Punch Up the Impact of Your Nonprofit’s Next Annual Report:


  • Use your annual report as a chance to shine by showcasing your triumphs and emphasizing their impact in your community.
  • Identify and speak to your audience: service users, supporters, volunteers, local officials, MPs, foundations, etc.
  • Put forward your main message, and keep statutory information at the back of your report. You may wish to consider putting it in a separate companion document.
  • Your theme should be whatever your organization’s main push has been over the last year. Compelling stories around that theme are fresh in your group’s conscience. Use these stories to give your report its narrative.
  • Do the words “annual report” evoke yawns for you? Consider “impact report”.
  • Good design (flow, cohesion, colour, visual interest, meaningful infographics, interesting visuals) gives your document impact. If you don’t have those skills in-house, hire an experienced designer to keep your report from disappearing.
  • Use all voices to give your report its character: service users, staff, partners, volunteers, supporters, and case studies. “A Day in the Life of a Volunteer.” Outline the major risks faced by your organization – it’s an important part of the picture.
  • Consider using an event to ‘launch’ your report. Or build its launch through media. Perhaps a local story or issue can help create a little buzz around your report’s release.
  • You’ve prepared the usual introduction, executive summary, etc: do not neglect to closely align your objectives with your business plan.
  • Key achievements can include positive media coverage, increases in volunteer numbers, invitations to speak at conferences, new contracts gained, etc.
  • When showing impact and value, it’s critical to back up your claims with statistics, numbers and facts.
  • A recent and comprehensive examination of nonprofit reports by Deloitte revealed most to be dull, and short on photos, charts, colour and visual interest in general. Don’t use long unbroken tracts of copy.
  • Finally, while there is a trend to publish your report only online, it pays to produce a small quantity of hard copies. Most charities need to do more to communicate with potential donors. A hard copy left behind in hand makes a lasting impression.

Nonprofits and Social Media

socmedHow do most smaller nonprofits without dedicated marketers use social media? Generally, badly! Here are a few quick tips to help shape your social media habits, and give you a base upon which you can build your social online presence:

Appreciate your corporate sponsors fully and repeatedly, not only on your site and Facebook page, but on your sponsors’ blogs, Facebook pages, and wherever else they post. Enlist the help of your event team, including volunteers and perhaps even the people you serve, to make certain all sponsors have been very thoroughly thanked online. You’ll want to give them every reason to see the benefits of sponsoring you next year as well.

Think about generating a Wikipedia page for your organization. Once you have written and uploaded it, monitor it to make certain no one adds information that is not accurate. While you’re at it, reserve your organization’s name in Linkedin, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. You will want the option of using any one of these virtual venues down the road, even if you don’t foresee the platform as useful at present.

Don’t forget about email. When you post on Facebook or Twitter, know that we are growing increasingly fatigued with the glut of social media messaging and most maintain only a periodic or a cyclical interest in any given platform. All of us on the other hand are still engaged daily by our email inbox. However, be mindful of the legislative changes coming to email marketing July 1st, especially the definitions of both implied and explicit consent under the new law.  The imminent Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) stipulates that you must have a pre-existing relationship with an email recipient, based on a real identity and not a virtual identity or alias. According to CASL: “Using social media or sharing the same network does not necessarily reveal a personal relationship between individuals. The mere use of buttons available on social media websites – such as clicking “like”, voting for or against a link or post, accepting someone as a “Friend”, or clicking “Follow” – will generally be insufficient to constitute a personal relationship.” And remember: no more “opting out” (Sorry, Rogers…).

Future recipients of your eblasts, e-newsletters, e-announcements, etc., will have had to “opt in” to receiving them. Consider putting an email consent option in a logical spot on your website, and develop the practice of simply asking for explicit verbal consent to email during phone conversations with new contacts. (For example: “May I email you the details?”)

For information on the changes coming, check out http://fightspam.gc.ca/eic/site/030.nsf/eng/home . So no more email blasts to all who ‘like’ you, or ‘follow’ you. It may be time to revert to printed postcards or newsletters for community awareness campaigns, time once again to rely more heavily on traditional print methods in your fundraising, and generally any time you wish to cultivate new contacts. Make certain you consider print in your next social mix.

Marketing for Nonprofits: Why Less is More


One goal, one message, one action. A few months ago, I attended a seminar at my local chamber of commerce, delivered by a marketing company operating throughout the Kitchener/Waterloo region. The presenting firm specializes in nonprofits, is locally well-regarded and is patronized by several of the area’s social service agencies. There were between 40 and 50 such agencies represented in the audience, ranging from small community service providers to the dynamo charged with the typically onerous annual fundraising target of a large area hospital.

I was prepared to be impressed. That never happened once during the two hours of monologue lain over a predictable ‘Death by PowerPoint’ presentation.

The presenter’s contention was that there were no differences between marketing for nonprofits and for-profits, and I don’t believe the case was persuasively made. She lost half her audience somewhere between her antiquated definition of marketing and her wholesale dismissal of social media as a time wasting trend.

The unfortunate episode got me thinking again about marketing and communications for nonprofits: what are the considerations specific to this sector? I have decided to assemble and post a few of my experiences on the subject as an exercise in distillation for myself, and for the benefit of whomever stumbles across these thoughts and happens to be interested.

I begin with a few ideas around writing for fundraising: What drives campaign copy? A single goal, and the simple path of eliciting an emotion and response leading  to that goal. Never indulge the temptation to be all things to all people.

Less is more. A single concept should determine all aspects of the campaign that flow from it. Many nonprofits have worked hard to develop clear statements of mission and vision, yet fail miserably to project a single message during their campaigns. What is your message? What feeling do you want to evoke, and into what action would you like that feeling to translate? One goal, one message, one action.

Hazards and the usual suspects. What are the hazards you will encounter in the course of deploying your campaign concept? Most often, it is people. Because many people within an organization use computers, write, etc., many mistakenly believe themselves to be “(pick one: marketers, writers, designers)”. And because nonprofits can be very consensual, cooperative workplaces, it’s important to severely limit responsibility for internal approvals and changes, and curtail cc’ing , allowing designated creative developers to do their jobs whether they are outside hires or staff members. In some cases, by the time everyone has covered their butts, protected their priorities and inserted their favourite jargon, a great concept is diluted and its effect dissipated.

Your say over the work is not more important than the campaign. A single concept should govern the effort and all that is associated with it. The inclusion of your department, your philosophical talking points, favourite phrases, most treasured sector jargon, etc., are all secondary to the goal and should take a back seat to the single idea that will elicit audience emotion and the desired response. Less is more when it comes to protecting the broth from the effects of too many chefs.

Content and Marketing

atContent is strategic and consistent, and should be created within the framework of your marketing long view. It’s not to be lumped in with the tools that carry content forward to your audience – your content is significantly more important than the delivery vehicles that may change from year to year. Content reaches out, and is best when it’s showcasing positive user experience. Excellence in your content will be recognized by others, and will be shared. Is there a bigger endorsement than when others shine the light on you, your product or your service?

Western Entitlement and Marketing

note bottle

It must have been western entitlement that granted us our level of delusion with respect to the collective economy. It allowed us to believe there would be no tipping point at which exchanging our jobs for short-term profits would depose us as kings of the global consumer economy. All water under the bridge now. And so it is past time to re-examine our strategic marketing realities, and set aside a host of cultural conceits born of complacency and a history of privilege.

As the West watches its influence wane, what can we anticipate in a changing marketing landscape? We have already witnessed how China places no cultural premium on brand authenticity, and there are a gazillion Louis Vuitton facsimiles out there to reinforce that single cultural difference. As far as concerns the Chinese, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it doesn’t necessarily have to be licensed as one. What will this mean for identity (logos, taglines and even brands) as we understand them in the present context of western marketing methods? In the larger context, what has it meant for intellectual property in general, and for artists in every field of creative endeavour?

Global firms headquartered in the West are beginning to look at surrogate branding and other practices common in distant hemispheres with an eye to applying them here. Most believe that Brand will be manifest only in the consumer’s experience with a given product or service. A logical evolution, when one considers the participatory nature of new media. Ultimately, there is but one marketing absolute irrespective of message origin and delivery: whether sandwich board, brochure or blog, excellent content will rise above the white noise of the marketplace.