Monthly Archives: July 2010

Favorite Links: July 2010

We’re always in search of fresh thinking on issues that affect nonprofit marketing. Here’s some recent favorites:

The Art of Non-Conformity
by Chris Guillebeau

@Issue: The Online Journal of Business and Design
by Corporate Design Foundation

Web Teams Need Constant Feedback
by Gerry McGovern

Chasing the Pitch

by Dan Woychick

In baseball, anxious hitters often swing at pitches out of the strike zone. In many organizations, communications staff may feel pressure to chase an audience with similarly unsatisfying results.

What we’re seeing today, often in pursuit of younger consumers on the web and in social media, is not unlike the “gold rush” mentality that met the dawning of the internet era. Many businesses knew they just had to have a website. They weren’t really sure why they needed one, or what to do with it once they had one, but doggone it “we’ve got to get our website up!” Questions about strategy could wait until tomorrow.

A decade ago, in downtown Minneapolis, the city leveled a block of decrepit properties and replaced them with a garish Disneyesque mix of entertainment-focused businesses intended to bring suburbanites into the city. The problem was in the premise that people who are afraid of the big city – those who don’t normally come downtown – would change their behavior because a Hard Rock Cafe just opened. The project has been a colossal failure.

It’s always a good idea to keep your primary audience in mind when mapping out your communications strategy. While it’s perfectly valid to produce materials that are targeted at a broad demographic, the narrower the focus of your communications the better. This website is aimed at 18-25 year olds. That article is aimed at people who like to read 4,000-word stories. This invitation is intended for our friends with deep pockets.

Know who you are. Misguided attempts to broaden your appeal can backfire. Not only will you be disappointed in the response, you may alienate your devoted fans in the process. Sticking to a strategy with a tight audience focus will help you keep your eye on the ball.

An Interview with Sue Crolick of Creatives for Causes

by Dan Woychick

Portrait of Art Buddies mentor with student

Photo by Doug Knutson

In 1994, Sue Crolick closed her successful design business to launch Creatives for Causes, a Minneapolis-based non-profit organization focused on inspiring inner-city kids through creativity. Art Buddies, its signature program, pairs creative mentors from advertising and design, one-on-one, with kids from low-income families.

Tell me how Creatives for Causes went from idea to reality?
In the early nineties, I was starting to feel over the hill. Young, talented designers were doing wild and wonderful stuff on the Mac, and I was scared to death of computers. I thought maybe it was time for me to do something else.

I’ve always had a heart for kids who don’t have a lot – my friends call me an unrecovered liberal from the sixties – and I’ve always loved creativity. So I started thinking … wouldn’t it be great to tap the fantastic energy and talent of creative people in my field, and bring it to those kids?

Did you have any experience working with kids?
I had seen how much creative people wanted to give back, ever since we organized an event to help kids at St. Joseph’s Home for Children in 1993. Over the next couple of years, hundreds of volunteers from our local chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) worked with the children – and the volunteers enjoyed it as much as the kids! It was a joy to see.

Still, changing careers must have been a pretty scary leap…
My friends were worried, and my family was really worried, but I had a strong feeling that I was supposed to do this now. I sensed a big reservoir of talent and goodwill within our creative community, waiting to be tapped.

I worked night and day on my dream, fueled by my passion for the cause, and after a couple of years the program was going great. But I was not going great. I was burning out. Running a nonprofit was more exhausting than I’d ever imagined!

Finding balance in life is an art, too. Did you get some help?
Luckily, a gifted young woman appeared and saved us. Stephanie Vagle is wonderful with the children and great with the volunteers. She’s smart, creative, and wise. She was just what we needed, and she’s still working her magic today.

Initially, what kind of marketing did you do to promote the program?
I started out making presentations at AIGA Minnesota’s design conference to recruit volunteers for Art Buddies. I told good stories about some of the first kids we worked with. We had no brochure or website for a long time, just sign-up sheets. We also printed oversized postcards with a reply card at the bottom. Volunteers filled out the card by hand, tore it off, and snail-mailed it to us. Doesn’t that sound ancient?

Action shot of Art Buddies mentor with student

Photo by David Ellis

In the early years, Creatives for Causes and Art Buddies got a lot of nice press from Communication Arts magazine, HOW magazine, and the local newspaper, so we didn’t have to publicize ourselves much. And, we were so busy trying to run the program and fundraise that we didn’t do our own marketing!

How are you marketing yourselves these days?
Now, we send mass emails to recruit and fundraise via an email marketing company, Exact Target. They donate an account to us and are our lifeline! We purposely don’t send monthly online newsletters. In this age of information overload, there is so much coming at people everyday. I think it’s important to ask: How can we stay in touch frequently without being too irritating?

What’s the biggest problem that marketing helped your organization solve?
Our website is huge for us. No organization can thrive without an effective site. We are now able to recruit volunteers, receive donations, show our video and tell our story – all online. Before we had our website, it was so much harder to do those things!

When did you build your site?
Carmichael Lynch helped us design and program it, all pro bono, in 2006. Cindy Schaller of CS Web Concepts and Design was also a great help, and volunteered with us for years. And Creative Arc is helping us update our site right now – again, all pro bono! We are so grateful to these generous donors.

Do you have any tips for finding pro bono help?
Work your network! It sounds simple, but your best prospects for help are people who know you and believe in your cause.

With limited time and resources, how do you prioritize your marketing efforts?
Public relations is absolutely our first priority. It’s free! If you can get coverage in magazines, newspapers, online … this is the best, because it gives you awareness, credibility and costs nothing. But, you have the least control over this, because you can’t force the media to cover you.

Social media is also huge. The trick is to figure out how to make it work for you and your organization. I still don’t know all the answers specific to Creatives for Causes and Art Buddies, but we are working on them. Most of our volunteers are young, so we are asking them to help us figure it out!

And design is at the root of it all. And not just the design of traditional stuff every business needs – website, business cards, brochures – but the design of the organization. If you’re running a nonprofit, how clearly have you identified your service, market, and audience? How consistent is your brand? A good designer can help you think it all through and make a huge difference to your organization!

What’s the favorite part of your job?
I love watching the children transform, watching them go from hesitant and shy to beaming and proud. I believe in the power of creativity to change their lives. I love what Maria, a nine-year-old girl in our program, told us: “I never really knew I was creative before. Now I feel like I could do anything!”

Thanks, Sue. I wish you continued success.

The Decision

by Dan Woychick

Imagine a crisp autumn day. A teenager is visiting a college campus with her parents. It’s just one step in a lengthy selection process of reviewing websites, speaking with friends and relatives, and weighing the pros and cons of one school versus another.

Even though most people aren’t given a national TV audience to announce their plans, it is widely assumed that a big decision – choosing a school, volunteering time or money, pursuing a job – demands deep thought. But does it really work that way?

In our experience with regional public universities, we’ve noticed the opposite is true. Prospective students are not very familiar with many schools, often making their choice based on general – and sometimes inaccurate – impressions. In other words, the common perception – touring multiple campuses, filing lots of applications, sorting through piles of information – is the anomaly, not the rule.

Just the facts, ma’am

As noted in Jonah Lehrer’s book How We Decide, it turns out our brains weren’t designed to be rational or logical or even particularly deliberate. This can be seen in all walks of life, for instance:

  • In an age of unprecedented dissatisfaction with our elected representatives, incumbents are still re-elected nearly 90% of the time. Even taking into account an incumbent’s built-in advantages, this doesn’t seem possible.
  • Kobe Bryant is considered by many to be the premiere basketball player on the planet. Who else would you want shooting the ball with the game on the line? Based on statistical analysis, dozens of players perform better under pressure. While Bryant makes a lot of clutch baskets, he is not more skilled at making those shots, he just takes more of them than other players.

The facts suggest we persistently disregard information that would be helpful in making our decisions.

If I’ve heard of you, you must be good.

With exposure to a barrage of daily messages and with access to a world of pretty good – or at least largely indistinguishable – choices at our fingertips, we often take decision shortcuts by turning to the familiar. It’s as much a coping mechanism as it is a reflection on what we value or believe.

We trust who and what we know.

Are we doomed?

So, while this is great news for Goliath, it represents a daunting marketing challenge for underfunded nonprofits with little name recognition. How can you compete?

  • If you’re well-positioned in the minds of consumers, the pool of competitors shrinks. We’re this, not that. It’s called branding.
  • You’re less well known than you think. Invest in some small-scale market research so the right messages are reaching the right people.
  • Expand your communications beyond the low-hanging fruit. Anyone can preach to the choir and remain a well-kept secret. Using social media can strengthen connections with customers and turn them into advocates.

    Like you, your audience is faced with decisions every day. To guide your marketing decisions, remember to ask: How can we get more people to know, like, and trust us? Becoming the familiar option will help more people choose you.

    Related Content:

    How Facts Backfire

    The Relevance Filter

    Everyone Has Choices