Friday, February 20, 2009

The value of stories for non-profits

Recently, I've made the habit of dong something I think more non-profit executives should do. Namely, reviewing the blogsphere and LinkedIn questions for gaining insight in terms of what's "out there". Stumbling across the internet, I found a question that got me thinking:

Does your organisation use personal stories as part of your appeal for financial support? Do have policies and guidelines in place in this regard?

What a telling question! While the posting's intention was directed at how organizations can better fundraise, the practicality of telling and developing a good story also applies to effective non-profit public relations. In the case of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, I've seen first hand the benefit of a media relations department even laying out a story guide regularly distributed to journalists. It's a fantastic means of keeping your cause top of mind with the media without constantly having to push out press releases. With a story board or calendar on hand, it leaves NGO PR professionals to rely on passive persuasion to talk up your cause.

To that effect, a perfect quote I found on a related LinkedIn Q&A from Chuck Anderson of the United Way of America says it all:

Personal stories/attributions add more legitimacy to your appeal on a human level. If they are designed as a tear jerker to get people to give, some may feel they are being manipulated. However they can be very powerful at raising money if done tastefully. There are a group of people who need the cold hard facts too. They don't respond to the tear jerker approach so you have to walk a fine line. Finally in the non-profit arena of today I believe it is more important to document and sell what your organization is doing to reduce/eliminate the root cause of the social problem you are addressing. The stating of a business case to fundors that your agency is making long term positive change coupled with supportive data would therefore be important. Your agency has to have data to back up your assertion. People want to know their donated dollars are being used effectively. With the tightening of the economy, the more critical this aspect will be.

Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Strategic Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultancy for non-profits and associations. Make sure to contact him for advice on reaching audiences you may or may not have yet considered in your marketing communications and PR campaigns. Drop him a line if you are looking for help in developing a public relations campaign. You can view his website at www.actionstrategies.ca.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Budget 2009: How do Associations Adjust?

Federal budget 2009 came about in early February. Unlike many other previous budgets, I believe this budget came through on a central theme: the economy, the economy and more of the economy!

Pressured by the opposition parties to adopt a number of measures to address a slagging economy, the Conservatives introduced an economic stimulus package aimed largely at boosting a number of industry sectors. While this bodes well for a number of industry associations and charities, depending on the constituency they represent, there are going to be some who will have to work harder this year to get their point across. On that point, I will return in a moment. To start however, I'll touch on a few points where certain opportunity exists.

Budget 2009 accelerates and expands recent historic federal investments in infrastructure with almost $12 billion in new infrastructure stimulus funding over two years. Municipal green infrastructure is also a priority establishing amongst other opportunities, a two-year, $4-billion infrastructure Stimulus Fund that will provide funding to renew infrastructure. For those industry associations following environment and energy efficiency issues, the budget also provides $1 billion over five years for the Green Infrastructure Fund to support projects such as sustainable energy.

Environment: The budget sets out a new Clean Energy Fund that supports clean energy research development and demonstration projects, including carbon capture and storage.

Keen to stimulate more construction within the economy, the Conservatives are aiming a number of incentive programs to encourage Canadians to retrofit and renovate their homes. For some of my construction association clients, we'll be reviewing this as an indication that there's an openness towards hearing a message of the importance of the sector.

Skills training and encouraging business investment: As mentioned earlier, the budget took a decidedly economic stimulus tone. Much was mentioned on investments coming to encourage training programs and bonifying EI benefits. A lot was also mentioned in terms of encouraging further investments to release credit for businesses. If your association/ charity focuses on the unemployed or even in terms of working to support small businesses, I would say that this is a crucial time to build your links with government stakeholders.

For other notable sectors, it will be important to note a number of key example initiatives:

Forest industry associations will be interested by $170 million over two years to secure a more sustainable and competitive forest sector. Agricultural associations will be interested by a $500 million agricultural flexibility program that will help the sector adapt to pressures and improve its competitiveness. For arts related associations, a $20 million contribution over the next two years and $13 million per year thereafter will be coming to the National Arts Training Contribution Program.

For those who might not have been mentioned, do not fret!

My experience has been that while being overseen in a budget can be a set back, it nonetheless provides a chance to take a serious look at your approach to government. Consider the following checklist:

  • Is your argument based on fact, emotion or a solid combination of both?

  • Have you been effectively monitoring the tone of Ottawa over the course of the last year or more? If so, how does your cause fit within the political scene?

  • How will your argument help the government in reaching its objectives, not necessarily just yours?

  • There are ways of answering all of these questions. What's been your experience? I'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment!
    Mark Buzan is Principal of Action Strategies, a GR Consultancy for non-profits. Subscribe now to his Lobbying tips newsletter at www.actionstrategies.ca/Action_Strategies/Newsletter.html

    Effectively Involving Your Members in Your Organization’s PR and Advocacy

    The success of any nonprofit plan is hugely dependent on how it treats its public affairs. It comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and has to get creative as sources for revenue are obviously different and harder to come by than traditional profit-making businesses. This said, knowing that your current and prospective members can help you get your message, mission, and needs out to the world at large, is absolutely crucial to the sustainability and future success of your nonprofit. So how do you go about treating your members and your key audiences so as to engage them in advancing your cause – particularly in public relations campaigns? This is important because the “holy grail” of grassroots campaigns occurs when other organizations and individuals become “evangelists” for the message you are promoting.

    The same can be said of government relations campaigns and the benefit of utilizing tools that support grassroots campaigns that involve members and rally stakeholders to your cause. Increasingly, it is not enough to bring your issues to government. You have to demonstrate public support for your position. Your organization may be under public attack and need to publicly defend your practices and positions. You may want to shape the governments' policy agenda. To do that supporters, members, employees, your industry’s customers and/or suppliers need to be mobilized!

    More and more, the Internet can be used as a tool to rally support and advance your cause. In a networked society, organizations have no choice but to establish their positions in the online political marketplace. You go on-line to educate, motivate and organize citizens, opinion leaders and government decision-makers to take meaningful off line action. Its a new dimension for advocacy.

    But, Internet advocacy and other outreach efforts are still a complement to traditional government relations activities. Communicating your views directly and personally to decision-makers should always be part of any on-going strategy. Below, is a list of some good ideas on how exactly to get your members involved in your nonprofit’s communications and advocacy.

    1. Fundraising: One of the most basic and fundamental ways to get your members involved in public relations is creating interactive and mutually beneficial fundraising opportunities and programs. Host an informational walk for a cause. People undoubtedly invite their non-member friends to join them for company. It all starts with one or two more people knowing about your cause, and if the fundraising event is one that they enjoy, they tell others, and so on and so on.

    2. Internet: Though this may seem an overused topic in pr these days, it is one of the most effective means of getting your name and cause out there, quicker and to more people than you could ever do with non-internet advertising or pr. Start with an interesting and interactive website and draw members and non-members alike to your site by all means you can think of. Start a blog, involve yourself in relate topic forums, write articles online, and get your current members to do the same.

    3. Keep Contact and Hold Attention
    : By valuing the network you may already have with your current members and clients, you can maximize their individual networks to voice your goals, initiatives, and needs more loudly and far-reaching. Send your members e-newsletters, postcards, and invite them to special events to keep them abreast of all of the exciting things you are doing with your nonprofit. By doing this, you not only keep them constantly engaged with your nonprofit’s presence, but also put yourself at the front of their thoughts when it comes to their casual and professional efforts for the pr and marketing of your nonprofit.

    4. Coordinate how you & your members make their presentation to MPs: Last week, I attended an interesting panel discussion held by the CSAE. Three MPs from the Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP were present offering input that I have long advised NGO executives. First, have a steady balance between emotion and logic. As I alluded to in a previous post, Tough Economic Times and the Federal Budget, often non-profits come to legislators with a healthy dose of an argument that comes from the heart. The trouble is that is often not enough. There needs to be a solid reason as to why a proposal makes sense and fits into the the agenda of the government.

    Also, when considering how to involve members into an advocacy campaign, the options also include sending them to meet various MPs. When doing so, often under a "On the Hill" campaign, make sure they are well prepared with briefing papers that have first been sent to the MPs in advance. Ask the attending member(s) to also bring a copy. Finally and above all, don't assume what an MP knows or doesn't know. Acting as if you know more on a given subject than an MP that may have come from a professional background in that field will only put them off. Assuming they know a given subject when in fact they don't will only frustrate both parties - your volunteer representative and the legislator.

    Mark Buzan is Principal of Action Strategies, a GR Consultancy for non-profits. Subscribe now to his Lobbying tips newsletter at www.actionstrategies.ca/Action_Strategies/Newsletter.html