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278 posts categorized "Communications/Marketing"

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."

If a brand is essentially what others think about your organization, then branding is the application of creative thinking, design, and technology in the service of your organization's brand strategy.

The Value of Nonprofit Brands

When it comes to driving engagement through branding, nonprofits typically face a tougher challenge than for-profits. Instead of delivering instant gratification or a useful product/service, nonprofits tend to appeal to our better angels — offering (usually) a vision of a better tomorrow for people and/or places removed from our daily routines. As a result, audiences can feel removed from the mission and may feel no urgency to act.

Because the strength of a brand is defined by the degree of trust and loyalty it elicits, this gap between action and impact places more of burden on a nonprofit's brand to generate the kind of sustained engagement necessary to tackle complex problems. Whether the audience is individual donors, volunteers, or strategic partners, a nonprofit's brand must convey the idea that the organization delivers on its promises — even if tangible results may be years down the road.

To do that, a nonprofit brand must be about more than the organization and its mission; it needs to address, at a deeper level, what is meaningful to an organization's audiences. Because when people strongly identify with a nonprofit's brand (rather than just its mission), their reasons for supporting the organization move beyond the rational to the emotional; the brand becomes part of who they are and what they value. It becomes a kind of shorthand for things about which they care deeply and reinforces their belief that they can become part of the solution through their active engagement with the organization.

Designing Effective Brand Experiences

Your brand is the sum total of all the experiences (direct and indirect) that others have with your organization. But while it lives in their hearts and minds, your organization can positively influence how your brand is perceived by combining brand strategy with creative design to deliver more meaningful and valuable experiences.

At MSDS we talk a lot about "bridging the gap between strategy and execution." As a design firm, it's our mission to design better brand experiences for clients that support their mission. To help our clients stand up, stand out, and stand for something, we work from the principle that there are three characteristics of the brand experience that must be present at all times:

  1. Strategically informed: Every choice must tie back to the organizational/brand strategy and the specific goals for whatever it is we are creating, be it a logo, a website, or collateral.
  2. Exceptionally crafted: We all know great work when we see it. It is the quality of craftsmanship in every word used and in every designed element that separates the exceptional from the merely okay.
  3. Consistently executed: People want to know what to expect from brands they support. Consistent branding signals commitment, builds trust, and delivers a host of other benefits.

6 Key Components of Nonprofit Brands

To build a strategic, exceptional, and consistent brand first requires understanding the many facets of an organization that contribute to the overall brand experience. In our view, there are six key components of a nonprofit organization that define its brand:

Brand Is Your Organizational Strategy: For mission-driven organizations, where you are aiming to go and how you plan to get there are the primary drivers of your brand (and, ideally, are well-defined through clear brand positioning).

Brand Is Your People. Brand ideas and values must be lived by your people and be fully integrated into your organization's culture. Strong nonprofit brands naturally attract people who will represent them well.

Brand Is Your Messages. What we say and the way we say it, both in writing and in person, say a lot about who we are. Every audience is interested in hearing different things — and depending on the audience, your brand likely has different things it would like to share.

Brand Is Your Interactions. Both in person (whether at the point of service or an event) andonline, interactions with your audiences should be crafted to deliver on your promises and reinforce the value of their relationship with you.

Brand Is Your Visual Design. People interpret much of the world through what they see. These days, especially, the quality of a nonprofit's visual design elements greatly determines how much attention the organization receives, people's willingness to engage with it, and, ultimately, the strength of the bonds it forges with supporters.

Brand Is Your Communications Tools: To a significant degree, brand experiences are delivered through communications tools and vehicles. Because brand consistency builds trust, a cohesive design system with clear brand guidelines helps ensure that you meet audience expectations on a consistent basis.

Headshot_matt_schwartzSo there you have it, the basic elements of nonprofit brands and branding, and why they matter. Check back next month for part two of this mini-series, in which I'll dive deeper into the process of developing an integrated brand strategy and delivering brand experiences that help strengthen audience engagement and increase impact.

Matt Schwartz is the founder and director of strategy at MSDS, a New York City-based design and brand strategy firm specializing in nonprofits and education. His new column for PND, Cause-Driven Design®, explores the nexus between design and mission-driven work and explains how nonprofits can use design to engage and speak more meaningfully to the needs, goals, and motivations of their audiences

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.

Continue reading »

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 sector...

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."

Communications/Marketing

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.

Fundraising

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.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (January 24-25, 2015)

January 25, 2015

DeflatedFootball1Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector...

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.

Communications/Marketing

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

Data

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? 

Continue reading »

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 sector...

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.

Communications/Marketing

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.

Data

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."

Fundraising

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.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (December 13-14, 2014)

December 14, 2014

Nutcrackers-christmasOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Agriculture

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.

Communications/Marketing

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.

Data

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.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (December 6-7, 2014)

December 07, 2014

9626_Northern_Cardinal_02-10-2010_2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On Beth Kanter's blog, Jay Geneske of the Rockefeller Foundation announces the launch of Hatch, a digital platform that connects nonprofit practitioners with resources designed to help them "craft, curate and share impactful stories."

Diversity

Writing in the Nonprofit Quarterly, Derwin Dubose, co-founder of New Majority Community Labs, a social venture that works to empower communities of color to identify and solve their own challenges, argues that the nonprofit sector has a "Ferguson problem" of its own: too few people of color in positions of leadership. As a result, writes Dubose, "people of color are relegated to being mere recipients of philanthropy rather than becoming active partners in their communities' success."

Education

NPR, which seems to be doing a lot more reporting on the social sector of late, takes an in-depth look at Teach for America as the controversial organization celebrates its twenty-fifth year.

Giving

Nice piece by Peter Sims, co-founder of Fuse Corps, a social venture that gives up to twenty professionals a year the opportunity to help governors, mayors, and community leaders across the country bring about social change, on the origins and evolution of the #GivingTuesday movement. CauseWired president Tom Watson, who has been a "friendly skeptic" of #GivingTuesday in the past, also has some interesting thoughts about the success of the movement and how that success may portend a major shift in the way we give, volunteer, and organize around social causes.

No matter how you slice it, #GivingTuesday 2014 was a resounding success. If your nonprofit failed to capitalize on the buzz and good feeling surrounding the event, now is the time to start planning for #GivingTuesday 2015, writes Nancy Schwartz on her Getting Attention! blog.

What's driving next-gen giving? On the Forbes site, the Northwestern MutualVoice Team shares some findings from a 2013 survey conducted by 21/64, an organization that studies generational giving, and the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (October 11-12, 2014)

October 12, 2014

Flock-of-migrating-cranesOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On the Kauffman Founders School blog, Neil Patel explains why email marketing  trumps social media.

Although he's primarily talking about news, Robinson Meyer, an associate editor at The Atlantic, explains how social media has become the new press release, with lessons for all of us.

Giving Pledge

According to this short Bloomberg TV segment, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú, the second richest man in the world, will not be signing the Giving Pledge anytime soon.

Impact/Effectiveness

In the second installment of a two-part series on the Markets for Good site, Peter York, the founder/CEO of Algorhythm, an "impact science organization that combines social science, outcome measurement, next generation analytics and technology to place highly accurate and actionable insights into the hands of social change agents,"argues that it's "time for the social sector to try out the method that medicine, psychology, business, economics and ecology have been using for a long time: the observational cohort study (OCS)."

Crain's Chicago Business has a good article about a group of investors led by Chicago billionaire J.B. Pritzker that plans to invest $16.9 million in "an innovative financing scheme that allows Chicago to expand pre-kindergarten programs for more than 2,000 low-income children over the next four years." According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, this is the fifth social impact bond to be announced in the U.S.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (September 20-21, 2014)

September 21, 2014

The link roundup is back, just in time for the autumnal equinox and what some are calling the largest climate change-related demonstration in history. Lots of other things happening as well, so let's get to it....

Charity

Writing in TIME, Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, reminds us that the National Football League is full of players and coaches who exemplify the word "character" and work tirelessly off the field to make a difference in their communities.

On the CoinDesk site, Tanaya Macheel reports that United Way Worldwide has announced it now accepts donations in bitcoin, becoming the latest charitable institution to accept the digital currency.

Communications/Marketing

In the latest installment of her "Big Idea" podcast for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Allison Fine speaks with Internet pioneer and Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Doc Searls about the "intention economy" and the movement to put customers' needs and desires before those of your business or organization.

On the GrantCraft blog, Marc Moorghen, communications director at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, ponders a question that most of us have asked at one point or another: What is communication all about?

And on her blog, Beth Kanter, recently returned from co-facilitating the "Impact Leadership Track" at the NTEN Leading Change Summit, addresses another good question: Does rigorous data collection thwart effective storytelling by nonprofits?

Education

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Betsy Doyle and Mike Perigo, a partner in and the head of the education practice at the Bridgespan Group, look at the efforts of district officials and local funders in Memphis, Tennessee, to improve the quality of instruction in Shelby County, where sixty-eight public schools are ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state in terms of academic achievement. According to Doyle and Perigo, those efforts will be based on "a three-pronged talent strategy focused on: 1) retaining great teachers, 2) developing local teacher talent, and 3) recruiting national talent."

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Teach for America co-founder and CEO Wendy Kopp defends her teacher-training organization from a spate of recent criticism "based on misrepresentation and toxic rhetoric." The impact of TFA, she writes,

is clear. Twelve years ago, D.C. students were scoring at the bottom compared with their peers in other large cities. Today, although there is still much to be done, schools in the nation's capital are improving faster than any other urban district's. This change is the result of the efforts of many people, but without Teach for America alumni, we'd lose much of the energy behind it. We'd lose schools chancellor Kaya Henderson and much of her cabinet, the mayor's deputy for education, the state superintendent, the past four "Teachers of the Year," the managers of the school principals, 20 percent of principals, hundreds of teachers and the leaders of many nonprofits working to support schools and students.

Would the United States really be better off if thousands of outstanding and committed people did not apply to Teach for America? We should be cheering those who devote their energy to working alongside others to meet the extra needs of our most marginalized kids. Not all of them will be teachers forever. But teachers can't solve this problem alone. We also need those who choose careers in education administration, policy, public health, law and business, who will carry with them the conviction and firsthand experience to lead change from outside the classroom....

Impact/Effectiveness

In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Mary Kopczynski, Jesse Fripp, Katie Early, David Jeromin, and Topher Wilkins dissect four myths that have grown up around the emerging field of impact investing and then explain why it's important for everyone in the social sector "to understand the impact space as a middle ground — an ecotone — between the traditional philanthropic space and the traditional commercial space."

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (July 26-27, 2014)

July 27, 2014

War_declaredOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

It was an interesting week for the Hewlett Foundation's recently announced Madison Initiative, "an effort to improve Congress by promoting a greater spirit of compromise and negotiation." On the Inside Philanthropy site, Daniel Stid, the director of the initiative, responded to a critique of the initiative by IP's David Callahan. And in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Maribel Morey, an assistant professor of history at Clemson University, criticized the "one-dimensional democratic theory" behind the initiative. To which Larry Kramer, the foundation's president and a consitutitional historian in his own right, responded in the comments section with an impassioned defense of the effort. The last word, however, belongs to Morey, who responded to Kramer with an impassioned comment of her own. A great dialogue around a critically important topic.

Communications/Marketing

Very good Q&A on the Communications Network blow with longtime network contributor Tony Proscio about the dangers of jargon and how to avoid them.

On the Hewlett Foundation blog, Ruth Levine, head of the foundation's Global Development and Population Program, expresses some frustration with the fact that the foundation's current or prospective grantees tend not to "inquire about our strategic direction...[and] seem quite satisfied to hear a superficial answer. We almost never see a quizzical look," she adds,

let alone hear questions like, "When you talk about policies that affect women's economic empowerment, are you thinking about active labor market policies like job training, or macroeconomic policies that expand growth in sectors that tend to employ women?" It's those sorts of questions that uncover the thinking behind the words, and help explain why we might fund one project or organization and not another.

The cost of having a conversation where only one side is asking questions is high. We're not getting enough feedback on whether our strategies makes sense to others with different perspectives and experience. In the absence of specifics, people may spend time proposing work that we're unlikely to fund. We get comments through anonymized surveys that we are opaque, and we spend hours writing and rewriting website text that in the end doesn't clarify much at all.

Levine ends with this: "Am I asking for an inquisition in every conversation? No. But I am suggesting that there is only one way to truly understand why we do what we do: Ask."

Environment

In this four-minute video, Paul Polak, the author of Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail and (with Mal Warwick) The Business Solution to Poverty: Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers, explains why poverty is "the single biggest disruptive factor for the environment" globally.

Grantmaking

Grantmakers for Effective Organizations has published a new resource, The Smarter Grantmaking Playbook, that's designed to help grantmakers collaborate, strengthen relationships with their grantees, support nonprofit resilience, and partner with their grantees to learn and continuously improve.

Continue reading »

Is Your Nonprofit Ready to Play a Leading Role?

July 14, 2014

Feldmann-headshotIs our organization relevant?

If you work for a nonprofit, you've probably asked yourself that question more than once. Concerns about relevancy stem from the most challenging aspect of organizational sustainability. Unfortunately, even when your cause is viewed as "relevant," your organization may not be viewed in the same way. And while the activist in you may feel that relevancy is overrated and that you didn't dedicate your life to a cause so that you could spend your days worrying about who's "hot" – and who’s not – the fact of the matter is that organizations perceived as "relevant" typically are the ones that receive the most attention, the most financial support, and the most acclaim.

Relevancy, by definition, means being closely associated with a topical cause or issue. A relevant nonprofit is a nonprofit that can speak to an issue with authority and has its thumb on the pulse of activities around that issue.

In other words, an organization is relevant if:

  1. it is a leading voice in the ongoing conversation/debate around its issue or cause
  2. it is recognized as a connector/convener with respect to its issue or cause.

I often tell my clients to think about their particular issue or cause as if it were a play, complete with actors in lead roles and a supporting cast. If an organization wants to be relevant, it needs to do whatever it can to ensure that it has a lead role in the play.

Playing the Lead

There's no shortage of nonprofit organizations or causes worth donating to in the world – a fact that goes a long way toward explaining the fierce competition that exists among organizations in the social sector.

With so many organizations vying for dollars and attention, it's to be expected that a few will emerge from the crowd and be recognized as the leading voice on their respective issue or cause. How do you know who they are? When funders convene, those organizations are usually in the room and/or a part of the conversation. They're the ones new donors are most likely to be familiar with and trust. They're the ones other organizations look to for their cues and people expect to be persuaded and moved to action by. They lead and others follow.

And if an organization has the chops to play the leading role, it usually has at least two or three people in roles that are critical to projecting its competence and capacity:

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 5-6, 2014)

July 06, 2014

Iced tea_arrangementWe were out of pocket last week, so we've included a few items we missed in this week's roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Black Male Achievement

Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter argues in a post on the HuffPo's Black Voices blog that three myths are hurting young black men and boys:

  1. Myth: America has progressed enough as a nation that black men and boys have an equal opportunity to be successful.
  2. Myth: Black-on-black violence only affects the black community.
  3. Myth: Helping young black men succeed is not government's problem.

Communications/Marketing

On the Philanthropy Front and Center - Cleveland blog, guest blogger Brian Sooy, president of design and communications firm Aespire, considers four dimensions of communications that have the potential for strengthening the culture of any mission-driven organization.

Data

Jeff Edmondson, managing director of the Strive Network, Ben Hecht, president/CEO of Living Cities, and Willa Seldon, a partner with the Bridgespan Group, weigh in with a nice HuffPo piece on the transformative power of data.

Data may have the power to transform, but in a follow-up to a post on the Markets for Good blog he penned about the death of evaluation, Andrew Means, associate director of the Center for Data Science & Public Policy at the University of Chicago, suggests that nonprofits still have a long way to go in learning how to use it to improve their effectiveness and impact.

Can data sometimes do more harm than good? Absolutely, says Robert J. Moore, chief executive of RJMetrics, on the New York Times' You're the Boss blog. In particular, writes Moore, there are three situations in which he has learned to second-guess the data-driven approach: when the costs are too high; when the results won't change your mind; and when following the data means betraying your vision.

Economy

Very good post by John Hagel, co-chair of the Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation, in response to Harvard historian Jill Lepore's recent New Yorker article dismissing Clayton Christensen and his theory of disruptive innovation. It's a bit of a long read, but Hagel's main thesis is that two forces – economic liberalization and exponentially improving technology –are "systematically and substantially" reducing barriers to entry and movement on a global scale while causing businesses and institutions to "fundamentally re-think" their models and arrangements. "Bottom line," writes Hagel, "[these two forces] are catalyzing more opportunity for players to adopt new approaches that can be highly disruptive...[and] increasing both the motivation and ability of players to pursue these disruptive
approaches...."

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