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.

Design & Spec Work

graphicdesignimagewww.no-spec.com is devoted to the ethics associated with spec work. This is an excellent site by devoted professionals. Here are a few points from NO!SPEC’s FAQ that bear repeating:

What is spec work?

Basically, spec work is any kind of creative work rendered and submitted, either partial or completed, by a designer to a prospective client/employer before taking steps to secure both their work and an equitable fee. Under these conditions, a designer will often be requested to submit work under the guise of either a contest or an entry exam on actual, existing jobs as a “test” of their skill. In addition, the designer normally unwittingly loses all rights to their creative work because they failed to protect themselves by means of a signed binding contract or agreement. The client/employer often uses this freely gained work as they see fit without fear of legal repercussion.

Why is spec work unethical?

The designer in essence works free of charge and with an often falsely advertised, overinflated promise for future employment; or is given other insufficient forms of compensation. Usually these glorified prizes or “carrots” appear tantalizing for creative communicators just starting out, ending with encouraging examples like “good for your portfolio” or “gain recognition.” The reality is that they often yield little extra work, profit or referrals. Moreover they often must sign a contract unwittingly waiving their valuable creative rights and ownership of their work to the ones promoting this system. A verbal agreement is ineffective in protecting the rights of the designer in a court of law. As a result the client/employer will often employ other designers using similar unprincipled tactics to change and/or resell the creative work as their own. This also promotes the practice of designers ridiculously undercharging themselves in the hopes of “outbidding” any potential rivals, devaluing both their skills and those of the graphics industry in the process. Promoting this method encourages some clients/employers to continue preying on uninformed creatives for menially valued labor.

What’s wrong with a contest?

Aside from putting clients under the impression that design doesn’t have worth, it also penalizes the clients themselves. Through contests designers cannot do a proper marketing research required by the project, therefore they cannot create the right thing for the client, who then chooses on the basis of “the prettiest design”. Don’t forget that the designer is the one with the training, the one with the marketing experience. The designer should be able to know all there is to know about the client’s needs, be able to guide the client and get the best for them. After all, you wouldn’t say to your lawyer how he should defend you in a trial, or you don’t tell a mechanic how to do his job. You look at their past history and then you hire them and let them do the job. That’s what designers’ portfolios are there for. If a client looks for the best designer, he should look at their portfolio giving designers a chance of fair competition and giving themselves, the clients, the best service they can get.

Why should I pay a professional to do work I might like when I can get lots of submissions from a contest?

For one thing, you’re deceptively promoting free labor, a disreputable practice in and of itself. You impede the designer from earning a proper salary. Would you work for free with the hope of POSSIBLY being properly compensated? I doubt you’d nod an agreement. Also consider that contests largely attract inexperienced designers who are additionally under a good deal of pressure to communicate an effective professional piece, due to unreasonable time restraints and competition. After all is said and done, you run the huge risk of still winding up with poorly executed designs that inadequately represent your business amongst your competition and future business liaisons. It could end up costing you dearly in the long run in terms of possible lost revenue among other factors. A professional will work towards developing effective tailored design solutions reflective of their years of training and experience in the field. After all, it’s part and parcel of the job.

I don’t understand this “usage rights” thing – explain.

The rights of a design work and concept are spelled in a contract. Usually designers give you rights for the logo concept and for the use of their press ready files. If you take their concept without paying, and give it to someone else who will “do it for free”, you are effectively stealing. Unless otherwise agreed in the contract, you don’t have the right to take someone’s concept, or the files used to create it (unless provided by yourself) and modify them on your own without compensation. If wish you to be able to modify the design provided to you by a designer and without his/her intervention, you must have the agreement from that designer to do so. You will also be charged accordingly because you are utilizing work that required someone’s time and resources.

What is a design/logo mill?

Unfortunately there is a disturbing growing trend affecting the creative communications community where companies using contests as a major part of their business model pit designers against each other, like roosters in a ring, to win bids to have their work (notably, logos and other identity) awarded to clients. Creatives who fall into this unproductive cycle eventually crank out massive strings of poorly conceived, ineffectively executed and in a growing number of cases, plagiarized work from other professionals in order to win as many posted “contest bids” as possible. The more they crank out, the more they earn. What they DON’T realize, or fail to understand is that those who run these deplorable mills pay designers a comparable pittance to what they themselves earn in their markup, making a very substantial profit in the process. Think along the lines of a sweatshop or pyramid scheme where the few benefit over the many. In the end, the losers are both the creator and the consumer, who sacrificed quality design work for the sake of a “bargain.”

If I can’t decide whether I like a design before I pay for it, how do I know I am going to get a good one?

This is why it pays to use a professional designer. Professional designers are just that – professionals. They are experts in their craft. It is their job to do good work.

How do you tell one designer from another? Look at portfolios. Look over their work and narrow it down to those whose style fits what you like and think will be effective for your business. Then, contact the designer to discuss your project with them. Once you get a feel for their work and personality, you will quickly be able to determine if you can have a successful working relationship together.

Pull Your Biz Up by Marketing in a Downturn

During a downturn, customers will be evaluating and adjusting their buying patterns, policies and brand/supplier loyalties. It is during these times they become more sensitive to advertising and promotion. The right message at the right time will not only help you retain your share of the market, but will help you attract new customers.


The average business tends to lose some market share during an economic upturn, despite good sales figures. This is because expanding economies create opportunities for new rivals to enter growing markets in order to satisfy new demand. That’s why savvy marketers actually increase their advertising during a slump. Competitors are less willing or able to defend their market share during these times, and many marginal players actually get pushed out. As other cut back on their advertising and the message landscape opens up, your advertising will have a greater impact on customers. Your market share increases, sustaining you during bad times and growing you during the good times.