It’s Not About the Grim Reaper

May 19, 2011 was Planned Giving Day here in Washington state. I confess I only knew this because the Washington Planned Giving Council was kind enough to ask me to come present at their conference.

What I realized in preparing for my talk and at the conference (which included a great talk by Lawrence Henze of Blackbaud, who wittily shared info from their cornucopia of white papers and analytics) was that planned giving isn’t simply about the grim reaper. It’s about legacy.

That word–legacy–is interesting. We generally hear people talk about leaving a legacy. To me, “leaving a legacy” sounds like you’re leaving your luggage or leaving Las Vegas. It sounds passive and doesn’t inspire action… until you’re dead, at which time it’s tough to take action.

“Building a legacy”, on the other hand, sounds important and epic. It sounds like something worth doing something about. It makes me wonder how I can build one.

Often times, we take phrases for granted because we say them so often. If we’re going to inspire people to take action, we’ve got to constantly revisit the words and phrases we use–both those that are said and read. Otherwise, people might get stuck on the Grim Reaper and never get around to building their legacy.


Pitching Inspiration

For the last four years, I have the great good fortune of teaching in the University of Washington’s Certificate in Nonprofit Management program. Earlier this week, we had the ‘2011 Pitch-Off’, which meant five student groups gave an elevator pitch for this quarter’s organization of choice, the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Sure, it was a class assignment so they HAD to do it. But they didn’t just come up with something to stick in a “good enough” box. They went beyond. They inspired.

They encouraged us to think about music as a window to the soul. They connected the dots between discipline, focus and orchestra as community. They dazzled us with the idea that when you put instruments into a child’s hands, you tune their minds and hearts. They introduced the concept of an air violin–which a young boy played for a month because there was no  money to fix his real violin. They challenged us to think of what our world would be like without music.

They could’ve simply blah blah’d about the features of the orchestra–that it’s the oldest and largest in the country. Or they could’ve enumerated its strengths–number of students, number of orchestras, number of performances. Our heads would’ve been choc-o-bloc full. But if a nonprofit doesn’t connect with someone’s heart, they are unlikely to inspire them to take action.

In his post today, Carrots and marketing to the poor, Sasha Dichter proclaimed: “Benefits don’t sell.” That might be true if you’re trying to market shampoo in the developing world, but it’s not true if you’re trying to engage mission-minded people in your cause. (No offense to Sasha who writes one of the most on-point, thought-provoking blogs in the social sector, in my humble opinion.) The two B’s–beliefs and benefits–matter a lot. Together, they speak to both our hearts and our heads. It’s a matter of  aligning what you and those committed to your cause believe with the benefits they care about most (and that you presumably offer) in a way that is clear and compelling.

In the Pitch-Off, students found ways to nestle the benefits the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra has to offer (endangered instrument program, anyone?)  into what we believe–that music lessons are life lessons.

Tuesday I was reminded of why I love teaching so much–it’s because I get the privilege of learning. I learn way more from my students than they could ever learn from me. It’s humbling.

Hats off to all the students–especially those brave enough to stand and deliver–for speaking to our hearts…and then our heads. You pitched inspiration. Well done.

How Social Media Can Help You Do 5 Things You’re Already Doing

Group of Hands Holding Speech Bubble with Social Issue ConceptsJohn Janstch of Duct Tape Marketing constantly offers great advice that is as relevant to nonprofits as it is to the small businesses he works with every day. A few months ago, the Claxon crew got to see him in person in Seattle. Fantastic!

This post is modified from a recent post of his called “5 Ways to Use Social Media for Things You Are Already Doing.” What person working in a nonprofit doesn’t like the sound of that?!

Thinking that sounded pretty great, I took his key points and made them specific to nonprofits. (My changes are in [brackets].) The terminology may be different, but the advice is the same. And it’s good!

1) Follow up with [prospective donors]

I love using social media tools as a way to follow-up with [prospective donors] you might meet out there in the real world. So you go to an [AFP or NDOA] event and meet someone that has asked you to follow-up. Traditionally, you might send an email a week later or call them up and leave a voice mail. What if instead you found them on LinkedIn, asked to be connected and then shared an information rich article that contained tips about the very thing you chatted about at the [AFP/NDOA] mixer. Do you think that next meeting might get started a little quicker towards your [mission]? I sure do.

2) Stay top of mind with [donors]

Once someone becomes a [donor], it’s easy to ignore them, assuming they will [donate] next time they [want to] or, worse yet, assuming they understand the full depth and breadth of your offerings and will chime in when they have other needs. Staying in front of your [donors] and continuing to educate and [move them up the ladder] is a key ingredient to building marketing momentum and few [nonprofits] do it well. [Because it’s really hard to do everything well with so few resources!]

This is an area where a host of social media tools can excel. A blog is a great place to put out a steady stream of useful information and success stories. Encouraging your [donors] to subscribe and comment can lead to further engagement. Recording video stories from [donors] and uploading them to YouTube to embed on your site can create great marketing content and remind your [donors] why they [donate to] you. Facebook Fan pages can be used as a way to implement a [supporter] community and offer education and networking opportunities online. [For a great example of this, check out The Pride Foundation.]

3) Keep up on your industry

Keeping up with what’s happening in any industry is a task that is essential these days. With unparalleled access to information many [donors] can learn as much or more about the products and solutions offered by a [nonprofit] as those charged with suggesting those products and solutions. You better keep up or you risk becoming irrelevant. Of course I could extend this to keeping up with what your [supporters], competitors, and key industry journalists are doing as well.

Here again, new monitoring services and tools steeped in social media and real time reporting make this an easier task. Subscribing to blogs written by industry leaders, competitors and journalists and viewing new content by way of a tool such as Google Reader allows you to scan the day’s content in one place. Setting up Google Alerts and custom Twitter Searches or checking out paid monitoring services such as Radian6 or Trackur allows you to receive daily email reports on the important mentions of industry terms and people so you are up to the minute in the know. (Of course, once you do this you can teach your [donors] how to [learn more about the mission you both care about] and make yourself even more valuable to them – no matter what [your mission may be].)

4) Provide a better [donor] experience

It’s probably impossible to [do too much donor recognition], too [provide too] much of a great experience, but you can go nuts trying.

Using the new breed of online tools you can plug some of the gaps you might have in [cultivating donors] and, combined with your offline touches, create an experience that no [other organization] can match.

While some might not lump this tool into social media, I certainly think any tool that allows you to collaborate with and serve your [donors] qualifies. Using an online project management tool such as Central Desktop allows you to create an entire [donor] education, orientation, and handbook kind of training experience one time and then roll it out to each new [donor] in a high tech [donor] portal kind of way. This approach can easily set you apart from anyone else in your industry and provide the kind of experience that gets [donors engaged].

5) Network with potential partners

Building a strong network of strategic marketing partners (i.e. another organization that cares about the same cause as you and offers complementary services) is probably the best defense against any kind of economic downturn. One of the surest ways to attract potential partners is to build relationships through networking. Of course you know that, but you might not be viewing this kind of networking as a social media function.

If you identify a potential strategic partner, find out if they have a blog and start reading and commenting. Few things will get you noticed faster than smart, genuine blog comments. Once you establish this relationship it might make sense to offer a guest blog post. If your use a CRM tool (and you should) you’ve probably noticed that most are moving to add social media information to contact records, add your potential partners’ social media information and you will learn what’s important to them pretty quickly.

If you know how to set up a blog already, offer to create a blog of network partners so each of you can write about your area of expertise and create some great local SEO for the group.

Maybe you’re not doing all of these things, but you’re probably doing at least a one or two.

Take John’s advice and you’ll definitely engage your donors more effectively. And who doesn’t want that?!