The power of organizational vision

In 1961, US President John F. Kennedy challenged his nation to, literally, reach for the moon. Like all great leaders, Kennedy understood that an effective vision will unleash a level of power, alignment and motivation that can change the world. This is the start of a series of ideas and tools to help you with your own visioning process.

In 1961, US President John F. Kennedy challenged his nation to, literally, reach for the moon:

 “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”

In a mere seven years, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first humans on the planet to set foot on the moon’s surface.  Dozens more followed.  Like all great leaders, Kennedy understood that an effective vision will unleash a level of power, alignment and motivation that can change the world.

I’m in the midst of supporting a visioning process for a large civil rights organization. The team has a phenomenal track record, and is now ready to take their work to the next level.  Their questions and insights have encouraged me to reflect even more deeply on my own approach to visioning – so organizational visioning is going to be the focus of my next few posts.

7 Steps to Creating An Effective Internal Communications Plan

A smart internal communications plan can serve as a launching point for achieving continual growth, alignment and impact across your team over time. Here’s a 7-step plan to developing your own.

“It’s so ironic,” sighed Angela, a campaign director with a large civil rights organization. We were sitting in her sun-lit board-room discussing the results of a new organizational assessment. “We’ve just led one of the most successful anti-discrimination campaigns in the state. But half of our staff barely know the story, other than what they read in our news releases. The other half know all about it – but couldn’t talk about our organizational vision if their lives depended on it.” She looked up. “We’ve got to do a better job of communicating with our own people.”

 

Sometimes the most effective spokespeople and media relations experts “fall down” when it comes to reaching their own internal audiences. The good news is, we already know what makes communication effective. We live in a world that demands it: being inundated with messaging 24/7 has forced us to become sophisticated consumers of messaging and communications. We just need to apply that same knowledge to our own teams. Whether it’s a simple intra-office memo or communications around a transformational change initiative, here are the basic components of an effective internal communications plan.

1. Clarify your purpose

For specific communications, get specific about your purpose. For example, is the message being delivered for information only, to generate feedback, to generate new ideas, or is a specific action required?

2. Clarify your desired outcome(s)

Do you need a response in writing by a certain time or prior to a particular event? Are you seeking a list of 3-5 new ideas? How specific can you reasonably be about how you will define success? This step is essential for identifying the benchmarks and metrics you’ll use to evaluate your results.

3. Know your audience

  • Identify your target audience. Who exactly do you need to reach? Is it ‘everyone in the organization’ – or are the most important people, in fact, a few key influencers or opinion leaders (which has nothing to do with positional power, necessarily), individuals with specific skills, or one or two key decision-makers?
  • Meet them where they’re at. What do they already know, believe or feel about the issue? If you’re talking about a brand-new concept, then a little informational background will be essential. If they are aware of the issue, but highly skeptical, then your messages and framing will need to address that, not just gloss over it.

4. Develop the strategy

  • Identify pathways. What are the most effective pathways for reaching your particular target audience(s)? Is it email? Written memos (remember those?) A phone call? Face to face meeting? Intranet? Social media? Cloud platforms such as google drive? Hard copy memos inserted into payroll packages? A display board in the staff common room?
  • Consider messengers. Also ask: who’s the most effective messenger? It may not be you. It may not be the most senior executive. Does your audience instead need to hear the message from a trusted peer? Do you need internal champions to move the issue forward?

5. Develop the message

Now that you’ve identified and ‘profiled’ your audience, develop your message. It should be short, clear, compelling, and ideally, visual. It is very likely positive – focused on what the team is for, rather than what it’s against. If you deliver the message through stories, it will almost certainly be ‘sticky’ – both memorable and high-impact.

6. Deliver the message

Effective communications are really about delivering the right message, to the right audience, at the right time – often many times. So plan it out. Here are some elements to think about:

  • People power: Who needs to do what, by when? Who is the decision-maker? Who needs to be consulted? Who needs to be informed? Who’s doing the actual work? Is there a lead, or internal ‘project manager’ to ensure the work is proceeding as planned?
  • Timing: When is the optimum time to deliver the message? How often does it need to be repeated?
  • Resources: How much time will it take – and are there other resources required? How is this work reflected on internal workplans, if at all?
  • Metrics: How will you know the message is received? How will you know the desired results are being achieved? When and how are you scheduling evaluation along the way (see below)?

7. Evaluate and learn

Don’t just identify metrics for tracking progress – revisit them on a regular basis. Use what they teach you. Build evaluation into monthly and quarterly reviews, for example. And include it as a routine practice or group norm: for instance, at every staff meeting, include a standing agenda item that has the team reflect on its internal communications. Include tracking questions on annual internal organizational surveys. Questions could be as simple as: How well are we communicating our organizational vision? How well are we keeping one another abreast of one another’s work and results? How are we doing with having “courageous’ conversations” in a timely, skillful way? How are we doing with email brevity and appropriateness? How are we doing with the preparation and use of well-crafted briefing notes? Insanity has been defined as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Building in evaluation at every level of your communications will interrupt any bias toward activities and help teams focus on results. With routinized evaluation, your internal communications, and therefore your internal alignment and collective ability to get things done, will continually improve.

Sample Plans

Here’s a great multi-agency plan for a set of child-focused Irish agencies attempting to collaborate more effectively. There are clear, high–level messages, a broad but clear set of audiences and a list of tactics tailored somewhat for each audience, plus a broad-stroke timeline. The challenge with the plan is its lack of metrics – how will they measure success?

The ITSMF, a forum for Information Technology professionals, offers a great internal communications plan to its members. Out of respect for its chapter model, it is not overly prescriptive, but does suggest useful types of metrics that could form the basis for continual evaluation.

The global organization Civicus also offers a short, useful case study on pages 17-19 of its internal communications toolkit. Evaluation is mentioned under “next steps”, with specific reference to a follow-up survey to track results over time.

Still Feeling Triggered? This will help…

Everyone gets triggered. Effective leaders need to know how to shift from those reactive states to access their true wisdom and skills. Still, sometimes it’s good not to take it all too seriously….

Everyone gets triggered. Effective leaders need to know how to shift from those reactive states to access their true wisdom and skills. Still, sometimes it’s good not to take it all too seriously….  

Your brain on stories

Why are some stories are stickier than others? Much of the answer lies in our neurological wiring. Studies show that stories engaging the senses – sight, sound, smells, and touch – literally activate the same sensory regions of the brain in both listeners/readers and story-tellers.

brain-iStock_000004321955XSmallWhy are some stories ‘stickier’ than others?  I pondered the question while I sat at my desk, sipping the steaming hot Nicaraguan coffee we brought back from holiday a few weeks ago. My puppy’s fuzzy black head rested heavily on my bare foot, and I was getting ready for a conference call, when my colleague Nina forwarded this wonderful post about story-telling and the senses.  Serendipity!  When communications strategist and writer Nina Winham and I taught a session on communicating sustainability last year, I pushed our participants to tell stories that didn’t just have a ‘beginning, middle and an end’, but more importantly, activated the senses. “Describe the setting”, I urged; “the light, the temperature, the atmosphere. Who was there?  What did they look like? What were they doing?  How did it feel, to be there?  Were there any scents in the air? Sounds”?

According to an emerging body of research in the neurosciences, stories that activate the senses – sight, sound, smells, and touch – literally activate those same sensory regions of the brain in both listeners/readers and story-tellers.  That’s why, in advocacy communications, there’s such a vast difference between communicating the meaning of something (“our aging communities deserve  better access to health care”) versus leading with stories that paint pictures in the listener’s minds (“yesterday my 83 year old mother clutched her throbbing, broken right wrist for six hours as we waited for a doctor’s care in the jam-packed emergency room at St. Vince’s hospital…”).   Check out this powerful infographic that shows how specific regions of the brain ‘light up’ when presented with sensory-loaded story-telling. By activating the senses through our words, we are putting the listener in the picture – almost literally putting them in the center of their own story. When it comes to effective stories, whether it’s a quick aside or mention of just one sensory quality (“it was a sunny Spring morning”) or a more complex narrative, every sense counts.

“Formula” for writing a compelling speech (or Op-Ed)

Here’s a simple but powerful “formula” for writing a solid speech or op-ed. I’ve adapted it from the framework taught to me by veteran editor David Beers in the context of writing op-eds. It works: in my years supporting non-profits in their media and marketing work, every op-ed I wrote using this basic formula was placed successfully.

The AnnoucementA few months ago my teenaged son was struggling with getting started on a speech for his English class. He had a stack of research notes and a ton of ideas (who knew that a tree sloth can hold its breath underwater for up to 40 minutes?), but was at a loss as to how pull it all together. I explained that early in my communications career, my friend and mentor, veteran journalist David Beers, laid out a simple but brilliant formula for writing op-eds. Over several years helping non-profit leaders create and place op-eds, I found it to be nearly foolproof. Happily, I discovered that the formula is also fantastic for getting started on a compelling speech. And while a beautifully crafted speech defies any pat formula, a simple framework can help get those creative and intellectual juices flowing. So, here’s the basic idea, starting with my own addition: beginning with a story. For the rest of it – apologies to David, as I’ve almost certainly mangled his original sage advice!

Here’s the overview, followed by some detail:

  1. Start with a story
  2. Provoke with a compelling hypotheses or main argument
  3. Back it up with 3-5 supporting points or ‘validators’
  4. Describe the solution or call to action
  5. Circle back to the opening hypotheses (or story)

1. Start with a story…

As virtually every communicator should know by now: start with a story. It could be anything: a personal experience, or one recounted to you; a current news story; a hypothetical or fictional story. As the authors of “Made to Stick” describe so well, stories are “sticky” because they engage an audience’s imagination. When we hear a ‘vivid’ story, we literally see pictures in our minds, and in some ways experience the emotions and physical embodiment of the described experience. This dynamic can transform the audience-speaker relationships. As master communicator and brand strategist, Bill Baker, explains, “starting your presentation with a story helps you break through their cynicism, lower their defenses and get your audience to see you as a person, not just a presenter. In turn, this makes them more likely to connect with you, trust you and listen to you.”

Typically, I encourage speakers to think about a few basic elements: setting and characters (it’s ‘stickier’ to see actual pictures in our minds, not just hear about concepts), some sort of tension or ‘quest’, action, and resolution. There are probably a dozen frameworks or elements taught to help create stories; that’s just one approach. I tend to push the visual. At public speaking trainings for the Center for Progressive Leadership and Simon Fraser University I would ask participants to pair up and tell stories that were so vivid their partners could actually draw something to capture the tale.

Your initial audience engagement doesn’t have to be as rigid as a classic story, however. You could:

  • start with a brief visualization (“picture this: you’re driving along Highway 99, when suddenly…”)
  • ask a question that invites the audience to ponder their own perspective before sharing yours (“How do you discern between a genuine and token apology?”)
  • ask for a show of hands to demonstrate some particular common experience (“how many here arrived by public transit?”)
  • share a powerful quote, or poem
  • read out a topical news headline
  • … or something else

2. Launch into your big compelling hypotheses, position or argument

This is fairly straightforward. What’s your main argument or hypotheses? It should be provocative and compelling in some way. It could just be one statement, like, “When it comes to green tech innovation, Canada is teetering on the cusp of become either a global superstar or an industry laughing stock. Here’s why…”

3. Back it up with supporting points

Next, follow with three to five supporting points or ‘validators’ that back up your main argument. You could transition from the opening position statement above with, “consider this”… then follow with your ‘evidence.’ These supporting points could include statistics, facts, even another story – anything to “back up”, prove or make the case for your key position.

4. Clarify the ‘call to action’

For any kind of social change argument, this is where you lay out the solution: what’s your “call to action”? For whom – who is responsible, and what should they do, exactly? If it’s appropriate, you might also describe the next step. And if there’s a role for the audience to play – even better.

5. Circle back to your opening

Here’s where you wrap it all up with your closing paragraph or statement, circling back to the beginning. Basically, this is where you figuratively say: “Snap! See, that’s why I stand by my argument or position”. It could be a sentence or two related back to your opening story (maybe this is where you roll out the story’s ‘ending’), or your main position, or both.

Beyond the Formula

And again – truly transformational speeches are like works of art – there is no definitive recipe for their creation. For some of the deepest, most powerful resources in the field, check out veteran public speaking trainer Gail Larsen’s Real Speaking site and blog. Gail offers both executive coaching and small-group intensive trainings out of both the US and western Canada (I’ve taken two of her workshops), and her book, Transformational Speaking, is invaluable.

Communicating with your Virtual Team, Part 2: Facilitating Conference Calls

Some of us feel like we spend half our lives in meetings – mostly by conference call. Here are a few tips to make the time snappy and productive.

Last week I facilitated a short planning session by phone for a virtual team. In the brief post-meeting evaluation, I was struck with how happy the group was about such commonplace meeting format. It got me reflecting on a couple of best practices I use as a facilitator to make the most of conference calls:

1. Do a POP: as with any meeting, clarify the Purpose, Outcome and THEN the Process before calling the meeting, and at the beginning of the call. For example:

  • Is the PURPOSE of the call to plan an upcoming strategy session with the whole board – or just to share information?
  • Is the desired OUTCOME to make a clear decision, or simply some shared context across a group that will be planning together in the future?  

Then clarify the PROCESS, especially:

  • What prep is needed? Is there any pre-reading that needs to be circulated in advance? 
  • How long do you have for the total call?
  • What are the priority agenda items?
  • How much time will each topic need?
  • Who is facilitating? Presenting?
  • Who’s taking notes, and how will these be distributed
  • Who’s on the call?

2. Practice “Conocimiento: Always start with a brief check-in.  As my Rockwood co-trainer Michael Bell continually reminds me, “go slow to go fast.”  It’s not just a lovely thing to do: at the end of the day, teams that have taken the time to build trusting human relationships tend to function more efficiently and creatively,  especially during times of crisis, stress or when rapid-response is called for.  So take just a few minutes, even on a conference call, to share appreciations and see how everyone’s doing. One great simple question to ask is, “where are you right now – what are you looking at?”  When we engage our mind’s eye in seeing our fellow callers, it brings us that much closer together, even as disembodied beings.

3. Use frequent “rounds”, and call people out. In a face-to-face meeting, facilitators are trained to do the opposite – we avoid calling on people by name, because it could force some to participate in a large group when they’re not ready or willing; it can be pushy or disrespectful. But on conference calls, I can’t read the body language of people wanting to speak. If I simply ask “what does everyone think”, we risk:

  • Vast, excruciatingly long silences
  • Only hearing from the same 2 brave and hasty souls who happen to jump in really fast each time a question is called
  • Repeatedly having two or more people tripping over one another as they jump in at the same time.

So I keep the list of participants in front of me and simply do ‘rounds’ – calling the name of each person on the call in order.  This is especially important when we’re capturing decisions.

4. Stay abreast of the tech: Technology to facilitate interaction for remote groups is quickly becoming effective and affordable. More groups and trainers I know are now experimenting with Maestro or similar systems aimed at maximizing group participation in a strictly auditory environment (i.e., you can do small group breakouts AND still wear your pajamas!).  They not only allow up to dozens of participants to call in to one central line from anywhere in the world, but people can ‘raise their hands’ to ask questions or offer comments, with the moderator tracking it all on a web-based dashboard. Participants can also be broken out into small groups for more intimate discussion, with auditory facilitators supporting the conversations or ‘lurking’ until needed.  Of course, people can be looking at shared documents at the same time, even using simple web-based collaborative platforms like Google Drive, that allow multiple viewers to edit the same document in real time, with colour-coding or other visual cues indicating who is making what changes.

5. Commit to continual learning:  Even if you don’t have time to do a brief evaluation at the end of every meeting, commit to doing it after every two to three calls.  Honest, direct, kind feedback is the only way individuals and teams can learn about what to keep doing or do more of, and what to avoid, in order to maximize their future performance.  At the end of the day, social change leaders are aiming for results – and a continual practice of giving and receiving skillful feedback can help us achieve more powerful results with less effort in the long run.

For other great tips on virtual teams, see:  http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/04/how_to_avoid_virtual_miscommun.html  and

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/03/how_to_conduct_a_virtual_meeti.html

Communicating with your Virtual Team, Part 1

Here are a few of my best tips and practices for communicating across virtual teams: when to use email, phone, videoconference and precious face-time to maximize relationships, power and results.

Last week I was in New York co-facilitating a training session on communications in the context of teams, partnership and collaboration. One of our participants raised a familiar question: what do you do when your team is “virtual”?  In fact, either due to budget constraints or concern about their carbon footprint, non-profits are increasingly communicating remotely – and some tips and best practices are floating to the top. Here are just a few:

Face to face: This is still the gold standard of all communication. And, until we’re all sporting our own personalized holoprojectors, this isn’t likely to change. Research shows that more than half of all human communication is conveyed through body language; another third is conveyed through tone. The key for virtual teams is to carefully maximize precious face-time: make it count.  Choose face-to-face meetings for building relationships and  anything requiring creativity, synergy, complex decision-making, any sort of visual planning or strategizing and especially for ‘courageous conversations’ (a ‘courageous conversation’ is one where “opinions vary, stakes are high, and emotions run strong”).  For things like basic information-sharing, use well-crafted, pre-circulated briefing notes, webinars, written communication, conference calls – but save your costly face to face time for the high-octane, high priority work that can’t get done well through any other format.

Phone: I confess: when a conversation could get a bit complicated, sometimes my Inner Coward would rather hit the keyboard than risk the more intimate, two-way and possibly lengthier mode of communicating in real-time. Sadly, that ‘safety’ is an illusion. Courageous or complicated conversations often get messier – which gets MORE time-consuming and complicated, not less – due to the sheer limitations of text-only communications. So pick up the damned phone, already!

Better yet: use Skype video or Facetime.  At least then you can benefit from at least choppy and partly pixelated facial expressions to go along with the full range of vocal tone.  In fact, all of my current coaching clients live in other cities – so all of our sessions are by skype video or phone.  This honestly feels almost as impactful as face-to-face – as long as I use the following practices:

  • Make sure I’m in a comfortable, quiet place
  • Turn off all unnecessary devices and monitors. Let’s face it, most of us are completely ADHD now with our devices – so I chooseto get rid of the temptation altogether.
  • If I need my laptop for note-taking, I at least turn off all other programs and close all tabs – again, removing the temptation to get distracted by the endless flow of incoming messages
  • Minimize all visual stimulation (no TV in the background or staring out my window at the unfolding dramas of the street below…)
  • Stay present. Of course, this is really what it’s all about. I strive to practice using the ‘muscle of my attention’, over and over, to come back to the present moment and make the most of our time together as disembodied beings. It makes a MASSIVE difference.

Email: Email is the main way more people over 20 years old communicate. It’s super-efficient, easy to copy and forward to others, easy to include links to further information…  It’s also tricky,  especially for more complex or ‘difficult’ conversations. Did that exclamation mark convey happy tail-wagging enthusiasm – or is the writer shouting at me? Was that period at the end of the sentence a calm, gentle downtone – or an abrupt, sardonic hiss? For any complicated conversations, avoid email. It’s really a last resort, with the greatest potential to create misunderstandings and time-consuming messes that then have to be cleaned up.

For everyday email, please, here are a few basic practices to minimize digital clutter and spare your colleagues the torture of endless unnecessary email threads:

  1. Don’t squander the CC field. Make sure anyone who MUST be copied is – and not one person more
  2. Pause before blithely pounding on the “reply all” key: Really. Does EVERYONE need to know that yes, you liked the article or no, you can’t make the meeting?
  3. POP it: clarify your desired purpose and outcome in the subject line. Is your email for information only? Urgent action? Calendarizing? Feedback? Decision? Start doing this – and better yet, get your whole team to adopt the practice – and you will be an Email Efficiency hero, I promise. It’s smart, helps others focus on what’s important and yields faster results for everyone.
  4. Use “priority flags’ sparingly. Otherwise, you risk sounding endlessly hysterical. Just as bad, you’ll be seen as the kid who ‘cried wolf’ once too often, and everyone will start ignoring your flags anyways.

The power of Testimonials

Testimonials are one of the most powerful tools in an organization or consultant’s promotional toolbox. Knowing this, I’ve gladly written many short endorsements for others over the years. Yet so many of us feel too shy, too busy or just never get around to ensuring we have a steady supply of these first-person endorsements of our own work…

When your organization is searching for consultant, where’s the first place you look? For most of us, we turn first to our trusted colleagues and peers for ‘inside’ stories and perspectives of people we may be considering. But what if a potential recruit doesn’t overlap with our professional networks? In addition to reviewing that recruit’s own CV and bio, many of us then turn to testimonials from past clients or employees who may have similar needs to our own.

That’s why testimonials are one of the most powerful tools in an organization or consultant’s promotional toolbox. Knowing this, I’ve gladly written many short endorsements for others over the years.  Yet so many of us feel too shy, too busy or just never get around to ensuring we have a steady supply of these first-person endorsements of our own work. And I was one of the worst offenders!  Finally, shamed into action when a close colleague recently pointed out that I have no client testimonials on either my website or my blog, I got into gear.  Over the course of a couple of weeks, I asked a number of past and current clients if they’d be willing to write a few sentences about their experience of my work. To my astonishment, every single person I asked readily agreed.  So, finally, I’ve taken the minimal step of posting those testimonials on a separate page on my blog, and put together a few tips for others to consider:

  1. Just ask.  Ask nicely, of course. Clarify that there’s “no pressure” and that you won’t be offended if they don’t respond, don’t have time or don’t feel comfortable – and be sure you mean it!
  2. Make it easy. I took the liberty of dashing a few short bullets to each client outlining the work I’ve done for them (I have a number of long term repeat clients, so it can be easy to lose track). Several used those points as a springboard to their own short paragraphs.
  3. Develop a system. Make it easy for yourself, as well, by ensuring that, once you’ve determined that a client is pleased with the work, you follow your final invoice and/or client evaluation with a request for a short testimonial – while it’s fresh on their minds and yours. Some consultants offer short on-line evaluation surveys, using tools like SurveyMonkey, and include a request for a short endorsement right in the survey.
  4. Share your testimonials! Make sure you publish and use them well. For now, I’ve simply added a single page with all the testimonials I’ve gathered so far in one place.  But the fact is, this is a bare minimum. It’s far more effective to ‘scatter’ your testimonials throughout your site, blog or through other promotional material so that prospective clients, donors or allies have ready access to the good things others have said about your work.

So gather up those testimonials, people!  And check this out: I just stumbled across another fantastic and far more thorough article on using testimonials for marketing, by John Sternal. It’s full of tips on how to gather and use testimonials for small businesses, but just as applicable for many not-for-profits and other organizations.

Four Solutions for striking the media “brand balance” in coalitions

Sharing media profile is one of the most challenging issues many coalitions face. Here are solutions coalitions I’ve worked with have used to strike the balance between maintaining a strong internal collaboration, and maximizing media profile for a shared issue.

For non-profit organizations working in coalition, picture this all-too-familiar scene: you’re sitting around the table hammering out the key messages of a major news release, carefully crafting the lead quote and framing the sound bytes, stats and background information into a snappy, compelling 1-pager. But then the tensions start to build: whose organizational representative gets the lead quote? Whose name or names and contact information get listed at the top of the page for reporters to follow up with (assuming you’re not going to make the mistake of listing 10 different spokesperson contacts on the release)? And it’s not just news releases: individual spokespeople and organizations get profile through the authorship of op-eds or letters to the editors, blog postings, and on their relative prominence as contacts in story pitching or briefing letters to the media or in media advisories.

Here’s the thing: in most cases, if one of your members has a gigantic brand profile (think: WWF or Greenpeace), they are most likely going to generate the MOST media interest and follow up, every time.  Which is the whole point of the release…right? But it’s not always so simple in practice.

In fact, coalitions are faced with balancing multiple goals. One is obviously to maximize the profile of a critical public or policy issue. Another may be more subtle, but of equal or even greater strategic importance: to maintain the internal strength of the coalition itself. Coalitions can strategically be worth more than the sum of their parts simply because they are coalitions. The particular mix of groups may represent unlikely allies working on (and therefore adding credibility and profile) to a joint issue; or it may show a surprisingly unified position across a sector; or it may simply represent strength in numbers. Keeping a coalition strong may be a major component of the overall strategy. And that means having open dialogue about issues of power, privilege, and the meaning of true collaboration.

I’ve worked with dozens of coalitions over the years, and have seen at least four solutions that real-life coalitions use to balance issue profile with the maintenance of trust and goodwill within the coalition itself. In each case, success relies on a clear agreement, set out in advance and often in writing, about which approach the group will use.  In brief, here they are:

  1. Rotate organizational brands: simply track and rotate which group representatives get the most prominence across a range of media initiatives. One approach is to rotate the lead for every initiative (“you get the lead for this release, and I’ll get the next”). Another variation is to rotate the leads over time; e.g., group X gets the lead for stories from March-June, group Y gets the summer and Fall, and so on.
  2. Focus on geographic relevance: highlight the member groups with the greatest regional relevance to a story. For example,  if a story particularly affects the East Coast, then the Atlantic groups will lead on it.  If it’s a national or international story, the coalition may first highlight one of the international members along with a regional group, but the active pitching and follow-up would be done by regional groups to their own regional media.
  3. Highlight expertise and/or legwork: highlight the member group or individual with the greatest expertise on the issue, and/or those who simply did the most work on this particular story or event.
  4. Highlight the group with the greatest media profile: finally, coalitions may decide to simply aim for the biggest bang for their bucks when it comes to the media profile side of their work, and consistently highlight the groups and individuals in which the media will be most interested, in order to maximize media coverage.

None of these options is mutually exclusive. Coalitions may choose to rotate smaller stories in principle, but for one or two major stories in a year, simply focus on gaining maximum coverage. Or, they may rotate the media profiles in their advance media planning (ie, as they set out the communications and media events they will proactively generate over the next year), but have a nimble sub-committee determine who leads on sudden “response-required” stories on a case-by-case basis (“nimble” being the key word; otherwise, this approach is risky!)

Agreement and true buy-in are key.  Given that collaboration itself is often the core strategy for any coalition, it only makes sense to invest early in frank and open dialogue about the brand profile options, and ensure the whole group is really aligned with the final agreement, well in advance of any media maelstroms.

Digital philanthropy: Study shows organizational websites trump social media & giving portals

A landmark U.S. study outlines the most effective approaches to digital philanthropy.

Almost all the charities I work with either have fully developed social media strategies, or plan to develop and implement them in the next year.  Many are wrestling with how to integrate fundraising into all of their outreach and communication efforts. Nowadays, that includes fundraising using social media, as well as using third party websites such as Canada Helps.

A landmark seven –year (2003-2009) U.S. study by the cause marketing organization Network for Good and U.S. fundraising leader True Sense offers some groundbreaking analysis about the most effective approaches to digital philanthropy.

Some of their main conclusions:

  • The majority (over 64%) of charitable on-line giving comes via non-profit websites
  • Donors who give to those non-profit websites give the most over time, and start at the highest level
  • Donors giving via third party giving portals and social networks like Facebook start at the lowest level and give less over time
  • Most giving happens during work hours, especially 9 – 5
  • A third of all giving happens in December; giving also spikes during disasters

The upshot:  solid fundraising strategies tend to be multi-pronged, and there’s no good reason to not use multiple approaches to connecting donor’s values and passions with your organization’s services.  But if your staff or volunteers are strapped for time or skills, clearly your organization’s own website donation portal should be your top focus.

To see the whole study, including easy-to-read charts, see http://www.onlinegivingstudy.org.