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Show Me: Why Your Data Should Be Seen (and Not Just Read)

June 19, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century; As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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"Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."

So proclaimed Willard Duncan, a Missouri congressman, in an 1899 speech. Perhaps because I, too, hail from the Show-Me state, I have taken his advice to heart. Now let me convince you of its wisdom.

First let's talk about data. Nonprofit organizations are lousy with it — participant data, program data, financial data, sales data, fundraising data. Nonprofits are drinking from a fire hose and the water pressure is building. We are scrambling just to find enough bandwidth to store our data. And like secretive hoarders, we are reluctant to admit how little of this data we actually use. We may pay lip service to "evidence-based practices" or "data-driven strategies," or even borrow acronyms like ROI (return on investment) and KPI (key performance indicator) from the for-profit world. But, when pressed, many nonprofit managers admit they are not data people. They care deeply about people and programs, but their eyes glaze over at the sight of a spreadsheet.

It's okay: we're wired that way. (More on our wiring in a minute.) But for now, let's look at some other reasons why nonprofits may not be making good use of their data.

Top Reasons Nonprofits Avoid Data

Nonprofits avoid data for any number of understandable reasons. In my experience, the primary causes include:

Data animus. Many nonprofit staff members possess expertise in environmental issues, the arts, health, or education but not data analysis. Some suffer from data aversion. They admit — or sometimes proudly proclaim — that they are not "numbers people."

Time. Nonprofit staffers do not have time for data analysis. They are struggling to stay afloat, to submit the next proposal, to sustain their programs, to address the huge and varied needs of their clientele, to cultivate donors. As a result, digging through data is almost always a back-burner item.

Fear. Some worry about what their data might reveal. They fear they won't be able to control the narrative, that the data will be taken out of context, or that funders will withdraw their support based on the data.

"Dirty" data. Many nonprofits have entry-level staff or multiple staff entering data into management information systems or spreadsheets. The result can be "dirty" data — data with a troubling level of inaccuracy because it has not been entered correctly and/or consistently. If, for example, Michael Smith is entered twice, once with a middle initial and once without, then tracking his progress through your program will be difficult.

Wrong data. While many nonprofits have data on their financials and clients, they often lack data that demonstrates the positive social impact of their programs. A tutoring program may not track students' school grades or test scores. An employment program may lack data on program graduates' wages over time.

Disconnected data. Rather than maintaining a central management information system, small nonprofits often store their data in separate Excel spreadsheets. Which means Michael Smith's demographic profile might be captured in one spreadsheet while his attendance in various programs is stored in another, making analysis of, say, age-to-program participation next to impossible.

Why Cave Dwellers Drew Pictures, Not Spreadsheets

Our visual system has evolved over millions of years to process images in parallel. We don't "read" the Mona Lisa from top to bottom or from left to right. We take it all in at a glance and understand, almost instantly, that it is a picture of a woman in front of a landscape wearing a dark dress and an inscrutable smile. The cognitive technology of words and numbers, which is only six or seven thousand years old, requires us to scan individual characters arranged in small groupings and piece them together into words or values and then sentences or equations.

Here's an example: Which image do you "get" first?

Kohm_MonaLisa Kohm_Spreadsheet
Source: GoGuiyan.com and SSuite Accel Spreadsheet

 

Because data is encoded in words and numbers, it can be difficult for us to extract the stories that data tells. But if we use visual elements — solid bars, pie slices, sloping lines — to encode the data, the story comes into focus much more quickly. Data visualizations help us understand the significance of data by placing it in a visual context. And if, on top of that, we apply to our data visualizations what we know about how humans process visual cues, they are even easier to digest. Just one example: Humans can discern positions along a common scale more accurately than angles. That's why it is much easier to compare the lengths of several bars on a bar graph than to compare the size of slices in a pie chart.

Florence Nightingale probably wasn't a numbers person, either. She became a nurse to serve others. Yet, she soon realized she could provide care more effectively with the help of data. Working with a statistician named William Farr, Nightingale analyzed mortality rates during the Crimean War. She and Farr discovered that most of the soldiers who died in the conflict died not in combat but as a result of "preventable diseases" caused by bad hygiene.

Nightingale's solution? She invented the polar area chart, a variant of the pie chart meant "to affect thro' the Eyes what we fail to convey to the public through their word-proof ears." Each pie represented a twelve-month period of the war, with each slice showing the number of deaths per month, growing outward if the number increased, and color-coded to show the causes of death (blue: preventable, red: wounds, black: other). Clearly seeing the importance of hygiene, the Queen and Parliament quickly set up a sanitary commission and, as a result, mortality rates fell.

Kohm_NightingaleChart
 
Fig. 1: Florence Nightingale decided to show (rather than tell) her data
Source: Smithsonian.com

 

Getting Started With Data Visualization

Before designing charts, maps, or graphs, you need to know what you want to know. Perhaps your organization or program already has a logic model. If not, it's worth at least one team meeting to draft one. Logic models, like data visualizations, show rather than tell. They show how resources, programs and services, and desired results relate to each other according to your organization's strategic plan. The graphic below comes from the Pell Institute's Evaluation Toolbook, a site that walks you through logic models, other steps in effective program assessment, and the various types of data you can collect.

Kohm_LogicModel
Fig. 2: The components of a logic model

 

If your organization or program doesn't already have clearly articulated goals, benchmarks, or objectives, a logic model is a good first step toward setting them. You can set goals for any stage of the process (what types and amounts of resources you hope to garner, what types and amounts of services you intend to provide, or what types and amounts or degrees of outcomes you expect to see). The trick is determining which data will be most useful in helping you measure progress toward your goals in a meaningful way.

Once you figure out what it is you need or want to know, don't wait until you have data that supports your logic model to visualize it. It's important to bring the data to life for everyone involved, and that means visualizing it sooner rather than hiding it in spreadsheets and databases.

Even a simple line graph showing progress over time toward a goal will make your data perceptible, prompting you and your colleagues to ask important questions. Is our data accurate? What additional data do we need to better understand the trends we see? What is going on in our program or our community/field that might be affecting these trends? Questions like these can strengthen your resolve to gather new and/or better data — or to make changes designed to enhance the efficacy of your program.

Kohm_LineGraph
 
Fig. 3: A simple line graph showing progress over time

 

There are plenty of software programs out there to help you visualize your data. Excel, which you may already have, is perhaps the simplest to use. Other programs such as Tableau and Qlik Sense allow you to create interactive visuals and "drill down" into your data. If, for example, you see an overall downward trend in program participation, you might want to see if the trend holds for subgroups of participants such as women, men, or those in certain age groups. Free versions of Tableau and Qlik Sense are available as long as you store your data and visuals on the companies' servers. (Both companies give you the option to hide your data and charts from anyone outside your organization.)

Eventually, you'll identify your most important goals, what data to collect and use to track your progress, and how best to visualize that data. Then you can create a data dashboard that everyone in your organization can use to track progress on key goals and ask ever more sophisticated questions about how better to advance your mission.

But first you need to tell a story with an image or picture. Getting that right is the first step toward greater understanding and success.

Amelia_kohm_for_PhilanTopicAmelia Kohm, PhD, is the founder of DataViz for Nonprofits, where she serves as principal consultant. To contact her and learn more about data visualization best practices, visit nonprofitviz.comFor more posts in the FC Insight series, click here.

Weekend Link Roundup (June 17-18, 2017)

June 18, 2017

Rising-TemperaturesOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

On the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Shared Experiences blog, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies CEO Pam Breaux argues that leaving support for arts to the private sector alone "would leave millions of people behind."

Communications/Marketing

On the Communications Network site, Na Eng, communications director at the McKnight Foundation, shares some of the best practices that she and her colleagues embedded in the foundation's latest annual report.

Corporate Philanthropy

In the Detroit News, Melissa Burden reports that General Motors is overhauling its $30-million-a year corporate philanthropy program — a decision that has some nonprofits and arts groups in southeastern Michigan worried.

Diversity

"Of all the things philanthropists are trying to fix," writes Ben Paynter in Fast Company, "there's one major issue the sector seems to continually ignore: itself." By which he means the "lack of racial diversity among nonprofit and foundation leaders, an issue that remains unaddressed despite having been well documented for at least fifteen years."

Grantmaking

When are program evaluations worth reading, and when are they not? On Glasspockets' Transparency Talk blog, Rebekah Levin, director of evaluation and learning at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, breaks it down

Grantseeking

Wise Philanthropy blogger Richard Marker has some good advice for nonprofit grantseekers: "Please take funders at [their word]: [they] know [their] role and the vast majority...try to play fair, are sympathetic and caring, and want to use precious resources wisely and thoughtfully. Not taking [them] at [their] word or respecting [their] guidelines or violating [their] space doesn't help your cause, and doesn’t make [them] more sympathetic."

International Affairs/Development

Devex, a media platform for the global development community, has launched a new site, Going for the Goals, that will explore innovative financing mechanisms in support of the 2030 sustainable development agenda (aka the UN's Sustainable Development Goals).

What's the best way to fight poverty in the developing world? Programmatic interventions? Cash? Or neither? In a post for Quartz, Dan Kopf, citing the work of Lant Pritchett, an international development economist at Harvard, suggests that economic growth is the most, and maybe only, effective anti-poverty program.

Nonprofits

In a new post, GuideStar president Jacob Harold shares the thinking behind the organization's decision to add new information to the profiles of forty-six groups in its database designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"[P]eople calling for nonprofits to be taxed usually have no experience or understanding of the nonprofit sector. Or government. Or tax structures. Or irony," writes Nonprofit AF's Vu Le, adding, "There are not many of them, thank goodness, but they seem to be increasing in numbers lately, so maybe we nonprofits need to do a better job preparing counter-arguments" — which he proceeds to do.

Philanthropy

 "Dear Jeff. I’ve been looking at the replies to your tweet and they unfortunately betray the challenge of your approach and the wider problem our sector faces...." Forbes contributor Jake Hayman pens a letter to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, who has decided to crowdsource ideas, via social media, for his philanthropy.

Daniel Lurie, founder of Tipping Point Community, a poverty-fighting organization in the Bay Area, wants to reinvent philanthropy. In this video, he explains how he intends to do it.

On the HistPhil blog, Ben Soskis argues that the conceit in David Callahan's new book, The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age (our review here), that "a handful of present-day developments within philanthropy...represent a significant departure from past practice and trends" doesn't really stand up to scrutiny.

"We like to think that the selling of indulgences was an error of the past," writes Nathan Schneider in America: The Jesuit Review,  "yet the practice has passed into secular forms, and there are few Martin Luthers complaining of it. What goes by the name of philanthropy — literally, the love of people — and what the tax code regards as giving can rival the cynicism of the feudal indulgence business."

In a post that mentions Foundation Center president Brad Smith, Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther highlights the Knight Foundation's Knight Cities Challenge as an admirable example of a foundation committing a portion of its annual grantmaking budget to "bottom-up" philanthropy.

Public Policy

Remarkable fact of the week: An annual report released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition finds that there is no place in the U.S. where someone working a full-time minimum wage job could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment. According to the report, the minimum hourly wage required to afford rent on a two-bedroom apartment ranges from a low of $11.46 in some counties in Georgia, to $28.27 in Maryland, $28.08 in New York, $30.92 in California, $33.58 in the District of Columbia, $35.2o in Hawaii, and $58.04 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Tracy Jan reports for the Washington Post.

Science/Tech

Last but not least, Beth Kanter continues her series on nonprofit bots with a look at a handful of the best, including Facebook Messenger bots, the Climate Reality bot, the Genius Albert Einstein bot, the Anne Frank House bot, and the Pontifical Mission Societies' Missiobot.

That's it for this week. Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

[Infographic] Navigating the Online World of Nonprofit Storytelling

June 03, 2017

Storytelling is as old as fire. And over the millennia, storytellers have left us a trove of sayings and observations about the power and importance of good storytelling.

"It has been said that next to hunger and thirst, our most basic human need is for storytelling" (Khalil Gibran)

"If you're going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all" (Joseph Campbell)

"People don't want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith — faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell" (Annette Simmons)

Yes, some of the settings in which stories are told have changed, as have many of the techniques. But as this week's infographic, courtesy of the Center for Social Impact Communication at Georgetown University, reminds us, "Stories" — the kind that people remember and respond to — "chronicle a character who undergoes some kind of change or transformation." Joseph Campbell couldn't have said it better.

Here at PhilanTopic, we've been exploring the world of stoytelling with the likes of Thaler Pekar (here, here, here, here, and here) for close to a decade. But even we were surprised by some of the findings presented below. (And, yes, in the nonprofit world at any rate, text still rules.) Enjoy!

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 20-21, 2017)

May 22, 2017

Pause-button-2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

Does your organization have a strategy for dealing with the media? To help its members think beyond the press release, dispel misperceptions about working with the media, and provide practical guidance on how to approach this powerful medium, Exponent Philanthropy has released A Funder's Guide to Engaging With the Media, which includes the five building block of a successful media strategy highlighted in this post on the organization's PhilanthroFiles blog.

"Why do so many nonprofits take on the burden of producing the equivalent of a magazine a month [i.e., your monthly newsletter] that gets an average 1.5 percent click through rate and 14 percent open rate?" That's one of the controversial questions Ally Dommu poses in a post on the Big Duck site. Before you do anything rash, take a look at some of the other questions Dommu poses in her post and read the half a dozen or so comments submitted in response to her post.

Education

Budget documents obtained by the Washington Post offer the clearest picture yet of how the Trump administration intends to shrink the federal government's role in education and give parents more opportunity to choose their children's schools. Emma Brown, Valerie Strauss, and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel report

Environment

In his first four months as president, Donald Trump has walked back many of the promises he made to supporters on the campaign trail. One thing is absolutely clear, however: he is committed to rolling back a half-century of environmental regulations and protections supported, at different times, by majorities in both parties. And that, according to the findings of a new Pew Research Center survey, puts him at odds with a majority of Americans.

Global Health

On the Devex site, Rebecca Root shares five key takeaways from her conversations with attendees at the recent G-20 meeting on global health innovation.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (April 29-30, 2017)

April 30, 2017

World_peace_in_our_handsOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Children and Youth

In a post on the Colorado Trust site, Kristin Jones, the trust's assistant director of communications, details three of the structural factors that, according to the latest data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation's KIDS COUNT initiative,  are holding back children in the state, with real consequences for their health.

Communications/Marketing

As if there isn't already enough in the world to disagree about, design shop Elevation has created a gallery showcasing its favorite 75 nonprofit logos. Let the games begin!

Environment

Barry Gold, director of the Environment program at the Walton Family Foundation, explains why fishing reforms recently enacted in Indonesia and the U.S. Gulf Coast region point the way to a more sustainable fishing industry in the twenty-first century.

Foundation Center has launched a new Web portal, FundingTheOcean.org, designed to help funders and activists track, inform, and inspire ocean conservation. 

The UN Foundation's Justine Sullivan shares seven reasons why the U.S. would be foolish to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Food Insecurity

On the Civil Eats site, Mark Winne talks to Andy Fisher, author of the new book, Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance Between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups, about poverty, the "business" of hunger, and Fisher's vision for a new anti-hunger movement.

Continue reading »

Content Strategy and Copywriting for Social Impact

March 30, 2017

Because people tend to read differently on the Web than they do offline, content for a website should be structured differently than it is for an article or print piece.

Online, people tend to scan for keywords that correspond to the information they are looking for and only read further if they come across them. You can't count on your audience to read as deeply on your website as they would with a long-form document, which is why it's important that your Web content is properly structured to promote engagement. Breaking up, or "chunking," your content into shorter sections also helps readers retain information. Therefore, a proper content strategy for your website should focus on both how your writing is presented on the page and how you craft individual content elements such as headlines, subheadings, and captions.

Formatting Your Text

Using a typographic hierarchy on your website is one of the most effective ways to ensure that your content is structured properly. Typographic hierarchies use formatting elements such as size, color, and font effects to establish an order of importance for your content. When done correctly, the result is much easier for your readers to skim, find the information they are looking for, and retain what they read.

The two-part example below shows how powerful a typographic hierarchy can be in terms of effectively structuring content:

Ccd_image01_reference

via TutsPlus

The list of bands in the above example is difficult to scan. Imagine trying to find your favorite band's upcoming concert on an entire page of listings like this!

Ccd_image02-10_reference

Here we can see the power of typographic hierarchy. Readers can easily make out that the names of the bands are in larger bold text and the date and time of the concert is in green italic text, which helps them scan the list and quickly find the information they need.

Proper text formatting not only helps readers find the information they are looking for, it also encourages people to spend more time on the page and engage more deeply with your content. But text formatting can only take you so far. Structure also extends to the content itself. In all likelihood, your organization uses a content management system (CMS) to produce, edit, and store the content on your website. Typically, CMSes have fields for entering specific types of content that are then displayed in a certain way on your website. Following a few simple guidelines for your content fields can help ensure that your content is optimized for the Web.

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How to Supercharge Your Advocacy Campaign With a Story

March 27, 2017

In 2001, Madison McCarthy died of sudden cardiac arrest in a kindergarten classroom. She was five years old. No one attempted CPR. Her mother, Suzy McCarthy, became the face of an American Heart Association campaign that, fourteen years later, made New York the twenty-sixth state in the country to mandate CPR training as a part of the public school curricula. More than 1.5 million students a year began learning this lifesaving skill.

Megaphone_advocacyThe McCarthys’ tragic story became the foundation of an advocacy campaign that changed policy and saved lives. I would argue that all causes have the potential to use stories to such powerful effect.

AHA didn’t discover Madison by accident. It deliberately paid attention and collected stories of loss as well as stories of CPR saving lives. It then pushed these narratives at lawmakers through emails, phone calls, news articles, and social media posts. In the critical last weeks of the campaign, patch-through calls with Suzy McCarthy’s voice moved advocates to call Gov. Andrew Cuomo in support of the CPR bill. When I heard the recording, I thought to myself: How could someone not act on that story?

Generic statistics on CPR wouldn’t have moved lawmakers to act. Stories, on the other hand, with their heroes, drama, tragedy, and hope, tap into our emotions. A good story well told has the potential to bring out the best in supporters and advocates — and in lawmakers.

Unfortunately, too few advocacy organizations use stories to their full potential. Often, my colleagues and I receive advocacy emails jammed with technical information about pending legislation. They’re almost unreadable. Advocates for your cause are people with jobs, families, and other responsibilities. Even if they care about your issue, they can only invest so much time in getting themselves up to speed on all its nuances.

Now imagine the effect of replacing all those jargon-filled explanations with a real, compelling story. Let’s talk about how you can accomplish that at your organization.

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 28-29, 2017)

January 29, 2017

Constitution_quill_penOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

New York Philharmonic president Matthew VanBesien's decision to step down from his position before his contract is up has raised eyebrows and some good questions about the financing and politics of cultural mega-projects. Michael Cooper reports for the New York Times.

Continued funding for the National Endowment for the Arts is rumored to be in jeopardy. In FastCoDesign, Diana Budds explains why that's a really dumb idea.

Communications/Marketing

Deep dive? Move the needle? Take this offline? Classy's Ellie Burke has put together a good list of the jargon-y nonprofit phrases we love to hate.

Higher Education

"Our current debt-based system widens the gap in educational attainment by race and class, reduces graduation rates among students who make it to college, distorts career choices, constrains entrepreneurship, delays people from buying homes and building families, reduces retirement savings and overall net worth, and lengthens the time it takes to reach median wealth in the United States." But it wasn't always this way. William Elliott explains.

Immigration

In the New York Times, David Miliband, president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee and a former British foreign secretary, explains why the Trump administration's temporary refugee policy is un-American.

The Center for American Progress' Silva Mathema explains how Syrian refugees get to the United States and where they are resettled.

International Affairs/Development

"Today, the future of international criminal justice is more in doubt than at any point since the end of the Cold War," write Trevor Sutton, John Norris, and Carolyn Kenne on the Center for American progress site. "[And a] Trump presidency means that U.S. commitment to international criminal justice — and to human rights in general — may soon be a thing of the past...."

Colombia has become an even more dangerous place for rights activists, with five having already been killed in 2017. Anastasia Moloney reports for the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

On Monday, UN Foundation president and CEO Kathy Calvin issued a statement on the imposition, through executive order, of the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits foreign nongovernmental organizations from receiving any U.S. foreign assistance for family planning if they provide information, referrals, or services for legal abortion or lobby for abortion. 

Continue reading »

Designing Brand Experiences for Social Impact

January 19, 2017

Brand-experienceFocus and clarity are critical if brands hope to stand out in our message-saturated world. And for social change organizations, the challenge is even greater. When the message is about a better future, somewhere down the road, mission-driven brands must figure out ways to create a sense of urgency among their supporters to act now. Often, this means explaining concepts and ideas that can be difficult for people to understand. And even when the lift is big, organizations have to figure out ways to demonstrate tangible results and progress if they hope to sustain our engagement.

Fortunately, changes over the last few decades have provided brand designers with both an environment and the insights necessary to meet these challenges. The rise of networked technologies and digital communications, the maturation of the design field, and a recent awakening within many nonprofits about the value of their brand have combined to provide new opportunities to increase the effectiveness of the social change sector.

The challenge, then, is to understand the environment in which social change brands exist and apply this understanding to design solutions that offer the best chance to maximize your organization's impact.

The Rise of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector

It's no secret that the concept of brand has had a rough go of it in the nonprofit sector. Fortunately, more nonprofits are getting past their skepticism (if not outright resistance) to the idea and have been re-examining their relationship to "the B-word." By making smart adaptations to traditional business-centric principles, organizations like the Harvard Kennedy School, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Communications Network are helping to change the way people in the nonprofit sector think about the role of brand.

This new way of thinking, spelled out in Nathalie Laider-Kylander's and Julia Shephard Stenzel’s book The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy, and Affinity, is summarized in the book's introduction by Open Society Foundations president Christopher Stone: "A brand is a powerful expression of an organization's mission and value that can help engineer collaborations and partnerships that better enable it to fulfill its mission and deepen impact, and [is] a strategic asset essential to the success of the organization itself."

CCD_Fig1

Understood this way, a social change organization's brand is far more than just compelling messages and visuals. It's the ideas, expertise, relationships, resources, and experiences embedded in the organization's DNA, and as such it shapes organizational culture by bringing people together around a shared vision to create shared value.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 12-13, 2016)

November 13, 2016

Comedy-tragedy-masks Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. (And what a week it was.) For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Aging

First up, an open letter to the incoming Trump administration from Bruce A. Chernof, president and CEO of the Scan Foundation, laying out five action items it can take to make America great for older citizens.

Arts and Culture

On the Americans for the Arts site, Robert Lynch, the organization's president and CEOs, pledges to work with the incoming Trump administration to advance pro-arts policies and strengthen efforts to transform communities through the arts.

Climate Change

What does Trump's election mean for the Paris climate agreement? Humanosphere's Tom Murphy breaks it down.

Communications/Marketing

On the Packard Foundation website, Felicia Madsen, the foundation's communications director, reflects on some of the things the foundation has learned about how it uses communications to support grantees.

"Your branding efforts affect the bottom line, at least in terms of meeting goals for fundraising, volunteer recruitment, and signed petitions." So why is your logo so ugly? On FasctCoExist, Ben Paynter shares some thoughts on how to avoid a nonprofit branding nightmare.

Fundraising

#GivingTuesday is right around the corner. Is your nonprofit prepared for success?

Health

Does Trump's election mean automatic repeal of the Affordable Care Act? It's more complicated than that, writes Forbes contributor Bruce Japsen.

And be sure to check out this breakdown by the Kaiser Family Foundation of the president-elect's positions on six key healthcare issues.

Continue reading »

How Associations Can Overcome Fundraising Barriers

October 27, 2016

Give_chalkboardOver the last three months, I've had conversations with four associations about their approach to raising money. The conversations usually touch on many of the same points:

"We're an association and are struggling to raise additional funds from our members."

 "We think it's because a lot of our members may not fully understand what we do and why we need to raise money from them."

 "We've seen a decline in our membership and have had to restate our membership levels."

"We are trying to figure out how we can offer our members giving opportunities as an alternative to membership dues."

 "We're not sure we are relevant anymore. People are spending less time with our content even though it's really good. Our members tell us that's what they want, but in the end they don't follow through."

"What should we do? Do we have a fundraising or a membership problem?"

If you work for an association, I suspect you've had similar conversations with your colleagues.

Before I share with you the advice I give to my association clients, I want to first discuss a major challenge that, in today's competitive fundraising environment, most associations face.

Content Is King — and There's a Lot of It

You have the best newsletter out there. You've established rigorous business rules to ensure you get the right professional development content to your members in the right format and at the appropriate time. But no one is consuming it. Not that your members don't find it valuable — it's more that they can't find it. Let's be honest: there's an abundance of content and information out there, good and bad. And, to make matters worse, associations today have lots of new competitors for the attention of their members — consultants and thought leaders who are creating their own content and targeting it to your members. What does it all mean? It means your members are in the driver's seat when it comes to deciding what is good and what is not, what is useful and what is not. It also means that many associations are scrambling to learn as quickly as they can how they can make their content stand out in a very crowded environment.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (October 22-23, 2016)

October 23, 2016

Finish-line-aheadOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

On the Triple Pundit site, Eric Griego, director of business development at @Pay, a secure mobile giving platform, shares five strategies for improving your cause marketing communications.

Fundraising

It's the most stressful time of the year — and, in a post on her blog, Beth Kanter shares a few self-care tips for nonprofit fundraising professionals taken from her new book (co-written with Aliza Sherman), The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout.

On the WeDidIt blog, Ryan Woroniecki shares eight tips for converting your online donors to major donors.

This #GivingTuesday, November 29, Foundation Center and Philanthropy News Digest will be turning our social media feeds over for the day to fine winners of our "Elevate Your Cause" sweepstakes. Learn more.

Higher Education

The dining hall staff at Harvard University has gone on strike for a yearly minimum wage of $35,000 — and the administration of the richest university in the country is not pleased. Michelle Chen reports for The Nation.

Princeton University, the third-wealthiest endowed university in the country, has agreed to an $18 million settlement with neighbors who claimed the university’s tax-exempt status unfairly made their property taxes higher. Elaine S. Povich reports for Stateline.com.

And in Washington Monthly, Annie Kim looks at how the Internet wrecked the college admissions process.

Impact/Effectiveness

On the Communications Network site, Hattaway Communications' RJ Bee and Kate Pazoles share three lessons for taking ownership of your evaluation efforts.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 15-16, 2016)

October 16, 2016

Fruits-Fall-HarvestOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

Contra Donald Trump, the majority of African Americans do not live in poverty or inner cities. Alana Semuels reports for The Atlantic.

In Yes! Magazine, Liza Bayless interviews Marbre Stahly-Butts, deputy director of racial justice at the Center for Popular Democracy, about why divestment from the prison and military industries is critical to a just future.

Climate Change

On August 7, Scotland, one of the windiest countries in Europe, generated enough electricity from wind turbines to power the entire country. And it's goal of running on 100 percent renewable energy by 2020 may be within reach. The Washington Post's Griff Witte reports.

Communications/Marketing

"Most people are uncomfortable talking about race, discrimination, privilege and power," writes the Knight Foundation's Anusha Alikhan, who moderated a panel on diversity and inclusion at the Communications Network annual conference in Detroit in September. "[W]e get tripped up by the need to be nonpartisan, while balancing the interests of a variety of groups and even our own upbringings.... [But how] do we produce real change in these areas if we don’t acknowledge their roots?" Alikhan shares some takeaways from that conversation that communications teams can use to "advance hard conversations and create deeper connections with their communities."

Disaster Relief

Relief efforts for hurricane-battered Haiti gained some traction during week, with the United Nations launching a $120 million appeal to fund its activities there, the World Health Organization gearing up to send a million cholera vaccine doses to prevent a more serious outbreak of the disease, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation announcing a gift of $2 million in cash and product donations, and Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt announcing he will donate $10 million through his foundation for recovery efforts. To learn more about recovery challenges and opportunities for donors, check out this webinar hosted by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, Haitians need all the help they can get. But according to the Washington Post's Peter Holley, they don't trust the American Red Cross to provide it.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 8-9, 2016)

October 09, 2016

Haiti Hurricane MatthewOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

Future Fundraising Now blogger Jeff Brooks has some good advice re the dangers of committee writing and the three-verb fumble.

Disaster Relief

Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade, killed more than seven hundred people in Haiti and ravaged the southwestern tip of that impoverished nation. On the Center for Disaster Philanthropy blog, Regine A. Webster answers three questions for donors: When should I give? How should I give? And where should I give?

Derek Kravitz and a team from ProPublica have uncovered documents that purport to show local officials in Louisiana were "irate" over the American Red Cross’ response to the August flooding in that state, the country's worst natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Education

On Valerie Strauss's Answer Sheet blog, author and education expert Alfie Kohn explains why pay-for-performance schemes for students and teachers are counterproductive.

International Affairs/Development

According to the World Bank, "[t]he number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than 100 million across the world despite a sluggish global economy," with 767 million people were living on less than $1.90 a day in 2013, the latest year for which comprehensive data is available, down from 881 million people the previous year.

On the UN Foundation blog, Aaron Sherinian shares thumbnail bios of seventeen young people who are working to advance the Sustainable Development Goals.

Nonprofits

With pension costs rising and stock market returns flat, a growing number of municipalities are "looking for ways of taxing what until now have been tax-exempt sacred cows." Elaine S. Povich reports for the Pew Charitable Trust's Stateline initiative.

Beth Kanter has officially announced the launch of her third book, The Happy Health Nonprofit (with Aliza Sherman), which "explores why burnout is so common in the nonprofit sector and simple ways to practice self-care and bring a culture of well-being into the nonprofit workplace." 

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Linking Challenge to Opportunity to Strategy

October 07, 2016

Link-Building-IconMost of us dread the annual strategic planning process. It's a daunting task to have to stop and think about the future when your days are already super busy with the work you do for your organization's clients and beneficiaries.

Then there's the fact that the plan itself can be a document that inspires and creates a visionary context for an organization, or, as I've seen lately, a series of work plans detailing what the organization is going to do over the next few years and how it's going to do it.

Regardless of which approach your organization takes, here are a few things to think about as you and your colleagues sit down to develop your next strategic plan:

  • Your supporters really don't care how the ship runs; they care about what your organization is doing to help people and advance its cause.
  • Your supporters don't want to know about how you're going to boost the reach and impact of your communications. From their perspective, you should be doing that anyway. They do care about what lies ahead for the organization, and what they can do to help make change happen.
  • Your supporters want to believe your plan will get more people like them to support your cause or issue. They want to be assured you have a handle on your overall strategy and the tactics needed to implement it. And they want to be reminded why they are important to your organization's success.

The points above underscore the important role individual supporters play in the change process. I hope they also convey a sense of the linkage that is often missing from strategic plans: challenge begets opportunity begets strategy.

Creating a "Challenge" Narrative for Supporters

It is crucial that supporters feel compelled to act by your challenge narrative. And the hardest part of that is making sure it conveys enough urgency to cause potential supporters to say, "Wow, I need to step up and do something." Your narrative should do two things:

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Quote of the Week

  • "They were careless people. They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made...."

    The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

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