Civic Engagement and Advocacy Blog

Jeff Ryan

Recent Posts

How Your Nonprofit Can Do More With Less

Posted by Jeff Ryan on 9/9/14 2:00 PM

It has been said that, “We can always live on less when we have more to live for,” (S. Stephen McKenney). Nowhere is this sentiment tested more than in nonprofit work. While there is no doubt that our passion can fuel an impressive amount of progress, the “living on less” part can turn from a practical reality into a stifling momentum killer.

Yes, nonprofits need to do more with less. And arguably, they need to be smarter with their decision making than for-profit organizations, simply because they often don’t have the resources to pay for their mistakes.


How to Modernize Your Member Retention and Fundraising Strategy

Posted by Jeff Ryan on 8/14/14 11:02 AM

In the past few years, leading nonprofit organizations have had an epiphany.They used to treat member retention and fundraising strategies as distinctly different disciplines (often developed and executed by different staff members). Now, they have come to recognize that focusing on, and dedicating resources to, an altogether different metric—member engagement—drives both retention and fundraising to whole new levels.

The reason for this is easy to grasp, yet most organizations are stuck in the "same way we've always done it mentality." If that's the case with your organization, please consider the following:

1. The old way of doing things is less effective.

According to the Forbes Group:

"With the advent of more difficult economic times and the maturing of the more skeptical baby boomer population, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain the membership growth upon which the health of associations depend. The traditional, comfortable ways that associations have been run in recent decades are becoming less effective in ensuring steady, long-term membership growth. In the past, membership growth was produced by employing sales tactics, such as slogans, contests, giveaways and razzle-dazzle. The membership prospect of today and tomorrow requires a more sophisticated appeal."

(Source: Membership Drives Need Sophisticated Appeal, Forbes Group, 2014

If you aren't growing your membership, there are fewer members to retain. And you are asking more and more of that dwindling number. More frequent appeals certainly don't help. You need to change your fundraising strategy.


6 Indispensable Seth Godin Quotes for Nonprofit Advocacy

Posted by Jeff Ryan on 8/8/14 1:42 PM

When it comes to marketing, leadership and entrepreneurship, best selling author and enormously popular blogger Seth Godin is certainly brilliant and almost always spot on. (If you don’t subscribe to his blog, I highly recommend it.)

Seth Godin will be a keynote speaker at this year’s ACCE Conference in Cincinnati. I am certainly interested to hear what he will say. If you aren’t familiar with Seth’s work, here are a few memorable quotes from six of his 17 books covering the topics of how ideas spread, leadership and—most of all—making effective change in the world. Every one of them applies to creating more effective nonprofit advocacy.


Grassroots Campaigns — Independence Day Style

Posted by Jeff Ryan on 7/3/14 11:05 AM

Advocacy has always been the cornerstone of freedom

As we Americans prepare for a long weekend off to honor our country’s freedom, let's consider the role of advocacy in establishing and maintaining our democracy.


The Role of Advocacy in Member Acquisition and Retention

Posted by Jeff Ryan on 6/5/14 2:16 PM

A recently released annual benchmarking report conducted by consulting firm Marketing General Incorporated reveals some interesting trends in how organizations are attracting, retaining and engaging their memberships. The survey reflects data submitted by 695 individual membership and trade associations. The findings in the report include many nuggets that you may find invaluable in creating your organization’s membership marketing tactics and strategies for 2014 and beyond.

One particularly interesting trend is that while it is still a top three reason for joining a membership or trade organization, advocacy has dropped to tied for third along with “learning best practices in their profession”.

Here is how the top 5 reasons for joining have tracked over the five years the survey has been conducted.

Source: 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report. Marketing General Incorporated.

Why the drop in advocacy as a reason to join? One clue may be found in looking at the top three reasons cited for members that do not renew. They are:

1. Budget cuts/economic hardship of the company (18%).

2. Lack of engagement with the organization (15%).

3. Unable to justify membership costs with any significant ROI (11%).

All three of the concerns can be mitigated by communicating the value of your organization to your members and following through with actions and programs that prove your claims. In fact, because your membership is basing their annual decision to renew or not based on their perceived value of what your organization is providing, it is essential for you to do it.
Which brings us to the question of why advocacy is losing some of its luster as a reason to join an organization or retain membership. If we look at the other four top reasons to join an organization, we see  that they are relatively easy for members to attach value to. It’s not hard to see if networking opportunities are bringing new clients or prospects, or if access to specialized information, learning best practices and acquiring new skills are enhancing one’s career or making a member organization stronger. The hard one for most people to attach immediate value to is advocacy.

There’s a reason for this. Most organizations tend to communicate about their advocacy efforts in two ways:

High level communications
Frequently used in membership solicitation and often reduced to a bullet or a few lines of copy — “We’re your industry advocate”, “We represent our industry at public hearings”, etc.     

Overly granular communications
What seems obvious to you may not be to your membership. The fact that your organization is working to ensure a piece of legislation passes (or is defeated) is certainly an act of advocacy. But your members may not see it that way unless you explicitly position your action as advocacy (e.g., “Our recent appearance on capital hill to help ensure the legislation passed (or was defeated) is another example of [your organization’s name here] advocacy in action”).

If you want your organization to be credited for your advocacy efforts by existing and potential members, you need to make communicating about it a priority. Highlight your efforts in e-mails, press releases and social media. Consider creating a campaign around the value your organization offers to members. And definitely include your advocacy efforts in your membership renewal outreach. (According to the 2013 Membership Marketing Benchmark Report, individual member associations using 7 or more contacts in their renewal series are more likely to report overall membership renewal rates at 80% or higher.) Including advocacy as one of the greatest strengths of your organization and one that yields a payback for your membership can only help keep your renewal rates high.
Member engagement ebook

Engaging Donors with the Heart — It's Not a Fairytale

Posted by Jeff Ryan on 6/2/14 9:29 AM

How One Nonprofit Organization Makes Dreams Come True Simply By Being Themselves

I recently had the honor of serving as a judge in the New Hampshire Creative Club’s 26th Annual Juried Exhibition. When we got to the video portion of the entries, there was one piece that clearly moved all of us. While some pieces had slicker production and professional voiceovers, it was the genuineness of the story and the way it was told that held us from beginning to end. And more important, it made us want to befriend the group that was behind this amazing success story.

The video was for the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth (New Hampshire). What made this story so compelling was that it came from the heart and expressed the good work that the organization is doing, while never dipping into cliche.

It would be so easy for this (or any) organization to rely on the tried-and-true donor engagement strategy — the “problem," “solution," “money needed to fix it,” and “donate now” story we’ve all heard so many times before.

What elevated this piece over the rest is that it told the story from a refreshing and creative new angle. Using the storybook theme that was the theme of their annual fundraising event, they wove the tale of how the children’s hospital was founded by an incredibly gifted and generous man and how he inspired a whole kingdom of medical professionals and donors to create this place that works magic with hundreds of children and their families. We learn in a captivating way how this incredible hospital has made the community and the world better because of it.

Please take a few moments to watch this beautiful piece.


How Does Your Donor Relations Strategy Impact Donor Engagement?

Posted by Jeff Ryan on 5/30/14 3:20 PM

A quick look in your wallet or purse tells you all you need to know about the proliferation of loyalty programs. We are awash with frequent flyer programs, coffee shop punch cards, office superstore discount cards and any number of other programs designed to make us feel special.

How to Make Your Fundraising Ideas Exceed Your Fundraising Dreams

Posted by Jeff Ryan on 5/29/14 7:30 AM

If You Don't Dare to Dream Big, You'll Be Left in the Dust

In March of 2013, activist and fundraiser Dan Pallota walked onto a TED talk stage and delivered a message that rocked the foundation of most nonprofit organizations. Over 3 million visitors later, his talk entitled The way we think about charity is dead wrong is still reverberating through the nonprofit world and well beyond.

In a nutshell, Dan Pallotta questions why we reward nonprofits for how little they spend, not for what they get done. We don’t use this line of reasoning in the for profit world at all. Mr. Pallotta memorably says that we need to start rewarding charities for their big goals and big accomplishments instead.

We can already see the benefits of this bold thinking at work. Dan Pallotta walks the talk (or more fittingly, bikes the talk). He spearheaded the multi-day charitable event industry with the long-distance Breast Cancer 3-Day walks, AIDS Rides bicycle events, and Out of the Darkness suicide prevention night walks. Over a nine period, 182,000 people participated in these events and raised nearly $600 million.

The reason these events were so successful is that they were bold and different by design. They were fundraising ideas that started with a big vision and had a marketing effort to match. For example, the AIDS Rides were promoted in full page ads in The Boston Globe, The New York Times and prime time radio and TV ads. “Imagine if we had to promote those ads only with flyers hung in laundromats”, he says. “Impossible.”

“People are wary of being asked to do the least they can do. They want to know they are making a difference.”

Think about that in terms of your organization.  

Are you dreaming big and asking your donors, members or supporters to do the same? Can you get out of the “doing it the same old way” mindset and try something bold and interesting enough to get people buzzing and investing in your dream?

A Portland, Maine success story


8 Best Practices for Removing Barriers to Member Engagement

Posted by Jeff Ryan on 5/14/14 2:03 PM

Some of the reasons members don't take action are easy to fix, such as making your communications more direct and actionable. Others require more planning. How does your organization stack up?

1. Be clear.
I can't believe how many appeals I receive from organizations that start out talking about one thing, then devolve into a series of unrelated topics. The best way to ensure your members respond is to make it clear why you are writing and what you want them to do. Nothing else belongs in the communication. Period.


6 Ways to Make Advocacy Software Updates Easier

Posted by Jeff Ryan on 5/6/14 1:10 PM

The do’s and don’t of an advocacy system upgrade

I’ve been in the communication business for a really long time — long enough to have travelled the arc from print to web to mobile and tablets — and the attendant pace of change.