PR Realities All Charities Must Face

PR Realities All Charities Must Face

There’s a reason many nonprofits consistently fail to meet fundraising goals, see falling membership in volunteer teams and feel like they’re constantly, desperately trying to get attention and commitment from potential donors. They simply don’t understand how to connect. They don’t “get” public relations, and they interact with people from a position of need and want, rather than a shared message of collective success.

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How basketball is changing the charity game

Everyone who loves college basketball is busy pouring over their bracket for the next few weeks. The NCAA basketball tournament is on, and March Madness has officially infected folks from coast to coast. Already Middle Tennessee State has cracked many brackets, but will those upstarts be this year’s Cinderella story? Too early to tell, but what is already certain is this: March Madness is big business … and it’s big charity too.

Bloomberg introduced its Bracket for a Cause program, inviting some of the country’s wealthiest business people to toss $10,000 in the pot for the right to pit their bracket against their peers. According to Business Insider, all the proceeds from the tournament will be donated to charity.

Participants to date include Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, T-Mobile CEO John Legere and, of course, Michael Bloomberg. These industry titans have been joined by pro sports team owners such as Mark Cuban, Mark Attanasio, and Steve Ballmer.

The winning bracket owner will donate upwards of $420,000 to the charity of his or her choice.

While sports and charity have long been best pals, this bracket contest provides a template through which charities of any size can create a fun and interesting way for folks to support their cause. People already love bracket contests, and half the country is already obsessed with the Madness so that part wouldn’t be a tough sell at all.

This sort of creative tie-ins with long-established cultural traditions can be a productive way for nonprofits to connect with their current donors and to bring attention to their cause without encountering the typical apathy or request fatigue many otherwise willing donors display when asked to support an unfamiliar cause.

It’s all in the approach. Think about it. Would you rather be asked to support something with which you are unfamiliar, or would you rather be invited to join your friends for some spirited but ultimately harmless competition? Again, it isn’t rocket science, it’s all in how you ask.

Wounded Warrior Project head in hot water

It’s not been a stellar week for the top executive at popular military-based charity Wounded Warrior Project. Fred and Dianne Kane, two top donors have called for Steven Nardizzi to resign or be fired after it came to light that the charity may have been overspending on “lavish” office parties and staff meetings.

The Kanes, parents of two Iraq War veterans, donated about $335,000 to WWP in the past seven years, through their charity, Tee-off for a Cause. When CBS News reported that barely more than half of those funds actually went toward benefitting veterans, the Kanes went looking for answers. They were not happy where that search led.

According to various media reports, tax forms showed massive expenditures, such as $26 million on conferences at luxury hotels in a single year. Conference and travel spending have grown substantially year-to-year, and these donors are fed up. CBS News reported the Kanes started an online petition demanding a public audit of WWP, and they canceled a planned benefit tournament. About the same time, Charity Navigator put WWP on its “watch list” of nonprofit organizations suspected of less than stellar conduct.

Former employees, some combat veterans, have come forward to express similar disgust for the way WWP spent their funds. When your cause and your brand are built around American heroes, to have those heroes calling you out and casting aspersion on your work, you have a major PR crisis on your hands.

Even if Nardizzi is ousted, it may not be enough to protect Wounded Warrior Project from further suspicion, and it certainly won’t be enough to repair the charity’s tarnished reputation. At this point, more people are beginning to view WWP as taking advantage of wounded soldiers to live the good life, an accusation the organization must distance itself from immediately. If they don’t start major damage control right now, the project may find itself wounded beyond recovery.


Aquaponics farm mixes charity with activism

The success of an aquaponics farm as an antidote for homelessness is taking hold in Vista, California, and setting up a template for similar operations that could pop up coast to coast.

Solutions Farms is growing like crazy, tripling in size thanks to a million-dollar grant. The all-organic farm program employs homeless families to help grow its produce using popular aquaponics methods. According to the farm, these methods allow Solutions Farms to “ensure healthy yields of both fish and fresh produce.”

But the farm also helps people grow new futures. The charity takes in homeless and recently homeless individuals, offering them job training and a chance to find some traction in a world that seems poised to leave them behind.

The farm is owned and operated by Solutions For Change, a charity focusing on services for homeless families. The nonprofit provides housing but also job training, family and personal counseling, work experience and financial skills development. The overall goal is to help their clients develop personal tools to make it past the trauma and difficulty of homelessness. For some time, the charity helped between 30 and 50 individuals each month, but the grant should allow them to double or even triple that number.

The success of the program is in combining a great cause with a proven system and an interested, contemporary twist. Farming allows those being helped to grow their food while also teaching them life skills needed to be successful as they get their lives back together.

The aquaponics angle also enhances this success. A popular and in vogue farming method, this combines aquaculture (fish production) with hydroponics, which produces plants without soil. The process is complex, but the idea is simple. Raise tilapia in fresh water, then use that nutrient rich water to hydroponically grow crops. The growing cleanses the water so it can be returned to the fish tanks. It works out to be a self-supporting closed circle.

The unique operation coupled with the consistent success makes marketing easy for this nonprofit, if they play their PR cards properly.

kim kardashian charity

Kim Kadarshian Turns Breastfeeding into Big Charity

There’s no two ways about it, nearly everything Kim Kardashian does ends up making the news. Sometimes, it’s even worth reporting. In this case, a brief aside on Twitter may have changed the lives of countless children. Such is the power of charity PR when connected with a “name” on social media.

Here’s the scenario: Kim K was up nursing her baby, flipping through TV, like millions of other mothers up in the wee hours with infants. She happened to see a story “about a girl trying to find 1,000 pairs of shoes to donate to this charity, Soles for Souls.”

Kim put this out on her Twitter feed, beginning with: “I was up breastfeeding and …”

Now, I don’t know if you have been paying any attention to the Internet, but if Kim K mentions “breast” in any context, expect millions of views almost instantly.

Kim decided she would add her considerable leverage to the cause, mentioning via Twitter that she knew the designer of the Shoe of the Year. That shoe happens to be the Adidas Yeezys, probably the most popular sneaker in the world.

Let’s review: a tired mom gets up in the middle of the night to breastfeed her baby. She sees a child wanting to help others in need and decides to take action. That mom happens to be one of the most recognizable names on the planet, so that means a ton of free publicity for both the charity and the little girl in question.

But this dynamic works, albeit on a sliding scale, for anyone willing to make a difference. Hate her, love her or never want to see her name again, the fact is Kim could have just finished feeding the baby and gone back to bed. There’s no doubt she needed the sleep. Anyone with an infant can attest to that.

But she didn’t … and that one decision made a huge difference for (at least) one thousand needy kids. What could your brand do to make a difference? And, more importantly, are you ready to pull the trigger when the opportunity is presented?

paris pr

Charities Embrace Paris

What happened in Paris should not happen anywhere. Ever. The outpouring of emotion and empathy for the City of Lights has been empowering and encouraging for Parisians, but there are others who are doing more than sending their love. Many have focused their charitable efforts on helping Paris heal, and helping restore normalcy to the streets of Paris as soon as possible.

One of these individuals is Josh Homme. Co-founder of the Band, Eagles of Death Metal, Homme’s band was playing the Bataclan, a nightclub targeted by ISIS affiliated murderers. All told, 89 people were gunned down in cold blood in the middle of an EODM concert, including the band’s merchandise handler, Nick Alexander. Homme, who plays on recordings but not on the road, was not at the venue that night, but he was forever changed by the horror of those minutes.

Shortly after the events unfolded, Homme kicked into gear, focusing his nonprofit organization, Sweet Stuff Foundation, on the goal of helping as many families of victims as he can.

According to website and social media posts, all donations made to Sweet Stuff between now and December 31 will go toward helping those families. It’s a departure from the Foundation’s typical vision: funding music programs for kids and helping members of the music community and their families who are struggling with health issues and disabilities.

But, despite standard causes, sometimes you have to shift your focus in extreme circumstances. Homme’s group is able to do so for a number of reasons.

First, they have extraordinary connection. Homme’s band was on scene. No one would think twice to hear his charity is choosing to help. That’s a given, but it’s not the only reason this effort will be successful for Homme and Sweet Stuff Foundation.

The organization is nimble enough to switch focuses quickly. That requires an elastic and quick-acting organizational structure, something not all charities possess. Further, the nonprofit must have a developed and extensive social and web presence. Without that, Homme could Make the Ask and receive nothing in return. If your donors are more dedicated to the cause that to your brand, you will risk losing them if you switch your focus, even temporarily. But, if they are committed to the work that YOU are doing rather than the WORK you do, they will take that sort of change in stride, being willing to donate time and money even if they don’t know much about the cause.

Bottom line, for your nonprofit to be the most effective, you must be established enough to have a dedicated fan base but also nimble enough to change direction in a hurry. Fail in either of these areas and expect to miss some opportunities to do some good.

Magic Wheelchair

Disabled Children get Halloween Boost

Doing good doesn’t have to be a huge effort, making the difference to one or five people’s lives can leave a lasting impact and legacy. That’s exactly what Oregon-based non-profit Magic Wheelchair does. Every year they accept applications and videos from children in wheelchairs (with parental permission). Five are chosen to receive a wheelchair costume. Their mission is to “give kids in wheelchairs an unforgettable Halloween by creating custom costumes for them at no expense to their families.”

Ryan and Lana Weimer founded Magic Wheelchair after Ryan’s first custom design for their son Keaton – a pirate ship in 2008. The couple feels the need deeply since three of their five children have muscular dystrophy – the children are likely to need wheelchairs all their lives.

Since that first costume, Ryan and a team of designers and builders have enjoyed their annual trip into the imaginations of children bound physically by chairs, but whose dreams soar. Some of the epic wheelchair costumes have included monsters, dragons, an armored horse, an elephant with a prince’s shaded carriage on top, or a fuzzy bug.

The costumes are expensive to make because the team creates amazing experiences, award-winners at most costume parties, and a day when a child who frequently gets left of out the fun, plays with friends getting time in the limelight as the coolest kid in a parade. But since Ryan and Lana have three special needs children to house, feed, and provide all the items needed for them to thrive, you can imagine funding this work of love is beyond their pocketbooks.

People can join in the amazing moments by making a donation through their website (link above), or if you are a crafty builder, consider scouting through your neighborhood or town and try your hand at making a kid’s wish come true. We can all do a little good in the world around us – funds, time, talents, efforts – all go to build a better life for the people we know and see often. And let’s face it, making a child happy is one of the best feelings adults ever get to experience.

Magic Wheelchair has done thoughtful things for children, and it has caught the attention of media outlets like the Huffington Post, MTV News, Alternative Press, BuzzFeed and more. Leave a legacy of love and inspire others on the way.