Tag Archives: communications

Who Owns the Vision?

This column is directed to executive directors and CEOs of non-profit organizations, presidents and chancellors colleges and universities.

Is your vision statement long and flowery? Or does it have more of a business tone? Can someone differentiate your organization or institution from those with a similar mission? Is your vision the same as the executive or president who served before you? Have you taken the time to craft your vision, or have you delegated that to a committee?

Here’s what we believe. It is up the executive leader to craft the vision statement. It has to come from you. You were hired to lead. You were hired for your experience. And you were hired for your vision. As a leader you need to articulate that vision – write it down, share it with your board, senior staff, major donors, and ultimately all of your staff. Ask for their input. Modify it based on the feedback you receive. It will become the institution’s vision – everyone needs to buy into it – but it has to start with you.

As you craft your vision statement think about all you know about the institution. Reflect on the conversations you have had with board members, donors, community members, students, families, volunteers and others. Think about their visions – whether they have stated them explicitly or not. Which do you agree with? Can these be integrated into your vision statement? Consider organizations similar to yours, and define the ways in which the organization you lead is unique – or will be unique. Think about the people you serve or represent and their circumstances; consider the political and economic landscape.

Sometimes a major funder will want to influence your vision. They may be looking for an organization to pursue certain programs and want yours to do so. These may be well intentioned requests, but is their vision in line with your vision?

If you are an interim leader, step up and assert your vision. You may have been asked to serve in a “care taker” capacity until the next leader is selected, or you may be charged with being a “change agent.” In either case, exert your leadership by communicating your vision.

Regardless of your tenure, your vision may conflict with that of your board chair, or that of a major funder. If that’s the case, take time to share why you hold the vision you do. It may mean you are not the right leader, or that the board member is not a right fit for the organization, or that your institution is not a right fit for a certain funder. Don’t worry – that’s life. There will be others with whom you or your organization are a fit. Don’t let fear stand in your way. Clearly communicate your vision for your institution – it will influence everything, so be explicit. That way everyone knows what you are trying to achieve.

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Know Your Economic Impact

For every dollar invested into your institution what is the return to the community? Is there a social impact? Political impact? Economic impact? How do you measure it? What do you track? These are questions to ask as you consider how to make the case for giving and investing in the non-profits you are involved with.

While some impacts are difficult to measure, and long-term impacts won’t manifest for years or generations, there are also impacts that can be measured. But, you have to set up the processes, methodologies and tracking systems required to collect data that will bear up under closer inspection.

Another way of communicating impact is to measure the economic impact of your organization on the geographic area you serve. An economic impact report can help “reframe” your nonprofit so it can be viewed in its fullest context as a community contributor as well as a solicitor of funding.

When stereotypes are applied nonprofits can be viewed as “takers” – organizations that “beg” for money, or are a “drain” on the community. But this is a distorted image. Especially when it comes to publicly funded institutions such as hospitals and universities. While these receive public funding, they are also major employers with employees whose incomes circulate throughout the community sustaining local businesses large and small. Their purchasing departments contribute to sales and employment for the private sector. Conferences, programs and services attract people to the region who stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, fill their gas tanks, and visit local attractions.

In short, nonprofits are important to a community’s economic ecosystem. When you write a check to a nonprofit you invest in both the organization and the community in which it is located.

Here’s an example. The Jackson State University Center for Business Development and Economic Research recently completed an economic impact report showing that the University contributes an estimated $413 million and 8,700 jobs to Mississippi’s economy on an annual basis. This is a $1.86 return on each dollar invested by the state in the University.

“Jackson State University is truly a major economic engine of not only our city, but the state as a whole,” JSU President Carolyn Meyers said in a press release. “We know that our success fuels the success of Mississippi. As our enrollment continues to grow, we expect our economic impact to be even greater.”

Their payroll is $57 million for 1,542 full-time employees and more than 500 part-time workers. The institution spends an estimated $95 million on local goods and services, and students spent another $85.9 million in local economy, generating $1.4 million in Jackson-metro sales taxes.

It takes time and resources to measure impact, but it’s an investment that pays returns. You have to show your impact.

Websites in the Age of Twitter and Facebook

In the world of Facebook and Twitter we sometimes forget the value of the trusted website. Can’t we say it all in 140 characters? Or a photo? Will the website go the way of the covered wagon?

We were at the Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence Conference “Powerful Networks: Nonprofits, Social Media & Community” this week and attended John Kenyon’s workshops. He set us straight. Kenyon is the Educational Program Manager for the Nonprofit Technology Network, NTEN (www.nten.org).

“While on-line communication tools are valuable, you need one place where you can provide your constituents with both high level and in-depth content and communication. You can tease them with tidbits on twitter and tantalize them with photos on Facebook, but your website is where they come to get the full scoop. And to donate!”

He opened with the basics, asking “What are the search terms someone would use to try and find your organization if they didn’t know you exist?” Good question. Write down the phrases. Google them. See if your organization comes up. As you add content to your website be sure to include those phrases (in a natural way!).

Here’s another great point. For most organizations people are the number one asset. Number two is data. Think about it. Where would your organization be without data regarding people served, program outcomes, donor names, board member email addresses, and other “inconsequential” things like that! Here’s the question John asked, “Does your budgeting reflect the value of data to your organization? Does it even come close to doing so?”

Something to think about.

Here are a few more tidbits: When you are conducting a fundraising campaign make sure it is highlighted on your homepage. Every page on your website should have two items: a Donate Now button and a Subscribe button. Ask everyone you communicate with “What is your preferred method of communication?” Then act on that information. For people who like e-communication, go that route. For those who want to receive a print copy of your newsletter, get one to them! The last tidbit: four things your website should do: build credibility and engage; cultivate; provide “clickability” or interactivity; and provide regularly updated content.

Finally, let us close with our new favorite quote, “Don’t make me hunt for it!” Kenyon emphasized that all sites must have a search function. Again, on every page! We must admit to being number one offenders. John poked fun at us, saying “Your site and blog are so content rich, but how can anyone find what they are looking for??!!?” Our take away: we are getting search buttons for our website and blog. Ah, we all have something to learn!

You can reach John at john@nten.org or follow him on twitter @jakenyon.

No News is Good News?

Is your nonprofit organization getting the media attention it deserves? Do you ask, in frustration, “why do we even bother creating press releases if no-one covers our events?” You are not alone. We can’t promise a cure, but we can help you develop stronger relationships with appropriate media.

Start with identifying which media would be a good fit for the message you want to send, and the people you want to communicate with. Identify media with a similar target. Within a news station, know which news shows or segments would be an ideal fit.

Identify the highest ranking person within the media organization you can secure a meeting with. Ask someone to open the door. “Example, Jeanine, I know you have a relationship with the news director at FOX news – would you be willing to get an appointment for us to meet with her?” Simple, but you have to ask.

Your goal is to cultivate media before you need a story run. Visit media representatives at their offices (always respecting deadlines!). Come prepared. Bring a press kit. If you don’t have one, ask someone with experience to help create one. Make sure your materials make the case for your organization right up front. Who you are and what you do should be spelled out clearly. Accompanying photos will make it come alive. Share your nonprofit’s story in a concise and compelling manner.

During the meeting ask about the newspaper’s interests, goals and target market. Discuss the direction they are seeking to move in, and explore how your nonprofit can help them meet that goal by providing access to experts, reports, data, and human interest stories.

Ask for suggestions on how to improve your press kit, and the best way and time to submit materials. Ask who in specific you should submit information to. And don’t forget to invite them to come see your organization in action.

By meeting in advance with people behind the scenes you can learn a media outlet’s business goals, upcoming focus segments, timeframes, deadlines, and requirements. You want to make it easy for an editor to run your nonprofit’s press release, to cover a news or human interest story that ties back to your organization, and to report live from your event.

Come prepared with how you want to recognize the media throughout the year. Are you looking for a media partner? If so, come with an annual schedule of events and examples of how the work of the nonprofit ties to compelling issues within the community.

Remember – nonprofits have to be all about transparency, accountability and impact. Be open and honest with the press. You want friends. If you are concealing or tell half-truths the media you want as a partner may investigate you. Get on the front page the right way!