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.


Celebrating Fearless Nonprofit Videos: DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards

For six years now, the DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards has been shining a spotlight on all the innovative ways that nonprofits use video.  The contest is about moving the field of nonprofit video forward and encouraging cause-video creators to try new approaches that make their work different.

The Case Foundation  is offering a special award for this year’s contest. Did you experiment? Take risks? Did you highlight a failure from your past that’s helping shape the future? Share a big idea that will inspire others to dream big? Were you… Fearless? The Case Foundation is awarding one $2,500 grant to the organization with the most fearless video in each of the four categories, as selected by a panel of special judges.

You can also win cash prizes and products from Cisco, free registrations to next year’s NTC from NTEN and see your video on the YouTube homepage on April 5, 2012 (see prize info). To enter the awards, visit the contest website by February 29, 2012, and submit your video. 

Winners will be announced on April 5, 2012.   Last year’s contest was a record setter with almost 1,400 submissions from over 800 nonprofit organizations. See past winners here  to get inspired. Read the contest FAQ.

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.


Charitable Giving in 2013: What Nonprofit Fundraisers Need to Remember in 2014

The Urban Institute published a brief summary of 2013 charitable giving. Nonprofit fundraisers should plan to pay attention to the giving season between October and December (make a note on your calendar now!). The other interesting facet found in IRS data – people at the highest end of the income spectrum (and the lowest) tend to give the greatest percentage of their incomes to charity. While many nonprofits chase the “big money” with foundations and grants, it’s important to build individual giving – 72% of all contributions were from individuals. They also found that people who tend to give to religious organizations, tend to give more money, and that Utah is the most generous state.

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.


Church Opens Up About Abuse: Lessons to Learn

The Washington Post ran an incredible front page story yesterday about Vienna Presbyterian Church in northern Virginia and the congregation’s struggle to deal with sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse of a dozen young girls by a youth minister.

The original abuse was uncovered when one survivor bravely came forward, but when another tried, she was rebuffed. The fact that the congregation had been previously warned about inappropriate contact with a minor by the abuser by another ministry when he was hired, should have sent off alarm bells when the first girl came forward and triggered a serious internal investigation. Even though their denomination offers a sexual abuse response team to work with churches, the congregation tried to keep things quiet.

Members of the congregation raised money for the abuser, allowed him to bid farewell to the youth group even after he was ousted for abuse, and wrote dozens of letters vouching for the abuser’s character to a court when the abuser was tried. The message their behavior sent abuse victims was stifling and hurt. Now six years after the abuse ended, the church is still struggling to move through this incident and wrestling with it.

Just like corporations and traditional nonprofit organizations that are not faith-based, churches can make similiar mis-steps when it comes to communicating during a crisis. By not confronting what happened honestly and openly, the church created an environment where they appeared to betray their most deeply held values and suffering festered.

A little over a week ago, Pastor Peter James delivered what was the most difficult sermon of his life and apologized to the victims in public, for the very first time. He said:

“We failed as leaders to extend the compassion and mercy that you needed. Some of you felt uncared for, neglected and even blamed for this abuse. I am sorry. The church is sorry.”

What can we, as communicators, learn from this church’s experience, in facing our own organizational crises?

1. Understand the extent of what happened. Don’t pretend to not see what happened, or brush off other concerns. This is the time to look around – eyes wide open. Look at the impact of the situation on the organization and understand how far things went. A bad situation will fester into a cancer that consumes your organization if you don’t.

2. Always be upfront and honest. Don’t try to hide a serious problem or “handle it” internally by keeping things quiet.

3. Ask for help. The church messed up in many ways by not involving people who understood abuse and how to deal with it within the context of a faith-based organization. They put the 15-year-old girl who came forward about his abuse of her sister, in the position of having to confront the abuser with her accusations – a painful and damaging situation. The church forced him to resign but waited a week to call child protective services (unconscionable). Had the church involved someone with training in handling abuse (such as their denomination’s response team that assists congregations in dealing with situations like this) they might have avoided some of their early mistakes.

4. Communicate clearly and honestly. Look at your actions large and small, and what they are saying.Tell people what happened and say you are sorry. In a situation like this, you want to extend compassion and support to those who were victimized. Understand how small actions contribute to overall communication – by writing letters vouching for the character of the abuser, helping him move, etc. – the congregation sent a very loud and accusatory message to those victims.

5. If you mess up, you can find a way forward. But it may be very difficult. Your response should be heartfelt and consistent with your values as an organization. Even if you don’t handle things well in a crisis the first time around, you can reach forward. The keys are owning up to what happened honestly and taking real-life steps to show you mean it when you say you’re sorry. The church has now set up a ministry to help abuse victims and is reaching out to own up to its mistakes.


Confessing My Content Addiction: What I Read To Keep Up

Daily reading over coffee is not just a newspaper
but includes social media filters and email news alerts.
This photo is licensed under Creative Commons.

Since I wrote last week about how nonprofit PR pros should focus their reading to keep up with news and industry trends, I thought I should evaluate what I read. It’s mind-numbing to realize how much stuff I have coming to my inbox every day, but I don’t read all of it – I skim it and pause when something catches my interest. Still, one could easily argue that my content addiction rivals my caffeine requirements.

To keep up with the news each day – I usually cruise my iPad in the morning and evening to check on the major networks and newspapers. I get daily e-newsletters and some alerts from the Washington Post, Politico, The Hill and the New York Times. I have at least 20 Google Alerts that send me news about my clients and the topics they care about on a daily basis. I cruise Google News periodically during the day.
Because I have a few nonprofit clients who work with veterans and surviving families, it’s important that I stay on top of news in that sector. So I get the Early Bird (the media summary from the Pentagon which is shared with the nonprofit community by an association), the Early Brief, the TIME magazine Battleland blog e-newsletter, and Politico’s Morning Defense e-newsletter.I also like the At War blog by the NY Times, which I read online.
I skim the National Law Journal e-newsletter every afternoon – since I have a legal assistance nonprofit client that specializes in veterans benefits, and look at the Iraq-Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) news summary each afternoon. I get newsletters from Huffington Post on topics that matter to my clients, including coverage of baby boomer issues, health, and several others.
With association clients who work in higher education, I read Inside Higher Ed every morning. I also get Academe from the Chronicle of Higher Education and other alerts the Chronicle publishes on higher ed topics and community colleges. I still glance at Education Week, and subscribe to some non-daily specialized e-newsletters so I can keep on top of things. And like many PR people, I scan Help a Reporter Out (HARO) and Reporter Connection to see if any of my clients might fit the journalist queries posted.
I get e-newsletters from Nonprofit Quarterly, Chronicle of Philanthropy, PRSA, MediaBistro and Association Media and Publishing, as well as the Daily DoGooder from YouTube which highlights a great nonprofit video each day. The LinkedIn and Yahoo Group Digest formats help me check on groups I subscribe to. I use list and hashtag features in Twitter to filter what I read.
A few books are usually jockeying for my attention as well – typically about social media or nonprofit communications and leadership. Some of them hang out on my “to read” list for a long time. Twitter for Good has been trapped there for a long time. And with book club tonight, I’ve been steamrolling a novel for fun instead.
I skim to extract what is helpful and delete the rest. If I don’t have time to read things because news is breaking or work is piling up – I know there will be more news arriving tomorrow and hit delete.
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.

Conquering the Jitters on Capitol Hill: Tips to Help

Testifying for the subcommittee on June 23, 2011

I testified before the U.S. Congress House Committee on Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Memorial Affairs & Disability Assistance in June 2011 on behalf of TAPS about improvements being made at Arlington National Cemetery.

Needless to say, I was a little nervous about undertaking such a venture. I was rather shy in school and rarely spoke up in class. I gave some rather disastrous public speaking presentations while in high school, but improved in college and on the job at being able to talk in front of groups, largely because of my involvement in ministry and social action. I once gave a presentation for Habitat for Humanity at a huge church where I literally clung to the podium for dear life, I was so terrified. I was actually trembling I was so nervous. I did a job interview early in my career that bombed. So I resolved to get better and improve my presentation skills. I studied, rehearsed and practiced. So I totally understand when people get stage fright about public speaking. It is not a skill that comes easily to me and is something that I have learned I have to practice and prepare well for.

Testifying on Capitol Hill is definitely the big leagues for public speaking. It’s a time-loaded presentation, followed by Q&A, and televised live on the Internet (and often on C-SPAN). Every syllable you utter is recorded and transcribed for the Congressional Record. And you do all of this in front of elected officials who make major decisions impacting the lives of millions of people and the media too. There may be photographers and video cameras. Talk about a pressure cooker.

To prepare for my testimony, I sought advice from others who had testified for similar congressional hearings. I collected advice from veterans who’ve testified on capitol hill, legal advocates who’ve spent years pounding the halls of Congress requesting improvements, senior military leaders, and seasoned political staffers. Here’s some of the best advice I got, sprinkled with some of my own observations and thoughts:

  • Tell the truth. Plain and simple.
  • Organize your written and oral testimony to be easy to understand.
  • Number the items you are talking about, e.g. #1, #2
  • Your written submitted statement can be longer than your oral statement.
  • Pick 1-2 things to highlight in your oral statement. Your testimony may cover a broad topic, but highlight the things that need changing the most, that the panel can help with.
  • Share your best example or horror story.
  • When you sit down at the hearing table, pour yourself a glass of water, even if you are not thirsty at the time. You may get thirsty later.
  • When sharing your testimony, try to look the panel members in the face, and do not stare down at the pages. They are so accustomed to people reading from a printed page, you will stand out by looking at them.
  • Rehearse potential questions with others who are not entirely knowledgeable on the topic, so you can think through how to explain key concepts.
  • Try to end short so you do not run over your allotted amount of time.
  • Get your points in early.
  • Remember, it is their show.
  • Bring a friend along to sit in the audience for moral support.
  • You didn’t do anything wrong. They are not out to grill you. They just want to understand the experiences of surviving families.

I got some great advice and I tried to follow it as much as possible. I have to admit when I sat down at the table when my panel was called, and I looked up at the dais in this gorgeous room on Capitol Hill, there was a huge butterfly in my stomach. But it went ok. I just did my best to follow my plan and share what I had come there to talk about.


Controversy: NYT Reporter Discusses Gas Drilling Coverage, What Nonprofits Can Learn

See Urbina’s work in the New York Times – Drilling Down series

In a lecture at Cornell University this week covered by the Ithaca Journal, New York Times reporter Ian Urbina discussed the challenges covering gas drilling issues. He noted that while often it’s been reported as an environmental story, this story really is multi-faceted and has many dimensions impacting lives and communities.

Getting the information needed for his reporting was tough and often took weeks of investigation as he had to use a portable gas detector from to find the chemical toxins and create a report on them individually. Chemicals and toxic materials can result from fracking techniques used to extract natural gas, and tracing what happens to that waste is an important part of the story as his reporting has developed. His stories have caused a push back from the natural gas industry, and Urbina believes his work has also contributed to the EPA monitoring the industry more closely.

Urbina’s reporting was the result of good old-fashioned journalism, but what can nonprofit communicators learn from Urbina’s lecture this week and reporting work on this important issue? Nonprofits working on important public issues like this one, often become information gatherers and draw attention that stimulates news coverage. Here’s a few ideas of what nonprofits can learn:

Get your facts organized. Collect data and document it. Not every reporter is going to be as organized as Urbina or be working at a news outlet with the resources of the New York Times. Be willing to share data and reports, as well as their sources, with reporters.

Don’t stereotype a potential story into only one beat. So often in public relations, we try to pitch a story to only reporters working a particular beat. Isolating a story into only one beat area may not be as productive as reaching out to another reporter, if the story has merit and other facets to it. That doesn’t mean you should pitch a story to a reporter that has clearly no interest whatsoever in the topic – but it does mean that if the story has other potential angles, you should consider approaching another journalist that you might not have considered before. It’s that unorthodox approach that’s refreshing, that might help sell the story.

Expect pushback. Good reporting that is honest and truthful can cause a response that you may not anticipate from others who don’t like it. Although Urbina does not reference this in his remarks, it’s likely that the nonprofit organizations and community groups working on this issue have also experienced a pushback from the industry, similar to what he’s experienced, for their efforts to inform the public. Expect for this to happen if you are doing good work. That’s why it’s so important that your facts are straight and your approach be aboveboard – if pushback happens – you want it to be because you were right, not because you were sloppy and didn’t know the facts.

Realize that stories have reverb. A good story – especially in a media outlet like the New York Times, is going to get attention and cause a ripple effect. Other stories and opportunities to educate the public about the issue will result. Don’t assume that one good story in a major outlet is a silver bullet and now you can stop your work to educate others and reach out. The reality is that one good story is just that – one good story. Take advantage of other opportunities to continue the dialogue and discussion about the issue.


Corporate Compassion Denied: The Hair Cuttery Takes a PR Mis-Step

The Washington Post’s Michelle Singletary opened up a big can of worms in its “Color of Money” challenge when it set out to write about Kelly D. Brown, an ex-offender who served her debt to society, trained for a new job, stayed out of trouble, and went out to earn a living as a hair stylist and support her son.

After Brown asked her employer, the Hair Cuttery, for permission to be photographed for a profile that Singletary was writing about ex-offenders and their bumpy road to financial security, she was fired. Even though Brown had revealed her felony conviction on her application for employment at the hair salon, the chain fired her, noting that Brown would have never been hired had her boss at the salon informed the human resources department of her criminal past.

This was a missed PR opportunity for the Hair Cuttery to demonstrate corporate compassion and a business doing the right thing for society. Here you have an employee, who by all accounts is liked by her co-workers and customers. She made mistakes in her past, long before she was a hair stylist. And now she’s thriving, thanks to the company’s willingness to give her a chance to prove herself as an employee. She’s about to be featured in a respected national newspaper about her struggle to reach financial security and support her young son – in a story that inevitably would have made her employer look like a saint. This is the kind of story public relations staff normally drool over.

The Hair Cuttery had the opportunity with this story to look like a corporate chain doing the right thing – they could have given permission for the photograph by the Post – and instead they blew it. They missed a huge PR opportunity to demonstrate their corporate values and gain exposure – the right kind – for their company. What was the worst thing that could have happened with a positive profile of Brown in the Post for her work at Hair Cuttery? Would they have been deluged with applications from ex-offenders? Would they have had customers running in fear from the stores? The chain would have come across as a compassionate corporate citizen, willing to believe that people can become better and change their lives.

Instead, they fired Brown and the Hair Cuttery came across as petty and even bureaucratic in the media. Spokespeople cited a mis-step by the salon leader (who did not inform the HR department of Brown’s criminal past), as the reason for her firing, and noted that they have a blanket policy of not hiring ex-offenders. The Washington Post has been deluged with calls and comments from readers supporting Kelly Brown and critizing the salon chain. One customer letter sent to both Hair Cuttery and the Washington Post said:

While I support your company’s concern for safety, I find it hard to believe that the decision to fire Kelly Brown was based on any real threat. Does your company believe that people can change? Do you always judge people for actions of the past, regardless of potential for present and future behavior?”

If ex-offenders cannot get legitimate jobs, they will be forced to return to lives of crime to earn money to support themselves and their families. Many of the letter writers who contacted the Hair Cuttery and the Washington Post to complain about Brown’s firing are now boycotting the chain.

What this episode says about our society is troubling. It says that mistakes are not forgiveable, even if you reform yourself and do your best to stay out of trouble and play by the rules. It says that a company would rather can an employee because of mistakes made in her past, than believe the better in people.


Crafting Fundraising Appeals That Raise Money Online & Everywhere: Chat with Experts Tuesday

Need ideas for your end of the year messaging to
invite donors to support your nonprofit? This free
chat on Tuesday 1pm ET has great experts.
Image licensed under Creative Commons.

If you are thinking about how to message your nonprofit’s fundraising appeals online and everywhere – then you might want to check out the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s free chat tomorrow on “Crafting Appeals That Work in Print, Online, Everywhere.” You don’t need a Chronicle account to participate, and the chat is on Tuesday, August 14 at 1pm Eastern Time. The guests are:

Geoff Livingston (@geoffliving) – he was among the first people I followed on Twitter and I’ve always found him pushing the envelope on social media and how it is changing how we communicate and relate to each other. Oddly, the Chronicle of Philanthropy promo for the chat doesn’t mention that the is the author of Welcome to the Fifth Estate on social media and co-author (with social media guru Brian Solis) of Now is Gone: A Primer on New Media for Executives and Entrepreneurs. He is a marketing strategist and co-author with Gini Dietrich of Marketing in the Round: How to Develop an Integrated Marketing Campaign in the Digital Era.
Brooke McMillan – she is the online community manager for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, also known as Livestrong. She manages the foundation’s blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, YouTube channel and more. She did a guest post for Beth Kanter’s blog in 2009 on how the foundation uses social media that is insightful. So she’s been in the social media trenches a while and has a lot to share that other nonprofits can relate to.

I am looking forward to the chat and I hope you will attend to get new ideas and then brainstorm how to integrate them into your nonprofit’s fundraising plans for social media and everywhere as we approach the end of the year giving season. The Chronicle will post a transcript after the event for those who aren’t able to attend.

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.


Cyberstalking Journalists: It’s Not Bad, It’s Background Research

If you want to actively work with journalists and pitch a compelling and successful story about your nonprofit organization’s work, it’s important to do your homework. While using the term cyberstalking may be a bit of an exaggeration on my part – you should use the internet to research the reporter you are reaching out to, and learn about their interests and beat.

Review their stories. You should review the stories journalists have written or produced, and get a sense of their interests and what they are assigned to cover. Use Google searches to look up their work, visit the media outlet’s website and search for their name, and review recent newspapers or broadcasts. It doesn’t make sense to pitch a sports reporter a story about a healthcare event, or to ask a reporter covering the military to cover an education story that is not related to the Armed Services.

Read their blogs. Many journalists today blog about their lives and work. This provides you with a window into their lives and interests. A great example is a blog by Jennifer Griffin at Fox News. She blogs about her family life, work as a reporter, and fight against breast cancer.

Follow their twitter feeds. Many journalists are using twitter to promote their stories, interact with story sources/readers/viewers, and keep track of breaking news. Re-tweet info they post that is relevant to your organization. If the journalist is currently overseas on assignment (like Kelly Kennedy listed below), don’t pitch her for a story that means she needs to be on the East coast. Wait. Some examples:

Kevin Baron, Stars & Stripes

Michael Calderone, Yahoo News

Damien Cave, New York Times, Bureau Chief (Miami)

Phil Elliott, Associated Press

Sara Haines, NBC Today Show 

Kelly Kennedy, Military Times

Howard Kurtz, Washington Post

Jen Preston, New York Times

Ali Velshi, CNN 

 And I could go on and on. I currently follow on Twitter more than 150 journalists. I use the lists feature to keep my lists organized, and subscribe my nonprofit client twitter feeds to journalists that cover stories related to their work. Engagement with the media today should be about building relationships and offering compelling story pitches that relate to what the reporter is working on and interested in. The Internet is a great tool to help you do that.


DC Central Kitchen Staff Tell Nonprofits to Shape Up

In a fascinating kick-in-the-pants essay on Huffington Post, Alexander Justice Moore from DC Central Kitchen calls on nonprofits to stop settling for lower standards, abysmal wages, and begging for peanuts to pay their light bills.

He points out one of the key issues in the nonprofit sector – that far too many people start nonprofits without ever evaluating what the community’s needs are and resources available to meet those needs – leaving all nonprofits scrambling for ever-tinier slivers of one shrinking pie.

Rather, Moore reminds nonprofiteers to take pride in their work, strive to innovate the sector,  and expect fair wages. He writes:

Instead, let’s simply remind ourselves, our supporters, and our leaders that nonprofit does not, and should not, mean unprofessional, unproductive, or unpaid. When markets fail and government dithers, we are the women and men responsible for plunging into the fray and finding meaningful solutions. We’re private sector innovators infused with public purpose. When we stop diminishing ourselves, we might actually start to fulfill our missions.

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.


Delivering Bad News for a Living: The Importance of Self Care

The Atlantic has an interesting story, “What It’s Like to Deliver Bad News for a Living,” by Carrie Seims on people who deliver death notifications, upsetting news, and fire people en masse – and the negative impacts these roles can have on their lives.

Seims cited research from 2006 (human resource managers tasked with firings amid rapid downsizing) and again in 2006 and in 2013 (oncologists forced to deliver bad news to patients) showing the negative impacts that being a deliverer of bad news can have. Feelings of depression, guilt, anxiety, stress, increased burnout rates, cortisol levels and emotional exhaustion were not uncommon.

At the same time, she also finds (at least one) person who notes post-traumatic growth can happen, even after delivering terrible news.

“I wouldn’t have seen the intensity of the colors of life if I hadn’t been a part of this,” said Denny Hayes, a human services director for the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office in Syracuse, N.Y., who has personally delivered more than 500 death notifications. “It’s been a rich experience—rich can be sad. Meeting someone in the midst of a traumatic situation is like cutting a tree in half and looking at the rings and the growth—you see the resiliency of the human spirit…….You enter the arena of suffering with people.”

Unfortunately, death is a part of life, and we far too often don’t realize how frequently death is in the media and we are engaging with those who are grieving or traumatized. As uncomfortable as it can make us, traumatic events and helping those going through trauma can also help us grow and become something more than we were before.

As someone who has often assisted people dealing with trauma in how they engage with the media, I would agree there is a high potential for burnout for those supporting and engaging with trauma survivors. I am often trying to help someone find a sense of control, who is trapped in a situation where they may feel very little sense of agency or ability to control a situation. For me, it comes down to trying to help, that I am trying to help someone in trouble find a sense of control and give them options.

I am sometimes walking alongside a person who is coping with something terrible that altered life permanently for them. You can’t walk in that and not have it stick to you, and not have your own demons surface. Self-care in this field is extremely important, and The Atlantic delivers some important reminders for those who deal with difficult news to take care of themselves.



DoGooder Video Awards: Open Nominations Jan. 12

The DoGooder Video Awards are back again and accepting nominations starting January 12, 2015. This is a great way to win kudos for your nonprofit organization’s video work over the last year.

The categories for this year’s awards include:

  • Funny for Good Award: For those creators who are doing good with a sense of humor
  • ImpactX Award: Honoring video that had a real on-the-ground impact last year
  • Best Nonprofit Video Award: Awarded to the best overall video created by a nonprofit organization
  • DoGooder YouTube Creator for Good Award: Recognizing the efforts of YouTube Creators who used their storytelling talents to support a nonprofit or social causes.

Submitting a video is a great way to improve views for your YouTube channel and video. More than 800 videos were submitted last year and there were thousands of votes. Want to know what makes a winning video? See last year’s winners and get more information.

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.


Educating Journalists on Intimate Partner Violence

I spent several years on the Board of Directors for a local domestic violence prevention agency in Northern Virginia and worked with media for several years on the issue of intimate partner violence. While many of the reporters we worked with were great and wanted to share about our programs and how we were helping people re-start their lives after trauma – every now and then, one reporter would come along who would surprise me.

A major widely-read newspaper in the DC area refused to do a story about the agency unless they could publicly name, using first and last name, a survivor who had been through our programs. No amount of pleading, education about the nature of domestic violence, or practical reasoning could persuade the reporter and her editor to see otherwise.

The story stalled for months, with the reporter wanting to write something, yet the agency unable to locate a survivor who was in a place where she was comfortable about being named in a media story about domestic violence and not in a situation where doing so might jeopardize her safety. After several months, one brave survivor offered to do the interview.

The resulting story was quite good and informed thousands of people about our agency’s programs and the serious issues involved in domestic violence – but I’ve never forgotten the journalists and their intransience on the name issue. I have worked with other reporters who’ve understood these issues, even at the same newspaper, who were more willing to work to not identify a trauma survivor, than that particular duo.

Needless to say, I’m glad to see Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma is offering a two-day workshop in New York next month to help journalists better understand how to cover intimate partner violence. Journalists, you can get more information about applying to attend on their website.  The workshop will:

  • Serve as a forum for improving journalists’ knowledge of critical issues such as the mental and physical health impacts of intimate partner violence; innovations in prevention and intervention; social, economic and legal implications, and responses by schools, public health institutions, and community and faith-based organizations;
  • Explore new research, reporting ideas and best practices with leading mental health, policy, and prevention experts;
  • Confront challenges — and identify opportunities — that exist for journalists pursuing these stories with limited resources;
  • Provide practical tools to enable journalists to successfully produce stories that examine the problem of intimate partner violence in diverse communities and serve to educate and encourage prevention.

Let’s all hope the workshop leads to better stories and broader understanding about the serious issue of intimate partner violence.


Facebook Organic Reach is Toast: How to Shift Your Strategy

Over the last year, the organic reach of Facebook page posts has plummeted – with nonprofit organizations, associations, small businesses and well-known brands struggling to connect with the fans they already have, much less reach out to people who don’t know them yet.

Organic reach is the total number of people who see a Facebook post that has not been boosted by paid advertising. The situation has provoked a lot of discussion. The change has provoked outrage from some of Facebook’s users – including personalities like George Takei of Star Trek fame and actor Rainn Wilson of “The Office” (who complained his posts were reaching only about 2.5 percent of his 200,000 Facebook fans).

The changes began in 2012 when Facebook restricted organic reach of content published by brand pages to 16 percent. Since then, the algorithm Facebook uses has reduced that reach further.  A year ago, a Social@Ogilvy analysis found organic reach of brand pages around 6 percent, a decline of nearly half from only four months before. For large pages with more than 500,000 Likes, organic reach hit 2 percent a year ago. And some are saying it will be zero eventually.

Facebook has discussed the decline, saying that the problem originated with exponential content creation – that as more content bubbles out, organic reach is bound to decline amid the never ending information onslaught. Even if Facebook did nothing, organic reach would inevitably decline.

The tide of news from friends, nonprofits and businesses produces a potential 1,500 stories in news feed for the average Facebook user, and as many as 15,000 stories for people with a lot of friends and page likes. But you don’t see all of those stories.

The other reason organic reach is declining is because Facebook decides which stories to show each user and prioritizes them, based on factors it calculates using an algorithm. Only 300 of the potential 1,500-3,000 stories make the cut and land in a user’s news feed, and there is no option to view your feed unfiltered now (there used to be).

In November 2014, Facebook warned page managers that “promotional” posts were going to be chopped from news feed starting in January 2015, and it happened. Facebook says the algorithm changes have cleaned out spam and improved quality over the last year in news feed, making it more engaging for users.

But the feeling many nonprofits and small businesses have is one of being choked out. A story in International Business Times called the situation “catastrophic” for nonprofits and discussed charities and their frustrations at being unable to share information with their fans on Facebook. No one wants spam, but the animal rescue that built a fan base now struggles to connect with those fans because of this problem.

Nonprofits are so concerned that a grassroots petition calling on Facebook to change its algorithm for nonprofit pages has sprung up, and garnered nearly 9,000 signatures. Other similar petitions have gained smaller followings. Ad Week interviewed six experts asking for advice to help nonprofits cope.

So presuming that Facebook makes no changes in its algorithm, what should we do? I don’t think leaving Facebook is an option for any nonprofits, associations, big brands or small businesses. It’s a social network with expansive reach. Many organizations and businesses have already invested considerable time and energy in building a Facebook presence and integrated that presence within their other marketing tools, so abandonment does not seem to be an option. Here are a few thoughts and ideas:

Up your post quality. Heed the advice and don’t post information that is self-promotional. Post content that speaks to the people who know you, your organization, your business, or your brand. Sharing content that touches the people who love you or your organization the best, will nurture a tribe of people who engage and interact with your posts. Be creative in what you post and invite discussion.

Look at Facebook Insights for your page and apply what you find. Really look at the numbers and data. Get help understanding the numbers if you need it. When you have interaction on your page, what time of day does it happen? What types of posts are people engaging with by liking, commenting or sharing? Repeat what is successful and working. Try what did not work well again, but maybe change the time you post, or add a photo, or shorten the text.

Accept that the free ride is over. Consider buying advertising (boost posts) for your Facebook page.  Facebook is now a venue where you may have to pay to get your posts seen. In many other venues, businesses and organizations expect to spend money (lots of money) to reach people. And the truth is – social media has always offered connective benefits and come with cost. Even if social media is an “added on” responsibility to someone’s full-time job, a full-time job for an employee or consultant, or being done by a volunteer (whose time is valuable), it has never been truly free – someone has always had to maintain Facebook pages and nurture communities for social media to thrive. You were investing resources in Facebook long before the organic reach algorithm change. Look at your budget and see if you can find $250 a month to boost your posts. After you spend some money on advertising, look at your analytics to learn how you can effectively target your ads to reach the people you want. Perhaps you only want to reach people within a certain geographic area, or people of a certain age.

Create an expectation in your fans that you will be distributing and sharing information on a regular basis that is useful, helpful, or inspirational. Having an editorial calendar to guide your content creation and dissemination is important now. Being predictable and reliable in your content distribution are also valuable. If you always post on Facebook a great photo with an inspiring quote on Friday that people look forward to and engage with, keep doing it – don’t skip a week. And remind people you are putting content on Facebook. Tell your fans that you will be distributing information on Facebook and remind them to like your page and to visit it for updates. Then deliver great content for them to engage with. You have to be more deliberate now than you used to be.

Beef up your other social media channels, blogging, text messaging, and email outreach. Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, and YouTube offer other ways to connect with and reach supporters. Blogging (add an RSS feed and offer an email subscription option on your blog) can give you another distribution stream for information. Email remains an effective way to distribute information to core customers and supporters who opt-in, and text-messaging (for short updates) is becoming more viable and affordable.

Talk to Us: What strategies are you using on Facebook now to be successful? Share with us your tips!

Featured image courtesy of Marco Paköeningrat 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.

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