Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, by Kivi Leroux Miller: a review

Kivi Leroux Miller feels your pain.  And she wants to help.

You work at a nonprofit organization.  Either it's too small to have a communications department or nobody has recognized the need to market what you do until now.  You've recognized the need, but you feel daunted.  There are so many things you could do...and the so-called experts want you to do all of them yesterday! 

Where do you get started?  How much can you do?  What will work best for your group and its cause? You don't need theory or grandiose notions.  You need a friend who's been there and can guide you through the process. Kivi wants to be that friend.

Throughout this book, you will hear great advice that you can put to use right away.  If you love the idea of a "quick and dirty marketing plan," this is the book for you. 

Be warned, though: "quick" is a relative term.  There are no magic wands to wave and no lamps to rub to get a genie to do the work for you.  This book will give you a good sense of what you need to do to be ready to plan and of all the resources--mostly time--that you'll need to turn that plan into reality.  Knowing all that ahead of time will reassure you.  You'll be able to see the road ahead.

As you go on reading the book, I predict that you'll stop feeling daunted and start feeling excited.  You'll see that (in Miller's words), you can do it yourself without doing yourself in.  The later chapters of the book offer excellent advice on how to organize your efforts, how to take advantage of outside help when you need it, and "where to spend your limited dollars and where to scrimp."

In other words, all the things you'd ask a trusted, wise advisor if you could sit down with her over lunch?  They are either in this book or on her blog.  Spend some time with each.  Then get started.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Robin Hood Marketing, by Katya Andresen: a review.

You care passionately about something.  You want other people to get involved.  You want their time, money, ideas, commitment.  How do you reach them?  Do you send out mail?  Work on your website?  Go deep on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram?  Sometimes it seems as if there's a new way to reach out to people every day.  How do you figure out what will really work for you?

Stop. Take a deep breath. Now, read Katya Andresen's Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes.

Andresen, chief operating officer and chief strategy officer of Network for Good, has been a journalist, a marketer, and a nonprofit executive.  She doesn't let the latest fad distract her.  She gets right to the point.  And the point is that good causes will not sell themselves--we have to use the most effective approaches to market them.

Read the book for the "Robin Hood rules" she has robbed from the rich for-profit world and adapted for use by nonprofits.  Chief among those rules are "focus on getting people to do something specific" and "appeal to your audience's values, not your own."
Raising awareness is not enough: what action do you want people to take?  And making converts to the cause is too much, at least all in one step.  Get people to do something good for their own reasons (because of how the good action makes them feel about themselves, for instance).  They'll be more likely to listen to your reasons later.  But even if they don't, she asks, do you want to change minds or do you want to change the world?

Read the book for a guide on how to plan your communications.  Step by step, Andresen shows you how to get to know your audience, your competition for support, and your potential partners, and how to shape your message to make a case that will connect with people and lead them to act.

Read the book for excellent tips drawn from case studies and interviews.  Read it in order to ask yourself the right questions. For example:
  • What can we ask people to do that will be "fun, easy, popular, and rewarding"? (for supporters)
  • "Who wins when we win?" (for partners)
  • How can we supply information that is expert, fast, first, accurate, and tells a good story? (for journalists--they are a target audience too!)
I cannot give you a good enough sense of how rich this book is in a review.  It is so chock-full of detailed suggestions and examples that the best summary of the book is reading the book itself.  And it is very well organized, with bullet points up front, highlights marked throughout, and interviews at the end of each chapter.  I read the first edition of the book, originally published in 2006, and it still feels timely and up to date.  That's what comes of focusing on the relationship between the organization and the audience and not on the constantly changing media.

My one reservation about this book is the same one that's been coming up in my mind as I read a lot of books about communications, marketing, or psychology lately--even books I really like, such as the Heath brothers' Switch and Made to Stick, and Beth Kanter and Allison Fine's The Networked Nonprofit.  These books offer great ideas on how to change an individual's behavior, or even a lot of individuals' behavior.  But that is not the same thing as social change.

Social change generally means going up against entrenched structures of power.  Reading these books, you would never imagine that capitalism, racism, sexism, and tightly defined norms around gender affected anybody's lives.  You would think that getting people to smoke less, use condoms, eat healthier diets, and donate to good organizations would revolutionize the way we live.

Perhaps it's just that social change is outside the scope of these books.  But the authors market the books as if social change would come from better communications strategies alone.  That's selling their books too hard.  They are worthwhile to read on their own merits.  People working for just causes need and should take advantage of the savvy that Katya Andresen supplies.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Jews and All the Peoples of the Earth

One of the great things about being a bat/bar mitzvah tutor is that I'm constantly learning from twelve-year-olds.

Sam is studying Parshat Vayetze for his bar mitzvah ceremony this fall.  The portion begins with Jacob's dream, in which he sees angels going up and down a ladder with its feet on the ground and its head in heaven.  In the dream, God says to Jacob, "And all the peoples of the land shall be blessed in you." (In, or with, or through: all possible translations of the Hebrew original.)

"What does it mean, they will be blessed in you?" I asked Sam.  He answered, "I think it means you will be good to them.  You'll be kind and helpful and make their lives better."

There could be more studied answers.  There could be deeper answers.  But Sam's answer expresses a long-held and intensely felt part of the Jewish tradition.  We are here to make life better for one another.  Whether through personal acts of kindness, or charity, or politics, or social movements, Jews have committed themselves to the ideal of tikun olam, the repair and perfection of the world.

It's significant that this impulse directs itself toward "all the peoples of the land."  Jews take care of their own, and we don't stop there: we try to create a just society. 

It's also significant that our conversation took place in a temple, over a Torah portion, in preparation for a bar mitzvah.  Of course people can dedicate themselves to helping their neighbors from any religious standpoint, or from none at all.  For Jews, however, our tradition pushes us and our institutions channel us in that direction.  When we act for tikun olam, our Jewish and universal selves act as one.

That's why I was active in New Jewish Agenda, whose slogan was "a progressive voice in the Jewish community and a Jewish voice among progressives."  That's why I'm proud to be a consultant to JOIN for Justice, which is training the next generation of Jewish leaders in the journey towards social justice.  And that's why I'm headed off this morning to celebrate another bat mitzvah at Temple B'nai Brith, an inclusive, egalitarian, and welcoming synagogue, which will host a visiting Pakistani delegation this morning. 

Because being Jewish is how I connect with all the peoples of the earth.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Jobs? Check Out the Public Library

If you're looking for a job, start by stepping into your local library.

Last year, I decided that telling the story of a good organization in ways that win it support is what I really like to do.  I'm good at it.  I'd like to make it my full-time job.  So, as many of you know, I am looking for a full-time job in nonprofit communications (or development & communications).

Job hunting is a job in itself.  It takes a special set of skills that you don't necessarily pick up in doing your regular job.  The last time I was on the market, I benefited greatly from career counseling by Ilene Rudman.  Since then, social media have grown like the daffodils in my front yard, and LinkedIn has been an especially useful tool for me.

If I were just starting out today, however, I'd go straight to Ellen Jacobs at the Somerville Public Library for a tutorial in the LearningExpress Job & Career Accelerator.  There are classes this Saturday and next Tuesday and Thursday. Call 617-623-5000 x2955 or email raugarten@minlib.ne to register.

The Accelerator software lets you:
  1. Match yourself with occupations that best fit your interests.
  2. Explore what it takes to do those occupations, what they typically pay, and how many jobs are available in Massachusetts in each of your fields of interest.
  3. Find job listings, collected from a wide variety of sources so you can do one-stop shopping.
  4. Write resumes and cover letters, store them online, and then use them to apply for the jobs you find.
  5. Take online tutorials to improve your skills: both the interview skills you need to land the job and the particular knowledge you need actually to do the job.
It's perfect for people who are just getting started on their job hunt, or who have held the same job for a long time and are new to today's job market.  I plan to use it to double-check for jobs that I might have missed elsewhere...and that Photoshop tutorial sounds just right for me!

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Priest, a Rabbi, and a Communications Pro Walk into a Bar...

Can you tell a joke?  Then you can write for blogs and social media.

I don't mean to say that what you write has to be funny.  Although, God knows we could use some humor sometimes!  But jokes have the basic ingredients you need to make people want to read what you write, and then, to remember what they've read.

Jokes invite the audience in.  Whether it's "knock-knock," or "What did the one say to the other?", or "A priest, a minister, and rabbi walk into a bar," jokes get the listeners involved. You can see them lean forward, wondering what comes next. 

The next time you write, look for the opening line that makes your reader want to read the next line.

Jokes have a structure.  Human beings like to know where they're going and how long it's going to take to get there.  People waiting for a bus or subway are much more content to wait if they see a sign that says "Next train to Alewife Station, 10 minutes."  When they're listening to a joke and they hear that something happens three times, for instance, they know something unusual is about to occur and they're waiting to find out what it is.

The next time you write, look for the structure that tells your reader when the main idea is going to arrive.

Jokes have a punch line.  Sometimes people even forget how the story went, but they remember "That's what she said," or "I'll have what she's having."  It's the payoff.  It leads to a reaction: laughter, or a groan, or both...but an emotional response.

The next time you write, figure out the response you want to provoke first.  Then, tell the story that will elicit that response from your readers.

A priest, a minister, and a rabbi went into a bar, and the bartenders said, "What is this, some kind of a joke?"

I'll bet you remember that one.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Strategic Communications for Nonprofit Organizations, 2nd Edition: a review

Strategic Communications for Nonprofit Organization: Seven Steps to Creating a Successful PlanStrategic Communications for Nonprofit Organization: Seven Steps to Creating a Successful Plan by Sally J. Patterson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Are you leading your organization through the process of creating a communications strategy? Good for you! There's a lot of scatter-shot communications in the nonprofit world, but very few organizations take the time to think about how to bring all their communications--in print, in person, on the web, through social media--together for the greatest impact. Whether you're a consultant, a staff person in house, or a Board member, this book is meant for you. 

If you are a seasoned communications strategist, the book will serve as a refresher and a series of checklists. It also contains two dozen worksheets, all available online, and you can use the ones you find most helpful to structure the discussions you lead. 

If you are new to strategic planning, don't get overwhelmed. Look at the overall flow of the book to get a sense of what steps are involved. You may decide you want to hire a consultant to lead the planning process, and this book will give you the tools you need to interview that person and decide whether he or she will meet your needs.

This book offers a lot of good advice. I particularly like some of the lists. For instance, here's a list that could serve as the itinerary for the whole process:

*What are we trying to achieve?
*Whom are we trying to reach?
*What do we want them to do?
*How will we encourage them to do it?
*How will we know if we have succeeded?

There are also some real drawbacks to the book. It seems to assume that people in the organization will already understand the value of creating a communications strategy and commit themselves to a what could be a very long process (every week for six months).  My experience tells me that you begin instead with a certain amount of information sharing and consensus building.  You might not want to tackle a wholesale audit of the agency's communications at the outset.  You might want to start with concrete questions like "Whom are we trying to reach?" and "What do we want them to do?"

I think that the process of creating a strategy and the process whereby you get the buy-in of the people who have to carry that strategy out are the same process. I wouldn't hand this book to people who know a lot about programs but not much about communications. It would alienate them.  Instead, I would take what I could from the book and apply it to my organization in whatever order would get the most participation in and eventual buy-in.  That's the way to make sure your plan doesn't sit on a shelf but instead directs the actions of your agency every day.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green: a review

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On one level, this is a love story between two exceptionally bright, quirky teenagers, Hazel and Augustus, who meet at a group for kids with potentially terminal diseases.  Morbid humor and playful ways with words unite them.  Also, they share the typical adolescent concerns about appearance and attractiveness and "losing" one's virginity, and the Holden Caulfield-style suspicion of adults who pretend to know what they do not or cannot know.  At the same time, having to lug around an air canister to breathe, or screw in a prosthetic leg to walk, means they cannot take any of those concerns too seriously too much of the time. I believed in the characters.  I wanted to listen to them talk all day.

This is also a book about the meaning of life and how to live it.  My cousin Inbal Samin gave it to me and after I finished reading it, I had to write her a heartfelt letter about what I thought my own life had taught me.  I can just imagine book clubs all over American going late into the night discussing the big questions raised in this book.

So, read it for the story, or the philosophy, or both.  But do read it. 

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