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2009 Resolutions January 6, 2009

Posted by Liz Glazer in General Rambling, Measuring Communication Success, The Workplace.
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Happy New Year! Fingers crossed this one’s better than the last. Here are some resolutions that might help make it so:

Eat Right.Stop consuming all that daily nay-saying junkfood! Sure, times are tough, but indulging in negativity will only make them tougher. Toss the tasty “this sucks” candy bars, along with the “we can’t” cookies and “whoa is we” cake. Stock your cupboards instead with deliciously positive goodies, like Robin Hood Marketing, Strategic Communications for Nonprofits, and Forces for Good. Beware of co-workers bearing “bah humbug” brownies. You’re on a new diet now, and it tastes good.

Exercise.Shake your tail feathers. Get out of your rut. Leave the office for once, and go to a professional meeting or training session. Learn something new. Try something new too. Get some colleagues together and have a brainstorming session. Do some strategic communications planning. Work on generating some new buzz. Just get out there and do something different for a day or two. Re-energize yourself and, in turn, others.

Lose Weight. Feeling overwhelmed? Take stock of all you do, and see if some fat can be trimmed. Prioritize. Consider what can be outsourced or pushed down the hall. Hone what’s working, and cut what’s not. Reevaluate your initiatives based on their original objectives. You might find that some objectives are no longer valid or necessary, so snip snip away.

Share the Love. Spread your new, healthy self around. Be the positive voice in the room. Be the optimist. Motivate your colleagues with your new attitude. Bring new co-workers and volunteers in on the action too. This could very well be a great year for you and your org. Be the beacon of that light.

Have a happy New Year. Make it so.


Liberals Are Stingy? December 23, 2008

Posted by Liz Glazer in Fundraising, General Rambling.
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I don’t usually like to publish unoriginal material here, but there was a great editorial in the NYT this weekend that I’d like to call attention to: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/21/opinion/21kristof.html?_r=1&em.  Check it out.

Do Your Homework December 15, 2008

Posted by Liz Glazer in Hiring Consultants, Measuring Communication Success.
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Like most independent professionals, I don’t like to turn down business, especially in these tough times–who does?  However, my ethical standards (and my unadulterated admiration for NYT Magazine columnist Randy Cohen) do occasionally get in the way of a paycheck. Here is a recent example:

I responded to an organization’s RFP seeking a communications consultant.  When I got their thumbs up and scheduled the preliminary call to learn more, I was all set to razzle dazzle with my Jill-of-all-trades abilities and can-do attitude.  But, as it turns out, I never got to strut my stuff.  I was too busy asking questions, like, “Wait, can you please explain why you’re doing this again?  I still don’t get it.” 

I wasn’t trying to be difficult.  Really.  I just can’t seem to allow an organization to move forward on an inititiative when it’s clear they don’t actually know if they NEED to, and they’re not willing to do the work to find out.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I know sometimes we just WANT things we don’t actually NEED.  I certainly don’t need cable television or yet another pair of jeans, but here I am with both.  Legitimate items in the want pile might be a jazzier-looking website, foil embossing on your holiday cards, or nicer stationary stock.  When you have the budget and the time, you tackle these wants without much thought, and that’s just fine.

Not legitimate in the want pile, however (IMHO), are items like new core messages and taglines, a new logo, or a redesigned website.  These are serious initiatives that should be undertaken for serious reasons.  Frivolity has no place in such projects.  This is particularly true for nonprofits, where buy-in from leadership and members is typically make or break. 

Before undertaking projects like these, you must do your homework and do it well.  I will use the example of new core messages.  (Note:  If you have the budget, a consultant can do this for you; my point is that it needs to be done, no matter who does it.)

  • Document What Exists:  You’ve got to have a starting line or you won’t be able to find the finish line.  What are your current core messages?  Where and how are they used?  Who uses them?
  • Set Your Benchmarks: This is all about getting where you want to go, and you can’t get there if you don’t know where it is. You need to set clear goals for your core messages, and they must be measurable and attainable.  For example:  “When they read our core messages, our constituents will know what what we do, where, for whom, and why”;   “Our board members will be highly aware that we have core messages.”
  • Perform a Needs/Gap Analysis:  In light of your benchmarks, a. what’s wrong with what exists, and b. what will fix it?  Good needs/gap analysis includes both quantitative (e.g., surveys) and qualitative (e.g., interviews and focus groups) research.  Take the goal from above: “Our board members will be highly aware that we have core messages.”  You can determine the current state of awareness via survey questions, such as, “How aware are you that the Center for Leadership has core messages?  a. Highly Aware b. Somewhat Aware c. Not at All Aware”  When developing surveys, make sure your questions will produce relevent answers.  Making the above a “yes, I am aware” or “no, I am not aware” response, for instance, will not correspond to your “highly aware” benchmark.

As you can see, this homework is a serious endeavour, but circumventing the process can lead to failure.  If you follow these steps, you’ll have the information you need to accomplish your goals, and you’ll be ready to call in a consultant (if you haven’t already engaged one along the way).

Looking Ahead: 2009 December 8, 2008

Posted by Liz Glazer in Uncategorized.
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The New Tangled Webs We Must Weave December 5, 2008

Posted by Liz Glazer in Communication Vehicles, Communications Technology.
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So, you finally convinced the board you need a new website. Congratulations! You’re awesome! Now, I hate to spoil the fun, but take that party hat off and get serious–you’ve got a new website to build–do you even know where to start?

Building websites is not what it used to be. Back in the day, all you needed was “Home,” “About,” and “Contact Us,” and you had a functional website. No more. Today, websites are all about interactivity. The old buzzwords were “user-friendly” and “professional.” The new are “dynamic,” “target-marketed,” and “multi-functional.” Nonprofit organizations, specifically, are looking to their websites to manage members, events, development, communications, and more. You have a lot to think about. So, where do you begin?

Good planning is essential to the success of your new website. It will also save you money in the long run–every time you have to go back to web developers or designers to ask for “more” or “different,” you add to the tally of an already costly endeavour. It pays to know exactly what you want BEFORE you begin to build.  Here are some key preliminary steps you should take in planning your new site:

  • Survey the landscape:If you have peer organizations or direct competitors, check out what they’re doing online. Note what you like and what you don’t and what you think might also work for you. If you have a relationship with these other organizations, talk to them. Ask them how it’s going. Get vendor recommendations.
  • Venture beyond your own backyard: Look for success outside your peers and competitors. Don’t be afraid to learn from those you may not be directly familiar with. Ask fellow staff or volunteers to recommend sites they think work well. Read site development case studies. Check out award-winning sites and see what they may have to offer.
  • Tap your membership:Ask your members directly what they want–and don’t want–from your website. This not only fosters goodwill and buy-in but may save you from making expensive mistakes down the line.  Make sure you build  prioritization into any survey you create. Most of us will say, “Yes, I want it all,” so you must include degreed response options (e.g., “very important,” “somewhat important,” etc.) to ensure you collect meaningful data.
  • Get deep demos from potential service providers: If you’re going to use a web service or software package to build and maintain your site, take the time to walk through front, back, and sideways. You (or your staff) are going to be using this tool constantly, so make sure you’ve examined it closely before you make the purchase. This also gives you a more solid understanding of what is possible–you may discover a new way to use your web that you hadn’t even considered.
  • Set clear objectives for your site: Lay out the who, what, when, where, and why in clear, specific language. Start with the big picture, but be sure you’ve really zoomed in in detail before you take any action. Create a business plan or similar document that can be referred to as you progress through the project. Control your scope.
  • Remember that more functionality may mean more maintenance:Discussion boards seem like a great idea, right? But, that means you’ll probably need moderators too. A subscription newsletter service requires a newsletter writer. Accepting online payments requires an account through a payment service and someone to keep an eye on it. Most technical interactivity has some element of human activity on its back end.

OK, enough with my lecture. You can put your party hat back on now. But, when you do get serious about your new site, do consider the above. Careful planning will be your key to success.

Tips and Tricks for High Impact at Low Cost November 19, 2008

Posted by Liz Glazer in Communication Vehicles, Communications Technology, Fundraising.
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brotherSaving money is on everybody’s mind these days. Making money is on there too, of course, especially if you’re a nonprofit with programs and services tied directly to donor gifts. Here are some tips and tricks for saving money while trying to make it:

Pick Up the Phone. Yes, times are so bad we’re reverting to old-school tactics to get us by. Don’t be ashamed. There’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned telephone call to get donor blood pumping again. Depending on the sector you’re in and the type of donor you’re courting, the phone just may be your best shot regardless of economic times. So, pick up the phone and say hello. Be your charming self. Schmooze a little. Show them you care with this antiquated personal touch. And send them a personalized follow up note that really expresses how much you enjoyed chatting with them. Your reward could be a good old-fashioned check with lots of zeros on it.

Go Digital.This is tough for a designer to say…but maybe you could lay down the Pantone book and surf the digital printing wave for a little while. Digital printing seems to be getting better and better these days. And, frankly, if I have to choose between a moratorium on print and going digital, I’m going digital. Sure the quality won’t meet our highest expectations, but we can live with it for a while, can’t we? We got through the last eight years after all….

Customize In Alternative Ways. I was recently working on a capital campaign for a new client. The finished product was to be a custom pocket folder containing material about the campaign designed for local movers and shakers. The quantity was low, under 200, and so the cost of printing of custom folders could be astronomical. My suggestion: Order gold embossed seals of the campaign logo and place them on generic black matte folders. It will look classy and save a fortune.

Investigate Your Electronic Options.The web moves so fast. There may be a solution today that wasn’t there last month. And new web solutions may be cheaper and more flexible than some software packages you’re considering upgrading to. Look around. See what’s out there. From file-sharing to web-building, creating online communities to managing events and members, it’s a whole new world of possibilities, and they even seem to be cheaper than they’ve ever been.

There are many more ways of saving money while still creating high-impact communications. What are your ideas?

Web Apps for Membership, Event, and Communications Management November 15, 2008

Posted by Liz Glazer in Communication Vehicles, Communications Technology.
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I am working with a client to investigate possible solutions for web-based event, membership, and communications management.  We’re looking at Orchid and YourMembership.com.  Has anyone worked with these providers?  If so, would you recommend them and why/why not?

Equal Pay for Equal Work November 8, 2008

Posted by Liz Glazer in Hiring Consultants, The Workplace.
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Feminists have been chanting these words for four decades, yet the pay scales of men and women in this country are still unequal. Today, I want to post about unequal pay in another context: Work-from-home vs. employee.

It is clear from job postings for off-site employees (call them contractors, freelancers, consultants, what have you) in the fields of communications, PR, and design that some employers believe these individuals should make LESS than their office counterparts. I recently challenged one of these job posters, citing equipment costs, healthcare coverage, no paid vacation, etc. etc., to which they replied, basically, “but people who work from home have more flexibility….”  And, so, that means they should be paid less??  Many employers answer yes.  I urge you not to be one of them.

Unless you are hiring interns, desperate recent grads, retirees, or stay-at-home moms and dads who just want to keep their skills sharp, $20/hour for mid-level professional work is NOT a fair wage. Employers offering these wages do not seem to understand the reality of the full-time work-at-home professional:

  • I pay my own health insurance, life insurance, equipment service contracts and more, and I don’t get any group rate either.
  • I purchase and maintain my own office equipment, software, and supplies. And when my computer breaks down, I don’t get paid to sit and wait while IT analyzes the problem for me.
  • I buy my own business cards, develop and host my own website, print my own marketing materials, and pay for my own high-speed internet and phone service.
  • When I get sick or head out of town for a few days or celebrate a religious holiday, I don’t get paid. I don’t get paid to take lunch. I don’t get paid to take a smoke break. When I get up from my computer to pee, I am off the clock.
  • I pay for my own professional development, training, memberships, and more.
  • I spend hours and hours–unpaid hours–looking for work, bidding on jobs, and building relationships, which may or may not pay out in the end.
  • I have zero job security. Inevitably, even the most successful consultant will have periods without work–without any income at all–zero, zilch, nada.

Flexibility is indeed a benefit of working from home, as is empowerment, a sense of pride in being an “expert,” and the ability to wear pajamas through the noon hour, but none of these pay the mortgage.

Work-at-home professionals deserve the same hourly rates as their office counterparts, PLUS what it costs to provide benefits to those counterparts.  For mid-level communications professionals, this translates to roughly $40-70/hour, depending on geographic location. Be fair, be reasonable, employers. Be ethical. In the words of Spike Lee, “Do the right thing.”

External Validation September 19, 2008

Posted by Liz Glazer in Communication Vehicles, Hiring Consultants, The Workplace.
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Disclaimer: I am a consultant, so there is an inherent conflict of interest here in this post….  BUT, it’s still good information, so read it anyway.

There are a lot of good reasons to hire consultants. The most obvious is, of course, lack of a particular skill set or capacity on staff. But, the BEST reason to hire a consultant has nothing to do with skills or capacity; it’s all about external validation. Allow me to illustrate:

You have been itching for a new logo and tagline. Yours looks like it was developed by an undergrad in 1966, and you believe it reflects nothing of your current eminent status as a world leader in scientific capacity-building. HIRE A CONSULTANT TO VALIDATE YOUR NEED FOR A NEW LOOK.

Your volunteer training program is a mess—disorganized and amateur-looking doesn’t begin to describe it. But you just can’t get your board to take the problem seriously and move forward with a new program. HIRE A CONSULTANT TO VALIDATE YOUR NEED FOR A NEW TRAINING PROGRAM.

Your office environment is depressing at best. Moral is as low as the pay, and you know you aren’t the only one considering jumping ship. HIRE A CONSULTANT TO VALIDATE THE OFFICE DOOM AND GLOOM.

In volunteer organizations, where the board and the staff interact face-to-face only once or twice a year, consultants can be your best friends. They can shine the light in places you’ve been trying to call attention to yourself for years with no success. Consultants can validate what you already know and provide the impetus for the change you want. Volunteers will often accept consultants’ ideas before they accept yours. This is frustrating, but it’s fact. Use this knowledge to your advantage.

Accountability and Its Infinite Rewards September 16, 2008

Posted by Liz Glazer in Fundraising.
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Accountability is a big buzzword these days. From government to Wall Street to association boards, accountability is on the mind of every money managing entity in the country. To accounting departments, accountability may mean bigger headaches than ever before. But to you, a nonprofit communicator, it could mean big rewards. 

Nonprofits rely on government, foundation, member, or donor funds, and/or corporate partnerships to accomplish their goals. While the government and many foundations have always had fairly stringent reporting requirements for grantees, members, donors, and corporate partners have not. Don’t let that stop you from reporting to these groups what you have accomplished with their time and money. The return on that investment can be great.  

Here are some points to consider when reporting to members, donors, and corporate partners:

  • Be as specific as possible. How many times have you donated to a charity and received a generic thank you letter with empty phrases like “you make our work possible.”  Do such phrases make you want to donate more? Not me. Yet, they always include a new donation slip and SASE, right? Most people would prefer to know exactly where their money went. Look at the success of Christian Children’s Fund. When you donate to that organization, you don’t just receive a thank you letter; you receive a picture of a specific child you have helped, plus information about that child, her family, country, and more. With that thank you, you get to see exactly where your money went, and it feels good.  It makes you want to give more.
  • Don’t rely on occasional press releases or a couple paragraphs in the association magazine or newsletter. I’m not saying eliminate these. They’re perfectly worthwhile, but they lack the impact of my next suggestion.
  • Create a one-stop shop of organization accomplishments. Depending on your resources, this could be a flyer, a mailer, a letter, or a webpage, or all of these. Whatever it is, make sure it encompasses most—if not all—of the great things you’ve done with your donor’s money. Don’t expect members and donors to connect the dots from news release to magazine to newsletter and come up with their own list of all you do. Put it all down in one place. Make it obvious. Don’t leave room for erroneous or empty interpretation. And don’t make them look hard to find it.
  • Report outputs, not inputs. Aside from maybe your board of directors, no one really cares how much you collected this year. We’re self-centered, most of us. We want to know what you DID with OUR money. And we want to know not just what you DID with it, but what the IMPACT was of what you did with it. Did you send inner city kids to camp? Great, but what was the outcome? Was their self-esteem boosted? Did they learn something specific? How did sending them to camp benefit their lives at home MEASURABLY? Don’t assume your donors know why your programs are important. Express success in measurable terms that focus on the impact of those programs.

When members, donors, and corporations can really SEE what it is you’re doing with their contributions, they are driven to contribute even more. This facet of accountability is good for you. It’s the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.