Non profits

I'm Back

After four years of working as a "permanent" full-time Executive Director, launching a start-up nonprofit, and only taking a few short-term consulting gigs from existing clients, I am once again available for new opportunities.

So, what have I been doing these four years? I took on the challenge of being the first Executive Director of Recovery Cafe San Jose. And, yes, there were many challenges and frustrations, but it was also one of the greatest experiences of my professional life.

RCSJ is a healing community for those traumatized by addiction, homelessness, and mental health challenges. Through support groups, classes, community meals, and social activities, members build their recovery capital, recognize their self-worth, and achieve their personal goals.

When I arrived, the Cafe had only been operating for about one year, and was only open three days each week, and serving four meals. Of those meals, only one was prepared fresh in-house; the others were delivered by another partner organization. They are now open five days each week, and serving seven meals, all created in their own state-of-the-art, commercial quality kitchen.

In 2015, there were only had about 50 members who were actually participating in their Recovery Circles regularly. There were no consequences for missed Circles, and not much direction for what was expected of members besides showing up.

As I leave,  membership is over 160, with all members actively sharing in Circles and a number of other activities, and holding themselves (and their peers) accountable for being present and participating. When they're going to miss a Circle, they call in to make sure they don't lose their valued membership.

In 2015, the Cafe had a handful of Circles, and a few drop-in activities. Now there is a full schedule of Circles, a robust School for Recovery curriculum, and a Community Participation Program that uses one-on-one kitchen and barista training to build self-esteem and social skills, as well as job skills.

Then, the Cafe had not yet lifted any members up to be peer leaders. Now 30% of Circles are peer led, members have created School for Recovery classes, taken charge of the coffee bar, participated in a planning retreat and program committee meetings, and taken on other leadership roles.

Along the way we also did a $1.2 million renovation of the Cafe itself, financed through CDBG funds, and all the delays, bureaucracy, endless meetings, and hard work that implies. Not to forget operating programs at a different location while managing the construction at home base.

Even with all that, much of what we did in the last four years was behind the scenes. When I walked in, basic things like Worker's Comp coverage were lacking, the financial reports to the board had the same wrong figure in the "balance forward" space month after month, there were no policies on holidays, time off, or benefits, etc., etc. Needless to say, that was all corrected, and they are now in full compliance legally and with best practices of proper financial systems and reporting, and have completed several successful audits.

In those four years, I took RCSJ from being barely recognized or understood, to being held up by our peer organizations as a crucial part of the local effort to end homelessness, including being recognized by the Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Board as a "2017 Agency Community Hero."

But what I am most proud of and grateful for is the opportunity to have been a part of the lives of the Cafe members. It is their strength that kept me going and kept me humble. It is their example of striving for something better that inspired me to hold on to the highest ideals of what the Cafe can and should be.

It is sad to end this chapter of my career, but it is time to move on and apply these lessons in the next big challenge.
Categories: Non profits

Avoid this Marketing Don’t – “We Need Your Input”

That’s the subject line of this morning’s email from our local Jewish Community Center (JCC), asking for my input on its member survey.

My immediate response was to delete it because it’s all about the JCC’s needs and not about what us members need. At least that’s what the subject line conveys!

Has your organization ever alienated its audiences doing something like this, something totally narcissistic?

Here’s what’s really annoying: The JCC folks do get it right in the first sentence of the email itself: “There is only 1 week left to take our online JCC feedback survey. Please take a few minutes to complete it. Your opinion is extremely important as it helps us focus our improvement efforts on the areas that matter most to our community. We hope to hear from all of you!”

But that’s the only sentence in the entire wordy email that speaks to serving members’ wants and needs. The problem is that most folks won’t even get there because the subject line is so JCC-focused.

Let me say it again—it isn’t about you and your organization. The engagement you crave comes only when you identify, understand, and speak directly to the wants of your target audiences in language they’ll connect with. 

If anything, I recommend you over-emphasize your audience focus! My suggestion for a far more effective subject line is this: Pls take 5 minutes to tell us what YOU need. The same request flipped to address member needs. Huge difference!

P.S. Boost audience engagement with more tools, tips, templates & case studies delivered to your inbox!

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Categories: Non profits

New Month/Season/Year—Where are You Headed?

This updated marketing plan template takes you from big-picture goals to the right methods, activities, required skills, and budget, and impact! Preview the plan template here.

Eeesh! Those New Year, Jewish New Year, or this season/month/week resolutions—including the ones we set for marketing and fundraising work—are so hard to keep.

That’s because most marketing resolutions are specific action items (to-dos)—I am going to get this email list cleaned up this month, or I’m going to start posting our available dogs twice daily on Instagram—rather than guiding goals—the real “what we want to achieve.” Then, when things change in the environment in which we work—making those actions irrelevant or too difficult— or there’s no clear framework for assessment and adaptation, our aspirations come to a dead stop. As your marketing resolutions fade, you’re stuck in the same place you’ve been.

Instead, resolve to follow this proven path to effective marketing planning:

  1. Articulate your marketing goals (a.k.a. resolutions) for the near future—start with a max of three smart, realistic, and attainable goals for the next 90 days. Warning! Establishing too many goals is pure self-sabotage.
    If you’re pressured to go beyond that timeframe or add goals, push back as hard as you can. Planning too far ahead in this quickly-changing environment is a waste of time and effort. But once you have baseline metrics and anecdotal input from which to make marketing decisions, build the next plan out to cover six months.
  2. Outline the specific, tangible benchmarks that best show you’re progressing (or not) towards these goals. You have to be able to SEE these benchmarks for them to show how you’re doing. Include metrics and other insights from anecdotes and survey findings, to calls or interviews with representative audiences.
  3. Create a nitty-gritty work plan of the actions most likely to get you to goals, including the often-overlooked BIG THREE—1) skills required to execute each action; 2) time required; and 3) who does what.
  4. Monitor your benchmarks on a frequent, ongoing basis and adjust actions accordingly. Even if this means you don’t execute all planned communications, you’ll get better results. Stay accountable to yourself and your colleagues. Action without benchmarking wastes your time and effort.

Get your updated marketing plan template now.
It’s a proven path to getting attention and driving actions you need!

Categories: Non profits

Photos to Fire Up Campaigns & Protect Privacy

Flickr: AFGE

Dear Nancy: Our last two year-end campaigns were centered around client stories, each powered by a photo or two. We got fantastic feedback on these stories and I planned to feature similar profiles this year.

That plan changed radically last month when our social workers urged us to put our clients’ privacy first and stop using client photos. Our staff has agreed to respect their expertise and honor their request.

What are some practical alternatives I can put to work in these last few weeks? And how do I move forward with client photos in the future, as our stories are far less memorable without them?

Answer: You’re facing a tough situation, but you can still mobilize stories and photos in for year-end (and beyond).

You’re 100% right to rely on stories as a quick and reliable emotional hook. They help bring your stories (and your people) to life, making it quick and easy for prospects and donors to feel like they’re “meeting” your protagonist. The more real your protagonists, the more supporters will relate to them personally, e.g., this could be my friend, my family, or even me.

When you connect the dots between your organization’s impact and what supporters already know and care about (such as their family’s and friends’ well-being), you’ll build trust and rapport with them.

There’s more—Your stories about individuals who have benefited from your donors’ gifts show supporters the impact of their donations, which brings them closer. In turn, they’re more likely to donate again now and in the future, and to share your organization’s stories and successes with friends and family.

How to Handle this Year’s Year-End Campaign

But right now, time is short. You’re nearing the finish line on this year’s campaign although your digital platforms enable last-minute revisions (blessing and curse, right?) Take these three steps to tweak this year’s campaign to maximize giving given your unexpected constrictions:

1) DON’T use client photos as is for this year-end campaign.

Trust your social workers’ understanding of what is best for your organization’s beneficiaries. Despite the late timing of their request, your mission comes first. Respect their expertise.

2) DO feature client stories and testimonials with any or all of these adjustments as guided by your social worker colleagues:

  • Change client names
  • Revise story details to make protagonists unrecognizable
  • Create a composite story based on a few individuals to illustrate a fuller picture of your program or service.

3) DO use any or all of the following to illustrate your beneficiary stories:

  • Photos of staff members or volunteers (for example, a staff nurse giving a flu shot to a client whose back is turned to the camera or a volunteer team packing bags of food for holiday distribution)
  • Use edited client photos with faces obscured, individuals positioned, or shots cropped so that the individuals won’t be recognized. You should have releases from subjects even if they can’t be identified, and clear this approach with your social workers.
    • We have experimented with non-identifying photos of the child and photos of volunteers and parents. To our surprise, some of these photos have proven to be even more powerful than the kids’ expressions of excitement,” says Angela Crist, former executive director of Findlay Hope House.
  • Feature photos of elements central to your client’s story such as the set of keys and drivers license pictured below.
  • Stock photos.

Here are two creative examples of memorable photos that protect client dignity and privacy, from Advocates, Inc.’s Facebook page:

“[I look] forward to everybody sharing what is going on…[and] hearing that people are positive, always seeing the silver lining.” – Shaun Grady, Brain Injury Survivor & Co-Facilitator of Advocates’ Brain Injury Survivor Support Group. Read more about the support group that meets twice a month for survivors to share their struggles, stories, and resources: http://bit.ly/2JcwB57

CAVEAT: If you use stock photos, change story details or client names, or create composite stories, say so!

Here’s a model disclaimer from fundraising copywriter Lisa Sargent: “At [org name] we respect everyone who comes to us for help – and many are working toward a fresh start in life. So while their stories are true, client names and images may have been changed to protect their privacy. Thank you for understanding.”

Maintaining client dignity and safety is crucial for every organization. However, photos and stories are too valuable an engagement tool to forego altogether. Follow this 7-point checklist for ethical storytelling to shape photo-illustrated stories that meet client privacy standards and spur your people to donate and spread the word.

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Categories: Non profits

3 Tools Power Ambassadors to Success

We all have an incredible marketing and fundraising resource right in front of us—our colleague, board member, and loyal volunteer ambassadors. But most of us look right past them!

You STILL HAVE TIME to launch your team of messengers to advance your campaigns. They’re already fans, so many of them will be eager and effective fundraisers. So that’s all good. However, your ambassadors’ reach, engagement, and ultimate impact on donations is directly related to saying the right thing at the right time. And it can’t be a script, repeated from everyone to everyone. Spamming robots just don’t work. But…

Provide these three message tools to your ambassadors, and you’re golden. They’ll ensure your ambassadors’ comfort and confidence, so they’re more likely to reach out to friends and family members (a.k.a. donors and prospects). Plus they’ll boost the odds prospects hear the kind of consistent yet personal outreach that generates true engagement and the actions you want!

1) Your #1 tool! Ready-to-use email signatures make it easy for your ambassadors to close their emails in a way that’s hard to ignore or forget. That means more recipients will respond and spread the word to family and friends.

Take this memorable email signature from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

2) Graphic badges ready to cut-and-paste into your ambassadors’ emails, tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts.

Who can resist a face like this?

Or a laugh like this one?

3) Cut-and-paste templates like this email for teachers to customize when fundraising via DonorsChoose.org

Create the templates you anticipate your ambassadors will need most frequently. Have no idea? Ask them!

Get these three tools in your ambassadors’ hands a.s.a.p. so they generate as much engagement and action possible, with the greatest ease and confidence. I can’t wait to hear how it goes.

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Categories: Non profits