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.

Position Sponsorships as a Marketing Vehicle

Sponsors Mingle at Special Event

We all know that sponsorship is important to nonprofits and businesses alike. Sponsorship is all about marketing.

 Securing sponsors is about building effective partnerships that enhance your organization’s mission and the sponsoring company’s business goals. And, sponsorship is about raising money.

All sponsors want to reach as many people as possible in their target market. So, the more you know about your organization’s audience, the better your chances of securing sponsors.

But, do we know why special events are so significant in developing these relationships?

Chalk it up to experiential marketing – the best way to deepen the emotional bond between a company and its customers, through creating memorable experiences.

Experiential marketing is a well-known concept to business marketers. It is a great way to deepen the emotional bond between a company and its customers, through the creating of memorable experiences.

The goal is to establish a connection based on emotional and rational response levels and always contains a face-to-face interactive element. This is exactly what sponsors want. And, during a well-designed and executed special event this is exactly what they get!

On the other hand, special events are a way for the nonprofit to interact with its audiences including donors and prospective donors. They help raise the nonprofit’s voice in a crowded field and ensure that people will know who they are and what they do and why they are important.

Sponsorship guru Patricia Martin brings real focus to the issue with her post Just One Question to Ask a Sponsor in her Culture Scout blog post. She notes that no matter what shape the economy is in, sponsors still need to market their brands. And, what better way than in partnership with a cause?

Hats Off To Aunt Cele – Fundraising Basics

Hats Off To Aunt Cele

My family lost our Aunt Cele this week. She was high-spirited with a strong sense of fairness and generosity. She always had important life lessons for her family and everyone she met. She taught me to be committed to what I believe in and to do things right the first time.

So, in honor of my Aunt Cele, I offer these fundraising basics so that you and your organization can launch a successful fundraising campaign right from the start.

 1.     Remember, fundraising is all about getting people to be supportive of your organization.

2.     Have a passion and commit to your cause.

3.     Never ask a stranger for money. Cultivate your relationships and introduce each person you involve with your passion for your cause.

4.     Think of the needs of your donors. Find out their interests and how they will personally benefit from giving to your cause.

5.     Only ask for what you need. Do not create new ‘wants’ because you think they sound better.

6.     Personalize your solicitation. The more personalized “the ask” the more likely people will give.

7.     Raise money from the inside out. Start with your board and all volunteers involved in your fundraising.

8.     Raise money from the top down. Solicit your largest gifts first. Success is contagious and will impact your campaign.

9.     Make your case larger than your organization. Show donors how they, their children, and the community will benefit.

10. Don’t overreach. Make sure your strategy supports a successful campaign.

11. Run your fundraising campaign like a successful special event – Research, plan, implement and evaluate.

12. Be sure and say Thank You every chance you get.

 Thank You Aunt Cele.

And, Thank You all for reading my posts.

Building a Successful Fundraising Board

Building a Successful Fundraising Board

I’ve been asked to do a presentation on the Role of The Board in Fundraising, and I’m thrilled. Board involvement is the heart and soul of good fundraising. Committed leadership is a nonprofit’s greatest strength.

But, moving to a fundraising board is not always easy. The shift is wrought with tension between the members of the board and staff.

Throughout my years of working with boards in transition, I have heard a lot of reasons why board members do not like to engage in fundraising. Each concern is legitimate and needs attention.

“If I ask, I’ll have to give.”  – Board members are usually asked to engage their family, friends and colleagues. Quite often they are asked to reciprocate and give to their contact’s favorite nonprofit. This could be a problem for board members with limited means.

“No one told me I would have to raise money.”  People join boards for different reasons and work on various projects and programs. It is, however, a board responsibility to raise resources to support the organization. A smart practice is to include fundraising expectations in the board orientation.

 “It’s embarrassing to ask people for money.”  Make sure your organization provides fundraising training. Understanding the development process is important and will assuage a lot of discomfort. 

Should all board members be involved with fundraising? Absolutely! That isn’t to say that everyone will be engaged in the same way. There are many elements that go into successful fundraising.

To get started, walk before you run. Ask each board member to give to the extent of his or her ability. Match talent and comfort levels to the type of fundraising activities in which the organization is involved.

Some board members will be much more comfortable working on a special event than face-to-face solicitation. Some will have the technical savvy to grow interest in their organization through social media.

Remember, people give to people. The main reason a person makes his or her first gift to a nonprofit is that the right person asks. So, successful fundraising goes hand-in-hand with building relationships. And who better to build those relationships than leadership?

You know you have a fundraising board when members are asked what they do for their nonprofit and they say “We raise resources and influence for our organization.”

Now you know you’re on the road to success!

Brainstorming – Your Key to Creative Solutions

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” Albert Einstein

Creative Thinking

What a dynamic session! I had the privilege of teaching another event management course for the Georgia Center for Nonprofit’s Nonprofit University.

I always encourage people to start the planning phase of all marketing communications initiatives with a brainstorming session. It is very useful when planning a new or updating an established special event.

Brainstorming creates a freewheeling environment in which everyone is encouraged to participate. There are no “wrong” or “bad” ideas.

Make sure participants have fun brainstorming. Encourage them to come up with as many ideas as possible, from the solidly practical to whimsical. Welcome creativity!

Here are some suggestions for holding a great brainstorming session. These are from Notes For Nonprofits :

  1. Set a Goal – This helps keep everyone on track
  2. Be Strategic – Invite people with diverging opinions. Be sure and create a mix of  big picture thinkers.
  3. Post an Agenda – Brainstorming doesn’t necessarily mean a free for all. Creating an outline will keep you on task and help you focus on specific sections.
  4. Start the session off with leading questions.
  5. Encourage everyone to speak.
  6. Determine data collection. I like to provide a flip chart so everyone can see all the responses.
  7. Set a time limit. I suggest you break the session into 1/2 hour segments. If not, the session tends to become dry.

Brainstorming to add to your next special event? Once the goal is set, hold your brainstorming session. Betsy Wiersma and Karl Strolberg suggest using four open-ended questions to add WOW to your event:

  • What will surprise our guests?
  • What will they talk about after the event?
  • What will leave a lasting impression?
  • What will be extra special or unique?

Have you had any successes brainstorming? I would love to hear from you!

Your Nonprofit’s Linchpin: Special Events

Pascha's Eye

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect recently. It’s been so cold and wet that it makes it hard to ride Pascha and Olive. One way to keep them moving is to lunge them. As long as I stay aware that I have 1200+ pounds twirling around me on a rope I can let my mind focus on other things.

A lot has been happening in the last few weeks. Of course much of my focus and I’m sure yours is on Haiti and the growing number of special events occurring to bring aid.

At the same time I’ve been immersing myself in the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, this year as a spectator. And, the Slifka Center at Yale University produced my client/friend’s play The Green Book in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

What I’ve come to realize is that these disparate events are the linchpins to the nonprofit enterprise.

Seth Godin describes linchpins as the essential building blocks of great organizations in his latest book entitled Linchpin: Are Your Indispensable?. Of course he is describing the indispensable people who get the job done.

I suggest you can view special events through the same lens. They are the essential building blocks of your organization. They are the foundation and building blocks to community outreach and fundraising.

We will continue down the path of discussing the power of special events as this blog develops. I hope you join me in the discussion.

A Year End Reflection on Special Events


Michigan Civil War Battle Flag shown at Kalamazoo Sanitary Fair Special Event. Archives of Michigan

Michigan Civil War Battle Flag shown at Kalamazoo Sanitary Fair Special Event. Archives of Michigan














I’m often asked if it is smart to hold special events during challenging times.

My response – Absolutely!

Special events bring attention to your mission and help generate publicity for your nonprofit. They are an excellent  fundraising tool, as they encourage donors and sponsors. And, special events are great for engaging your leadership and volunteers.

Special events have been the mainstay of successful fundraising since the Civil War. The Ladies Soldier’s Aid Society of Kalamazoo raised $9,618 for wounded and sick soldiers at a four-day special event at the Kalamazoo Sanitary Fair in 1864. (Orosz, 1997)

The first known American Red Cross fundraiser was a play produced by six children in Waterford, Pennsylvania in 1884 to aid flood victims. The organization’s fundraising focus changed virtually overnight in 1917 when President Woodrow Wilson created the Red Cross War Council. A series of special events including bazaars, block dances and “Kick the Kaiser” parties raised $115 million.

Birthday ball for the president 

During the Great Depression, the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, started raising money with an annual “President’s Birthday Ball.” The balls were held every January on Roosevelt’s birthday. The balls were so successful that in 1938 they were merged into the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, later renamed the March of Dimes. (March of Dimes website)





As 2009 closes and we look towards 2010, I offer these “Special Events” Resolutions to you and your organizations:

  • We will host at least two special events in 2010
  • The events will be integrated into our development plan.
  • We will start our planning early with brainstorming sessions that engage our board members.
  • We will invite new people to the table and think “Outside the Box.”
  • We will stay true to our mission and focused on our goals when we plan special events.

My best to you and your family for a healthy, creative 2010.

The Rule of One – Planning Al Gore Event

A Full House at the Eizenstat Memorial Lecture featuring Al Gore. Photo Credit Chris Savas

A Full House at the Ahavath Achim Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture featuring Al Gore. Photo Credit Chris Savas

The key to a successful event is planning. One of the first steps is goal-setting.

Goals establish the scope of an event and help the event team set priorities and stay focused. They are the basis for benchmarking progress along the way.

Remember the Rule of One – You can only have one top priority. You need to be specific about what your number one priority is and what goals go along with that. You can have secondary or auxiliary goals as well, but only one main focus.” – Jeff Shuck, Event 360, Inc.

Non-profit events focus on raising money or awareness. Once you establish your primary goal, be sure it is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

Metrics help you measure your outcomes. And, each goal has its own set. Possible money metrics include, total funds raised, ROI, or an increase in revenue from the last special event.

Raising awareness metrics include the number of new participants and/or volunteers, media impressions or increased name recognition.

Once the goal is set it should guide your budget, timeline, promotions and sponsorships.

The focus of  the Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture featuring Al Gore was to increase awareness.

Was the event successful? Absolutely!

“This year’s Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture raised the bar even higher for future AA events. We plan to reach those heights and beyond.”  – Ahavath Achim Synagogue President

I hope this post helps guide your focus and leads to success in your next special event.

Lessons from Al Gore

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

Honorable Al Gore addresses 21st Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture. Photo credit Chris Savas

Honorable Al Gore addresses 21st Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture. Photo credit Chris Savas

What sage advise from the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland.

There is an old African proverb that says, “if you want to go quickly go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

We have to go far, quickly. – Al Gore

My next post describes the planning and execution of the 21st Annual Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture featuring The Honorable Al Gore. More than 3000 people joined us for this extraordinary evening.

The success was the result of planning, planning & more planning to figure out which way we were going.

So, please join me so we can figure out how to go far, quickly — together.