Why I love my Board work

A couple of things happened recently that prompted me to reflect on my Not for Profit Board work and what it means to me. Firstly, I responded to a question from a young woman who I mentor, which prompted an interesting conversation about what was involved with being on a Board. And secondly when I sent my apologies for a Board meeting for the first time in over two years I realised I genuinely regretted missing the meeting.

I love my Board work. I’m particularly lucky as the Board I’m on is extremely well run, which is probably why I honestly like going to Board meetings. I enjoy the discussions, the opportunity to learn new things, the exposure to different points of view from the other Board members and the feeling that I am contributing in some small way to a valuable organisation that does excellent work.

I absolutely recommend serving on a Not for Profit Board and here’s why:

It adds value

You can add value to the Board, the organisation and sometimes even the sector. You can bring your expertise, your skills, your network, your abilities, your energy and your commitment to the table. You don’t need to be an expert on being a Board member or on the organisation – that can be taught. You just need to be prepared to add value to the discussion and the work. And adding value is a two-way street as being on a Board adds value to you. You learn about an organisation, about the Not for Profit sector, about the lives and needs of some of the most vulnerable members of our community. You gain valuable skills in strategy and planning at an organisational level, in negotiation and in effective teamwork. You also have exposure to the knowledge, experience and opinions of the other board members. You give, you learn, you belong… what’s not to like?

It matters

The work you do as a Board member matters to the organisation, to the Not for Profit sector and to our community. Organisations that have an effective Board, good governance, good processes, healthy business practices and clear vision are more likely to survive, thrive and continue to contribute in society. Being apart of something that matters is a joy and a privilege.

It provides perspective

We can all get bound up in our own job, own profession, own company and own issues. There aren’t many opportunities in life to sit down on a regular basis and have discussions with quite different people from a variety of sectors, professions and roles, many of whom will contribute a completely different perspective to the issue at hand. Many Boards now include members with lived experience to make sure their client base is adequately represented in the decision making process. They too can provide a whole other perspective that you may not have been exposed to before.

I encourage you to consider a Not for Profit Board. I particularly encourage more women to get involved because, as we know, they are woefully under-represented on Australian boards. Boards need diversity – different skills, experiences, genders, ages, backgrounds, cultures and abilities. If you want more information, do what my mentee did – ask someone you know who is on a Not for Profit Board what they like about their Board work. Their answers may well be different to mine, but I bet it will be an interesting conversation.

To newsletter or not to newsletter

Marseille letterboxes

Hands up those of you who get newsletters in your inbox that you have no recollection signing up for. How about those who get newsletters you actually DID choose to receive from organisations you have an interest in, but they are so frequent you don’t get time to actually read them. And how many get newsletters from good organisations that just
don’t seem to include any content that interests you, or they are so badly done you don’t like reading them. Newsletters can be a bit of a minefield and those questions illustrate why many just don’t work.

Most Not for Profits have a newsletter… or had a newsletter that doesn’t happen any more… or are thinking of introducing a newsletter. Frankly I have more conversations with clients about newsletters than any other aspect of marketing or communications.

We all know that newsletters can be a good communication tool and an important part of stakeholder engagement. However I’d really recommend you put some careful thought into the strategy. Whether you are keen to start a newsletter or want to improve the one you currently have, ask yourself these basic questions… in this order.

WHY – What purpose does the newsletter serve for your organisation? Are you hoping to: keep your clients up to date with your services; increase donations; increase your public profile; educate people on an issue or the solution you provide; improve understanding of your services within the sector; etc, etc. This question should also be considered within the context of your other communication tools. Adding a newsletter into the mix needs to provide different information or allow for a different level of engagement, otherwise why do it at all?

WHO – After you have nailed the why, it should be relatively easy to identify who you want to target your newsletter to. For example, if you want your newsletter to increase donor engagement, then clearly it needs to be targeted towards current and potential donors. If it is all about increasing your public profile, then you will need to build a broad database of stakeholders and potential stakeholders. Once you have the who, you should be able to identify how much work needs to go into building your database.

WHAT – This is the question relating to content. Exactly what kind of material do you want to include in your newsletter? It’s always easy to think about what to put into the first few issues, but try and project six or twelve months down the track… will there be new material available to include? Who is going to provide that content? Communication is a two-way process, so content also needs to be viewed from the stakeholders’ point of view. What kind of content will matter to them?

WHEN – How often do you want to send out your newsletter? This question needs to be viewed through the prism of organisational capacity. Someone needs to manage the database, write the content, produce and send out the newsletter. This stuff takes a lot of time and you may need to look at using contractors for any or all of those processes. Considering the sustainability issue will help you to avoid becoming one of those organisations that send out a few newsletters and are never heard of again.

HOW – There are two aspects to the how. The first one relates to the type and style of the newsletter. Some organisations prepare a pdf attachment to an email, others use more sophisticated emails with links to articles on their website. Clearly your IT set-up, and possibly your budget, will impact on this question. The other aspect relates to your database. Regular readers of my articles will know my opinions on what is, and what is not, a database. Excel spreadsheets, Outlook contact lists and Word tables are not databases. A database needs to allow you to identify your stakeholders by type, manage at least some aspects of your relationship with them and provide analysis of their engagement with your organisation. The better the database, the more you can tailor your newsletters to your stakeholders, the more likely they are to read them. And isn’t that the point of doing a newsletter in the first place?

Hiring Someone to Handle Your Marketing

Recently I was asked by a Not for Profit client to be involved in the selection process for a newly created marketing position. They had absolutely no marketing expertise on staff and were justifiably concerned about understanding and comparing the marketing skills, experience and knowledge of those who had applied.

So many Western Australian Not for Profits are in this particular boat right now – especially those that work in the disabilities services sector. With tight budgets, it has been hard to justify hiring marketing specialists in the past. However as the trials of NDIS and My Way come to a close and the WA Government sets the way forward, many such organisations are going to have to face a brave new marketing world. Some will be in the position of having to attract clients for the first time and their messaging, look and marketing approach will become vital in their ability to survive and thrive.

Many will stick with hiring a marketing consultant and using other specialist input, but some are keen to get someone on staff. Using a consultant on your selection panel is actually a very good move, but if you want to handle it totally yourselves here are some aspects to consider.

Marketing skills are totally transferable

Trust me on this. Us marketing types thrive on adapting to new environments – in fact most of us choose marketing because we don’t want to only work in one sector or type of organisation. This means you don’t have to only talk to people who have previously worked in a Not for Profit environment.Adding someone to your team from outside the sector can have the advantage of providing a different insight and a broader view. I suggest you choose to interview people who have done some services marketing at some point in their career as that implies a broad range of stakeholders and a longer, more complex relationship with clients, than those who have specialised purely in product marketing.

New graduates will need some mentoring

Tight budgets often mean the kind of salary range that attracts new graduates or those with only a few years of experience. They will come equipped with the very latest information and very likely a fresh approach, however may not have a great deal of strategic experience. By asking an established marketing professional to mentor them for the first 6 to 12 months, either as a consultant or on a pro-bono basis, you are getting the best of both worlds. The mentor does not need to have intimate knowledge of your organisation. After all, it’s up to you to provide that information to your new marketing staff member. But it is useful if the mentor has experience in the sector as they already have an understanding of the context in which you operate. There are a few of us that fit that bill – just ask around. If your new staff member can suggest someone, or even comes with an established mentor, ask to meet them and make sure they understand your expectations of the role.

Assess their personal brand

Marketing people are supposed to understand the value of branding. That means they should be good at developing their own brand and communicating it to others. Get them to make a presentation at the interview on a previous marketing project they have managed, or even on what they understand to be your biggest marketing challenges. Any marketing specialist worth their salt should be able to do a reasonable presentation, even allowing for interview nerves. I would also suggest you check out their various social media and professional media profiles. In particular look at how their profile is set up, the type of profile photo they use, how up to date it is and if they have a blog. Again – a marketing person is supposed to be good at this stuff. They don’t have to use all (or in fact any) forms of social media – that is very much a personal choice. But if they do, you would like to see an attention to detail and a professional approach. Who they follow on social media is also a great way to understand what is important to them and is particularly helpful in getting a handle on their values.

They must play well with others

Everyone in the universe tends to list “good team work skills” in job criteria. Yes – you need to ensure that the person you take on is a team player. However, marketing is very much a collaborative function and so your new marketing staff member will need to be able to communicate effectively with just about everyone in your universe. Keep in mind that marketing folk really need to be EXCELLENT communicators. They don’t need to be personality plus, but they do need the emotional intelligence to be able to alter their communication style to suit their audience. I’d recommend you use a hypothetical in the interview to understand how they deal with challenging personalities. Asking them about the type of teams they have worked with in the past, and what they learned from those experiences is also useful.

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Annual Reports

It’s that time of year again. Many Not for Profits are either thinking about doing their annual report, panicking about having not started their annual report or currently wading through back data and reports and writing their annual report.

My recommendation is to stop viewing your annual report as an onerous requirement that has to be completed when you have no time to do it, and start considering it as a marketing document. Having a professional looking annual report that shows what you have accomplished in the last year and allows readers to understand what drives you as an organisation, is a very useful communication tool indeed. Yes, they can be time consuming, but frankly doesn’t anything that is worthwhile take up some time?

There are some good guides available to help you with your annual report. Check out key2creative’s blog for some great ideas. My top tips for approaching your annual report are:

  1. Think of 3 main messages you want your annual report to convey. It is easy to get caught up in tying to cover EVERYTHING that happened in the last year. We get it – you’ve been busy. But let’s face it, who outside your own organisation is likely to read every single word of your annual report? Most people skim through, looking for areas of interest and getting a ‘feel’ for your organisation or the year that you have had. So you need to make sure your main messages are clear, obvious and powerful.
  2. Get professional help to write it. Well – I would say that as I write annual reports! But seriously, the biggest mistake you can make is getting a whole lot of people to provide paragraphs or sections from their own areas of expertise and then cobbling those together to make one report. Annual reports need to have one voice, and that voice and tone needs to match with the rest of your marketing material. If you have room in your budget to pay for professional help then use it.
  3. Use a graphic designer. We’ve all looked at a lot of annual reports and it is easy to pick those that look professional and those that don’t. And don’t automatically think that it will cost an arm and a leg for a designer – there are several around that enjoy working with Not for Profits and have reasonable rates. Get at least 3 quotes and make sure they understand your budget, so they can plan accordingly.

Heart and Soul Consulting

Welcome to Heart and Soul Consulting’s website. We work with Non Profit organisations and small to medium businesses to help them improve their marketing and communications.

By delving into the heart and soul of your organisation or business we help you to communicate professionally, effectively, and above all authentically, to current and future stakeholders.

If you want to be more strategic with your messages, understand how to differentiate yourself in the marketplace or engage your clients and other stakeholders in a more targeted way, we can help. We tailor-make solutions that best suit what you need.

Take a look around this website and then contact us to talk about how we can help.

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Effective Stakeholder Management for Non Profits

Understanding who is important to your organisation, why they are important and how to communicate to them can sound like a no-brainer. However many Non Profit organisations that I speak to, have some elements of stakeholder management in place but haven’t pulled it all together and don’t really know where to start.

Stakeholder management is an important part of your marketing mix and ideally needs to be accommodated within your strategic plan. In simple terms, good stakeholder management leads to increased engagement and interest from your stakeholders, which in turn can lead to outcomes such as increased funding, more partnerships and raised profile, not to mention improvements in your reputation, image and overall professionalism.

So, for those Non Profit organisations that want to improve their stakeholder management, here are my top 5 tips to get you started.

  1. Understand the why.

Work out who your stakeholders are and why each of them is important to you. I know this sounds basic, but I’m constantly surprised at the lack of real analysis organisations put into the ‘why’. Many can easily pull together a list of every person and company they deal with and call them stakeholders. Understanding why they are on the list provides context to your relationship, which in turn helps you work out how to effectively communicate with them, now and in the future.

There are many and varied reasons why a stakeholder can be important to you… too many to list. Some reasons depend on the category of stakeholder – funders are the obvious example here. To get you started here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What do they currently provide to our organisation?
  • What could they provide?
  • How important are they to our current operations/outcomes?
  • How important are they to our goals and vision?
  • Do we share the same values and aims?
  • Who can they influence?

Recording this information is also vital. It spreads the knowledge around, provides everyone with context and helps new staff members get up to speed a lot quicker. Which brings me nicely to the second tip.

  1. It’s all about that (data) base.

One person’s Outlook contact list is not a database. A whole lot of small lists that can be combined each time you want to send out anything – also not a database. And, hold onto your hats folks, an Excel spreadsheet is not actually a database.

Before I have a posse of Excel aficionados abusing me, let me say Excel is an excellent piece of software. It does a hell of a lot of wonderful things, some of which are a mystery to me. But it was designed to be a spreadsheet, not a database. Largely because it’s readily available, most organisations start off their stakeholder journey by building a list in Excel. For some small Non Profits who just want to keep contact details for a handful of stakeholders, this may well suffice. But for most, you really need something that is less ‘list’ and more ‘Customer Relationship Management’ software. Essentially a good database is responsive, accommodates all your stakeholder engagement activities and provides you with some analysis to assist with evaluation.

To choose a database that suits you, the first step is to work out what you are likely to want the database to do now and in the future, and what kind of information you would like it to store and provide. Do you need it to store contact details to send out information and invitations; track donations and generate tax receipts; keep client information; track interaction with partners or potential partners; track all volunteer work, etc, etc.

You also need to consider what other software or systems you need it to play nicely with. Then it’s time to research what’s available and what others in your field use. Sometimes the nature of your work will point you to a specialised type of database. Of all the tips in this article that will improve your stakeholder management, this is the one worth spending some money on. Check out your usual funding options and agencies – in Western Australia Lotterywest has a grant category for Information Technology and Web that databases fit under.

  1. One size does not fit all.

When talking to Non Profits about their needs I mostly hear “we need a newsletter” and “we should be on social media”. Yes, newsletters and social media are popular communication tools used to engage stakeholders, but that doesn’t automatically mean they will suit your organisation. Other tools like an interactive website, personal reports, blogs or regular briefing meetings may well be a better fit for you to use in communicating with your stakeholders.

Choosing your communication tools will largely depend on the types and number of stakeholders that you have, what kind of information you want to communicate to them and how often, what level of engagement you are looking for, and your organisational capability (see tip 5 below). For example if your stakeholders are mostly funders and some self-selected members or advocates that you rely on to continue to operate, then the personal touch of individualised reports or meetings is going to be more relevant than sending out a tweet. If you have thousands of stakeholders that include every type known to humankind, then it’s likely you are going to need a combination of communication tools. You do not have to use them all… be strategically selective and again, get advice.

  1. Was it good for you?

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that communication is two-way. The heart of really effective stakeholder management is accommodating your stakeholders’ preferences. Spending time, money and effort to get up a really good facebook page is completely wasted if you find that your key stakeholders would actually prefer a newsletter they can email to their staff. Some people love getting blog updates, some prefer written material to read on public transport and others won’t engage with anything that isn’t more than 140 characters. As much as possible, allow your stakeholders to choose how they receive their information. And you do this by simply asking them and then recording their preferences on that great database you’ve recently researched, purchased and developed.

  1. Consider your capacity.

The biggest mistake organisations make is to introduce some elements of stakeholder management without working out who will make it happen. Responsibility for the upkeep of the database, running stakeholder engagement activities and managing communications such as newsletters, your facebook page or your website, needs to be allocated to staff members who have the capability and capacity to tick it all over…. week, after week, after week. Expecting people to absorb extra duties without considering sustainability is setting them (and the organisation) up for failure. How many times have you received one or two newsletters from an organisation, never to hear from them again? You really don’t want to join that club. This stuff takes up a lot of time, which needs to be factored into your decision making. You might need to consider providing training, reallocating some duties or adding staff. Some organisations will spread out the work, while others give it all to one person. Either way, stakeholder management duties need to be included into job descriptions. You will also need to review current policies or introduce new ones – particularly if you move into social media.