Why Conferences Are Critical For Growth


Why Conferences Are Critical For Growth

(Disclosure: Joe Mueller is a past president, vice president and treasurer of the Community Service Public Relations Council. He served on the Spectrum Conference planning committee for the past four years.)

As a general rule, nonprofit communicators don’t take enough time for professional or personal development.

There are always annual reports to be produced, media releases to be written and distributed, social media channels to be administered, and fundraising campaigns to be supported with various marketing collateral. Then there’s staff meetings to attend, board members to meet and volunteer efforts to support.

You’re overworked and under loved.

But communicators, fundraisers and other nonprofit leaders need at least one day per year dedicated to learning about new trends and required skills, meeting fellow nonprofit professionals who share the same struggles, and taking a few minutes to breathe and visualize how their organization could benefit from a new or different approach.

You can probably come up with many more reasons to attend a one-day conference. In the St. Louis region, the Community Service Public Relations Council’s annual Spectrum Conference meets and surpasses these needs. It provides a wide variety of presentations on communications and public relations, fundraising and leadership. For those new to the nonprofit sector and the profession, it provides an opportunity to learn from professionals with decades of experience.

As the Spectrum Conference came to a close on Tuesday, May 10, 2016, other lessons that became apparent:

Benefits of community: Throughout the years, dozens of professionals developed longstanding relationships and friendships through CSPRC and they often began at the Spectrum Conference. There are hundreds of examples of problems solved during a discussion in a presentation or at a lunch conversation. Sometimes, it’s a form of group therapy where fellow nonprofit professionals will provide insights or advice or lift your spirits with a word or two of encouragement. The passion and commitment of those who make presentations and vendors who sponsor events can be energizing and provide motivation and enthusiasm.

Don’t forget to unpack: Chances are you gained ideas to work smarter, not harder. But there’s a tendency for nonprofit professionals to immediately dive back into their email and task lists the moment the conference ends or the day after. One can increase the value of a conference by organizing materials and notes within 24 hours of its conclusion. New ideas to possibly implement or items requiring immediate action won’t be lost if they’re documented and added to your planning system or process.

You are a leader: One of the simplest but most profound lessons for the attendees came during the closing keynote by Beth Fagan. She asked those who were communicators to raise their hand. She then asked those who were leaders to raise their hand.

“Everyone should have had their hands raised both times because all of your are communicators and leaders,” she said.

No matter the size of your organization’s budget, the number of people it serves or the amount of money it raises, your nonprofit will always need outstanding communications and leadership. The rewards will be great for all nonprofits and the people they serve when staff members take a day to learn, share and value the importance of these management functions.

Subscribe to our free newsletter


Newsletter Header-300 by 100

Get the latest information on marketing and communications, media relations, crisis management, fundraising, social strategic planning and leadership delivered to your inbox every Sunday when you subscribe to The Strategic Communicator e-newsletter.

Recovering, Learning After ‘Give’ Day

Recovering, Learning After 'Give' Day

Flickr photograph by Peter Alfred Hess 

Fundraisers and communicators experienced frustration after technical problems stalled Give STL Day and other “Give” days throughout the nation on Tuesday, May 3.

Kimbia, a software company in Austin, provided the online donation services for approximately 50 communities through the Give Local America campaign on Tuesday. Give STL Day, presented by the St. Louis Community Foundation, was one of those communities. A Kimbia statement reported the company tested the system for weeks, but a hardware problem on a server caused a series of failures.

Last year, Give STL Day raised $2.1 million from 20,260 donors—an average of $78.67 per gift. On Tuesday and Wednesday from 6 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., it raised $1.6 million.

There’s always some risk when nonprofits partner with outside organizations to raise money or to promote programs. Most technical problems can be solved. Other risks are more challenging. For instance, some  youth agencies recruited professional athletes to promote membership drives and then were forced to pull the marketing materials when the athlete was arrested for drug possession, driving while intoxicated or soliciting a prostitute.

Last week, the concept and messaging of “Give” days was reviewed (Why ‘Serve STL Day’ is better than ‘Give STL Day’) in this space. This week, we’ll review some ways to recover from a technological collapse and learn lessons in preparedness.

Always have a Plan B: One of the greatest gifts a public relations person can give to their organization is a healthy sense of worry, anxiety and pessimism. Most of the time, it’s the PR person who is troubleshooting various projects and educating top leadership about the consequences of failure or poor execution. In this case, the development and communications people were probably focussed with creating all of the digital assets required for the campaign’s success. It provides an excellent example for the need to always ask, “What if…?” when planning and executing any type of large project.

Here’s an excellent tactical suggestion from Kivi Leroux Miller (@kivilm) in her post, One Lesson from the #iGiveLocal “Give Local America” Fiasco, on the nonprofitmarketingguide.com blog:

Here’s the lesson: It would have been so much easier for individual nonprofits if they had set up a redirect with their own domain name, like mynonprofit.org/givelocal or used a link shortener like Bitly and distributed that link (not the Kimbia link!) from the start. Then they could have changed the destination URL from Kimbia to their own donation page or to a backup page like the Midlands Gives form at Wufoo — and all the previous links sent out to donors would still have worked!  No need to update donors with a new link, because the correct link is served up behind the scenes. For massive campaigns like this, you have to assume something will fail, and know how you will put Plan B into effect immediately.

Be prepared to pull the plug: Email messages, Facebook posts and Twitter updates from some nonprofits continued throughout the morning and afternoon without mentioning the problems. This caused confusion when donors attempted to make a gift and were stymied. When similar problems arise and automated communication is scheduled for distribution, your organization must be prepared to quickly make changes and adjustments. Many of the 900 nonprofits participating and the givestlday.org social media channels sent messages about the problem, asked for patience, and set up a phone bank at a television station to take donations.

No matter how great your organization delivers services, many donors—especially first-time givers—will not have a favorable impression of your nonprofit if you can’t execute something as simple as accepting an online donation.

Have courage to decline: Organizational leaders and the development team must evaluate the net gain from “Give” days in May and the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. All organizations can benefit from tracking time spent on various projects and evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness. If “Give” days aren’t providing a significant return on the investment of time and money, perhaps those resources can be more effectively used in other development activities. And have the data handy to answer the inevitable question from the well-intentioned but often uneducated board member, “I saw all of the money other people raised and wondered why did’t we do this?”


A graphic from the St. Louis Area Foodbank shows the impact of a donation.

Say thanks and start communicating your story again: No matter how much money your organization received during this event or other campaigns, prompt messages of appreciation are critical. As part of those messages, your organization can communicate how the donations will be immediately used to carry out the mission of your organization. And if your board members, donors or volunteers express disappointment with the execution of the “Give” day, be prepared to change the focus. Communicate how your organization must continue fulfilling its mission and will be working to obtain the resources necessary for success. Tell your story and move toward achieving your organization’s goals.


Most nonprofits are striving to increase donations to meet the needs of their clients or participants. Development professionals succeed when they take the time to develop strategies and refine execution.

Mueller Communications works with nonprofit organizations as they improve their capacity to increase financial resources through various types of giving. Contact Joe Mueller (C: 636.232.7730) and schedule a free 30- to 45-minute consultation/conversation.

Your success in fundraising will create enthusiasm and momentum throughout your entire nonprofit organization.

Why ‘Serve STL Day’ is better than ‘Give STL Day’

Why 'Serve STL Day' is better than 'Give STL Day'The purpose of this post isn’t to provide petty or unfair criticism of creativity or innovation in fundraising in the nonprofit sector. But when some trends appear, the campaigns often generate an idea for improvement:

Instead of conducting “give” days, maybe we should call them “serve” days.

More than 900 nonprofits in the St. Louis area and thousands throughout the nation will conduct a coordinated campaign to solicit donations on Tuesday, May 3. Throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area, it’s known as Give STL Day.

As my Facebook news feed and email box fills with warm-up messages to donate and the Give STL Day logo appears on the long-range weather forecast for Tuesday on a television newscast, something in the subconscious suggests a more effective message.

Everyone needs encouragement to give. The needs in the nonprofit community are great and don’t seem to be declining. There are dedicated volunteers and staff members who spend countless hours in service to organizations. That’s where the word, “serve,” might be more accurate and effective than, “give.”

A few years ago, a representative of an organization assisting the poor in Central and South America came raise funds at Union Avenue Christian Church. Photographs of the people who benefitted from the work of the organization were shown during the Sunday School hour. Several personal stories were shared of how individuals and communities were transformed by the organization’s efforts. Later during the worship service, there were more stories and photographs—all different than those told during the first hour.

The presentation concluded with two short and simple sentences:

  • Your past support was appreciated.
  • If you want to start—or continue—helping us, there’s information in your worship bulletin.

The representative probably could have stopped short of saying those sentences as people were already writing checks and found the envelopes for themselves in the bulletins. The story of the organization’s service was so powerful, there really wasn’t a need to ask the people to give.

Even though the people in Central and South America were thousands of miles away from Union Avenue, the photographs and the story touched the hearts and minds of the people in the congregation. People will make donations when they experience an emotional connection to the organization’s mission, or to the people they serve.

InfographicLast year, Give STL Day raised $2.1 million from 20,260 donors—an average of $78.67 per gift. Perhaps the most significant accomplishment was 26 percent (5,200) of gifts were from new donors. St. Louis continues to be one of the most charitable cities in America. It was ranked 16th out of 30 major markets in a 2015 national study by Charity Navigator.

Instead of focusing on “Give” days next week and on Giving Tuesday—the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and Black Friday—perhaps time and resources would be better devoted to developing relationships with donors. An orchestrated call for everyone in a community to join in serving those assisted by the nonprofit sector would be a powerful and engaging challenge.

“Fundraising is never easy,” wrote Jeff Brooks in the post, “The Sad News About Magical Fundraising,”  on the Future Fundraising Now blog. “It always involved getting into the hearts and minds of donors and connecting with them on their terms. Sometimes lightning strikes and you connect with a lot of people in a deeper way than you’re used to. That’s great! But it only happens in the context of the hard work of paying attention to donors.”

Although no one new the name of the person who came to raise funds that day at Union Avenue Christian Church, the stories created meaningful connections with the audience.

“Fundraising is the result of strategic thinking, hard work, creativity and a genuine concern for donor interests and creating community change,” according to Fundraising Yoda in the post, “The Pursuit of Stardust Solutions,” on the 101Fundraising blog. “You succeed because of many reasons. When you go for the easy win, when you go for the quick sale, when you underestimate the effort required to engage donors, you do a disservice to the profession.”

There are powerful stories of your staff, volunteers and clients overcoming obstacles or meeting challenges as they walked down the path to success. Your stakeholders need to know those stories.

They compel people to give, serve and advocate.

They provide enthusiasm, determination and focus.

Contact Joe Mueller (Cell: 636.232.7730) for a free consultation on how your organization can identify and effectively tell your stories.

Twitter With A Capital ‘T’ And That Stands For Trouble

Twitter With A Capital 'T' And That Stands For Trouble

Professor Harold Hill, played by Robert Preston, in the 1962 musical, “The Music Man,” sings the song, “Ya Got Trouble,” to convince the people of River City a new pool table will forever ruin the character of the town’s young men.

As details surfaced around last week’s requested resignation of Tony Spence, the director and editor in chief of Catholic News Service, a scene from, “The Music Man,” came to mind.

In the 1962 musical, Professor Harold Hill starts a frenzy so the town’s people will be motivated to buy marching band uniforms and instruments from him for their boys. Hill’s plan is to take the money, leave town and never return. “We must create a desperate need in your town,” Hill tells his associate, Marcellus Washburn. Hill sees people looking at a new pool table in the billiards hall. (It takes place in 1912.) He immediately concocts a narrative where boys will irreparably harmed by playing pool. He gathers the town’s people by singing the song, “Ya Got Trouble,” and whips them into a fervor:

“Well, either you’re closing your eyes
To a situation you do not wish to acknowledge
Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated
By the presence of a pool table in your community.
Well, ya got trouble, my friend, right here,
I say, trouble right here in River City.”

Think of the chaos Professor Harold Hill might have created if he had Twitter:

Ya got trouble, folks, right here in River City.
Trouble with a capital “T”
And that stands for Twitter!

Twitter continues to alter the digital communications landscape. Individuals and organizations must become more informed and aware that anything published on a digital channel can be linked to one’s occupation, their employer or the organization they serve. It doesn’t take much substance to enable a declared opponent or a self-appointed watchdog to wage a campaign against an individual or an organization based on interpretations of—or opinions on—social media posts.

In Tony Spence’s (@TonySpence) case, he added some editorial comments to links of news stories in some Twitter updates. At least three websites pulled screen shots of his Twitter account and each wrote similar posts: the Lepanto Institute (@LepantoInst), LifeSite News @LifeSite, and the Church Militant (@Church_Militant). The collective criticism was enough for the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops to ask him to leave a position held since 2004 and one that earned him the St. Francis de Sales Award, the highest recognition presented by the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.

Here’s an excerpt from the April 14, 2016, report on Spence’s resignation from the America Magazine website:

An emotional Spence said this afternoon that critics went after him “full-court on the blogosphere” over the past few days. Spence was told yesterday during a meeting with  Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, the general secretary of the bishops’ conference, that he had “lost the confidence of the conference” and was asked to submit a letter of resignation.

The web-based publications, which in the past have frequently targeted Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, began a drumbeat for Spence’s removal after he posted a series of tweets commenting on impending laws related to bathroom access and other rights for lesbian, gay and transgender people. The Lepanto Institute accused Spence of issuing “public statements decrying proposed legislation in several states that would protect religious freedom and deny men pretending to be women the ‘right’ to enter women’s bathrooms.”

(Another report on the Spence’s resignation can be found on the National Catholic Reporter website.)

Twitter Truths

Here are the current truths about Twitter and applicable to other social media platforms:

  • Professional communicators who have Twitter accounts—especially those serving charitable and religious institutions—will have their updates continuously monitored and, possibly, publicly critiqued by self-appointed watchdogs or opponents of the mission of the organization.
  • Your Twitter updates and other information pertaining to the account will be reviewed and archived by anyone you or your organization opposes or those desiring to wage a campaign against you or your organization.
  • It doesn’t matter how many people follow your Twitter account or how often you send updates. Any search engine will quickly and easily retrieve your updates and other elements of your account.
  • If a person or group wants to attack you for any reason, the first place they will go for evidence or ammunition will be your Twitter account.

The America article continued:

Spence said that the web campaign provoked hate mail to his e-mail account, with messages urging his excommunication and calling him a traitor to the faith. Spence said he did not believe his Twitter comments would provoke such a backlash—“obviously”—but that he had been to his mind merely commenting on developing news on a subject frequently covered by CNS staff.

teak_new_column_graphic2016A Twitter Splitter

The editor of the St. Louis Review, the Catholic newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis,  wrote a column, “Is it worth being a Twitter splitter?” in the April 18-24, 2016 issue. Teak Phillips (@teakphillips), a friend and well-respected journalist who formerly worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrote about creating a new Twitter account (@stlrevieweditor) for updates pertaining to Catholic journalism. His personal account, going forward, wouldn’t contain information pertaining to Catholic journalism.

Creating separate accounts for personal and professional business can be appropriate. “I figured discreet Twitter presence for each is logical,” Phillips wrote. However, Phillips and others know anything one publishes through digital channels can be linked to one’s occupation and the organization they serve or work for.

Institutional Expectations, Conversations

Institutional leaders must use discretion and common sense when dealing with the social media accounts of the organization’s communications professionals and all employees. Employees must embrace the mission of their organization and know employee behavior and comments can reflect positively or negatively on the organization. Employers must create and maintain a culture and a climate where dialogue and free expression can contribute to the overall good of an organization and society.


Pope Francis

Twitter can be an effective communications tool. The Pope has a Twitter account (@Pontifex). He visited with Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders over the weekend, who is pro-choice and on record for increasing federal funding for the abortion provider, Planned Parenthood. Sanders also believes LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) political causes are more important than religious liberty concerns.

“I gave a greeting and nothing more,” Pope Francis said, according to a Catholic News Agency report. “… If someone thinks that to give a greeting means to get mixed up in politics, I think he needs a psychiatrist.”

Good thing he didn’t Tweet that.

Does your organization need help with social media?

Joe Mueller assists organizations with all phases of social media and digital communications strategy. Contact him by email or by phone (636-232-7730) to schedule a free 45-minute consultation and learn how your organization could use powerful communications channels to further your mission.

Subscribe to our free newsletter

Get the latest information on marketing and communications, media relations, crisis management, fundraising, social strategic planning and leadership delivered to your inbox every Sunday when you subscribe to The Strategic Communicator e-newsletter.

Research Shows Communicators What’s Needed For Success In Technology

Research Shows Communicators What's Needed For Success In Technology

Leading an organization to embrace technology requires courage and steadfastness. Successful technological adoptions or transformations often place organizations ahead of peer groups and competitors. Businesses or institutions become more efficient and effective.

But the journey to technological success always requires many elements. It takes time to implement new programs and there’s a shortage of patience in most sectors. Plus, organizations must accept there will be failures and many initiatives will require complete restarts.

Three articles in my news stream during the last few weeks revealed discouraging cultural, operational and behavioral tendencies in many organizations attempting to embrace or utilize technology:

  • More than half (59 percent) of U.S. marketers surveyed by Demand Metric and Seismic said they do not personalize content because they don’t have the technology. Some 59 percent of respondents said they don’t have the bandwidth or resources, and 54 percent said they don’t have the needed data. (Read the article at eMarketer.)
  • More than half (52 percent) of nonprofit executives anticipate moderate or massive digital disruption in the next year, according to the survey, “Digital Pulse 2015,” by Russell Reynolds Associates. (From the article, “The Industries That Are Being Disrupted the Most by Digital,” by Rhys Grossman (@Rhysgrossman) in Harvard Business Review.)
  • Jay Baer’s (@JayBaer) post on the Convince and Convert blog, “Why Most Companies Can’t Yet Handle Great Marketing Technology,” covered the Adobe Summit. His conclusion:
    • “For us to be able to actually harness the power of experience-led businesses, we need to focus as much on the wizard as on the wand.
      “Any meaningful improvement in customer experience through marketing tech must start first in the heart, and then move to the head. If your organization doesn’t really and truly believe at the molecular level that customer experience is transformative, you’ll never embrace the risk enough to reap the reward.”

The conclusion from the three articles:

  • Few organizations are keeping up with technology.
  • The change required to fully utilize technology is difficult for many organizations, especially large institutions.
  • Most people are afraid of the consequences of failure.

My generation of public relations and communications professionals witnessed incredible technological change during their careers. Most were probably on both sides of many change initiatives. We often were early adopters of technology and pushed organizations to understand how digital capabilities would contribute to an organization’s overall improvement.


A Tandy 200, with 24K RAM, circa 1985.

Once while working for the Boy Scouts of America, my supervisor noticed my Tandy 200 computer with a spreadsheet tracking donations to the annual fundraising campaign. Was he going to compliment me on my fundraising reports being more accurate and timely?

“You better not let the director see you with that keyboard on your desk,” he said. “We’re executives. Only secretaries have keyboards at their desk.”

Today, people have keyboards in their pockets in the form of smartphones.

Years later when each BSA  executive had a laptop, PR often battled with information technology professionals who attempted to control the design and access and hinder collaborative workflows for publishing information on internet websites.

Never before has business and industry been better able to collect data on customers and the marketplace. By studying data and using it effectively in marketing and communications, organizations can create, maintain or enhance relationships with a wide range of customers and audiences. If your organization doesn’t position themselves for continuous digital transformation, your peers and competitors will adapt and succeed.

But success will come with a cost.


Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics

A scene from the movie, “Moneyball,” illustrates the personal and organizational costs a leader must endure when leading change. At the end of the movie, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, John W. Henry, is attempting to convince Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics, of the revolutionary nature of his sabermetric strategy—using baseball players with underrated skills instead of highly paid stars. Beane’s strategy was more successful than many teams with payrolls much higher than Oakland’s salaries. Henry wanted to hire Beane as his general manager.

“I know you’re taking it in the teeth out there,” says Henry, played by Arliss Howard, to Beane, played by Brad Pitt, “but the first guy through the wall… he always gets bloodied. Always.


John W. Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox

“This is threatening not just a way of doing business. But in their minds, it is threatening the game. But really what it is threatening is their livelihoods. It’s threatening their jobs. It’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it is a government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people who are holding the reins or who have their hands on the switch, they go bat sh*t crazy.

“I mean, anybody who is not tearing down their team right now and rebuilding it using your model, they’re dinosaurs. They’ll be sitting on their ass on the sofa in October watching the Boston Red Sox win the World Series.”

Beane did not take the job, but two years later, the Boston Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. Here’s a clip of the scene:

Do you and your organization need help embracing what technology can do?

Are you ready to be the “first guy through the wall,” know you’ll get “bloodied,” but understand it’s part of the journey toward success?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, contact me. My mission: To create connections between people and groups and develop strategic approaches that unify people in working together to achieve a common goal.

What High School Wrestlers Can Teach Public Relations Professionals

What High School Wrestlers Can TeachPublic Relations ProfessionalsLifelong learning includes appreciating lessons taught by others. Many teachable moments for parents take place by observing their children participating in activities.


An official raises the hand of Ryan Mueller after winning a match during Rockwood Summit High School’s annual wrestling tournament, The 141 Rumble.

Experiencing life with a high school wrestler at Rockwood Summit High School revealed several discoveries. After several seasons, it’s clear how principles learned in wrestling are transferrable to the working world, especially for marketing and communications professionals.

A tremendous amount of character, discipline and integrity are required to simply step onto a wrestling mat. Wrestlers often compete against their own teammates for the honor and privilege to represent their school in a wrestling match. A wrestler must be one of the top four finishers in their district tournament to qualify for the Missouri State High School Activities Association’s state wrestling tournament.

Talent, skills and ability will take you to a certain point in the tournaments and in the marketing and communications sector. The following principles became apparent on Saturday at Mizzou Arena during a procession of the top 116 wrestlers in the state before the opening ceremony.

Everybody gets pinned: Every athlete experiences a defeat somewhere during their career. Wrestlers experience a loss by a pin when the opponent is so dominating, the contest immediately ends when your shoulders are on the mat. In wrestling, very few go through a season undefeated.

It’s inevitable in the world of communications for your organization to avoid a crisis or criticism. Despite your best preparations and execution, your organization will experience a setback.

Summit Wrestling Sign on desire and fear

Signage in the Rockwood Summit wrestling room.

You’re going to get pinned.

But your organization will benefit with honest and candid reflection and a resolution to come back stronger, wiser and better prepared for future challenges.

Continuous focus on fundamentals: No matter how many years of experience, there’s a correlation between a wrestler’s success and their preoccupation—in some cases an obsession—with seemingly endless repetition of basic tasks. The principle is true for all successful athletes in every sport.

Successful communicators possess an intense focus on good writing, clear design, engaging storytelling and effective strategy development. These elements contribute to positive communications outcomes in the same way weight lifting, running and stretching help wrestlers improve.

Flexibility: Still photography reveals many wrestlers’ tremendous flexibility. They will twist their shoulders and arch their backs for what seems like an eternity to keep from getting pinned during three two-minute periods.

Communicators must also gain flexibility and determination. Many outside influences will create challenges for marketing and communications practitioners. Being able to provide a second or third option or alternative will create more opportunities for positive outcomes.

Top 10 Mental Skills to Master

Signage in the Rockwood Summit High School wrestling room on developing the proper mental approach and attitude.

Discipline: Strict nutritional guidelines will help wrestlers maintain very low percentages of body fat compared to the general population. They seek to gain an advantage by being stronger than opponents, yet weighing the same amount. Wrestlers might burn 2,000 calories during a practice, but must not replenish their bodies with poor nutritional choices. And wrestling season takes place during the two best holidays for feasting—Thanksgiving and Christmas. They also must get proper rest and pay proper attention to academics.

Communications and marketing professionals face many choices each day which will result in long- and short-term success. Remembering and recommitting to an organization’s goals provides the same motivation as a wrestler choosing to skip chocolate and enjoy an apple or a banana.

Sportsmanship: During the match and at its conclusion, athletes are judged and remembered for respect, courteousness and fairness shown to opponents—win or lose. Competition helps develop these character traits and they are an expectation by good coaches and all associated with their programs. Communications professionals who model these virtues establish trustworthiness and integrity in all their relationships and are respected throughout the communities where they do business.

Strategy: You must take time to plan and your plan must compliment your strengths. Knowing your capabilities and skills will help you take advantage of many opportunities. Wrestling opponents, life’s obstacles or communications goals can be addressed in the same manner—with respect, analysis and intentional action.

Expect victory: Wrestlers must step onto the mat expecting victory. The timid and cautious often find themselves struggling to succeed. The overconfident often find themselves emotionally upset and wondering how things went wrong after a loss. Those with a steady, positive demeanor often are humble in victory and gracious in defeat in athletics and business.

Does your nonprofit organization need assistance with taking its marketing/communications to the next level? Contact Joe Mueller at (636) 232-7730 or joe@muellercommunications-stl.com for a free 45-minute consultation by telephone, videoconference or in person in the St. Louis metropolitan region.

Subscribe To Our Free E-Newsletter

Newsletter Header

Searching for a way to keep up with the latest news and information in marketing/communications, media relations, crisis management, fundraising, strategic planning, social media/digital and leadership trends? Subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter, The Strategic Communicator, from Mueller Communications. Each week we’ll review scores of articles and on Sunday we’ll send you a digest of the best item in each category. It’s free and you can unsubscribe at any time. View our newsletter archive…


Nonprofits, Businesses: Can We Stop The Swap?

Flickr photograph by dcdailyphotos

Flickr photograph by dcdailyphotos

It would be difficult to return to a time when businesses donated to charities because it was the right thing to do.

Today, corporate giving and employee volunteer programs are mostly marketing partnerships. They’re intended to be mutually beneficial for the business and the nonprofit. But anecdotal evidence is showing businesses want more from charities and nonprofits are receiving less. In some cases, time spent negotiating and supporting partnerships reduces time and resources designated for achieving the nonprofit’s mission. Many nonprofits leverage the ability to provide visibility to business as a competitive advantage against other charities for donations.

What happened to giving without expecting anything in return?

“If expecting something in return is your reason for giving, you are really not giving—you’re swapping,” wrote David Cottrell in  his book, “Monday Morning Mentoring: Ten Lessons to Guide You Up the Ladder.”

Swapping isn’t a sustainable, long-term strategy for nonprofits. It’s the nature of business to continually maximize its profit by negotiating for more value from the swap. Nonprofits often can’t or won’t ask for more because of the fear of losing the relationship.

And there’s plenty of nonprofits ready to take over a partnership when another charity loses that relationship. Smaller charities are often at a competitive disadvantage when a large nonprofit offers a business more media exposure or visibility. So the larger nonprofit wins, spends more of the donation on staff to support the partnership, and the small charity suffers.

Businesses quickly identify a scarcity mentality in many charitable organizations. Companies capitalize on the opportunity to push the nonprofit and maximize the return on investment—ROI.

How did we get to the point where ROI is mentioned frequently in conversations about partnerships with nonprofits and charities?

Many smart and resourceful fundraisers helped the nonprofit sector grow and make outstanding contributions to improve our society and the world in the last century. Somewhere in recent history, a nonprofit fundraising executive probably observed revenue rolling in from a corporate sponsorship benefitting a for-profit venture and thought the model could be replicated.

Today, there are articles throughout business literature and many agencies dedicated to perpetuating the swap between businesses and nonprofits.

Deanna Killackey, senior vice president at JSH&A Communications (@JSHAPR), wrote the post, “Corporate Sponsorship Perspectives: 5 Tips for Selecting the Right Charity Partner,” on Oct. 20, 2015, on the Bulldog Reporter website. She urges a business to review its values as seeks a nonprofit partner. She recommends finding out where the businesses’ stakeholders are donating.

(Altruism probably isn’t a priority when the sales force need the company to donate to their best customer’s favorite charity.)

Deanna Killackey

Killackey also writes about the business seeking to understand the charitable giving of employees. An employee’s engagement with the business should increase if it witnesses the company making a heartfelt and true donation or interaction with a charity.

But employees are smart enough to understand a swap. But if the business is going to engage in swapping with a charity dedicated to feeding the hungry or housing the homeless, do you think the employee won’t see this relationship as purely transactional in nature and not genuinely charitable? And if they treat the charity like that, how will they treat employees?

“A strong, ongoing partnership has the power to make a sustainable, long-term impact,” Killackey writes. “What’s more, it allows brands to build a stronger story for media that demonstrates how the tradition of giving underpins the values of the company.”

A small and growing industry is supporting the swap. A one-hour webinar, “10 Benefits Only Nonprofits Can Offer For-Profits in a Partnership,” is available from Amy Devita, founder and chief executive officer of Third Sector Today (@3rdSectorToday), and Bruce Burtch, (@BruceBurtch) known as the father of cause marketing. He provides a free 229-page book (PDF), “Win-Win for the Greater Good.”

“And as we strengthen businesses through such partnerships we are also strengthening their nonprofit partners, and most importantly, the people in serious need that are served by nonprofit organizations,” according to Burtch’s website page inviting people to join a LinkedIn group dedicated to partnerships.

It’s not the mission or purpose of nonprofits to directly help strengthen businesses through partnerships. Companies often reap the benefits of charitable work when the needs of an employee are met through a social service agency or training program. But these outcomes are the result of a strong nonprofit and rarely linked to a partnership.

Can we change?

It’s naive to think we could return to the days of giving without expecting anything in return. But leaders in both the business and nonprofit sectors can do some small part in stopping the swapping found in the current ROI culture.

The teachings of Pope Francis might provide the best clarity and perspective on this issue.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

“Today gratuitousness is often not part of daily life where everything is bought and sold,” Pope Francis said on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, in 2014. “Everything is calculated and measured. Almsgiving helps us to experience giving freely, which leads to freedom from the obsession of possessing, from the fear of losing what we have, from the sadness of one who does not wish to share his wealth with others.”

His remarks during a visit to the homeless shelter, Dono Di Maria, in the first weeks of his papacy provide even better perspective.

“We must recover the whole sense of gift, of gratuitousness, of solidarity,” he said. “Rampant capitalism has taught the logic of profit at all costs, of giving to get, of exploitation without looking at the person… and we see the results in the crisis we are experiencing! This Home is a place that teaches charity, a ‘school’ of charity, which instructs me to go encounter every person, not for profit, but for love.”

(More quotes from Pope Francis on Catholic social teaching…)

Who’s with me? And who thinks the idea is far beyond anything we could begin to change?

Dialogue is often the first step on a journey toward improvement.

Medical Research Shows Path To Developing Fundraising Ambassadors

Medical Research Shows Path To Developing Fundraising AmbassadorsEveryone involved with a nonprofit needs to be a fundraising ambassador. Getting staff, board members, volunteers and other stakeholders to understand this role is a never-ending challenge.

This was apparent in a recent study showing a particular group of people who are wary of merely talking about philanthropic support of their institution. These people often save the lives of their clients. Those clients often want to express their appreciation and help the institution benefit others.

But more than half of this group isn’t comfortable talking with clients about supporting the institution—even if the clients stated they wanted to contribute.

What group is this?


The study, “Oncologists’ Experiences and Attitudes About Their Role in Philanthropy and Soliciting Donations From Grateful Patients,” was published in September issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Medical oncologists with 40 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive care centers were randomly sampled and surveyed. Key findings included:

  • Most (71 percent ) had been exposed to their institution’s fundraising/development staff;
  • 48 percent of those were taught how to identify patients who would be good donors;
  • 26 percent received information about ethical guidelines for soliciting donations from their patients;
  • 21 percent were taught how their institution ensures Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) compliance;
  • 32 percent of respondents had been asked to directly solicit a donation from their patients for their institution, of whom half declined to do so;
  • A substantial minority (37 percent) felt comfortable talking to their patients about donation (men more than women, 43 versus 26 percent);
  • 74 percent agreed it could interfere with the physician-patient relationship;
  • 52 percent believe conflict of interest exists.

Before pointing our collective fingers at doctors and telling them to get with the program, there are probably groups of people throughout all nonprofits who don’t believe it’s their responsibility to be a fundraising ambassador. However, doctors might represent a segment of nonprofit staff choosing to be disengaged from the institution’s greater quest—to serve more people with better programs for years to come. (There may be a correlation between levels of disengagement and the number of doctors sighting ethics or conflict-of-interest arguments as reasons for not participating.)

Defiant or Disenaged?

Can you blame doctors for being disengaged? A president of a large nonprofit hospital once shared the following observation concerning doctors and today’s healthcare environment: “Show me a 45-year-old white, male doctor and I will show you the most aggravated, frustrated man in America. Healthcare today is not what he signed up for when he entered medical school.”

Again, there is probably a segment of nonprofit employees—social workers, program directors, teachers and others—who will not embrace being a fundraising ambassador. But nonprofit staff members aren’t being asked to cultivate lists of prospective donors, write annual appeal letters or ask for financial donations. They’re simply being asked to be aware of any special moments during conversations with people when they could invite them to become more engaged with your organization. Donors are developed through engagement.

It would be a waste of time, money and other resources for every doctor to ask every patient to consider making a donation to the healthcare institution. But if a person is cancer-free for the first time in years and expresses their gratitude, the physician should be able to thank them and offer them a way to support the institution. The same principle applies for any stakeholder in your nonprofit.

Developing Fundraising Ambassadors

Formal training is needed for people to understand their role as fundraising ambassadors. Four areas should be emphasized:

  • People are not asking for money for themselves. Gifts are made to the institution, which exercises proper stewardship with donations of all sizes.
  • People want to help others. An individual might be highly engaged or appreciate the services your organization provides. While not personally benefitting from your organization, they might have a relationship with you based on second-hand information.
  • People want to help you. There’s an old saying about people jumping on bandwagons and jumping off sinking ships. People can gain a sense of fulfillment if asked to contribute to your continued success.
  • People need to be asked. Many people who are engaged with organizations and possess the ability to financially support institutions are often never asked to contribute. Simply steering people in the direction of the development office can assist with a solicitation.

Does your nonprofit organization need assistance with its fundraising strategy? Contact Joe Mueller at (636) 232-7730 or joe@muellercommunications-stl.com for a free 45-minute consultation by telephone, videoconference or in person in the St. Louis metropolitan region.

Subscribe To Our Free E-Newsletter

Searching for a way to keep up with the latest news and information in marketing/communications, media relations, crisis management, fundraising, strategic planning, social media/digital and leadership trends? Subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter, The Strategic Communicator, from Mueller Communications. Each week we’ll review scores of articles and on Sunday we’ll send you a digest of the best item in each category. It’s free and you can unsubscribe at any time. View our newsletter archive…

Why Writing For Readers Results In Smooth Sailing

Why Writing For Readers Renders Remarkable Results (1)The public relations specialist gave his two-page, single-spaced article to the website coordinator, who immediately winced.

There were no subheads in the article.

There were no lists of items in the document.

It was thousands of words—important, necessary and well-written words.

But few will read or comprehend the article due to the way people read content on Internet websites, social media and often while reading on a smartphone.

It’s similar to crossing a lake or stream in a boat. Your reader wants to smoothly and efficiently glide across the water and arrive at a destination. If readers don’t know how to paddle the canoe or row the boat, they might find themselves paddling in a circle, veering off to the left or right, or not moving at all.

Well-written articles and stories—formatted for online consumption—can provide readers with a quick, easy and efficient experience. Satisfied readers comprehend more about your product or service. When your business or organization serves its readers—customers or potential customers—your retention and referrals will increase.

However, publishing text on the Internet requires a different approach than publishing in a newspaper or magazine, brochure, postcard or book.


People skim text on websites, especially if they are in a hurry to find information. If you’re making a purchase or you’re trying to solve an urgent problem, there often isn’t enough time to read every word. You can assist these readers by writing a clear and short subhead when introducing new ideas or concepts in the article. Limit information to a few sentences or two to three paragraphs. Short sentences are easier to read and comprehend.

Determine if your information might be best communicated in a list. A numbered or bulleted list provides the reader with a checklist to review or a sequence of steps to be completed. Presenting survey results in a bulleted list provides the reader with a simple and fast way to review the information, rather than reading the information in a paragraph.

Long-Form Articles Will Remain

Some people enjoy reading every word and savor the experience of consuming long-form content. The Internet, smartphones and tablets provide readers with a never-ending stream of articles and stories to read. Many skimmers also enjoy reading a long-form article on a tablet or desktop computer. Plus, reading and studying some documents on tablets gives readers the ability to search for particular words, keywords or highlight text. The tools and functionality save time and effort for students and others conducting research.

It’s Not Writer Versus Reader

Your business or organization’s approach must focus on its customers—readers. Writers and editors must always serve and help the reader—or customer. It shouldn’t be a burden for writers to always be mindful of readers. A writer’s mission is fulfilled when someone reads their work and finds it entertaining or useful.

Let’s help readers aboard your boat. Be aware of the wind. Pulling too hard on the oar or paddle can cause your boat or canoe to move in many directions. But good writing, properly formatted, can help your readers slice through the roughest water, take a direct route to their destination, enjoy the trip and yearn to join you for many more voyages.

Subscribe To Our E-Newsletter

Newsletter Header-300 by 100

Searching for a way to keep up with the latest news and information in marketing/communications, media relations, crisis management, fundraising, strategic planning, social media/digital and leadership trends? Subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter, The Strategic Communicator, from Mueller Communications. Each week we’ll review scores of articles and on Sunday we’ll send you a digest of the best item in each category. It’s free and you can unsubscribe at any time. View our newsletter archive…

Join Me At 2015 Nonprofit Communication Conference

I’ll be speaking on e-mail marketing and communication at the 2015 Nonprofit Communication Conference on Friday, Oct. 16, at Drury University in Springfield, Mo. The event is led by Drury University’s Center for Nonprofit Leadership. Click to register.

What Can You Learn From Papal Planning?

What Can You Learn From Papal Planning-When planning an event the size and magnitude of a papal visit, someone’s going to criticize some aspect of the communications.  But businesses and organizations can observe this event from a distance and learn lessons in executing an event of any size in the public square.

The City of Philadelphia and its Roman Catholic Archdiocese are accused of poor public relations as the visit of Pope Francis nears.  Criticisms include a lack of one authoritative voice from leadership, poor distribution of messages, and a failure to control the flow of information.  The article, Dear Philly—Your papal public relations needs help,” by Marilyn D’Angelo (@knowitallphilly) on Newsworks, the online home of WHYY news, brought back memories from 17 years ago when media stories and commentaries in St. Louis predicted the visit of Pope John Paul II would cause traffic backups starting in Indianapolis—200 miles away.

D’Angelo is a food reporter and admits her engagement with events is “parties, pop-ups and well-orchestrated events.” Security measures, logistics and other planning for this event will probably far exceed any public event executed in one of the largest cities in the United States.  However, her criticism of the communications can provide insights for businesses and organizations planning a public event.  Here are three fundamental elements of good event communications:

1. Bring Leaders Together

Organizations must invite key leaders and give them a seat at the table when planning an event.  It doesn’t matter if your planning a 5K run through the streets or a papal parade, your organization must engage representatives from local government and the community.  Most times, people from these groups will be helpful and provide sound advice.  Law enforcement and government officials can provide insights based on a great depth of experience.  Community representatives will often share best practices and what to avoid.

2. Communicate The Vision Of The Event

Your organization and the event team must create a vision and it must be shared by everyone involved with the event.  The vision must be clear and concise so it can be easily referenced.  When challenged with a difficult decision, event organizers can refer to the vision to determine the best solution.

3. Communicate How Customers/Participants Will Experience the Event

Information must be distributed frequently to customers and participants of an event.  This requires creating a vision of the experience in the imagination of the customer or participant. Communicators should provide customers/participants with a map and a guide with step-by-step instructions.

When customers/participants know how to navigate the landscape of your event and can visualize their activities, chances are their experience will be positive.  Good information can give customers/participants confidence in the event’s planning.  Clear and reasonable expectations of an event will prevent confusion and disappointment.

Looking Back

Joe Mueller awaits the arrival of John Paul II while serving as a media relations volunteer on Jan. 27, 1999. A mass attended by more than 100,000 people took place at what's now called the Edward Jones Dome.

Joe Mueller awaits the arrival of John Paul II while serving as a media relations volunteer on Jan. 27, 1999. A mass attended by more than 100,000 people took place at what’s now called the Edward Jones Dome.

As a nonprofit communications professional and a Roman Catholic, John Paul II’s visit to St. Louis presented an opportunity to volunteer and assist with media relations during a once-in-a-lifetime event.  My assignment for the papal mass at what’s now called the Edward Jones Dome was assisting a United States Marshal on the floor of the Dome.  Our task was to keep television journalists from all over the world on a raised platform at the back of the venue.  If they didn’t follow my directives, the U.S. Marshal would remove them from the building.

Other security measures included limiting information about the Pope’s movements in the Dome.  Some television reporters asked me to find out if the Pope would be traveling clockwise or counterclockwise around the floor of the Dome in his security vehicle before the mass.  The U.S. Marshal told me the direction wasn’t for public disclosure.  After relaying that information to  the journalists, they expressed their aggravation and used terms, “Nazi-like” and “Gestapo” to describe my efforts and those of the U.S. Marshal.

Many worried about harsh winter weather when the event was scheduled for late January.  Everyone prayed for good weather, especially the cloistered contemplative missionary congregation, the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters, commonly called the “Pink Sisters” because of their rose-colored habit.  Temperatures climbed close to 70 degrees during his 30-hour stay.


Communications professionals and event planners can’t rely solely on prayers from the Pink Sisters and others to execute successful events.  However, effective planning, communication and utilization of multiple channels and formats will lead to positive outcomes.

Subscribe To Our E-Newsletter

Newsletter Header-300 by 100

Searching for a way to keep up with the latest news and information in marketing/communications, media relations, crisis management, fundraising, strategic planning, social media/digital and leadership trends? Subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter, The Strategic Communicator, from Mueller Communications. Each week we’ll review scores of articles and on Sunday we’ll send you a digest of the best item in each category. It’s free and you can unsubscribe at any time. View our newsletter archive…

%d bloggers like this: