Or are their heads somewhere else?
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.
Mission Trumps Tradition
I love the Girl Scouts. For nearly 20 years, I worked for the organization, often serving as its national spokesperson, and I was always proud to do so. I was less than proud this week, though, when I heard that local Girl Scouts in Washington, D.C. had decided to march in the inaugural parade. Administrators rationalized this decision by saying that participating in the parade is a tradition and pointing out that the Girl Scout organization is not political. While it is true that the Girl Scouts does not take political stands, that is beside the point. I argue that the decision on whether or not to march should be about mission, not politics.
Back in the day, in my vintage Girl Scout uniform designed by Mainboucher
The mission of the Girl Scouts is to “build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.” I have trouble justifying that mission with the fact that Girl Scouts will be honoring a man who has bragged on national television about grabbing women’s genitals, an act that amounts to sexual assault. This same man talked about entering the changing rooms of an international beauty contest when the female participants were in various stages of undress. When several women, one a respected journalist, accused him of sexual assault he insisted he was innocent because they were not attractive enough to rate his attentions. Why does this man behave this way? Because he can. He has no scruples about capitalizing on the power differential between himself and his victims.
Manage for the Mission
I can’t imagine that saluting this man helps build courage, confidence, or character in a girl. If anything, it sends the message that no matter what a man in power says or does, it’s OK. But it’s not OK, at least not in the last few years. Consider what happened to other men who behaved similarly. Roger Ailes lost the chairmanship of Fox News and his colleague, Bill O’Reilly, paid millions to settle a workplace sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a woman in 2004. Just last week, Fox News paid another female employee somewhere in the high six figures to settle a similar suit against O’Reilly. And we all know about “Carlos Danger,” aka former Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner. Would the Girl Scouts honor them?
We used to have a saying when I worked at Girl Scout headquarters in the 80s and 90s: Manage for the mission. Coined by then-CEO Frances Hesselbein, it was a reminder to us that every decision should be based upon the values and purpose of the Girl Scout movement. I wish that today’s Girl Scout decision-makers had kept this in mind.
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.
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 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.