Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2010 Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards and the Story of A Cause Marketing Coup

It's baaaaack!  The 2010 Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Awards!  Nancy Schwartz of Nancy Schwartz and Company ingeniously hosts the Tagline Awards each year.  Nonprofits submit their taglines and Nancy invites the general public to vote for their favorites.  Which taglines are creative, convey the message and demand attention?  You decide.  And after the awards are through, Nancy compiles them into a report that is not to be missed.  You have until October 6th to vote and to spread the word. 

So many nonprofits have a difficult time thinking up a tagline that really sings.  But it's certainly worth spending some creative time with your board and volunteers coming up with ideas because a tagline can immediately engage your audience, help you grow membership and inspire donations.  Enjoy this blog and vote for your favorite tagline.  Bunnie

2010 Nonprofit Tagline Awards

A Cause Marketing Coup
by Nancy Schwartz, President, Nancy Schwartz and Company
If you’re a Target shopper and/or a Ben & Jerry’s (B&J) fan you probably know about Volunteer Match‘s (VM) cause marketing coup.

Back in June, B&J launched its Berry Voluntary and Brownie Chew Gooder flavors at Target (a long-time VM supporter), aiming to encourage local volunteering via VM’s Scoop it Forward program. After registering for a volunteer activity and forwarding the opportunity to five friends, all six people received a coupon for a free pint of one of the new flavors, redeemable at Target.

Reinvigorated to Reach New Audiences

That’s a five-start cause marketing partnership but focus on even the most engaging promotion flags after a while. VolunteerMatch was determined to use this opportunity to engage additional audiences to build awareness of volunteering.

They devised a brilliant, funny strategy to do so — challenging Stephen Colbert (who has his own B&J flavor, Americone) to an ice cream taste off.

And what better (potentially viral) way to launch the challenge than this video: “I challenge Stephen Colbert – man to man and spoon to spoon – to see who has the ice cream flavor that people prefer,” joked Greg Baldwin, president of VolunteerMatch. “Anywhere. Anytime. Any tongue.”

After trying each flavor, Baldwin invites tasters to vote for the flavor they prefer, which is a great way to further engage those who hear about the taste off.

But the creative team at VM didn’t stop there. They generated major attention by storming the line of folks waiting to see the Colbert Report taping last week. VM distributed sample sizes of Berry Voluntary, proffered a written challenge to Colbert and the show’s producers, and launched the video big-time!

With Great Immediate Results

The long-term results will be how increased awareness from the taste-off generates more VolunteerMatch volunteers. But that won’t be clear for awhile.

What’s immediately apparent is that the spectacularly original and marvelously engaging approach has gotten big time attention. The story launched on Monday and was immediately covered by Fast Company and the Huffington Post, among other channels. That means that VM has already reached new audiences.

Next step, getting Baldwin on the Colbert Report! I’ll keep you posted on progress.

Powerful Inspiration — Use It to Spice Up Your Campaigns

There’s lots of inspiration here. My challenge to you is this: How can you take a great existing marketing or fundraising campaign, spice it up and roll it out to engage new audiences (or re-engage those who might have seen it the first time round)?

P.S. Vote now to build your messaging skills by selecting the best in class in the 2010 Taggies – the third annual Nonprofit Tagline Award Competition. It’s a fun project that will help nonprofits in all fields discover what works, and why.

Contact Nancy at Nancy Schwartz

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Media Policy for Nonprofits

My favorite nonprofit marketing professional from Australia, Bob Crawshaw, raises an important point...how many of you have a "media policy"?  Probably not many.  And while I wouldn't want developing a policy turn into a cumbersome process (I hate when that happens) it is worth having a simple policy that outlines what your central messages are; who is authorized to speak to the press or give interviews; social media guidelines; and appropriate adverstising vehicles.  

Additionally, if you have chapters or associated organizations, it is important to conduct media training at least once per year.  Provide them with toolkits, talking points and basics of the interview, to include crisis management (as Bob suggests).  If you think you need help in this area, feel free to call or write me.  Or if you are in Australia...do contact Bob!  Bunnie

Media Policy for Nonprofits
by Bob Crawshaw, Maine Street Marketing

Recently I worked with a not for profit, with member clubs spread across two states, to develop a policy to help clubs and the Executive manage proactive and reactive media relations.

The policy featured:

•The objectives or why the organisation will engage the media in the coming 12 months.

•An encouragement for clubs to proactively engage their local media outlets as way of telling communities what they and the larger organisation is doing.

•Tools to help clubs such as pre-packaged media backgrounders, fact sheets, templates, speaking points and standard paragraphs for media alerts and media releases.

•Advice on how to access localised media contact lists.

•Guidance on handling media relations in crisis and advocacy situations.

•A media release review process - for all levels - so key players in the organisation know what is to be presented to journalists and what might make news.

•Tips for recycling earned media coverage so that office holders, members and key supporters know what the press is reporting.

•Social media guidelines so what is presented online is consistent with what is presented to traditional media.

And because it is often so expensive, a media policy should spell out the why, when and where advertising will be undertaken and how it will be blended with media relations.
Contact Bob at http://www.blogger.com/profile/12058326512528241097

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Common Myths Concerning Nonprofits

There are thousands of nonprofits that are started in the United States every year.  Most are started for excellent reasons, someone finds a need and establishes a nonprofit to meet that need.  The nonprofit or civil society sector accounts for between 5% to 7% of the Gross Domestic Product of eight countries studied by John Hopkins University.  This is as much (or in some cases more) than the banking, insurance, financial services, construction and utilities industries individual share of GDP.  However, as well meaning as founders of nonprofits can be, there are persistent mythologies surrounding nonprofit management.  Greg McRay of the Foundation Group takes on a few.  I would love for people to send me their favorite myths!  Bunnie

Common Myths Concerning Nonprofits
by Greg McRay, EA

Just yesterday, I was interviewing a new student intern candidate in my office. During the course of our wide ranging discussion, the conversation turned to some of the interesting misconceptions we encounter with clients. I made the comment that we often feel like the crew of the Discovery Channel show, Mythbusters. There is a never-ending supply of well-entrenched myths and misconceptions in the nonprofit world…and dispelling them is part of our job! In this article, let’s take a look at a few of the more common ones.

MYTH: Build it and the grants will come.

FACT: Uh, good luck with that.

We get to burst this balloon a lot. Many who are starting nonprofits for the first time are convinced the government is waiting with bated breath for them to get going so they can cut them a check. Given the drunken sailor spending spree in Washington, it’s certainly understandable, isn’t it? Jokes aside, this is too often the by-product of a less-than-ethical fringe of the fundraising profession. Whether it is over-hyping the latest grant writing workshop or selling books on late night infomercials, this mindset doesn’t just come by accident. Here’s a newsflash: Startups are rarely grant funding recipients! The typical startup is much better served by focusing its efforts on building a fanbase of committed donors and only later looking to grants to help them expand what they have proven they can do.

MYTH: Nonprofit means you must zero-out at the end of the year.

FACT: Great plan…assuming you’ve got a pot of money waiting for you New Year’s Day!

Just a couple of weeks ago, a good friend approached me at church. She was recently elected to serve on the board of a small charity and at her first meeting, several of the existing board members were discussing their dilemma: The organization was quickly approaching the end of the fiscal year, but still had money left over. The conversation revolved around how they could spend down this money before the clock ran out. Well, her instincts told her this didn’t sound right. Good for her! And even better that she asked me about it.

I suspect the origins of this myth might be in the corporate world where departmental budgets are often use-it-or-lose-it. Anyone who has worked for a large corporation may be familiar with the race to spend down the budget in years of surplus. Combine that mindset with the notion of nonprofit, and you’ve got a myth in the making. I certainly hope your nonprofit is not sitting on $0 when the ball drops in Times Square!

MYTH: If our nonprofit’s purpose is not panning out, we’ll just shift gears and go in another direction.

FACT: Not so fast. You might want to make sure Uncle Sam is OK with that.

This sort of thing happens all the time. For example, ABC Charity was formed to raise money for cancer research. After a couple of years of disappointing results, the board sees the devastation from the latest disaster and decides to retool their organization as a disaster-relief charity. They make plans to travel to Haiti/New Orleans/Wherever and provide shelter and hot meals to those impacted.

Don’t get me wrong…there is nothing wrong with that in principle. In practice, it is not so simple. When the IRS granted tax-exempt status to this nonprofit, it was on the basis of its proposed program: fundraising for cancer research, not disaster relief. A serious change in purpose and program requires that the IRS be notified in detail on the next Form 990 that is due. Even then, it is highly probable that your case will be transferred to Cincinnati for further review and questions before approval is granted.

This list could go on and on and on. Sometime soon, we’ll share some more common myths and their corresponding realities. Here’s to facts!

You can contact Greg at the Foundation Group, http://www.501c3.org/

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Who Pays Your Bills? What Foreign-Supported Nonprofits Need to Know about the Foreign Agents Registration Act

The Lobbying Disclosure Act put quite a few regulations on nonprofits and associations regarding reporting of lobbying activity.  Frankly, I disagree with how the Act was written in that it doesn't take into account small nonprofits who may not have the staff or resources to fully comply with the stringent reporting requirements.  However, one key aspect of the Act is aimed at foreign nonprofits and associations and requires registration as well as disclosure of finances and activities in the pursuit of lobbying our elected officials or administratively appointed positions.  The following article needs to be read by all foreign nonprofit entities with a presence on Capitol Hill.  The penalties are stiff and not reporting correctly could cause foreign nonprofits to lose their ability to lobby.  Bunnie

Who Pays Your Bills? What Foreign-Supported Nonprofits Need to Know about the Foreign Agents Registration Act

by D. E. Wilson, Jr., Esq. and Andrew E. Bigart, Esq.,Venable LLP, Washington, DC

Lost in the media frenzy surrounding the arrest of 12 Russian spies by the FBI in June 2010 was the fact that the spies were arrested – not for stealing state secrets or trading technology – but for failing to register with the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA,” 22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq.). This statute requires U.S. persons to register when they engage in certain political or quasi-political activities on behalf of “foreign principals.” The media’s obsession with Anna “Sexy” Chapman aside, the real lesson from the recent arrests is that U.S. persons – including trade associations, charities and other nonprofits – that engage in political or quasi-political activities on behalf of foreign principals must comply with FARA or risk similar public embarrassment and possibly criminal penalties.

What Is the Foreign Agents Registration Act?

FARA ensures that the U.S. Government and the people of the United States are informed of the identity of foreign persons attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy and laws. The statute requires persons representing foreign principals to register with DOJ for engaging in any of the following: (1) political activities; (2) public relations; (3) political consulting; (4) publicity activities; and (5) information-services. The statute defines the term “foreign principal” broadly to include foreign governments, political parties, individuals, and corporations.

Many nonprofits are surprised to learn that there is no FARA exemption for nonprofit, tax-exempt entities. Rather, FARA provides limited exemptions for raising funds for medical assistance and charity, and activities promoting bona fide religious, scholastic, academic, or scientific pursuits or of the fine arts. In addition, FARA provides an exemption for persons registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (this exemption does not apply to the representation of foreign governments or political parties).

Persons required to register must provide DOJ with information on the nature of the relationship with the foreign principal, the work to be performed for the foreign principal, and, on a semi-annual basis, submit a report of the activities performed on behalf of the foreign principal and funds received from, or disbursed on behalf of, that foreign principal. Penalties for failing to comply with FARA can include a fine of $10,000 or imprisonment up to five years.

Why Should Nonprofits Worry about FARA?

The recent arrest of the 12 Russian spies under FARA underscores that DOJ will take action against persons who fail to comply with the statute’s requirements. For example, just days after the arrest of the Russian spies, DOJ obtained a guilty plea from a former U.S. congressman who failed to register under FARA for lobbying on behalf of an Islamic charity.

The issue of nonprofits and registration under FARA has become a hot topic in the blogosphere. DOJ has apparently opened an inquiry into whether two U.S. nonprofit organizations, B’Tselem and Americans for Peace Now, have violated FARA by failing to register as foreign agents. The investigation was launched in response to information provided to FARA by a group opposed to the political positions of the two nonprofits. Similarly, there are numerous websites devoted to whether the Council on American-Islamic Relations is a foreign agent that must register under FARA. The list of websites purporting to expose foreign agents goes on and on. In each case, the FARA hook is that the nonprofits receive a substantial proportion of their operational funding from foreign sources or act at the direction of a foreign parent or government entity.

The FARA registration requirements extend to trade associations that focus primarily on economic – as opposed to political – issues. For example, any trade association or export council that represents the interests of a foreign person or country may be subject to FARA. In this regard, several large international trade councils – such as the Korea-United States Exchange Council – are registered under FARA. There are, however, many other trade associations and export councils that appear to represent foreign interests that have not registered.

How to Ensure that Your Nonprofit Complies with FARA

Determining the types of activities that trigger the need to register under FARA (or the Lobbying Disclosure Act exemption) is a challenge, made even more difficult by the dearth of DOJ guidance on the subject. To avoid the possibility of criminal sanctions or public embarrassment, U.S.-based trade associations, charities and other nonprofits that receive funding from foreign sources or that are affiliated with a foreign parent should review their operations and funding to determine whether they qualify as a foreign agent of a foreign principal under FARA. This is especially true for any nonprofit that engages in U.S. lobbying or political activities.

If registration is required, legal counsel should be consulted for guidance on preparing and filing the required registration forms.

Mr. Wilson is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Venable LLP and a former Treasury official. Mr. Bigart is an associate in the Washington, D.C. office of Venable LLP. For more information, contact the authors at dewilsonjr@venable.com or aebigart@venable.com, or at 202-344-4000.

This article is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion and should not be relied on as such. Legal advice can only be provided in response to a specific fact situation.