Monday, December 31, 2007

Getting ready for 2008

I've already written one post suggesting that those of you for those of you in the non-profit world focus on polishing your organization's storytelling as you head in to the New Year, but I've since run across a list of 5 suggested resolutions posted by Tiffany Myer of Numa Marketing and they're well worth repeating on this, the last day of 2007. May your organization take them to heart, and benefit from them in the coming year.

I've pulled select bits from her article below - but please click here to read it in its entirety if you have the chance.

Resolution #1: Make your Web copy relevant [My readers will recognize this as "storytelling" - something I talk about a great deal in my own posts] ...create market-specific content (copy, images, and/or interactive graphics) for each of your target markets. At a minimum, add this content to the top-tier pages of your Web site this year (those pages that have the highest number of hits such as your homepage). Even if you do nothing else to drive more traffic to your site, the visitors you DO receive will now be much more likely to connect with your organization.

Resolution #2: Boost your online social savvy [My readers will recognize this as "social networking" - something I also talk about a great deal] ...To stay competitive, nonprofits must stay up to speed on the latest tools of social marketing, and understand how these tools may (or may not) grab the attention of their target markets.

Resolution #3: Ask for permission
... Adding such a "lead capture tool" to your Web site is now easier than ever. In fact, most email distribution services (such as aWeber, CoolerEmail) can help you add a lead capture tool to your site in a manner of minutes, even if you are not technically savvy. Remember - the best lead capture tools offer something of value in exchange for gathering the user's contact information. For instance, a subscription to a valuable e-Newsletter, a relevant white paper download, or a resource guide.

Resolution #4: Get noticed
[I would add here that a great public relations plan - something we specialize in at Cause+Effect - is one great way to be sure your organization gets noticed] ...With the right positioning on the Web..., nonprofits can cost-effectively find new customers, donors, members, volunteers or advocates. And in turn, they can also boost their market share, revenue, funds, membership lists, and even amplify their success with national outreach campaigns.

Resolution #5: Track, track, track
... Focus on analyzing basic traffic data every quarter or so, such as: hits per month; average page views per visitor, conversion rates (ratio of hits per how many people took the action you wanted them to take, like make donation, purchase a product, or sign up for your e-newsletter); and referring sites or keywords (these tell you how people are finding you).

Happy New Year everyone!!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thoughts on Benazir Bhutto's assassination

I generally don't cover politics on this blog, but it somehow doesn't feel right to let this day go by without commenting on the loss of Benazir Bhutto.

In 1988, Bhutto was the first woman ever elected to govern a Muslim country. And while Islam has a long tradition of honoring the contributions of women, I agree with Medea Benjamin when she says in this Huffington Post article that Bhutto's death is "a blow to people all over Pakistan, and the world, who hold life sacred and believe in the basics precepts of democracy. It is also a blow to women worldwide who took strength from seeing such a courageous, articulate and charismatic woman playing a leadership role in a powerful Muslim country."

Benjamin goes on to quote from an essay Bhutto wrote for Benjamin's upcoming book. Bhutto's words - powerful on any day - are even more powerful today:
"The neglect of rising poverty against the background of religious extremism can only complicate an already difficult world situation," she said. "The war against terrorism is primarily perceived as a war based on the use of force. However, economics has its own force, as does the desperation of families who cannot feed themselves.

"Militancy and greed cannot become the defining images of a new century that began with much hope. We must refocus our energy on promoting the values of democracy, accountability, broad-based government, and institutions that can respond to people's very real and very urgent needs."
Those of us in the non-profit sector, and frankly all people as global citizens, have no choice but to rise to this challenge. The alternative is untenable.

Benjamin closes her article with these words. I hope they help all of us continue to move forward, despite this horrific setback.
Whether in Pakistan or in our home countries, we can dedicate ourselves to building a world based on tolerance, cooperation and fulfilling the urgent needs of the human family--which are the pillars of a more peaceful world.

Party with a Purpose

For a lot of us, the holidays bring with them a hectic social calendar. Company parties, holiday parties hosted by friends and other types of gatherings fill our schedules.

Your organization might be able to take advantage of this idea by partnering with board members, volunteers, or other supporters to turn an existing event into a fund raising party for you.

Author Morrie Warshawski contacted me recently about about his book "The Fund Raising Houseparty" (now in its 2nd edition) on this topic. It's certainly not a new idea (I've been to several parties like this myself), but it's good to know there's a straightforward how-to available as a reference for organizations looking to raise funds this way. Events can be tricky things, and one can never be too prepared. (For those of you in the Bay Area, he's also doing a workshop through CompassPoint on February 29th).

The book outlines five basic steps for a successful party:
  • people receive an invitation to come to a private home.
  • the invitation makes it clear that the evening will be a fundraising event for a specific nonprofit organization.
  • participants arrive and are served some refreshments.
  • participants sit through a brief presentation.
  • a peer--someone articulate, respected and enthusiastic--steps up and asks everyone present to make a contribution.
Both large and small organizations can benefit from a successful event because it serves as both a fund raising, as well as a branding, opportunity. Not only does the organization have the opportunity to walk away with funds it probably would have missed, it also has a chance to tell its story to a captive, and pre-screened, audience. Better still, it's a relatively painless way to get Board Members to participate in the organization's fund raising efforts.

If your organization is considering a house party, I would add these ideas to the book's suggestions:
  • Start with storytelling. Your stories are your main assets - if there's a way to have them displayed around the space so attendees can absorb them throughout the evening, do so. Incorporate them into your live presentation. Create small take-away items that attendees can share with others after the event.
  • Discourage anonymity. Peer pressure is a powerful tool in these types of settings. If each donation is publicly visible (donors might get a sticker on their lapel, or may be asked to stand for applause), those who have not yet committed to donate will feel pressure to do so.
  • Identify new donors. The room will likely be filled with some who are familiar with your organization and some who are not. Create a visual way to distinguish between these two groups so newcomers know who to ask if they have questions, and staff can easily engage new prospects.
Have other suggestions, ideas or success stories on this topic? Add a comment to this post to share your ideas with other readers.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

Now that Christmas is over, organizations can begin to look forward to 2008. Just like people, organizations should take this time to reflect on the past year, think through lessons learned, and focus on opportunities for the upcoming year.

One key resolution I'd suggest any organization consider, is to re-focus on telling their story in a way that really engages their audience - whoever that might be. Storytelling is the one thing that the non-profit world has going for it. For-profit companies pay public relations agencies top dollar to find new ways to tell compelling stories about the products they sell - most non-profit organizations have truly incredible stories just laying around the office.

Use storytelling to your advantage (read more posts about storytelling here) in 2008 by taking the time to create a visually engaging presentation that captures the heart and soul of your organization. Focus on the humanity, vitality, and impact of your organization. Pull the viewer in with images, music, color, voices, and anything else you can think of. Try it out on friends and neighbors - anyone who doesn't work with you - and see how they react. Keep the parts that provoke emotion. Ditch the parts that don't.

Above all - don't be boring. A quote and image from an excellent post by
My biggest pet peeve is boring nonprofit and foundation staff. Terrible PowerPoint presentations from someone from the social sector make me want to scream out “you have the most powerful and emotionally wrenching material out there and all you could come up with is this dry, picture-less, graph-filled PowerPoint about your 10 year strategic plan?!” People make award winning movies about the work that we do everyday, Al Gore’s PowerPoint won him the Nobel Peace Prize, and you can’t keep your staff and board members awake for a ten minute presentation?
January is generally a slow month for most non-profit organizations. Take the time now to do the work of polishing, reworking and adding emotion to your organization's story. It's a great way to start off the new year.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Getting great reviews

One way to get your organization's donors, volunteers and service recipients involved in generating publicity for your organization is to ask them to write a review. It's a great way to get your organization's name out into the public sphere, and it's also a great way to get direct feedback that you may not have otherwise heard.

The idea of reviewing products has been around for years now. Sites like Amazon, Yelp, Citysearch, and others provide a way for a community of users to share their experiences with others. Similar services for non-profits are springing up now as well. The first of these, Great Nonprofits, allow organizations to set up a page with information about themselves, and then easily allow others to add to the conversation.

The site is still in beta, so it might be worth waiting for a few months before joining in, but it certainly opens up a new avenue for publicity and donor engagement.

Friday, December 21, 2007

January is National Mentoring Month

Most calendar months have several social causes associated with them. By integrating a nationally celebrated month into your annual communications plan, you might be able to create publicity for your organization that you may not have otherwise gotten. (For a great list of commemorative dates, try this page on wikipedia.)

Since January is right around the corner, and since there are so many organizations out there that focus on kids, I thought it might be nice to highlight National Mentoring Month.

National Mentoring Month is a project of the National Mentoring Partnership and will mark its seventh year in 2008. It is designed to focus national attention on the need for mentors as well as how each of us—individuals, businesses, government agencies, schools, faith communities, and nonprofits—can work together to increase the number of mentors.

Any organization that works with kids could:
  1. generate a press release calling for new volunteers that could serve as mentors,
  2. could include stories and photos on their website or in their newsletter highlighting mentor/mentee relationships that already exist in their organization, or
  3. could schedule an event honoring key volunteers that have served as mentors within the organization for a long time.
Any of these ideas, among many others, could generate great coverage in local press. Of course, if you have other ideas, please feel free to comment below to share them with other readers.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Messaging strategies for non-profits from the SPIN project

The SPIN Project (Strategic Press Information Network) provides media technical assistance to nonprofit public-interest organizations across the nation. It's an excellent resource for organizations that have enough in-house resources to execute a strategic communications plan once it's been established.

The SPIN Project announced the publication of a new resource today called "Words that Work: Messaging for Community Benefits Agreements," which was produced in collaboration with The Partnership for Working Families.

The 36-page toolkit lays out excellent advice on framing and message creation, case studies of successful campaigns, and sample communications documents to help organizations plan their own strategic communications campaign.

The toolkit is available for download here.

10 Tips for Year-End Fundraising

This article is taken from this week's Groundspring email newsletter. For some reason, they don't appear to publish the newsletter online, so I've copied it below for your reference.



Millions of Americans will be thinking about last-minute tax deductions from December 26-31, which makes this the single best week of the year to email your prospects and ask for a donation. Last December 27, Network for Good sent a one-sentence reminder to donors which returned an average $50 donation for every email sent. With December half over, it's now or never for planning these year-end fundraising emails. Here's how:

1. Construct your message: As you write your year-end appeal, remember that there are four components to a great message: connecting with your audience based on their values, rewarding your audience, asking for a specific action to get that reward, and making it memorable. Remember this with the mnemonic device CRAM, and these four easy steps. More details here.

2. Frame your call-to-action to answer four questions: To grow your donor base and total donations, your year-end appeals need to have an appropriate "Call to Action." As you craft your call to action, make sure you answer these four questions. More details here.

3. Ask people who have not given recently to make a year-end donation. Ask those who have to consider making a gift in somebody’s name or to make another contribution for tax benefits or specific year-end programs.

4. Have your supporters get their friends and family involved. Your biggest supporters care about your cause and want to further it. Additionally, people heed the advice and examples of somebody they know and trust. Ask them to ask for support on your behalf, through programs like America’s Giving Challenge. More details here.

5. Clearly show how a donation will make a difference; if you’re a homeless shelter include pictures from the previous year’s holiday meal that donations enabled.

6. Add some cheer to your emails with these holiday themed "Donate Now" buttons. More details here.

7. Format your emails appropriately to ensure everyone receives, opens and reads them. Here are 18 ideas to improve your delivery, open, and response rates. More details here.

8. Finally, always thank your donors. Multiple times. The most common reason a person stops giving to a charity is how they were treated by that carity. Thank your supporters, show them how they made a difference and cultivate them for the future.

9. Don't have a fundraising page? We can create a Custom DonateNow fundraising page that looks like your website in as little as 48 hours for only $29.95/month. More details here. No budget? To create your organization’s free Basic DonateNow page, simply add your organization's EIN to the end of the following URL:

10. Need an example of a fundraising email? Here's an email we received this week from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. More details here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Distributed funding - a new model for philanthropy

An article in the Washington Post today underscores one of the key recent trends in philanthropy -- distributed funding.

While foundation-based and major-donor funding are certainly as important as they've ever been, social networking has introduced the idea of generating small dollar amounts from a very large base of supporters as an alternative to more standard practices.

The company featured in the Post article is called Razoo, but there are many others vying for space in this emerging market - including Steve Case's foundation on Facebook (which i talked about in an earlier post),,, Network for Good, SixDegrees, Changing the Present, and many, many others.

Razoo represents an offshoot of the basic concept because it focuses attention on how technology and philanthropy are intersecting with the start-up, for-profit culture of the Internet.

Razoo is a company that has built a Web site to connect people with one another, much like social networking giants MySpace and Facebook, but in support of humanitarian objectives such as preventing homelessness in the United States and helping families who live in a Nicaragua trash dump. Users and causes each have their own pages.

"YouTube is transforming TV. Google has transformed advertising," said Razoo founder J. Sebastian Traeger. "The Web will do the same thing for philanthropy."

The point here is that non-profits have tended to spend a great deal of time cultivating larger donors, and have tended to invest less time cultivating the smaller ones. Given the changing technology landscape, organizations will need to rethink that strategy very, very soon. Tapping in to the deep ocean of donors on the internet is likely to spell financial success for those organizations who reach them sooner, rather than later.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Why storytelling matters

An excellent post on storytelling from Shoestring Creative Group reinforces once again why organizations need to focus on effective storytelling.

When it comes to communicating through storytelling, nonprofit organizations have a huge advantage over corporations and businesses. They WISH they had the stories you have. ... Marketing is crucial to your organization’s mission, not an extra thing that you have to do when everything else is already done. By approaching marketing communications as an integral part of reaching your mission, you can literally use marketing as a way to increase the capacity of your organization. If your marketing activities are not doing this, than you need to completely rethink what you are doing to get out your organization’s story.

The post highlights the biggest mistakes nonprofits make when trying to tell their organizations’ stories.
  1. They look at their organizations from their point of view rather than the view of the audience.
  2. They don’t get their story straight.
  3. They tell the wrong story to the wrong audience.
  4. They don’t answer the question , “SO WHAT?"
I would add one item to this list:
5. They don't include a way for the person hearing the story to get involved.
As part of your 2008 planning, your organization should take inventory of its own storytelling - and take the time to iron out any wrinkles that may have found their way into this critical part of its communications efforts. If your staff, donors, volunteers and recipients can't easily - and clearly - tell your story when asked, take the time to help them do so.

It's worth the effort.

An opportunity for a little extra publicity

After October 15th's Blog Action Day mainstream media began to notice that an organized group of bloggers could focus the attention of the online world onto a single topic for a single day. While the jury is still out on its effectiveness, the idea has certainly caught on.

Bloggers Unite is a different new take on the same idea. Rather than asking all bloggers to write on a single topic, its asking all bloggers to write about a social cause of their choice.

When online events like these are announced, non-profits can use them as a novel way to reach out to their supporters for extra publicity. It can be used as an article in a newsletter, as a sidebar on your website, or as part of an online social networking strategy. If just 1% of your audience chooses to blog about your organization, you could easily generate several hundred new mentions of your cause online. The multiplier effect from these mentions can benefit your organization by attracting new members, donors, and press interest. It's a win-win.

The official description Bloggers Unite program is below:
"The Acts of Kindness theme aims at putting a human face on the bloggers responsible for so much good in the world. The goal is to expose their kindness and generosity as well as serve as an example to non-bloggers that volunteering for a charity, donating to a cause, or simply doing something kind for another person has a ripple effect around the world."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Start 2008 with $50,000 for your nonprofit

The Case Foundation and Parade Magazine are sponsoring America’s Giving Challenge and awarding $500,000 to charities whose supporters have attracted the most unique donors to their cause using new and innovative online tools.

Who can participate:

Anyone with access to the Internet, a willingness to try something new, and the passion and commitment to advocate on behalf of a cause they care about. The entire Challenge is designed to take place online, involving the use of such everyday activities as e-mailing, blogging, and social networking.

To “champion a cause” you must be a legal U.S. resident aged 13 years or older. Anyone can donate to a cause using a valid credit card or other form of payment accepted by our donation processing partners Network for Good and GlobalGiving.

How it works:

There are two ways to get involved:
  • Champion a Cause and have the chance to get $50,000 for the charity of your choice. The eight individuals whose charity badges attract the most unique donors through the America’s Giving Challenge will get $50,000 for their cause.
  • Give to a Cause and help the charity you care about get $1,000. The 100 nonprofits with the greatest number of unique donations made to them through America’s Giving Challenge will each get $1,000.

The Challenge begins December 13 at 3pm EST and will close January 31 at 3pm EST. For more information, go to

Why your staff should read, and comment on, blogs

One of the more influential bloggers in the field of philanthropy, Sean Stannard-Stockton, makes a great point today in his post Blogs as Public Commons on the site Tactical Philanthropy - the comments you post to other people's blogs may in fact be quoted and used in the media. It's public commentary that never expires.

This can be a great thing for cash strapped non-profits. Staff members, especially those that interact with the media regularly, should be reading blogs that focus on relevant topics daily. News often breaks on blogs before traditional media, and conversations between bloggers and their readers often bring insights that wouldn't otherwise surface.

When reading blog posts, staff should be encouraged to leave comments that are well within clear organization guidelines using appropriate, media-ready, talking points that reflect well on the organization.

These comments may get picked up by larger media outlets and get your organization a mention in a story that would have otherwise passed you by. Or, the comments may lead to a call from a journalist that may have otherwise gone to a different organization.

The key is to get involved, get active, and get noticed. It's a free an easy way to open up your organization's publicity options.

Why social networking is important for non-profits

One of my clients asked me to come up with a bulleted list of why social networking matters to non-profits. The list is in response to a reporter's query for a fairly specific article, but I thought the bullets were important to share nonetheless. I've edited some words for confidentiality, but the general ideas remain:
  • We're very enthusiastic about social networking and we've invested in making it one of our outreach efforts for '08. It will allow us to reach out to audiences that haven't traditionally been involved with [our organization] - like younger people, and people who are new to [our area] - in very exciting ways.
  • Social networking is a fantastic tool for non-profits because it's relatively inexpensive, it allows for an ongoing, two-way dialog between the organization and the people it serves, and gives passionate people a platform to talk about causes and organizations that are important to them.
  • [Our organization] truly began as a social network - a network of people who cared about [our state]'s at-risk youth and who wanted to work together to make sure they had access to the best possible opportunities. We've always valued grassroots efforts and we're pleased to see this online phenomenon of social networking reinforce these fundamental values.
  • Social networking is still taking form as a communication mechanism, which is why it's important for non-profits to begin exploring it as a tool now, rather than waiting until later. Non-profits can actually help influence the development of the social networking space if we join the conversation early.
  • Social networking allows everyone at [our organization], from the Executive Director to the kids who receive our help, to take part in the conversation. No one voice is more important than any other, and some of the more interesting conversations begin in unlikely places. We would be missing out on that rich exchange without these new technologies.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gift Giving 2.0: Give the Gift that Keeps On Giving

Techsoup (a technology site for non-profits) will be hosting an online forum all day on December 13th called Gift Giving 2.0: Give the Gift that Keeps On Giving, taking place in TechSoup’s Technology for Fundraising forum.

It's a great opportunity for any non-profits who are looking to make a last minute push for seasonal donations. Now that the number of shopping days before Christmas are running out, people are beginning to look for quick and easy ways to give gifts online. The two hosts of the forum, Robert Tolmach of and Caroline Bernadi of Maatiam, will be on deck to explore how non-profits can benefit from using cause-related shopping sites. They’ll discuss how your gift giving sites can be a fundraising boost not only during the holiday season, but all year long.

The free all-day, asynchronous (not-live) online event will discuss issues such as:
  • What gift giving sites are out there and how do they work?
  • How your nonprofit can make the most of cause-related shopping sites
  • Are the benefits of gift giving sites worth the time investment?
  • Tips and suggestions for using gift giving sites as part of your fundraising strategy

To join in the forum, go to No registration is needed, just show up and post your questions - or browse the questions and answers that are already there.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Your brand is not cosmetic

This week's Non-Profit Times Newsletter includes an insightful article about the power of branding. I've found in my experience with non-profits that many discount the value of branding - or worse, many non-profits actually believe that bad branding makes them look more "authentic" or somehow more "grassroots" than more slickly branded counterparts.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In 2002, a national survey asked 2,600 people to rate 18 factors that make a web site credible. 46.1% percentage of respondents said the site's "design look" influenced their belief in how credible the site was and, of the 18 factors cited in the survey (including site functionality, information clarity, customer service, et. al.) "design look" ranked 1st in overall importance.

These results come from the report, "How Do People Evaluate a Web Site's Credibility," by B.J. Fogg, Ph.D., Cathy Soohoo, David Danielson, et. al., (2002). Here's an excerpt from the authors' analysis of these results:
"Our result about the prominence of design look was not what we had hoped to find; we had hoped to see that people used more rigorous evaluation strategies. However, our result is consonant with findings of other research (Cockburn and McKenzie, 2001) that describes typical Web-navigation behavior as "rapidly interactive," meaning that Web users typically spend small amounts of time at any given page, moving from page to page quickly. If such rapid navigation is indeed the norm for most types of Web use, then it makes sense that Web users have developed efficient strategies, such as focusing on the design look, for evaluating whether a Web site is worthwhile."
This focus on design speaks to the value of branding - while web-design and branding are not interchangeable concepts, a well-designed web-site is a key element in an organization's brand strategy. A well-branded site is a key output of a good brand strategy. A poorly-branded organization will, by definition, have a poorly designed site.

It's always worth the effort to invest time, energy, and sometimes money, into an organization's brand. Without it, an organization risks missing countless opportunities to connect with its donors, constituents and volunteers.

I've copied the article from the NPT Newsletter below in its entirety since I can't find an online version to link to:
Branding ...
It's not marketing. It's everything.

Some might claim marketing and branding are one and the same. That isn't the case, according to branding consultant Larry Checco, who called the statement a myth.

"Branding is a reflection of everything associated with your organization," said Checco, president of Washington, D.C.-based Checco Communications. Good branding, he added, is far less about marketing, advertising and public relations, and far more about the quality of leadership and staff, accountable and ethical behavior, and a willingness, ability and commitment to fulfill whatever brand expectations your organization creates.

"In short, good branding is nothing less than your organization's DNA," said Checco.

According to Checco, it's common for organizations to fall victim to the idea that once the organization has an attractive logo and a catchy tagline, it has its brand. Again, that's not the case. "Your logo and tagline are the banners for your brand," said Checco. "Your brand drills much deeper into your organization's core values."

Checco advised not to succumb to the argument that your organization has no branding budget. "Your brand is not cosmetic," said Checco, reiterating that branding is "truly who you are and what you do." He suggested, "If you effectively leverage your current resources, you may not need much of a budget to better brand your organization."

The most devilish of myths, added Checco, is the idea that branding is the responsibility of your organization's communications and/or marketing folks. "Branding is the responsibility of everyone," said Checco, "everyone: from your board members down to your support staff, everyone."

Checco offered the following three keys to good branding:
  • Clearly define your brand. Use the right language, broaden your message, and include benefits to the entire community.
  • Actively promote your brand. Start with your board, staff and members, and make them educated ambassadors for your brand. Create a hero's journey for those you seek to lead, and make branding a part of your organization's performance review.
  • Diligently protect your brand. Hire or recruit well -- affluence and influence are worthless without integrity and wisdom. Know what's at risk, and educate others. Speak truthfully to authority, be transparent with your finances, and know that whether it's legal or not is not the litmus test of what's acceptable. Finally, expectations, expectations, expectations.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Writing a good press release

This post from Tactical Philanthropy caught my eye today.

Writing a good press release is always a challenge. This is the one case, though, where non-profit organizations actually have it easier than most. The best releases are centered around a compelling human story - which non-profits tend to have in abundance.

Finding a human story can be challenging when you're selling a product, but when you're highlighting the work of an organization that's doing great work each and every day it's much easier. The challenge is to resist the urge to make your release sound "more professional" or "more corporate" - instead, focus on being as authentic as possible - and telling your story in plain language, with humanity, and with dignity.

I'm reprinting the post here in it's entirety to save you the click:

How to Write a Press Release

I get a lot of press releases. I hate them because usually the sender is blasting out a mass email and the content is only vaguely related to the topics we discuss here. Far better is when someone emails me personally and writes a brief note explaining why their topic relates to my blog.

But I just ran across a great press release. It wasn’t even sent to me, but I’m going to post the whole thing below because it is the best press release I’ve ever seen.

It’s from Holden Karnofsky of GiveWell.

The press release is so good because it is written in readable English, not the pained formal script of most releases and because rather than just touting GiveWell, it actually cites someone who doesn’t like their model (FYI: controversy creates conversation, 100% glowing commentary just looks fake).

The release quotes me (although I had nothing to do with the release and just ran across it online). You can find my original blog post that the release quotes here.

Now, before we get to the release, I’d like to point out that on Tuesday, December 11 at noon eastern time, the Chronicle of Philanthropy will be hosting Holden in a live online chat. Holden says in a recent blog post that he wants tough questions, not softballs. Well I got one for him. It’s a question I would never ask almost anyone else in a public forum. Most people would think I was being rude. But Holden likes tough questions.

On to the best press release I’ve ever read:


New York, NY — December 6, 2007 — GiveWell, a research group started by two 26-year-old former hedge fund professionals, released its report on saving lives in Africa today. The report, available at , evaluates more than 50 major charities and finds that the top-ranked one – Population Services International – saves a human life for every $250-$1,000 it spends, roughly 3-4 times as good as other strong charities. GiveWell also questions whether many of the charities reviewed are accomplishing any good at all.

The group started a year ago when Holden Karnofsky (Harvard ’03) and Elie Hassenfeld (Columbia ’04) couldn’t get help with a simple question: “Where should I donate?” The two of them left the finance industry, raised over $300,000 from their former coworkers, and created what the Chronicle of Philanthropy calls a “new, more open kind of charity” and philanthropy consultant Sean Stannard Stockton calls the “pissed-off donor model.”

Their research draws heavily on charities’ internal reports of program execution and outcomes – reports GiveWell gained access to by inviting charities to apply for its $25,000-40,000 grants. GiveWell is the first organization to publicly publish charities’ internal reports, as well as the first to rank charities based on their activities and outcomes; Mr. Karnofsky and Mr. Hassenfeld have been highly critical of Charity Navigator and similar donor resources, which they say look only at “how good a charity’s accounting department is – completely ignoring what the charity does and whether it works.”

“Rating a charity by how much it spends on administration is like rating a movie by how much it spends on actors,” says Mr. Hassenfeld. “There isn’t any other kind of business we expect to do great work while skimping on administrative costs – administrative costs mean people, planning, technology, and all the things you need to crack tough problems.”

GiveWell has drawn its own fair share of criticism, for its skeptical approach to charity – which some fear will discourage giving – and the tone of its blog, which criticizes charities, foundations, and donors alike. Holly Ross, Executive Director of the Nonprofit Technology Network, has accused GiveWell of “misrepresenting organizations … who are just trying to do good”; fundraiser Jeff Brooks maintains that “giving is overwhelmingly an emotional decision,” and thinks donors won’t be interested in GiveWell’s analysis – “not unless they figure out how to re-wire the human brain.”

Mr. Karnofsky argues that individual donors – who give 6 times as much to charity as all charitable foundations combined – will never even have the option to make informed decisions, unless major funders start openly sharing the reasoning, opinions, and facts behind their decisions. “If that means admitting that not all charities are wonderful, then that’s what we have to do,” he says. Others agree, including Stannard-Stockton, who asks, “Why are the young members of the GiveWell project doing more to improve our shared knowledge base than The Ford Foundation?”

Karnofsky and Hassenfeld maintain that it’s precisely their lack of age, wealth, and security that makes them innovators. In a blog post titled “Spending the better half,” Karnofsky writes that “All the great foundations today are following the orders of people who’ve made their fortune doing something else, and who no longer have to consider any criticism they don’t care for.” He concludes, “The first half of life is where people do great things or fall by the wayside. I want to spend that half ‘giving it away.”

Holden Karnofsky
T: 646-217-4256 F: 866-436-2061


Social Networking for Non-Profits

There is an incredible amount of buzz in the PR field regarding social networking these days. Everyone is trying to figure out how social networking fits in to more traditional PR tasks, and non-profits should be as well.

For the uninitiated, "Social Networking" is term that's been in use for a while to describe how people interact with one another. It's only recently been used as a way to refer to the numerous internet sites that now allow people to connect with one another online in different ways. While some of those sites (particularly Facebook, and MySpace) have gotten the lion's share of media buzz, the web is a very fluid place - non-profits should focus on creating a online networking strategy and not a "facebook strategy" or a "myspace strategy"

The key idea is to find a way to have a conversation with those who care about your mission. This requires a lot more than the standard informational website. While a website with accurate and updated information is critical - it does not substitute for a conversation. To have a conversation with people, you need 3 things:
  1. Location - When it comes to social networking, the adage "if you build it they will come" actually rings true. Providing a location where interested parties can interact is the first step of the process. Sites like Facebook and MySpace are good options, but some organizations might choose to leverage an existing blog, newsletter, or partnership with an existing community.
  2. Content - A location gets stale quickly. If your agency is committed to a social networking strategy, plan on updating your presence at least once a week, if not more. Consider a rotating schedule for staff members, or consider inviting board members or volunteers to contribute.
  3. Distribution - Once you've found a sustainable content rhythm, and worked out any kinks with the location you've chosen, you're ready to start spreading the word. While Facebook and MySpace have built-in distribution options, you will also want to explore other ways to reach your membership - via email, newsletters, etc. Whatever strategy you choose, it should be immediately clear to your audiece how to sign up to receive notifications of new content, how to create content of their own, and how to opt-out altogether.
If you're not familiar with Facebook, there's a great primer by Jeremiah Owyang here. I've also posted his fantastic PPT presentation below:

For an excellent research paper on the various social networking sites, faberNovel Consulting has posted an excellent research paper that provides an overview of social networks and the trends in this important market. I thought these two slides in particular did a great job of showing the different types of social networking, the sites that cater to them, and how they're positioned. What's really interesting is that in terms of identity, Facebook and MySpace are at opposite ends of the spectrum - Facebook is viewed as "real identity", whereas MySpace is "fantasized identity". For non-profits, a "real identity" is likely to be much more important than a "fantasy identity"

For more specific tips on how to market your organization using Facebook and MySpace, try the tips on this post -

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Tips to help your organization be a great place to volunteer

These great tips come from They're definitely worth a read if your organization is gearing up to recruit new volunteers - or retain existing ones.

  • Be prepared - Gather any necessary supplies and clear a workspace in advance of your volunteers' arrival. Once they arrive, don't keep them waiting. If you expect punctuality, lead by example.
  • Make volunteers feel welcome - When you first meet your volunteers, offer a tour of the office or event area, make coffee or water available, and don't be afraid to show your enthusiasm.
  • Introduce volunteers to other staff members - Part of feeling comfortable in a new place means knowing a few names. Casually introduce your volunteers to co-workers and other volunteers before engaging them in their volunteer opportunity.
  • Set expectations - Be clear with your volunteers about what is expected of them. Tell them what you need accomplished and act as a resource should they have questions or concerns.
  • Train sufficiently - Your volunteers are excited to help out. Remember, they found you and want to contribute their time to your organization. Make sure they have the tools necessary to succeed.
  • Give them a purpose - Be realistic when assigning tasks to volunteers. No one wants to stand around because there isn't enough work to be done. If it looks like volunteers are idle, either send a few home, or think of a new project they can work on instead.
  • Be honest - Don't be afraid to tell your volunteers exactly what your organization needs.
  • Create ground rules - Volunteers are eager to help, and while they aren't actual employees, they may still need to adhere to general organizational policies. Make sure you relate any important rules or guidelines before your volunteers get started.
  • Set time parameters for service - Most people have a busy schedule and volunteers are no exception. Let your volunteers know how long their help will be needed so they can plan their day accordingly.
  • Show appreciation - Congratulate your volunteers on a job well done. Sometimes a simple gesture of thanks is sufficient. For volunteers who contribute their time consistently or have made a strong impact on your organization, consider giving them a card or taking them out to lunch.

Media Kit 101

Many of the non-profits I work with are operating without a media kit. This is a critical strategic error, since it means that - by definition - the organization's PR efforts have to be re-created from scratch each time they're needed.

A media kit is a collection of all of the information a journalist would need to have at their fingertips to do a story on your organization. A media kit should contain:
  1. a general history of your organization (also referred to as a "backgrounder")
  2. a fact sheet (a brief "facts and figures" overview of your organization")
  3. biographical information and photos of key members of your organization
  4. photographs (that you have written permission to use)
  5. video (again, with permission)
  6. press releases (with the most recent release at the top of the list)
  7. past news articles (with the most recent article at the top of the list)
  8. color and gray scale logos
  9. organization brochures, newsletters or publications (if any)
Ideally, all of these things should be available in a central location on your organization's website, as well as in hard copy.

Gathering these items well before a big press opportunity lands in your organization's lap, will ensure that you're able to capitalize on every press opportunity that comes your way.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

PR Grants Available for Non-Profit Organizations

I received the following information to share with my readers.

PR Grants Available for Non-Profit Organizations
Application Deadline December 31; CyberAlert to Award $25,000

Stratford, CT — 11/26/2007 — CyberAlert, Inc., the online media monitoring and measurement service, today announced that the company will award a minimum of 12 public relations grants to not-for-profit organizations. Each grant consists of one full year of free news monitoring / press clipping services, ranging in value from $2,700 to $3,900. The aggregate value of the grants is expected to total at least $25,000.

All not-for-profit, educational and charitable organizations in the United States and Canada are eligible to apply for the grants, except previous grant recipients. CyberAlert is accepting grant applications until December 31 and will announce the grant recipients in January. A simple and secure grant application is available online at

Since starting the PR Grants program in 2004, CyberAlert has awarded a total of 74 grants with a retail value of more than $125,000.

In January 2007, CyberAlert awarded PR grants to 24 organizations in the U.S. and Canada with a total value of $65,000. The award-winners included 100 Black Men of America, Inc.; ALS Society of Canada; C3: Colorectal Cancer Coalition; Center for Constitutional Rights; Environmental Defence (Canada); Family Literacy Foundation; Guttmacher Institute; Keep America Beautiful; Lance Armstrong Foundation; The Medicare Rights Foundation; and National Philanthropic Trust.

The 16 CyberAlert PR Grant award-winners in 2006 included included the Alliance for Consumer Education, Canada’s National History Society, FishAmerica Foundation, Global Fund for Women, JA Worldwide (Junior Achievement), Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP), National Rural Health Association (NRHA), Oklahoma City National Memorial, Partnership Against Domestic Violence, and Relief International.

In 2005, CyberAlert awarded PR grants to 16 not-for-profit organizations including the American Jewish World Service, Common Cause Education Fund, Islamic Society of North America, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (Canada), National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and National Network to End Domestic Violence. In 2004, PR grant winners included Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, American Association of Poison Control Centers, Earthwatch Institute, La Leche League, Lutheran World Relief, and RespectED program of the Canadian Red Cross.

“The PR grant program is one way for CyberAlert to assist not-for-profit organizations and to give back to the public relations profession that has helped our business grow and expand successfully over the past seven years,” stated William J. Comcowich, CEO of CyberAlert.

Founded in 1999, CyberAlert ( is a worldwide press clipping, media monitoring, broadcast monitoring and media measurement service. Its CyberAlert® 4.0 worldwide news monitoring service monitors over 25,000 online news sources each day in 25+ languages. The company’s TV broadcast monitoring service monitors the closed caption text of over 2,100 news programs on over 500 TV stations in the Top 100 markets in the United States. To monitor consumer discussion (online word-of-mouth), its NetPinions™ service monitors over 100,000 Web message boards and UseNet news groups for consumer insight about companies, products, key issues and trends and its BlogSquirrel™ service monitors over 5 million blog postings each day from a total of 25+ million blogs worldwide. CyberAlert EdCals is an editorial calendars service covering over 3,000 publications with over 300,000 editorial opportunities.

Additional information about CyberAlert services is available at

Sunday, December 2, 2007

A Very Good Gift

Thanks to Katya's Non-Profit Marketing blog for this post
The Good Card is a gift card for charity – where the recipient gets to donate to their charity of choice. That includes ANY charity with registration in the US – up to 1.7 million. Customers, clients, employees, friends and family all have their favorite charities and now you can give them the perfect gift – a donation to their favorite charity via Network for Good’s secure giving system.

What a great idea for the holidays - definitely something worth giving and getting.

Storytelling and crisis management

Sitting in the hair salon today I overheard a stylist and his client say that this week's celebrity magazine cover story was "all public relations crap" - meaning that whatever celebrity was the subject of the story was clearly trying to undo some recent damage.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem. When a story rings false with only a quick glance at the headline, your public relations efforts have done more harm than good. Storytelling only works when your audience is able to receive the message of the story. If the story is rejected before it's message can be heard, it's not worth telling.

When crisis hits - and it will - sometimes the best strategy is not an outright denial. In those moments, it's often best to return to the agency's roots. Tell the one story that rings true no matter the circumstances - the story of the agency's mission, vision and purpose.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Powerful Opinions

One of the easiest ways to get publicity for your agencies is to write an Op-Ed piece for a local, regional, or national publication. Sit down with a calendar and identify four dates that lend themselves naturally to your work (for example, an organization that works with children could probably write a piece for the holidays, one for the back to school season, one for the US observance of children's day, and one for Mother's Day) and beginning planning opinion pieces around those themes. Throughout the year, also keep your eyes open for items in the news (the example organization from above could have used the numerous toy recalls this year) that align with your organization's work.

Once you've started to craft your opinion pieces, think hard about what kinds of publications would be good targets for your initial pitch. Start locally, and then branch out from there. I'm always an advocate of starting small - but definitely don't limit yourself. Make a list of 10 - 20 publications with audiences that wold be interested in what you have to say, and then do your homework. Contact them to find out how to submit your Op-Ed piece properly. Read the publication's opinion section for several consecutive months to understand what kind of tone of voice their editor prefers.

And last but not least - edit, proofread, and edit again. Before you submit your piece, be completely sure that it's well written, factual, clear and concise. Don't trust your own eyes - ask for help.

It's worth the effort. Well placed Op-Ed pieces are a great way to get free publicity for your agency.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Perception vs. Reality

The Red Cross is the standard-bearer for most American non-profits. When catastrophe hits, donation dollars flow in to the Red Cross before they find their way anywhere else.

The problem is, as the Red Cross continues to face challenges year after year, Americans begin to assume that all non-profit organizations have organizational problems. And with that assumption, donation dollars begin to dry up.
"...for it all to unravel in six months is just another mistake, just like all of the others this organization had made before.”

That sense of dismay echoed throughout the charity world yesterday.

“The tragedy of this is that the American Red Cross is probably the best-known nonprofit organization in this country,” said Diana Aviv, president and chief executive of the Independent Sector, a nonprofit trade association. “When the stories about it are more about governance and management and less about how it saves lives, it’s sad and not just for the Red Cross.”

In the aftermath of this latest crisis, organizations need to find a way to make their own stories rise above the rubble of the Red Cross mess. A clear PR strategy that (1) focuses on compelling human stories, (2) highlights the impact of donor dollars, and (3) reinforces the transparency of the organization's infrastructure becomes even more critical to the organization's success.

Why should non-profits invest in PR?

This has to be the single most common question I get from people once they find out what I do. While non-profits are scrambling for every dollar they get from donors, sponsors and foundations and state sources, why should they spend any of it on PR?

Four reasons:

1. Credibility: People give money to organizations they trust, and it's far easier to trust an organization that is in the media spotlight.

2. Consistency: The more often your organization is able to tell its story, the more likely it is to reach potential donors, and the more likely it is to sink in.

3. Clarity: The more often you tell your story, the better you'll get at telling it. By the time you get the opportunity to be in the New York Times, or on the Oprah Winfrey show, you want to be a

Reach - PR is one of the best ways to reach audiences that you wouldn't otherwise be able to access:
When it comes to PR, nonprofits are now learning the value of expanding that circle of likeliest donors to include the broader public. While donor relations may bring in dollars more immediately, PR has the potential to significantly widen the donor base. [read the whole article here]

All told, PR may be one of the best investments that a cash strapped organization can make. With small, deliberate, incremental steps - non-profit organizations can use the power of the press to their advantage - as long as their willing to put in the work it takes to get great press.