February 2015


Public Affairs Spot of the Web: Unlike fundraising or direct program delivery, the value of communications strategy and public relations can be elusive or in the least relegated to an after thought in many nonprofit organisations.

However, it’s my contention that public relations is essentially about winning hearts and minds.  Winning hearts and minds is the very essence of why most nonprofits, NGOs and charities exist.  By extension, good communications strategy delivers important results for nonprofit associations of all stripes.

In fact, a variety of results is likely if you undertake effective communications strategy (6 areas where PR helps you directly). For example, fresh proposals for strategic alliances and joint ventures; donors and prospective members starting to make repeat donations and expressions of support; membership applications on the rise; community leaders beginning to seek you out; welcome bounces in expressions of interest in volunteering; higher employee retention rates, capital givers or specifying sources starting to look your way, and even politicians and legislators beginning to view you as a key member of the business, non-profit or association communities.

Luckily for you, your PR people are in the perception and behavior business to begin with, so they can really do a job for you on this crucially important opinion monitoring project. When done correctly, it can catapult a nonprofit organization, charity or association’s cause from an unknown entity to a household name almost overnight. But what most people don’t see is the sweat beneath the glamorous exterior.  What goes on that makes for the value of hiring the outside help of a consultant resource for organisations?

Nonprofits are often pulled in different directions and as a result, seeing the forest from the trees can be a challenge.  The focus can far too often be upon managing day to day operations or chasing the next grant instead of building a long term vision.

Developing relationships with the media, with social media stakeholders and relevant audiences takes time.  Much like developing a fine wine, these need to be nurtured over time and they have to be maintained.

So what is needed from good PR consultants?


– Patience: Whether it’s waiting to hear back from journalists or producers that you have pitched, or simply understanding that a PR campaign takes time to gain traction and evolve, if you don’t have patience, you will never be able to do this job. Now, if we could only get our clients to be so patient!

– Critical Thinking: “The most important thing is to think like a journalist.” – Ronn Torossian, Founder, President & CEO, 5WPR

– Nerves: Be it the nerve to cold-call a reporter on deadline, or the nerve to get up in front of a bank of microphones and disclose bad news, it takes a streak of cold blood to be able to do PR.

– Verbosity and Simplicity: The ability to communicate in grand ways and on simple terms is a must. If you’re not comfortable speaking to an audience of white-collar executives as well as to an audience of blue-collar hourly-wage earners, you won’t be able to do this job.


– Internet-Enabled: PR takes an immense amount of research, and PR people who don’t understand tools such as blogs, search engines, and premium search services suffer the consequences. Knowing how to find Google or Technorati is not enough – you need to understand how to utilize these resources as well.

The ideal PR person, in my book, is like what baseball scouts call a “five-tool” player: 1) hitting for average, 2) hitting for power, 3) running for speed, 4) arm strength, and 5) fielding ability.

Read More


Good public relations leads to engaging your association, nonprofit, charity members and supporters. It’s also critical towards ensuring donors and sponsors of charity organizations are aware of the good but often left unknown work they do. After all and as I often say, “If they don’t know ‘ya, they sure won’t give to ‘ya!”
However, I will recognize that it’s one thing for a non-profit orassociation to say that they will engage their members, supporters or donors in a coming campaign, it’s another to successfully implement such a strategy.  Making sure they support and act upon your call to action, requires solidly planning out what’s in it for them and how you intend on getting the message to them in the form they will relate to and with the communicationsvehicle that will resonate with them.  With this challenge in mind, I’ve recently created a new white paper I help you’ll enjoy.
Read More


Public relations is about building reputations and when it comes to building communications strategies for non-profits and associations, financial resources and staff time need to be maximized for PR Return-on-Investment (ROI).

However, with NGOs facing the many different marketing communications options of social media, media relations, advertizing, event marketing, third party endorsements, etc; How does one ensure real ROI is carried through towards advancing an association agenda?

Good communications strategy should aim towards at least two of the following objectives:

  • Motivating your key audience(s) towards adapting your message and even better, acting upon your call to action
  • Creating a dynamic wherein two-way communication occurs between your organization’s leadership and your audience or stakeholders

Getting to the point however of measuring point for point and dollar for dollar in public relations evaluation strategy does require planning and it can vary depending on marketing communications strategies you integrate into your communications plan.  When I develop a communications plan, some of the evaluation strategies I undertake can include the following:

Social media marketing Goals and Objectives can include:

  • Increasing website visits
  • Increasing the number of blog comments
  • Growing your NGOs number of donor leads
The means of measuring/ evaluating success can include:

  • setting up Google alerts
  • investing in social media monitoring dashboards (contact Action Strategies for setting up your non-profit’s monitoring)
  • Twitter and Facebook searches




Media relations Goals and Objectives can include:

  • Building credibility in the press
  • Positioning your nonprofit organisation as a thought leader
The means of measuring/ evaluating success can include:

  • Measuring tone, quality and quantity in press coverage

One of the best means of measuring media relations coverage is through Media Relations Rating Points (MRRP) – something Action Strategies leverages



Event marketing Goals and Objectives can include:

  • Increased event revenue and attendance
  • Favourable brand experience/ impression after attending the event
  • Degree of participant engagement
The means of measuring/ evaluating success can include:

  • Surveying during and after the event amongst sponsors and attendees
  • Twitter tags are becoming the best way to categorize whatever activity online. Attendees now understand what a tag is and organize their online communication using them. Powerful tags have a catchy message within it and are not too long.





The above is just a sample of what is possible.  What ever your public relations campaign strategy involves, it is critical to consider the finer points of how you will concretely measure and evaluate that which will deliver marketing ROI for your NGO.  What measures is your nonprofit association undertaking?

Read More


A while back, a colleague of mine in one of Action Strategies’partnering firms in association governance, management and strategy – Tecker Consultants wrote something that I think is very profound”: “Just because you have a plan, it might not be strategic”.

In my years of dealing with associations and nonprofit organizations, I have seen my share of strategic plans and strategic communications plans. Unfortunately, many plans that purport to be “strategic” are not.   Plans that are job descriptions for the organization,  “to do” lists for functions or business lines, tactical action plans for programs, menus of interesting projects or collections of unrelated good ideas are not strategy. Scenarios, work plans, dashboards and scorecards can be useful tools in strategic planning if done right and used appropriately – but they are not strategy. And, just using the adjective “strategic” in the title of a planning document does not make it strategic.


In an address to list a serve discussion of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), Glenn Tecker of Tecker Consultants wrote the following:


Just using the adjective “strategic” in the title of a planning document does not make it strategic. The discipline of strategy exhibits a certain logic. Strategy and strategic thinking is a cultural commitment in an association community. It takes place at all levels of the organization and provides a way for us to think about things. It fuels innovation, enables transparency and accountability and informs decisions about appropriate roles and responsibilities.
Essential attributes of that logic include: [1] consideration of current and future conditions relevant to the choices to be made; [2] assessment of the capacity and position of the organization, [3] clarity on the outcome desired and what will constitute success; [4] identification of alternative paths to reaching the desired outcome; and [5] selection of those paths with the highest probability of success based on what we know about the character of the environment and the capabilities of the organization. If planning ignores any one of those essentials, it ain’t “strategic”.
Folks like Tom and Donna who understand strategy also know that good strategic planning has always been a process and not just an event that produces a written product. The process of planning strategically also involves: [a] determining metrics and measures that enable the organization to monitor progress in achieving desired outcomes; [b] linking work, resource allocation and accountability to the outcomes desired; and [c] installing methods for nimbly adjusting the strategy based on changes in the environment or experience in implementation.
When the process of planning is boring, it’s usually because people are not talking about things that really matter. Almost by definition, a conversation about things that don’t really matter is not “strategic”. In mission driven organization’s like associations, if the focus is on the organization rather than its mission, its most likely not thinking strategically. If the organization’s measures of success are all “output” measures [how much and how many we do] and there are no “outcome” measures [value received], its most likely not planning strategically. Absent clarity and consensus on the outcomes to be achieved, it is not possible to rationally determine what work needs be done, who should be doing what, or whether what we are doing is working .
…Detractors of the value of strategic planning in associations usually are defining it wrongly and then criticizing their incorrect definition. Unfortunately, their incorrect definitions are often based on experiences they have had with poorly executed planning that they were told was “strategic”.
Bravo Glenn!  The same especially applies to association and nonprofit communications or even government relations.  I would go one step further though.  It is from these strategic plans that communications and even the very essence of outreach efforts in the NGO sector strive upon.  Too often, the tendency is to put tactics before strategy jumping upon the latest impulse idea of what’s “hot” and how an organization should make a name for itself.  The best practices of communications plans and strategic communications demand nonprofit professionals take leadership with their board and ask the simple question:


“Why are we choosing this communications tactic (or vehicle) and will it reach or overall goal of changing behaviors?”


What are your thoughts?


Read More

With the rise of social media, association executives, legal professionals, and those suspicious of the risks involved for an organization’s reputation seem to be raising more concerns about the risks to a nonprofit organisation’s reputation. Undoubtedly, there are risks but they are manageable and in may circumstances, avoidable.  The mistake: Having social media sites without preparing for disaster.

From a recent study I found, 34% of chief communications officers polled say they experienced a social-media reputation attack in the past 12 months. They now happen so often, they’ve earned the title of a “flash crisis.”

A flash crisis happens when a negative social media communication via a Facebook post, Tweet or negative Yelp review goes viral and the winds of chatter whip it into a firestorm. Before you know it, a social media site has spawned a serious public relations issue.

The trouble is, according to the studies, only one in 3 organizations say they’ve prepared a standing strategy to tackle reputational threats from social media.  A crisis does not usually disappear quickly, especially if there is litigation or law enforcement involved. An association needs to have crisis counsel with it every step of the way to measure what is happening with the media and public opinion ensuring that the crisis does not negatively affect a nonprofit organisation going forward.

This has me wondering though, certainly social media has its risks but in truth, risks to your organization have always existed and will likely continue regardless of social media or not.  But this should hardly be enough reason to avoid being present and communicating with your target audiences.  In a blog posting and video of last year, I made the point that if your NGO is afraid the presence of social media opens your organization up to criticism, you’re actually very naive to believe that the potential for criticism didn’t exist beforehand in your media relations, public relations, or other aspects of your brand awareness.

Read More