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311 posts categorized "Communications/Marketing"

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.


"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.


In his first column as a regular contributor to the op-ed page, veteran New York Timesman David Leonhardt calls out economic stagnation and declining social mobility as a "central challenge of our time."

The most "unequal" big city in the U.S. is...Miami — followed by Atlanta, New Orleans, New York, Dallas, Boston, Tampa, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. And the biggest factors in the rising income inequality in those cities seems to be the disappearance of middle-income jobs and rapidly rising real estate prices. Sarah Ponczek and Wei Lu report for Bloomberg.


Looking for a few fundraising ideas that work? The Nonprofit Times journeyed to National Harbor, Maryland, a few months ago and came back with sixteen of them.

Gun Violence

The Center for American Progress has created an interactive map of the country that shows how each state ranks in terms of overall levels of gun violence. The rankings were based on an analysis of ten categories of gun violence across all fifty states, as described in "America Under Fire: An Analysis of Gun Violence in the United States and the Link to Weak Gun Laws."

International Affairs/Development

Hungary is the latest country to crack down on a foreign-funded NGO. The New York Times (via Reuters) has the story. And in Haiti, the lives of staffers at Fondation Connaissance et Liberte (FOKAL), Open Society's foundation in that country, have been threatened by a group inspired by demagogues and religious fundamentalists.


In her annual president's essay, the MacArthur Foundation's Julia Stasch "address[es] the task of building trust in a time of flux and challenge. Philanthropy," she argues, "must learn from the ways that technology and new modes of communicating are reordering our world...examine critically our history, structures, and practices, and where necessary, take new directions...[and] listen more, be more flexible and inclusive, and allow those who experience directly the problems we seek to address even more room to participate fully and lead."

Hedge fund legend and Giving Pledger Julian Robertson talks to Philanthropy magazine about his giving, investments in education reform, and a few of his philanthropic heroes.

In the Philanthropy Daily, Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill, executive director of the Fund for Academic Renewal, a program of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, pushes back on the argument advanced by Uinversity of Chicago political scientist Chiara Cordell in a recent essay titled "The Problem with Discretionary Philanthropy" that "the moral core of philanthropy ought to be about 'giving back' what is owed by the wealthy to 'their fellow citizens who suffer from deprivation as a consequence of insufficient public provision by the government'."

And If you haven't already, be sure to read this commentary by Joanne Florino, senior vice-president for public policy at the Philanthropy Roundtable, on the value of philanthropic freedom.

Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a line at or post it in the comments section below....

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....


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.


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.


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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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (September 2016)

October 01, 2016

Entering the homestretch of another year that has flown by, and we have good news and bad news. First the bad: There are still thirty-seven days left in this election cycle. On the good-news front, you all dug into the PhilanTopic archive and surfaced a couple of wonderful items from the past, including a terrific post by Small Change author Michael Edwards (one of three in an excellent series Michael wrote for us) and a sharp review of Fareed Zakaria's In Defense of a Liberal Education by Michael Weston-Murphy. You also liked Stephen Pratt's sensible advice vis-à-vis metrics and measurement, Kris Putnam-Walkerly's exhortation to grantmakers, and Matt's Q&A with Markle Foundation president Zoë Baird. As for that pesky thing called time, I like (but don't always follow) the great Satchel Paige's advice: Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you....

What did you read/watch/listen to in September that made you pause, made you think, made you hopeful? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at

Four Questions Every Nonprofit Marketer Should Ask

September 24, 2016

Hands_upMost nonprofit executives will tell you that the competition for funding has never been tougher. Donors have an overwhelming variety of causes to choose from, an abundance of guidance and advice to listen to, and not nearly enough time to sort it all out and make an informed decision. The question for nonprofits is: What can we do to break through the noise and build lasting and meaningful relationships with donors? 

Having worked with nonprofit marketing teams and executives for more than twenty years, I'm well acquainted with the lack of planning that pervades the sector. Nonprofits tend to jump right into the program execution phase without asking the most basic marketing and branding questions. And this lack of upfront planning often results in more than confusion; it can cost a nonprofit money.

With nonprofit marketers about to dig in for the all-important final quarter of the calendar year, here's a handful of questions you should be thinking about:

What's the opportunity cost of our organization not having a strong brand?

A strong brand is more than just a logo, color palette, or mnemonic device. Your brand should create an emotional connection in the hearts and minds of donors that grows stronger over time. Once donors understand the fundamentals of your organization's work and how it differs from other groups doing similar work, the investment in creating that connection will pay off in a variety of ways. Because of that connection, donors are more likely to support your organization by doing more than just giving money. They'll attend events and volunteer. And, more importantly, they're more likely to actively promote your organization's work and recruit other supporters to its cause.

Ask yourself the following: 

  • Is our organization well known in our segment?
  • Do donors understand our mission and the work we do?
  • Are donors easily able to explain our mission to others?
  • Are donors willing to promote our organization to others?

If the answer to any of these questions is anything other than "yes," you need to understand there may be real financial consequences for your organization. Before things reach that pass, suggest to your colleagues that it's time to revisit your messaging strategy and think about how your brand is connecting — or isn't — with supporters and potential supporters.

What's preventing our organization from building a stronger brand?

Marketing initiatives aren't always easily communicated within organizations. Often, there's confusion between the role of the marketing team and the role of the development team. And in cases where a marketing initiative needs to span chapters or affiliates, securing organization-wide buy-in can be next to impossible.

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Using Television and Film to Advance Your Cause (No Ad Budget Required)

August 08, 2016

A well-told story can help people understand an issue in a visceral way, enabling them to feel fear, stress, elation, and other strong emotions as it unfolds. When characters in the HBO drama Treme showed us the courage of New Orleanians struggling to stabilize their lives and rebuild their city after Hurricane Katrina, the importance of resilience and economic inclusion felt less hypothetical — and more like real issues affecting real people.

At the Rockefeller Foundation, we understand the power of stories to influence opinions, change attitudes, and motivate people to work for the good of their communities. In 2014, we deepened our investment in cause-focused storytelling with the launch of Hatch for Good, a suite of tools and resources designed to help social-change organizations share stories that drive social impact.

Of course, no one tells stories better than Hollywood. That's why we're supporting AndACTION, a pop culture hub that gives social-change organizations a heads-up on film and TV shows in production related to their causes, allowing them ample time to develop campaigns designed to stimulate discussion and drive action. We're intrigued by the idea of leveraging popular entertainment to encourage interest in topics like resilience and inclusive economies. And with AndACTION, social-change organizations now have an opportunity to tap into the passions generated by compelling stories delivered via screens large and small and ride the wave of public enthusiasm — because they know ahead of time the wave is coming.


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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (July 2016)

August 06, 2016

Sort of like that great little farm stand that pulls you in every time you drive by, our roundup of the most popular posts here on PhilanTopic in July offers lots of delicious food for thought. So pour yourself a tall glass of iced tea or lemonade and dig in!

What did you read/watch/listen to in June that got your juices flowing? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at

How to Talk to Your Donors About Funding Outreach and Awareness

July 22, 2016

Money-tree-symbol-Stock-Vector-familyWhy is it that fundraising for specific programs comes so easily to nonprofit professionals, yet asking for money to boost marketing or fundraising activities makes our palms sweat?

Professional fundraisers like Dan Pallotta have done much to call out this mindset. In no uncertain terms, Pallotta and others have argued that by not asking funders to invest in their fundraising and marketing activities, nonprofits undermine their ability to generate the kinds of dollars and awareness they need to solve our most pressing problems.

There are several reasons for this. One of the most persistent has to do with boards choosing to focus exclusively on programming and dismissing investments in marketing and fundraising capacity as unwarranted spending on "overhead." Goals involving income, whether donated or earned, are given short shrift. The general attitude is: "Let's see what we can do with our existing marketing/fundraising budget."

This is just wrong. Regardless of how well-intentioned it might be, a board simply can't insist that you generate greater awareness of your cause — not to mention impact — and then do nothing about it.

What are board members in that situation thinking? Are they afraid donors will run for the exits if they're asked to fund something other than programs? Really? Donors deserve more credit than that. They want the same thing we want: to be able to sit down with friends and family and say: "This cause and the work this organization is doing is important to me."

Like most of us, they want the issues they care about to go viral, generating as much awareness and attention as possible. That's because they know it will take more — a lot more — than their gift or donation to truly make a difference. And that's why a growing number of them are ready to put their dollars behind truly creative fundraising and marketing efforts.

We need to stop being bashful about funding the marketing and fundraising efforts needed to make the public aware of our work. We need to lean in to these conversations — and not be reticent when a donor asks about awareness, fundraising, or marketing.

What does that sound like?

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Design Vendors Are Destroying Nonprofit Organizations!

June 30, 2016




  • a person or company offering something for sale, especially a trader in the street.
  • a person or company whose principal product lines are office supplies and equipment.

Synonyms: retailer, seller, dealer, trader, purveyor, storekeeper, shopkeeper, merchant, salesperson, supplier, peddler, hawker; scalper, huckster, traffic


Over the last sixteen years I've learned that if there's a word folks in the nonprofit community love to use to describe design firms, it's vendor. Maybe it's me, but every time I hear it used in conversation or read it in an RFP, the "V-word" is accompanied by the soothing sound of nails on a chalkboard. I don't believe I'm being thin-skinned here, but applying vendor to a design firm like Constructive is, well, a bit insulting.

"What's the big deal?" you might be thinking. "Why should I care?"

Both good questions. The short answer is that if you work for a nonprofit and are tasked with researching and choosing a design firm to lead your organization through a website redesign or other design project, using the word vendor is symptomatic of a bigger problem. It suggests a mindset that misunderstands what design is. That shortchanges the value of good design and the value a social change organization can get from working with a design firm. And that damages the kind of relationship any nonprofit would want to build when working with one.

Sounds serious! But if I'm overstating the case, I'm only overstating it slightly.

To understand what's so troubling about putting the "vendor" label on design firms, it's helpful to deconstruct the term itself. Take a look again at the definition of vendor and its synonyms at the top of this article. Pretty uninspiring, right? By definition, a vendor doesn't provide insight or strategic value. Vendors have customers, not clients. (Does any nonprofit really want to be treated by their design firm as a "customer"?!). At best, they are trying to sell you something — usually a commoditized product or service. At worst, the thing they are trying to sell you is a lemon.

Would anyone in their right mind want a vendor to do something for them as important as design?! Well, it depends on how you view design.

So why is vendor used so frequently in the nonprofit sector to describe the design firms that play such a critical role in translating organizational strategy into tangible experiences? I don't believe it’s because anyone is intentionally minimizing the value that design firms bring to the table. (If anything, the case for strategic communications in the sector is on the rise.) To me, it's a subtle sign of a more widespread misunderstanding that can lead to missed opportunity — one that's often exacerbated by design firms themselves and the organizations that hire them.

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Weekend Link Roundup (June 18-19, 2016)

June 19, 2016

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


Getting Attention! blogger Nancy Schwartz offers some good advice to nonprofit communications professionals about the right (and wrong) way to respond in the wake of the unthinkable.


The editorial board of the Guardian captures perfectly why the public assassination of British MP Jo Comer by a right-wing extremist was such a cowardly, heinous act — and why it should be a wakeup call for everyone who cherishes decency, open debate, and a commitment to both democracy and humanity.


How did a Montana-based foundation help boost the high school graduation rate in that state to its highest level in years? The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation's Mike Halligan explains.

Big data and analytics were supposed to "fix" education. That hasn't happened. Writing on the Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog, Pasi Sahlberg, a visiting professor of practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of the best-selling Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn About Educational Change in Finland?, and Jonathan Hasak, a Boston-based advocate for disconnected youth, explain why and look at something that actually could make a difference.

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Time to Honor the Fearless Donor

May 27, 2016

Regular-Charity-DonorsToo often – I've been guilty of this, too – fundraisers focus excessively on the acquisition of the new donor. We spend a lot of time and resources crafting the right message, testing potential activation strategies, and building engagement programs in hopes of growing our base of supporters.

The problem is that we get so busy trying to build our supporter base with new donors that we tend to overlook the individuals who are already invested in our cause.

I recently had lunch with a friend who shared an anecdote about the time he stood up in front of a roomful of people to promote a cause in which he believed passionately. It was clear as he was telling me that it was a memory he would not soon forget. This is what he said:

"I remember the first time I shared in public that this was a cause I supported. You know, it's not easy to stand up in front of other people and tell them you believe in something. It shouldn't be a big deal, but it isn't something I do. I had to conquer my fear of telling others I care about something, knowing they might not feel the same way. I had to get over the fact that others might not care as much as I did. It's not part of my personality to wear my emotions on my sleeve, and standing up in front of that roomful of people was a pretty big deal for me...."

As nonprofit leaders and fundraisers, we tend to move on after a donor has given time, money, or skills in support of our cause. And we tend to overlook the many reasons the donor may have had not to support our cause. We similarly forget that although it may come naturally to some people to stand up and articulate their support for an issue or cause, not everyone is wired that way.

So, if you're engaged in nonprofit fundraising and marketing, here are a few things to "remember" as you go about your work:

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5 Steps to Help Turn Interest Into Action

April 29, 2016

Steps-to-successHere's a situation: A few hundred people, maybe more, start acting like they care about what you do, decide to follow you on social media, and/or sign up for your email list. But when it comes to needing them to actually take action for your cause, they pretty much disappear.

Sound familiar?

It's a scenario I hear a lot from frustrated fundraisers and nonprofit marketers who struggle to convert fans and followers of their organizations into supporters and champions. In part, that's because the idea of "doing good" has never been more popular. But actually doing something to make a difference is a different story.

What can you do you to change this dynamic?

First, let's take a step back and examine the way the average person engages with a cause he or she cares about.

Because humans are inherently empathetic, when we see suffering, injustice, or an opportunity to make a difference, our brain tells us to do something. That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that we're ready to go all in for the cause. Instead, most of us will opt for a lower-cost option like signing up for a newsletter, following an organization on social media, or signing a petition. These kinds of "actions" satisfy our impulse to do something without committing us to do more (like making a donation or volunteering our time).

When we opt for this kind of low-level, low-cost action, we are signaling to people or an organization working to address a cause that it's okay to communicate with us. As a result, the development and marketing folks at the organization will begin to send us information about the organization, fundraising solicitations, and even requests to volunteer or organize an event or activity.

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How to Translate Brand Strategy Into an Effective Website

April 14, 2016

Effective-website-designIn my last article, I noted that the best place to start when developing a website is with a clear brand strategy. It is what provides the shared understanding needed to unite the big ideas and day-to-day details of a nonprofit's activities into a cohesive online experience. It is the glue that ensures a site's design, content, and code work together in harmony to express the entirety of an organization's mission, strategy, activities, and impact to a range of audiences.

No small task, especially when talking about a process that typically spans months and involves many participants.

A Complex, Multidisciplinary Process

The process of creating a website is, by its nature, collaborative and multidisciplinary. It involves many contributors — each with a different area of interest, expertise, and professional vocabulary — and typically spans months and countless decisions, which means there's no shortage of opportunities for miscommunication and stumbles. Over the years, I've learned that these can be minimized (they're almost never eliminated, trust me!) by a framework that emphasizes collaboration and establishes clear goals for the team, in a language everyone can understand.

That is why brand strategy is such an effective unifying force. In a medium that calls for collaboration across such a wide range of stakeholders, it is the one thing that everyone can (or should) agree on, support, and apply to the area they are responsible for.

Sounds great in theory, but what, you're probably thinking, does it look like in practice?

Every website has four major components: Brand, Content, Technology, and Design. The most effective sites are those that get all four working together like members of a band — each playing their part, and each complementing the work of the others. When executed well, the results are much like the experience of hearing a great song: harmonious and uplifting, with a clear point of view you can easily relate to.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 9-10, 2016)

April 10, 2016

Robin-on-branchOur 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

Black Lives Matter is both a sprawling social movement and a civil rights organization with more than thirty chapters across the United States. But that distinction, and many other  nuances, rarely make it into coverage of either the movement or the organization, writes Jephie Bernard, a student at the Columbia School of Journalism, on the CJR website.


And not a moment too soon...  NWB's Vu Le rides to the defense of the Oxford comma.

Global Health

"Pessimism is fashionable. It's also wrong," writes Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther. "People are safer, better-educated, better-fed, and wealthier than they used to be. Democracy and human rights are spreading. Perhaps most important, people, and in particular the world's poorest people, are healthier." So why aren't we cheering? Because, says Gunther, echoing others, "the world's governments, aid agencies, foundations and nonprofits could be doing much better."


On our sister Transparency Talk blog, the Surdna Foundation's Adriana Jimenez explains how the foundation's decision to move to a workflow- and cloud-based system grants management system has enabled it to work more collaboratively with grantees; increased collaboration and learning within the foundation; and improved its capacity to share data and lessons learned with the rest of the sector.

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The Importance of ‘Opportunity’ When Appealing to Donors

March 24, 2016

Opportunity_nametagRecently, I received the following in a direct-mail solicitation from an organization seeking my support:

In the past year, we have paired 300 kids with the mentors they need to be successful. Now we are calling on you to help us make sure it happens again....

Almost immediately, I asked myself, Is this the best way to start a solicitation? Does it convey anything remarkable? Am I really crucial to the organization’s impact equation? And what is the real "ask" here?

Clearly, what the organization wants is my support. It says so right there in the second sentence. But is it something I'm likely to give?

Beyond the appeal to emotions, whether someone gives or not tends to be driven by the simplest of equations: Is this worth stopping what I'm doing, grabbing my credit card, filling out the pledge form, putting a stamp on the envelope, and making a trip to the mailbox?

In too many instances, the answer to that question is "no." While the typical solicitation often includes language from an organization's mission and values statements, it rarely appeals to potential supporters with a unique and compelling proposition.

The solicitation is your opportunity to motivate potential supporters to make a difference. And it's their opportunity to do something to contribute to a cause they believe in. Through a combination of the right words and a well-calibrated appeal to the emotions, it should move them from indifference to action and beyond.

Here are a few examples of the kind of language that works well when presenting your "ask":

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