Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Elements of nonprofit storytelling: Visual theories for delivering stories on websites and print media

By Cal Brackin

Can I have three seconds of your time? What about five seconds of your time? Even a two second difference seems like a big investment and if I haven’t captured your attention by now you are probably ready to move on and if you move on, how can I tell you my story?

I developed these visual storytelling techniques while serving in the nonprofit world in 2010 as a marketing and outreach volunteer for Mercy Corps Northwest. During my six months of volunteering, I was editing my first book, The Unpredictable Course of Passion, an illustrated-journal of a five-month trip in South America. When people looked through my book, I noticed that certain images gained more immediate attention while other images worked better with text. I used these ideas in the stories I created for Mercy Corps Northwest and found that they improved my nonprofit storytelling. All of the images featured are my own illustrations and most featured are from my first book and third book, Tom, which is a life history about my grandfather’s life. Each point has a deeper reasoning, but for this article I’ll deliver the essentials.

The first step to storytelling is capturing your audience’s attention.

If a nonprofit's message doesn’t deliver something immediately, people will lose interest and move on to another message. Think about people browsing in a bookstore or a coffee shop with art hanging up. Oftentimes, they will do a “slow walk” and bypass the stories contained within the books or the deeper messages of the art until that special something or a, high value image, catches their eye and they stop to dig deeper into the story.

High value images:
1.     People doing unusual things (body positions, actions, emotions)
2.     People readers can emotionally connect to.
3.     A person in conflict or coexistence with another person or object.
4.     A simplified object with one tone and balanced.  

Examples for number (2):

The second step to storytelling is to build the context.

The amount of text can increase, but succinct narratives are still good to keep in mind and using, context images, should deliver who, what, and when ideas.

Context images:
1.     Important structures like buildings, landmarks, or vehicles.
2.     A scene with many points of focus like a busy street or crowd of people.
3.     A multi-dimensional scene (foreground, mid, and background).
4.     A map.

Examples for number (1) and (2):


The third step to storytelling is filling in the story.

When you’ve successfully captured your audience you can deliver more detailed narratives that are longer and satisfy the reason why your message is important.  The images that help to fill in that story are, narrative images.

Narrative images:

1.     Close-up of objects.
2.     Subjects that teach us a lesson like a graph or chart.
3.     A sequence of related images.
4.     An animal or vegetation (flowers).
5.     A landscape shot.
6.     A scene depicting sameness or vast difference.
7.     An unusual or artistic style of image.

Example of number (3) and (5):

Look at the websites of some nonprofits and see if these trends fit and look at what is working and what could be better. Is there a trend to the images that are used to “capture” the audience’s attention, build on the text, or different styles of images throughout the narratives?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Nonprofit stories: The untapped resource

By Jessica Banda

What is the "American Dream?" A house in the suburbs? A family of four? A life better than the one your parents enjoyed? Actually, the “American Dream” is a story! It is a story of a single individual overcoming the odds to achieve unexpected success. People abandon their homelands for this story; they go to war for this story.

The power of the nonprofit story

If you can sustain a country on a story, what else can you do with a story? Motivate volunteers? Inspire Clients? Secure Donations? Stories are the greatest untapped resource of the nonprofit community.

Think your nonprofit lacks an appealing story?
If so, perhaps your conception of "story" needs a little updating.

It’s time to re-conceptualize storytelling. Today’s nonprofit stories don’t always come on the front page of a newspaper; many don’t even fill a page. Today’s nonprofit stories are delivered in the form of blog posts, tweets, wall posts, and videos on venues like nonprofit websites, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and Blogger. This makes telling your nonprofit story simpler than ever!

Why stories 

Unfortunately for the nonprofit community, the human brain is not designed to remember mission statements. Instead, it is hardwired to remember, and respond to, stories! Using stories to showcase your mission won’t only help people to remember your organization’s reason for being; storytelling has also been shown to increase financial inputs.

What stories to tell

Perhaps you are curious about what type of stories your nonprofit should be telling.
A story of a Krochet Kids Beneficiary 

You can tell stories of your beneficiaries, just like Krochet Kids, an organization who markets and sells clothing handmade by women in Uganda. It’s one thing to describe the mission of female entrepreneurship and empowerment and it is quite another thing to see a beneficiary and hear that because of your purchase her children are able to go to school. Who's ready to buy a Krochet Kids product after reading this?

A Story of a GUTS Staff Member

You can also tell the story of your staff and show staff diligently working toward your mission, just like Harvard GUTS, a research project at Harvard University that tracks the health of a cohort of women over their lifetime to understand how lifestyle choices impact disease. As a participant in the study, I immediately filled out the survey (which I had been putting off) when I saw this post on my Facebook mini-feed. You can move your clients to action with simple stories like these.

A Story of a Peace Corps Volunteer 

You can tell the story of your volunteers living out your mission, just like the Peace Corps. It is one thing to hear that the Peace Corps strives to empower communities and quite another thing to see volunteers living out the mission by teaching leadership to young women in Georgia.

A Story of UNICEF Donors

You can even tell the story of your donors, especially if they are cute children, like UNICEF’s cohort of Elementary school children who raised $16,000 to provide desks for children in Malawi. Now UNICEF could have said, "if elementary school children can do it, why can't you," however, sometimes a story can do the same job with more finesse.

7 easy ways to collect nonprofit stories

But wait, you're busy and overworked and no one on your staff has extra time to go about collecting stories. Collecting stories is probably easier than you think; try these simple, and fun, tactics for story collection.

  1. Open staff meetings with a brief  staff “ story-time” 
  2. Collecting data? Add a qualitative question. 
  3. Create a voicemail account where staff/volunteers can call and narrate stories from the field 
  4. Let your beneficiaries tell their own story. Create an e-mail account ( like stories@yournonprofit.com) and ask beneficiaries to e-mail a description of how your services helped them. 
  5. Provide a camera for checkout and ask staff to capture photos
  6. Create a “story contest” with a small prize for the best story. Then, use the stories you collect all year.
  7. Designate a part-time volunteer or intern to storytelling

Additional resources

Tips from expert storytellers 8 Examples of Nonprofit Stories
Selling better with stories

Monday, April 22, 2013

Are the board and CEO tuned into the same station?

By Sherman Skelton

For a nonprofit to be successful, and sustainable, the board and the CEO must be in tune with each other. After all, the board chose the CEO to carry out their organizational vision. The CEO is a reflection of what the board values, while possessing the qualities that they feel is important for organizational leadership.

In her article, "Non-Profit Organization: Management Roles and Responsibilities," Constance Wolushu writes, "The board of the nonprofit organization confirms the mission statement and the philosophy of service for the non-profit organization. It also develops the strategic plan and direction, the goals and the objectives for the work to be done." "One of the most important responsibilities of the board of a nonprofit is hiring the best CEO or executive director (ED) possible to implement its strategy."

If the board is responsible for confirming the mission statement, developing the strategic plan, organizational direction, goals, and objectives, then it must choose a CEO to lead the organization whose vision is in line with their own. It will be this person who advances the board's vision. The CEO becomes the face and voice of the company.

Now that a CEO is chosen


Once the board has chosen its CEO, it then becomes the responsibility of that person to carry out and implement the mission and values that the board has established. An article on ourcommunity.com.au  states, "A close and trusting partnership between the board and the CEO is also essential for good governance. Board members need to have enough confidence in the CEO to trust that the operational micro-issues are being looked after."

It's important that the CEO feels that he/she has the full support of the board to carry out the day-to-day operations. This includes personnel management, budgetary responsibilities, drafting contracts, overseeing fundraising, and a myriad of others. To maintain the trust and confidence of the board, one of the main duties of the CEO is to keep the board involved. A board that feels disengaged and out of the loop is more likely to micromanage. 

It is one of the functions of the CEO to keep the board informed and as Alice Korngold puts it, "fully engaged." She discusses the importance of a "fully engaged board" in her article "Developing Visionary Leaders."   

Importance of avoiding interference

This tip sheet, provided by ourcommunity.com.au, does a good job of identifying some additional roles of the CEO and board, while outlining the importance of avoiding any confusion in the roles of each. It goes on to further state that "It is important that both the board and the CEO are fully aware of where their roles begin and end. If there is any confusion in an organization about roles and responsibilities, it can lead very quickly to conflict, inefficiency, and low morale. 

These types of issues can be avoided by clear communication between the board and CEO. Both parties need to have an understanding of their roles and respecting the roles of others. 

The relationship between the board and the CEO can be a delicate balancing act. Both parties must work together to find some equilibrium. If balance is found, then the organization has amazing potential to fulfill the mission and vision that was initially outlined. This can allow an organization to have a dramatic impact in the community it serves. 

The following slide show by Avtar Singh does an excellent job of further outlining the roles and responsibilities of the CEO.

Click on the links below for additional information

Friday, April 19, 2013

Recruiting talented nonprofit staff members and leaders

By Marie Vrubelova

Growing demand for talent is one of the biggest challenges for the nonprofit sector, as discussed in The Leadership Deficit by Thomas Thierney. Therefore, nonprofit leaders must learn to build a solid talent foundation in order to succeed.

Here are few suggestions for recruiting talented staff and building a strong employee foundation from Building Talent Pipeline:

Take developing a strategic plan seriously
Hiring talented and skilled staff is the key in the nonprofit sector. In order to recruit the right person for each position, start thinking about the positions in strategic terms: what skills, behavior, and experience those positions require? Recruiting based on only a job description is simply not enough.

Networking, networking, networking

Nonprofit sector is basically one big family and therefore current and former employees present an excellent and fairly reliable source for leads and recommendations.
Further, when you partner up with other institutions you might be able to locate talented staff members faster and it has proved to be a more reliable hiring strategic as well.

Keep it in the family
Look into your present staff members. You might be surprised - you might have already hired the best candidate! Regular reviews, professional development, and continuous training for the current team members might be a great way to start building your own talent base.

Think outside the box
The economy is bad. We do not have enough this and that and, as stated, there are many obstacles for a nonprofit organization. It is time to get creative and get the best people for your organization. Peter Goldberg offers a great recommendation in his article Work with the DataWith new forms of education, an alternative kind of professional development might attract just the right candidate for your organization. Fellowships and other types of internships within your organization or with your partner organization might be what will make you stand out. What is more, you will work on your sustainable talent foundation.

In the present global environment, personnel migration is one of the biggest phenomena. Take advantage of it and help your candidates to relocate their families, help them to choose the best school for their children, to buy a new house, etc. Take the time to get to know your candidate and try to be responsive.

It is imperative to realize that successful and effective recruitment is crucial for sustainability of any nonprofit organization. Consequently, as Lee Mizell suggests in her article The Sustainable Nonprofit, it is important to devote enough time and resources for the hiring process. People make organizations work, so make it clear in your organization that hiring talented staff members is not the responsibility only for the human resources department.

Sites with further reading and tips for hiring talented staff members:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The importance of creating a well-planned staffing model

By  Teresa Nicholson

A well-planned staffing model is a vital part of any nonprofit organization’s business plan.  Without a staffing model, staffing expenses can get out of hand and budgets can be overrun in a hurry. 
Nonprofits Assistance Fund’s 10 Step Annual Budgeting Checklist includes several items that relate directly to your staffing model.  Assigning roles and responsibility, evaluating uncertainties and assigning management responsibility are staffing issues that relate directly your yearly budget projections.
A well-planned staffing model incorporates staffing needs now and in the future.  Staff costs, for many nonprofit organizations, are the biggest budget line item and they can have many variables factored into them.  Some of these variables include:
  • Employee salaries.  You can be certain you are paying the appropriate salaries for your organization by researching them on sites such as Idealist's Career Center. 
  • Future needs and goals of the organization.  No one can predict the future; but with your mission and vision in mind, you can tentatively predict your future staffing needs for your organization. Carefully analyze current and future projects to determine the number of staff needed as well as the skill level of staff needed. An article by Nonprofits Assistance Fund, Aligning Staffing Models with Business Models, states, “Matching the right individuals with the right tasks is essential to ensure your dollars are spent as effectively as possible."  Ask yourself questions such as: Can an employee temp service or volunteers be utilized to fill in the gap?  or Do we have a current employee with the skillset needed for that position?
  • Planned and unplanned absences.  Every organization realizes a level of turnover and staff absences for various reasons.  From planned retirements to an unplanned medical leave, all absences create staff gaps that can cost precious time and money.  A study conducted by Nonprofit HR Solutions, found that most nonprofit organizations (87%) did not anticipate their overall turnover rate to increase in 2012 when compared to 2011. “However, more organizations expected turnover through retirements and voluntary resignations to increase in 2012.” Researching and understanding these trends will be helpful when writing your staffing model. 
Every organization will have its own unique set of challenges and variables when it comes to staffing.  It is important for all organizations to start out on the right foot by hiring the right employees.  According to an article published by Third Sector New England, you should “begin your hiring process by developing a well thought out hiring plan, using it as a road map to establish clear direction for you and others at your organization who will be involved in the hiring process.”  This When an employee leaves a position, it allows the organization to re-assess the hiring need for that position.   If employees or volunteers can be used from within the organization to fill this gap, does it make sense to re-hire the position?
Along with hiring the right people comes crunching a few numbers.  You can build a simple spreadsheet with all employee costs broken down so they can easily be tracked.  The cost of an employee is not simply their salary amount.  The cost of all taxes, all benefits, possible absences, any overtime projected and training required need to be considered.  You will need to keep these numbers in mind when assessing the need for hiring or re-hiring any position.  The article, 10 Strategies for Controlling Costs with Staffing, provides a useful list of costs to consider when looking at your staffing strategy. 
Once you have hired the right employees and carefully analyzed your specific staffing variables, you are on the way to successfully balancing your organization’s staffing budget.  By having a well-planned staffing model in place, your organization can effectively project future staff expenses as well as stay within your current budget.  Your staffing model should be reviewed frequently to be certain you are remaining on track.
Sites with further reading on creating a staffing model:

Monday, April 15, 2013

The importance of understanding what motivates staff

By Carol Roome

Motivating people has been a topic of research study since the early 1900s including work by many well known theorists such as Elton Mayo who conducted the Hawthorn Experiments on productivity and Abraham Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs Theory, just to name a few.

It has only been in more recent years that researchers have focused their efforts on what motivates individuals to volunteer their time and skills in the improvement of their community and world.

Understanding motivation

Keeping your staff engaged and productive for the long haul requires a basic understanding of what motivates each individual. There are many theories on what motivates people available to us today. Emmeline Widjaja from the Claremont McKenna College wrote her senior thesis paper on Motivation behind Volunteerism in 2010. In her paper she states, “…if volunteer motivations are known, organizations can better attract volunteers by developing persuasive communications that match specific functional motives of individuals or groups.”

“Furthermore," she continued, "volunteers assigned to tasks that match their motives are more likely to continue volunteering…” Discussed in this paper is an overview on what is available on motivating volunteers with an emphasis on functional motivation theory and a multi-dimensional model of volunteer motivation (Widjaja, 2010).

Motivating Staff and Volunteers working in NGOs in the South was prepared for People in Aid by Frontera, an international management and development consulting organization. The purpose of commissioning this report was “high turnover and poor performance” that was common in many other their international locations and they saw a need to develop a “non-financial incentive” program. The report has many useful dos and don’ts and suggestions on improving motivation.

This is a quote from the report that is worth sharing:

“A motivated employee generally remains with the organization for a longer period of time, and by reducing the attrition of staff, we can make sure that the organization’s resources can be dedicated to the program and betterment of the communities.”

-Head of HR, International Development Organization based in Honduras

Other links on motivating volunteers

Nonprofit Volunteers: Top 5 Tips to Keep Them Coming The top 5 tips are: tap into volunteer motives, tell volunteers what you expect, make volunteering convenient, make volunteering fun and show appreciation

How to Motivate Volunteers. According to Thomas McKee “positive feedback is the number one motivator."

Volunteers, Part I: What Makes Them Stay?  and  Volunteers, Part II: Why Do They Leave?
Christine Litch from VolunteerHub says, “Simply put, to reduce turnover, volunteers must be pleased with the environment in which they work and motivated by the tasks to which they are assigned.”
Understanding the difference between paid staff and volunteers

Although there are similarities between what motivates the two categories of employees there are some distinct differences that you should be aware of, as well as some legal differences that is also important to understand. In an article from Nonprofit Risk Management Center titled Employee or Volunteer: What’s the Difference, they offer several risk management tips to understanding those difference and working within the law.

Energize Inc is a website for the leaders of volunteers offering many resources including a Resource Library, Hot Topics and News, Events, Courses and Awards and more. In a January 2010 article Susan Ellis writes Differentiating between Volunteering and Working for Pay. It offers an overview of the distinct differences between the two groups.

Workshops to improve your understanding

A great way to gain knowledge in this sector is to take advantage of the many workshops, conferences and courses they offer on nearly every issue facing the nonprofit organization.

Here is a short list of resources:

Energize Inc offers workshops, conferences and courses globally, however this is the link for North America

Nick Wright Online: “This website provides free access to a range of articles, briefings and blogs by Nick Wright, coach and consultant for leaders, professionals and students.” The link is to his online workshop, Managing Staff and Volunteers.

Free Management Library
offers access to many links on topics ranging from planning to operating to legal and risk considerations.

Friday, April 5, 2013

5 benefits of integrating social fundraising into your nonprofit marketing strategy

By Damon Willis

In the modern dynamic world of nonprofit fundraising, social media has become an increasingly effective tool for fundraising endeavors. Social fundraising is a fairly new platform which enables nonprofit organizations to raise funds, increase their number of donors and communicate directly with donors, also save money on fundraising along with the effectual dissemination of information on a worldwide scale, via the internet.

Direct communication with donors  

Direct communication with donors in real time can be a powerful tool, especially in the event of a natural disaster or some other act of God which may warrant immediate funds from prospective donors. The Dixon and Keyes survey of results showed that traditional media (such as television, newspapers, and magazines) are still the way that most Americans learn about causes and social issues (70 percent of respondents agreed that they learn about causes from these sources). But social media and online channels have sizable audiences as well (47 percent of respondents agreed that they learn about causes from these sources)." (Dixon & Keyes) http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/the_permanent_disruption_of_social_media
Although, the majority of Americans hear about social causes from television newspapers and magazines, the 47 percent of respondents that receive news through online channels and social media is very sizable. In the world of Twitter and Facebook where social updates on organizations and individuals is commonplace, it is important to have a social media presence for every nonprofit organization, which gives the organization the ability to incorporate social fundraising.

Instant dissemination of information

The social media platform enables organizations to disperse pertinent information to their stakeholders in real time, whether the communication with followers is a donor plea for funding or a “like” campaign which is near and dear to the heart of the organizations mission. In addition, the Dixon and Keyes article mentions that “It is . . . important that organizations use new forms of media to communicate continuously. Direct mail or even e-newsletters can be valuable conduits of information for organizations, but the power of social media is its ability to provide continuous and timely communications." (Dixon & Keyes) http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/the_permanent_disruption_of_social_media   I would add that monetary transactions online, in regard to donations are very efficient transactions which almost occur instantaneously.

An opportunity to be transparent

In keeping with the perspective of Steve Butz, the opportunity to “tell the whole story” about your nonprofit along with the ability “to be transparent” are “often overlooked” sources “of content that can help to increase nonprofit accountability and transparency. ” http://socialmedia4nonprofits.org/category/blog/  Furthermore, the ability to be transparent on the web could also add credibility to the organization and make donors more comfortable in regard to providing monetary contributions via a social fundraising conduit.

A platform to present different forms of media

The ability to broadcast your cause to your network via a social media platform is phenomenal, here’s a hypothetical scenario; your organization shares a YouTube video with your social media audience which illustrates a story about your mission. In addition, you create something similar to a Facebook “like” campaign which highlights your video. Next, you promote an event for your cause and use instagram to document all photos of your stakeholders and supporters who participated and/or supported your cause. Lastly, the organization writes a blog about the event to share with other stakeholders in the future. Whether you are using video, a social network such as Facebook, a blog, or instagram for photos, you have created four opportunities to engage your audience and cultivate potential donors. This hypothetical scenario illustrates the power of social media as a platform for an integrated social fundraising campaign. The widely popular short film “Kony 2012” comes to mind, as an example of a nonprofit that utilizes social media outlets to disseminate a message to the masses very quickly and also raise a significant amount of capital through social fundraising. See the video here: http://invisiblechildren.com/kony/


Donor acquisition

According to Scott Chisholm, CEO of StayClassy, “Social fundraising delivers more than just donations. Each active fundraiser will have an average of seven donors and, more importantly, over half of those donors will be new ones. That makes social fundraising a pretty great tool for donor acquisition. ”  

 Imagine the opportunity to access the personal networks of you stakeholders and double the amount of donors through the use of social fundraising. Personally, I think that a number of untapped donors are exactly what the future of social fundraising has to offer the nonprofit sector.  

For further information on social fundraising please check out the links below.

 http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/the_permanent_disruption_of_social_media http://invisiblechildren.com/kony/http://socialmedia4nonprofits.org/category/blog/    http://blog.case.org/fundraising/#.UVnaR1fROZE http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/25/us-charities-socialnetworks-idUSBRE90O0TX20130125