Spare Change

making a difference with social marketing
by Nedra Kline Weinreich
I received an e-mail from David Schatsky, the President of JupiterKagan, saying that he is preparing a blog post to explain their thinking on the naming of Jupiter Research's new Social Marketing service. I will let you know as soon as I hear anything more.

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Seth Godin discusses the morality of marketing and the fact that we are responsible for what we sell and how we sell it:

Let's start at the beginning:

Marketing works.

Marketing (the use of time and money to create a story and spread it) works. Human beings don't make rational decisions, they make emotional ones, and we've seen time and again that those decisions are influenced by the time and money spent by marketers.

So, assuming you've got no argument with that (and if you're a marketer who doesn't believe marketing works, we need to have a longer discussion...) then we get to the next part of the argument:

Your marketing changes the way people act.

Of course, we engage in social marketing precisely to change the way people act. And given the critical, often life-and-death health and social issues that we address in social marketing programs, we have an extra obligation to the public trust to conduct ourselves in an ethical manner. The positive outcomes that we are trying to achieve in improving people's health or quality of life never justify engaging in questionable practices to achieve our ends. I'll leave the last word to Seth:
As marketers, we have the power to change things, and the way we use that power is our responsibility--not the market's, not our boss's. Ours.

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links for 2006-08-31
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On the heels of Jay Bernhardt's explanation of why the CDC uses the term "health marketing" instead of "social marketing" and Craig Lefebvre's take on the term ("What the heck is health marketing?"), comes a new offensive on the definition of social marketing from the other direction.

Jupiter Research has just launched a new Social Marketing research service that will "provide marketers and site owners with recommendations on how to profit from the use of consumer generated content, blogs, podcasts and other emerging media tools." Apparently they didn't get the memo that there is already a long-established field called social marketing that uses marketing to bring about health and social change.

The burgeoning use of the term "social marketing" to refer to social media has already created confusion among techie types I know who have misunderstood what type of work I do. This leads to people talking past each other, thinking that the other knows what they mean when they are not on the same page at all. It's as if one group of people suddenly started calling a new kind of dog a "cat;" they are very similar in general -- four legs, furry, domesticated -- but in the details they are quite different.

As a result of my initial discussion of this issue in March, the folks at Forrester Research decided to change the name of their "Social Marketing Bootcamp" to "Social Computing Bootcamp," and they no longer use the term "social marketing" to avoid exactly this type of confusion. While I agree that "social marketing" would have been a great term to adopt if it did not already mean something else, it's about 35 years too late for that.

I hope that, like Forrester, Jupiter will take another look at their erroneous terminology and take another stab at coming up with a term that is clear and accurate. Social network marketing, social media, consumer generated media, digital marketing -- whatever they want to call it is fine. It would help potential clients find them instead of the many firms who offer social marketing services (using the real definition). And people won't assume that Jupiter does health & social change research when they mention their social marketing research services. Do a google search for "social marketing" and you'll see that for pages and pages of results there is nothing but links for companies and organizations working toward social change.

So if you are a social marketer, please join me in leaving a comment for Emily Riley, the lead analyst on the Social Marketing Service at Jupiter Research to let her know why they should consider changing the name, as well as letting other companies know when they use the term incorrectly.

It's not just a matter of semantics. It's about all of us doing the work we do best and making sure that the right people know about it. Everyone wins when clarity reigns.

UPDATE: Rohit, Craig and Carol have all weighed in on this issue as well. No response from Jupiter yet. I agree wholeheartedly with Carol when she says:
It is my hope that no one is made the villan here and that both groups can cooperate to make the differences in the two practices and methodologies clear. I think that this would serve the “greater good”. Additionally, the public discussion in the blogosphere could generate positive attention for both.

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links for 2006-08-30
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Back in May, I wrote about the filming of an anti-terrorism PSA intended to deter would-be suicide bombers in Iraq from their task. The spot (which can be viewed from the embedded YouTube window above) is now out, along with its accompanying campaign called "Terrorism Has No Religion." It portrays the violence done by a suicide bomber who blows himself up on a busy street, with slow-mo Hollywood-style special effects.

Having seen the spot, my initial concerns about reinforcing just how effective bombs are in killing and injuring as many people as possible still hold. The PSA portrays the exact outcome that a suicide bomber intends; appealing to his humanity is not going to change the way he interprets the scene. And an ad on television (or a billboard or newspaper) is not going to have the same effect as someone's imam telling them directly what they are expected to do to fulfill their religious obligations.

I also question the effectiveness of their slogan "terrorism has no religion." I think if you ask people around the world which religion is most associated with terrorism, most will say Islam. If they are trying to convince non-Muslims with this slogan that Islam does not condone terrorism, they will come up against a lot of resistance. If they are trying to appeal to Muslims, the slogan makes no sense - shouldn't it be turned around to "our religion has no terrorism" or something along those lines? The campaign seems to be trying to reach everyone, and in so doing is effective for noone.

While there is no information on the website about who has created this campaign, it appears to be Muslims who do not agree with the terrorist approach that many in their religion have adopted. They explain their message as:
To reveal the true and ample doctrines of Islam, and expose the contempt these terrorists hold for the spiritual essence of our religion. These terrorists and their ungodly way are the ones responsible for making Islam an easily marked target in the eyes of the world, as well as causing Muslims to be the subject of criticism before the world community.
The website and campaign quote verses from the Koran that directly challenge terrorist practices and appeal to religious values, which I had suggested might be effective in my original post because that goes to the heart of the issue. However, the television ad does not provide much reason for a suicide bomber to think twice about what he plans to do. Perhaps a better approach might be to show the bomber arriving in heaven eager for his 72 virgins and getting the door slammed in his face.

Rather than appealing directly to the suicide bombers themselves, this campaign might be more effective in changing the attitudes of people in the society who would not commit terrorism themselves but accept it as something that is positive (or at least just part of the normal course of events). If the bombers were no longer celebrated as martyrs and heroes by their community, it might become more unappealing.

I applaud the creators of this campaign for taking a stand against the dark forces of their religion (even though they do so anonymously) and wish them great success. I don't think, though, that this campaign is going to do it.

You can read what others had to say about the campaign on Virtualpolitik and on Houtlust, where Marc collected opinions of bloggers from around the world about the campaign.

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I was asked by Fard Johnmar to add my thoughts on consumer-driven healthcare from my social marketing perspective to his series on the topic at his blog Envisioning 2.0.

Consumer-driven healthcare is a strategy that is starting to take hold as a way of changing the costs and incentives for healthcare consumers.  Instead of insurance companies making all the decisions about how people will receive their healthcare, individuals are given more power to decide how their medical dollars will be used.  This reintroduces competition into the pricing and services, and makes it more likely that people will use their healthcare budget efficiently and in a way that makes sense for their own situation.

While I don't often write about health policy issues here, social marketing has a definite role to play in helping healthcare consumers make decisions that are informed and appropriate.  After you read my short take on the topic, take a look at what Dmitriy Kruglyak of The Medical Blog Network and Amy Tenderich of the blog Diabetes Mine have to say on the subject.

If this trend keeps growing, consumers will absolutely need some help navigating all of the healthcare products and options that will increasingly be marketed directly to them.  As social marketers, we can offer an objective take on what is quality and what is quackery to assist consumers in their decisionmaking.

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links for 2006-08-22
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When you think of puppets, do you think about Punch and Judy for kids or those giant freaky paper mache puppets that seem to show up at every anti-globalization rally?  Maybe you should start thinking about social marketing.  The recent edition of the Drum Beat from the Communication Initiative features resources on puppetry for development.  It includes examples of programs around the world that have used puppets to address issues related to intergenerational connections, general and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, democracy and governance, and human rights.  A particularly good introduction to the topic can be found in UNICEF's excerpts from Puppets with a Purpose: Using Puppetry for Social Change.

I'm not sure whether in the American culture adults would accept puppets as a way of imparting information or motivation for change outside of Sesame Street.  But it has been quite successful in many other cultures that have a long tradition of puppetry as entertainment or education. 

And what kid doesn't love puppets?  (Okay, I'll admit that I didn't for a long time after I saw an outdoor puppet show when I was very small where a dragon puppet breathed real fire and I ran away screaming, but other than that, you get my point.)  If the age/culture you are addressing is appropriate, consider how you might be able to use puppets to get your message across.

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GoodSearch smaller logo

I just got an e-mail about a new search engine called GoodSearch that will send money to your favorite nonprofit each time you search. I checked it out and have added it my Firefox toolbar (they also have it for Internet Explorer) so that my kids' school can earn money while I work. Here's what their website says about it:

GoodSearch is an Internet search engine with a simple concept and unique social mission. GoodSearch enables you to help fund any of hundreds of thousands of charities or schools through the simple act of searching the Internet.

The company was founded by a brother and sister team who lost their mom to cancer and wanted to find an easy way for people to support their favorite causes.

It's simple. You use like any other search engine (we've partnered with Yahoo! to ensure great results), but each time you do, money is generated for your favorite cause.

Last year search engines generated close to $6 billion in revenue from advertisers. Think about what your favorite cause could do with even a fraction of that money!

Definitely worthwhile to check out, especially if you already prefer Yahoo as your search engine of choice. In any case, earning a penny or so for your favorite charity or school each time you search could end up bringing in big bucks if you spread the word and get other supporters to use Goodsearch too.
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Since I last wrote about YouthNoise in June, the social activism networking site for teens has continued to innovate new ways to appeal to youth. The Wall Street Journal (online subscribers' access only) on Saturday describes a new partnership between YouthNoise and Virgin Mobile USA to send a text novella in 160-character installments to cellphone users who sign up.

The story is aimed at raising awareness of teenage homelessness, and was written by copywriters rather than a published author. Here's how they describe it:
Ghost Town is the first interactive text novella from Virgin Mobile and YouthNoise. It's the gripping story of a teenage football player named Ghost who is hiding a dark secret—he's homeless. This secret will shock his classmates as he tries to manage the ins and outs of high school, an uncertain future, and just trying to stay alive.
The characters from the story each have a profile and blog on, interacting with readers and each other in the comments. They also each have a MySpace page.

In the past week about 10,000 people have read the beginning of this text-message fiction. It's not free, though, costing anywhere from $.025-.05 per message (depending on the messaging plan they have); those who sign up will receive two text messages a day for five weeks.

This is a novel way of getting the message out (yes, pun intended), and I expect that we will be seeing more of this type of text messaging and/or interactive fiction directed at teens through the media they use most.

And while we're on the subject of social activism via mobile phones, I just read at Strategic Public Relations about a line of mobile phone personalization products called Just Cause from Airborne Entertainment. These products include "socially-relevant, environmentally-concerned and politically attuned ringtones, ringbacks and wallpapers."
Sample “Protestones” include “Hell no, we won’t go!” and “Viva La Revolution!” while “Stop and Thinktones” include “Every 3.6 seconds someone dies of hunger” and “Nearly one in four people live on less than $1 per day.” Ringbacks include factual information about subjects as diverse as the depletion of the planet’s rainforests and cruelty to animals, while wallpapers include graphic illustrations accompanied by statements such as “Pollution Stinks,” “Change Your Habits, Not the Climate” and “Dissent is NOT Un-American.”

Over and above its basic messages, Airborne will work in conjunction with socially-responsible groups across the continent to create cause-specific products. In addition, the company will select one group to which it will donate 10% of all Just Cause net proceeds each month.
Kids love to be able to personalize their phones, and this presents an opportunity for nonprofits to be able to give their teen supporters a way to express their affinity for the cause. YouthNoise knows this too, and they just had a contest to design a phone charm that embodies the site's philosophy. If you are working with youth, how can you make their mobile phone -- one of their main methods of communication -- into a way of getting your message out?

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I donated blood the other day (and was so excited to be able to do so because a few weeks previously they had turned me away, as often happens, because my iron was too low).  As I was lying there in the cold American Legion building, I reflected on why people donate. 

The people who were there donating with me were total strangers to each other, and came on their own rather than as part of a blood drive by their workplace or other communal organization, so they weren't there to impress anyone.  It was the middle of a workday, so it probably wasn't very convenient.  The cookies and juice at the end were a nice bonus, but I don't think it was enough to induce people to come. 

And the donation process itself is not very fun -- you get stuck in the finger, have to answer lots of invasive questions and then get the blood drained out of you through an uncomfortable needle in your arm, after which you may feel dizzy or weak.  [Note: If you have never given blood before it's actually not that bad - I'm overdramatizing to make a point!]

So what was the promotion that the Red Cross was using to encourage me to come donate?  To get a chance to win something like $500 worth of gasoline.  I have a feeling that nobody was there to try to win gas.  What were the chances that out of all the donors in Southern California, I would win? They could have saved their money and still had the same number of donors.

Why was I there?  Because I had received an e-mail from the Red Cross letting me know that the need for blood was dire.  That supplies were at such a low that there was not enough blood for those who needed it.  That they really needed my O positive blood desperately.  That I could make the difference between someone living and dying.

By making me feel like it was up to me to take action, that I couldn't let someone else do it, and that the stakes were so high, the Red Cross motivated me to load up on the iron pills for a few weeks to try to make sure that this time I would be able to donate.  Knowing that you can save someone else's life with very little effort is a powerful feeling.

And they made it very easy for me to follow up on that motivation to donate.  The e-mail I received had a link to search for upcoming blood drives in my area, and I was able to find one that was convenient for me and to schedule an appointment immediately online.  As I munched my cookies in the canteen, they gave me a sticker with the next date I can donate to put on my calendar so I know exactly when I need to make my next appointment.

When you are trying to figure out how to motivate your audience to action, ask yourself a few things:
  • How can we make someone feel like taking this action is critically important?
  • How can we personalize the action to avoid the "someone else will do it even if I don't" response?
  • How can we make it easy for them to take the action?
  • How can we make it easy for them to do it again the next time?
  • And finally, what is a real inducement to action, and not just a waste of our money that sounds good?
Let this post be a call to action for you to follow the link above and find a local blood drive or donor center.  Let me know if I've inspired you or reminded you to donate if you would not have otherwise.  I'll be back at the American Legion in 56 days myself.

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The guys at Antfarm are back after a hiatus with Blogging Social Change -- the first social marketing-related blog I found back when I was starting to figure out what these blog things were. They share an excellent e-book about How to Pitch the Media with insider tips from a working reporter at the CBC.
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A couple of new resources that I want to share:

CDCynergy-Social Marketing Edition - Version 2.0
The latest version of the interactive multimedia CD-ROM gives step-by-step support for developing, implementing and evaluating a successful social marketing program. The Turning Point Social Marketing Collaborative developed the tool in cooperation with the CDC and the Academy for Educational Development. The enhanced Version 2.0 retains the popular features of the original, and adds a “test your knowledge” feature, more step by step support and user friendly interface, greater interactivity, global search capabilities and updated and streamlined content. Order your copy of the CD-ROM for the cost of shipping & handling. (thanks to Mike Newton-Ward for the tip!)

Audio Conference on Social Marketing for Coalitions
CADCA (Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America) is offering an audio conference on "Social Marketing for Coalitions" on Thursday, August 31st from 3:00-4:30 pm Eastern time.
This audio conference will discuss the key elements in developing a social marketing strategy—from targeting specific audiences and developing of a logic model to creating messages and collateral that resonate with those audiences and motivate action. The discussion also will center on the differences between social and commercial marketing, the importance of research and evaluation in creating a social marketing strategy, and tactics that social marketers use to implement behavior change

Presenter for the call will be Sue Stine, Manager of Dissemination and Coalition Relations for CADCA’s National Coalition Institute. The program will be moderated by Dr. Eduardo Hernández, Deputy Director Dissemination and Coalition Relations for the Institute.
When you register for the conference, you will receive a call-in number for the conference. I am not familiar with either of the speakers, but this sounds like a great introduction to social marketing, whether or not you are working with a coalition.

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Am I the only person who thinks that the premise and marketing of Showtime's series Weeds is incredibly inappropriate? Doing some research on the show online, I found nearly all positive glowing reviews. I have to admit that I have not actually seen the show, since I don't get cable and rarely watch TV -- there's just not enough hours in the day.

But since Weeds first came out last year, the premise has really irked me. It's about a suburban mom who becomes a pot dealer to make ends meet after her husband passes away without leaving any life insurance. Yeah, that's a character we want people to identify with. The preview for the coming season (accessed from the link above) shows the main character Nancy driving through town with everyone smiling at her as she leaves rainbows and flowers in her wake. Who wouldn't want to be her?

Today I saw that the Golden Globe-winning and Emmy-nominated show, which is starting its second season next week, has a new marketing campaign (via Adrants). The campaign includes the ad pictured above in Rolling Stone magazine, which has an embedded marijuana-scented strip, with the copy "Catch the buzz!" next to it. They will also have ice cream trucks called "Weeds Munchie Mobiles" that will pass out Weeds merchandise and brownies at concerts and other events, and street vendors handing out coffee in Weeds cups.

The only grown-up I could find saying anything negative about the campaign is Tom Riley, the director of public affairs for the US Office of National Drug Control Policy:
In addition to reciting statistics about marijuana use ("There are more teens in treatment for marijuana than for alcohol dependence—is that funny?"), Riley chided the Rolling Stone promotion as all too retro. "Unless they're going for the over-50 demographic, it sounds like their marketing department might be a little out of touch," Riley said. "Maybe some baby boomers still find this kind of thing edgy, but young people don't."
While I don't think the marketing department being out of touch would have been my main point, at least someone has spoken out about this.

Why is it okay for Showtime to make a show glamorizing pot smoking and drug dealing, when they would probably never portray smoking tobacco or the tobacco industry as a positive thing? The problem with this type of show -- no matter how critically acclaimed it is -- is that by creating sympathetic characters who are engaging in these unhealthy and illegal behaviors, they normalize the behaviors and make them seem like something everybody else is doing. Television plays a huge role in how people construct their perceptions of reality and appropriate behavior.

Even if the Showtime execs and others involved in the program can justify it by saying that it's only on late at night after the kids are asleep, the ubiquitous ads for the program laud a drug dealer as "her highness" and use the tagline "putting the herb into the suburbs." It could just as well be promoting the use and sale of marijuana as promoting the show.

After this posting and my previous one about Jack in the Box's stoner commercial (which has incredibly been the most-viewed post since I started the blog), maybe I seem like a square old fuddy-duddy. I'm okay with that. Maybe the Showtime execs don't mind if their kids smoke pot and deal drugs, but I do.

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links for 2006-08-10
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If you blog about health issues or have considered starting a blog for your health-related organization, you should check out the first-ever Healthcare Blogging Summit happening on December 11th in Washington, DC. While I'm disappointed not to be able to attend, I am counting on fellow social marketing blogger Craig Lefebvre to report back on his experiences there, since he will be speaking on a panel on strategy and tactics for healthcare blogging.

Craig will be joining other bloggers I read regularly and would love to meet, including Steve Rubel of Micropersuasion as the keynoter, Fard Johnmar of HealthCareVox, and Toby Bloomberg of Diva Marketing. The other speakers look quite interesting as well.

And to make me feel even more worse about not being able to attend, the conference is being held at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Woodley Park -- my very favorite hotel in DC and right near my old 'hood. I always loved the beauty of the hotel's interior, and when I had an opportunity to plan a conference in DC I chose that venue myself. A couple of years ago when my family visited DC, the hotel sealed its favorite status for me when they gave the kids each a goody bag with activity books, sunglasses, a watch and other fun stuff, as well as sending a tray with milk and cookies up to the room when we checked in. I wish I could go just to stay in that hotel again!

Oh, but where was I before I got all misty-eyed? Oh yeah, the Healthcare Blogging Summit. If you want to attend, you can purchase tickets on the Transmarx registration site (choose the "Blogging Summit" option).

As a prelude to the conference, the Medical Blog Network and Envision Solutions LLC are conducting the “Taking the Pulse of the Healthcare Blogosphere” survey. The study is the "first systematic attempt to gather comprehensive opinion and demographic data from the global community of healthcare bloggers." If you are a healthcare blogger, you have until September 29th to complete the survey. Results will be shared at the conference.

And while you are in a survey-taking mood, Eric Mattson of and Professor Nora Barnes of the University of Massachusetts are exploring what makes blogging so unique. They are asking bloggers to fill out their "Thinking like a Blogger" survey to explore the dimensions of blogging including the attitude and behavior behind blogs that draws people to them. They are looking for people to complete the survey by August 23rd.

I have responded to both surveys and can vouch that they did not take very much time to complete, and they got me thinking about why and how I blog in a new way. Make sure your voice is added to the research too.

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links for 2006-08-09
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No, it's not the DaVinci Code.  It's the code that will get readers of this blog $50 off of the cost of registration for Social Marketing University.  Just enter "SMU50" in the online registration form when it asks for a code and you will get the discount.

If you are planning on registering, keep in mind that the room availability at the UCLA Guest House is guaranteed until August 15th, but after that it is on an as-available basis.  So if you are coming in from out of town and want to stay in the same accommodations as most of the other participants, it would be a good idea to register soon.

I hope you will consider joining us for two content-jammed days devoted to building social marketing knowledge and skills.  I'm looking forward to it!

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What do you do when you want to get out the word about the importance of a mundane (but important) topic like child car seats?  You look to recent news and find a hook, especially if the news involves a celebrity.

The American Automobile Association and a minor league baseball team called the Newark Bears hosted a "Britney Spears Baby Safety Night."  Back in February, you couldn't escape the coverage of Britney zooming away from the paparazzi with her infant on her lap in the driver's seat.  Then again in May, she came under fire for having her baby's car seat facing forward, rather than the safer backward position.  On the plus side, a CHP officer is quoted as saying that "she's done more for child safety-seat awareness than anyone else in California."

So the Bears and AAA are using the newsworthy celebrity angle in a fun way, providing information on baby car seat safety and a chance to win a free car seat.  Those who dress as a baby, bring a baby toy or bring their baby (under age 4) get in free.  They even had a "special guest who sings and dances" (see photo above).

Think about the celebrity hooks you could use for your issue.  How about a Mel Gibson Interfaith Sobriety Night?  Or a Tom Cruise Mental Health Screening?  Or a Paris Hilton Abstinence Party?

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The very small circle of social marketing bloggers can now welcome a very big player to the field. Jay Bernhardt, the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Marketing, has started a blog

While this is the "first-ever blog on the CDC internet site," the government bureaucracy has ensured that Jay can't actually publish an RSS feed or use blogging software.  As he says, "NCHM and the CDC are working hard to improve our electronic
communications. We are now only a few years behind the innovation curve
and we are getting closer to the every day. [sic]"   Despite the technical constraints,  Jay and the CDC are to be commended for their attempt to bring the nation's largest social marketer (I think!) closer to its constituents.

I look forward to Jay weighing in on the issues facing social marketers and providing us with more insight into the social marketing initiatives conducted by the CDC.

Make sure you take a look around NCHM's website, which is packed with information on health marketing -- the CDC's "brand" of social marketing.

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Thanks to Logic+ Emotion for the heads-up on a free online course being offered by BusinessWeek.

The lessons for Graphic Design for Non-Designers will be available until August 16th. The course description says:
Everyone at one time or another has had to create a document of some sort. Whether it was a poster for your son's 7th grade presidential election campaign or your boss's directive to create a flyer for distribution by fax. The question is, do you have to be a trained graphic designer to create these documents? No, you don't. You only need to have a set of guidelines to follow, one of which is to open your mind and let your creativity out to play. It's probably been a while since the two of you got together. There is a world out there to explore with your two hands and one brain, so roll up your sleeves and put on your thinking cap.
Knowing the general principles of graphic design will serve you well in your social marketing programs, whether or not you are actually the one creating the layout. If you understand things like how to depict ideas graphically, use color effectively, choose a font that adds to your message and compose an eye-catching design, you will be much more successful in your efforts.

Concurrently, BusinessWeek is also offering a free online course on Practical Desktop Publishing, which is useful for those who want to go to the next level and understand the technical side of working with images and knowing how to work with print shops and service bureaus once the document is ready to be printed.

These are topics that are helpful to know something about, whatever your actual job description.
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I have a secret I'm going to share with you -- one that could mean the difference between hundreds of thousands of dollars and zero. I've just gotten a glimpse into the other side of the proposal process, and I have learned some very important lessons from it.

As a consultant, a substantial chunk of my time goes to writing proposals to get new business. Quite often, the proposals are in response to a request for proposals (RFP) from a government agency at the Federal, State or local level. Nonprofit organizations also have to spend time on grantwriting to find funding to provide their services.

This week and last, I have been a member of a Federal grant review panel for a Dept. of Health & Human Services agency. This means that I am on a team that reads stacks of grant applications that have been submitted by nonprofits in response to an announcement requesting proposals for funding. I read each proposal and score it according to the evaluation criteria set forth in the announcement, and when the many teams are done reading and scoring, the agency will offer funding to the organizations who scored highest. The difference between those who are funded and those who are not can be a matter of a point or two.

While I'm not allowed to say anything specific about the grant and applications I am reviewing now, I can give you some guidelines I've learned in the process that will make the people like me want to give you a high score.

Here then are my insider tips for how to write your proposals to increase your chances of success when responding to an RFP or grant announcement:
  1. Read the RFP and then read it again (and again). Most RFPs that are put out by government agencies are full of details and requirements. Make sure you get both the big picture of what they are asking for and the details of how they want it. Highlight the relevant sections. Make notes to yourself on it. Know the document inside out and backwards before you start to write your proposal.
  2. Choose well. Deciding which RFPs to respond to takes judgment and a willingness to wait for the right fit. Writing a proposal is a time-consuming process, and you should not jump into it without being sure that you have a good chance of being selected. If your organization has an annual operating budget of $100,000, you will probably not be seen as appropriate for receiving a grant of $1.5 million. Likewise, if the RFP requires specific experience or capabilities that you don't have, you probably won't be able to fudge that. Knowing your strengths and limitations going in makes it more likely that you will go for projects that are appropriate and thus get funded.
  3. Follow their directions to the word. Most RFPs put out by government agencies (and often those by other organizations as well) include a section that lays out the evaluation criteria that will be used to score the proposals. As a reviewer, I have to measure how closely a given proposal meets the criteria. Therefore, if the RFP requires that you discuss how you will bring in community partners to participate in the project, you'd darn well better talk about that in the proposal. If it says that you need to put a picture of a purple triangle at the bottom of page 28, you'd better do that too, even if you think it's ridiculous. So often in the proposals I reviewed, they were missing a requirement that could have been met by the inclusion of a single sentence, but because they did not include it, I had to deduct points.
  4. Don't send the reviewer on a scavenger hunt. Make the structure of the proposal as clear and easy to read as possible. This means following the same structure and order that the RFP used, even if you think it would be more logically presented another way. As I was reviewing a proposal, the closer it was to the sections in the evaluation criteria, the easier it was for me to score. Believe me, you don't want to make me search through your 60-page proposal to see if you meet all the criteria because if I miss something that's hidden in a different section, you don't get the points. I had to get through ten thick proposals that each took several hours to complete so I had no patience for playing hide and seek.
  5. Speak the same language as the RFP. As I said, the RFP required specific points to be discussed in order to meet the evaluation criteria. By presenting your project using the same language as the funder--even if it's not exactly how you usually talk about your work--you will make sure that you receive the points you deserve. If the RFP says to describe your experience in providing "capacity building," use that term even if your organization usually calls it "improving nonprofit effectiveness."
  6. Spell it all out. Agencies purposefully select people from a broad range of backgrounds to act as grant reviewers. Some are experts in the subject matter, but others are brought on because they understand program design or process. When you write your proposal, don't assume that the person reading it knows the subject well. One proposal I read used the acronym PYD throughout the project description and never defined it; maybe that's a common abbreviation in that field, but I had no idea what they were talking about. And make sure you write clearly without assuming what you mean is obvious -- I may not be able to read between the lines.
  7. Give substance, not fluff. Sometimes a proposal can look good on the first read-through, with bells and whistles, impressive big words, long explanations and fancy charts. But when I compared the proposal against the evaluation criteria, it was completely nonresponsive. They had a lot of information in there, but there was not enough of what they needed to have. The project you are proposing must be substantive and sound, based on fundamental principles of an effective program. Without that, the proposal is just a bunch of hot air. The reviewer will figure that out pretty quickly.
  8. Put up or shut up. If you say you have particular skills and experience, you need to back that up with specifics. You can't say things like "Our organization has extensive experience in providing such and such a service" without detailing what exactly you did, when and for whom. Pulling claims out of thin air in order to meet the criteria required in the RFP without providing documentation or details will not get you the points. As a reviewer, I have to provide specific reasons--good and bad--why I gave a certain number of points for each criterion, and I can't use your unsupported claims as evidence.
  9. Partner up or down. Government agencies love seeing partnerships, especially with other community-based or faith-based organizations. It always gets you extra brownie points (or even real, actual points). So, if you can, build partnerships with other organizations that complement your own skills or have access to the audience you need to reach. If you are a large organization, look for partners to augment what you are offering. If you are a small organization, particularly if you have not had the specific experience required in the RFP, you can let a larger partner know about the RFP and offer to be a subcontractor doing the portions of the project that are your specialty.
  10. Read your proposal and then read it again (and again). I know that most proposals are rushed out the door as soon as the final period is typed so you can Fedex it in for the next day's deadline. I do that too. But if you have time it is critical that you read over what you have written and compare it with the evaluation criteria to make sure you haven't left anything out. One of the proposals I read had two whole sections missing except for a few sentence fragments. Clearly, the writer meant to go back and fill in that section but either forgot or just didn't have time. I had to give them a zero for each section. Also, make sure that you don't have any typos and use correct grammar. Although I couldn't deduct points for those sorts of errors, they do affect the reviewer's perception of the competence and capabilities of that organization and may be reflected in other scores.
Being on the other side of the grant review process has been a huge learning opportunity for me, and I have identified some things I will do differently the next time I write a proposal. I hope it's been helpful for you too. Good luck!

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