Archive for September 2009
It’s no secret–I’m a fundraiser at heart, and I’m not shy about insisting that it’s the best nonprofit career out there. Read more about it in my guest post for Idealist’s Nonprofit Career Month blog.
Note: The following reviews are my own opinions. I have not been asked to endorse any of these resources.
It’s a stereotype that nonprofits have no money. But any nonprofit professional can attest to being given a project with no budget at some point in their career. If you’re in communications, you’re luckier than most, because there are many high-quality, no-cost tools to help you do your job, thanks to that behemoth fairy godmother, the Internet. So if your boss just tasked you with drumming up media coverage and you happen not to have a PR budget—or a list of media contacts—try one or all of these to get your feet wet.
1. Help A Reporter Out HARO is the brainchild of Peter Shankman, possibly the busiest man in social media, and well worth following on Twitter (@helpareporter). He clearly knows and cares about journalists and the people who make it run, and that shows in HARO, which he calls a “family”—with good reason.
How it works: Journalists email Peter the stories they need sources for (called “queries”). Peter sends queries (about 30 at a time) to a mailing list of Joe Schmoes like you and me, three times a day. If you see a story you or a colleague would be a perfect source for, you contact the journalist directly.
Pros: Gives you a basic feel for how journalists assemble stories. Lets you see who’s writing about stories related to your mission or community. Is often funny, thanks to Peter’s daily commentary. Includes many national outlets as well as local ones, blogs, and niche websites. Email-based; good for people who aren’t that comfortable with social media.
Cons: If you’re in a narrow niche, like Clumber Spaniel rescue, you may not see many stories relevant to your mission. Even if you respond to a query, the journalist may not reply to you (HARO often generates more responses than journalists can use). Not usually good for urgent publicity needs, since you can only respond to what journalists ask for. If you respond to a query and the journalist feels that you’re way off-topic, you can get banned from HARO. (This is targeted toward spammers and scammers, and if your intentions are good and you’re at least half-smart, you’re not in danger of this.)
How to get it: Go to www.helpareporter.com and enter your contact info. If you’re on Twitter, follow @helpareporter for urgent queries.
2. PitchEngine PitchEngine is perfect for any communications staffer who has gotten an email ad from PRNewsWire, looked at the price of annual subscription, and gone all woozy in the head. It’s a great service that some of us can’t afford right now. PitchEngine is a decent alternative, especially if you’re social-media-savvy and a lot of your website traffic comes from online search engines.
How it works: You sign up for an account, then copy and paste press releases (PitchEngine calls them “social media releases”) into the text boxes it gives you. Once you send them, they’re live and findable with online search engines. So if you releases one about Clumber Spaniel rescue, and a journalist happens to Google “Clumber Spaniel rescue,” it’ll come up as a recent result.
Pros: Great for urgent publicity needs, since you can issue press releases as needed. Allows embedding of images, videos, PowerPoints, etc. Can be integrated with Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks to share releases with your supporters.
Cons: Signing up requires more information than you’d expect, including your organization’s mission and web URL. The interface for setting up releases can be confusing, such as the “button” for sending your release (you slide the button to one side instead of clicking it).
How to get it: Go to www.pitchengine.com and click “Sign Up Free!” in the upper right corner. Try browsing the site and checking out existing releases on the site to get a feel for it.
3. Google Alerts Many nonprofits still use clipping services to get copies of the media coverage they generate, and I admit, these services are far more comprehensive than you can do yourself. But there’s nothing shabby about Google Alerts, which you can set up to tell you when something is posted online about you, your boss, your organization, your cause—anything you want to know.
How it works: You choose a name, phrase, or other term to get notified about—for example, “clumber spaniel rescue” or “Joe Schmoe.” When that term comes up in web content, you get an email from Google with a link to that content. Most of it is new, but occasionally you’ll get something the search engine just re-found from a long time ago.
Pros: Gives you a feel for who’s talking about your organization, whether in blogs, news, or social networks so you can respond to concerns or acknowledge kudos. Email-based; good for those who aren’t that comfortable with social media. Fast, easy signup. Can use any email account to sign up. Alerts can be modified at any time. Can be scheduled for different types of content (web, blogs, news, etc.) and different, frequencies, depending on how often you want to get them.
Cons: Alerts don’t capture everything; not as comprehensive as LexisNexis or other fee-based services. May return irrelevant results if the terms you use are too common.
How to get it: Go to www.google.com/alerts and fill out the short form.
Did I miss other free PR resources you think are the best thing since mini muffins? Enlighten me in the comments section.
Nonprofits themselves, in various forms, are centuries old, but the term “nonprofit” is relatively young. As a nonprofit professional, I’ve been drawn into countless conversations about the controversial name of the sector. What other sector—or industry, business, or brand—defines itself in a negative, especially a misleading negative? (For those of you playing along at home, nonprofits are legally permitted to have surplus revenue—profit—just not to distribute it to shareholders, as for-profits do.)
Many of my nonprofit colleagues shun the popular alternative, “charity,” as conjuring up images of kind-hearted handouts and bake sales. Today’s professionals know better—nonprofits are vital social safety nets, systems unto themselves in their communities. However, it’s not a given that journalists and news audiences share this vocabulary preference.
An excellent December 2008 post from the Nonprofit Tech Blog discusses online search trends for the two terms, with some surprising results. But aside from disasters, what topics are most commonly associated with each one?
As a news consumer, I had a hypothesis:
1. News stories that used the term “charity” in the headline or body, instead of “nonprofit,” will cover mostly fundraising events and features on the work of specific organizations, and more local stories in general. It might also return more stories from the UK, where “charity” is more common.
2. Stories using “nonprofit,” meanwhile, will have a greater range of topics, including the impact of the economy on specific organizations or sub-sectors, include national coverage, and be exclusively within the US.
Had I more time, a research stipend, and an assistant or two, I’d launch a full-blown content analysis of news coverage of the nonprofit sector to suss out the real differences between “charity” and “nonprofit” stories. But having none, I opted for my old standby: Google.
My method was straightforward: I did a Google News search for “nonprofit” and another for “charity” around 9 AM Pacific this morning. I recorded the first 10 hits from each search, assigning them topic tags (such as “fundraising” and “profile”) to describe their angles. As it turned out, the results weren’t too different from each other.
“Charity” news stories (in order returned by Google, as part of about 45,000 results)
Bupa Launches its 2009 International Charity Challenge to Help a Rural Community (press release; fundraising;)
UCLA surgeon sued for benefiting from his own charity (local; wrongdoing)
Donations Needed for Children’s Charity Brainwave (press release; fundraising)
Eva Longoria: Charity Chick (national; celebrity, event)
Twitter users network to raise funds for charities (national; fundraising, event)
$500K artwork given to charity returning to owner (local; fundraising)
Sweet Charity: Sharon Stone, a Sizzling Do-gooder (local; celebrity, event)
Thefts jeopardize ride for charity (local; crime with a nonprofit angle)
Susan G. Komen for the Cure Receives Charity Navigator’s Coveted Four-Star Rating for Third Year in a Row (press release; accountability)
Dallas Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Chad Willis to Host Invitation-Only Celebrity Charity Event at His Downtown Dallas Restaurant AMPM (press release; celebrity, event)
Topic tag totals:
- Press release- 4
- Fundraising- 4
- Event- 4
- Celebrity- 3
“Nonprofit” news stories (in order returned by Google, as part of about 40,000 results)
Tarzana nonprofit paid too much rent, audit finds (local; wrongdoing)
Nonprofits will join Nutter to mark 9/11 (local; event, volunteering)
Communities In Schools Is Among the Most Accountable Nonprofits in the Country (press release; accountability)
WDBO Local News Orlando nonprofit runs out of hope (local; economy)
CareFirst Replies to City’s Bid For Funds (local; wrongdoing)
Miami-Dade nonprofit provides support for children of HIV/AIDS victims (local; profile)
Nonprofit roundup for Sept. 11, 2009 (national; roundup)
Microsoft helps found, fund open-source nonprofit (local; profile)
Destiny Foundation suspends operations (local; economy)
Slow economy sparks nonprofit collaborations (local; economy)
Topic tag totals:
- Economy- 3
- Profile- 2
- Wrongdoing- 2
- Press release- 1
In general, the charity search returned more press releases, fundraising, and celebrity stories. The nonprofit search returned more economic impact stories, profiles, and wrongdoing stories. This was in line with my hypothesis, if only in a quick ‘n’ dirty initial search.
However, only US stories appeared in either search (possibly a function of Google knowing my geographical preferences). And local stories far outnumbered national ones in both categories. (I excluded press releases when screening for geography.)
I also did a word search on each story to see whether vocabulary is dictated by the thesaurus–whether “charity and “nonprofit” are used interchangeably. On the other hand, journalistic writing style may influence this word choice. But whatever the reason, very few stories from one search t included the term from the other.
So stories are consistent about which terms they use to describe our sector. But is this enough? Neither term describes our work accurately and meaningfully. What name, if any can accomplish this? Or is the name of the sector small peanuts next to our contributions to society?
And who will volunteer to crunch the numbers in a major content analysis? Come on, nonprofit management PhD candidates, you know you want to…
One of the most fascinating love-hate relationships in the nonprofit sector involves the taboo subject of money—or whatever euphemism you want to use. As a nonprofit fundraiser I did the dance myself. Nonprofits don’t need big checks in the bank; they need “funding.” They don’t need overhead funding; they need “mission support.” They don’t even need fundraisers anymore; they need “supporter developers.” Money is the longest four-letter word in the nonprofit vocabulary.
Let’s call a spade a spade here. Nonprofits need money. They may not distribute profits to shareholders á la private sector, but in a way, they distribute the benefits of their social investment to those who may not own shares, but still have a stake in the nonprofit’s work. So nonprofits don’t need money just qua money. They need it to help others. And that’s a staggering responsibility they willingly accept. The struggle is constant, the learning curve is steep, and the stakes are high. This is clear.
Enter the private sector. For-profit businesses have money, and many lack a philanthropic outlet, so there’s a promising fit between the two sectors when one is willing to fund the other for the greater good.
It’s a haughty courtship when businesses intervene and insist nonprofits are financially naïve and should be less “soft.” But is this warranted? Do nonprofits have an obligation to be more like businesses to ensure their work continues?
An article from Monday’s Telegraph (UK) puts this tension in a specific context: venture philanthropy. The featured executive describes how Impetus puts nonprofits through a rigorous assessment and planning process before funding them. The results so far are impressive: the income of the nonprofits Impetus works with has increased by 29 percent a year, and the number of people they help has increased by an average of 53 percent “every year over a five-year period.”
An undercurrent of condescension belies the tension here. The sub-headline for the article reads: “The slash and burn culture of private equity seems ill-suited to the warm and well-meaning charity sector. But perhaps that is just what the latter needs.” That is, nonprofits—soft, gentle, and brimming with good intentions—need a firm hand to steer them toward the best results. With Impetus’ steering, nonprofits have helped more people. At least in this case, the private-sector model improved upon the nonprofit-sector purpose. Maybe money is the answer.
An older article from Third Sector (again, UK) goes even further. The headline pulls no punches: “You have a duty to make money.” This time the featured executive is the winner of the BBC’s version of The Apprentice. And he isn’t shy about telling nonprofits what to do: according to the interview, nonprofits “that fail to maximize their money-making potential are failing in their duty to their beneficiaries.”
So not only do nonprofits need money (as long as we’re going to talk dirty here), they have a responsibility to their clients and communities to aggressively seek money. And both interviews depict the most accountable, efficient, effective model for money-seeking as found in private enterprise.
1) Both featured executives come from the private sector and stake their careers on venture philanthropy.
2) Money doesn’t solve everything (see: crippling nonprofit regulations, bad PR, etc.).
3) The executives work in Britain, which regulates its nonprofit sector far more than the US government does, making the operation of nonprofits a more public affair.
But that said, is it going too far to drive nonprofits to make more money? Is it underhanded to hold up needy clients as justification? And does the private-sector model overlook the creativity and resourcefulness that nonprofits have used for centuries to do their work with less money?
Leave your thoughts in the comments section. Don’t worry, it’s free.