Those who know Jennie best describe her, affectionately, as a walking exclamation point. Jennie, as she would tell you, loves her life and and loves what she does. At Weber Shandwick, she combines her enthusiasm with degrees in journalism and political science from Syracuse University to deliver strong communications plans and materials. The seven (plus) years Jennie’s been with the firm have also improved her creative thinking and her intimate knowledge of the issues facing nonprofits and foundations today. Jennie has Weber Shandwick to thank for the friendships she’s developed with college access professionals from Connecticut to California, and for a TweetDeck buzzing with issues as diverse as military children and genocide. She was recently heard excitedly telling her colleagues about a personal Tweet exchange with Nicholas Kristof about his book, “Half the Sky.”
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Yesterday, Administrator Raj Shah of USAID (client*) announced a new campaign to address the crisis in the Horn of Africa. It’s a crisis few have heard of, but one that affects 13 million people. (That’s more than four times the population affected by last year’s earthquake in Haiti.)
USAID knew that moving a U.S. audience on this issue would be difficult. Famine, war and drought are complex issues with enormous scale. There’s no disaster to respond to, but rather decades of decline.
Still, the agency rose to the challenge. It teamed up with the Ad Council to launch the FWD (famine, war and drought relief) campaign. It’s an effort to watch and to learn from, because it’s built on these strategic imperatives:
1. Educational. The campaign’s microsite, usaid.gov/fwd, contains the right amount of information to educate would-be advocates about a crisis that’s 60 years in the making.
3. Actionable. The campaign suggests five clear paths to action. Visitors are encouraged to send a social media update, join an e-mail list, download a toolkit, text a donation or post a badge.
This strategy, combined with the endorsement of USAID and State Department leadership, will propel the campaign’s success. Let’s hope it does; the crisis Shah described at the Social Good Summit can’t be allowed to persist.
*Weber Shandwick is working with USAID to raise awareness of the agency's 50th anniversary.
Since taking on a larger role in our firm’s new business efforts, I’ve seen a wide range of requests for proposal from diverse nonprofits and foundations. The first few steps to weighing an opportunity include reviewing available information about the organization, assembling an experienced team and conducting additional research related to the scope of work.
In responding to a recent RFP, I took those steps without running the simplest and arguably most important search. A week or two went by before I Googled the organization’s name. When I did, the fourth organic result and second text ad revealed its rating on Charity Navigator, a site that rates nonprofits in order to guide intelligent giving. This nonprofit’s one-star rating stopped me in my tracks. Should we decline to respond to the RFP because of the low rating? Or should we give the organization the benefit of the doubt and accept the challenge of improving and promoting its work?
I looked into Charity Navigator’s methodology, which calculates how effectively an organization would use an individual’s donation based on efficiency and capacity. As sound as this methodology was, I sought a second opinion. The Better Business Bureau’s website stated that the nonprofit failed to meet its “Standards for Charity Accountability.” Those standards examine charities’ spending and transparency.
Nonprofit ratings are sometimes just numbers. And they’re too often derived from numbers that organizations are required to report, rather than outcomes. Still, I encourage individuals to utilize available ratings before deciding to work for or donate to a nonprofit. Corroborate those ratings with additional research to determine which nonprofits to trust with your reputation or your charity.
Other nonprofit ratings systems to reference include:
Corporations strongly encourage collaboration. Foundations do too. In the face of recession and pressure from multiple funding sources, will nonprofits learn to work together? Will they have a choice?
These tough questions arose during multiple sessions at the National Conference on Corporate Community Investment (CCI), most often in response to audience questions about how the recession has impacted corporate social responsibility initiatives. Representatives from corporations said that, increasingly, they want to see nonprofits work together to maximize their impact. Doing so makes them much more attractive to potential funders, they explained.
Foundations have similar expectations of their nonprofit partners. Just last week, the Lodestar Foundation awarded its 2011 Collaboration Prize to a nonprofit organization chosen from more than 800 applicants. The best practices gleaned from these applicants are memorialized in the Foundation Center’s Nonprofit Collaboration Database.
The Database organizes best practices into three categories of collaboration:
• Administrative Consolidation
• Joint Programming
Unsurprisingly, there are three or four times as many examples of Joint Programming as there are examples of Administrative Consolidation and Mergers. It’s easier for nonprofits to work together on a project or program basis than to become a new or integrated organization – but the latter is achievable. The winner of this year’s Collaboration Prize is a shining example. Five different child-serving agencies merged to form the Adoption Coalition of Texas, pooling their resources and more than doubling adoptions in the state.
While the challenges of collaboration are many, Jon Bennett of TXU Energy reassured CCI attendees that the benefits will outweigh them in time. “As a company that has been through multiple mergers and acquisitions, and that has been bought out, we understand the problems. But it needs to happen.”
Do you agree that nonprofit collaboration is the way of the future – and that participating organizations will be awarded more funding?
Today marked the start of the 2011 National Conference on Corporate Community Investment. The event, hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC), kicked off with the presentation of the Siemens Sustainable Community Awards.
The City of Raleigh earned recognition in the midsize community category. It was honored for its vision to be a “21st Century City of Innovation.” In his acceptance speech, the Assistant City Manager set the tone for the rest of the conference. He conceded, “We are on the right path, but we are just beginning.”
The Sustainable Community Award winners, like most communities across the country, are making greater investments in sustainability initiatives. But, there’s no clear or quick path forward. Communities can only utilize the resources at their disposal – and look to their peers for inspiration.
In an earlier session, Katherine Gajewski of the City of Philadelphia told attendees that she has incorporated best practices from New York and Chicago into her community’s sustainability initiatives. This type of sharing represents the clearest and quickest path to long-term social and economic development. It comes in many forms:
- Shared Ideas: To make its vision a reality, Raleigh established a multi-agency Economic Development Group. Philadelphia did the same. Communities must keep the lines of communication open, so that each learns about and implements best practices.
- Shared Leadership: In an earlier session, Matthew McKenna of Keep America Beautiful, Inc., said that businesses often take the lead on sustainability efforts and involve his organization as an issue expert. Shared leadership will ensure the best ideas and resources are brought to bear.
- Shared Goals: Communities are sharing ideas – and, within them, entities are sharing leadership – because they have a common goal to improve the quality of life of future generations.
I’ll share more insights from the conference as the week goes on. In the meantime, let me know how your community or organization is applying best practices to its sustainability initiatives.
Earlier this week, I had the privilege to present to incoming members of the National College Advising Corps. They are recent graduates dispatched as college counselors in low-income middle and high schools near their alma maters. And they are some of the brightest, most enthusiastic young people I have encountered.
I shared with them the resources available through the KnowHow2GO campaign, a college access effort co-led by our client, the American Council on Education, with Lumina Foundation for Education and the Ad Council. In particular, I presented the ambassadors program we launched last fall with five of their peers.
The program evolved out of conversations with teens across the country who are served by KnowHow2GO’s college access partners. They told us over and over again that their peers have the biggest influence over their decisions – more so than caring adults or celebrities. So we elevated five college advisers as the faces and voices of KnowHow2GO. They communicate directly with students through a multi-author blog and dedicated Facebook and Twitter pages.
Allowing the ambassadors to communicate candidly with students required KnowHow2GO’s co-leaders to relinquish some control. But they did so willingly, in exchange for fresh and compelling content.
Within 45 minutes of my presentation, I received three e-mails from new advisers interested in becoming the next generation of ambassadors. The desire of young people to help is there – we need only provide them the opportunity and trust them to take it seriously.
When the lights went on in the theater after Half the Sky Live, I felt the same way I had when I closed my copy of Nick Kristof’s book – overwhelmed. With so many seemingly insurmountable challenges facing women in the developing world – from inadequate maternal care and lack of access to financial services to harrowing traditions like bride abduction – how do I choose which issue to engage in and which organization to support? What makes one issue more important than another?
Kristof’s advice, offered in a panel discussion during the event, was to be inspired by one story. Then, become passionate about that niche issue, identify the organization that has done the most – or most innovative – work in that space, and get involved.
The onus is on nonprofits to clearly communicate their work and the touch points for individuals who want to share it. Following are suggestions for organizations seeking to do just that:
- Encourage individuals to become experts. Many of the issues described in Half the Sky are almost inconceivable for people to wrap their minds around. Nonprofits need to view channels like their Web site, social media presence and collateral materials as opportunities to make their work more accessible. If individuals can understand and embrace your work, they’re more likely to become your advocates. See Adrienne’s suggestions for storytelling.
- Maintain two-way conversation. Nonprofits need to give supporters a sense of their personality and the progress they’re making – using the social media tool at their disposal. A great example is the effort by Reeta Roy, president and CEO of our MasterCard Foundation client, to share her experiences during a visit to Uganda and Kenya. Reeta sent frequent Tweets, and blogged about the people she met and the impact the Foundation has had on them. This made me – and other supporters – more invested than ever in their work.
- Provide creative opportunities for engagement. It’s not enough to invite supporters to donate, join a mailing list or write a letter to their congressman. Nonprofits need to provide opportunities for deeper engagement. For example, a contest in which the biggest fundraiser earns an on-site visit at the organization, or a live chat that introduces supporters to beneficiaries of your programs. You could also feature stories about passionate advocates on your Web site or organize meet-ups where they discuss the issues that matter to them. The sky’s the limit (no pun intended)!