thank them, you say.

But, are you sure?

I don’t believe for a second that the lapse is intentional. Now that I’m back on the other side of the fence responsible for implementation, I know how easy it is to inadvertently mess up.

The DeKalb Police Alliance like many organizations does not have a contact management database. All work to this point is done off of spreadsheets. So tracking is all but impossible.

This is not an unusual problem Most CRM databases are expensive. With donations down it is hard to justify the cost, especially when licenses and training on the system are not transferable from one staff person to another.

Then a colleague  suggested I check out Salesforce.com for the Alliance. I knew I didn’t have the budget and could not justify even a seemingly inexpensive CRM program.

Imagine my surprise and delight to learn that Salesforce.com has a Foundation.

“Salesforce.com set out to change the way companies think about philanthropy ten years ago, and today more than ever it continues to define us as a company.” Suzanne DiBianca, Executive Director Salesforce.com Foundation.

The Salesforce.com Foundation is based on a simple idea: Donate 1% of salesforce.com’s resources to support organizations that are working to make our world a better place.

I strongly suggest you check it out –www.salesforce.com/foundation.

Thank you for all you do for your community. And, thank you for following my blog.

 Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to get back to thanking our donors.

Jumping Over The Fence – From Consultant to Nonprofit Staff

Jumping Over The Fence to Nonprofit Staff

 “All things change; nothing perishes.” — Ovid

I’ve been a nonprofit consultant and trainer specializing in marketing communications, fundraising and event management for many years. In early April I accepted a challenge – to return to the other side of the fence and become an interim executive director.

I am working with the DeKalb County Police Alliance, which was formed by business and civic leaders to support the work of DeKalb police officers.  An independent, non-profit organization, the vision is to make DeKalb County and its incorporated cities the best and safest place to live and work.

What a challenge! I had forgotten how all encompassing it is to serve as the only staff person. My charge includes developing a viable marketing plan and leading the implementation while preparing for the organization’s 4th Annual Gala Police Officers Ball.

As is so often the case with nonprofits, it seemed as if everything needs to be touched at the same time – growing the board, establishing best practices for board management, addressing the website and on-line fundraising, engaging and retaining sponsors, etc.

Will there be change? Absolutely! And, I’ll be the person advocating change. But, I won’t be doing so alone. My intent is to build on the organization’s collaborative environment. 

So, please stay tuned. I will blog about our progress and lessons relearned along the way. If you find that anything resonates with you or your organization, please let me know.