Category Archives: Non-Profits

6 Minutes to Finding Your PR Moments

I had a phone call the other day from a friend who has a great public relations (PR) opportunity in the form of an event that is taking place at her business on

Uncle Jerry celebrates Pi Day.

Uncle Jerry celebrates Pi Day.

March 14 (3/14) or “Pi Day.” She was looking for some feedback on what kinds of PR might be appropriate. Since my friend has more than 20 years in the marketing industry, she’s no slouch when it comes to recognizing PR moments.

But what about everyday business people who are so busy running their businesses that they barely have time to take out the trash, let alone think about PR?

PR moments surround us, but it often hard to see them without a little guidance. These questions will help you generate a list of possible PR moments so that you can garner more awareness for you and your business. Grab a sheet of paper and use the next six minutes to put together your PR road-map.

1. What National Days might naturally fit with your business?

For example, if you run a bakery you’ll want to mark National Cupcake Day (Dec. 15) as well as National Dessert Day (Oct. 14) on your calendar. And that’s just the start, there’s also days set aside for Oreos, Banana Cream Pie and Pi Day. Google “National Days” and see what opportunities exist for your business.

2.  Does your City/Town/Village have annual celebrations?

Make sure you put each and every local festival and parade on your PR calendar. There are always opportunities to raise your business profile by marching in a parade, sponsoring a contest or hosting a booth. If you happen to do it with a zany theme or to benefit a children’s charity, media will be delighted to hear about it.

 3. Has your business been nominated for or won any awards?

Don’t wait until you win! Even being nominated for an award is an honor and a press release to let the public know about it is perfectly legitimate. If the organization giving out the awards hasn’t created a release, you can build a little good will with others and mention all the award nominees in your press release. If you’ve won a coveted award, make sure the awarding organization has a professional photo of you or your business to send with their press release.

 4. Do you or your employees have any unusual hobbies or collections?

The media loves juxtapositions, so if you are a beautician by day and a roller babe by night, that’s the kind of “opposites” that make for an outstanding story. Bonus points if there are great visual elements to the story.

 5. Is there a trend that you’ve been seeing in your business?

One local business in our area has had eight couples become engaged at their facility in the past three years. Because the business owners generally know about the proposals in advance, it opens up some fun opportunities for that company to leverage the tenth engagement or an engagement that has unusual elements (like a singing mascot). Media is always on the lookout for emerging trends (why more people are doing public engagements) with great visual elements (a newly engaged couple with a singing mascot).

 6. Is there an organization or charity that your business avidly supports?

If you have a charity of choice, especially if you have a personal story that makes that bond tight, consider raising awareness and funds for that organization by hosting a special event or activity at your business. This is truly a win-win-win, with the media getting a great positive story while the charity and your business raise awareness.

 Take this list of PR moments that you’ve just generated and plan your PR for the year. I guarantee that taking advantage of all these precious PR moments will pay off big for both you and your company.

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Outside a Disaster Looking In

For me, it is always an odd feeling to watch a disaster from the outside.  I am more typically in the middle of things focused on helping to deliver the Red Cross mission to people who desperately need help.

Red Cross volunteers Jill Bode and Ana De La Garza during Hurricane Isaac.

When you are on the outside, with the media and social media as your primary sources of information, it looks a little different.  But there are some universal truths about disasters regardless of location, duration or frustration.  Here are a few:

1)     Someone will always need help.

2)      Someone will always give help.

3)      There will always be sorrow.

4)      There will always be laughter.

5)      Help can = a Hug.

6)      You can’t make it go away.

7)      Sometimes you can only choose your attitude.

8)      People are incredibly generous.

9)      People are amazingly resilient.

10)    Everyone wants to know what they can do to help.

Disasters are the worst of times, but seem to bring out the very essence of who we are.  They are frequently unexpected, unwelcome and unnerving, but they are always a learning experience for the families, volunteers and communities impacted.

Have you ever had a disaster?  What did you learn?

If you’d like to support the Red Cross, visit www.redcross.org to learn how.

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How Referral Relationships Created A Carnival

A couple of months ago my husband was asked to serve on a carnival committee to help raise funds for a local school.  Although he participates in a variety of community activities through my work-related affiliations, he has rarely had time to be “hands-on” with events and has gone out of his way to avoid committee work because it is “inefficient.”

After spending several months in a local leadership program, he felt like he had the skills and insight to be able to make meaningful contributions to the carnival project, so when he was asked, he said yes.  He didn’t really have any more time than before, so he decided to be efficient with the time he did have and use referrals to shorten the timeline. Here’s how he did it.

  • Hear a Great Idea? Refer that person to the right people. My husband actually ended up on the committee as the result of a referral.  He was asked to share any ideas he might have to improve the carnival.  He suggested a “signature” food like tamales and the next thing he knew, he was asked to join the committee.
  • Who do you know who..? He knew he had to deliver on the tamales idea, so he contacted a couple of friends who were Hispanic and they, in turn, referred him to cooks, supply vendors and provided some ideas for creating large quantities of this savory delight.
  • Use your own network. The committee decided to move the carnival from the previous location on the school grounds to the local county 4-H Fairgrounds. After more than a month of not having phone calls or emails returned, the committee became concerned that they would not be able to get a contract signed in time. My husband used his personal connections with an auxiliary member of the fair board and asked him to refer the committee to the correct people.  The referral source took it a step farther and helped them secure the contract in under a week.
  • Know your network. One of the 4-H Fair Board’s major concerns about hosting the carnival was that the organization would have alcohol and gambling on site.  Having anticipated that concern, my husband made contact with a former employer who is the current president of the Shrine Club—conveniently located right outside the Fairgrounds—and struck a profit-sharing deal with the organization.  The Shrine is able to raise funds for the Shriners’s Hospital and still help the school.
  • Turn to your closest contacts. The new location offers a huge amount a space that can be utilized to help raise additional funds for the school. My husband started by asking me if I had any ideas.  It so happens that I know a local Hot Air Balloon pilot who told me that he had a tethered hot air balloon program that would allow non-profits to raise funds. I made an email introduction and they struck a deal.
  • Treat unsolicited referrals with respect. One of the 4-H Fair Board members was so impressed by the committee’s ideas that he referred them to a company that does zip line rides and would share the profits with the school.
  • Ask for help. But there was still a great deal of space that could still be utilized, so my husband solicited more ideas and a car show was suggested. Now, this committee is very small and anyone who has ever hosted or attended a car show knows that it takes lots of volunteers. So my husband began tapping into his network of friends with classic cars.  Within days he had the names and phone numbers of several top car club presidents and several offers of help.
  • Utilize OPN (Other People’s Networks). Marketing the carnival was a top priority, so the committee, which by now had started to catch on to the idea of using referrals to lighten their load, called a variety of other local groups and asked for their help in getting the word out.

Carnival Referral Prizes:

  • Build your network before you need it.
  • Pay attention to your friends’ and co-worker’s many activities and organizations.
  • When people give you a referral, act on it quickly and be sure to let the referrers know the outcome.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask everyone/anyone you know for help.
  • Listen to other people’s requests for help and be prepared to refer them to folks who can help. One of the best ways to get good referrals is to give them.

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A Non-profit Primer (How to Succeed with Businesses without Being Trying) Part IV

This is the fourth installment of a series of articles on how non-profits can work better with businesses. To read the first article, click here.

Too many organizations make the mistake of only showing up at a business when they need something.  Keep in mind, every time you ask a business to donate something to your cause, you are probably the 20th person to ask them for something this year.  You have to treat this relationship as a two-way street.

Think about what you can do to help them. FYI–“free” publicity at your event just won’t cut it.  One of the easiest ways you can be creative about how to help a business, is to ask them what they need (novel, huh?). Then think about how you can help deliver some or all of their needs to them.  For example, it they are trying to get in front of more business owners, invite them to your next Board Meeting and have them give a 5 minute presentation.

Here are a few other ideas to help you “farm” for resources instead of having to go hunting each and every time you need something.

1.     Offer to speak at any Rotary, Kiwanis or Sertoma clubyou can lay hands on.  They are always looking for speakers and they are more likely to support causes they know about in the future. Don’t ask for money the first time you go speak unless you have ok’d it with the program chair. Make sure to follow-up your speaking engagement with a thank you note so you’ll be remembered.

Attend as many business events as you can.

2.     Find trade groups that fit with your mission and work with them.  Attend their functions and volunteer on their committees.  One example for the flood recovery group I worked with was the Builders Association of Greater Indianapolis, but for a youth agency, a trade union might be a great fit.

3.     Business or professional groups are also a great place to give talks to pre-prep a group for a future need.  Make sure that you have a clear idea of how your organization’s mission and Clearly Stated Needs (CSNs) fit with their group’s mission.  For example the American Business Women’s Association (ABWA) is a good fit if you work with an organization that promotes self-esteem in young girls. Chambers of Commerce can offer access to a large business audience all at one time at their monthly meetings.

3.     Don’t overlook churches.  Many of them have groups that are interested in knowing more about the programs that your agency may have.  They can be amazing resources and they have access to lots of people available to volunteer for events or programs. One local group who is trying to raise awareness about homelessness is working with church youth groups to hold an homelessness simulation event. They have so many willing participants, they are trying to work out the logistics of doubling the size of their event.

Bonus Tip: Stack the deck when you attend or speak at a meeting by having one of your Board Members who is already involved in that group introduce you. You can “borrow” some of their credibility and put it to work for your organization. Just make sure to treat their reputation as the valuable resource that it is.

The important thing is to think long and hard about how you want your organization to be perceived by the business community. Avoid being thought of as a mooch and focus on being a helpful partner to the businesses that support you.

I’d love to hear any ideas or challenges you’ve had in working with non-profits.

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A Non-profit Primer Part III (How to Succeed with Business without Being Trying)

This is the third installment of a series of articles on how non-profits can work better with businesses. To read the first article, click here.

Before we go any further, I want to go over a few insights about the actual conversation that you need to have with your “prospects”.  Start by telling everyone you meet about at least one of your Clearly Stated Needs (CSNs).  I do mean everyone: your hair stylist, the cashier at the grocery store, even your spouse. Do it without being pushy and make sure you explain the agency mission and how this CSN will help fulfill the mission. Then ask, “Do you know anyone who might be able to help us with this?”  After that, stand back and take notes, because I guarantee that they will have ideas and you want to get them written down so you don’t forget.

Be sure to tell everyone you meet about your organization's CSNs.

After your “source” has shared their ideas and possible contacts ask if they will either a) call or send an email introduction or b) let you use their name?  I’ve never had anyone say no.

The minute you get back to your office, follow-up your conversation with a thank you note or email and your contact information. Make sure to let your “source” know that you will keep them informed as the situation progresses. You want to encourage and reward their ownership in your enterprise, so let them know you are treating their referrals with respect and care.

About this time, you may start to notice that you have a bazillion names–those of your sources, the referral names and their business names.  It’s a lot to keep track of, so you’ll want to consider using a good Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to track and maintain all the details.

A good CRM system can help you track:

  • Basic contact info
  • The dates you and times you contacted your referrals.
  • What source referred you to a contact.
  • Relationships (the “R” in CRM) between various contacts.

Many folks use Outlook because it came with their email program, but it is really just a database not a CRM.  There are better systems that allow you to do more and manage info better.  I use HighriseHQ.com because I can import and export lists, see everyone who works for a company with one click, allow multiple users access to the info and create a variety of connections for each contact (boards they serve, place of employment, softball team, college attended, etc).  In addition, the price is right. You can start a trial version for free and upgrade as needed. Of course, there are other CRM systems that will work just as well.  Be sure to use something to track all this information or it will quickly overwhelm you.

In the next installment, we’ll discuss some strategic ways you can begin approaching businesses before you need help. In the meantime, here are a few good places to meet “Sources” that can help you with your CSNs:

Stay tuned for the next article on working with other organizations in your community to leverage your access to resources and help.

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A Non-profit Primer Part II (How to Succeed With Businesses Without Being Trying)

This is the second installment of a series of articles on how non-profits can work better with businesses. To read the first article, click here.

In the previous article we talked about creating Clearly Stated Needs (CSNs) But you need to know how to use those CSNs effectively. So I’m going to give you some tips on a systematic approach to raising more funds, volunteers and awareness for your cause.  And you can do most of it while eating lunch (or dinner).

First and foremost, become a member of at least one Chamber of Commerce.  Attend Chamber events and participate in chamber activities regularly–at least one time per month.  Read the Chamber newsletter and be strategic about which staff is going to the events.  Volunteer to help with a Chamber event.  You can meet a lot of people if you are helping with registration or name tags.

Only give out your business card if asked for it.

When you go to Chamber events and take members of your staff with you.  Make sure they understand in advance that they each have to sit at a different table and (scary!) talk to people they don’t know.  Prep all the staff on a “theme of the day” that you all talk about consistently.

Our agency’s “theme” or elevator speech was always loosely based on our agency’s mission statement and our most pressing CSN that we were trying to solve. Everyone you talk to at the event should get some version of the same information. We were often surprised to discover that we had resolved our CSN by the event’s end.

A couple of other business etiquette pointers to share with your staff:

  • Everyone should take business cards and only give them out if asked.
  • Be sure to ask your “sources” for their business cards (and follow the Japanese custom of making a positive comment about the card before you stick it in your pocket).
  • Each staff member should follow-up on any requests for information as soon as they return to the office.
  • Immediately send a Thank You note to each “source” who gives you a referral.

    Thank you notes are your "unfair" advantage.

Above all, the biggest key to making this work for your agency is the ongoing systematic approach.  You may have to go to several events before you can build up your business credibility.  You can accelerate that process by having a business-owning board member take you around and introduce you, but you must be physically present to make this work. If you only go a few times and quit or aren’t consistent about attending at least monthly, don’t even start going because you will lose credibility for your cause.

So find the closest Chamber of Commerce today and inquire about their non-profit members rates.  I guarantee that if you follow my plan you will make back your investment several times over.

Stay tuned for the next article on working with other organizations in your community to leverage your access to resources and help.

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Non-profit Primer Part I (How to Succeed with Businesses without Being Trying)

This is the first installment of a series of articles on how non-profits can work better with businesses.

I have been flipping back and forth between the two sides of the coin for years: a few years with a non-profit and then a decade with a for-profit, then back to non-profit and so on.  My most recent non-profit stint ended a little over a year ago and since I’m firmly back in “filthy lucre” land, I feel safe in sharing a few hard-won observations with any non-profit executive who  is willing to listen.

It seems like every non-profit in the world believes that if they just had enough money, all of their troubles would be over. More money would bring them more staff, more volunteers, a better building, more…well, you get the point.  But the truth of the matter, is it doesn’t take just money to succeed and no matter how much money you throw at things, it won’t fix a poorly run board, an agency without a clear-cut mission or staff that is not invested.

More importantly, the need for financial support does not excuse the bad behaviors that many non-profits engage in–undercutting their competitors, bad-mouthing other agencies and creating programs just to chase grants.  While I’m fine with competition, I think collaboration is ultimately a much more powerful tool and, at its foundation, collaboration assumes that there is enough of everything to go around–good ideas, resources and, yes, money.

Think about a world where you don’t have to fight for every dime to keep your doors open, where the things you need appear at the right time and the people you need are available to help you.  Won’t that be less stressful and more pleasant?  Bear with me and I’ll show you how to do it.

Let’s pretend that we are running a youth after-school program in your town.  We have 200 kids a day coming and we need to have activities for them and a place to do those activities. At this point, a lot of non-profits would whip out calculators and start figuring out the cost to rent a space, the cost to hire childcare providers, the cost to purchase games, etc.  Then they would head off to write a grant or beg a big company for money.  They will tell you it’s cost-effective to spend lots of time on one or two “hot” funding prospects.

Perhaps, but here’s what I suggest we do.  Start by spending a little time clearly stating our needs (let’s call them CSNs).  The only rule of CSNs, is that it’s not about the money. With that in mind, here are a few of our after-school program CSNs:

  1. We need a building with 4 restrooms, a working kitchen and 2,000 square feet of open space inside and an outside fenced in play area that is at least 1,000 square feet.
  2. We need 10-12 people who are 18+ years old to work with the kids Monday-Friday from 2:30 pm -6:30 pm.
  3. We need sturdy equipment to play with or on, such as basketball goals, basketballs, swing sets, tables and chairs, etc.
  4. Other items we might include in our CSNs are food for snacks, arts & crafts materials, school related supplies and books, and on and on.

Once you get your CSNs listed, rank order them with the most pressing need at the top.  Also consider what kinds of groups or businesses might be able to help you with each of the CSNs.  For example, a commercial realtor is going to know a lot about various buildings, a builder might be able to build that type of building and an Insurance Agent or CPA might know a building owner who needs a tax write off.  All of these are great potential resources.

“But I don’t know people like that,” you cry. No worries, our next article in this series will address how and where to find people who can help you with your CSNs.

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