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Posts Tagged ‘nonprofit’

Social media is the great equalizer for nonprofits

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 — 


I recently read an article written from the floor of the Social Media for Associations and Nonprofits Workshop that offered some key social media tips for nonprofit communicators.

The biggest takeaway (beside a few good tips) was that professional communicators working for nonprofit organizations face numerous budget and staffing challenges not seen in the private sector. However, social media can be the great equalizer in these situations, enabling communicators to open new avenues of outreach to donors, volunteers, partners and the media.

What a great point! We all get space on these channels to tell our stories; it just depends how social media saavy you are to make an impact.

Here are four tips to help you do just that:

Listening is key. It helps you learn what is going on in your community and develop content that is relevant. Listening also enables you to form relationships with donors and prospects.

Use content creatively. Content can add context to your work. It can also engage your community and bring them into the conversation. Be proactive about repurposing, altering and crowdsourcing your content to make it go further across different media platforms. Don’t repeat content verbatim, although it is sometimes worth repeating content on Twitter because it is a continuous feed.

Visuals are crucial. Use powerful imagery to engage your community and familiarize yourself with Pinterest and Instagram.

Measure your objectives. Pick relevant metrics to measure and analyze your communications objectives. Use this information to plan your social media strategy and make adjustments where necessary. And, take advantage of the free tools on Facebook, Twitter and Google, for example, to monitor your social media activity.

Jackie Costa is the director of content marketing at Clear Verve. She works with clients to communication more clearly and create smarter, better, channel-appropriate content. Listen for her on Twitter as @JackieMCosta.

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Be brave – get noticed!


Check out this PSA from the Thai Health Promotion Foundation. Don’t worry, the subtitles will help it make sense in English. Be sure to watch all the way to the end. You’ll learn how this video went viral, lit up social media around the world, and caused a 40% increase in contacts to the agency that sponsored the ad.

What amazing results!

Can you imagine what would have happened if the Health Promotion Foundation had taken the typical safe approach? What if they had thrown up the typical roadblocks? What if they had said…

  • “How can we show children holding cigarettes? It will send the wrong message.”
  • “Wait! Nobody mentioned our mission statement!”
  • “You didn’t quote our president, executive director, or CEO.”
  • “That doesn’t sound like what our competitors do. We can’t do that!”
  • “Thanks for the idea but it’s too expensive to hire a crew to film this. We’ll  just shoot it with our iPhones.”

Luckily, if the Thai Health Promotion Foundation did say those things, some persuasive person talked them into trying something new. So the message is noticeable, differentiating, to the point, and you can hear and see what is happening.

They may have spent a little more money to put this ad together, but because they were brave, they got RESULTS.

Christina Steder is the President of Clear Verve Marketing and works with clients to plan, create and execute marketing campaigns.

How do you get people to care?


Last week, I had the opportunity to listen to Rich Meeusen of Badger Meter speak at the Milwaukee Rotary Club. Listening to Rich speak is always an experience. He is funny, energetic, and at one point or another probably managed to offend nearly everyone in the audience!

At the end of the presentation, Rich was asked why homes are not built with the same water-saving technology that is used in vehicles such as boats and campers. Rich responded that he believes it is probably because consumers are not demanding it. This is partially because consumers are charged the cost of delivery for water, not for the value of the water. That’s why water in Milwaukee is more expensive than water in Phoenix. In Milwaukee, water is plentiful and should be inexpensive, but the cold winters mean that pipes break and our system requires more maintenance. In Phoenix, the pipes are newer and require little maintenance. People generally don’t value things that are inexpensive. If water has little monetary value, there is no reason to conserve it. If there is no reason to conserve it, people won’t care about conserving it. We have other things to worry about.

Many of our clients deal with the same challenge. How can you get someone to value something they don’t understand? If someone doesn’t understand the value of your service, how can you compete without resorting to competing on price? If you’re marketing a cause (such as water conservation), how do you get people to care?

The answer is education and patience. For a cause, such as water conservation, the answer is a lot of education and a lot of patience. Rich shared a story in which his father threw a bag of trash from McDonald’s out the window of the car while he was driving down the road. His father thought it was his right to do such a thing. Rich, who grew up with Woodsy Owl and Smokey Bear, would never have dreamed of littering like that. Rich admitted that he runs the water while he brushes his teeth but his granddaughter shuts off the tap. Sometimes it can take a generation or more for the message to sink in. Of course, as an organization you may not have the time to wait for an entire generation of people to grow up so that your message can be heard. But some messages are big enough and important enough that it could take an entire generation for the message to sink in. Be patient (when you can). Remember that no matter what you do, some people may not be receptive to your message. Sometimes the best strategy is to simply focus on those who are.

Christina Steder is the President of Clear Verve Marketing and works with clients to plan, create and execute marketing campaigns. Follow her on Twitter as @clearverve.

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A movement – not a magic bullet


We are a culture of people who want magic bullets to solve our problems. Just look at all the commercials for diet products promising miraculous weight loss or ways “you can get rich flipping houses without using your own money.” If only!

We also see it at Clear Verve. We’re often asked about the magic formula for social media, direct mail, or keeping in touch with an important client. The truth is it all comes down to hard work. That’s the only way to get the job done. You have to send lots of emails. And make some phone calls. And get out from behind your desk and visit your client at his or her office.

Jackie and I recently had the opportunity to hear Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA speak. She talked about the goals of the Girl Scouts, the difference scouting makes, and Girl Scouts’ ambitious plans to create balanced leadership in our country in one generation. That’s a big, fat goal. When you hear statistics that show that women make up only 17 percent of the U.S. Congress, and claim only 3 percent of the top positions at Fortune 500 companies, you realize how challenging this goal is. But they’ve given themselves 10 years to do it. Not 10 minutes, not one email campaign, not one press release, 10 years. And they have the power of 59 million Girl Scout Alumnae to help. They’ve already started rallying these amazing women. They are organized, and they are working to reach their big goal knowing that it won’t be easy. They are measuring their progress and making adjustments along the way. Isn’t that the way we should all run our businesses?

You can learn more about the Girl Scouts’ campaign by visiting

Christina Steder is the President of Clear Verve Marketing and works with clients to plan, create and execute marketing campaigns. Follow her on Twitter as @clearverve.

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Be unexpected


I recently had a completely unexpected lesson in effective communication while attending church.

There we were, sitting in our pews waiting for the service to begin. At the invitation of Pastor Meredith, someone from the congregation headed up to the front of the room to make a few announcements. We sat there silently and waited.  Suddenly, a whistle blew in the back of the room and everyone turned around. There stood Pastor David, wearing an apron and carrying a shepherd’s crook. Behind him were several women wearing aprons and carrying pots and pans. After them came a drummer.

The pot and pan brigade marched to the front of the church to a drum beat and sang a song in traditional army style about how fun and easy it is to volunteer for coffee service on Sundays. The song was a bit silly, the group looked funny, and Pastor David was having a great time twirling the shepherd’s crook. The entire congregation was paying attention. And smiling. Even the teenagers. It was completely unexpected and everyone was watching.

When you need to communicate something, the traditional route often feels the safest but might not yield the best results. How many people would have paid attention of Pastor Meredith had just rolled the “volunteer for coffee service” message into the rest of her announcements? Maybe a few, but not everyone. I guarantee there was not a single person in church that day who did not know that we needed volunteers for coffee service, and it’s likely that the sign-up sheet is now full.

The next time you need to ask someone for something, think about how you can make your message appealing and unexpected. Remember, if you can’t get someone’s attention, you can’t communicate anything.

Christina Steder is the President of Clear Verve Marketing and works with clients to plan, create and execute marketing campaigns. Follow her on Twitter as @clearverve.

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Nonprofits need to realize the economic reset

Friday, December 21, 2012 — 


We attended the fourth annual Easter Seals Thought Leaders Luncheon recently (Thanks for the invite @bobglows.) where presenter Jason Saul suggested traditional fundraising needs a facelift. Even though requesting donations through the mail can be effective, he recommended that we and the other nonprofit personnel in the room start marketing results and selling impact. On the ride back to the office, we got to talking about how we could help our clients convey the impact of the work they do and how to maximize that impact for true social change.

Saul says that the economy has changed forever. Corporations are never going to donate big bucks just for the feel good or because they’re nice. They will contribute to your organization, however, when you connect your outcomes to their market. Head right to the directors of marketing, Saul says, and show them the value of what you offer; explain what kind of results you create for their organizations. Development/advancement directors should continue to send letters to foundations and community relations departments, but should also be bold and use the front door when looking for sponsorship support or funding.

Here’s a clip that will help you get the gist of his philosophy:

Jackie Costa, the director of content marketing at Clear Verve, works with clients to create and distribute smarter, better marketing communications materials. Listen for her on Twitter @JackieMCosta.

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How effective is your nonprofit’s board?


Last week, Clear Verve sponsored the Association of Fundraising Professionals National Philanthropy Day event. As an educational sponsor, I had the opportunity to participate to a session on building organizational capacity presented by Tom Fuectmann, program officer at Community Memorial Foundation in Hinsdale, Illinois.

During the session, Tom divided us into groups and had us share challenges our boards face. Some of the participants were executive directors, others were fund development consultants, some (like me) were in marketing. The nonprofits represented a wide range of sizes and causes. But many of the boards faced similar challenges. Among them:

  • Endless circular discussions. Several participants mentioned their boards had a tendency to discuss the same issues over and over. Tom attributed this challenge to a lack of leadership. When nobody in the group is willing to make a decision or take a stand, issues get revisited multiple times.
  • Lack of education. Many organization reps mentioned they believe their board members didn’t fully understand their roles when they joined the board. Or, worse yet, that the board members didn’t totally understand the needs of the organization. Board training can address both of these issues. It’s also important to remember to market internally. For people on the front lines in your organization, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day aspects of their job and not see the big picture. For people on the fringes (like board members), it’s easy to miss the small details because they aren’t there every day. This leads to missed opportunities to build relationships and “make things happen.”  If someone on your board doesn’t know you really need something, say new rugs, they might miss a valuable opportunity to get them for free when they just happen to meet someone who owns a flooring company at a neighborhood party.
  • Too much reporting, not enough strategic thinking. This can be fixed by communicating reports in advance of board meetings and by organizing meetings so that board members can have time to think. Remember, you chose your board members because they bring a high level of expertise to your organization. They’ll be happier if you challenge them to think strategically rather than just listening to reports and seconding motions.

The effectiveness of your board can make or break your organization. Tom shared two examples of nonprofits with effective boards: In the first case, a well-established and well-known nonprofit was driven to extinction because the board was uninvolved and someone within the organization mismanaged the funds. These board members are now being called to testify about their understanding of what was happening during the time that they were serving the organization. In the second example, Tom explained the organization was trying to decide if it should close or restructure. In this case, the board was willing to do the hard work of evaluating the organization strategically. They ended up rebranding and refocusing and are now much more successful.

Wouldn’t you rather be the second organization? You can be. Keep challenging your board to be its best.

Christina Steder is the President of Clear Verve Marketing and works with clients to plan, create and execute marketing campaigns. Follow her on Twitter as @clearverve.

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It’s a new day, and we’re feelin’ good


We spent the weekend writing, planning, concepting and designing like mad men, er, women, as part of this year’s Tri-Adathon, a 24-hour creative marathon, that left us feeling happier, not to mention a little more tired than usual when we finally headed home Monday.

Tri-Adathon is the annual opportunity for Milwaukee-area nonprofits to receive some really great pro-bono marketing work from three participating marketing agencies – Catral Doyle Creative Company, Clear Verve (that’s us) and Johnson Direct. We know not all nonprofits can afford to hire an outside agency to do marketing, so we step up to help them out. We all agree it’s important to give back to the community, and this is one of the best ways we can.

We take applications from local organizations, select a number of projects to work on, and then shut down to complete these projects in a 24-hour work marathon. It gives us the opportunity to be good corporate citizens, socially responsible neighbors, meet some really great people, and learn about the many organizations that make our community a better place. It also gives us a chance to do lots of creative thinking, usually the best part of working at an agency and often the part we don’t get enough time to do.

Unfortunately, not everyone can benefit from Tri-Adathon. This year, between the three agencies, 18 organizations were selected. At Clear Verve, we wrote a number of marketing and PR plans, created a media kit, designed several logos, concepted a brochure and annual report and even planned an event and its timeline.

Bottomless cups of coffee, lots a sweet fruit, pizza and packages of Girl Scout cookies (one of the clients we worked for) sustained us. Each agency presented its work to the grateful clients Monday. It was gratifying and fun to present our clients with new perspectives and ideas. I’ve rarely seen such enthusiasm and joy on the faces of clients.

Visit to see a list of the clients that were selected; and, to see some inspiration check out our Facebook page.

Display of finished work

Jackie Costa, the director of content marketing at Clear Verve, works with clients to create and distribute smarter, better marketing communications materials. Listen for her on Twitter @JackieMCosta.

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Red Bull: When sponsorship makes sense


Felix Baumgartner jumped from a balloon at the edge of space yesterday (October 14, 2012) for a world record breaking fall from over 128,000 feet above the earth. If you haven’t seen the video, it gets your heart racing just seeing what he saw as he stepped off the platform.


While Felix’s adventure has and will bring him personal fame and fortune for years to come, he is not the only one who will benefit from his bravery (foolishness?). His sponsor, Red Bull, helped him prepare for the jump for the last five years and has gained just as much notoriety for their sponsorship as he has for the act itself. After all, eight million people watched a livestream video of the jump, and the photo of when he touched down and knelt to the ground got over 200,000 Likes in under 45 minutes.

Check out the home page of the Red Bull website, where they promote their involvement with the stunt. It’s filled with information about the jump. It doesn’t even mention their product. Not every company could get away with this, but I’m sure their website didn’t always look like this. Back when nobody knew what Red Bull was, I’ll bet they explained their product. But over the years, they’ve sponsored lots of stunts. It fits perfectly with their product and has created an image of the company and the type of person who drinks Red Bull. Several years ago, I watched a stunt with my husband where some guy attempted to jump to the top of the fake Arc de’ Triomphe in Las Vegas. Or maybe it was the real Arc. I don’t remember the guy’s name or everything about the stunt, but I do remember that Red Bull was the sponsor.

Sponsorships can be a great thing for any business, if they’re strategic. You need to know what your business stands for and find ways to maximize that message through your sponsorships. So many businesses dispense their sponsorship dollars randomly and then wonder why these dollars don’t produce any impact. Treat your sponsorships as a marketing expense, not just a charitable gift and you could reap the benefits too.

Christina Steder is the President of Clear Verve Marketing and works with clients to plan, create and execute marketing campaigns. Follow her on Twitter as @clearverve.

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With the right message, anyone can find success on the auction acquisitions committee


I’ve been involved with auction planning for about five years now, and I’ve noticed that asking for items is the one thing that scares people the most. There are plenty of other stressful components that need to be simultaneously handled — managing the guest list, coordinating volunteers, decorating the room, overseeing vendors — to be sure. But still, if you don’t have items on the auction block, you probably won’t raise the money you’d hoped for.

My suggestion is to handle the request from a marketing communications perspective. Create awareness, interest and understanding for your cause by making sure your message is interesting, clear, current and persuasive. Choose from any number of ways to reach your target audience and then convince them to take action, i.e. donate a product or service to your event. Remember, the clearer, the more interesting and the more convincing your communication is, the more influence it will have on your donors to take positive action, which will positively affect your bidding total.

Here are a few other tips to help you acquire auction items. And by the way, you should have an acquisition strategy in place when you head out to procure the items. Think about categories of price points, categories of items and realize you only need to procure about half the number of items as you have guests.

  • List work. During your auction’s off-season, spend some time building and organizing your donor database so that it’s easy to send out requests when the time comes. Be sure to customize your letters if possible.
  • Watch your timeline. The auction I’m helping to plan now is in October, which makes it a bit harder to collect items from corporations that budget giving beginning in January. We luck out though with businesses with a June 30 year-end. Our letters were among the first received in July when charitable giving budgets renewed.
  • Know what’s trending. Be up-to-date with what’s new, hot or hard-to-get. If you’re in tune with what at interests your audience, you’ll have a better shot at lots of bidding. For example, if you know a lot of parents with young children will attend your event, make sure you have the coolest new toy up for bid in your silent auction. Preschool teachers can tell you what toys the students are playing with most, but you can also research it on your own by reading a few specific magazines and blogs. You’ll key in on several items to add to your ask list that will be attractive to those guests.
  • Always be procuring. Everyone on your acquisition committee should be on the lookout for items year round and be ready to ask for donations while on vacation, or when they see a deal. They also need to network with neighbors and friends to find out who has a time share they’re willing to donate or who might have home projects in the works. This can really work out well. I asked my neighbor if she wouldn’t mind checking with her landscaper on a donation. We ended up with a five treatment program valued at $250 that we were able to package with a patio heater and barbecue grill.
  • Learn to say no thanks. If donations are coming in at the ninth hour, they won’t make it online or into the auction catalog. This frustrates the volunteers, the planners and the donors. Stop taking items, if possible, two weeks before the bidding begins.
  • Lastly, say thanks and thanks again. After the auction, take time to write a wrap-up letter to donors with an additional thank you and auction results. It helps plant the seed for next year’s ask.

Once again, don’t slack off in the off-season. It’s important to stay visible to your donors. The more they are reminded of your existence, the better the chance they will donate to you the next time.

Jackie Costa, the director of content marketing at Clear Verve, works with clients to create and distribute smarter, better marketing communications materials. Listen for her on Twitter @JackieMCosta.

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