Following up on those trade show and conference leads

Does it seem like time has flown by this winter?

I know it has for me. Maybe it’s the strange weather — my friends living in the middle and right hand side of the country seem to be getting hit with yet another major snow storm, while Seattle has been enjoying a relatively mind and dry winter.

Follow up on those leads!

Audrey II and my 65 pound spaniel. Audrey is not a small plant.

In fact, it has been so mild that I don’t think I’ve worn a jacket outside in weeks and my prized Gunnera Manicata (aka Audrey II) is already starting to grow rapidly… about a month ahead of schedule.

Good old Audrey II. She is so popular, friends bring their loved ones to my house during the summer months to have group photos taken under her canopy. She is so popular, she might as well have her own Facebook page (friends pressure me into creating a new FB photo album documenting her growth every year). My husband and I like to attend the annual Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle to find various experts who are “in the know” we can brag to about Audrey II. She is definitely one of a kind here in cold, temperate Seattle. But even Audrey is confused by the weather and is having time-space issues.

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Relationships give, not relationships take

“Some of the biggest challenges in relationships come from the fact that most people enter a relationship in order to get something. They’re trying to find someone who’s going to make them feel good. In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take.” — Tony Robbins

A high school friend posted this quote on Facebook yesterday — and it stuck with me all day. It stuck with me all weekend, really. Robbins was referring to intimate/romantic relationships, I assume, but this can be true of all types of relationships: teacher/student, customer/vendor, parent/child, and even donor/organization.

There are some development people out there who believe that donors are to give; that’s their “job” as defined by the very word that marks them (the etymology is the Latin word donare, which means to give as a gift). But surely there must be more to it. When someone makes a gift of time, talent, and resources to an organization, it is because they have formed a bond — a relationship — with the organization’s mission, services, role in the community, staff, and board. The organization is giving to the donor through this relationship in some profound way (and there are many different ways, depending on the circumstances). The donors trust that the organization will work to fulfill its mission with the support. The donors feel satisfaction that the gifts will make some difference in the community. The donors feel connected on a personal level with a cause or issue important to them.

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Outreach and trusting in good touches

Traffic for my post last weekend about the pineapple upside-down cupcakes went through the roof. And I mean through the roof! I was so excited, I shared the news with my husband Sunday night:

Me: “Traffic for my cupcake parable post is through the roof!”

Al: “That’s because everyone is searching for pineapple upside-down cupcake recipes and landing on your site.”

And he’s right. Even my own friends — people who know that this blog specifically focuses on NPOs — sent me feedback about the cupcakes themselves:English: A tin with large divets in it, for ma...

  • “Photos look yummy!”
  • “Sorry your first batch didn’t turn out.”
  • “You’re so brave to make a new recipe the night before a party.” (or dumb, in my opinion)

But I also heard back from friends and colleagues who said the story made them think and reflect on their own processes, perseverance, and reactions to roadblocks and perceived short-comings. Some of these comments came from development professionals with whom I then had great conversations about annual giving and letter campaign procedures (which is what I had in mind when writing it). Some are not in development… and the post started great conversations with them about their own work, their parenting struggles, and so on.

But that’s the great thing about this cupcake story: the lessons are transferable and fairly universal.

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E-newsletters: a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma

E-newsletters: Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

As budgets are squeezed and people become more aware of our carbon footprint and ecological impact, nonprofits are turning more and more to converting all communications to online and email. Plus, online makes sense since it seems people are abandoning paper versions of most other forms of written communications (such as newspapers … and am I the only person left in Seattle who hasn’t purchased an e-reader?). E-newsletters: we love them! e-newsletters come with their own set of problems: a drastic reduction in the distribution list due to difficulties moving print subscribers over to e-news, difficulties collecting good email addresses, spam programs blocking delivery, formatting issues when considering all of the different browsers available, and very low open rates. E-newsletters: who needs them?

And then there is this interesting article about the poor ROIs of e-newsletters, promptly followed up with a swift rebuttal (from Ahern Communications, Ink)

Bottom line, though, is that the average metrics for nonprofit e-newsletters in 2011 were 13% open rate, 1.6% click-through rate, and 0.17% unsubscribe rate, according to the eNonprofit Benchmarks Study (as cited on FrogLoop). I have a hard time wrapping my brain around creating a content-rich, carefully researched, lovingly crafted communications gift to the world when only 13% of those who receive it will even open it. That hurts the hidden tortured writer in me.

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About building those new doors for opportunity…

My original intention¬† was to follow up yesterday’s post about (re)engaging your community, key stakeholders, prospective donors, and constituents with a list of suggestions to help as you Uncle Miltie, standing in front of what may be a door.brainstorm what (re)engagement means for your organization. I realize now the folly of trying to create such a list, honestly, in direct violation of advice I myself gave — every organization is different and there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. So why would I then come up with a list of suggestions that may have absolutely no value to your particular org, culture, or situation? So let me take a step back and discuss some of the overall concepts of engagement, and then it would be great to hear your ideas and what has worked for you. For the most part, these are common axioms in the development community, but they are worth repeating (and to cut down on the wordiness and need for inclusiveness, I will use “constituents” to mean your target audience, donors or otherwise):

  • Have a plan. I cannot stress this enough. Make. A. Plan. It can fit on a single sheet. It can be scribbled on a cocktail napkin and held together with tape. But write down your strategy and refer to it often. What happens if things change and you must deviate from your plan? Don’t throw it away! Remember that this is how life works: reassess the situation and revise the plan accordingly. In some ways, the plan will not only help you see where you are going, but it will help you track where you have been. What happens if you don’t have any written plan? (Re)engagement strategies as an ad hoc venture sounds about as efficient as running a development program with no strategic development plan. Here are some basic parts to your (re)engagement plan (and these could be categorized by activity/effort):

Who are your major players and what are their duties?
Who is your target audience?
How are you keeping track of contact reports?
What are your goals and objectives? Continue reading

Controlling your image on the internet

Staying on top of your multiple communications platforms every day, every hour. This doesn’t require much time, right? There’s not much to do as the go-to communications/outreach person…

Enough to leave one speechless.

Oh wait. On second thought…

I love this graphic, and not just because of the pretty colors or the flashbacks of being a child in the 70s watching The Partridge Family (did you know Danny Bonaduce is now a morning radio shock-jock here in Seattle? On a classic rock station, nonetheless). I will be referring back to the graphic quite often in the future, analyzing small bits as we go.

But I do have some quick thoughts about a very specific issue. Be in control of your internet presence — whether your agency is a full-colored peacock across the entire chart or just a few shades here and there.

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New Video: Puget Sound Labor Agency

I worked with PSLA earlier this year on establishing new development and administrative programs/procedures. This Belltown agency quickly adapted its programs to meet the extreme increase in demand for services (especially the food bank), while having to make severe cuts to account for the downturn in the economy. As a result, the executive director stopped wearing a tie to the office and took over many of the necessary duties to ensure the food bank stayed open. They do whatever it takes to continue to feed the 40,000+ mouths that come through their door annually, looking for some hunger relief and a bit of kindness.

This is my first video.

Events are not $ilver bullets. Instead, think of them as big, warm, fuzzy bear hugs.


I will admit that my entrance into development was through events. I was doing nonprofit development work as a volunteer years ago, before I even knew that’s what I was doing.

Before I went to grad school, before I started college, even before I graduated from high school, I was a waitress. The most practical skills I learned, beginning at around age of 15, were customer service skills, being able to greet and talk with anyone, juggling 62 tasks at once, learning the timing and flow of programs and service, developing the extra sense of anticipating the needs of guests, and just being on the service-side of major events/banquets. My step into planning events was as an undergraduate student when my department needed to organize a dinner of some sort… I don’t remember what it was. I watched the faculty struggle with making decisions, offered to help, and they dropped the entire event on me. No problem! Since then, I have found myself running some element (or the entire event program) of countless auctions, receptions, conference sessions (and two full conferences), campaign events, house parties, promotional appearances, and concerts. I know events.

But here are some things I have learned over time that I wish more nonprofits would consider (and this has come up a LOT lately as I have talked with various orgs):

Brand new major events are not $ilver bullets that will make you lots of money in a short period of time, and should not be considered quick fixes for your revenue problems.*

If your organization is struggling financially, think long and hard before you decide to host a new event for the sole purpose of bringing in an infusion of cash. Events rarely work that way, especially when the event is brand-spanking new to your organization.

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Grassroots video making, otherwise known as “there’s no budget, so I’m using the kid’s flip camera”

I am just putting the finishing touches on my very first video for a local Seattle nonprofit. There was no budget to have the video done professionally, but we had to create something to communicate to the community what work the agency does, who it serves, how it serves them, and demonstrate the hard work and dedication of the almost all-volunteer staff. Relying on traditional means of communication just will not work for this agency — neither of the two staff members are equipped to keep up on the fairly complicated website module system they are contracted into, and there is no budget to create a consistent newsletter (paper or e-news). So my work around was to make a video — and I had to make it myself. Easier said than done.

I’m not a film-maker. I didn’t have a lick of experience making films. What I did have, though, was years of experience teaching and thinking about film as another form of narrative, and so bringing the story together in my mind (and on paper) was the fun part. The not-so-fun part was learning how to edit the actual clips into the narrative using all free software. Luckily, I’m a fast learner and came up with quite a few great work-a-rounds.

I also discovered that Moby (yes, that Moby) has made some of his remixed and unreleased material available to nonprofits and film students for non-commercial video projects. Thank you, Moby and mobygratis, for allowing me to use one of your pieces!

The video is almost ready to make public, and I cannot wait to unleash it onto the social media community and the Seattle blogosphere. This agency has been running a food bank in Belltown since 1975, serving tens of thousands every year, and it’s time the Seattle community learned about them. Stay tuned!