Non profits

Which Story to Share? (G.R.E.A.T. Stories)

Sometimes we have so many strong stories available that it’s hard to select the best ones to feature in a specific campaign. At other times, it seems impossible to source the right story or find a fitting one to harvest from the story bank. I’ve been there.

Luckily, there’s a proven, two-step solution to both problems:

  1. Pinpoint what your people need to understand about your organization’s focus (problem or cause), and about your solutions and impact.
  2. Select or find a story that provides those answers.

This approach works even if the problems or causes you focus on, or the solutions you use, are complex. The right story—of people overcoming obstacles and moving forward—will showcase your focus and answer crucial questions in relatable and accessible terms. In fact, this kind of vibrant, relevant, and repeatable storytelling is a benchmark of G.R.E.A.T stories.

Here are the three main story types to use, and the answers each typically provides:

OUR IMPACT: Before and after. Shows the impact of your organization (and, by extension, your supporters) on the communities and individuals you serve.
– Answers: Does this work?
– Answers: Where will my dollars go?

OUR PEOPLE: Donor, staff, volunteer, beneficiary profiles.
– Answers: Are people like me doing this?
– Answers: What do others think about this organization/program/campaign?

OUR STRENGTHS: How your organization’s specific approach increases impact.
– Answers: Does this organization provide a more effective solution than other organizations?

Additional story types

  • Our Founding: What makes this organization unique?
  • Our Focus: Where will my dollars go?
  • Our Future: What is the change we want to make in the world, a.k.a. vision?

When you are clear on the questions you need to answer, source and build out a few stories of each relevant story type. Use these stories in coming campaigns and test the response (e.g., launch an A/B test with one version of a campaign email featuring a relevant, answer-revealing story and the second version featuring a classic (story-free) narrative appeal.

I’m betting that your work identifying the answers that prospects want and sharing those answers via the right story generates quick comprehension buoyed by emotional connection. And, in time, will motivate the action you need, whether a donation, registration, or petition signature. Let me know!

Remember to take these 7 Steps to Ethical Storytelling as you select, shape, and share each story.

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Categories: Non profits

5 Ways to Connect in Uncertain Times

Every election season is a barrier to connection, with people overwhelmed by 24/7 messages from multiple campaigns via multiple channels. But connecting this fall—through the noise of so many contentious midterm races—is particularly tough. That’s a real concern as we plunge into Giving Tuesday and Year-End.

Pile on the chaos we face on so many fronts—from the mass murder at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue to constitutional threats and the refugee crisis—and it’s almost impossible to get attention, much less motivate action. We can’t fight it, nor can we sit it out.

Here’s how to get (and stay) close to your people right now:

1) Show your people you get them. The fast-moving shifting of norms we face is unnerving. People are feeling vulnerable, and the candidates’ fear mongering fuels our anxiety and sense of powerlessness.

Acknowledge that this is a tough time for all of us. Emphasize that your organization cares about your people and their families and friends.

2) Connect with what’s top of mind. I urge you to reframe the midterm elections as a fantastic community-building opportunity, highlighting so many crucial issues.

Identify how your organization’s work touches top-of-mind issues. Connect there—on the issue, not the candidates’ take—at the moment it’s hot. That means being ready to roll with relevant outreach on your core issues and causes.

Caveat: Stay out of discussions on issues that aren’t your organization’s sweet spot, even if that’s all people are talking about.

3) Illustrate your impact with concrete details and stories.  Convey how your organization helps SOLVE problems emphasized in campaigns and headlines. Demonstrate your impact via specific details and stories to increase the probability people will remember and repeat them to their networks.

4) Stay clear and consistent. When candidates and other world leaders change their minds and rhetoric on a daily basis, and practices and people we’ve depended on turn out to be unreliable, consistency is more important than ever. When you communicate clearly and consistently, you make it easy for your people to recognize a communication from or about your organization, digest it, be reassured by the known, and spread the word.

5) Offer hope. Show your people they can count on your organization to build the kind of country and community in which they want to live. We need that now, more than ever.

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Categories: Non profits

7 Steps to Ethical Storytelling (G.R.E.A.T. Stories)

Does the protagonist of your story know what she’s getting into—how you’ll use her story, and the risks are of sharing it? Probably not, if you’re like most communicators. Let’s change that.

Organizations like ours—that share stories regularly to activate our people—wield power and influence. When a protagonist lends us her story to share, she opens herself up to curiosity, criticism, misunderstanding, and sometimes even physical harm. It is our responsibility to respect those whose stories we share, ensuring they 1) are comfortable with the way we use their stories and 2) stay safe.

Now, thanks to innovators in our field, we have a framework for screening stories–the ethical storytelling pledge. Commit to ethical storytelling, then use this seven-point checklist to select and shape stories that are ethical to share:

1) Solicit input on whose stories to tell and how from the people you serve, and those most directly affected by the issue you work to advance.

2) Assess those stories:

  • Whom do you help by telling this story?
  • Whose perspective is highlighted; yours, the protagonist’s, or…?
  • Does the story present your organization as the savior?

3) Is the protagonist of the story willing to share it?

4) If so, let your story subjects know how their stories will be used. Offer a “terms of use” page on a share-your-story form or in conversation.

5) Ask for your protagonists’ written informed consent. Make sure story subjects know what they’re getting into—where you’ll use the story, what you’ll include, and how you’ll depict the impact of your services on them. Witness’ tip sheet guides you through an effective conversation on informed consent.

6) Shape stories to maintain the protagonist’s dignity and humanity. Avoid oversimplifying or dramatizing the story, even if that makes your story more compelling. Avoid stereotyping—it strips dignity away and weakens your stories.

7) Minimize potential harm to your story subjects. You may need to set ground rules for comments on a Facebook page and deleting as needed, blur faces in a video or photograph, use a fake name and identifying information, or decide not to use the story at all.

Ethical storytelling is a foundation of G.R.E.A.T. stories that engage your people and are most likely to be remembered and repeated. Keep posted for more guidance on…

Getting to G.R.E.A.T. Stories

  1. Goal-oriented framework for story collection and use: Map story collection to right-now campaigns. Root all stories in your organization’s “master story.”
  2. Rich, relevant, and repeatable stories: Develop rich, specific stories incorporating the core components necessary to engage your people to ensure they remember and repeat them to their own networks.
  3. Ethical story sourcing and sharing: Respect, don’t exploit, privacy to ensure the dignity and safety of story subjects. Whose stories are they? Who tells them?
  4. Action: Shape stories as pathways to action, with a specific, doable call to action ending each one.
  5. Train a team of storytelling champions: Story owners, and those positioned to identify, collect, and share those stories.

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Categories: Non profits

4 Ways to Listen In to Boost Action

There’s a proven way for your organization to start and strengthen vital relationships with the people whose support, loyalty, and actions you want—donors, volunteers, and even staff (too often overlooked here).

This approach is easy to learn and execute. And it’s something you do on a personal level all the time: Getting to know and understand others with whom you want to build a friendship—learning what’s important to them and how their days go. These insights enable you to focus in on what’s important or interesting to both of you, and how best to keep in touch via a commonly-used channel (social, mobile, text, mail) at the time that your folks will be most receptive.

Here are four proven methods of harvesting these priceless insights:

1) Launch a Marketing Advisory Group

Begin by identifying your target audiences and prioritize segments of each that share wants, needs and preferences. Then put together a marketing advisory group incorporating as many of these perspectives as possible—that way you’ll have the right person to turn to when you need her. In addition, this group will provide a solid diversity of opinion when you solicit input on a specific campaign or message.

Next, invite prospective team members to participate. If you don’t have people in mind that represent all the perspectives you need, ask program or other colleagues for recommendations.

Make sure to specify your expectations and to keep them modest. I recommend that you ask team members to help at most once or twice a month, asking for no more than 5 to 10 minutes of their time for each ask.

Put your marketing advisors to work in the way it’s most beneficial—that may vary depending on the task at hand. Ask a few of them for input on draft messages for the new advocacy campaign  and a few others for a critique of the draft mini-site for the campaign. Or ask all of them to complete a brief online survey to share their perception of the new program and the gap it will fill. Whatever your decision, make sure you ask with thought and don’t overburden your advisors. Most importantly, thank them frequently and often.

Try it for six months, refining the program over time to be of greatest value for you and least burden for your marketing advisory team. When you do, I promise you’ll know, and connect with, your audiences better than ever before.

2) Listen to Social Conversations

There’s so much being said online—about your organization, causes or issues, campaigns, and organizations you compete with for donations and attention—that you’ll learn a lot by just listening. By monitoring social channels for conversation on relevant topics, you’ll see what resonates and why, enabling you to better engage your people.

Keep in mind that with this kind of social listening, you won’t necessarily know who’s talking and how that person maps (if at all) to your targets. Nonetheless, if there’s a groundswell of conversation on a topic important to your organization, you want to hear it.

Social monitoring options range from free tools like Google Alerts to paid social listening services such as that illuminate what people in your email file (donors, volunteers, email subscribers and others) are saying on social media and help identify who is influential to improve targeting and increase engagement. This early case study from really caught my attention:

A few days after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), noticed a significant shift in focus on social media to the hashtag #Ferguson. They could quickly see that terms such as “police” started trending, nationally and among supporters in AFSC’s database (CRM).

AFSC created a saved search to see exactly who in its CRM was talking about Ferguson on Facebook and Twitter. Next, they invited those supporters to a Google Hangout that resulted in record-high participation and 74 donations. That’s incredible targeting!

3) Ask & Listen in Your Social Communities

If your organization has an active community on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other interactive platforms, you have a focus group ready to roll. Before you just ask, and ask, and ask again, prioritize what you want to know. Also, decide how to filter and weigh what you hear since your social communities may not map exactly to your donors and prospects.

Here are a few ways to use Facebook to get to know more about your people:

  • Since you can easily run your organization’s donor or email list against Facebook subscribers who have liked your page, it’s easier to map responses to your prioritized audiences.
  • Facebook’s Live Video tool is an excellent way to gather quick feedback on a draft logo, design, message, or email format (anything, in fact, easy to view via an online video) IF you have a huge and active following on Facebook.
  • Polling is super easy to set up and respond to.

4) Ask Folks as They’re Leaving a Program or Event

This technique is ages old but works well, as long as you ask just one or two quick questions. If your question is brief, ask verbally. If you want to gather names or have a couple of questions, then have pens and printed mini-surveys or tablets on hand for responses. If the event is online, pop up a quick survey before the finish.

BUT these insights boost actions ONLY when you…
Capture, Analyze, and Share What You Learn, then ACT on it

Keep in mind that what you learn about your audiences is valuable only when you log, share, and analyze it across your organization.

This process will position you to put your findings to work most effectively right now. Then go one step further to extend their value by adding these insights to supporter data. That’s your path to getting closer than ever with your people, and activating them to move your mission forward. Go to it, friends.

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Categories: Non profits

Get the Right Story to the Right Journalist: Media Relations Success

So many organizations I follow or work with have become strong and savvy communicators. It’s thrilling to see nonprofits like yours put communications to work effectively despite time, talent, and budget constraints.  

However, there’s one communications method that remains poorly utilized by most organizations—media relations. That’s a significant gap because organizations that do work skillfully with reporters, editors, and opinion makers are more visible, advocate for their missions more effectively, and raise more money to support their work.

Now—thanks to the practical guidance in Modern Media Relations for Nonprofits—you can close this gap. Authors Peter Panepento and Antionette Kerr, both former journalists, provide a set of concrete, doable steps for media relations success based on this clear definition of today’s broad-ranging media landscape: 

  • Media platforms from traditional print, online, and broadcast media to social media, blogs, and podcasts
  • Media content creators from trained professionals to citizen journalists 
  • Media relations tools from press releases and op-eds to online pitch services such as ProfNet and HARO, RSS feeds, and video.

Facing this kind of complexity feels daunting, especially as we know all three aspects of media relations will continue to evolve. Push forward to master your media relations impact with these two proven strategies from Modern Media Relations for Nonprofits.

Build Responsive Relationships
Many communicators assume their organization will be covered well and regularly once they build relationships with reporters. In fact, building these relationships is just the on ramp to media coverage.

Panepento and Kerr urge you to ensure your organization is as fully responsive as possible so you can“capitalize on breaking news and handle potential crises.” That means doing the groundwork now to develop resources and practices that enable your organization to answer questions and respond to media requests quickly, accurately, and in a way that adds value to the story.

Try these tested techniques:

  • Create a rapid-response protocol so you’re ready to go: Identify your organization’s spokespeople, key issues (not everything you focus on), top media targets, process for releasing information, and required resources (i.e. can you handle responding to breaking news or crises in-house, or do you need a consultant or agency)?
  • Make your event media-friendly by connecting it to a current news topic or providing insider access to a speaker. Develop an online newsroom for the event and an event-specific page on your website inviting visitors to “join the conversation” via links to your social media sites. Finally, follow up with a thank you and offer to provide any additional information needed.
  • Coach your team for interviews or meetings with the media, including what to do when “off the air,” or the reporter shuts her notebook or smartphone. 

Target Your Outreach
Rather than blasting your story out to everyone—a.k.a. the “spray and pray” approach—and praying that it’s picked up, do the work to identify and cultivate relationships with the right journalists and editors for each story “type” you have. The right media are the ones read, watched, or listened to by your target audiences—the people whose help you need most to meet your mission. Identify the journalists behind stories about your issue or topic in those media and get to know them.

Build relationships with these journalists and editors by becoming a valued resource (i.e. making their lives easier):

  • Learn what they cover and want: Pitch stories that are a good fit, and nothing else. Otherwise, you’ll alienate these valuable contacts.
  • Help them do their jobs: Share story ideas, data, tips, and access to interviews even if not related to a right-now story about your organization. 
  • Stay close between your asks: Just as a fundraiser who asks for a donation in every conversation will alienate that donor or prospect, you’ll alienate your media contacts if you reach out only when pitching a story or sending a release. For example, follow their work and acknowledge stories you find compelling or surprising. They’re human too.

Get your copy of Modern Media Relations for Nonprofits today to start implementing these techniques and many others that will lead you to media relations success. I can’t wait to hear how you do.

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Categories: Non profits

Share G.R.E.A.T. Stories to Advance Your Goals

Best Buddies International

Like many of you, I’ve been working with storytelling for more than a decade now. And, like many of you, I know we need to do it better.

We use too many over-simplified stories—black-and-white stories that don’t ring true. Stories that are all about us, don’t have relevance to our supporters, or don’t map to our organizational identity. Stories that leave the reader or listener thinking “so what.”

That’s a real waste of our supporters’ and prospects’ time and attention. In fact, it’s alienating. Telling one-offs or weak stories like these makes your people feel you don’t understand or care about them. That means they’re less likely to stay engaged and provide the help you need. There’s a better way.

I’m excited to guide you to share stories with purpose—G.R.E.A.T. stories—via a series of blog posts over the next few months. It was your questions and requests that spurred me to design this new approach. Thank you.

Here’s how we’ll get there. I can’t wait to hear your additions, tweaks, and case studies of what works and what doesn’t:

  • Goal-oriented framework for story collection and use: Map story collection to right-now campaigns. Root all stories in your organization’s “master story.”
  • Rich, relevant, and repeatable stories: Develop rich, specific stories incorporating the core components necessary to engage your people, and ensure they remember and repeat your stories their own networks.
  • Ethical story sourcing and sharing: Respect, don’t exploit, privacy to ensure the dignity and safety of story subjects. Whose stories are they? Who tells them?
  • Action: Shape stories as pathways to action, with a specific, doable call to action in each one.
  • Train a team of storytelling champions: Story owners, and those positioned to identify, collect, and share those stories.

I’m just back from a week training and coaching 30 Ohio organizations on G.R.E.A.T. storytelling. It was exciting to hear their “AHAs.” Many of them are “starting over” with storytelling this week and I can’t wait to hear how that goes.

P.P.S. Get more nonprofit engagement tools, tips, templates & case studies delivered to your inbox!
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Categories: Non profits

Guidelines and Sample Policy on Nonprofit Political Activity

In these contentious political times, those of us in the social services field may feel the need to be more vocal about policies that effect our clients and our missions, while simultaneously facing pressure to "not rock the boat" or be controversial.

Perhaps you have board members who (wrongly) believe that nonprofits cannot play any role in politics, and don't want you to take a stand on those very questions where your voice is most needed to be heard.

With mid-term elections barely six weeks out, the organization where I've been the Executive Director for the last 3-1/2 years has been asked to put our name in support of a couple of local ballot initiatives. To explain the law and put my board at ease, I have gone through several sources to put together the following guidelines and policy for engaging in political activity.

Please feel free to borrow and adapt this policy for use in your organization.

Policy and Guidelines for Political Activities
[THIS ORGANIZATION] encourages all of its board, staff, volunteers, and clients to be active and informed citizens, and supports the individual capacity of all to execute their prerogatives as citizens.
However, as a nonprofit corporation whose activities are regulated in part by Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, the Organization is prohibited from participating in political campaigns for candidates and is restricted in conducting certain lobbying activities. This does not restrict [THIS ORGANIZATION] from taking part in limited issue advocacy related to our mission, except in regards to spending limits for lobbying activities.
Violation of IRS regulations could have serious ramifications for the Organization, including loss of its tax-exempt status. Therefore, we provide these guidelines on the permitted use and restrictions of [THIS ORGANIZATION]'s resources for politically related activity by its board, staff, and volunteers.
These guidelines cannot address every potential situation. [THIS ORGANIZATION] reserves the right to amend or modify these guidelines at its discretion or as it deems necessary to comply with the regulations governing political activities of 501(c)(3) entities.
Allowable Activities:
Endorsing Ballot Measures
Ballot measure advocacy is an attempt to influence the passage or defeat of a law or constitutional amendment - not the election or defeat of a candidate. 501(c)(3) organizations are free to takes sides on ballot measures as a lobbying activity, subject to normal limits on lobbying. Ballot measure advocacy is a first amendment issue, not a matter of tax law. Any organization or individual is free to express their opinion for or against a proposed law or constitutional amendment.
As a 501(c)(3) organization that does not file the 501(h) form, [THIS ORGANIZATION]'s activity in this regard falls under the "insubstantial part test," meaning that [THIS ORGANIZATION] may only spend an "insubstantial" amount of money on lobbying efforts. "Insubstantial" is generally assumed to be 3-5% of annual spending. Any costs associated with endorsing or advocating for ballot measures, including related staff time, must fall under this threshold.
[THIS ORGANIZATION] chooses to only endorse and promote those ballot initiatives and proposals which are directly related to its mission and to the benefit of our clients. These would include, but not be limited to, initiatives related to [LIST KEY TOPICS RELATED TO YOUR MISSION].
The Executive Director is empowered to add [THIS ORGANIZATION]'s name and logo to any "sign-on letter" in favor of a ballot measure meeting the above criteria and initiated by a nonprofit partner or nonprofit coalition of which [THIS ORGANIZATION] is a part.
The Executive Director will bring all other endorsements, and any lobbying activity that will incur any expenses, to the Board of Directors for approval before signing or taking any action. If a timely endorsement is required before the next regularly scheduled Board meeting, unanimous approval by the Board officers (President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer) will suffice.
Promoting Voting
Nonprofit organizations classified as 501(c)(3) public charities may conduct nonpartisan "get-out-the-vote" activities and voter registration without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status. It is a legitimate charitable activity to support voter engagement and educate the public about the importance of voting.
[THIS ORGANIZATION] encourages all Board, staff, and volunteers to participate in all elections. We especially uphold and encourage the right of our clients, and all marginalized populations, to take an active role in our democracy. [THIS ORGANIZATION]'s staff may distribute voter registration materials and/or non-partisan voter information guides to clients, and/or allow other organizations to conduct nonpartisan voter registration and get-out-the-vote activities within the program site.
In these ways, [THIS ORGANIZATION] affirms its commitment to the "Vote with Your Mission" campaign of CalNonprofits. More information on this initiative can be found at
Running for Office
Board Members and staff may decide to run for public office while associated with [THIS ORGANIZATION], as is their right. To ensure compliance with IRS regulations and Organization policy, including conflict of interest and/or a conflict of commitment, a plan to manage potential conflicts must be established upon declaration of candidacy.
Plans must ensure that other Board Members and staff do not experience a compromised work environment or feel pressure to comply with the political goals of candidates.
An employee intending to seek public office must inform his/her supervisor and the Executive Director to develop a plan to avoid conflicts of interest. It is requested that this notification come as soon as the employee is considering becoming a candidate, but, in all cases, notification must be made no later than upon declaring candidacy.
In any case, the Board or staff member running for office may not solicit or accept funds or contributions for campaigns (their own or someone else's) from donors identified through donor rolls or other [THIS ORGANIZATION] records or directories.
Appearances by Candidates
Candidates for public office or their designees are welcome to appear at the program site or [THIS ORGANIZATION]'s sponsored events for non-campaign related activities, such as an educational or informational talk to [THIS ORGANIZATION], our clients, or our supporters.
Such appearances must satisfy the following criteria:
* The individual(s) is/are chosen to speak for reasons other than candidacy for public office. * The individual speaks in a non-candidate capacity. * The event and organization maintains a nonpartisan atmosphere. * No specific organized campaigning activity occurs in connection with the event. * The event involving a candidate should not be dictated by, or put under the control of, a candidate, their representatives, or any outside organization.
In no case shall [THIS ORGANIZATION] organize an event for the sole purpose of the promotion of a single candidate for any office.
Non-Allowable Activities:
Endorsing Candidates
[This Organization] will not endorse or promote individual candidates or political parties in any election, at any level of government, or take part in any form of partisan political activity.
Substantial Lobbying
While we affirm our free speech rights to engage in nonpartisan issue advocacy, such as endorsing ballot initiatives and engaging in get-out-the-vote activities, we recognize that as a 501(c)(3) organization that does not file form 501(h), [THIS ORGANIZATION] may only spend an "insubstantial" amount of money on such activities that may be interpreted as lobbying.
"Insubstantial" is generally assumed to be 3-5% of annual spending. Any costs associated with any such activities, including related staff time, must fall under this threshold on an annual, Fiscal Year, basis. -->
Categories: Non profits