Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Building a Better Board

Recently, I was asked for some help in choosing members for a nonprofit Board of Directors. I can't claim to be an expert, but having served on a half dozen boards myself, and having worked with several others, I feel that my experiences and observations may be helpful if you are involved with building a board.

The most important single attribute for prospective board members is a deep understanding and appreciation of the nonprofit's work. Without this, your prospect is unlikely to add value on a consistent, long-term basis.

Then, board member selection should be based on the type of organization. Will the board members (BoD) be expected to do the work of the organization? Many small nonprofits are run like this. If so, you need people who are willing, able, and skilled at the tasks required.

In this case, a written description of the board committees and the work they do will help you and your prospective board members understand what is expected. Try to define both the work that will be needed and the time it will take. For example: Outreach to City officials, 2 hours per month; Annual event planning and production, 50 hours annually, in six week period.

If the Board is a more traditional one, overseeing the work of a paid staff, usually with only the ED reporting directly to the Board, your requirements change from working expertise to advisory, and importantly, fundraising ability.

No matter what type of organization you have, a written job description for Board members is helpful. When you help your prospective Directors understand what is expected you are more likely to get candidates ready to do the work required.

Your BoD should probably NOT look like this!

Regardless of the type of Board, there are some roles I think almost every nonprofit should work to fill. They include (in no particular order):
  • An attorney, preferably one who will provide some amount of pro bono service to the organization.
  • An accountant. Like the attorney, someone who will help with oversight and auditing is very helpful.
  • Someone with marketing/communications skill and expertise.
  • Someone with organizational development skills.
  • People with deep pockets and/or friends with deep pockets.
  • Someone who loves to entertain and plan parties.
  • A high-level HR person.
  • People with expertise in the NP's work.
  • Diverse types of people who represent your community and your stakeholders.
Of course, all this is easier said than done. Good people are inundated with BoD requests. Be selective, and ask your current BoD members for suggestions.

Finally, almost every Nonprofit needs help with fundraising, and the Board is a natural place for fundraising to take place. I don't mean asking your Directors for money. In fact, I don't like doing that – I feel that they are donating a lot of value in their time. But asking them for connections and introductions is totally acceptable. Some of them may be willing to host events or work on a fund-raising committee. All of these expectations should be clear to prospective Board members before they sign on.

I hope this is helpful. Good luck forming your Board of Directors.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What's in a Name? A lot!

Just came across this interesting post on the Advanced Marketing Institute website. Thought you would find it interesting.

Unique Marketing Test Reveals Likely Election Winner.
The Secret? One Name Captures the Emotions of Voters.

How do you reach inside the mind of voters to determine who they will vote for, even before they may even know themselves?

That is the particularly intriguing question faced by hundreds, even thousands of pollsters, not to mention politicians. As the public is exposed to the daily, hourly barrage of skittishly jumping results of the polls, there seems to be no way to measure what will happen, except to say it is "virtually a dead heat."

Hakim Chishti, Executive Director of the research firm Advanced Marketing Institute (AMI) believes his form picked the likely winner. And it will not be anywhere near a "too close to call election." In fact, according to Chishti, "one of the candidates is three more times more likely to be chosen in this election."

“It’s All in the Sound of Your Voice”

According to Chishti, "Going all the way back to Plato, it has been known that our emotions are affected by the actual sound of words; the tones within words 'mean' something to us, regardless of which language is being spoken, and regardless of whether we even know the

Chishti, who is fluent in several Near Eastern languages and a US Government Fulbright Research Scholar, says "I became interested in the harmonics of languages, when in my travels I found that people had emotional reactions to languages which they did not know."

Phonetic Symbolism: the Key to the Emotional ‘Meaning’ of Words

In linguistics this phenomenon is known as "phonetic symbolism." Marketers and researchers for decades have used this awareness to develop brand names and evaluate marketing communications. Russian researchers discovered that these sound affect a child while it is still in its mothers womb.

While the effects of spoken words on our emotions can be profound, understanding the specific mechanics of how sounds produce specific emotional reactions has been an elusive goal for researchers.

200,000 Words Analyzed for Emotional Impact

In the 1990s, Dr. Chishti led his team of researchers at the Advanced Marketing Institute to develop special algorithms. Based upon research at Bell Labs, Chishti's computer experts analyzed the tonal qualities in more than 200,000 words in the English language, and the specific centers in the mind and body activate by specific waveforms made by each sound.

The Advanced Marketing Institute provides a free analysis tool online which provides free evaluation of headlines. Site visitors run more than 30,000 headlines through the tool each month, to improve the emotional connection of their marketing slogans with potential customers.

The analysis results provide a breakdown of words into three categories - those affecting the emotional, intellectual and spiritual centers of a person. Based upon these criteria, Chishti's firm provides special computer analysis to Fortune 100 clients and others. The results are stated as an "Index" for each component of the emotional value of a particular series of words.

“Inside the Mind of the Marketplace” (And Voters)

According to Chishti, this type of research provides very deep insight into how customers interact with products, services, and other people. "We call this analysis "Inside the Mind of The Marketplace," Chishti said.

"It was possible for us to evaluate, as just one example," said Chishti, "political candidate's speeches, to discern how emotional, or intellectual or spiritual their communication is."

Chishti also said, "If you also evaluate the blog posts
of a candidates' web site, one can more fully match the communication style of prospective voters. That is a considerable advantage."

So after an evaluation of all the candidates' speeches and all of the campaigning across millions of miles and thousands of hours of stale dinners and limp shrimp, which candidate does Chishti predict will be the winner?

“It’s all in the name …”

"Of course many factors influence an election," he said. "The area we thought most relevant was the name of the candidate himself. Since this is the most obvious and often-repeated aspect of everyone's connection to a candidate, we wanted to get to the core perception for each candidate. We felt the name provided just such a focus.

And Chishti revealed to us that purely in terms of the harmonics of the names, one candidate is a clear winner, and overwhelming winner. And that is Senator Barak Obama.

"At least according to the science of linguistics and our computer analysis of how people respond emotionally, Sen. Barak Obama's name has an overall emotional content index value of 150%, whereas John McCain's rating is only 50%."

Candidate’s name “off the charts in terms of emotional appeal…”

To put that in perspective, even the best copywriters attain an index rating of around 30%. So while McCain's name is not necessarily weak, the harmonic strength of Obama's name if essentially off the charts. You practically could not have invented a more emotionally connective name for a political candidate," said Chishti.

"Without getting too technical about it all" Chishti said, "simply in terms the emotional, heartfelt connection, common people have three times the "emotional" connection with Sen. Obama."

Though considered ‘intellectual’, people ‘feel’ him as the more as emotional and empathetic candidate.”

Even more interesting, said Chishti, is that we can further break down the specific format of emotions, into heartfelt qualities or emotions, intellectual values and spiritual values. "Interestingly, " even though Obama is considered the "intellectual" of the candidates, his name conveys only "emotional" or heartfelt values to people.

"Perhaps that explains to some extent the rising tide of veneration enjoyed by the Obama campaign, and the large crowds, their sense of commonality of purpose and community exhibited by the huge crowds he draws," Chishti said.

This report may be forwarded or republished on any website with attribution to www.aminstitute.com

Published by Advanced Marketing Institute
Carlsbad, CA 92008
Media Contact: press@aminstitute.com
© 2008 Advanced Marketing Institute. World rights reserved.

Please send all comments, questions, and concerns to info@aminstitute.com.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Nonprofits losing millions from poor communications

Ben Delaney's Nonprofit Marketing Handbook

New book helps nonprofits get their message to the people who need to hear it.

Starting a new job as a nonprofit Marketing and Communications Director, Ben Delaney looked hard for insight into the specific issues of nonprofit communications. He couldn't find the help he needed in the few dusty, ivory tower textbooks that addressed the issue. So, when he left that job a few years later, he decided to help others in similar situations by writing a book based on his experiences. That engaging book, Ben Delaney's Nonprofit Marketing Handbook, was just released on Amazon in print and Kindle editions.

Despite the proliferation of social media, smart phones, and the internet, many nonprofit organizations are still not great communicators. Often, their communications efforts are relegated to interns and lower level staff who lack experience and specific knowledge of marketing tools and techniques. These organizations are losing millions of dollars in potential donations because the people who care about their programs never hear about them. Delaney's book will help nonprofits upgrade their communications for high impact and strong donor support.

Written for small to medium sized organizations, Ben Delaney's Nonprofit Marketing Handbook is the hands-on guide to marketing and communications that he couldn't find when he started doing nonprofit marketing eight years ago. Novices and experienced marketers alike will find a wealth of actionable information here.

Realizing that many nonprofits lack the resources for effective marketing, Delaney wrote his book as a do-it-yourself handbook that addresses all of the key aspects of marketing and communications for nonprofits. He covers all the issues that nonprofit marketers need to address, starting by explaining the importance of System Marketing™, his method of ensuring that everyone in an organization is telling the same stories in the same words to provide unified communications.

Filled with helpful tips and real-life examples, Ben Delaney's Nonprofit Marketing Handbook includes detailed descriptions of various marketing tools, describing what each is good for, how to measure their impact,  and their comparative costs. One chapter explains how to use different networking and presentation opportunities for maximum impact. He addresses branding, social media, public relations, advertising, search engine marketing, event management, advanced networking, research, working with nonprofit boards, and more, in 22 crisp chapters.

Delaney leads the reader through building accountability into marketing efforts and building websites with stickiness. He unravels the tangles of search engine marketing and optimization. His chapter on testing makes even this often daunting concept easily understood. He concludes the book with a resource guide and glossary.

Scan this code to see
Ben Delaney's Nonprofit Marketing Handbook on Amazon.
Written in a conversational tone, and based on more than thirty years of award-winning marketing and management experience, Ben Delaney's Nonprofit Marketing Handbook is a valuable tool that should be on every nonprofit development and communications specialist's iPad or bookshelf. It is available on Amazon as a Kindle ebook or in paperback. Find more information on Amazon.com or at www.BenDelaney.com.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Best Exercise is Walking

How getting up and getting out can really boost your MarCom efforts

One of the least expensive, and most effective way of communicating about your organization is as old as campfires in the hills.

Think about how you learn about new restaurants to try, new movies to see, new bands to hear, new networks to check out. In most cases, even in our hyper-connected age, word of mouth is still the most trusted communication, especially for recommendations. Sure, we all use Yelp and TripAdvisor, but don’t you usually ask your friends, too?

Getting up from your chair and getting out of the office to talk with people is one of the most cost-effective marketing arrows in your quiver.

There are a million opportunities to get out and tell people about your organization’s great work. Most are free to very inexpensive. A few require larger investments, and as with any other MarCom purchase, you need to evaluate the potential ROI.

In my last job, I had my assistant call all of the local Rotary, Lions, and Elks clubs, as well as Chambers of Commerce, offering my services as a presenter at their frequent luncheons. Our goal was one presentation a month, and after a few weeks she had easily lined up those presentations for me. Not only did they directly bring in new business from people who were unaware of our organization (a nonprofit social enterprise) and its great work and mission, but it enabled me to make a few long-term connections that have proven beneficial. The cost of this? A few hours of my assistant’s time and a few hours of my time. And generally speaking, I got a free lunch out of the deal.

An added benefit of these lunch-time talks was the rehearsal time they afforded me. Most top marketers are frequently required to make presentations on their organization and its programs. The Rotary lunch talks got me ready to talk to our funders and donors. They helped me see what descriptions made the best impressions, and how to best talk about what we did. The frequent talks showed me which jokes worked and which programs created the greatest empathy. And because I generally had a slide presentation as part of my speech, the frequent repetitions helped me fine-tune that, fixing slides that didn’t flow well, or that people didn’t seem to understand. And after you do this a couple of dozen time, your stage fright will disappear, or at least becomes controllable, and your presentations will get better and better.

Finally, the questions that always came after the prepared remarks revealed how well I was communicating, which concepts were easy to grasp and which were confusing, and what parts of our program really resonated with people. All of this was incredibly useful information. And a great opportunity to hand out business cards and some brochures.

Is that a badge in your pocket, or…

Of course, one must include conferences and conventions in your marketing efforts. They are great opportunities to meet lots of people by giving presentations, but also by simply being there. There are dozens of conferences every day – and you could spend your entire career on the road attending them. But if you pick the top two to four conferences each year and attend those, you’ll make dozens of new connections and spread the word about your organization while learning new tricks to help your work improve.
Speaking at conferences usually involves one of four presentation options: Panels, Breakout sessions, Plenaries (to everyone), and Keynotes.

Panels are conversations between two or more people on a specific topic. Audiences like these because they get a multitude of opinions and expertise addressing a specific issue. Organizers like them because they enable a lot of people to talk, and usually each speaker brings in income for the conference organizer.
Panels can be a good way to present information, but they have a few drawbacks. Unless the moderator has good control over the panel, you can get a runaway speaker situation, where one presenter monopolizes the time available. This can be especially annoying when that presenter is not very good, or is boring and uninteresting. Another hazard of panels is poor moderation in general. The panel moderator needs to know enough about the subject to be able to ask interesting and provocative questions, and to be able to keep the panelists on topic and on time. Panels are especially good because they give you an opportunity to get feedback from the audience. The question-and-answer period after a panel presentation is usually the most useful part of the presentation, and almost always the most interesting.

If you are asked to moderate a panel, be sure you understand the topic and the presenters as well as possible. Call the panel members beforehand, preferably in a video or audio conference so that everyone can talk together, and discuss  the topics you want to cover, the order of the speakers, how long each of them has for an introductory speech, whether or not you want them to use slides, and how much time you have overall. Well-run panels can be really interesting for the audience members, are great way to meet other experts in your field, and can be very rewarding.

Breakout and Plenary presentations are a bigger deal than panels, and put you in the spotlight in front of the audience, all by yourself. Breakouts take place at the same time as other sessions, and typically have only a portion of the total attendance, but otherwise are very similar to Plenary sessions. Plenary presentations are usually a half hour to 45 min. long. They require a firm understanding of your topic, a tight presentation that doesn't wander or give people time to get bored, good slides, and confidence on your part. Usually you'll work with the conference organizers to determine what the topic should be, what style of presentation they prefer when you're going to give the presentation, and what audiovisual or other amenities will be available. This is a tremendous one-to-many communications opportunity, and a chance to tell important stories about your organization’s efforts, methods, and impacts.

Keynotes are often among the most highly-anticipated presentations at a conference. This gives you a huge messaging opportunity. Keynote speakers often get featured in the program and receive a lot of attention. As with any important presentation, you want to be sure to talk to the organizers of the conference beforehand to understand their expectations, how long you have, what the stage and presentation area will be like, who you're following and preceding, and any other details that are important.

Before you do any presentation at a conference or even a luncheon be sure to rehearse it. I find it really good to talk to myself, to give the presentation while looking at the slides on my computer, to get a sense of flow and timing. Flow is very important — your slides and your presentation has to move along as if it were a conversation. The best presentations sound like someone talking directly to you, not like someone reading a book. It takes time and practice to get relaxed enough to give a talk like that, and its only possible when you know your material well.

After you've talked through it yourself a few times, looking at your slides and checking how well the flow and timing works, ask a few friends to be guinea pigs and critique your presentation. I always do this before an important talk and find it to be incredibly valuable.

You don't want your friends to be just your friends when you're doing a rehearsal talk and asking for their critique. You want them to point out the things they don't understand, and the places where you struggle with your delivery. You need them to tell you if your talk is interesting, and holds their attention. You need them to be brutally honest with you. This isn’t the time for people to be patting you on the back, and telling you how good you are. (But you are, you’re really good!)

One last thing. Don't make your presentations commercials. Talking in a way that sounds overtly like a sales pitch is going to alienate your audience and make them far less receptive to what you have to say. Your presentation needs to tell the stories that help people understand your topic. It can be all about your organization and the great programs it provides. But don't make it just a sales pitch; tone it down, keep it subtle, and make it interesting. When you get people engaged with your stories, they'll be eager to learn more, eager to help, and eager to donate.

I recently saw an online conversation that started with the question, “How do I get my development director out of the office and talking to people?” don’t let your boss ever ask this question. Whether you’re in development, MarCom, or general management, get up off your chair and go tell your story.

In summary, here  are a few of the types of places you can make presentations with a few thoughts about each type of venue.

Good for
Hallway conversation at a conference

Getting to know people.

Practicing your elevator speech

Getting the latest gossip

Learning about things before official announcements

Making friends and allies

This can be the most important time at a conference

Practice your elevator speech before you go.

Notice how people react to your elevator speech and refine it as needed.
Talks to service clubs (Rotary, Lions, Chamber of Commerce, etc.)
Getting the word out to local people.
Creating new supporters
Practicing your presentation skills.
Wonderful practice opportunity – get your presentation down.
Great way to get info to the community.
Good place to meet local who will support your mission.
Panel discussion at conference

Opportunity to be seen and have your story heard

Be seen as equal to other presenters (increased status)

Providing short comments on a topic

Learning from other panelists while presenting

A way onto a conference program.

Usually a larger audience than a service club.

Meet other presenters who may be good to know.

Low-risk way to get feedback and test your messaging and presentation before a larger, more sophisticated group.
Plenary presentation at conference
Providing long-form information to an interested audience.
Establishing authority and the importance of your topic/organization.
A bigger audience, with higher expectations than at a panel presentation.
Keep your talk general enough to appeal to everyone.
Be sure you rehearse until it becomes effortless.
Keynote presentation

Captivating an audience with the strength of your personality and the importance of your cause..

This is the big time, be sure you are ready.

Remember: a plenary talk is often as much about entertainment as information.

A great way to introduce new ideas, plans, efforts.

By virtue of place, your status increases.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

About advertising

© 2014 Ben Delaney 

Advertising. We're all surrounded by it, inundated by aural and visual noise that pollutes our environment and covers every surface around us. But advertising serves a purpose, and the best advertising sticks in our minds for years. Good advertising reaches the right audience with the right story at the right time. Good advertising creates good impressions and memories. There's no reason that you shouldn't use advertising to help get your message out. The only question is how to advertise so that your advertising is effective, both in terms of reaching the people you want to talk to with the message you want them to hear, and doing that while spending the least amount of money.

As with any other marketing, you first have to understand your audience. If you are a nonprofit organization you should know your audience fairly well. You should have lots of records on your donors, as well as people who have expressed an interest in your organization. You should also have good records on your clients, who often can become donors and supporters. You have a clear mission and vision, and a fine message crafted.

As in any other marketing effort, you first want to define your goals. What are you trying to accomplish with this advertising? Who do you need to reach? What do you want them to do? How much money do you have to spend? How long do you have to accomplish what you need to do?

As part of your System Marketing™ plan, advertising needs to fit in with all the other marketing that you're doing. Everything needs to form a coherent whole. Your staff needs to be ready to handle inquiries and be prepared to respond to people who are interested in your product. Depending on the product you're promoting, whether it be your big annual benefit, a donor outreach effort, or new product from your social enterprise, the entire advertising campaign, including preparation for response, needs to be thought out in advance, and with data collection and measuring points built-in.

One of thing to remember about advertising is that one ad rarely is as effective as you hope it will be. People respond to repetition. They need to see your ad over and over again. So before your event you should run the same ad, or very similar ads, in as many places, as many times as you can afford. Weekly newspapers and online outlets provide regular updates which enable you to have many impressions in the window of time available. More impressions are good. Just be sure you're reaching the people you want to get your message.

Let's consider a hypothetical case, an advertising campaign to support Kitty Rescue League's Fat Cat Bash. The goal of this at this event is to bring a hundred seventy-five donors to a fancy dinner. The advertising budget is $2,000. That might not seem like a lot money but will see how to spend it to get the most effective return.

Identifying our target demographic is fairly easy. We know we want cat lovers in our local area. We know that older cat lovers have greater disposable income, and possibly more free evenings. However, we don't want to ignore the significant millennium generation; a lot of them like cats too.

We start by start by surveying local media: radio, TV, newspapers, and magazines. For each of these we want to ask publishers to provide demographic as well as distribution information. For example, where I live, the San Francisco Chronicle is the largest newspaper, reaching close to half a million people every day. Its distribution range is roughly a 200 mile diameter from its publishing base in San Francisco. If I needed to reach a lot of people who didn't need to be in any particular nearby area, the Chronicle is a great way to do it. However the Kitty Rescue League is in a small suburb of San Francisco. Ninety percent of their donors live within twenty-five miles of the office. So buying advertising in the Chronicle would not be cost-effective, because much of the advertising would be wasted on people who live too far away. Looking further, the marketing intern at Kitty Rescue League discovers that a local weekly newspaper covers the target geographic area well and has a broad demographic appeal. This newspaper fits the criteria very well, and happily costs far less than the Chronicle.

Other local advertising opportunities might include church newsletters, local animal shelters' newsletters, and newsletters at local senior centers. All of these are relatively inexpensive. Because this is a one-time event your campaign will only stretch over a month or two, which also reduces cost. What is important is reaching the target demographic, and reaching a lot of people a number of times, within your budget.

For radio and TV, be sure to consider public service announcements (PSA's). The can be provided by email, or, if you have the ability to produce it, a complete video announcement. Be sure to contact the stations directly to learn how they handle PSA's. PSA's are free, but you have no control over when, or even if, they are shown.

However, print and TV are far from your only advertising option. Social media is an essential part of your advertising mix, especially for fast-breaking information. Social media is also very inexpensive – essentially free – so you can use it a lot with minimal impact on your budget. Remember, though, that the criteria for social media must be evaluated in the same way as those for print: reach and audience are key items to look at. Social media casts a broad net, but since it's free, it doesn't matter that much of the reach is wasted. Remember, too, that social media is ephemeral and dynamic, so you must update it frequently, and you must keep your updates interesting or you risk losing your audience.

Here's a checklist of things to remember when you plan your advertising:
  1. Demographics of your target audience, including gender, age, income, physical location, previous giving history, and the source of this name.
  2. Specific program interests, which means that certain donors prefer to give for certain programs.
  3. Media preferences. for example, if most of your donors are under 30, mobile media might be the way to reach them best. However if your donors are older and perhaps not as computer literate, you may reach them best on traditional media; television, radio, newspapers, and magazines.
  4. Budget. You don't want to spend more than you can afford.
  5. An offer. What's your call to action? You need to get people to do something; in this case, buy tickets for the Fat Cat Bash.
  6. Set goals. How many tickets do you need to sell to pay for this advertising? That's your minimum goal.

Finally, be sure your budget includes a good graphic designer for your print and online efforts. Your audience is sophisticated and will ignore or deride bad design. The money you spend for good design will help your organization look professional and help your advertising cut through the noise. And ultimately, that's your bottom line.

Friday, November 22, 2013

How to Help Your Board Help You

© 2013 Ben Delaney, CyberEdge Information Services

In a well run organization, the Board of Directors, Executive Director (ED), and staff are all on the same path, pulling in the same direction, working for the same goals, and speaking the same language. Here's some tips on how to achieve that in your organization.

As we've seen, organizations that embrace Systems Marketing™, enjoy coherent communications throughout the organization. Everyone on the Board and staff realizes that their speech and actions impact the perceptions of, performance, effectiveness, and sustainability of the organization. 

The Board and Executive Director have to work in a close partnership to create and sustain a high-functioning organization. This partnership impacts the entire staff, including the folks responsible for marketing and communications.

Strategic Planning

That close partnership starts with the strategic planning process. Strategic planning takes a lot of work, but it is essential to provide direction and to empower everyone in the organization to be working toward the same goals. I'm not going to provide a strategic planning primer here, but will mention a few key items that your strategic plan needs to include.

Obviously, any strategic plan needs to include goals and timelines, personnel assignments, and budget considerations. However it's also important that your strategic plan include communications goals and methods that will support all the other efforts. Your strategic plan should include messaging concepts, so that everyone in the organization is saying the same things about your work, mission, and impact. That's where your Board gets involved with the marketing communications (MarCom) efforts. Some Board members may have experience in marketing or communications and will be able to add useful insights and ideas to the strategic plan. The Board can be valuable thought partners in the MarCom messaging and methods conversation.

When I'm working on strategic planning I like every goal and activity to include a communications and/or marketing component, so that the Board and the staff appreciate the importance of communications in the success of the organization. Regardless of the Board's expertise, you want them to be aware of the importance of communications in the success of the organization, and of the fact that communications is being built in to all the plans. And of course, this bakes MarCom accountability into the strategic plan.

As an example, you might plan to issue a press release every quarter, add Twitter and FaceBook to your marketing mix, and post pictures of all your events on Pinterest. Your plan will include these specifics, as well as goals for impact and frequency of reporting on that impact. In addition, you may assign these duties as part of the plan. With some luck, you may get one or more Board members to agree to regular contributions, perhaps once or twice a year.

Board/Staff Interaction

Some organizations frown on having staff interact directly with the Board, but I think it's a good idea. It's especially good for the marketing people to be in touch with members of the Board who have experience in marketing. It's also important to leverage the Board's connections and contacts for marketing communications purposes, especially when it comes to fundraising, but ultimately, in many activities. It may very well be that certain Board members know people with areas of expertise that are going to help the marketing and communications of the organization. They may also have connections that can directly impact the success of a campaign or program. Having all this communication filtered through the Executive Director can be a waste of her time – but don't ever try to cut your ED out of the conversation. In addition, be aware of the value of your Directors' time. You don't want to overstay your welcome by bothering the Board members very often. And of course some are going to be more open to conversations than others.

When I've interacted with our Board members it's been with very particular questions. I always start by making sure the person I'm calling or e-mailing has time and is interested in the project that I'm asking their assistance with. If it's a phone call, I always start by asking, “do you have a minute?” In email, I am brief and to the point, and always include a subject line that is descriptive of what I'm going to be asking about.
Questions I have asked Board members are typically in these categories:

  • I have an idea for a new product/program. What you think?
  • We'd like to reach someone at this organization. Do you know someone there?
  • I'm planning a campaign and I've written up a description. Would you mind looking at it and commenting?

I found that when I'm respectful of the Board members time and expertise, they're happy to help.

Here are the best ways to make ensure that you and your Board have a good working relationship:

  1. Be brief and to the point.
  2. Be clear in your communications.
  3. Be respectful of the Board members' time.
  4. Be aware of the Board members' areas of expertise.
  5. Don't go to the Board very often.

When you do go to the Board make sure that you have your presentation or question together, that you're well-organized, and that you're actually ready to act on the advice you get.

I find that by following these simple rules, I've been able to establish and maintain great relations with Board members, even though I haven't been directly reporting to them. I found their advice incredibly valuable. I’m sure you will, too.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Making the Most of Your Events

Everybody thinks that an event is a great way to raise a lot of money fast. This isn't always true.
by Ben Delaney, © 2013

According to my former boss, and development guru, many, in fact most, events lose money. He pointed out that the cost of a good event is substantial and that the immediate payback from it is not always high.

He explained that key to really using an event well is to use it both as a reward and cultivation opportunity. In other words, it's a place where you reward the people who have been helping you the most. Bringing your staff is a great team builder and incentive. It also helps fill seats in case your event isn't the sellout you hoped for (more on that later). The other people you reward are your donors, those who have really helped you out. Not by asking them to buy a table or to support the event, but rather by giving them a table or providing recognition from the stage.

Now there are as many types of events as there are organizations. For the purposes of this chapter, I'm thinking about an evening gala. I think you'll find that most of these ideas apply no matter what sort of event you are producing.

Make your event special by doing it well. The investment pays off.
A well done event makes your entire organization look good.

The highest value of your event is cultivation. Cultivation means talking to people that may give to your organization and talking to people who have given to your organization with an eye on getting, or increasing the amount of, their support. Events do this by providing a good meal and an entertaining program that helps them feel good, better understand the organization, and see how well run it is.

It's essential to demonstrate competence, because the impression that people get from your event is going to carry over to the entire organization. Think about your reaction when you have a great waitress at a restaurant. The food tastes better. In a great restaurant, if the service is bad it leaves you less excited about the food. The impression you leave with is dependent on the totality of your experience.

Enveloping your planning for the event itself is all the promotional and impact planning, as well as establishing measurement points for evaluating the event. Your event planning should start with concrete and measurable goals. Those goals might include developing five new major donors, or having X number of City Council members attend. Your goal might include a dollar amount, such as raising $100,000. It's important to have all the goals in mind because this will guide the event planning, and allow you to make informed decisions on the budget and which ideas contribute to the overall impact of the event. After the event, they provide the measuring stick against which you evaluate the event's success.

Event planning as part of Systems Marketing™

Let's think a little bit about events and how they connect to your full marketing effort. In an organization with Systems Marketing thinking, event planning would start early. A year is not too early to start thinking about a large event. Annual events are often on staff work plans as a year-round effort, because there's always something to do to prepare, and there's always follow-up activities. As Systems Marketing organization knows that a big event is going to impact virtually everybody in the organization.

Every event should have a planning committee that is made up of people from the various departments that are affected by the event or contribute to it. These people are conduits for information from the teams with which they work directly, to the committee and back again. Obviously the communications team has to get the word out early and often, and plan follow-up. In fact it's recommended that you follow up an event with a press release that describes how well it went, how much money raised, what dignitaries attended, whatever else is important, and announces the date of next year's event.

The event committee needs to keep in mind all aspects of the event. The planning checklist varies a lot, but will include things like catering, decorations, printing of a program, door prizes, program, securing a venue, and, if you have an auction, arranging for donations for it, as well as the many other items critical to the success of the event. That is just for the event itself. As you can see from that list, which is nowhere near complete, there's an awful lot of aspects to pulling off the big event. At one event I worked on, we produced a nine-minute video that took three months to produce. It's important to do your planning in advance, and understand the time and the budget.

It's also important to evaluate what you can do in-house and what you want to hire expert help for. Catering is an obvious task that is usually best to contract out. AV production, decorating, and printing are other aspects of events that are often handed off to contractors. Be realistic in balancing your resources – some things you can and should do in house, some things should be outsourced.

The event committee needs to work closely with your communications department to make sure that the branding of the event, including its name and logo, are appropriate both to the event and to the larger branding of the organization. It's possible to completely confuse your audience by mixing up your messages. A clear purpose and messaging are essential to garner positive attention and attendance.

Often the development team is the lead team on event planning because it's so critical to their work. As we discussed earlier, donor cultivation is a major goal of many events. This is where the development team shines. Events give the development team a reason to personally reach out to major donors. It also enables fund raising, especially from corporate and foundation supporters, who will buy tables and sponsorships. It's an opportunity to raise money through raffles and auctions, and thereby a chance to reach out to in-kind donors who will provide the items that you offer. The development team will also see your event as an opportunity to invite people who haven't donated to come to see what your organization is all about.

It's very important for the development team to be thinking about goals and accountability related to the event. If your goal is to invite 20 new potential owners, sell 12 tables, and raise $15,000, you need to write those goals down and measure the appropriate data to determine whether or not you've hit your targets. This is easy when you build in specific points to measure at the planning stage.

The event

Let's plan a hypothetical event and take a look at what it takes to make the event work well. Our hypothetical organization is Kitty Rescue League. Kitty Rescue League collects feral cats,  sterilizes them, and re-releases them or finds them adoptive homes. The hopefully annual Fat Cat Bash is being attempted for the first time. The goals are to bring in 20 potential new donors and raise $10,000. There also will be recognition of existing donors.

In order to raise interest and recognize major supporters, Kitty Rescue League is going to make three awards to people or organizations that have really helped save the most kitties in the past year.

Awards help attract people to your event. A quick sidebar on awards

Why do so many organizations give so many awards? It's not a conspiracy by the award industry. Awards are a great way to gain positive attention, recognize your donors and others in the community, and give your organization a topic for a good press release. Awards bring in the recipients and their friends and families. They increase interest, and rightfully bestow recognition on those who work hard for your cause. 

Awards don't have to be extravagant to be appreciated. A nice trophy, an engraved clock, or some similar trifle says thank you over and over. No one gets all the attention they need or deserve; your organization can make its donors feel great by recognizing them at an annual event, where the community can hear about their good deeds and express its appreciation.

The Fat Cat Bash budget

Kitty Rescue League has a mailing list of approximately 3,500 names. They're hoping that they can get 5% of that list, or 175 people, to come to their bash. So now the planning team needs to create a budget that shows how to pay for the cost of the event and show a profit.

Kitty Rescue League's budget  for the Fat Cat Bash looks a bit like this:

Space rental                       $1,500
Catering, 200                       5,000
Audio/visual                         1,500
Programs and favors               875
Program                            15,000
Marketing costs                   5,000
Decoration                           1,000
Total                                $29,875

Tickets, 175 at $75          $13,125
Sponsorships                    20,000
Program ads                       1,000
Total                                $34,125

NET                                 $3,250

As you can see, even if Kitty Rescue League meets their goals, they miss their revenue target. And it means that the planners need to decide if they want to proceed with a smaller return likely. That illustrates the difficulty in event planning.

Looking at this budget, the event committee has several options. They can change their goals, they can change the cost of the event, or they can figure out a way to bring in more revenue.

Key to making this evaluation is determining what's more important: cultivation or immediate revenue. If cultivation is more most important, then it may make sense to run the event expecting a low return, or even take a loss, in order to have the opportunity to meet and interact with the people that you need to talk to. If revenue is a prime goal then it is important to look at both sides of the budget to see what can be reduced or grown. For example the $15,000 cost for the program includes creating a video montage of the award winners. Perhaps money could be saved by instead doing a montage of still pictures which would require no original taping. Or maybe a video production company can be found that would donate part or all of the cost of production. Other expenses should be looked at too, but it's always best to start with your biggest expense, because that's where you're most likely to find some fat to trim.

On the income side of the table, there aren't very many options. Calculating the increase in donations resulting from the dinner will help, but is a very unreliable figure. owever, factoring in the anticipated increase in donations in the next few montKitty Rescue League can charge more for tickets, but that may make it more difficult to get people there. Additional sponsorships may be possible and it may also be possible to raise the cost of advertising in the program to raise more money there. Maybe adding a raffle or auction would increase revenue, but with additional costs that have to be figured in. Perhaps bigger actually works better than smaller. Because your expenses do not go up directly with the number of attendees, it may make sense to increase seats to 200 or 300. However the challenge then becomes getting those additional people to the event, which typically would require increased marketing and communication costs, and often more staff time.

Which brings up the importance of filling seats. Nothing is worse than a partially empty banquet hall. It is far better to oversell a small event, and bring in extra tables, then to undersell the room. You may have the same number of people there, but the packed room looks infinitely better. This where you use staff people to help out. A good rule of thumb, if your staff is large enough, is to have one staff person at each table. Board members can help with this usually pleasant assignment. They can answer questions about your organization and help make your guests feel welcome. But staff and board members and their (adult) families can also help fill seats to ensure that the room is filled to capacity. It is a nice reward to invite your staff, and they will help your event succeed simply by being there.

The Program

What is going to happen at the Fat Cat Bash? You don't want people to simply come in, eat and leave. So a program is in order.

First, don't overdo the program. 30-45 minutes is usually enough. If you run late, people become impatient. If you are boring, it's even worse.

The program needs to be both entertaining and interesting. Again, an award ceremony, if it is appropriately brief, is a great way to create excitement and enthusiasm. A door prize drawing does the same. Perhaps Kitty Rescue League has connections to a musical act, or a staff member who is a good magician. Adding that entertainment to the bill can be very enjoyable. But again, be sure the entertainers, unless they're cute children, are professional enough to entertain, and not embarrass.

A keynote speaker is often considered de rigueur at nonprofit event. This can be good or bad. Some very impressive and effective people are not good presenters. Some speakers enjoy their own voices so much you almost have to drag them off the stage. Either of these situations can really bring down the mood.

If you have a keynote speaker, find someone who knows your organization and can say nice things about it. Have someone go see them present before you book them to ensure that they will provide a good presentation. If at all possible, get someone with name recognition who will help you sell tickets.

Finally, don't forget the ask. No one is going to be offended by having your Executive Director or Development Director make a brief pitch. People are there because they care. So Kitty Rescue League will tell them about the tremendous impact they've had over the past year, some of the challenges facing the organization, and how X more dollars will make a huge difference in the coming year. For added impact, have a donation envelope under each plate.

After the event

After the event, there are two important tasks – follow-up and evaluation.

Follow-up means that your event and development teams get on the phone and call people to thank them for attending. Nothing cements a relationship like a personal touch. One could write an entire book on cultivating donors, but suffice it to say that you need many touches with each donor, and your post-event phone call is an important one. This is when you can ask for support, get feedback on the event, and stay in touch with the people who keep you going. I can't overemphasize the importance of this step in funder cultivation. 
Also thank your in-kind and other donors that helped you stage your event. Again, your personal attention is worth a lot, don't be stingy with it.

Finally, a few days after the event (when people have had a chance to catch up on their sleep) get the event team together for a postmortem. What went well? What would you do differently? What was awful? Be honest and fair. Evaluate the work plan, the promotional efforts, and your vendors. Take notes and refer to them before your next event. Only through an honest appraisal will you be able to improve on your event.

This chapter addressed planning for a dinner event, but planning for any other type of event is not dissimilar. Obviously, a 5K run has different details, but the process is similar.

Events can be a lot of fun, good money-raising opportunities, and ways to acknowledge the people that help you carry out your mission. But they are complex and important, so do the work up front, and then enjoy your event. As my old boss always said, “Have fun kids!”