Pulling a rabbit out of a hat
As PR professionals, we will usually work on at least one not-for-profit (NFP) client in our careers – whether it’s a pro bono client, part pro-bono, or one who has managed to scrape together a small budget for a campaign that you need to help them maximise.
NFPs are faced with the same organisational and communication challenges as for-profits but usually with far fewer resources. So how can the PR profession assist NFPs to achieve their goals?
Making blanket observations and recommendations for this sector is challenging, as was demonstrated at the PR Directions 2011 panel discussion Pulling a rabbit out of a hat – learning tricks from the not-for-profit sector where the moderator was very quickly put in his place when he asked whether NFPs are fuelled by passion, rather than talent.
The panel, which included representatives from NFPs with missions ranging from providing breast care nurses to providing microfinance to women living in poverty in the Asia Pacific, demonstrated their organisations have both passion and talent in bucket loads. According to Kylea Tink, CEO of the McGrath Foundation, NFPs are “not plagued by passionate, untalented people”. Salaries are competitive and there are extraordinary opportunities for young people starting out in communications or marketing careers.
Also, senior staff with incredible experience are moving into the NFP sector from the corporate or political worlds and bringing their strategic thinking and business nous with them. Think 2011 Australian of the Year Simon McKeon, World Vision’s Tim Costello, Naomi Steer of the UNHCR and Al Gore.
The NFP sector is highly competitive. They’re also operating in a communications landscape which quickly and constantly changes; look at how swiftly organisations like Get Up! and Avaaz have grown, starting online then making a splash in mainstream media.
NFPs need to find the balance between having a corporate approach/attitude and keeping focussed on their overarching purpose.
So how can we help our NFP clients, and how can NFPs ensure success when engaging agencies?
- Strategic thinking and planning – having a well thought out communications strategy, agreed upon by both the agency and the NFP, will contribute to effectiveness in carrying out communications and achieving stated aims.
- Start small then snowball – Consider starting with a small campaign to achieve some quick wins then snowball from there.
- Know your mission – Knowing exactly what you’re trying to achieve or what question you’re trying to answer, is vital to being able to effectively plan and execute your communications plans.
- Creativity and innovation – organisations that ‘think outside the box’ and look for creative solutions to communications challenges are more likely to succeed. Particularly in the NFP sector where there really aren’t many more colours of ribbons or badges left to sell, keeping issues fresh in the minds of the public is a huge challenge.
- Trust – NFPs need to trust their agencies to provide the best advice, and this might sometimes mean the NFP needs to step outside its comfort zone to execute a creative campaign that achieves cut through. On the flip side, agencies need to remember that getting buy-in to ideas from NFPs, particularly ones with risk-averse boards, may require playing to board members’ strengths and passions.
- Effectively communicate your purpose – People are more likely to accept the idea you’re selling, or donate to your organisation, if they easily understand what it is you do and who you’re helping.
- Transparency and accountability – Most in the NFP sector believe the proposed new accountability measures are a good thing, as people are increasingly inquisitive about how NFPs use their funds. Di Bowles of Good Return, a PNS pro bono client, believes transparency is a major reason their new way of giving is proving popular, as you can log onto goodreturn.org and choose the person you are helping. When donors know exactly where their funds are going, they’re more likely to fork out.
- Use your networks – With NFPs it is all about what you know and who you know. The most successful NFPs build alliances with other organisations with similar purposes or goals, (and extensive mailing lists), which can greatly assist in getting messages out to a wider audience. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.
An armchair guide to crowdsourcing
As the use of social media matures, we are starting to see new social methodologies emerge into mainstream business practice. The social media discussions are moving away from how to attract an audience or build a community and on to what to do with them once they are there. Crowdsourcing is an excellent example of this trend and is one of the first to attract attention from business leaders, Governments and leading authors like James Surowiecki (The Wisdom of Crowds). It was also recently discussed at the SXSW Event in Austin Texas*.
Crowdsourcing is where random strangers self-organize via the internet to develop solutions to a problem. Many creative thinking authors agree that its strength comes from breaking the logical and linear thinking process of a single organisation or individual. It has the capacity to solve a problem faster and cheaper but before you get too carried away, it also comes with risks.
As we have seen recently in the Middle East, when you set the crowd free, dangerous things can happen. From a corporate or brand perspective, we just have to think back to the iSnack 2.0 project from Kraft. This is clear evidence that crowdsourcing is vulnerable to being hijacked by Groupthink (a phenomenon where the group accepts an idea without critically evaluating alternatives because they want to minimize conflict). Or a bunch of nerds with lots of free time.
Like all social media techniques, crowdsourcing needs an armchair guide on how to get the best results while avoiding brand disaster. Below are some of the lessons learnt that were shared at the SXSW 2011 Forum.
Lesson 1: It’s great for start-ups
If you’re in business start-up mode and you don’t have money to spare but you want to kick start your marketing, crowdsourcing is a great way to get a new brand out there and solve some of the common problems of businesses that are just starting out. Whether it’s designing a new logo, promoting an event or building a brand community on Twitter or Facebook, the power of the internet means that if you have a great idea, but not a lot of money, the crowd can help you raise awareness (if they buy into your vision).
Lesson 2: Established businesses can also build their brand
Crowdsourcing is a great way to build brand recognition on the cheap for established brands for all the reasons listed in lesson 1. The best recommendation is to use social media to extend current marketing activities and get the crowd involved once your audience is in place. But beware, established brands carry baggage and this can make the crowdsourcing experiment painful (but still useful).
Lesson 3: Sharing the workload
If you have a daunting task and not enough people to complete it, turning it over to the crowd in bits and pieces is a great way to get things done. Wikipedia is a good example of how a crowd can share its knowledge to create a massive central knowledge repository.
Lesson 4: It’s great for Foundations or Charitable Trusts
Rather than increase admin costs to hire staff to assess applications, crowdsourcing can uncover great causes or provide a link to why they will resonate with your brand. If given the right guidelines, they can produce a phenomenal shortlist.
Lesson 5: It is the ultimate brainstorm
Arguably, the most effective way to use crowdsourcing is to solve complex problems. Crowds can solve amazingly difficult problems when they are given a challenge – and a suitable prize. The best prizes are those that are valuable to the crowd – they don’t necessarily need to be expensive.
Lesson 6: Don’t use crowds for compliance
When it comes to compliance, your accountants and legal counsel have the experience to advise you properly. Anonymous members of crowds don’t tend to stick around to be prosecuted if things go awry.
Lesson 7: Crowds are like committees when it comes to prioritising work
Tasks that require a high level of attention to detail and a medium-to-long term focus are best left to the people who work for you full time. They know your brand best and turn up to meetings every week. While the crowd has a high level of passion for the brand, they are just outside observers.
Lesson 8: Don’t take advantage of its free-ness
Crowdsourcing can be tremendously useful for getting work done cost effectively but don’t make the mistake of exploiting the crowd for work you should be paying for. Too much reliance on the crowd could be construed as unethical and once the crowd turns on you, it could be terminal for your business (there is nowhere to hide online from an angry e-mob).
Lesson 9: Don’t use it to build a community
Crowdsourcing is a product of galvanizing an existing community rather than building a new one. You need to build trust with the community before you expect to get work done for you, like idea generation or problem solving. Without that goodwill, crowdsourcing won’t work.
Lesson 10: Experimentation is vital
Digesting the thousands of armchair guides about social media techniques will keep you in reading material for the next decade. You will only really learn what works for your brand by experimenting. Small steps are the key – be mindful of the risks – and document your lessons learnt so that the entire organisation can ultimately benefit from your experience.
*This article was written using a variety of sources who attended the 2011 SXSW Event.