Happy, Happy!

Dear friends,

Just a quick note to wish you a very Happy New Year. December, much like all of 2007 has flown by much too fast.

In 2008, let us resolve to be better at telling our stories. Let us be resources for reporters and editors. Let us listen as much as we speak.

Those are just a few of my own resolutions for the New Year. I gave up on losing weight a long time ago!

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Reporters are from Pluto – We are from Saturn

There is a reason we call it media relations. A successful media relations strategy must focus on developing and maintaining quality relationships with members of the media. This might seem simple, but in all reality it is as complex as any other human relationship we engage in.

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The relationships in our lives that hold meaning for us often are somewhat difficult to maintain. I often like to say, “it isn’t all Ferris wheels and cotton candy!” Think of the relationships in your life – relationships with friends, family, romantic partners, co-workers, etc. What makes those relationships work?

You might find some of the following five qualities:

Good communication. Staying in touch and sharing parts of your life with the other person will help to prevent misunderstandings and unwanted distance in the relationship. Making your needs and desires known is critical, as is allowing the other person to do the same.

Attentive listening. It’s easy to forget, but communication is a two-way street. Listen effectively to what the other person is saying as they express their own needs and desires.

An understanding of where the other person is coming from. If you don’t understand, then start asking questions and listen to the answers. Read stories the reporter has written, listen to or watch their broadcasts to get a feel for their style.

An ability to admit that you are wrong, or don’t have all the answers.

A sense of humor. Many of us take life and ourselves way too seriously. A laugh can go a long way.

Respect for the other person. Pretty simple concept, but sometimes difficult to remember.

All of these apply to your working relationships with members of the media as well. Far too often, we fail to effectively communicate with reporters except for the occasional generic press release. We don’t always listen carefully to what a reporter wants and needs for the story to be successful. Sometimes we find it difficult to admit that we don’t know something. And, we often fail to respect the reporter as the professional that they are.

So, the next time you are about to begin or try to strengthen a relationship with a reporter, keep all of this in mind. Put yourself in their seat, and remember that they have a job to do just like you do. And don’t forget to share some humor along the way as well – the life of a reporter is very stressful. Any chance to laugh is welcome.

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Filed under Media Relations

Salvation Army Scammers to Serve Time

Two Houston brothers who set up a fraudulent website following the Katrina disaster will each serve more than eight years in jail for their crimes. The federal government is cracking down on scammers such as the Stevens brothers, according to the Nonprofit Times:

Two Houston brothers each were sentenced last month to more than eight years for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft as a result of fraudulently operating a Web site that claimed to raise money on behalf of the Salvation Army for Hurricane Katrina victims. The fraudulent Web site, prosecutors said, collected more than $48,000 before anyone caught on.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner sentenced Steven Stephens, 24, to serve a total of 111 months. Bartholomew Stephens, 27, will serve a total of 105 months. A jury convicted the pair after a four-day trial in June.

The Stephens case is just one example of the more than 2,400 Katrina relief Web sites believed by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to be fraudulent.

More recently, as Southern California burned this past October criminals began setting up bogus Web sites and soliciting donations. According to the FBI, in the days following the California wildfires fraudsters flooded the Internet with fake charity sites.

Technology has certainly advanced fund development for nonprofits. Unfortunately, it continues to advance fraud and other criminal activity as well. It isn’t possible to anticipate each and every scam before it happens. However, being aware of these trends and keeping a watchful eye out for such scams can help.

Having policies and procedures in place regarding online giving and your organization’s web presence activities will help. Making sure that your domain name doesn’t expire will prevent scammers from picking it up and using it against you.

For more information, go to protectyour.org.

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Filed under Nonprofit Industry News, Uncategorized

When?

I’m sure you’ve seen the news reports by now. A 19 year-old boy opened fire this afternoon in an Omaha mall.

Violence is all too common in our world today. It’s even more shocking when it hits so close to home (for me).

The young man who did this had a history of depression and many other indicators that have caused those who knew him to say he was “troubled.” When will we finally fix our mental health system in this country? When will we work to effectively stop bullying in schools? When will we stop allowing our children to roam freely with guns?

 When?

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Study Shows Americans Distrust Campaign Coverage

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A new study reveals some interesting, yet not surprising, results regarding American’s perceptions of media coverage of politics.

Editor and Publisher highlights the outcome of the survey conducted by Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership National Leadership Index. Harvard interviewed a little more than 1,200 adults nationwide in September. 

The highlights:

  • When asked if election coverage was politically biased, 40% believed it was too liberal, 21% too conservative, and 30% found it neutral. Nine percent weren’t sure.
  • 64% of those polled do not trust press coverage of the presidential campaign.
  • 88% believe that campaign coverage focuses on trivial issues.
  • 84% believe that media coverage has too much influence on American voting choices.
  • 92% say it is important that the news media provide information on candidate’s specific policy plans, but 61% say the media does not provide enough coverage of policy plans.
  • 89% say it is important to hear about candidates’ personal values and ethics, but 43% say there is not enough coverage of personal values and ethics.

A few thoughts from my perspective:

These are all good examples of what we could call “say one thing and do another” among American voters. Yes, there is tremendous voter apathy, caused by the most part by negative campaigning and “gotcha” journalism. But yet, those tactics work. Negative campaigning effectively surpresses voter turnout time and time again. If it didn’t, candidates wouldn’t spend billions of dollars each cycle on them. “Gotcha” journalism improves ratings and sells more papers.

Often, we answer survey questions through the lens of idealism. In a perfect world – we want things to look like this. And then we realize the world is far from perfect…and we act as we usually do.

I share this because, as communicators, we need to realize that the mainstream media continues to loose it’s effectiveness. We need to continuously look for new ways to get our message out and expand our mix.

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Filed under Media Buzz

What is this all about?

The simple answer: telling your story.

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Now, let’s go a little deeper.

Personally, I have a passion for nonprofits. Cause based organizations have made and continue to make our society better. And, one of the most frustrating realities for me as a professional communicator is seeing these great organizations remain in the dark. Especially when journalists, bloggers and social media junkies yearn to bring them into the light.

I often give presentations with local journalists. I think it really helps to get the reporter’s perspective…after all, in order to be successful in media relations, you need to think like a reporter.

In each and every workshop that a reporter has been a part of, that reporter has said “send us your releases, call us, we want to tell your story.”

More often than not, they aren’t going to find you. You need to go and tell them your story.

And, what wonderful stories you have to tell! You are, more often than not, in the business of helping people. In some way, your work and the work of your colleagues impacts lives. These are stories that are just waiting to be told. 

And, to be blunt, you’re not doing your job unless you are telling them. 

My hope is that you will find here a community of storytellers…a group of people who are getting the word out about the impact their organization is having on the world. This isn’t a lecture hall – where you gather around to hear me or someone else speak. This is an opportunity to learn from each other. Me from you, you from me, and so on…

Come here to ask questions. Share your successes and failures. Meet friends along the way. Build a community with me.

Welcome to the Storytellers Network…building a community of nonprofit communicators.

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Red Cross CEO Out Due to Sex Scandal

The president and CEO of the American Red Cross, Mark W. Everson, resigned from his post today, just six months after taking the job, according to the Nonprofit Times. Recently, it was brought to the attention of the ARC’s board that Everson was having an inappropriate relationship with a female subordinate.

 

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The Times also reports that the ARC Board of Governors has appointed Mary S. Elcano, general counsel, as interim president and CEO.

The board of governors, convened in an emergency conference call, asked for and today received the resignation of Mark W. Everson. It was effective immediately. He was not in the building late today, according to Suzy DeFrancis, ARC’s chief public affairs officer.

A senior executive at the ARC brought the relationship to the attention of the board 10 days ago, said DeFrancis. “We believe the board acted very promptly,” she said.

The female subordinate will remain with the organization, said DeFrancis. The board has asked three members of Everson’s team whom he brought from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to stay with the organization and they have agreed, she said.

Everson, the former IRS commissioner, was the ARC’s eighth CEO or interim CEO in 12 years. The organization hasn’t been immune to controversy and scandal over the years, just like every nonprofit that exists today. I thought the ARC communications shop handled this one well, at least out of the gate:

“The Red Cross is more than one person,” said DeFrancis. “It’s 750 chapters and thousands of volunteers,” she said.

“Although this is difficult and disappointing news for the Red Cross community, the organization remains strong and the life-saving mission and work of the American Red Cross will go forward,” said Chairman Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, in a statement.

Act swiftly, both internally and externally. Don’t try to hide the facts from the media. Lay it all out on the table. Textbook crisis communications strategy so far…Although, this is somewhat troubling:

Attempts to reach McElveen-Hunter for additional comment were not successful Tuesday afternoon. A woman answering the telephone at Greensboro, N.C.-based Pace Communications, where McElveen-Hunter is CEO, said she was out of the country and not in the office.

The Chairman of the Board, who issued a statement earlier in the day is “out of the country?” Perhaps the receptionist was being a little aggressive in keeping reporters at bay. But, if indeed she is unavailable for further comment, I would have had someone else issue the statement. I would have also asked the staff at Pace Communications to redirect the call.

If you spend any length of time in nonprofit communications, you will undoubtedly encounter a situation similar to this. Personnel crises happen and they can be the most uncomfortable to deal. Planning in advance for these help you execute them rapidly and professionally.

In addition, planning ahead helps you to more easily detach yourself from the situation. Often, the person or people involved will be someone you have worked with closely and with whom you’ve developed a relationship. You don’t want personal feelings of hurt and anger to prevent you from doing your job effectively.

So, what’s your plan?

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Filed under Crisis Communications, Nonprofit Industry News