Marketing Guru

If you're unconvinced of the need for community groups to engage in marketing - hear this: members of the public are probably unaware of the importance you play in their lives.

A UK study has found that 91% of adults claim they have not benefited from the work of a not-for-profit group (or "charity") in the past year. But when shown a list of services run by such groups, it was discovered that 58% had in fact used one of their services in the previous month alone!

Charity shops, churches and heritage houses/gardens topped the list of places members of the public had visited but not realised they were run by a community group.

So get marketing!

To help, we feature below some of the questions posed by Our Community members and readers of our publications to our very own Marketing Guru - as well as the Guru's responses.

The Marketing Guru's column regularly appears in the Our Community Matters newsletter. For more information on Our Community Matters, Click Here.

Marketing Guru Questions

How do you get the best cut through as a charity in such a saturated market?

The Marketing Guru says:

Emphasise your group's uniqueness.

Work out what it is about your organisation which makes it different, better, or more attractive than other groups - particularly those which do similar work to you?

Being able to firstly identify your group's best selling points, and secondly, communicating them effectively, is the best way you can stand out from the crowd.

If you want to promote your group, look at what makes it unique:

  • Do your members have a number of special qualities?
  • Have you received recognition and awards for your work?
  • Do you have special relationships with certain well-known people, or influential funders/supporters?
  • Is your group the biggest/most active/oldest/newest in your area?

If you wish to promote a specific project or program:

  • Have you received funding from an influential or well-known source?
  • Have you achieved great results, brought about great change or lobbied with great success?
  • Have you impacted on the community in a special or meaningful way?
  • Does it help people who normally miss out on support, advice or funding?

Before you begin to promote your group and its work, figure out the "angle" which is most likely to set your group apart from the rest and portray it as unique. Then use it as the centrepiece to your marketing effort.

 

Can you succinctly explain (A) what marketing is and (B) how it benefits community groups?

The Marketing Guru says:

Marketing involves the positive promotion of your organisation's name, work, goals, aims, achievements, successes and qualities.

The importance of marketing was touched on in the question above - without it, the general public will not know who you are, what you do, your unique qualities and the efforts you make to help, support and involve people.

It is a crowded market out there for community groups, and it can be a battle to set yourself apart from the rest, to make yourself stand out as a unique and successful organisation in your area of operation, and to attract donations, support and members.

Marketing - through the media and through other avenues - is an important weapon in this battle.

 

How can we personalise our mail-outs without going to too much bother or expense?

The Marketing Guru says:

Personalising your mail out increases the chance that recipients will read what you have to say, as well as act on your correspondence.

Personalisation is easy and usually pretty cheap too.

Using a database, word processor and mail merge function is the simplest way of personally addressing both your letters and the envelopes you send them in.

The same function can be used to insert various personalised paragraphs throughout your letters - useful if you wish to thank someone for a recent donation and tell them the difference it has made, or if you are holding a function and wish to invite those people whose addresses are close by (rather than, say, interstate).

As for the envelope, placing an actual stamp in the top right corner is a great start, as people will respond more favourably to a stamped letter than one which is just postage paid.

Hand-writing the recipient's name on the envelope is another personalisation option, but one which can be time-consuming for big mail-outs.

The envelopes themselves can be of different colours, sizes or shapes.

 

How can we personalise our mail-outs without going to too much bother or expense?

The Marketing Guru says:

Personalising your mail out increases the chance that recipients will read what you have to say, as well as act on your correspondence.

This is a common challenge for many locally-based community organisations which are able to hit the headlines successfully in their local area, but struggle to match this local publicity on a state basis.

The key is to make the issue relevant to the audience you are targeting; in this case, the entire state.

Make it very clear how your local issue is relevant to other parts of the state. Is it opposition to certain types of development, the destruction of parks or wetlands, a shortage of public housing, a legal hiccup or government decision that could affect many?

Think of the local issue as an example or case study of the wider problem. Show how it could impact on communities across the state.

Without this type of wider relevance, hopes of wider media coverage are slim.

Of course, there is also a much greater level of competition for coverage at a state level. You'll have to work that much harder to gain coverage.

So, in addition to a great hook, it is almost certain you will need to organise good visual opportunities for photos (print publications) or footage (TV).

Staging an event, protest or some other attention-grabbing activity is one way of doing this. If you do go this route, try to stage your event on a weekend, preferably a Sunday when there's less competition.

 

Does it strengthen or weaken my brand to use a new logo in a merchandising program - plastering it on merchandise of relevance to the organisation?

The Marketing Guru says:

The classic answer here is: "It depends".

It is very important that your logo is used thoughtfully and in context, not gratuitously or in a way that denigrates or cheapens your organisational brand.

Generally speaking, if you are going to use your group's new logo on merchandise, there are some basic rules to follow:

  • Show restraint - Don't fall into the trap of putting your logo on everything. Pick and choose your targets in terms of what the most number of people will see, and what people will hold on to the longest.
  • Not too large, not too small - Jumbo-sized logos on merchandise look cheap. Too small, and no-one will be able to see it. Use a medium-sized logo that doesn't overwhelm the item it is placed on.
  • Convey a message - Where possible, convey your message with your logo. Does your group have a short slogan, catchphrase or tagline it can use in conjunction with the image?

Respect your logo like you do your group's good name and reputation. Your logo is an expansion of your group and its brand - damage it, and you run the risk of doing the same to your group and brand.

 

If I get the media along to an event, how can I maximise the chance they will tell MY story and not pursue their own agenda?

The Marketing Guru says:

The first thing to remember is that the media can, do and will pursue agendas which may not mesh with your own. It is part of their job in fairly reporting the news that they seek out the real stories behind the PR 'spin' - even yours!

They're also keen to find fresh angles where possible, so keep that in mind when framing the themes of your event - try to find that new or different or interesting angle for them.

Once you've got the media along to your event, try not to act too suspicious or defensive - most journalists are keen to do the right thing and if they think yours is a good, honest, well-meaning group, they're more than likely to want to help you out in their coverage, even if what results doesn't come out exactly as you would like it to.

Some things you can do to increase the chances the media will tell your story are:

  • Work on your relationships - Get to know your local journalists or those working within your interest area. Having journalists onside will allow you better access to them and increase the chances they will listen to your stories. This is the cornerstone of working positively with the media.
  • Help them help you - Supply journalists and photographers attending your event with an informative, colourful and user-friendly media pack which includes a media release about your event, background information on your group and its work, and, most importantly, contact details for your organisation in case journalists have any follow-up questions. Make sure things happen on time and in the way you've told them they will.
  • Set up media opportunities - The media are always on the lookout for stories to fill airtime or newspaper space. Supplying them with good story and photo opportunities (and not just ones about your group or that push your particular barrow) helps them do their job, strengthens the relationship, and will leave the media more inclined to listen to your stories in the future.
  • Make sure it's newsworthy - Wasting a journalist's time is unwise - they may start sniffing around for something more newsworthy. Work with the media to ensure the "news" you send them is worth them coming out to cover. Be upfront about what's on offer.
  • Say thanks - Most of the feedback journalists receive is negative. A call or note thanking them for a good story involving your group - even if it didn't have exactly the slant you would have liked - is likely to be remembered; and generate favourable publicity into the future.

 

When I put out a "To the Householder" mail out, what is the single most important "look" to get people to respond?

The Marketing Guru says:

How many of us have received letters addressed "to the householder"? And how many of us have deposited those letters in the bin without opening them?

The key to a successful mail-out is not so much in the presentation as it is in the personalisation. Personalised, targeted mail-outs have been shown to garner a far greater response rate.

Some of the ways you can personalise your mail-out are:

  • Using Mail Merge to ensure the recipients' names are on the envelope, as well as included as part of a personalised greeting at the start of the letter.
  • Handwriting the name and address of each recipient on their envelope, and using stamps rather than "Postage Paid" envelopes. Obviously this option is only viable if your mail-out is relatively small, or if you have a large number of volunteers willing to help out!
  • Ensure the contents of the letter are as relevant as possible to recipients. Segment your database so you can create a more personalised message for each group.
  • Bring your message home by telling them how it impacts on what they do, or make them feel valued by thanking them personally.
  • Finally, make it clear the response you wish to receive from recipients. If you wish them to donate, ask them directly and provide forms to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. If you wish them to complete a survey, or sign up for a newsletter, make it easy for them to do so. Including a reply paid envelope if you are seeking responses is another way of increasing the number of replies you get.

 

We want our website to rank near the top of the results when people search for it through Google. How do we achieve this?

The Marketing Guru says:

Lifting your group's website up the search results "ladder" is not an exact science. There are, however, a few relatively simple actions you can take to improve your site's listing.

The first is to figure out the types of keywords - the words people use when searching for websites via search engines - that could lead them to your site.

As an example, the local football club might list their name and nickname, the name of the league they play in, home town, home ground, sponsors' names, names of star players and even its coach's name.

These words should then be used as often as possible on your homepage and other pages on your site.

Another way is to include these keywords as "meta tags". While this will probably not help you with Google, because Google ignores most meta tags, it may assist with other search engines. Meta tags are HTML code placed around specific pieces of information. They are generally invisible to all on the web bar search engines, which pick them up to provide keyword information about the contents of a particular website and rank the site in order of relevance to the search query.

There are websites which can help you create your own HTML code which includes meta tags and can be inserted in the coding of your website's homepage and other pages.

The third way is to get as many other websites as possible to link to yours. Google's rankings are based in part on how many other pages link to yours, so the more links your group's site has, the higher up the search engine rankings it will appear.

Find some "link buddies" - groups you work with, firms that sponsor you or donors and members -that can link to your site, particularly organisations that do similar or related work.

Also think about which sites your donors/members/users/supporters/friends might visit, and see if you can get a link from those.

 

Is it important to have a variety of ways to market your group or communicate its work, or should we be concentrating on one thing at a time?

The Marketing Guru says:

It's not a good idea to rely on only one path through which to get your message across. Different messages might suit different media, and different audiences will gather their information from different sources.

Limiting your group to just one or two communications outlets - for example, the internet and advertising - means people who don't get their information from these sources are out of reach.

Having a communications strategy can help you work out which marketing modes you should be tapping into. Three key steps to a solid strategy are to:

  1. Decide what message you want to communicate;
  2. Work out the audiences you want to reach with your message; and then
  3. Work out which methods will allow you to reach each target audience.

More information on developing a strategy can be found in this help sheet.

 

How can I minimise the costs of our group's mail-outs?

The Marketing Guru says:

The first thing you should do is to ensure you have a really good mailing list. A "dirty list" - one that hasn't been properly inputted or has been allowed to become out of date - will result in a lot of wastage.

We are having trouble getting media coverage for stories about our group. Are there any tips you can give us to help?

The Marketing Guru says:

Attracting media coverage is a common challenge for many community organisations.

It often seems like the media simply aren't interested in community issues, but in fact often the cause of the problem is how the organisation itself works with the media.

A list produced by the UK's nfpSynergy as a result of discussions with journalists provides a good insight into what you need to do to start getting the attention of the media:

  1. Case studies - The media is much more likely to cover your story if there is a direct human interest element to it. And the best way to do that is to gather some relevant and useful case studies that can be used in conjunction with media opportunities.
  2. Don't just target the news desk, dig deeper - Don't just send your release to the news desk and hope for coverage. Think about the other opportunities for coverage which exist, particularly in bigger newspapers. Social and community affairs reporters are one group in particular you should be aware of.
  3. "No comment" doesn't mean "no story" - Saying "no comment" to a journalist doesn't mean they won't publish a story. All it means is that they'll publish one without your point of view, meaning you miss out on valuable media coverage or, worse still, not get to tell your side of a potentially damaging situation.
  4. Be available, prepared and professional - Make it easy for journalists to contact you. Providing a mobile phone number can be a great help if a journalist is seeking a comment while you are out of the office, or outside hours. And when they do get in touch, be prepared to comment.
  5. Use local media - Tweaking your message so it is most relevant to your local area - and your local media - is extremely important.
  6. Build relationships - meet people face to face - If a journalist knows you personally they are more likely to seek you out for general comments on an issue related to your area of expertise. This means free publicity. Make a point of catching up with them in person and building your relationship.
  7. Think carefully about your subject lines and first paragraphs - Your organisation's emails and media releases can live or die by the strength of the subject line and first paragraph. Make them intriguing, interesting and engaging.
  8. Email your media releases, but phone through exclusives - Groups shouldn't phone journalists to chase after a media release they have just sent. Wait for them to contact you. However, you should be more proactive when pitching them an exclusive story or something that should attract headlines.
  9. Know your targeted media - If you are targeting a specific media outlet for a story, do some research. Know what it covers and the types of stories it runs. Think also about format, style and content.
  10. Consider media training - Media training doesn't even have to be formal. It can simply be an approach to a journalist for guidance on how your organisation can maximise its chances of coverage.

One last point to remember which wasn't included in the nfpSynergy list is to hitch a ride on the news of the day.

A local group - the Schizophrenia Research Institute - provides a great illustration of how to do this.

The Institute staged its inaugural SwearStop campaign in May 2009. SwearStop will see people seek sponsorship to give up swearing for a week, donating any funds raised to aid schizophrenia research.

The group received free, high-profile publicity for its campaign due to a quick-witted response after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd swore during a recent television appearance.

The Institute's media release calling on Mr Rudd to give up swearing to help raise money during SwearStop gained coverage in major media outlets including The Australian newspaper.

It's called opportunism, and when it comes to selling your story, it really works.


How can I make my email more environmentally friendly?

The Marketing Guru says:

Our Community has just launched a free book that will help you reduce the environmental impact of your mail.

The book, Going Green, can be accessed online at www.ourcommunity.com.au/green, or you can order a free hard copy via the same link. In order to reduce our own environmental impact, we're only printing as many copies as are required.

The booklet breaks the mail lifecycle down into six stages, providing detailed information and lots of tips. You can read it cover to cover, or just refer to those sections relevant to your project.

Below we've printed details from some of the book's checklists to give you an idea of what you should be able to do once you've read it:

Managing Your Mailing List

  • Delegate mailing list management to a responsible employee
  • Cross‐check lists to avoid duplication
  • Ensure rented lists have been screened against the Australian Direct Marketing Association's Do Not Mail list

Mail Design

  • Employ a designer you are confident will give due consideration to the environment
  • Advise your designer that minimising environmental impact is important to you
  • Work to convey all your information in one document - avoid enclosing other items

Paper Purchase and Use

  • Ensure your paper supplier is offering competitive prices for recycled paper
  • Understand what the different paper certifications mean
  • Understand the differences between varieties of chlorine content

Printing

  • Have several computers network to one printer
  • Ensure your printer's default setting is duplex
  • If you're outsourcing, instruct your printer to use vegetable‐based inks for the job

How can I prepare my organisation for media opportunities?

The Marketing Guru says:

Community groups are generally pretty well acquainted with the old scout's maxim: be prepared!

But when Our Community recently put out a call out for community groups attending the Communities in Control Conference to put forward positive story ideas, only four of the many hundreds of groups represented at the conference came forward.

Only four!

The story ideas were to be fed to an ABC journalist for use during the Communities in Control conference, Australia's biggest community conference.

Now, it's not often that the media actually comes to you, and it's particularly rare that they will come to you seeking a good news story. This was an opportunity wasted for many, many groups across the country.

The moral of this story is that you have to be prepared.

  • Appoint a media coordinator.
    Everyone in your group can be on the look‐out for media opportunities, but one person should be in charge of coordinating your media presence. Appoint your most experienced media practitioner - a journalist, a PR or marketing professional, or someone who's dealt with the media before - as your media coordinator. If you don't have someone in your group who fits the bill, start recruiting.
  • Appoint a spokesperson.
    Your spokesperson (who is not necessarily the media coordinator) should be someone who knows your organisation intimately - your President,perhaps, or your CEO. Your spokesperson needs to be an articulate and engaging speaker, and - importantly - needs to be available. If you can, appoint a back‐up spokesperson so you can make sure there's always someone on hand to speak on behalf of your group.
  • Audit your stories.
    Every community group has a great story to tell, sometimes they just need teasing out. You need to have a great "angle" or "hook" to draw the media in so think about the newest, most novel, most noteworthy aspects of what you do. Once you've drawn the media to you, you can use the opportunity to convey other messages - that you're open to new members, or that you have a current fundraiser running, for example.
  • Audit your talent.
    Stories work best if they're underpinned by real people. Think about which of your group's members or clients best illustrate the story of what you do. Which of them would make a friendly media subject? Ask them if you can put their names forward if and when the media come calling.
  • Be entrepreneurial.
    Be on the look‐out for media opportunities. Don't wait for the media to come to you. If an opportunity drops in your lap, grab it with both hands.

What is the best way to approach a business for a donation?

The Marketing Guru says:

Our medium‐sized, little known, not‐for‐profit disability service is holding a fundraising lunch and we are having trouble generating donated goods for a silent auction.

We are a team of two people - one full time and one part time - trying to pull together the event for 100 guests.We held our first such fundraiser last year and raised $8000. For that lunch we had about 20 items donated, mostly from business associates.

We are finding this year more difficult, as many businesses are reluctant to donate in these concerning economic times. Any advice on who to approach for silent auction items and/or any tips on how to maximise our chances of success?

Australians approve of businesses that support good causes; that's just one reason why businesses need to show they care (the other reason, of course, is that they actually do care).

The trouble, of course, is that there's only so much they can give in any one year - and there are a whole lot of good causes that want their cut.

The key to getting your request heard above all the others clambering for donations, freebies, sponsorship and inkind support is to choose your targets carefully.

  • Look for companies that have some kind of link with your aims, clients, region, name or supporters. If they have some sort of connection with your group they'll be much more likely to give.
  • Ask your clients, members, staff and board members for suggestions of companies to approach. Ask if you can drop their name when you make your approach.
  • Write them a letter before you drop by. It will give you a chance to provide some background and provide a conversation‐starter when you go in person ("You will have received my letter …").
  • Make your approach a personal one. Never address your letter to "The Business Owner" or "The Manager".
  • Find out the right name to address your letter to (and make sure you spell it correctly).
  • Don't use a formula or a template letter - the worst thing you can do is send a letter that looks as if it's being sent to everyone in the yellow pages. If the recipient believes that other people are getting the same letter, they're likely to let those other people make the donation. Learn something about the business you're approaching and include it in your letter.
  • Marketing budgets are usually larger than sponsorship budgets so consider offering them something in return for their donation- a spot in your newsletter urging clients to visit their shop, for example.

What lessons community groups can learn from iSnack 2.0?

The Marketing Guru says:

We don't want to be the only publication in Australia that hasn't waded into the debate over the naming of Kraft's new cheesy Vegemite product.

What has Vegemite got to do with community groups? Quite a bit, actually.

First, a quick recap.

The saga began last month when Kraft announced that its new product, a combination of Vegemite and cream cheese, would be called iSnack 2.0. The name was chosen after the public was invited to send in suggestions. More than 48,000 suggestions were received.

Howls of protests followed the announcement that iSnack 2.0 had been selected. Australians, it seemed, hated the name.

The result was a swag of publicity for the new product, a statement of contrition from the company and the announcement that a new competition would be held to allow members of the public to choose the new name.

More than 30,000 people voted. The winner? The rather more prosaic 'Vegemite Cheesybite', which garnered 36% of the vote (Vegemite Smooth came in second, with 23%). There was some suggestion last week that Cheesybite might also be problematic for Kraft, being similar to a trademark owned by Pizza Hut.

Some have suggested the whole exercise has been an elaborate publicity stunt designed to keep the product in the headlines as long as possible. Kraft denies this - and says the thousands of iSnack 2.0‐branded jars in its warehouse prove its point (but, then, these are apparently now flying off the shelves as consumers seek to bag a collectors' item).

The major lesson for community groups is to remember that there's nothing like a new name or a new brand or a new logo to excite the passions of your stakeholders.

If you're considering introducing a new program, updating your logo or going through a rebranding exercise, step carefully. Remember these points:

  • Don't rush it. Kraft went through a long process to invite input into the naming of its new product (and even then it didn't get it quite right). Don't try to get the whole thing done in a few days.
  • Put in place a small sub‐committee to oversee the development and selection of your new brand/logo/name. Make sure it includes people from all over the organisation, not just senior staff or board members.
  • While it's true that you're never going to get everyone to agree, you might want to get the majority on board with your new name, logo or look. Get the sub‐committee to select two or three options to put to the membership for voting.
  • ... Despite all the controversy, Kraft has come out of all this all smelling of roses. This lesson is true of any controversy faced by your organisation, not just branding‐related ones: If things turn sour, take Kraft's lead and come out quickly to admit your mistake and make amends. Don't run, don't hide, don't stick to your guns in the face of contrary facts. Admit you were wrong and give everyone a way to move on.

How to get your message in the Leader Community Newspaper?

The Marketing Guru says:

Newspapers are, quite rightly, seen as a very important medium for community groups to deliver their messages to the wider community.

But how do you go about getting your story a run?

Let's get it from the horse's mouth. Leader Community Newspapers publishes 33 titles across Melbourne, reaching 1.8 million readers a week. Leader's group news editor, Nick Richardson, was on hand at the recent launch of the inaugural Community Confidence Index to speak to the community groups present about how best to get your message into their papers.

Nick said that on any given week, each Leader editor would accumulate an inbox groaning with press releases and PR incentives.

"They will field numerous phone calls from readers outraged or delighted, cynical and conspiratorial, uplifted and thrilled: the range of emotions, all there, played out before each editor of each of our papers," he said.

"No wonder you ask the question - how do I cut through? How do I get my message heard with all that extra noise?

A key element - one I cannot stress enough - is really about the mindset you bring to the exercise of getting your message out there. In most cases, the end result will often reflect a range of factors completely beyond your control - the factors such as who is available to cover a story on any given day.

"Perhaps one of the reporters is a cadet and has to miss a day a week because of cadet training and it just so happens that it's the day they were down to cover your event. "It may be that the story was going to run, the editor told you so, and then a big advertisement came through and meant that your story that was scheduled to be a page seven picture story is now a page 12 brief of just three paragraphs.

"Or it may be that as much as the editor wants to run your story they ran a similar story last week from another group and they don't want to run a story like that two weeks in a row."

These are elements beyond your control, Nick said, and should not be considered a reflection on you or your organisation.

"They are the routine realities of our business. There are some things that remain beyond our control and they may, in some innocent way, have an impact on you."

Nick said community groups wanting to get their story in the newspapers needed to be shrewd, persistent, memorable and human:

  1. Being shrewd is about understanding the routines of the media outlet you are trying to reach. That means considering deadlines, resources and the people who you are dealing with. Increasingly, editors and reporters are squeezed for time, so make sure you give them fair warning of your event, or story idea. That means thinking about their deadline - if a Leader paper is dated Tuesday, it probably means that it was printed Sunday night, but finished Saturday lunchtime. All the reporting, the pictures, the headlines - everything has been done by then. All the preparation has been done in the days leading up Saturday. You really have a small window to get your message home - so plan ahead. Allow 10 days for the paper to plan its staffing resources so that it can cover what you are doing. It's no good emailing the editor on the Wednesday about an event two days later. It will not only fall outside that paper's deadline, but reporters will be too busy on other stories. The other most basic thing is to get access to the right person - all Leader papers have the editor's name and telephone number on page two. They are easy to find. If you email them, please make sure you get their name right. Nothing turns a journo off more. Probably the best time to contact most Leader editors is Tuesday. That's when most of them are planning ahead - in their crowded week, Tuesday offers them a bit of respite.
  2. Persistence is always a virtue - it's also what makes a good journalist. That means following up after the initial contact. If you make the first approach 10 or even 12 days out, then contact the editor again six or seven days out - a gentle reminder. And if the editor says that the story is not for them, ask them is there any way you could make it more interesting to them. What would they need to consider your story publishable in their paper? Of course, the great thing about persistence is knowing when to walk away - if, after all, the editor is still not convinced, walk away. There will be other stories, other events, other< occasions.
  3. How do you make your message memorable? Well, it helps if it is unique. Think about what your organisation does - is it doing what some other organisations in the area are doing? It doesn't matter if it is; what's important is how you make your organisation stand out. I don't like gimmicks - and I wouldn't advocate them in any context, but if you can find a way to sharpen your message, please think about it because it will help you cut through. Ask yourself some questions - why is this event important? Who is it for? Who will be interested? Once you start to think along those lines you can start to stand a little apart from what you are doing and begin to think about how or why someone else could be interested in what you have to say. If the answer to those questions is that it is only of interest to you or your group, then you have to think again. What is it about what you do that connects to the broader community? There is a deal of work to be done if the broader community doesn't know much about you - but what an opportunity to start to shape the message and your organisation's profile. What an opportunity to explain to a sceptical and busy editor the appeal of your event and your organisation.
  4. So how do you do all that? Well, simply put - humanise it. All of you, every organisation you represent, every cause, every plan, every event, is fundamentally about people. So is the media. The media is about telling stories - it craves stories, but most of all, it craves human stories. Give us the face of your story, your event. An event from a migrant resource organisation needs a recent migrant talking about their experience. A surf lifesaving recruitment drive needs to have a recent recruit talking about why they joined and why they think it's the best thing since the X‐box. Girl guides, legal centres, funding battles, childcare centres, facilities issues, junior footy clubs - all need a human face, someone to help connect the story to the broader community. You all know this better than me - that we are all part of a community. We just need to find ways to connect to it. For the media, the most effective way to foster those connections, is through that human face. So make sure you have someone who can talk about those things, someone willing to be in a picture, someone who can be the message‐carrier for you and your organisation.

Nick concluded his presentation by encouraging community groups to consider using the internet as a means of making instant connections.

"All of our papers have websites - perhaps there are certain events or announcements that can work very well by linking off one of our websites," he said. For more information about Leader Community Newspapers, visit leader‐news.whereilive.com.au

How to conduct a year-end check-up?

The Marketing Guru says:

The slower Christmas‐New Year period is a good time to review your marketing efforts over the past 12 months and plan for the year ahead. Here's how to go about it:

  • Review your marketing plan: Does your marketing plan need updating? Does it provide a clear outline of your preferred marketing methods, and who is in charge of the plan?
  • Check your marketing department/co‐ordinator: Does your marketing co‐ordinator (or marketing team, if you're lucky enough to have a few people involved in this area) know what their responsibilities are? How active are they? Does the team work well together? Is there a need for new blood and/or new ideas?
  • Evaluate your online marketing channels: Have the online methods you've used to promote your organisation over the past 12 months - email, websites, social media, e‐newsletters etc. - worked? Which activities do you need to do more of? Which have been a waste of time? Who is the best person in your organisation to oversee these new and emerging communication methods?
  • Evaluate your "offline" marketing channels: Examine the success of your more traditional marketing activities as well - your newsletters, flyers, posters, annual report, paid and unpaid ads and community notices. What worked? What needs tweaking?
  • Evaluate your evaluation tools: Are the methods you are using to evaluate the success of your marketing strategies providing you with the information you need to make clear decisions? Are you evaluating the right areas? Are you asking the right questions? Do you know what's working and why (and what's not and why)?
  • Plot the next 12 months: Which three key events or activities does your organisation want to concentrate its marketing activities on in the next 12 months? What's the audience you want to reach - who are they and how are you going to reach them? Who will be responsible for ensuring this work is done? What timeframes will you set? How are you going to evaluate the success of your marketing activities?

Going Viral

The Marketing Guru says:

Male Facebook users may have been a little bewildered last month when their female friends started replacing their status updates with colours.

The move was made in response to a private Facebook message women sent to one another urging each other to replace their usual status update with their bra colour in an attempt to raise awareness of breast cancer.

In a modern take on the traditional chain letter, the message read:

"Something fun is going on. Write the color of your bra in your status. Just the color, nothing else. And send this on to ONLY women no men. It will be neat to see if this will spread the wings of cancer awareness. It will be fun to see how long it takes before the men wonder why the women have a color in their status. And remember to do breast self-exams and to pray for a cure for breast cancer."

No one seems to know who or what organisation was behind it. Nevertheless the campaign was hugely successful (if the number of people who changed their status is anything to go by) and clearly demonstrates two things:

  • How quickly a message can be spread from person to person and even country to country using social media. Are you still defaulting to posters and newsletters to spread your message? What else could you be doing? You don't have to abandon your traditional marketing methods - just think about what else is out there.
  • How simple ideas can catch on quickly if they're quirky. You have to think creatively about the best way to spread the news about your work. 'Worthy,' by itself, probably won't cut it. You've got to make it fun, or at least interesting.

Awareness is great, but if you're going to try to use social media to spread your message you also need to think about how you can move people a step beyond just knowing about your cause. How can you turn people's awareness into action? If the bra colour promotion had involved asking people to change their status update and then make a donation, would it have been more successful? Or would it have resulted in fewer people actually taking up the challenge?

We're probably still a little too early on in the story of social media to be sure, though it's definitely time to stop looking upon these media as a passing phase we can afford to ignore.

As the founder of Voice, a new social media agency for the UK not-for-profit sector, David Dixon, puts it: "In the not-for-profit sector we need to get well beyond the 'wow' factor in social media and get real in using these new channels for fundraising and communications."

You can learn more about how to use Web 2.0 tools in your community organisation by attending one of the upcoming Our Community-Hootville Weaving Your Web workshops, being held in Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney in April and May. Click here to find out more.

Revealing the top 10 "awesome" videos for social good

The Marketing Guru says:

Last month we wrote about some of the lessons in sending your message viral. This month we're highlighting social media blog Mashable's "Top 10 YouTube Videos for Social Good". The Mashable team says that web video can be an especially effective way for community groups to get the word out about their cause. "Moving pictures are compelling because they represent a very visual and visceral way to both inform and entertain. "Web video in particular can be a boon to non-profit organisations because it is both cost effective (uploading a video on YouTube is free) and potentially viral." Among the organisations behind the top 10 videos are high-profile NGOs like WWF and Greenpeace, but there are other videos on the list that have been created by individuals without an obvious community group affiliation. The Mashable blog authors point out why they think each of the top 10 videos are "awesome," revealing some of traits that could help take your own video from ordinary to top of the pops:
  • High production values (e.g. use of high-quality animations, as in the selected Greenpeace video)
  • Capitalising on an established fan base (in the case of the Nerdfighters video, which is designed to encourage people to donate to worthy causes)
  • Playing off pop culture icons (Harry Potter, in the case of the video posted by 'The Harry Potter Alliance', in a parody against the "evil Lord Waldemart" (the Wal-Mart Corporation).
  • Great imagery and graphics (as seen in the "masterful and haunting use of ocean imagery" in the Greenpeace video, and "amazing stop-motion graphics" in The Bay vs. The Bag video, which works to create "a memorable image of what that many bags actually looks like and just how gross that really is" )
  • Compelling, real-life stories (as in the case of Oxfam America's video, which recounts 18-year-old Nick Anderson's visit to Darfour in 2007).
  • Cute animals (the Wildlife Conservation Society used its assets to great effect in the Save the Bronx Zoo and new York Aquarium video)
  • Combining striking images, great graphics and a meaningful song (as charity: water managed to do for its World Water Day video, which helped raise $10,000 in one day for the organisation)
  • A catchy tune (Green For All's video used sounds like the wheezes of an asthma sufferer and the sounds of traffic to create a song)
  • Originality (e.g. the 'Choose a Different Ending' video, which is presented in interactive, 'choose your own adventure' style)

You can find links to all 10 videos on the Mashable blog here, plus another Mashable blog post on '5 Ways Non-Profits Can Increase Engagement With YouTube' here, and an article from The Age on how to boost your rankings on YouTube here.

Note, too, that YouTube has recently launched new free brand channel for Australian not-for-profits.

The YouTube Nonprofit Program allows eligible not-for-profits to apply to receive a free YouTube Brand Channel which includes the ability to add a call-to-action overlay to their videos. Groups will also be able to join YouTube Video Volunteers to find a skilled YouTube user to create a video for their cause.

A number of groups have already signed up - including Kids Helpline, Plan Australia, Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) and the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN). Find out more here.

Turning on the spin cycle

The socially aware people who work in and for community groups are generally not the type of people who appreciate "spin".

But there are ways that community groups can use some of the practices of spin doctors to their own advantage. It's not about being dishonest; it's about presenting your organisation and your arguments in the best possible light, which can be useful when you're in the media or putting forward a case for funding.

American e-newsletter Blue Avocado recently highlighted how this can be done, pointing out that community groups are often all too quick to highlight less than impressive membership numbers.

"Unless they're really big (like a million paid members), we tend to talk about membership numbers too much, usually to people who are unimpressed by them," author Ellis Robinson said.

"You may have 2500 members and only you know how hard it was to get this many of your supporters to join. But the City Council or a foundation is unlikely to be awed by the number 2500, since they hear big numbers all the time."

Instead, Robinson suggests, you should talk about how many people you represent - an African support agency might talk about the 10,000 new migrants whose interests it represents; an environmental organisation might talk about the 150,000 people who use the park each year.

Another example of smart spin comes from the UK, where autism activist Polly Tommey has told political leaders that 6 million voters could be swayed by positive commitments on autism.

While you may not agree with Tommey's views, theories or methods of attracting attention to her campaign (see here), you can't help but admire the way she has framed her argument.

Tommey's contention that 6 million votes could be won was based on a "complicated calculation based on the number of people with autism across the country, and the number of family members, carers and teachers who she believes would vote for any party that pledged greater resources for the condition", the Guardian newspaper reports.

Tommey says that autism affects one in 100 adults, "and there are an estimated 300,000 adults with a condition somewhere on the autistic spectrum".

"I know of 14 people in my family alone that would vote for any leader who would seriously consider initiating a real impact plan for (my son) Billy," Tommey was reported as saying.

The next time you're writing a grant application or framing a letter for support, think about how you're presenting your vital statistics.

Don't lie, or obfuscate, or conceal - the last thing we want is for the community sector to compromise its credibility - but do think about what the numbers you use really mean. Let them tell the true story of what you do.

"Remember," Robinson says, "your work doesn't just benefit your members, it benefits your community!"

eFundraising for beginners

The Marketing Guru says:

eFundraising - that is, generating or getting donations through the internet - is an increasingly important part of the fundraising equation in Australia.

Consider these stats:

  1. British comedy fundraiser Comic Relief raised £16 million (more than $A33.2million) online in a six-hour period during its 2009 appeal. This compared to raising just £5.25 million ($A10.8 million) in 2001.
  2. The US Red Cross has found that online donors give on average $US127 ($A180), compared to $US22 ($A31) via traditional mail-ins.
  3. A US study by The Social Initiative showed that online donations had grown from just $10m ($A14.2 million) online in 1999 to $250 million ($A355 million) in 2000 and $5 billion ($A7.1 billion) in 2006.
  4. American online donation organisations have recorded growth in online donations as being between 33% and 50% since 2006.
  5. Our Community's own online giving centre, GiveNow.com.au, has collected more than $14 million for community groups right across the country. The number and value of donations made via credit card through GiveNow are increasing exponentially each year.

People are increasingly comfortable about transacting online - in fact, many people now demand it. If you don't provide this option for your supporters, you risk missing out.

If you think eFundraising belongs in the domain of your IT people, rather than your marketing team, you're barking up the wrong tree.

As marketing and PR professional Brett de Hoedt put it at the Communities in Control post-conference training day: "The ability to successfully eFundraise has got nothing to do with technical skills ... The website's just another tool for you to use to market, to fundraise."

Brett, who runs communications company Hootville, says that the internet is an ideal medium for community organisations, given that it has global reach, is essentially free, is accessible 24 hours a day and has the ability to immediately take advantage of someone's fleeting goodwill.

But he warns: "Success with online fundraising is not accidental, you can't just put your site up there and expect people to find you online, find the donate page and make a happy, healthy donation, preferably regularly.

"Why on earth would they? Is that how you behave? No - you have to court or seduce your donors online."

Here are some of Brett's tips for getting online donations:

  • Have a clean, logically organised website.
  • Use moving pictures/video on your site to provide a point of interest and promote a sense that you are a modern, tech-savvy organisation. You might even consider installing a webcam, or to embed on your website a feed from someone else's webcam.
  • Give people things to do on your site - sign a petition; watch a video; sign up as a visitor; donate. Ensure your site is not a "brochure on the web".
  • Change your content regularly to keep visitors interested (and interested in returning).
  • Ensure your "Make a Donation" button is tasteful - but explicit and prominent. What gets promoted gets clicked.
  • Provide offline donation options to cater for people who aren't comfortable donating online.
  • Tell people what you will do with their donations - develop a strong and simple pitch.
  • Ensure your meta tags properly describe your organisation and its work so that people can find you when they do a web search. Get lots of like-minded organisations to link from their websites to yours.
  • You need an electronic newsletter (and a "big, fat database"), and you should think about mounting a Twitter and Facebook presence - you need to a way to communicate directly with your supporters.

Fighting weasel words

The Marketing Guru says:

"Management-speak has triumphed," former Prime Ministerial speechwriter, author and crusader against 'weasel words' Don Watson has declared.

"It has made much of our everyday language dull, dim-witted and meaningless.To sound professional, you must express everything in abstract nouns, and each noun in terms of another one; you must talk about synergy and strategy, uptake and outcomes and outputs and inputs, key performance indicators and drivers and customer experience - even if your 'customers' are in fact patients in a hospital."

Yes, weasel words exist even in Community Land.

To help us make sense of it all, the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has released a Glossary on Sector Development, revealing the meaning of such terms as 'approved service model', 'community engagement', 'compact', 'funding agreements', 'outcome reporting', 'social capital', 'social exclusion', and 'symbiotic philanthropy'.

The glossary can be downloaded by clicking here.

Our Community has also developed some glossary and definition lists -

  1. Glossary of Board terms A-C
  2. Glossary of Board terms D-I
  3. Glossary of Board terms J-R
  4. Glossary of Board terms S-Z
  5. Community Sector Acronyms

Click the links above to access the listings.

The politics of language also got an airing in the UK this month, with the new Coalition Government ditching the Office of the Third Sector in favour of the Office for Civil Society.

Acevo chief executive Stephen Bubb vowed to ignore the name change and continue to use 'third sector' in reference to the department and the minister.

"Civil society", he barked in a blog post, "What's that exactly? An organisation dedicated to promoting better manners?"

In the United States, community sector resource organisation Blue Avocado recently issued a 'Nonprofit Jargon Watch', revealing the meaning of such terms as 'mouse-click activism', 'greenwashing', 'diversity pimp' and 'catalytic philanthropy' (no relation to the 'symbiotic philanthropy' mentioned in the ACOSS list).

Here at Our Community, we recommend that you say what you mean and mean what you say. Avoid obscure words, acronyms, buzz words, jargon and any sorts of language that excludes rather than includes.

And before you craft your next grant application or annual report, pay a visit to Don Watson's Weasel Words website - www.weaselwords.com.au, the site "for people who have silently wept into a crumpled copy of their company's mission statement, for teachers who want to work in classrooms and not customer service points, and for all those who have been underpinned by an innovative, value adding, creative, sustainable, diverse and optimised framework".

Social media do's and don'ts

The Marketing Guru says:

There's a lot of buzz these days around the potential of social media to help lift your organisation over the throng - but how do you know if your organisation can really benefit?

A new guide produced by Idealware, an American not-for-profit that works to help community groups "make smart software decisions", provides a good starting point.

The 70-page guide, released last month after six months of research, is designed to help community groups think through what they can reasonably expect in terms of results and benefits from social media (and for what investment of time and effort).

'Social media' is defined as online media that "starts conversations, encourages people to pass it on to others, and finds ways to travel on its own".

The guide says some community organisations are finding social media to be an effective way to engage current supporters and reach new ones.

Facebook, the guide says, can be a useful tool for:

  • Creating increased feedback and discussion ("hearing what's important and of interest to your supporters is a valuable thing, and not to be taken lightly")
  • Driving information to your website - and spreading information ("Organisations are seeing a substantial amount of website traffic coming directly from Facebook")
  • Building an email list ("a number of people reported that they were able to encourage Facebook supporters to join their email list")
  • Attracting event attendees ("It can be a particularly useful way to encourage supporters to pass the word about events on to their own friends")
  • Getting people to take action ("Facebook users are also more likely to take action on Facebook - for instance, asking people to change their photo to a message representing your cause, or to post about your issue on a corporation's wall")
  • Attracting donations ("It makes sense to think of Facebook more as a platform for friends to ask other friends for money than as a place for the organisation itself to solicit donations")

Twitter, the guide says, can be useful for:

  • Connecting with like-minded organisations
  • Connecting with the media
  • Asking questions (to which you actually want to know the answer, as opposed to just conversation starters)
  • Engaging people with frequent updates (you can easily post five or more posts a day without raising eyebrows - this can be useful in the lead-up to an event, for example)
  • Providing near-real-time updates
  • Coordinating a group in real time

The guide also looks at blogs, reporting that despite the hype, many groups have found only limited success.

Unless you have experts or advocates on the front line who are also good writers (and have the time to post frequently), a blog is going to become "one more thing for a communications team (or person) to manage", the guide warns.

Blogs can also be time consuming: "Because blogs are public, it's obvious when you don't post. A blog started and then abandoned, or updated only sporadically, is worse than no blog at all."

Still, the guide says, blogs can be useful in a few key areas:

  • Publicising your expertise - if you have one or more experts on a topic, asking them to blog can increase their public stature, leading to more partnerships, press or paid work. It can also be a good way to disseminate their knowledge to your audience.
  • Promoting your cause or educating people - a blog is a useful and straightforward way to spread information; it's generally less time-consuming to write blog posts than articles or reports.
  • Telling stories about your day-to-day work - blog entries can become a good way to connect supporters to your cause, and a useful source of stories for your other publications.
  • Engaging people in your decisions, or your work - though this is a lot easier said than done. "Many more blog readers will lurk than will post comments".
  • Promoting your website and online information - because blogs are great for search engine optimisation, blogs help people to more easily find your organisation.

The guide also looks at the benefits that can be derived from photo sharing websites, video sharing websites, additional social media channels such as LinkedIn, MySpace, Second Life and FourSquare, and "custom communities" such as specially constructed online special interest groups.

It includes a workbook comprising a self-assessment guide, and tools to help you identify and measure your goals, define your audience, survey your audience and decide which channels are right for you.

There is also a guide to developing a section to help you social media policy for your organisation. Click here to download the report (PDF 7.42MB).

 

What's one easy way we can improve the way our organisation shows its face to the world?

The Marketing Guru says:

Marketing isn't just about advertising, or even about money changing hands. It's how you present yourself every time your organisation touches the world outside.

The phone rings. Someone picks it up. What do you do next?

Set simple rules.

  • The phone should never ring more than four times.
  • Ensure that there's always someone on incoming phone duty, even if you're leaving your desk for a short time.
  • If you have reason to think that there's going to be a rush of calls (if you've just mailed out a flyer, for instance) have an overflow answerer.
  • Ensure that the phone person gives the name of the organisation - "Hello, this is the Goodcause Foundation. How can I help you?"
  • Vary your tone of voice over the course of the conversation. Nobody likes a monotone. Speak clearly, and slightly more slowly than you usually do.
  • Don't complicate the issue. Don't use jargon, don't make vague jokes, don't wander from the point.
  • Don't try to do too much at one time.
  • If there's an opening, tell them about your donation methods - forms, memberships, online giving.
  • But don't hassle anybody for a gift if that's not what they're calling for.
  • Repeat yourself patiently as often as necessary.
  • Be positive at all times.
  • Use the caller's name, if they give it to you.
  • Make sure that the person on phone duty either knows how the procedures work or that he or she knows who in the office does know.
  • Check that the call redirection system is working as it should.
  • Check that there's a clear division of office responsibilities so that everybody knows who does what.
  • Make sure that the front desk knows about all upcoming events and new developments. There shouldn't be anything coming in that they're not prepared for.
  • If possible, see that the person on the phone not only knows about the organisation but knows about the caller. If they give their name and they're on the computer database then you should be able to call up their file at the desk and see what recent dealings they've had with the organisation, just to be able to personalise the call a little.
  • Have a range of alternative possibilities ready for a caller who's interested in helping out - and put a simple donation some way down the list. Someone who volunteers will often donate, but the reverse isn't necessarily true.
  • Have a range of payment possibilities for anyone who does want to donate.
  • You want to get all you can out of the call. In particular, you want to get a name and an address for future contacts and correspondence. Always ask if you can send out materials (something different from your mailout brochure, so they won't already have it) and get their details so you have someone to send it to. If they give their name, set up a database entry on them and send out a request for donations or an update of your activities.
  • Record what they say - their inquiry, or their comments, or their request - so that later when your group is drawing up your plans and strategies you'll have some idea of what the public is thinking.
  • Ask them how they heard about your organisation - it can be a good way to work out the most effective way of getting your message out there and finding what method of advertising or marketing works best.
  • Always thank them for calling, sincerely.

It is possible to lose points as well as gain them.

  • If you have call waiting, put special effort into the process of swapping between callers. Get the first caller's agreement before putting them on hold, and offer them the alternative of taking their name and address and phone and getting back to them. In any case, always apologise for putting anyone on hold.
  • If you are going away to chase something up, do put the call on hold rather than leaving it live on the desk to pick up confidential information about other clients. Similarly, don't switch to a speakerphone without telling them.
  • If you have to use an answering machine, it's rather more difficult to sound involved and interested, but you can sound sorry to have missed them. Give the one-line version of your sales pitch. Give your email address. Say what the average reply time is. Remind callers to leave their name, number, and email address.
  • Always answer voicemail as soon as possible.
  • Don't just say "Your call is important to us"; mean it. Treat callers with respect and consideration.