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284 posts categorized "Communications/Marketing"

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2015)

October 02, 2015

Although PhilanTopic was on vacation for a couple of weeks, our readers found lots to chew on, content-wise, in September, including new posts by Derrick Feldmann and Claire Axelrad, infographics from Bloomerang and the ALS Association, a timely post by Foundation Center president Brad Smith, and perennially popular posts by nonprofit executive director Susan Danish and fundraising consultant Richard Brewster. As for us? We'll always have Paris....

What have you read, watched, or listened to lately that warmed your baguette? Feel free to it share in the comments section below, or drop us a line at

Weekend Link Roundup (September 12-13, 2015)

September 13, 2015

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

Climate Change

Former Seattle mayor Michael McGinn and the environmental group 350 Seattle has launched a campaign to get the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest charitable and funder of medical research, to completely divest itself of its investments in fossil fuels. The Guardian reports.

Over the last twenty-five years, the world has lost forested areas equal to South Africa. The good news, writes Chris Mooney in the Washington Post, is that the rate of deforestation appears to be slowing.


Still trying to figure out this nonprofit marketing thing? On her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington explains the basics.

Guest blogging on Kivil Leroux Miller's Nonprofit Communications Blog, Laurel Dykema of Mission India shares five "don'ts" for nonprofit writers.


Is entrepreneurship in America becoming the province of the wealthy? Gillian B. White, a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, reports.


Markets for Good has a nice crowdfunding-focused Q&A with Alison Carlman, senior manager of marketing and communications at GlobalGiving.

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 1-2, 2015)

August 02, 2015

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

Climate Change

While the decision of the Hewlett Foundation to amend its social investment policy to say it will "refrain from future investments in private partnerships primarily involved in oil and gas drilling" falls far short of divestment, it is significant nonetheless. Marc Gunther explains.

In the New Yorker, Katy Lederer explains how a new report from international consulting firm Mercer not only quantifies the investment impacts of various climate-change scenarios, it makes clear that as climate change "trashes" the economy, superfiduciaries— sovereign wealth and pension funds, foundations, and endowments — are not going to be able to meet their long-term obligations. 

Endowed institutions aren't the only ones waking up to the existential threat of unchecked climate change. Bloomberg Politics reports that executives of thirteen major U.S. corporations have announced at least $140 billion in new investments "to [reduce] their carbon footprints as part of a White House initiative to recruit private commitments ahead of a United Nations climate-change summit later this year in Paris."


The latest edition of the Nonprofit Blog Carnival, which is being hosted by Kivi Leroux Miller on her Nonprofit Marketing Guide blog, is open for submissions. The topic of this month's roundup is how you share progress or communicate your accomplishments -- "not just with donors, but to program participants, and other supporters and influencers as well." The deadline for submissions (new or recent posts) is  Friday, August 28, and the roundup of all posts will be published on Monday, August 31. To submit a post, just email the URL and two- or three-sentence summary to

Corporate Social Responsibility

Large multinationals spent some $20 billion on corporate social responsibility programs in 2013. Good news, right? In The Atlantic, Gillian White explains why we shouldn't get too excited.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July 2015)

August 01, 2015

It was a typically hot and muggy July in most places, but here at PhilanTopic it was an especially cool month, with new posts from Sarah Gunther and Diana Samarasan related to the release of an updated Foundation Center report on funding for global human rights, three posts full of great fundraising and governance advice for nonprofit leaders, a new Q&A with Jean Case, and the latest installment in Matt Schwartz' Cause-Driven Design series topping the list of the most popular posts on the blog. What, you were on vacation? Don't sweat it. Here's your chance to catch up....

Read, watched, or listened to anything lately that surprised or made you think? Share your find with others in the comments section below, or drop us a line at

Tell People What You Believe In

July 24, 2015

Share_your_passionHow often does this happen?

You're at a gathering and someone asks you what you do. As soon as you say you work for a nonprofit, the next question is, "What does your nonprofit do?"

This is the point where most nonprofit professionals recite their organization's mission statement. Tailored to the person you're talking to, your response probably sounds something like:

"We educate and empower people who lack resources and opportunities…."


"We provide basic services to those in need…."

While that kind of generic description might be totally appropriate when you're making small talk, it probably doesn't convey the passion you actually feel for your organization and cause. And it should never find its way into your solicitations.

I know, it's only July. But the end-of-year fundraising season is just around the corner, and I'm already looking forward to the many direct mail pieces I expect to receive listing the reasons why I should give to this cause or that. But while almost all those letters will tell me what the organization does, only a handful will tell me what the organization stands for.

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How Nonprofit Branding Strengthens Impact: Part 2

July 09, 2015

Brand-PowerIn my previous article, I introduced some thinking on the nature of a nonprofit's brand, three characteristics of a compelling nonprofit brand experience, and the six key components of every brand. The big takeaway (hopefully) was that a brand is a combination of psychological concepts and tangible assets that together embody the vision, values, and mission of a nonprofit.

In Part 2 of this three-part mini-series on nonprofit branding, I'll take a closer look at the ways in which an effective brand creates organizational value for nonprofits, as well as how design firms and nonprofits collaborate to translate organizational strategy into brand experiences that reflect a nonprofit’s values and help advance its mission.

A New Approach to Leveraging Social Impact

Seeking new ways to increase their impact, leading nonprofits increasingly are taking a broader view of the strategic role their brands can play in driving long-term social change. In this new view, a nonprofit's brand is critical to organizational strategy — making that strategy tangible through a system of designed experiences that express the ideas and values the organization represents.

Such a view marks a significant departure from the communications-centric model of nonprofit branding in which a brand exists primarily as a marketing tool for managing perceptions. In the new paradigm, a brand must embody critical elements such as social innovation and design thinking (as exemplified by the work of design firms such as IDEO). This view also embraces the ability of a brand to shape conversations, strengthen relationships, and increase an organization’s effectiveness. This line of thinking is best articulated in the work of Harvard professor Nathalie Laidler-Kylander and Christopher Stone — and detailed in their book The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy, and Affinity.

Among its many insights The Brand IDEA suggests a new role for "brand" within the nonprofit organization — a role in which it is both driven by, and acts as a primary driver of, organizational strategy, exerting influence and commanding mind-share, both internally and externally, to create a virtuous cycle that strengthens and reinforces itself with each success.

Visualized, what Kylander and Stone title the "Role of Brand Cycle" in a nonprofit looks something like this:

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How Nonprofit Branding Strengthens Impact: Part 1

May 13, 2015

Brand-PowerIt used to be that nonprofits shied away from prioritizing their brands. After fifteen years of running MSDS, however, I've noticed that nonprofits are becoming more aware of the link between a brand's strategic value and organizational impact.

One reason for this shift, I suspect, is that competition — for funding, people's attention, human capital — has gotten stiffer. And nowhere is that more apparent than online. When a nonprofit's website is underwhelming, it is not only out there for the world to see, it also sends the wrong message and undercuts the organization's mission.

That said, there are still a lot of misconceptions about what brands and branding are. In this article and the one that follows, I'd like to provide some context regarding what a brand is and how it is experienced, then offer insights into how to think more strategically about the brand experiences your organization creates.

What Is a Brand?

Branding expert Marty Neumeier famously defines brand as "Who you are, what you do, and why you matter." For nonprofits, this translates to your brand being a combination of your mission, values, strategy, relationships, impact — and their value to the world. It's a gut feeling about the promises you make and your reputation for keeping (or breaking) them.

As Neumeier says: "It's not what you say you are, it's what they say you are."

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8 Keys to a Successful Client/Design Firm Relationship

March 19, 2015

Casablanca-Blaine-RenaultIn my last post, I suggested that the shared interests of nonprofits and design firms make us ideal collaborative partners. One of our readers, Emily, added a valuable perspective, commenting that trust was an essential element of the client/design firm relationship because while those who work at design firms and at nonprofits may have shared goals and values, we often have different experiences and vocabularies.

Emily's comment made me think about how, in my experience, communication often is the biggest impediment to a productive client/design firm relationship. It also underscored the importance of discussing the dynamics of the client/design firm relationship before exploring the nuances of the design process itself.

In other words, what do clients and design firms want and expect from each other? And what can we do to ensure that those needs and expectations are met?

Process Makes Perfect

For clients in any consultative relationship, it can be unsettling to work on an important project while navigating unfamiliar territory. You've got a lot invested professionally, financially, and emotionally. You have a sense of where you'd like to go, but only a basic understanding of how to get there. And to get there, you have to depend on people you only recently met.

This dynamic highlights a truism: when it comes to design, process is far more important than results. Process enables us to more consistently create effective solutions, embrace the unknown, and blend a wide range of skills and disciplines (especially if you accept Herbert Simon's definition of "design" I shared) in my last post. Structured effectively, process turns design into an inclusive endeavor by inviting participants from both sides of the client/design firm divide to set expectations, establish benchmarks, and work toward a common goal.

At my firm, process is as collaborative as the work we produce. We are continuously evaluating it, getting feedback from clients, discussing it internally, and evolving how we work – all with the goal of creating the best possible experience and the best possible results. Given the complexities and competing interests inherent in collaborative design, that is no small task!

The Convergence of Business and Design

Used to be that design and business professionals operated in silos, with designers brought in at the end of a process to execute other people's ideas. Over the last twenty years or so, however, "design" has become an integral part of the business lexicon. Clients expect to be part of the process, and designers want (and often expect) a seat at the table when strategy is being developed. This new, more collaborative "co-design" model offers great advantages. It can also bring its fair share of challenges, as individuals with shared goals but different experiences, vocabularies, and expectations are asked to work together to design solutions to complex problems.

An effective process with clearly defined phases can help strengthen this collaboration. Process, however, is only one part of the equation; for it to work, everyone must respect and be mindful of everyone else's goals and priorities.

Rules of Engagement

To help foster this kind of open, collaborative dynamic, we at MSDS have made the following principles the cornerstones of our design process. We live by them, and we look to build relationships with clients that encourage them to do the same.

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How Nonprofits & Design Firms Collaborate to Change the World

March 14, 2015

Collaborating-GroupLike siblings separated at birth, nonprofits and design firms are connected by a common bond: to understand the world around us and to create new ways to make it better, more rewarding, and more meaningful. We do this, usually, not for ourselves, but for the satisfaction we get from helping others.

Nonprofits bring passion, dedication, and expertise to the often complex problems they are trying to solve. Design firms bring a similar passion, dedication, and expertise to the work of designing experiences. While the specifics of what we do and the way we do it may be different, at our cores nonprofits and design firms share similar values and a commitment to the greater good.

What makes being part of a firm that works with nonprofits so rewarding is that every day I have the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from experts in different fields who are hard at work addressing some of the world's greatest challenges. It's like earning a post-graduate degree in "How the World Works." Even better, I get to take this continuous learning and apply the skills I've acquired over the course of my career to collaborate on meaningful work that helps nonprofits make a difference.

For those with whom we collaborate, a firm like ours offers an equally deep reservoir of expertise — expertise that can help them turn their missions, research, and programs into brand experiences that connect people to big ideas — and each other. We also bring a fresh set of eyes and ears, providing a valuable outside perspective on how effectively an organization's messaging resonates with its target audiences.

A Shared Mission & Vision

If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that the key to a successful partnership between a client and a design firm is that both parties must engage in the spirit of active listening and share a commitment to both learn from, and educate, each other. Whether we're working with nonprofit clients who are well versed in the principles of design or relative novices, the best partnerships hinge on whether, and how much, everyone is committed to establishing a relationship based on trust, respect, and a shared vision. You simply cannot produce effective work without it. What's also needed is a commitment to always doing what's best for the work — which means a willingness to challenge the ideas of others, to have your own ideas challenged, and to check assumptions and preconceived notions at the door.

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 31-February 1, 2015)

February 01, 2015

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

Children and Youth 

In an op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal, La June Montgomery Tabron, president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, urges legislators in New Mexico, which ranks 48th nationally in child poverty, to expand the state's investment in prenatal and early childhood services. "The path to a healthy and successful future for our kids starts in the earliest years of their lives," writes Tabron. "Research has shown that 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before the age of 5, which tells us that a child’s learning begins well before he or she ever sets foot in a kindergarten classroom."

The Economist agrees. In an article from the January 24 issue, the magazine argues that the solution to growing inequality is not "to discourage rich people from investing in their children, but to do a lot more to help clever kids who failed to pick posh parents. The moment to start is in early childhood, when the brain is most malleable and the right kind of stimulation has the largest effect."


Who are the "stakeholders" in social change communications? Andy Burness offers his thoughts on the Frank blog.

Community Development

On the Living Cities blog, Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, shares three lessons from Detroit's recent emergence from bankruptcy.


Investments in online fundraising technology and strategies made by "early adopter" nonprofits are starting to pay off, as these fifteen stats from Nonprofit Tech for Good show.

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 24-25, 2015)

January 25, 2015

DeflatedFootball1Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

How concerned are global CEOs about climate change? Apparently, not much. According to an article in The Guardian, an annual survey of global CEOs by professional services group PricewaterhouseCoopers didn't include a single question about climate change, after only 10 percent of CEOs registered concern about the issue in the previous year's survey.


On her Getting Attention! blog, Nancy Schwartz shares a four-step process designed to close the marketing-fundraising divide in your organization.


In Philanthropy Daily, Georgetown University graduate student Alexander Podkul updates readers on a U.S. District Court hearing earlier this month regarding access to public data contained in the annual tax form nonprofits file with the IRS. "The issue up for debate," writes Podkul, "is that [Public.Resource.Org founder Carl] Malamud has requested Form 990 data in a modernized electronic file (or other machine-readable format) but has only received the raw data in image format....Although th[e] issue appears to be...specific to Malamud and his organization," adds Podkul,

a ruling in favor of Public.Resource would greatly affect many who participate in and study the nonprofit sector. In September 2013, for example, the Aspen Institute's Philanthropy & Social Innovation released the second edition of their report "Information for Impact: Liberating Nonprofit Sector Data," which focused exclusively on the importance of this very issue. Their argument in favor of opening electronic data, i.e., making it "truly open," is threefold: open data would 1) make it easier for authorities to detect fraud, 2) "spur innovation in the nonprofit sector," and 3) help make more sense of 990 data....

Global Health

Nice post by Ned Breslin detailing some of the ways mobile apps are being used to combat the Ebola virus.

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[Infographic] 2015 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report

January 24, 2015

Our first infographic of the year was created by Kivi Leroux Miller and includes highlights from her 2015 Nonprofit Communications Trend Report, the fifth such report Miller has published since 2011. This year's report is based on an online survey of 1,535 nonprofits in the U.S. and Canada and includes responses to such questions as:

  • What is your #1 priority for 2015?
  • Which types of content do you expect to spend most of your time producing?
  • What are your biggest communications challenges?
  • What are your top five goals (by job title)?
  • How much time do you spend on various communications channels? 

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A Resolution You Should Keep: Engage Your Donors Differently in 2015

January 13, 2015

New_years_resolutions2Eat better and drink less… Travel to new places… Spend more time on that hobby… Read more and work smarter… We've all got our New Year’s resolutions, and two weeks into 2015 many of us are still full of bright-eyed optimism that we'll stick to 'em!

Have you made any resolutions for your nonprofit? January is a great time to rethink how you work, especially how you communicate with your supporters. Many of you are still feeling the joy of wildly successful year-end fundraising campaigns and a productive #GivingTuesday. Before you dig into your next set of appeals, use these few weeks to take stock and consider what you can do differently in the new year to engage your donors.

Here are three reasons why you should resolve to treat your donors better in 2015:

  1. Communicating with people who already know and support you is less expensive than reaching new prospects and convincing them to donate to your organization. Read more about why donor retention matters.
  2. Doubling your donor retention rate can lead to a six-fold increase in the number of people who give and the amount you raise. Read more about the relationship between gift frequency and donations.
  3. Saying thank you, reporting back, and giving your donors actions they can take beyond making a gift will more deeply connect them to your mission. Read more about ways to show your donors some love.

Headshot_farra_trompeterWant to learn more about how to build better relationships with your donors? Join me on Thursday, January 22, for an interactive Foundation Center webinar in which we’ll talk about how your nonprofit organization can move "From Year-End Fundraising to Year-Round Engagement."

Farra Trompeter is vice president of Big Duck, a Brooklyn-based communications firm that works exclusively with nonprofits.

Weekend Link Roundup (December 27-28, 2014)

December 28, 2014

2015 New Year's Eve_December 2014 Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

African Americans

In a post on the Open Society Foundation's Voices blog, Ken Zimmerman, director of U.S. Programs at OSF, salutes the achievements of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement as it prepares, under the continued leadership of Shawn Dove and Rashid Shabazz, to become a standalone organization.

Were the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the widespread protests that spread across the country in the aftermath of grand-jury decisions finding no negligence on the part of police a "movement moment"? It sure looks that way, writes Alfonso Wenker, manager of diversity, equity and inclusion at the Minnesota Council on Foundations. For grantmakers who are wondering what they can do to help close racial achievement gaps and support the movement for racial equity in the United States, Wenker shares a list of helpful tools and resources.


In a  post on Kivi Leroux Miller's Nonprofit Communications Blog, Sean King, director of marketing and communications for Youth Education in the Arts (YEA!), shares some takeways from a fundraising campaign that saw seven nonprofit arts organizations in Allentown, Pennsylvania, join forces on #GivingTuesday to create some buzz and raise some money in support of their efforts.


The most popular post on the Markets for Good site in 2014 was this contribution from Scott Harrison, the founder and CEO of charity: water, who used it to explain why the organization's goal of helping 100 million people get access to clean and safe drinking water by 2022 would be impossible without data.

Looking for a good read or two to close out the year? Beth Kanter shares five book recommendations for "the nonprofit networking and data nerd in your life."


The Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP), a joint initiative of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute and the Association of Fundraising Professionals, has released the 2014 edition of its Fundraising Survey Effectiveness Report (30 pages, PDF). The report, which summarizes data from 3,576 survey respondents covering year-to-year fundraising results for 2012-13, found that gains of $1.334 million in gifts from new, upgraded current, and previously lapsed donors were offset by losses of $1.228 million through reduced gifts and lapsed donors — in other words, 92 percent of gains in giving were offset by losses in giving. The report also found that while the median donor retention rate increased from 39 percent in 2012 to 43 percent in 2013 and the gift or dollar retention rate increased from 40 percent to 46 percent, over the last nine years, donor and gift or dollar retention rates have consistently been weak — averaging below 50 percent.

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 13-14, 2014)

December 14, 2014

Nutcrackers-christmasOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sectorFor more links to great content from and about the social sector, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....


On the George and Cynthia Mitchell Foundation blog, David Festa, vice president for ecosystems at the Environmental Defense Fund, suggests that if "we're going to meet growing needs for food and water,...[b]usiness as usual just isn’t going to cut it." But, adds Festa, there are reasons for optimism, as retailers, food companies, agribusinesses, farmers, and ranchers all rethink their roles in the food supply chain to do more with less while improving the ecosystems on which they, and all of us, depend.

Civil Rights

Interesting look by the New York Times  at police shootings in New York City in 2013, the last year of the Blo0mberg administration. According to an annual NYPD report released early in the week, shooting by officers, "whether unintentional or in the course of confrontations with suspects," fell to 40, from 45 in 2012, and were down from an eleven-year high of 61 in 2003.


Guest blogging on Nancy Schwartz' Getting Attention! blog, Allison Fine, author of the recently released Matterness: What Fearless Leaders Know About the Power and Promise of Social Media, suggests that the secret to succeess in today's social media-driven world is to communicate with people instead of at them.

Speaking of a "world gone social," what are the attributes of CEOs who "get" social media? Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt have the answers in the Harvard Business Review.


On the Markets for Good site, Beth Kanter shares ten ideas about how to find to data-nerd types to help enhance your organization's data collection and analysis capabilities.

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Quote of the Week

  • "If you're asking me my opinion, [Edward Snowden's] going to die in Moscow. He's not coming home...."

    — Former NSA head Michael Hayden

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