Category Archives: Marketing

BIG Fundraising Oops: The Susan B. Komen Debacle

For a foundation that seemed to have so much marketing savvy, the Susan B. Komen foundation can be awfully tone deaf — and send a message that it’s more interested in raising cash than in spending it charitably.

Their current colossal oops, having stopped funding Planned Parenthood despite that agency’s importance in providing mammograms to low-income women, is only the latest example. As I described in January of last year, the Komen Foundation alienated plenty of nonprofit watchers with its hypervigilant efforts to protect its brand: See “Fundraising Oops: The Susan B. Komen Foundation Uses Donor Dollars to Sue Smaller Groups.” (I was going to illustrate this post with something pink, but decided not to take the risk. Did I say “pink?” I meant “that color that is a mix of red and white.”)

And then there was the foundation’s odd choice in 2010 to put its branding on buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Given that junk food and grilled food have been linked to cancer, this inspired plenty of commentary, and one “What the Cluck?” headline by the group Think Before You Pink (“a project of Breast Cancer Action, launched in 2002 in response to the growing concern about the number of pink ribbon products on the market.”)

Clearly there are people who were already shying away from pink products, not to mention supporting anything else but the Komen foundation, before the latest misstep. But at this point — based on all the media attention, not to mention the fact that my Facebook friends seem to be talking of nothing else — I’d say we may start seeing some pink products on the remainder tables. And an increase in donations to Planned Parenthood.

For an excellent summary of the current pink meltdown, analyzed in terms of nonprofit marketing best practices, see Kivi Leroux Miller’s “The Accidental Rebranding of Komen for the Cure.”

OMG, Is It Time to Think About Year-End Appeals?

There’s only the December tiger left to be viewed on my “Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge” calendar, and you all know what that means for nonprofit fundraising. But as a pre-season gift to us all, Nancy Schwartz has drawn up some simple and effective tips for using emails for year-end appeals in her “Getting Attention” blog.

The sample list of other nonprofits’ email taglines alone is worth the article. Nancy is too polite to say it, but some of those subject lines sound really tired — would anyone really be intrigued enough to open something that just says “Tonight,” or “An important message?” And she’s apparently not on the email list that I am where the nonprofit continually tells me “We still need larger donors,” to which I mentally reply, “I’m not large enough yet, thank you.”

Email is great for regular, timely communication, but at this time of the year, if the subject line doesn’t convey some intriguing substance, no one is going to open the email.


Focus on Finding Good Photos to Show Your Nonprofit’s Work

Here’s a subject that doesn’t get the attention it deserves: The importance of having great photo visuals in your marketing, fundraising, and other published or printed materials. Christy Wiles, Marketing Manager at PhotoPhilanthropy, both discusses the topic and provides fabulous examples of powerful photo images in her recent article, “Visual Storytelling for Nonprofits.”

As someone who’s owned a camera since childhood, but been too lazy to get beyond the basic point-and-shoot, I can attest to the fact that there are limitations to what any amateur can do. I’ve taken a lot of photos at nonprofit events, which usually look either like disorganized crowd scenes, or look posed. Take the below, for instance: a fundraising bake sale, showing a lot of cement, weeds, and people’s backsides. It was a fun event, but the picture isn’t going to move anyone to tears!

(Want to know how professional photographers get those great candid close-ups? It’s with a humongous telephoto lens, so that the subject isn’t necessarily aware of the photographer’s presence.) Sometimes, you just need to hire a pro.

Fundraising Kudos to: Montclair Pet and Wildlife Fund

You know how I love fundraising that makes money by selling something that costs the nonprofit nothing, and the Montclair Veterinary Hospital’s Pet and Wildlife Fund’s “Pet Mayor Contest” is one of the best examples I’ve seen lately.

Here’s how it works:

  • People pay a $25 registration fee to enter their pets in the annual “Pet Mayor” race, fill out a simple nomination form, and send digital photos.
  • Local businesses sponsor pet candidates and provide polling places , where people can vote for their favorite, on their premises.
  • The winning pet gets a $100 gift certificate for veterinary care along with pet food, treats, and services donated by local vendors. The pet mayor’s responsibilities don’t sound too onerous: According to the Fund, the winner “serves as an ambassador of goodwill to all creatures in the community: two-legged, four-legged, furred, feathered and scaled,” enjoying “media attention and the chance to appear in public on behalf of the Pet & Wildlife Fund.”

This is apparently the Fund’s most popular fundraising event of the year. And it’s a proven publicity-generator — I read about it in the local neighborhood paper.

Fundraising Partnerships With Local Real Estate Agents

Since I cover both fundraising and real estate matters at Nolo, I can’t help but notice how often the two intersect.

This week, for example, my local neighborhood newspaper’s real estate section contains a front-page article about the Grubb Company’s recent donation of $5,000 to a local arts center.  DJ Grubb is quoted as saying, “From a personal perspective, I can’t wait to enjoy and participate in upcoming events. From a realtor’s perspective, it represents the spirit and ingenuity of the community . . . .”

On page 5 of the very same section, McGuire Real Estate’s home ads are accompanied by an announcement of its “1st Annual Neighborhood Garage Sale,” to benefit local schools. For every local homeowner who registers to hold a garage sale on September 17, McGuire will make a donation to the schools.

And agents at Pacific Union routinely donate part of their commission to a “Community Fund,” which makes annual awards to local nonprofits.

The pattern here looks pretty clear: Real estate companies have an interest in maintaining the vibrancy of the communities in which they operate, given that it helps them sell houses. And by helping local nonprofits, the get positive press coverage, or can at least draw attention to their own advertising.

Sure, they might have altruistic motives as well, but when it comes to business donations to charity, that altruism almost always gets exercised in a way that simultaneously benefits the business.

So, if you haven’t been watching which local real estate agents are interested in partnering with nonprofits, perhaps now is the time to open your local real estate section.

Or, get proactive. Even without making a cash donation, there are ways that local real estate companies may be able to pitch in with your nonprofit’s efforts — perhaps by lending their offices for a phone-a-thon or event, or suggesting properties for your next fundraising home-and-garden tour.

Getting Creative With Fundraising Methods: Newly Released Podcast

Wondering how important it is to come up with a fundraiser for your group that’s new and different? Or how other groups have managed to come up with winning ideas? Check out the podcast “Bringing Creativity to Your Fundraising Efforts,” drawn from Ilona Bray’s recently published book, The Volunteer’s Guide to Fundraising. It includes tips and stories from parents, events planners, and more.

Feeding Kids Sugar to Raise Money for Diabetes Research?

Yesterday was “Mug Root Beer Float” day at the Oakland A’s baseball game, at which families brought lots of kids to enjoy meeting celebrities, watching floats, and of course drinking root beer floats.

Yes, it sounds like it was fun.  And according to the press release, the event raised over $29,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

But as a friend of mine who went to the game commented, “Isn’t there something a little weird about feeding kids sugar at an event dedicated to dealing with a disease that’s all about the body’s inability to regulate blood sugar?”

Call me a curmudgeon, but I’d say it’s very weird. No one has yet found the cause of diabetes, but doctors are certainly raising alarm bells about sugar consumption and obesity, both of which are rampant in the United States. I give the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation credit for creating a business partnership that got them in the headlines and raised some significant amounts, but what a mixed message to send.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that processed and sugary foods have been drafted into the cause of fundraising. And people are taking notice — and better yet, suggesting creative alternatives.  For example, you’ll find some helpful tips on healthy food alternatives in this guide from Canada’s Nova Scotia Department of Education, called “Fundraising with Healthy Food and Beverages.”

Fundraising Kudos to: McNay Art Museum

I’m an art museum addict, so while at a recent conference in San Antonio, Texas, I managed, in the few hours before my return flight, to fit in a trip to the McNay Art Museum. (Maybe I should mention how graciously they fit all of my luggage into the coatroom and called a cab in time to get me to the airport, too.)

But aside from the pleasures of the collection, I was struck by something I’d never seen before: Wall postings next to selected paintings containing patrons’ recollections of what that particular work has meant to them over the years.

The accounts included everything from adults describing their childhood favorite paintings — or in one case, a man describing how a Modigliani became his ideal when searching for a wife — to a child saying of Monet’s Water Lilies, “My favorite picture was of the pond and lepads.” (I think I’ve got that right — I know I remember her spelling of lily pads correctly!)

What a great way to get people to reflect on what the museum means to them, using the power of storytelling. It’s a subtle strategy to build loyalty and a sense of affinity with fellow patrons, which of course leads to donations.

Also, the tendency for people to consider what the art has meant to them over a lifetime also inspires the sort of reflection that translates into legacy gifts.

My one criticism is that I couldn’t find any of these patron accounts on the McNay’s website. (Or maybe they’re there somewhere, but too well buried to be useful.) They’d be perfect additions to the donor pages, which are otherwise rather dry.