Is your nonprofit audience really listening—

Or are their heads somewhere else?

Get attention with nonprofit marketing tips

4 Nonprofit Marketing Tips to Get Their Attention

1)  Bottoms Up!

Nonprofit organizations used to have constituents. Now they have customers. And those customers make quick choices whether or not to support you. The younger they are, the less they tend to trust top-down sources of information. Word of mouth is trusted, which is why social engagement sites like Facebook and review websites like Yelp are so popular.

TV talk shows and radio call-in programs still work because viewers can identify with the person being interviewed, IF you know how to do it.  Print is still good for policymakers and professionals, but spokespeople are increasingly scrutinized by readers seeking to avoid spin.

2)  Opportunity Knocks!

The news hole for your issues is quite small.  Notice the fascination with celebrities. Lightweight topics claim a huge portion of space and time in traditional media. Your messages have to be edgy and sharp to break through the clutter and you must respond rapidly so you can be first in line to comment on a news event. Letters to the editor and op-eds go to those who move quickly and speak memorably. Scan the news everyday.  Search for stories that you can comment on and then be the first to submit a letter to the editor on that topic. Here’s a good example of a letter to the editor of the New York Times from Carola Bracco, executive director of Neighbors Link in Westchester County, New York.

3) Pounce and Bounce!

The Web is so dense with information that it really is more like a trampoline — tightly woven, interconnected and elastic.  Ever notice how funny emails continue to circulate year after year, or the way rumors never seem to die? That’s because communications bounce around cyberspace indefinitely.  Your messages can too. Creative use of the Web is what makes the difference between an organization that gets noticed and one that gets forgotten.

It’s not just about your website. It’s about commenting on blogs and leaving links to pertinent content. It’s about starting a fan page on Facebook and being sure that your CEO has a compelling profile on LinkedIn. Write your own blog IF you can keep it current. Consider advertising on topical blogs, sponsoring links on Google, and boosting your best Facebook posts.

4)  Be Prepared!

The Girl Scouts are right. The best way to seize opportunity is to prepare in advance.
–Write a few op-eds on key issues and file them away. As soon as one of your topics appears in the news, customize the op-ed with a timely lead paragraph and send it off before noon the same day.
–Create a single sentence that describes how your nonprofit contributes to the larger society. Whenever someone asks what you do, tell them where you work and why it matters.  Market the mission, not the minutiae.
–Update your core messages every quarter.  Don’t start with what you want to say. Think first about what gets people to listen. Too often, nonprofits are interviewed but not quoted in the final story. If you want to be quoted, say something worth quoting.
–Join with other nonprofits to make greater impact. That’s what youth organizations in New York State did for a campaign to Raise the Age of criminal responsibility. Check out the editorial they got in the Journal News.
–Get periodic message and media training for all senior personnel. The best spokespeople are always learning, no matter how much they know or how long they’ve been on the job.

Don’t give up voting on election day.

During a sea battle in the War of 1812, as he lay dying in his quarters, Captain James Lawrence spoke his last words: “Don’t give up the ship.” For good or ill, his crew did exactly that as soon as Lawrence died. A few months later, though, commander Oliver Hazard Perry won a decisive victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, flying a flag that quoted Lawrence’s last words.

Don't give up voting on election day.

The dying words of Capt. James Lawrence and the triumphal slogan of Oliver Hazard Perry

This quote, and its history of failure followed by success, came to my mind when a friend despaired of this election saga in a Facebook post, writing “I have no faith in my fellow Americans anymore.” I do and here’s why:

While some people have come unhinged during this very long election slog, I believe that our better natures will prevail once we are not constantly being wound up by a click-hungry, cynical news media that has abandoned responsibility to act in the public interest. We’ve been through worse, so don’t give up voting on election day.

Experience Matters

At this risk of sounding preachy, I’ll say that this anti-intellectual, “we-hate-elites” strain in populism is what makes it so dangerous. Elite, educated thinkers like Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton founded this republic. Businessmen like Paul Revere and radicals like the Sons of Liberty had vital roles to play, but they did not have the global experience to lead the nation once the revolution was over.

We won the revolution because elites like Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson went over to France and negotiated an alliance. Shortly thereafter, the Constitution was built on compromise, even in the midst of fierce partisanship. We need radicals to shake us out of complacency and call our attention to injustice, but not to hold the reins of power, and certainly not to negotiate on behalf of the nation.

So Do Patience and Inclusion

Guys like Trump and Sanders offer quick and easy answers to problems within existing systems, but have no realistic ideas about how to actually fix things. As Trump says, he just wants to “blow up” Washington. Hillary Clinton is a reformer, not a radical. She’s good at building working partnerships and I believe she will lead us in making things better. True, change will be incremental, but that is better than a deadlocked government fueled by cable without conscience.

Don't give up voting on election day.

Vote: No matter how you say it, be sure to do it.

When vested powers feel threatened, they freak out and push back. That’s why the atmosphere is so venomous now. Going slow and being inclusive is tiresome and not everyone is cut out for it. Hillary Clinton is. And there are Republicans who are also. The reformers in both parties will find each other. So “be just and fear not” (Shakespeare, Henry VIII), and be sure to vote.

Saving Landmarks from Lovelocks

I’m thinking of starting a nonprofit. It will be called GOTCHA, which stands for Guardians of the City’s Historic Architecture. Its mission is for members to patrol landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, catch couples in the act of defacing these sites with one of those stupid “lovelocks” (a padlock to signify lasting love) and cheerfully throw them over the side.

Landmark Brooklyn Bridge

The beautiful Brooklyn Bridge

Really, what is the mindset of young adults (and they are almost always young) who think it’s OK to attach junk to an extraordinary public treasure in order to mark a relationship which is significant only to them? I already can’t walk the bridge without stumbling over tourists planted in the middle of the walkway, poised to stab my eye out with a selfie stick. Now I get to see scores of cheap, colored padlocks—often with accompanying graffiti—hanging from the beautiful cables of an engineering marvel, placed there by people with no respect for public heritage. I want to wring their self-centered necks.

They won’t always have Paris

Paris has several times had to remove millions of locks from its landmark Pont des Arts footbridge over the Seine. Their weight actually collapsed some of the bridge’s parapets. In the weeks following, hundreds more locks appeared, forcing Paris to add protective guards to the bridge that make defacing the structure more difficult–and also diminish its charm.  A few years ago, a group of lock pickers here in New York went up on the Brooklyn Bridge and removed many of the padlocks that were degrading both the structure and the view. Just days later, new locks appeared (although, thankfully, not as many as in Paris).

The landmark Pont les Arts bridge jammed with lovelocks

The Pont des Arts bridge in Paris jammed with lovelocks

But perhaps Gretna Green

This ridiculous phenomenon is happening to landmarks all over the world. On the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin, along the Wild Pacific Trail on Canada’s Vancouver Island, on an overpass at Taiwan’s Fengyuan railway station. Sensing a commercial opportunity, a private business at Scotland’s Gretna Green (the Las Vegas of the 18th century) decided to go with the flow and sell special, lightweight padlocks to lovers so they can deface the historic place without causing too much damage. I wonder how the people who live in the village, as well as other visitors, feel about that.

So who wants to join GOTCHA? In the interest of keeping you out of prison, I promise to protect your identity—at least until the Russians hack my server.