Nonprofit Hiring in 2015 is On an Upswing, Says Survey

The 2015 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey was released today, and it has some good news for a sector recovering from the Great Recession. The nonprofit sector  is poised to add even more jobs in 2015 and grow its 10.7 million workforce. In fact, a larger percentage of nonprofit organizations plan to hire employees in 2015 than for-profits. The results were not all rosy – the survey found that most nonprofits still lack formalized recruitment and retention strategies. I did an e-interview with Lisa Brown Morton, the CEO of Nonprofit HR, about this year’s survey, nonprofit overhead issues, talent retention, and social media recruiting practices among hiring managers.

Why do you think nonprofit hiring is on the rise in 2015?
We are finally seeing a full rebound from the recession, and nonprofit organizations are more optimistic about their growth now than in recent years. Improvements in the economy have resulted in the expansion of nonprofit budgets, and many organizations are able to increase the number of paid staff on their payrolls as a result.

Why is the area of greatest growth predicted to be in direct services (46% of new nonprofit hiring, according to the survey), in your opinion? What does this say about nonprofit hiring trends?
There are two primary reasons for the predicted growth in direct services. First, direct services positions are simply more prevalent than other types of positions at most nonprofits. Second, direct service jobs continue to represent front line positions where the fast majority of nonprofit services are delivered. Until we address many of the nation’s economic and social challenges, direct service jobs will continue to be in demand.

One of the concerns we hear about the overhead debate in the nonprofit community is that nonprofits are not investing enough in infrastructure and staffing because they are concerned about keeping a lean overhead rate. Do you think these survey results shed any new light on that discussion or offer some indication that nonprofits are more comfortable investing now in staffing after enduring the lean years of the Great Recession?
Absolutely! First, let me say that I believe that the overhead myth is just that–a myth. Nonprofits need a solid infrastructure, and most importantly, a skilled staff, to achieve their missions. Talent is not overhead. Talent is about mission delivery and sustainability. Second, I think our results indicate that many nonprofits are gaining a better understanding of the importance of talent in the discussion about organizational health. We believe that the sector is beginning to move from the old belief that keeping staff budgets as low as possible is good for the organization. Of course, the rebound from the recession has forced and will continue to force nonprofits to invest more intentionally in talent acquisition and retention.

The findings indicate that one in three nonprofits lack a strategy for hiring quality talent. How do you think that lack of strategy hurts nonprofits?
Without a recruitment plan, nonprofits are being held back from their full potential. They run the risk of wasting time and money on recruitment, or worse, losing out on top talent to organizations both within and outside of the sector who are employing more effective recruitment practices. This is especially important now, as the economy improves and the competition for top talent heats up. If you don’t have a recruitment strategy, you will be hard pressed to build a staff capable of moving the needle at your organization. Individual nonprofit organizations need to get smart about recruitment if they want to compete with their peers, and the sector as a whole needs to make recruitment strategy a priority or risk losing its best talent to the other sectors.

While many industries use networking to recruit new hires, why is that sometimes not the best strategy?
Often, networking puts us in touch with others who are very similar to ourselves. Hiring from within our networks can limit the diversity of our organizations, which can in turn limit creative thinking and decrease the quality of our organizational culture and the results that we produce.

The results indicate a majority of nonprofits are not using a social media recruitment strategy to locate talent. Why do you think so many are not using social media for talent recruitment?
Use of social media recruitment is still relatively new within the nonprofit world. I think there is still a lack of real understanding about how to leverage tools like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. However, social media recruitment is growing among nonprofits, and I think we can expect it to continue to grow.

When they do use social media to recruit new staff, why do you think some nonprofits prefer using LinkedIn and Facebook for talent recruitment? What makes these platforms appealing for them?
LinkedIn and Facebook are among some of the most widely used and accessible networks for hiring managers. LinkedIn specifically is very focused on professional connections, which makes sense in a recruitment setting. Facebook is popular simply because it is so widely used. Nearly every candidate you’re looking to hire can be found on Facebook, and most hiring managers use it in their personal lives as well, so it’s an easy transition. However, drawing the line between personal and professional is still harder on Facebook, which is what sets LinkedIn ahead of the pack for recruitment.

Why does the survey indicate that retention challenges are exacerbated as the nonprofit sector rebounds from the Great Recession?
Now that we’re rebounding from the recession, job candidates are becoming more comfortable with the idea of leaving their current jobs to search for new opportunities, and more nonprofits are beginning to hire. As new opportunities spring up and the competition for nonprofit talent increases, nonprofit employers must do more to retain top staff. While the ability to pay competitively is important, many non-monetary benefits, such as flexible work schedules, remote work arrangements and health and fitness perks can go a long way toward improving retention.

What can nonprofits do to address talent retention challenges?
The first step in addressing talent retention challenges is to find the source of turnover. Is there a recurring problem? Do people continue to leave because they don’t see growth potential within the organization? Or because they were offered a pay raise somewhere else? Or because your benefits are not competitive? Start implementing retention interviews. If you’re able to identify a central theme, you can move forward in developing a new talent retention strategy to address these wants and needs. A human resources firm that specializes in the unique needs of the sector can be a great help when it comes time to develop a retention or recruitment strategy.

READERS: What do you think? Are nonprofits hiring in your area, and how can social media be used to help recruiters?

Image courtesy of Flazingo Photos, via a Creative Commons license.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media and work-family balance. She also reviews books on her blog. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


9 Tips: Building Relationships with Journalists on Twitter

Building relationships with journalists is key to nurturing stories and managing your organization or company’s reputation in the news media. Twitter offers some great ways to nurture relationships with reporters and improve your visibility and understanding of what they are covering and how they work. Pitching a journalist on Twitter though involves several steps. Here are ten tips to help:

Tip #1: Build a list. When you come across a story by a journalist that meshes with the interests and topics you are credible on and connected to, check the story to see if a Twitter handle is listed. Or go to and look up the journalist or media outlet’s name.

Tip #2: Know how to use Twitter. If you aren’t on Twitter yet, and not familiar with how Twitter works, you also need to get up to speed on it, before you tweet them.

Tip #3: Read what they tweet and follow them. You can often learn a lot about a journalist from a Twitter feed – reporting interests, interview needs, links to current or past work, and personal likes and dislikes. All of this is helpful information in nurturing a relationship, or at least avoiding annoying them.

Tip #4: Re-Tweet them from time to time.  Many journalists post links to their stories or live reporting from what they are currently covering. It’s easy for you to re-tweet work you find interesting from time to time (make sure you include their Twitter handle when you do, and throw in the handle for the media outlet they work for too so their bosses see their work is being shared). I would not recommend re-tweeting everything they post, just something once every few days.

Tip #5: Post a comment or say thank you for a story. Everyone likes a compliment. Post a comment or say thanks for a story using the reporter’s Twitter handle in your Tweet so it will be seen.

Tip #6: Comment to be informative and educational. It’s ok to share  information o that might be helpful with the reporter on Twitter by typing in their user name on your Tweet, but keep your comments informative. Do your best to avoid bellyaching jealously about not being included in a story or requesting a minor story correction. And definitely don’t harass them with constant badgering. No one likes to be sniped at on Twitter, and Twitter is public, so your gripes may be viewed by others.

Tip #7: Respond to a request for sources if you fit the bill. If a reporter posts a request for story ideas or a source on a particular topic and you or your organization or business fit the bill, respond to them. If they don’t follow you, you will have to respond publicly in 140 characters or less, so do your best to keep it short and on point.

Tip #8: Pitch a story on Twitter. Craft a pitch in 140 characters or less that references you, your business, your organization, and what you think the journalist should write about, and put the journalist’s user name in your pitch. Don’t pitch people who don’t cover the topic you are suggesting. This is no time for bulk pitching (mass tweeting several reporters at the same time on the same story). And only follow-up once on your pitch if you don’t get a response. Following up 3, 4, 5, 6 times is spamming and not going to get you on their nice list (it’s going to get you tuned out). If a journalist sees your pitch and likes it and clicks through to your Twitter feed, and sees you pitched the same story over and over to other reporters, he or she is not going to cover it. If a journalist responds and asks you to follow up by email, do so. Don’t ask for an email address that is already posted publicly in the journalist’s Twitter profile (this makes you look like you never looked at their Twitter profile). And another note: don’t pitch a reporter on Twitter to try to get to one of their colleagues. Just because someone has a lot of followers, does not mean you can’t stand out from the crowd if you pitch him or her. Chances are, a journalist with a lot of followers is pretty active on Twitter and going to see your tweet to them. If you have a great story idea, they will respond to you. If they don’t respond, and you follow up once and they still don’t respond, maybe it’s not the right time for that journalist to do a story, or not the right time for that news outlet. Move on.

Tip #9: Use Twitter lists to help you follow the journalists who are writing about your industry or topic. I’m not talking about creating a big huge list of hundreds of journalists in a given field or genre that you dream of working with. If you make the list too big it is unmanageable. I’m talking about building a list of perhaps 10 or 20 or 30 Twitter accounts that you are tracking. An easy way to keep track of the journalists you are the most interested in (privately) is to set up a Twitter list on your own account. Just check the list every day to see what is new.

Have I ever pitched a journalist through Twitter and gotten a news story out of it? Yes. See this example in my portfolio.

Thanks to Adam on FlickR for posting “Evolution of a Pitch” and making it available through a Creative Commons license.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


2014 Do Gooder Awards: Submit Your Nonprofit Video Feb. 1-15

The 2014 DoGooder Awards recognize the creative and effective use of nonprofit video in promoting social good. Now in its 8th year, the DoGooder Awards program is dedicated to giving cause advocates that use video a place for their work to shine. If you have invested time in creating a video about your favorite cause or nonprofit organization, this is a great way to recognize your efforts.

This year, the program has added a new category for younger do-gooders ages 12-21 who best communicated their thoughts on pressing social issues in a way that inspired others.

Beginning February 1st, video submissions will be accepted via the contest website until February 15th,in the following categories:

  • The ImpactX Award: honoring those videos that have demonstrated impact for their causes.
  • The Best Nonprofit Video Award: honoring nonprofit organizations using video to make change.
  • The Funny for Good Award: Recognizing effective use of comedy to make people laugh and take action.
  • The Most Inspiring Youth Media Award: For youth who best communicated their thoughts on pressing social issues in a way that inspired others.

Members of the YouTube community will have the opportunity to vote for the best among the finalists from February 28th through March 10th.

The winning videos in each category will be featured on YouTube’s coveted Spotlight Channel, receive a free registration to next year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference and will be recognized at the Nonprofit Technology Conference in Washington, D.C. on March 13, 2014. The winners in the ImpactX category will receive a cash prize from Cisco to help them harness the power of human and technology networks to multiply their impact on the people and communities they serve.  Additional prizes will be awarded to each winner.

Read the press release about the contest. The contest is sponsored by See3 Communications, YouTube, and the Nonprofit Technology Network, with support from Cisco, the National Alliance for Media Arts & Culture, the National Youth Media Network, and the The National Alliance for Media Literacy Education.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


2015 Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice Released

Independent Sector today announced the release of the 2015 edition of the Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice, a set of 33 principles broadly accepted by many nonprofit and philanthropic organizations as a guide for charities’ and foundations’ self-governance.

The 2015 edition of the Principles contains legal background and principles on a broad range of topics including legal compliance, effective governance, financial oversight, and responsible fundraising. They provide more flexibility on overhead calculations, which have vexed many nonprofits as they have tried to demonstrate efficiency and gutted needed staffing and support.

This is the first time the principles have been updated since 2007. Major changes took into account:

  • How technology affects giving in a digital world and risk related to data security
  • New charitable business and social change models, such as donor-advised funds and social impact investing, and their opportunities and pitfalls
  • The need to balance organizational transparency and individual privacy
  • The evolving debate on overhead costs.

There is significant guidance on fundraising, as online fundraising (and fraud) become more common. The authors advise charities to include contact information on online fundraising solicitations, so donors can confirm that a request is legitimate. Those who contract for outside fundraising services are also advised to have written contracts detailing fees, how donor information is protected, and fraud protection policies.

While the guidelines help the sector demonstrate its commitment to self-regulation, criticism and concerns remain, given the volume of scandals in recent years and issues with nonprofit management that continue to crop up.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that “Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is still pressing for investigations of nonprofits, including charity hospitals and the American Red Cross. Last year, then-Rep. Dave Camp, who was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, sought caps on executive pay at nonprofits.” Calls for further regulation of nonprofit organizations may continue.

A standard edition and an extensive legal reference edition of the Principles are available for sale at, as well as access to an online Resource Center, a self-assessment tool for charitable leaders and board members, a database of governance resources, and much more. Both print and digital copies are available online for purchase and on Amazon. Digital resources are available for pre-order delivering March 1.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media and work-family balance. She also reviews books on her blog. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


A Day in the Life: Christiane Amanpour

I once  had a client with a very localized story in the DC area say to me – maybe you can get Christiane Amanpour to cover it! It was not likely at the time, given that Amanpour was across the world and very focused on reporting in conflict zones.

But Amanpour’s influence as America’s most well-known foreign correspondent was definitely shown in my client’s starry-eyed request and her admiration for the journalist’s work. Amanpour’s new role with ABC’s “This Week” offers options for story pitching for U.S. based stories of national importance that weren’t possible years ago when she was on the other side of the globe.

Now admirers can get a glimpse inside Amanpour’s daily life in this article in Wall Street Journal magazine. She admits she’s learning new skills on the job as she schedules guests and adjusts to her role as a news anchor. Click on the interactive graphics tab to see an hour-by-hour timetable of her day and photos.


A Year in Review: Victories, Challenges & A Growing Public Relations Practice

Wow, it’s hard to believe that 2011 drew to a close for Steppingstone LLC – and we’ve been in business for more than 8 years – thriving amid a rocky and unstable economy. We’ve gotten to work on some amazing projects this year helping nonprofit organization and associations. Our celebratory blog toast would not be complete without a sampling.

Veteran Aimee Sherrod, who was 7 months
pregnant at the time, came to DC to share her
story and how the lawsuit will affect her family.
She is pictured with attorney Bart Stichman,
co-executive director of NVLSP at the National
Press Club in Washington, DC.

We won – lawyers reach settlement victory for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Since 2008, we’ve worked to help the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) with media relations and outreach. They filed a class action lawsuit in December 2008 to help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder who were illegally denied their benefits. It’s been a long haul for the attorneys and the veterans they are trying to help. And finally, we have achieved victory. A proposed settlement was announced in July. Only three days before Christmas, the judge at the US Court of Federal Claims gave final approval to the settlement, putting in motion a settlement that will give thousands of veterans and their families the benefits and healthcare they earned and deserve for their service to our country.

Media, media, media. I did a lot of work in media relations this year on behalf of my nonprofit and association clients – working with the Associated Press, CNN, ABC World News, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel, the Washington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the History Channel, US News & World Report, National Journal, and many, many others.

Thanks to our amazing clients. We get to work with some wonderful people who are doing amazing things, and we were privileged to support in 2011:

– the Plus 50 Initiative at the American Association of Community Colleges and their work to help thousands of people coping with job loss and revolutionize campus support for adults age 50 and up returning to the classroom.

– the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and its work to help families of our fallen military service members.
– the National Veterans Legal Services Program and its fight to help veterans get the benefits they’ve earned and deserve.

– the Society for Public Health Education and their work to raise awareness about health professionals and their important contributions to helping Americans live healthier lives.

Resource Action Programs – aiding their work to better educate K-12 students and teachers about energy conservation by assisting with curriculum development.

– the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and their annual Congressional Breakfast on Capitol Hill honoring law enforcement for work locating missing children and stopping child exploitation.

–  the Christian Camp & Conference Association with articles for their magazine on opening doors to diversity in Christian camping programs (January/February 2011), helping ministries thrive amid a rocky economy (November/December 2011) and improving how they utilize social media (publishing in January/February 2012).

– the Association for Women in Science – with help on a publication opportunity at the last minute that allowed them to feature an amazing young leader in science and educate parents about opportunities in science, technology and math for young women.

Social media goes to a new level of importance – for us and our clients. We scored one of our first significant media placements for a client through Twitter this year – by responding to a tweet with a simple 120 character note. Our client, TAPS, was invited to interview for an online video story and blog posting by the Chronicle of Philanthropy about the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and its impact on charities and services for military families.

My first Twitter account – @AmazingPRMaven – launched in 2009 offering tips and advice to help nonprofit PR pros (and stuff I find interesting) and saw tremendous growth in 2011 – advancing to four-figures worth of followers – with 1,233 people getting updates and 74 people thinking my updates are interesting enough to add me to their official lists. It’s ranked 528th in the Washington, DC market by Twitaholic – not bad for a city known to be frequented by mavens!

Speaking out – on a new level. It was a big year for me with formal public speaking engagements. I’ve always conducted training programs to help others learn (with facilitated hands on activities so I don’t have to talk the entire time) – but this year I went up a few notches in difficulty. I was invited to share what I’ve learned supporting trauma survivors at PRSA-NCC’s PR Day for Nonprofits in a presentation called, “We’re Not Victims, We’re Survivors.” I survived the speech and I think the roomful of PR pros walked away with some helpful advice on how to balance the needs of the media and trauma survivors.
Testifying for a Congressional subcommittee in June.
On behalf of TAPS, I testified for a congressional subcommittee in June on the improvements happening to correct problems at Arlington National Cemetery – an issue I’ve been on the front lines with for years. I also attended several White House and Hill events this year and got to talk with key policy staff about issues impacting surviving military families.

I also did several media interviews this year myself. It’s not typical for a PR person to do so many interviews – but there are times when deadlines and my experiences as a survivor and professional align with the project. I talked with WTOP a few weeks ago about my feelings on the Iraq war troop pullout for a story that was picked up by CBS radio nationwide. I also was interviewed by McClatchy about the war ending and my feelings – I described in the interview my emotional moment on a plane to Colorado when I teared up seeing troops coming home. I have to believe my reaction was serindipitous in a way  – allowing me to purge some of those emotions and giving me the ability to focus and crank out a statement when the President announced the next day that the troops would leave Iraq for good. That statement led to this story in the  Washington Post. I also talked with Fox Channel 5 the day news broke that 30 U.S. service members had died when a chopper was shot down in Afghanistan – what’s not in this story on YouTube is that I did this interview on the fourth anniversary of my brother’s death in Iraq – which was the same day as that crash. I recently met some of the family members from that crash and we embraced in sorrow and care.

It’s been an amazing year – and we are looking forward to more work in 2012 helping nonprofits and associations improve how they communicate and engage with the news media. While we’ve done a lot – we still have so much work yet to do. Thing I am emphasizing this year:
  • Work life balance – with a toddler at home (and three grown kids out of the house) we always have a lot going on in our home – and keeping that balance even is always challenging – especially when working in media relations supporting organizations working on hot issues that people care about. I’m grateful my husband decided to become a stay-at-home dad this year, relieving me of some household responsibilities and injecting a dose of much-needed calm into our chaotic lives.
  • Growing our ability to help nonprofits and associations – I plan to introduce a line of e-books this year to help nonprofits and associations that will be for sale – drawing on some of the best advice in the business, while keeping the copy short enough to not overwhelm over-taxed nonprofit pr pros.
  • Improving teaming synergy – while I’ve collaborated with other public relations professionals over the years – I’m doing more teaming and collaborative work with other indies on some of my projects. What I’ve found is that this adds value for my clients – giving them a broader range of expertise and experience – so they get the best recommendations and advice. It also gives me vital backup when needed due to a media eruption, and I’m blessed to have amazing people to work with.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


After the Rescue: Press Coverage, PR and the Chilean Mine Miracle

The world rejoiced in the miraculous rescue of 33 miners in Chile this week that sparked round-the-clock news coverage of the “miracle in San Jose.” While the media facilitated worldwide viewership and brought a global family together to root and pray for the miners and their safe return to the surface, there are also reports that they engaged in excessive behavior to get the story. And some have said that celebritizing the mine disaster like a reality TV show, has caused other problems in Chile to evaporate from the headlines.

Euronews reported that there were as many 1,700 reporters at Camp Hope the night of the rescue. In “As media circus wanes, Chile miners’ families turn spotlight on reporters’ antics,” Steven Bodzin of the Christian Science Monitor describes how the families felt about the media’s behavior.

“It’s not that we hate the press,” Juan Hermosillo, uncle of miner Carlos Barrios, said earlier in the day. “If the press hadn’t been here who knows, maybe none of this would have happened,” he said, gesturing at the $15 million rescue effort’s drills, cranes, and helicopters.

But the media excesses were obvious. Cameramen so stubbornly kept their shot that they wouldn’t move aside to let family members gather and celebrate the final rescue. When the first miner was rescued and reunited with his family, reporters caused the tents to collapse in their rush for photos of tears.

Families who had never sought fame were suddenly scrutinized like reality TV stars. One miner, whose wife and girlfriend both went to the mine to support him, has been the subject of stories at home and abroad speculating on his future.

The miners reportedly received limited media training by closed-circuit television while still trapped underground. But what about their families who were waiting amid a sea of hundreds of raucous reporters?

All too often, families going through trauma are subjected to bad behavior by reporters hell-bent on getting the story and under pressure to generate sound bytes and copy.

At the same time, some of the blame for reporter excess should be passed on to the Chilean government and its media wranglers, which made a point of accommodating media access at the site.

Some of the fingers being pointed at the media for bad behavior, could also be pointed at public relations staff. One can’t really blame the media for acting as they are trained to do. The reality is – it is public relations staff (backed up by security if needed when dealing with so many reporters and such a large site) who can provide structure and prevent families from being disappointed or hurt.

Of course, it’s possible that a plan by public relations staff for greater structure and order fell apart due to circumstances at the site. I would hope that PR people committed to the public interest, would both assist families in sharing their stories, and provide structure to prevent media coverage from hurting the families and hindering the story as it unfolded.


American Red Cross Handles a Twitter Faux Paus with Humor & Grace

If you use a twitter manager like Hootsuite for your personal and work-related twitter accounts, then you know how easy it can be to accidentally blast a personal tweet onto a personal account. So when it happens – how do you recover? The American Red Cross shows that a little humor and grace can go a long way to mucking up the mayhem.

Last week the American Red Cross accidentally tweeted:

They soon realized their problem, and corrected with:

It then led to actual donations when Dogfish Beer called on its fans to donate, chronicled by the American Red Cross on its blog, where the organization plainly recounted the error. Beth Kanter notes on her blog that this is a great example of a nonprofit handling a twitter error with grace, and I concur.

This could have become an example of a nonprofit wringing its hands in horror or stonewalling its way thru embarrassment, but embracing the error with a little humor made it a lemons to lemonade scenario.


Animals and Environment Causes: Most Talked About on Facebook & Twitter

From August to October of 2011, CraigConnects analyzed the top 5 nonprofits in the following categories (based on total expenses provided by Charity Navigator) and how frequently they post and are talked about on Facebook and Twitter:

  • Animal
  • Children
  • Cultural
  • Disaster Relief
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Veterans & Military
  • Women

By far, the most talked about causes on Facebook and Twitter that they looked at, were animal and environmental organizations. Animal groups had an average of 14 Facebook posts and 134 tweets per week. Environmental groups had on average, 12 Facebook posts and 88 tweets per week. The least talkative causes on Facebook and Twitter were veteran and military organizations. They also found that the most engaged communities on Facebook are children’s organizations, which have an average of 39 fans per person “talking about this.”

In spite of their lack of chattiness, the military and veteran organizations were attracting attention on Facebook and Twitter, ranking #5 (ahead of cultural, women and environment organizations) when a ratio of average weekly Facebook posts was compared with “talking about this” data.

The researchers also called several of the organizations to discuss their current staffing for social media. Organizations that focus on animals, the environment, and women were the most staffed for social media.  They found 14 full-time social media staff and 40 part-time. Of the 21 organizations they called, only 1 did not have a full or part-time social media person on staff.

Get more information about the study and see the infographic.

Because they only looked at the largest organizations, the results may seem disingenuous to smaller nonprofit organizations, who may be doing quite well at engagement in social media, but would not have been considered for this report because of their budget size. In some cases, smaller organizations may have higher rates of social media engagement, simply because they are working with smaller communities that care about a cause.


Association Media & Publishing EXCEL Awards, Entry Deadline Jan. 27

If you work for an association, then you’ll want to know about the EXCEL Awards. These awards honor the best publishing products created by associations. Deadline for the 2012 32nd Annual EXCEL Awards is January 27, 2012.

The program judges typically more than 1,100 association publications, including magazines, newsletters, scholarly journals, electronic publications and websites in the areas of editorial quality, design, general excellence, most improved and many more. 
Hear from association professionals about the EXCEL Awards:

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

American Red Cross

Avoid a Correction Mistake: 7 Lessons from the American Red Cross Feud with ProPublica & NPR

Requesting a correction to a news story is a delicate business – and it’s easy for even a well-branded and iconic nonprofit organization to make a mistake. The American Red Cross recently sent a 12-page list of corrections to ProPublica and NPR over an investigative  series highlighting serious concerns about its operations and stewardship of funds from the public.

The stories say that the CEO of the American Red Cross mis-led the public about what percentage of the charity’s donations went to assist people in need (not 91% as claimed), that emergency response vehicles were diverted for public relations purposes during Hurricane Sandy (appalling to me and many I’m sure), and that response trucks were told to drive around in disaster areas just to appear to be delivering aid (appalling again). The stories outlined a variety of failures during responses to Hurricane Isaac and Hurricane Sandy, including food waste.

Clearly the series shook the foundations of one of America’s most well-known brands, because who sends a 12-page list of corrections? The ProPublica and NPR journalists published an online rebuttal saying their reporting was “scrupulously fair” and also did a podcast in response. The hubbub drew even more attention to the series from the likes of KPBS and the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The situation begs more than few questions, but I’ll only ask two. What could the American Red Cross have hoped to gain from sending ProPublica and NPR a 12-page list of corrections months after the original reporting had happened? And what can we learn from this situation to help us avoid mistakes when requesting a correction?

Lesson #1: Always remember that you never pick an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel. You are treading on dangerous ground when you ask for a correction. Remember it. Journalists pride themselves on being accurate and you are questioning the validity of their reporting just by asking for a correction  (even if you are right) – so you are automatically starting in a difficult spot.  Tred lightly.

Lesson #2: Don’t be heavy-handed. Be as brief as possible. Fourteen pages of corrections is overkill. Edit yourself down as much as possible.

Lesson #3: Don’t wait to ask for corrections until long after the story has aired or published. Ask right away. And don’t belabor the point. Some of these concerns had been previously highlighted by the American Red Cross in a press release in late October highlighting “myths” in the reporting. Sending a lengthy correction list in 2015 months after the original stories aired comes across as organizational sour grapes.

Lesson #4: Only request corrections for factual errors that make the story fundamentally wrong and do significant harm. The American Red Cross 12-pager lists a number of issues with the series and disputes the facts and reporting. And remember that asking for a correction may breath new life into a story you wish would go away (even if you ultimately get what you want). Tomorrow the news will be something else.

 Lesson #5: Realize everything you say is on the record and may be published. On the bright side, the American Red Cross did get their entire list of requested corrections published on the ProPublica website (I could not find the full list on the American Red Cross website). Some could argue this was an advantage, because now their objections are part of the overall story line and part of the original series website.

Lesson #6: Even if you feel like you are under attack, don’t strike back. Ask nicely even if it pains you. When other news outlets are saying you are feuding with two media outlets, you are not in a good situation. A news release issued by the American Red Cross in December 2014 goes to the level of attack saying, “ProPublica continues with its deeply flawed reporting and, as they have done repeatedly, based their latest reports on unsubstantiated second and third hand hearsay and rumor.” Any correction request should always be politely phrased and not stoop to the level of name calling. Responding when you are mad is always a bad idea.

Lesson #7: Don’t feed the flames. Start a fire break. If the reporting was so bad, I can’t help but wonder why the staff at the American Red Cross didn’t stop churning the water with these reporters at ProPublica and NPR, and go to a competing media outlet like the New York Times or 60 Minutes? They could have offered to open their books, share every file they have, and provide anyone this new outlet wants to talk with. To do so would have subjected themselves (and the series) to a big giant fact check and introduced transparency into the discussion. This might not be a viable strategy in another crisis scenario or with another organization (few situations might rise to the level of doing this), but in this case, it might have been an option worth considering.

Talk to Us: What do you think the American Red Cross could have done differently in this situation? What is your experience with requesting corrections from journalists? What advice do you have to offer?

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


Baby Boomers & Older Adults Are Adopting Social Media Tools in Greater Numbers, Has Your Nonprofit Noticed?

Have you considered using Facebook,YouTube, LinkedIn or Twitter to reach older adults as volunteers or donors for your nonprofit organization? Nonprofit managers used to dismiss using these technologies to reach out to baby boomers and adults over age 65 in favor of direct mail or other techniques. Many even pooh-poohed the idea of using social media to reach older audiences, and insisted that only younger donors and volunteers could be found using social media technologies.

There is strong evidence that baby boomers donate online, with 52% giving online. Nonprofit workers need to heed a new report and seriously consider how social media technologies can be utilized to reach both the baby boomers and adults over age 65. A new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project points to increasing adoption of social media by older adults, even outpacing younger people in their growing adoption of these technology tools.

The report found that between April 2009 and May 2010, social networking use among internet users ages 50-64 grew by 88%–from 25% to 47%.

During the same period, use among those ages 65 and older doubled- going from 13% to 26%. By comparison, social networking use among users ages 18-29 grew by only 13% – from 76% to 86%.

So if you want to use social media tools to reach older adults – where do you turn for help and advice? There are many resources available to help nonprofits use social media effectively. You’ll also want to check out a great blog post by Beth Kanter about reaching baby boomers with social media tools and a  post on Frogloop by Allyson Kapin about reaching baby boomers as part of online fundraising campaigns.


Balancing Work and Family: The Challenges of Mixing A PR Career with a Toddler

Working as a PR consultant to nonprofits and associations with a toddler around is definitely exciting. This is an age of exploration for a child and of course, Mommy’s work is very interesting to a little one. The nature of working in the public relations field is that you can end up taking calls from the press in the evenings or on the weekends, while surrounded by your family.

I work from home a few days a week, keep my business office in my home, and have a toddler. Like a lot of other working professionals, I juggle the demands of a home and family alongside my work. Maintaining a professional PR consulting practice from home with a toddler around is challenging but not impossible. So here are a few of the challenges parents might encounter when working in PR with a toddler around:

  • Back twist– Mommy throws out her back climbing over the baby gate that blocks off her desk in her home office so the toddler can’t ransack it. Note to Mommy: get to the gym more often so you are more limber, or at least do a few stretches before climbing over the baby gate.
  • Discombobulation – the toddler helpfully unpacks Mommy’s work bag or brief case in the hallway foyer and hides various items around the house. Mommy finds her laptop under the dining room table, her phone in between the couch cushions and the newspaper she was reading on the bus on the toy shelf. Note to Mommy: always put your bag on the high shelf or in the office in the future.
  • Smartphone exploration – the toddler gets a hold of Mommy’s cell phone that, of course, Mommy loaded her primary media contacts into (after all Mommy was trying to be efficient). The toddler accidentally dials a reporter at USA Today. Thankfully, the reporter is not there, only gets subjected to a voicemail of Mommy discovering the toddler holding the phone proudly and also has young children and understands. Note to Mommy: Never leave the phone where the toddler can get to it and use the lock.
  • Smartphone destruction – having concluded that the SmartPhone is after all, a big distraction for Mommy’s time and energy, the toddler disposes of it in the kitchen trash. Note to Mommy: never leave the phone where the toddler can get to it. Really. And the trash can should be the first place you check when your phone goes missing.
  • Snotnose suit – the toddler does catch cold from time to time and has a runny nose. Unfortunately, Mommy’s suit and clothes bear the brunt of it. Note to Mommy: buy those little Kleenex packets and keep them in your purse – they are a godsend for parents with toddlers. Carry your jacket outside to the car and don’t wear it in the house. Don’t get dressed in your nice clothes until you absolutely have to leave. And keep your makeup, lint brush and hair brush in your purse (but keep the purse out of reach of the toddler) so you can freshen up after leaving the house.
  • News clip annihilation – while technology has changed much of our business and reduced the need to keep paper around, Mommy still keep news clips and newspapers for print stories that clients want to see. These big newspaper sheets are so much fun for a toddler to play with and are great for playing peek a boo. Note to Mommy: always keep the client news clips in your desk area, safely behind the baby gate. And give your toddler the pages you don’t need for some fun.
  • TV scribbles – keeping up with the news is an important part of media relations work and of course, TV screens are fascinating to toddlers. They also make great canvases for toddlers who like to color and use crayons – after all, they’ve just discovered that crayons can be used to draw on things, and aren’t just for eating. Note to Mommy: You got lucky this time. Crayons are waxy and come off TV screens easily. Keep the crayons on a shelf and ration them out in the future.
  • Sleep deprivation – toddler sleep patterns are unpredictable by nature and toddlers typically want their mommies (and daddies) at night when they get scared, need a hug, a glass of water, or anything else. It’s inevitable that if Mommy is burning the midnight oil on a project and tiptoeing off to bed, that the toddler wakes up and wants a snuggle. Note to Mommy: That sleep training for toddlers that your mom told you about – might not be a bad idea, but don’t forget that in a few years those snuggles won’t be nearly as forthcoming. Sleep whenever you can – on the commuter bus, in a train, or during a business trip (forget going out with the gang from the office if you can grab some ZZZs).
  • Bad mood-itis – sleep deprivation is unfortunately mood-altering. It can make Mommy grumpy. Note to Mommy: don’t take sleep deprivation out on coworkers. Or clients. Or reporters. Try coffee, working out, positive thinking, or chocolate to upgrade your attitude.
  • Coffee dump – coffee becomes even more essential when you are not getting enough rest and trying to get a lot done. This works great until the toddler finds Mommy’s coffee cup and helpfully empties in onto the floor, in Mommy’s work bag, onto Mommy’s note pad, or onto Mommy’s laptop. Note to Mommy: Never ever abandon the coffee.
  • Reporter interruptus- occasionally toddlers are loud. After all, there is a lot to explore in their world and they are excited about it. Their rambunctious behavior doesn’t always mesh well with an after hours call from a reporter who needs to confirm a last minute fact. When the reporter calls while Mommy and the toddler are in the car and Mommy’s phone routes through bluetooth onto the car stereo system (mommy was trying to be efficient when she set that up), the reporter also gets subjected to any noise made in the car – and can hear the toddler – who is of course, not asleep and watching Mickey Mouse cartoons in the back seat. Note to Mommy: When talking to a reporter after hours and a toddler is nearby, make sure reporter knows a. it is ok to call to check a fact, even after hours and b. Mommy has a toddler nearby who may erupt at any moment and is unpredictable. Having a understanding partner or spouse who can help corral/distract/carry off the rambunctious little toddler if a longer conversation is necessary can be a huge help.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


Before Criticizing a News Story Online: Get the Full Scoop

Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker’s story earlier this month about three slain National Guard troops caught some heat from online comment posters, who noted that a spouse was listed for the two males who died, but not the female soldier who died. Some alleged homophobism, as the fallen female soldier left behind a wife.

When contacted on Twitter by an angry reader, Biesecker responded: ‘Story was written 2 days before family statement confirming SSgt. [sic] Johnson had a wife. Check date before assuming,’ 

The AP updated the story after the family statement confirmed the information. Great lesson for those who want to get blustery online – do some research. The media can only report the news they have available to them. Read the story about the controversy in the Daily Mail.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


Beware Calls Promising Hugh Downs Will Promote Your Nonprofit

Some of my nonprofit clients were pitched for documentaries hosted by Hugh Downs and produced by Vision Media of Boca Raton, Fla., in exchange for a $20,000+ fee. The pitch smacks of advertorial, and while the production company is happy to promise viewing on “public television,” the reality is that few stations, if any, run the spots.

Last spring National Public Radio investigated the agency, which can’t prove to its clients that the spots they paid for ever aired. Unfortunately, the National Funeral Directors Association was among the organizations duped into paying thousands for video work that they can show on YouTube or in their own marketing materials (which they could likely have produced for less with other vendors) – but that never saw air time on public television.

The New York Times also investigated the agency in 2008, with similar results. PBS even has a standard question in its FAQ addressing the controversy and declaring – in no uncertain terms – that it does not have a relationship with this company and a number of others listed.

Another company contacts nonprofits promising to put them on CNN in airports. It offers a high-stakes “make a decision quickly” scenario to the nonprofit agency, requesting thousands of dollars up front for “pay for play.” These pay for play opportunities don’t carry the prestige or credibility of legitimate news reports.

The take-away from all of this – If you get a call promising massive air time for a few thousand dollars, and it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t leap and take the bait right away if you are presented with an opportunity like this. Ask questions. Google the company name online. Read the contract. Find out what you are really getting for the money if you choose to use their service. Advertising has its place, but it should be used strategically.

If you really want a celebrity to promote your nonprofit agency – consider who might be best to promote your cause. Approach their agent and reach out. You may be surprised by a positive response and support.

Consider what you truly need for video promotion. Many nonprofits have a promotional video about their work. Costs for video production have dropped, as more nonprofits use small cameras and create their own grassroots YouTube videos. And many video production companies will now work with you to use footage you’ve taken yourself to create a hybridized professional video that you can be proud of.

After you know what you want and have a budget established – then find the company that can do the work for you within your budget and meet your requirements.


Big Oops: What Not to Send a Reporter and Why Nonprofit Transparency Matters

Imagine you are the well-compensated (I can hear my nonprofit readers chuckling now) executive director of a taxpayer-funded nonprofit agency that oversees a 15 acre public park. A newspaper reporter emails you and requests to know your salary. Instead of responding before the reporter’s deadline, you email a public relations adviser and ask for advice on how to duck the question. But instead of sending the email to your adviser, you accidentally send it to the reporter.

Big Oops.

You can imagine the hubbub that ensued when Nancy Brennan, executive director of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy did those very things recently. When questioned by a reporter about her salary (a very reasonable request given that about half of the nonprofit organization’s $4.7 million annual budget comes from state transportation funds – aka taxpayer dollars), she wrote an e-mail to her PR advisor, saying:

“What do you think about: 1. My writing her with the FY12 salary of 185,000 as of July 1,” Brennan wrote, noting that the documents now publicly available date only to 2010. Those documents show her base salary at $162,000. Brennan suggested: “a. Ignore; b. Write her now; c. Respond after deadline later tonight.”

Thanks to the hubbub – she did eventually have to reveal her annual salary and what her staff earns – with five staff members in all earning six-figure salaries. Her actions also sparked an editorial by the Boston Globe saying the executive director’s actions to hide her salary from a reporter “threw a shadow on the agency” and led to calls from state officials for greater transparency (read the state transportation secretary’s letter).

She also landed a story in Nonprofit Quarterly, as well as numerous stories from the Boston Herald and other news agencies, not to mention tapdancing from her board. One of those stories goes way beyond salaries and raises serious questions about how the conservancy is managing the public park it is in charge of and how it operates. The Boston Herald reported:

The conservancy, which originally was formed to maintain the Greenway without public funding, has received more than $15 million in state funds since 2005, including more than $2.5 million for last year’s $4.7 million budget.

The Greenway’s maintenance costs ran to more than $300,000 per acre last year. By contrast, it costs about $50,300 per acre to maintain New York City’s Central Park, which also is run by a conservancy.

The conservancy spent more on fund-raising — $584,000 — than the $554,000 the group took in through cash donations and fund-raisers in fiscal 2010.

Wow. It’s not hard to guess where this train is headed. What could have been a story about inflated salaries is now a broader discussion about how the organization is managed. Serious questions have been raised about its operations and how it is spending money, especially if the organization is spending more money on fundraisinge events than it is raising.

What can nonprofit organizations learn from all of this?

If you work in the interest of the public, you should be able to answer the public’s questions. Transparency matters, especially in the nonprofit sector, and even more so when it involves state funds. If you are accepting public funds, you should expect to be held to a greater level of accountability. Public funds, by default, carry public trust. Any engagement in subterfuge with how those funds are expended is a violation of the public’s trust.

If you feel you need to hide something from a reporter, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Yes, nonprofits have lots of reasonable reasons to safeguard information, esp. if they work with at-risk or vulnerable populations. But if you are acting to hide information about how your nonprofit operates and the request is reasonable, you are doing something wrong. It is very reasonable to expect that a reporter might ask how much money staff are paid, when a charity is accepting public funds. Be ready to answer the question, not dodge it.

You should be able to explain clearly why you are doing, what you are doing, and how it helps people. Nonprofit organizations ask the public to trust them to do good works that improve humanity and make life better. But good intentions are not enough to justify poor management, bloated salaries, cost over-runs, bad decision-making and subterfuge. If you can’t be reasonably transparent about your dealings and what your nonprofit organization is doing – you shouldn’t be engaged in nonprofit work.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your project, review our portfolio, sign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven


Blogging for Your Nonprofit: Nuggets from the Nonprofit 2.0 Unconference 2011

One of the sessions I enjoyed attending at the Nonprofit 2.0 Unconference was on blogging. The big challenges raised by attendees included:

  • How do you motivate people within your nonprofit organization to write for your blog?
  • How do you market your nonprofit’s blog so others will see it?
  • How do you demonstrate ROI (return on investment) to the powers-that-be for your blog?
  • How do you engage others, get comments, and see interaction on your blog?

A few of the tips offered:

  • Have a few seeds in your back pocket to spark comments and discussion on your blog.
  • Tell others you have a blog and build connections. Ask your friends and family to comment on your blog.
  • Ask questions on your blog.
  • A blog is not a thing you check off on a list – know where it fits in your communications strategy.
  • Set up an editorial calendar for your blog to help you chart out potential future posts, budget your time, and integrate your blog with other communications (my suggestion).
  • Re-purpose content from other projects. You may need to tweak it to make it blog-format friendly, but that can be a huge time-savings.
  • Reach out to organization partners. Comment on other blogs and make friends with others blogging about similar interests.
  • Do not allow the act of “writing” a blog post to overcome the time you have available for the task. Blog posts do not have to be overly long. They can be brief and just 1-2 paragraphs and be effective.
  • Comments are not the only indicator of success. Look at web analytics, likes, re-tweets, page views, and other factors when evaluating blog success.
  • Good posts that others suggested have drawn reader interest and comments – case studies discussing when things failed and didn’t go as planned, Q&A interviews with experts tend to be evergreen (never go out of date) and popular.
  • Your blog audience should be targeted and defined. Know who you want to talk to. “Everyone” is not an audience.
  • You can use your blog to update your home page by streaming the feed onto the page. This can sometimes make it easier to update the home page and give your page a fresh look (my point).
  • It doesn’t matter if the blog is built using your web software or third-party software that integrates into your site. Do what works for you and is the easiest.

Blogging: Seven Reasons Why It’s Good for You

Blogging can do a lot for a nonprofit organization, an association or a small business. But many people struggle to find the motivation to blog and wonder why they should invest the effort and time into blogging. I try to blog regularly on my website and I’ve also advised clients about blogging. I find you often don’t realize the benefits of blogging until you do it for yourself.

I encouraged a nonprofit organization client to start a blog a few years ago because their website felt very formal and institutional. In person, on the phone, and at events, the organization projected an image that was touchy-feely, compassionate, informal, accepting and embracing for the people it was trying to help. Their online voice through their website felt very brand dissonant from their actual service and behavior. Since they didn’t have much staff time available for blogging, we recruited a dozen individual people touched by the organization’s work to blog, and assigned someone on staff to liaison with the bloggers, remind them of deadlines, and edit their pieces. This spread the workload but also ensured that what was published would be professionally edited and share the organization’s voice.

In addition to keeping their home page updated and looking fresh every week, the blog posts were recycled into social media. Over time, this built a library of content that was populated into other areas of their website, giving them lots of fresh first person material that related to the population that they served.

The blog also drew media attention to the organization. A couple of reporters – one for a national television network, another a recent Pulitzer Prize winner – went through the blog posts and contacted the organization asking to interview specific bloggers. One story aired on a national television network and featured the actual blog post written by the blogger, supplemented with photos she provided. The other story ultimately featured multiple people assisted by the organization, as well as the original blogger the reporter asked to talk with, and was part of a month-long series run on a major online news network.

Here are seven tips for why you ought to consider blogging:

Tip #1: It helps you learn by forcing you to stay up to date on industry developments. Blogging can be a big kick in the rear. It forces you to be on the cutting edge of your field, to think about what is going on, and to regularly formulate your own opinion and share it. To prepare your own blog posts, you do online research, review other blogs, and consider what others are saying. A tweeted article link that you might have overlooked in the past, sparks your creative juices and has you pounding the keys. If you are writing about a program your nonprofit or association offers, you are forced to think about it in new ways when you have to write a blog post – you consider things like why the program is needed, how you will judge its effectiveness, who it will help, how it will be managed, and how you will fund it. If you are writing about a new product or service – you discuss what the product does, how it compares with others, what people think of it, or the unique and interesting story behind its creation.

Tip #2: Publishing a blog regularly forces you to create content. Blogs are always hungry – for content. You get into a content creation mentality when you know you need to feed a blog on a regular basis.Having a blog also forces you to ask others in your organization to think about content creation strategically. When your nonprofit or association rolls out a new program – it’s not just an email or a press release announcement – now it’s also a blog post, written in the first person. Blogging forces you to build a culture in your organization or company that values content creation – and this pays huge dividends. Instead of scrambling to get the staff in charge to give you photos or share information after an event, it is flowing to you. Maybe the media didn’t cover an event held by your organization as extensively as you had hoped – but you can post information and photos or a video on your blog. More than a static website, a blog shares stories and impact and comes across as more of a “living” content representation of the organization or business.  A regularly updated blog, filled with a record of activities and stories that demonstrate your impact to customers, donors, members, partners and the media, is going to win for you friends you didn’t know you needed but that you will be very glad to have.

Tip #3: Content multiplies. When you hear a speaker at a lunch, it becomes a great opportunity for live-tweeting (or micro-content creation). Then you harvest the tweets and key nuggets of information into a  blog post and reflect on how the information impacts your work. You’ve just created a record of the event and applied it to your work (and improved the likelihood that you retained the information too).  Conversely, new blog posts can boomerang into your organization’s social media presence and provide share-able content on a regular basis that feeds your social media streams. The blog can be broadcast easily on Twitter and Facebook – with short snippets shared if appropriate. If your blog is part of your company or organization’s website or home page, regular blog publishing guarantees that your website will stay updated and look fresh.

Tip #4: You build credibility by sharing your real voice in a digital environment. Blogging builds authenticity, if it’s done correctly. It can’t be just a press release or an ad copy regurgitation. A valuable blog includes the voices of real people – the people behind the scenes of an organization, association or business. A good blog allows for personality to shine through and injects a personal element into your online presence. You can also use your blog to answer common questions, discuss new research, or address myths or stereotypes in your field.

Tip #5: It makes you approachable and builds community. A blog that accepts and publishes comments is demonstrating its commitment to open dialogue. When tools are provided on the blog so a post can easily be shared in social media, it invites others to engage and become brand ambassadors for your content. When a blog can be subscribed to through an RSS feed or email posts, it helps you build a dedicated fan base for your organization or business. A blog that invites guest posts or features posts from others touched by the organization sends the message that the organization is embracing its own experience in all its facets and values these many different voices. Blogging – if managed well – can build a sense of community and purpose for an organization or business.

Tip #6: It can help you garner media attention. A blog can showcase a personal side to your organization or business to journalists. If you have issued a news release about a new program, consider issuing a blog post, in the first person, that shares why your organization is doing this new program and your commitment to it. As in my example above, a blog may expose a journalist to people your organization has helped or assisted, and the journalist may find their stories so compelling that he or she wants to feature them in a broader way. A blog can also be a valuable tool for issuing a statement on current events in the first person, if your organization or business needs to weigh in on a court decision, research development or breaking news.

Tip #7: You improve find-ability. One added value to regular blogging, is it can help you improve find-ability and search engine rankings. Newer content tends to rank better than older content with search engine algorithms. You also want to have plenty of key words populating your blog posts by organically discussing topics that relate to your work. Over time, your blog should generate inbound links from other sources, directories or partner organizations, and these will also contribute to growing your visibility and search engine rankings.

Talk to Us: What do you like (or hate) about blogging? How does blogging help you market your organization or business? How does blogging assist you as a professional?

Featured image courtesy of Search Engine People Blog on FlickR and licensed via Creative Commons.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


Brand Ambassador Revolt Wins: Susan G. Komen Foundation Reverses Defunding Decision

This graphic is circulating online in a big way. It references
Komen’s ubiquitous pink products, and makes it clear that
a revolt is underway among the foundation’s core audiences,
who are refusing to march lockstep in brand unison
on this decision.

Like many nonprofit PR pros, I’ve been following the fireworks over the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to de-fund its grants to Planned Parenthood for low-income women to get breast exams and mammograms.

I’m convinced we’ve been watching the near downfall of one of America’s most well-known and successful nonprofit brands this week, due to inept communications and a core lack of understanding about brand management, esp. when it comes to stakeholders (aka brand ambassadors). When your brand ambassadors perceive your decision-making as violating the values of the cause – they are going to revolt. Because their loyalty goes far deeper than just an organization – they’re loyal to a movement for women’s health, and waging a war against a terrible disease.

Branding is not just about getting ribbons on a pantheon of products to raise funds for your cause. For years, the foundation has been aggressive in delineating its graphic and wordsmithed incarnations of its brand – going legally after small nonprofits (even those raising funds to find a cure for breast cancer) because they were using the term “for the cure” and the color pink, which I’ve written about before. As a result, their actions have turned off some potential brand ambassadors. These actions pointed to a lack of understanding within the Komen Foundation about the values driving their supporters.

Komen’s supporters and brand ambassadors just want a cure to breast cancer – and they want better healthcare in place that can save women’s lives. The values driving them are mission/cause-focused – not organizational loyalty. When news broke this week about the Komen Foundation’s defunding of breast exams and mammograms for low-income women through Planned Parenthood – Komen’s supporters felt their values had been fundamentally betrayed by the organization. And they weren’t going to stand for it.

Komen is facing a PR mess of gargantuan proportions that will cost way more than it was giving Planned Parenthood to fix. Its core stakeholders – including donors and board members for its affiliates, criticized the decision publicly (see this post on CNN), jumped ship (the main public health officer at Komen’s national headquarters resigned over the decision to defund Planned Parenthood), logjammed Facebook with commentary (check out the Komen Kan Kiss My Mammogram cause) and issuing statements expressing profound disappointment and outrage. Nonprofit consultants have also been doing a great job at dissecting Komen’s PR mis-steps – including Shonali Burke (7 PR Lessons Komen for the Cure Didn’t Know They Were Giving You, Nancy Schwartz, Kivi Leroux Miller (the Accidental Rebranding of Komen for the Cure), Beth Kanter (Komen Kan Kiss My Mammagram, PinActivism, and Newsjacking for a Cause).

This morning, the Atlantic posted some of the foundation’s internal documentation which was sent to Komen affiliates before the announcement. The documents show the headquarters knew a PR backlash to the grant defunding news was likely, but also portray a lack of understanding about their core audiences. Their local affiliates are advised to send media requests to one person – the spokesperson at the national headquarters – and given little to use to manage their own responses to what has surely been a tidal wave of outrage. It’s no small wonder that many Komen affiliates went off script and tried to distance themselves from Komen’s decision after it was public.

While writing this post – Komen announced a reversal to its decision (see MS-NBC), saying:

We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.

The events of this week have been deeply unsettling for our supporters, partners and friends and all of us at Susan G. Komen.  We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood.  They were not.

Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation.  We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.

Our only goal for our granting process is to support women and families in the fight against breast cancer.  Amending our criteria will ensure that politics has no place in our grant process.  We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.

It is our hope and we believe it is time for everyone involved to pause, slow down and reflect on how grants can most effectively and directly be administered without controversies that hurt the cause of women.  We urge everyone who has participated in this conversation across the country over the last few days to help us move past this issue.  We do not want our mission marred or affected by politics – anyone’s politics.

Starting this afternoon, we will have calls with our network and key supporters to refocus our attention on our mission and get back to doing our work.  We ask for the public’s understanding and patience as we gather our Komen affiliates from around the country to determine how to move forward in the best interests of the women and people we serve.

We extend our deepest thanks for the outpouring of support we have received from so many in the past few days and we sincerely hope that these changes will be welcomed by those who have expressed their concern.

I’m glad to see the Susan G. Komen Foundation is shifting gears and reversed its decision. Their next steps will be critically important. They’ve got a lot of work ahead – to rebuild the faith and trust of their affiliates, donors and supporters (all those brand ambassadors).
Planned Parenthood is walking away from this week with more supporters, and has already raised enough money to replace what it was getting from the Susan G. Komen Foundation – and will now have more funding available for breast health exams and mammograms. Their use of social media and messaging during all of this will surely be studied and commented on by nonprofit communicators for a long time (as will the Komen Foundation’s mis-steps).

If nonprofits can take any lesson from this – it is that no brand, no cause – no matter how great – can act without factoring the reactions and opinions of its core stakeholders to its decision making. If those stakeholders believe your organization’s actions are contrary to your brand values and core beliefs, they will revolt. For brand ambassadors, it’s not about being loyal to the organization – it’s about being loyal to the cause.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


Brewing Your Village: Community-Building

Zack Miller of Hatch Norfolk talks about the value of building community at TedX Norfolk and how it is happening in the tech startup community. He argues for creating smaller companies and thinking internationally and nationally. He argues we should be sharing what we are doing in our communities. He also discusses how his work in business incubation appeared in Entrepreneur magazine, which named Norfolk, Virginia one of the best communities for entrepreneurs in the United States.

Full disclosure: Zack Miller is my stepson.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites. She blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


Building Relationships with Reporters: Change Up Your Mentality

The New York City newsroom for the Associated Press

I’m often asked by other nonprofit public relations professionals, how I know so many reporters who cover stories relevant to my clients. So often people seem fixated on the media outlet names, and not the relationships. The relationships are what matters.

Tip #1: Change your mentality. It’s not just about who you know. It’s about connecting with journalists who cover topics and stories you and the organization you represent work in.

My contacts with reporters who cover military families and veteran’s affairs, will not be useful for a story about a children’s book. Unless the book is related in some way to care for the families of the fallen,dealing with deployment for military children, or has a unique angle related to someone in the military or a veteran – those journalists I know working in this field will probably not be interested in this story. Even if the book has a military tie-in, a compelling author story and great visuals in real-life that relate to the story, may be needed for a successful story pitch.

Tip #2: Don’t just blast out your news releases to any reporter at whim, regardless of what they cover. Only send your news releases or story pitches, to journalists who cover those topics. Read and watch what they write and produce, and cultivate one-on-one relationships. There are plenty of people hawking media lists and offering to blast out your news release to thousands of reporters NOW. Blasting does not build relationships. It actually drowns reporters in piles of crap not relevant to what they cover. It gives everyone doing promotional work a bad name. Blatant abuse of these media databases  is common  in the industry. Don’t do it.

One reporter I know at a major national daily newspaper, loves to share periodically on her Facebook page, what off-the-wall news release she received that day that is completely irrelevant to what she writes about. They’re hilarious to read for their insanity – but would you like to be the one who makes that mistake?

Know what a given reporter or producer works on typically. You can often see full story archives online by author on newspaper websites now. Watch and listen to the stories they create for radio or TV.

Local television and radio news are different animals. It seems I find fewer reporters at the local level in the broadcast arena who are specialists. But you may notice a TV reporter or radio reporter who, even though he or she covers a huge array of story topics, does amazing interviews that stand out. Or they are especially sensitive about talking gently with trauma survivors. Their pieces just resonate more with you. If you are confronted by a sea of generalists who don’t seem to specialize, try to work with journalists doing work you admire.

I’ll be sharing some tips tomorrow on my blog.


Building Relationships with Reporters: More Tips

Yesterday I offered some tips for building relationships with journalists so you can share story ideas and talk with them about topics that matter to your nonprofit. Here’s a few more tips.

Tip #3: Be willing to be helpful. Seriously, it is not hard to be helpful to reporters. If they need help understanding statistics or reports or policy matters. Figure it out and try to help. Don’t assume that they have time to tease out all of the intricacies of  the issues that you probably know backwards and forwards. If they ask for help finding sources, offer up a few ideas. It is not hard to be a decent person.

One way to do this, is to create a set of tip sheets on statistics or legislation your organization cares about, that you post in your online press room. Keep your statistics current and updated. That online press room is available 24/7. Hopefully, you sleep and have a life. Having that information out there helps reporters who may be time-strapped to get something done.

Tip #4: Be willing to not always be in the story, and think about long-term relationship-building with journalists with reporters. Here’s a good example. On Monday I got a call from a major international radio network seeking help locating someone for an interview. The story angle really did not intersect with any of the areas my clients work on, even though it was a similar topic. So I suggested he call a contact at another organization, that I don’t represent, but that I knew had recently testified to Congress on this very matter. I knew they could likely drum up an interviewee for him in a few minutes.

What I’ve done by doing that, is built a relationship with a reporter who knows, hey, this pr person may not have had what I needed, but she helped me get to where I needed to go for this story that was on deadline to finish up. And when I need to pitch another story on a similar topic. I’ll reach out to that reporter. Nine times out of 10, he won’t be a jerk and blow me off. He’ll at least listen to the pitch and be  up front with me about whether or not he can cover it.

Tip #5: Try on their shoes for a couple of minutes. It never ceases to amaze me how often people try to work with the media, without trying to understand their business and the deadline pressures that journalists work under on a daily basis. Many reporters are willing to meet with you just to hear your story ideas and what your organization works on, if you work in an area of interest to them. They know having a rolodex (typically electronic nowadays) of potential sources is vital to helping them do their jobs. I’ve done coffee (we all buy our own, don’t try to treat the reporter) with many reporters to talk about active stories or to pitch ideas and share about an organization.


Building Successful Cause Marketing Relationships Between Businesses and Nonprofits

An interesting article by Ashley Halligan offers tips to help nonprofit organizations forge solid and mutually-beneficial partnerships with for-profit companies. There’s some interesting advice nuggets in the article. While  business information and research are helpful – it’s important for nonprofits to remember that they are building personal relationships with businesses. And courting businesses to nurture a campaign that is mutually beneficial and in league with your nonprofit’s goals and needs can take time.

While I’ve often heard nonprofits pine for bigger cause marketing partnerships (usually after visiting the grocery store and seeing other nonprofits cashing in all over the store with placement on product packaging or at the checkout counter), many don’t realize the time that goes into building successful partnerships. One of the sources cited notes that the most successful cross-sector partnerships and cause marketing campaigns do not hit their stride until the second or third year of the campaign.

While this book is not referenced in the article, it’s also a great resource for nonprofits getting
into cause marketing. Thanks to Cambodia4Kids
for this Creative Commons licensed image
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

Can Five Questions Change the Nonprofit World?

“Charting Impact” is a new effort by Guidestar USA, the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance and the Independent Sector to help nonprofit organizations focus on their goals and results. The five questions are:
– What is your organization aiming to accomplish?
– What are your strategies for making this happen?

– What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?

– How will your organization know if you are making progress?

– What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?

While efforts to encourage evaluation and introspection can be incredibly useful, the reality is that nonprofit organizations who have been raising money, applying for grants, and talking to the community are already answering these questions. Any organization that has filled out a detailed grant application, applied for a public service announcement, or written an annual appeal letter should be able to answer these questions in their sleep.

While the questions may be simplistic, they bring up a good point. Nonprofit organizations do need to zero in and focus. Far too often, charities become too broad in focus and find themselves spinning their wheels. They feel like they’ve tumbled off mission by following a plethora of things that are good to do, but may not contribute to achieving their mission.

While many well-funded grant projects require evaluation (and there are some wonderful firms out there who examine nonprofit programs carefully) there is a lack of evaluative effort in the nonprofit community as a whole. Far too often, organizations are set up hastily and duplicate services. A needs assessment and strategic planning can go a long way to helping organizations find their footing. After programs are put in place, evaluation measures can be implemented to determine if an organization is on target or falling victim to mission creep and a spate of good intentions.
Good public relations for nonprofit organizations should talk about results and impart a vision for where the organization is heading. Can five questions change the nonprofit world? Maybe. But we need to reach well beyond these questions to the research, numbers, statistics, stories, impacts, and self-assessments from program recipients and staff.
The five questions are a great place to start the nonprofit sector conversation on this topic, but more needs to be done to talk about the nuts and bolts of demonstrating benchmarks and results.

Can You Turn Average Nonprofit Employees Into Rock Stars?

There’s an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal today by Michael Michalowicz addressing small business owners, who often expect for their employees to take on greater responsibilities and super-human tasks. He notes that there is a placebo effect in how managers present a task to employees, noting:

Simply put, when you tell yourself you can or can’t do something, you not only predict your future; you make your future….If, on the other hand, you tell your employees something like, “This situation will be resolved easily and peaceably,” you’ll “placebo” your team into being a calm, rational staff behaving in a way that would ensure that your prediction is true. Again, they believe you, and the appropriate action follows belief.

There are lessons in this article for nonprofit leaders too. We all want to have staffs and volunteers that are self-motivated and take initiative and tackle projects. We often pile many, many responsibilities on our nonprofit workers. How do we make nonprofit workers rock stars?

It’s far too easy to assume that nonprofit workers don’t need to be motivated to do their jobs with silly words from a leader, esp. when those workers are talking big and seem to be dreaming big for the cause. Their dedication and devotion to a cause or program should be far greater motivators than anything we could say, in theory.

Yet many nonprofits are the tiny Davids facing giant Goliath problems. Sometimes, even with serious self-motivation to be involved, nonprofit workers do need those words of encouragement. They already know the problems that the organization needs to tackle – that’s why they signed up. Now they need a road map to follow and positive steps they can take to address those problems, even if they are small ones, to move forward. People can only operate in an environment of negativity for so long before they can’t operate any longer.

Nonprofit leaders can set a tone for how their staffs approach problems and perhaps by doing so, help them avoid the burnout that is all too common in this business.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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