Ask her parents and her high school teachers. Maureen has been an active women’s rights and anti-poverty advocate for as long as anyone can remember. She made the jump from working at a national women’s nonprofit to Weber Shandwick because she wanted to figure out how to make people care more about these issues. As a member of the Social Impact team, she does exactly that by designing public education campaigns that generate media coverage, create advocates and increase donations for clients like the Grameen Foundation, American Council on Education, and AmeriCares, among others. She also plays a key role in leading the agency’s work with Bank of America. Maureen loves nothing more than to bring new people together around a common idea. It isn’t surprising that creating partnerships and coalition building are her areas of expertise. Maureen is a media junkie who reads everything from The Economist to Elle and begins everyday reading the gossip roundup on Gawker. She has lived all over the U.S. (don’t knock Los Angeles until you’ve lived there) and has a special place in her heart for Belgium, having spent six months working in our firm’s Brussels office. While her degrees in American Studies from DePaul University and Urban Planning from UCLA don’t seem like the typical path to a job in communications, Maureen will be happy to explain their relevance over a glass of wine or during a long bike ride.
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The American Dream. The concept has been the cornerstone of countless PR campaigns. Yet last week, I found myself wondering if the American Dream has a consistent, unified meaning anymore.
I was at a roundtable led by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation on the economic challenges faced by single parents in America. Over and over again, participants referred to the desire of single-parent families to achieve the American Dream. But it meant something different to each speaker:
- Ruby Bright talked about how single parents see achieving the American Dream as providing greater opportunity for their children;
- Michelle Singletary, personal finance columnist for the Washington Post, spoke about how Americans need to adjust their concept of the American Dream, from one that is about accumulating wealth and keeping up with the Joneses to one that’s focused on being satisfied and content with what one has; and
- Anna Greenberg talked about how research in recent years shows that older audiences see achieving the American Dream as owning a home and having savings for retirement, while younger generations view it less in financial terms and more in terms of being free to do what they please.
If the definition of the American Dream varies this widely within a crowd focused on the economic empowerment of low-income parents, then how widely does it vary with other audiences? Is it time for a renewed discussion in this country about the core of the American Dream? And, is there a role for us as communications professionals to help lead this conversation?
For nearly a century, March 8th has been recognized around the world as International Women’s Day. I plan to mark the occasion by celebrating the strong, intelligent, caring and joyous women that I am proud to have as family and friends. But I also challenge myself and everyone to go one step further: Use today to take an action in support of equal rights for women and girls.
- Educate Yourself: Read Half the Sky. Check out the Girl Up video to see the mind-bogglingly awful choices faced by millions of women the world over on a daily basis. Learn about the United Nation’s take on how empowering women may be a step towards peace. Anything to get smarter about the realities faced by women and girls around the world.
- Support an Organization that Targets Aid to Women and Girls: Make a donation to a group that helps stop gender violence in the developing world. Volunteer at a local domestic violence shelter. Take on a mentor role for a young girl in your community. The possibilities are endless, but the key is to do something positive today to impact a woman or girl tomorrow.
- Remember Your Inner Girl: Most of us grew up with parents, teachers and coaches telling us we can be anything we want to be. I bet Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow has an adult or two to thank for encouraging her to pursue a career and a life not typically seen as one for a woman. By remembering that girl who thought anything was possible on a daily basis, you won’t need an annual event like International Women’s Day to remind you that millions of women and girls out there need our help to protect and enhance their human rights.
When Barack Obama turned millions of supporters into small-dollar online donors during his presidential campaign, he left me shaking my fist like an old man. That’s because Obama’s success has meant that everyone thinks raising money online is as easy as my eggs at Sunday brunch.
Sadly, it isn’t.
Online fundraising is a crowded space. This week alone, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been flooded with information about:
- Chase’s new campaign with Facebook;
- the WildlifeDirect using social media to increase their online donations fourfold; and
- Minnesota’s Give to the Max Day, which my colleague Julie discussed here earlier this week.
Nonprofits face a challenge in replicating the Obama campaign’s success because, well, they aren’t Barack Obama. Few if any nonprofit will ever have the same fundraising appeal as a potential U.S. president. And this comes from a woman who made her first charitable donation at age six.
As we help our clients develop and implement online fundraising campaigns (as we did for the Grameen Foundation), we are guided by the following principles:
- Fail fast. You have to be willing to try new tactics and move on quickly if a strategy doesn’t work. There is no shame in failing in online fundraising the first time … unless you refuse to try new things.
- Know your donor base. Begin by motivating your current donor base online. Once the base is motivated, you can work to broaden the campaign to clearly identified target audiences.
- Do more than ask for money. In this economic climate, people need to feel invested in an organization and its approach to part with their hard-earned dollars. The ask could be as simple as “follow us on Twitter” or “Join our Facebook fan page” so that potential donors begin to receive a steady stream of information about the impact of your work. The more engaged, the more likely they are to donate.
- Set realistic expectations. The Internet moves fast, but few outside of a presidential campaign are capable of going from zero to $10 million in a matter of months. Set expectations based on how broad your current social media presence is, not where you want it to be.
- Don’t forget why you are asking. You’ve got a great story to tell. Tell it. At the end of the day, online fundraising isn’t substantively different than offline fundraising. It is simply a different medium.
- There is no silver bullet. No one can guarantee success in online fundraising, which is still a relatively new venture for NGOs. If you believe someone who guarantees you overnight success, I’ve got a beautiful wool sweater I am happy to pull over your eyes.
With those principles in mind, take the time to think about the organizations that have done the best job with online fundraising and whether they provide a formula for future success.