beyond the press release


Who Can Nonprofits Turn To For Help?

There isn't a person in this country (excluding, perhaps, Pat Robertson) who hasn't been deeply saddened by what happened in Haiti on Jan. 12. Actually, make that most of the world. Watching the heart-wrenching coverage, we are reminded that natural disasters can strike anywhere, at anytime. It's how we react and respond in times of need that can make a difference.

For many, myself included, the crisis in Haiti is a throwback to August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf States and wiped out more than 850,000 homes and displaced several hundred thousand Americans. While the death toll doesn't even compare with that of Haiti, millions of Americans lost their homes and more than $10 billion was spent on rebuilding levies, which devastated a land mass bigger than Haiti. But the fundraising efforts and how the country reacted then to today's crisis is strikingly different.

In just two days, the American Red Cross was able to raise $8 million, according to Mobile, with millions more raised by nonprofits, including Yéle, UN Foundation and the International Rescue Committee. Millions of people were moved and money was mobilized -- instantaneously -- thanks in large part to mobile donations.



Just a year ago, however, most people hadn't heard of mobile donations; only a handful of behind-the-scenes companies like GiveOnTheGo and mGive, that had been developing this powerful fundraising platform for charitable organizations, knew what was brewing in the mobile space.

Now, sadly, thanks to the Haitian crisis, millions of consumers have been abruptly introduced to mobile giving overnight. And they don't seem to have a problem with it.

For nonprofits, fundraising -- on any scale -- is an operational imperative. Without supporting funds, there is no organization, period. And while mobile giving is being crowned as a charity's newest savior, it's a rather useless one if the organization doesn't have a proper structure. And by proper structure, I mean a having robust and sensible PR and marketing strategy -- of which mobile is a part. Simply having a mission and a vision to "do good" is all well and good, but it falls flat when no one knows about a nonprofit's work.

In today's climate, a nonprofit has to market itself like a business, yet most don't. I'm not talking about The Red Cross or Médecins Sans Frontières or Oxfam. I'm talking about the 1,569,572 or so nonprofits in this country that have set out to create change, to help those less fortunate and to make our world a much better place. They might not be selling products or services, but they are selling a cause.

For many of those nonprofits, however, PR and marketing is ranked number 8 or 9 (10 being the least important). And where does PR/marketing rank for a for-profit company? Number 2, 3 or 4.

So why the disparity?

In working with nonprofits, I've found it to be an inherent part of the funding and grant-writing structure. Foundations and large donors enforce strict stipulations about the amount of money a nonprofit can spend to promote itself. And yet, if it doesn't promote itself to endear its cause and mission to a new generation of donors and consumers, its fundraising and awareness building-efforts will be severely limited. It's a Catch-22.

I'm not saying that all nonprofits need to go crazy with big marketing budgets. But if they want the world, or even just their local community to know about their invaluable work and deeds, they need to invest in themselves and their story a lot more.

In times of crisis, it's clear that millions of people pay attention to these worthy organizations.

But it's the rest of the time that nonprofits have to worry about. Because that is the time when having a robust PR and marketing strategy can be the difference between success and failure for many of them.

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