Monday, April 28, 2014

Marketing your mission

Companies have both sales and marketing departments and while they may overlap, they aren't the same thing. A sales executive explained the difference to  me this way.

"Sales is when a customer comes to you to buy a product that they already know they need or want and you convince them to buy your product to fill that need. Marketing is making them understand that they need your product in the first place."  In other words, marketing creates the customers, the demand if you will, and sales services those customers, i.e. satisfies that demand.

In the nonprofit world, when grantors open grants for applications, that grantor already knows that they want to support a certain type of philanthropy. They are essentially shopping for the program that best fills that need, but initially they reach out to you, or at least to organizations like yours. They are shopping and you are selling.

When you make the initial contact, you are marketing your program and organization to persons or organizations that may not know the problem you want to address even exists.
If you want to attract more or better support, you have to market. You might call that public relations, community outreach, or donor development, but it is still marketing. For some reason, many nonprofits just don't think of traditional marketing strategies as applicable to them, maybe because they don't understand the underlying strategy.

Like traditional customers, donors come and go. Long-term funding partners may change focus, have a cash shortfall, or just go away. Having a method of developing new donors is not just desirable, it is mission-critical. Marketing provides that capability.

Donor development is more like marketing. People may only know that they have some spare cash and may have a general idea that they want to support a charitable organization. Your job is to develop a desire to use that money for your mission.

In the nonprofit and philanthropic world, that means putting together a package that tells them exactly why supporting you is a good use of their funds, offer them personal satisfaction by telling them what they will accomplish, and then deliver those outcomes. Sometimes you can do that through mass media branding, and other times it has to be targeted to a specific person or organization.

It also means doing a considerable amount of research to identify the best person or firm to approach. If you are selling a car, you wouldn't market to people that want to buy furniture. If you are youth-focused, then pursuing a  prospect focused on building preservation won't work, even if they are right in your city and have stacks of cash.

Too many nonprofits are looking for the magic formula, the words that get them money every time from every type of donor. They rely on canned appeals that only work with certain established donor demographics and wonder why they can never seem to add new supporters.

If that strategy worked, we'd still be buying the original Apple computer kit from 1976, instead of the  iPad®.

Nonprofit marketing is at its core about expanding your customer (donor) base . That concept doesn't change, whether you are a for-profit or a nonprofit. Whether you do it with events, a blog, social media, direct mail or TV ads, your marketing  goal is still the same.

Marketing should definitely be a part of your fund raising plan. If you don't quite understand the theory or don't know how to put it into practice, email me and we can talk about achieving your specific goals.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Why should your nonprofit have a blog?

I look at a lot of nonprofit websites, Facebook pages and other online communication mediums while working on messaging or developing a grant narrative for clients. About half of them have a blog. After reading them, I sometimes wonder if they truly understand their audience, or the purpose of the blog
Business-related blogs today are not about posting a note about an up-coming event or a notice of a sale. There are too many short-form ways to communicate to use a blog for that reason.

Blogs today are a way to provide a way to keep customers or in the case of nonprofits, donors and supporters, interested in supporting your organization and recruit new supporters.

To do that you need to provide something that takes more than three seconds to read, and while there is an SEO (search engine optimization) element, good blogs are more than that.
Savvy for-profit businesses know that a good blog engages, educates and informs as well as selling something. The blog should integrate with another facet of the business.

For instance, a business selling safety equipment for homes might link to their blog from their product description page like this:

"Item Description: Home fire alarm. Do you know how long you have to escape a residential  fire?  Check out our blog(link here) to see how long you can safely stay in your house when a fire starts."

The blog post then goes into detail about how long you can safely stay in a burning room, why and how to escape and offers a link back to the product ordering page.

The blog post does two things. First it provides factual information that makes the purchase of the item they are selling seem imperative.  Second, it keeps the business name connected to the customer in a very personal way.

Nonprofit blogs usually don't seem to be written for the right reasons or the right audience.

I recently checked out a nonprofit blog for an organization that provides a type of monetary assistance for medical needs. The last few posts were all about how this or that legislation affected this organization, and it contained a lot of industry jargon and acronyms that only a health care-savvy insider would understand. Yet, on their SM page they were complaining that they were having trouble getting their message out. Other than the URL, the nonprofit name, mission and  program title wasn't mentioned in the blog.

The audience I would think they would be interested in is one that can use their help or support their mission, but they seemed to be writing to effect some sort of political change at best, or just complaining to the world in general at worst.

Perhaps a more useful approach would be to engage donors by explaining how their support could provide X dollars for Y medicines or medical devices.  Or, they could engage their potential beneficiaries by offering information on support groups that they work with to reduce medical costs, or show how much their help had increased access to care or equipment. Even better, they could have done the occasional in-depth feature post about a person they had helped.

The point is, there was no reason for someone to engage with them vs.some other nonprofit.

If I was a donor looking for background on them, I might worry that my contribution would be used to lobby for something, or that the organization was about to go under because of the legislative pitfalls they described. That's not a good message to send.

Good blogs bring good results. Think about what outcome you want your blog to have, and write it for the right audience. Don't assume that they know all about you. Offer them some reason to remember you, and to connect with you regularly.

 Don't be afraid to have some length to the posting if the topic warrants it. Most of the blog posts I write for clients are from 350 to 800 words.  If you'd like a free review of your blog, send me an email.  Let's make your blog a truly effective outreach medium. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Donor Development and the Entrepreneurial Mindset

The word entrepreneur conjures up a vision of a person who plans to start and run a for-profit business. Actually, the definition in Webster’s is “one who organizes, manages and assumes the risk of a business or enterprise”. (italics added)

The skills and vision needed to start and manage a successful nonprofit are not very different from those needed to start any business.

You need a goal (mission and vision), a market niche (statement of need), product or service (program), a business plan (strategic plan) and  investors (donors)  for you to stay around long enough to succeed.

So why is it that most fledgling nonprofits can’t accept the idea that they have to have good planning and sound structure to succeed? Why do they approach donors with a vision but no way to make it happen?

There seems to be a sort of “build it and they( the donors) will come” mentality among nonprofit start-ups. Sometimes that works in business…the first personal computer was conceived of and  built long before the investors arrived. More often though, new nonprofits are more like some of the ill-conceived niche carmakers. The DeLorean was a good marketing  concept but it was a lousy car mechanically, and it didn’t capture the market share needed to survive.

Taking your nonprofit from concept to functioning entity requires so much more than just a passion to help someone or something.

Chickens don’t come out of the egg fully feathered and ready to lay eggs, small businesses don’t begin as multi-million dollar corporations and nonprofits don’t attract millions in donations in the first few years, if ever.

In “Climbing the Ladder to Nonprofit Success” I try to prepare new nonprofits for the realities of becoming the next successful  local,  national or global nonprofit. I get a lot of nice feedback from people, but I also get a lot of “you don’t understand the mentality of a nonprofit founder”.

Oh yes, Virginia, I do. That’s why I wrote the darn thing. Every person that strikes out on their own has a dream, but not all of them realize it. The difference is that at some point,  the successful ones learn to borrow from or assimilate existing knowledge to succeed.

There is a “reality” show on TV about prospective small businesses competing to win backing from a group of investors. Yeah, it’s dramatized, but in many ways it is very much like the donor development environment. There has to be value in it for both sides.

For instance, both donors and investors (including social impact investors)  look hard at your team. For nonprofits, that’s your board, your CEO, your CFO, and your program administrators. Let’s face it, there are tens of thousands of nonprofits all targeting exactly the same problems. Donors are going to pick the organization with the best chance to have an impact and the quality of the team is what determines that, not how much money you have.

Telling or showing  donors  that you are the only working and involved member of the team is the kiss of death for your grant application or donor recruitment.

Donors want to know that you have a solid path to success. They want to be a part of that success, but they don’t want to own your nonprofit. On your side, you need to be able to use donations to build your organization’s impact, not just keep the lights on.

Thinking like an entrepreneur isn’t counter-intuitive to achieving mission success. The skills needed to succeed can be learned and developed. Marketing, publicity, planning, results reporting, program design and financial controls translate very well from the for-profit to the nonprofit world.

Want your new nonprofit to succeed?  Start thinking like an entrepreneur.

Need more information on planning to succeed? Drop me a line at  Let’s talk! 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Are you caught in an online fundraising box?

Are you targeting your entire fundraising budget to the internet?  Do you think that if it isn’t online, it’s just too much trouble?  Is FaceBook your outreach program? Does the idea of interacting face-to-face scare the living daylights out of you?

This isn’t a rant against technology. It is a rant against boxing yourself into just one fundraising strategy.

Ten or fifteen years ago, everyone was struggling with how to integrate the internet into their fundraising. Now it is often the only fundraising strategy that new nonprofits consider.

I am one of the biggest boosters of an effective internet presence. I probably derive 80% of my business from contacts that originate on the internet. I constantly maintain that having a professional looking, grammatically correct, cohesive and informative website isn’t optional in today’s world. A social media presence is just expected. Online donations may only generate about 7% of nonprofit revenue, but that’s 7% you might not have without online donation capability
What seems to be missing now is that once you engage a nonprofit online, there is often no personal follow-through capability. I see more and more nonprofits that don’t provide any contact data beyond an email pop-up, even on their website.

There are real people behind those SM posts. They may want to shake your hand or visit your offices, if for no other reason than to prove that you actually exist and confirm that their money is actually being used for the public good.

With all the media coverage highlighting how unsafe your data really is in the cloud, many people are becoming street smart about how easy it is to set up a scam online. If the only place they can find you is online, they may shy away from committing to more than a minimum donation.

It is all too easy in our electronically defined world to lose that sense of real engagement. However close you might feel to your online group, when push becomes shove, how many of them could you actually reach out and physically touch? One out of 1,000?  One out of 10,000? None?

Nonprofits are all about people. They are about people that cry real tears, bleed real blood and have real lives. Don’t lose the human aspect of your mission. If you are uncomfortable with or can’t arrange face-to-face meetings, at least consider video chats and conferences that allow for personal interaction. Have a phone number and a real mailing address available. If your charity is still in the spare bedroom, think about having an informal get-together at a local restaurant or coffee shop. Put a real face and voice in front of your message.

The internet can be a wonderful meet-and-greet tool, but it’s just a tool. Don’t let it become a surrogate or stand-in for real donor engagement. You can hire a developer for your online world, but you need to be the one developing your donor connections. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Six ways to provide program results when you don't have any.

One of the most frustrating parts of being a newer organization or trying to grow a new program is the requirement that you provide a prospective funder with results. It's especially hard when the grant application is an online form that gives you a limited amount of space to explain your results or projections.

That was the case for "Mary", who called me yesterday about reviewing her grant application to a major foundation. She was trying to raise money for a new program, and had been rejected  at least four times. Saying she was frustrated could be the understatement of the year. Her comments were along the line of "How can I produce results if I can't get the funds to even begin?"

For Mary and all the rest of you out there spinning your wheels, maybe these tips will help you with your fundraising

1.  Have reasonable expectations. You are probably not going to find one source that will fund your whole program. Separate your program into specific sections that can be presented as individual opportunities for grantors to help, and ask for funds to support them in that order. This can also create an opportunity for the grantor to continue to support your program year-over-year.

2.  Develop reasonable goals that are commensurate with your capabilities and be able to condense them into  a short sentence or two. If it is a new program, forecast your expected results clearly by setting milestones. This also makes it easier to provide or forecast results.

3.  Research the grantors. This means searching for organizations that specialize in capacity building or seed money that have a history of funding new programs and who are aligned with your mission and geographic area.

4.  Be objective. One question I often ask is, what you would do if the roles were reversed?  Read your application as though you are the one furnishing the money. Would you invest in your program? How is your organization different from all the others pursuing the same funding?

5.  Understand the difference between funding a program and supporting an organization's basic infrastructure. If you need general support, look for grantors that have shown an interest in providing that type of funding.

6.  Grantors are often looking for a long-term result or benefit, so be prepared to illustrate more than the immediate needs in your program. For instance if you are opening a food pantry, the immediate short-term goal is to provide food. Can you show  how will this impact the recipients in the long term?

Your job as a grant applicant to  prove that investing in your program is a wise use of the finite amount of grant money available.

In Mary's case she was approaching the wrong grantors and expecting funding for goals that would take at least five years to attain. By targeting her appeals to a different type of supporter, and breaking her request down into phases, I think she will have better success.

Want someone to look over your grant language?  Email me and let's look at it together!