Tooting your own horn

17317556124_8ffb95ed3c_zI work with lots of nonprofit communication managers who are at various stages of desperation about how to prove the value of their work to their CEOs. I tell them they need to toot their own horn in professional, meaningful ways.

I know, I know–just keeping up with your everyday marketing to-do lists is impossible enough, actually marketing the communications department gets pushed to the back burner time and again. But that makes it very hard for you to ask for continuing or additional communications resources during budget planning. Over time, it also erodes the credibility of your department…and you!

So, take that energy you spend fondly wishing your supervisor understood how important your function is to the organization–and put it to use showing them your value and importance throughout the year. Use your marketing expertise to advance your own department and career.

You may think you don’t have time to “sell” your boss on the value your work, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to sustain your department.  It’s also a great way to take a quarterly snapshot of where you’ve been to help figure out if any mid-course corrections are required.


One way to do this is to send your CEO or supervisor a quarterly report–well designed and succinct. Once you’ve done the first one, you’ve got a template for all the others that follow. Include a list of all the projects you’ve completed that quarter (maybe arranged by print, digital, event, etc.)–and after each item include the purpose and reach of each project and any ROI you can provide (retweets, new social media followers, donations through response envelopes, event attendance, media coverage, new donors and donors who upgraded through a communications channel, website usage, blog comments, etc.).

Make this list as meaningful to them as possible–not just a laundry list. Include examples of what you’ve produced where possible–printed pieces, videos, etc.. Help them understand how your work supports both fundraising and program. And, in case they don’t have time to read the list, be sure to include a very brief cover memo that summarizes what you think your greatest achievements (not activities, but achievements) were that quarter. Offer to sit down with them to discuss or answer any questions the report may raise.


There are other ways to make your activities and achievements visible, for instance:

  • Set up a quarterly meeting with your supervisor to summarize the past quarter and get his/her thoughts on what’s coming up the next quarter that might benefit from communications involvement.
  • Drop by your boss’s office for 2 minutes to share a communications success story right after it’s happened (don’t overuse this).
  • Ask your supervisor on a regular basis if there’s anything you can do to support her/his work–drafting speeches or blog posts, making media contacts, etc. Help your boss understand the personal benefits of communications support.
  • Sponsor a minor celebration for the whole staff when your communications team scores a big win. This can be as simple as homemade cupcakes, but add some fun, creative spark that helps celebrate your department. Make banners or pennants. Use your visual identity colors. Play music that relates to the win. (Check out Pinterest for cheap and entertaining ideas!)
  • When you manage to get good media coverage, make sure to send article/video links to key staff.
  • At the end of the year, create a pretty infographic communications dashboard that captures your activities and results, ideally vis a vis the previous year.


Don’t forget the rest of the staff. They can be your best sales force. Ask for 10 minutes of staff meeting time twice a year to summarize what you’ve achieved for program and fundraising during that period, emphasizing ROI. Visit program directors twice a year to chat about what’s coming up for them that communications might assist with. Building genuinely helpful relationships with key staff can mean all the difference when you’re battling for a new staff position or budget increase.

Nonprofit organizations really have two missions–one is program and the other is sustainability. You’re in the same boat. You have to produce effective communications that advance your organization, but you also have to sustain (and often grow) your departmental capacity.

The only way to do that is to regularly remind your supervisor and other staff members that: 1) you’re here to support their work, 2) you’re doing a bang-up job, and 3) you could do even more (specifics, please) if you had more money and/or another staff member.


Flickr Creative Commons photo credit: Ian D. Keating

Use Pinterest to track media coverage

Old NewsThere are lots of useful ways for nonprofits to use Pinterest, not only to engage their stakeholders but to carry out communications tasks.

For organizations that track their media coverage through Google alerts or another online monitoring system–think about using Pinterest as the collection point for all that coverage. Start a “2015 Media Coverage” Pinterest board and every time you find a media story about your nonprofit, pin it to the   board, noting the name of the media outlet and the date (the article title usually generates automatically).

This not only is more efficient (and fun) than keeping a running list, but also is a cool, visual, interactive way to share your media coverage at the end of the year with board members and other fans.

While you’re at it, think of other ways that Pinterest might serve as a quick repository for other information.

  • Do you produce feature articles about your work? Start a feature article Pinterest board that you can share to demonstrate your activities and impact in one place.
  • For funders, do you keep tabs on media articles about your grantees? Create a board for that.
  • Are you researching a particular topic online and want to keep the best resources you find handy? Create a temporary board.
  • Do you want to keep a record of the best nonprofit infographic or annual report design–use Pinterest!

Flickr Creative Commons photo credit: Doug Wheller

Taking a break…


I should have mentioned this earlier but I’ve been involved in a house move for the past year and am taking a break from blogging at Impact Max. During the interim, explore the trove of information and advice from my past posts!

Links to Love

Kick-ass Kickstarter campaigns

kickstarterNonprofits should at least know about the potential of Kickstarter for crowd-funding small to medium-sized creative projects. Even if you don’t use this tool yourselves, your supporters and/or grantees might be interested.

Over the past year, I’ve watched a few friends launch successful Kickstarter (KS) campaigns for very worthy causes, but I wanted to learn more—especially from the communications perspective. Happily, there was a recent presentation on the process by local expert Lou Abramowski—sponsored by one of my favorite Minneapolis design agencies, bswing. I want to share Lou’s wisdom with as many people as possible in the nonprofit communications world.

One big lesson I came away with is that any crowd-funding campaign is going to require a significant amount of time, planning, and organization (not to mention creativity and knowledge of  your target donor audience)..and some up-front capital. Think about that before you make the decision to undertake a KS project. Also, make sure your project has a clear beginning and end date—KS requires that. This platform isn’t for funding start-up businesses or anything long-term—it’s specifically to raise money to fund the completion of finite creative projects. Be sure to check KS’s funding categories to make sure that your project fits easily into one of them.

If you have resources to devote to a KS campaign, think first about a budget. How much do you need to raise and approximately how many donors will it take (each giving say $50 each) to get to your goal. Remember, you’ll have to reach out to many times more people than that final number of donors—so consider if that’s feasible given your resources. And don’t count on Kickstarter (or any other crowd-funding platform) to get you to the finish line. Abramowski estimates that typically only about 3% of your donors will come from KS traffic. The rest come from your own aggressive outreach—emails, phone calls, videos, blog posts, Facebook and Twitter posts, other social media, events, etc.

When you’re figuring out how much you’re going to have to raise to carry out your project—consider that 5% of your contributions will go to Kickstarter and another percentage will go to Amazon for processing the transactions. Also, you will want to produce donation incentives (rewards you’ll mail out to contributors if the project reaches your funding goal), e.g., a copy of your project, calendars, frig magnets, greeting cards, events, etc. to spur various levels of giving and get people more engaged. Those cost money, too. So does the postage for sending them out, and the postage/printing for any mailings you’re going to be doing as part of campaign promotion or follow-up. If you want to recoup those costs, include them into the amount you need to raise. You absolutely need to be prepared for success, so make sure you have a plan and funding to carry out after-campaign follow-up, right from the beginning of the campaign.

Also think realistically about how compelling your project is. When you talk to people about it, do they get excited? Is there a great story to tell—something that can arouse the same kind of passion in others that you feel? The most important part of any KS campaign is the quality of the project. But, as Abramowski points out—people are not only investing in your cause, they’re investing in you. So make sure your personal or organizational story is also exciting and human—i.e., not institutional pablum.

As for choosing Kickstarter over other other crowd-funding platforms, Abramowski recommends it because it attracts a very high number of unique visitors. It’s the largest crowd-funding platform for creative projects in the world; that means a built in audience for you and good brand  association for your project. But be forewarned, the support staff probably isn’t going to be as helpful as staff on smaller platforms, like Indiegogo.

Here’s some of Lou’s best advice for mounting a “kick-ass” campaign on Kickstarter.

  • You’ll need a great video. Hopefully, you’ll be able to produce this yourself with smart phone or videocam footage and free online editing software. Tell the story behind the project, emphasize the need and the fact that this project just won’t happen unless people contribute. DON’T FORGET THE ASK!!!
  • Create fun rewards for different levels of donation. Try to get people to the $60 mark, but reward many levels of giving.
  • Build anticipation. Start marketing while you’re setting up your campaign on Kickstarter (which can take several weeks). During the actual campaign, a good rule of thumb is to focus 70% of your marketing on the first three and last three days. It’s crucial that your campaign period covers at least two pay periods during the month (Fridays). And time the campaign ending date so it gives people a chance to donate right after their second paycheck–which is more likely to be discretionary money.
  • Partner wherever you can. Find friends, colleagues, freelancers, and agencies who believe in what you’re doing and are willing to contribute ads, copywriting, videography, event venues, anything that can lessen your out-of-pocket costs and help spread the word.
  • Write exceptional copy. This is all about storytelling, authenticity, passion, and honor. Use natural language, no jargon. Keep it conversational. Make your KS pitch as creative as your project is. Stay honest.
  • Be yourself. This doesn’t have to be a Hollywood production. People need to feel the authenticity to share your excitement. They are investing in you as much as the project. Don’t read a script, tell a story. Keep it simple and engaging. And don’t forget the call to action!
  • Market like crazy.  Marketing is going to be responsible for 95% of your success—and 95% of your work! Be everywhere everyday. Over-update on social media. Answer every email. Take out ads. Do mailings. Throw a party. Get creative! (But don’t forget to build these costs into your total funding goal.)

After all this, if you’re still interested in trying KS, here’s a great post from Mashable that goes into much more detail about ensuring KS success. Good luck. And thanks to Lou and bswing for sharing their KS expertise.

Free Tools: Visual Timelines



Facebook isn’t the only place you may want to use an interactive visual timeline to tell the story of your organization’s evolution and accomplishments.

Lucky for all of us, there are some new FREE timeline tools out there that nonprofit communicators can make good use of: Tiki-toki, Timeline JS, and Dipity. Examples of each are to the right.

Check them all out and choose according to your needs. Of course, there are premium versions to buy that offer more flexibility, but any of the free versions probably would work fine for most nonprofits. There are several differences among them.

Tiki-Toki allows you (makes you) add months and days to the dates of your stories (at least I haven’t found a way around that!). That works great if your story takes place over a month or a week, but it doesn’t work so well for anniversaries where you just want to note years. You can only create one timeline and you can’t embed it on your website without upgrading to a premium account (lowest upgrade is $5 per month). You can share your timeline, just not embed it. There are also some limits on images hosted on the Tiki-toki server.



TimelineJS  is good if you’ve got tech support in building your timeline. It’s easy for the viewer to use, but not so straightforward for the person creating it. Personally, I found Dipity that simplest to create with. You can get a timeline going in 15 minutes. And I like the way Dipity hides the detailed information–you have to click on it. That makes the big messages in the headlines really pop, and lessens the distraction of the reader. Yet, anyone who wants more details can easily get them. Also, you have the choice of viewing a Dipity timeline as a flipbook or list.

The free version of Dipity allows you to create 3 timelines with a maximum 150 events. These timelines can be embedded and shared. Note–your timeline will have ads on the page unless you buy a premium version ($5 per month minimum). Also, Dipity allows you to sync your timeline with your twitter, facebook, tumblr and other social media so the timeline is automatically updated with those posts. (This feature could come in handy if your timeline is tracking campaign progress.) Here’s a good video tutorial on starting out with Dipity.

Before you even start thinking about using one of these cool tools, you need to have a good reason. Strategy first! None of us have much time to learn tools just for the fun of it. But, if your organization has an anniversary coming up or you’re trying to tell a story that rolls out over time, visual timelines can be a lot more effective than scrolling narratives. Like infographics, they offer easily digestible bites rather than a huge meal of text/photos. Consider the possibilities… And if anyone knows of other free timeline creation tools, please leave a comment below.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, Dipity has experienced long-term technical problems that have prevented creators to edit or add to their timelines. It’s been three weeks and the problem still exists. What’s worse, Dipity hasn’t been forthcoming with information to its users about the nature of the problem. They keep promising it will be fixed by such and such date, but that never happens. I moved my Dipity timeline data to Whenintime instead–based on a referral from another Dipity user. I don’t like the timeline mechanics as well, but it does offer an interesting blog template. Check it out, or one of the other two free timelines above. I can no longer recommend Dipity!

Nonprofits: New look for Twitter and LinkedIn profiles

In the past few weeks, two big social media platforms—Twitter and LinkedIn—retooled the look of their profiles. And–no surprise—both changes focus on adding fantastic IMAGES.

Nonprofits should get in on the action. Here’s the scoop on today’s public roll-out of the new LinkedIn company profiles. And here’s a good article from Mashable about the new Twitter profiles.

First, get inspired! Want some examples of what other nonprofits new profiles look like? I’ve included an image of the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s new LinkedIn profile page–but since this change happened just today, I couldn’t find any other new nonprofit pages. I’ll keep my eyes open and add examples to this post as I find them. But here are some new Twitter profiles.

Now, down to the nitty-gritty…exactly how to make the changes. These two blog posts on Nonprofit Tech 2.0 provide simple instructions for how to rock the new looks for Twitter and LinkedIn. TIP: Pay careful attention to the optimal sizes for the images on each medium. And really be strategic with these photos.