Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A non-profit lament: How do we get publicity?

In the world of smaller non-profits, publicity is like that old joke about the weather. Everybody talks about it, but no one ever does anything about it.

Unlike the weather, though, publicity is not controlled by some ultra-powerful, impossible-to-influence force like Mother Nature. It is controlled by human beings who, like most of us, use a formulaic approach to do their jobs, day after day.

And these editors, producers, newscasters and talk show hosts can be influenced to give editorial space or airtime to one story over another, but the process of getting such consideration from these ultra-busy, deadline-pressed journalists requires dedicated time and resources.

Economic downturn or not, the overriding priority of most non-profits is fundraising, followed by program fulfillment, volunteer recruitment and a host of other areas. If that list is organized by amount of resources devoted to each line item, publicity most likely appears at or near the bottom. Everybody wants it but no one wants to devote real resources to it.

The reason for this is that its value is often not directly quantifiable. A direct mail solicitation may not reach its revenue goal, but it will produce some level of funds. A community service program might not draw the desired crowd, but it will be attended by x number of people.

An article in the newspaper will make people feel good about the mission and increase the number of those aware of the non-profit but its impact on fundraising and on finding new donors, volunteers, advocates or patient families may not be as directly trackable as the direct mail solicitation.

What people know -- but don’t always consider -- is that publicity achieves so much more. It changes the perception of the recipient audience. It provides awareness, cachet and word-of-mouth advertising (the best kind of advertising there is).

At Vizion Group, we prioritize publicity because it lubricates the solicitation process. It validates. It provides credibility. The sell is so much easier, we all know only too well, if the subject of your outreach is aware and has a positive perception.

Then, when we generate coverage, we aggressively market that coverage to influencers, other media, prospective donors, staff, volunteers, neighbors, vendors, partners, friends and family because nothing says “quality” or "worthwhile" or "important" like the third-party endorsement of a respected media outlet.

Publicity-speak includes words like assets (celebrities), platforms (events), angles (overcoming adversity) and visuals (funky stunts for photographers and TV cameras) and every charity has them to a certain degree.

But you have to put time and effort into the pursuit of publicity, using professionals employing tried and true strategies and tactics involving press releases, fact sheets, assertive outreach, creativity and persistence. It is the only way to achieve the kind of recurring exposure that you need to advance your cause.

The news media likes non-profits because they are altruistic and non-commercial, but there are just too many of us. Every now and then, they will find a deserving non-profit organically, but the editors, producers, talk show hosts, bloggers and twitterers that we know respond to suggestions, ideas and opportunities that make their jobs easier.

There’s an old saying among those in the public relations profession:
If you give the media the opportunity to ignore you, they absolutely will.

So don’t give them the chance.

When well planned and executed, public relations can be the most valuable resource that you have.


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Monday, May 11, 2009

Where are all the good ones hiding?

That’s a question most often asked when talking about romance. But, the old adage rings true when it comes to Non-profits looking for Board Members. Where exactly are they all hiding?

A non-profit’s greatest resource is its volunteers. Board Members are volunteer leaders. They drive the mission and the activity NOT the other way around. The Philadelphia Young Nonprofit Leaders (PYNL) think the latest and potentially greatest board members are our youth. Last month they hosted a “speed-dating” event for non-profits to meet with their young leaders. The goal: to see if there was chemistry between a potential board member and the organization. It’s a clever idea really…being a dedicated volunteer is about passion, drive and internal motivation. You have to have chemistry with your board; you need the spark that keeps the relationship alive.

BUT is passion enough? No. non-profits are best equipped to meet their mission when their leaders can take that passion and turn it into energy—to raise money, raise awareness, solve the problem!

Generally, when we think Board we think high profile, wealthy, connected. And, we are right. But, perhaps we need some innovative ways to start looking for board members who have the time (and the spark) to help do the work.

Time is a valuable commodity; more valuable perhaps in a down economy when you need MORE people spreading the word.

So, I ask you, where are they all hiding? Do you have a secret resource on attracting new, dedicated board members to your cause?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Recession versus Remission


It is impossible to avoid the doom & gloom attitude that prevails in the world today. Corporate layoffs, investment loss, GETTING A JOB IS TOUGH; our homes have lost value-ouch! But what about philanthropy? Sure I understand charitable donations come from discretionary income but so what? Do we get down and prepare for the worst? We prepare but we don't get down. While donations come from discretionary income our contributions to the important causes we support are vital. Vacations and going to a movie are optional but the money needed for research into my mom's disease is NOT OPTIONAL!

I work with The NephCure Foundation which supports research for two rare kidney conditions. Everyday I hear another sad story about a child's symptoms or side effects. There are no known treatments or a cure. And do you think the parents are affected by the economy? -sure but their kids are not in REMISSION because the country is experiencing a RECESSION!!!

Those of us who work in philanthropy have to double our efforts. I read the articles about charities canceling events which raises my eyebrows. We should think about alternatives before canceling because this recession is not ending in time for the next event. Think twice about taking the year off. We need to keep the docs in the labs; the libraries open and provide health services to those who are unemployed. It is our responsibility.

Instead of lowering our expectations, we should ask more people to donate. Yes, we might get less from our friends and family. That just means that we have to ask more people to donate; people that we might not know. Philanthropy also stimulates the economy. It's not just about the banks and the auto industry. Less funding will cause layoffs in the research field and we've waited long enough for cures for cancer, heart and kidney disease. Why delay now? Let's do everything we can to keep these scientists working.

I read somewhere that a person's positive attitude is their passport to a better tomorrow. We owe a "better tomorrow" to kids with kidney disease and all the important causes. So remember; recession not remission. And when remission comes I plan to throw one HUGE party! Want an invite?

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