The New Zealand Association Resource Centre Trust (NZARC) blog is a place for board members, partner organisations, and subscribers to contribute articles and discuss issues of relevance to the non-profit sector. Contributions are welcome and encouraged.

Planning for the Future

An article under this heading in a recent issue of Governance and Compliance, the official journal of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators UK contained the statement that strategic planning in volunteer directed entities can prevent boards from driving the organisation forward.  The authors maintain that even where there is no written version, maintaining the status quo is as much of a strategy as radical innovation, provided allowance is made for:

  • Objective understanding of the current situation and the environment in which the organisation operates;
  • Definition of its long term aims and vision normally over three to five years;
  • A clear set of milestones and processes to enable it to realise its objectives.

It makes the point that a strategic plan that is produced purely for the purpose of seeking funding, is unlikely to be owned by the board and will therefore be of very limited use.  To be effective it must regularly be referred to, periodically revised to changing circumstances and embody how the organisation intends to live its values. 

Trustees of the New Zealand Association Resource Centre Trust engaged in an annual Planning Retreat facilitated by its Vice-Chair, Jeremy Tunks. They re-examined the aims and objects to determine how they can best carry out projects and assignments that are of direct benefit to their wider constituency of subscribers.  This involved every member of the team and operates as two working groups charged with investigation and implementation in a planned manner. 

Affiliated advisory trustees frequently come across situations where voluntary organisations have been professionally assisted in the formulation of a strategic plan on the understanding that it requires strict observance like being cast in stone until the next annual review comes around.  Not unexpectedly such documents fail in their application as they don’t evolve and do not enable the organisation to react with alacrity to opportunities and threats that may not have been apparent when the original document was drawn up.

As the ICSA text explains external conditions can be subject to rapid change and the assumption that a strategic plan will inevitably be prescriptive or unresponsive will often deter some boards from developing one.  Factors determining how the strategy of an association or charity is devised, include:

  • The degree to which the expectations of members, funders and wider stakeholders are reflected in the organisation’s priorities;
  • To what extent and in which areas staff, volunteers and users of services are consulted during the development of the strategy;
  • The extent to which the board steers the process or lets the chief executive develop the strategy unaided.

This may involve the board in the following key stages:

  • Before the planning process starts in order for it to be well designed and adequately resourced;
  • Considering how it aligns with the vision, mission and values contained in the founding document be it a constitution or trust deed.
  • Setting out a process for monitoring and reviewing progress against the strategic plan, including key performance indicators.

A constructive relationship between the Chair and the CEO is essential to ensure that the board receives diverse input to the strategy and is not totally reliant on the opinion of board members, who may not necessarily be business or professional practitioners with wide access to information.  Typically, a focused three month process of conversation, research and analysis of options produces a plan to determine the direction, subject to corrections for the next three years.

Effective strategic plans are written to fit their individual organisations.  Some elements are common to all, but this should not be seen as an easy option to copy and improvise, as there is no formula that fits all.  Each organisation has its own character and special purpose that cannot be replicated strategically.  The same can be said for engaging a consultant and relying on his/her skills as a documenter in the hope that the finished product will live up to expectations.  The best strategic plans are concise and accessible and use language that vividly explain what is intended.

Many associations and trusts choose to develop their strategic plan unaided.  Although this may appear to be a good cost saving choice, it does carry dangers in failing to constructively prescribe where the organisation wants to go and how to get there.  Involving somebody with the expertise and industry or sector understanding required will go a long way to come up with the best results.

The New Zealand Association Resource Centre Trust is able to advise and assist associations and trusts in the formulation, review and execution of their strategic objectives. 

Effective marketing messages

How can you repeat your marketing messages so the message ‘gets through’ without your audience switching off and getting bored? We suggest the way to do this is to keep the main marketing message the same and mixing it up by creating subtle variations. Bear in mind that as its creator, you’ll get tired of it way before your audience does.  And with the likelihood of your audience forgetting 90 percent of what they see and hear within two weeks, repetition becomes critical to being heard.

If thinking about the web Jon Wuebben - Founder and CEO of Content Launch recommends creating a 200 word short, sharp message , in other words keep it short and sweet. He also suggests being repetitive with your messages, Rather than insulting the intelligence of your reader by repetition, consider that they are busy, bombarded with messages – make your message easy to remember, cutting through the clutter. 

Nancy Schwartz also recommends using the US Presidential Debate as a lesson in effective communications. 

If you watched the first Romney vs. Obama debate, you know that Romney reigned as the far better communicator. Pundits and regular folks (even diehard Obama supporters) agreed on that. 

Although you may object that action matters far more than words (I'm all for that), the way that actions are conveyed is what shapes perception in most situations. 

Even though many say Romney misled in many cases last week (e.g. claiming Obama doubled the deficit), the reality isn't clear to many of us. And it's not likely it'll become broadly understood in the few weeks before the election. 

Political theater, like your communications, matters big time. There's lots for you to learn from the candidates' communications practices in the first debate:

  • Make it easy for your audience with clear, accessible language that can be absorbed in a moment. Romney kept it simple and easy to understand. Obama used complex words and sentences that required thought and attention to get. Too much work!
  • Focus on the concrete, not the abstract. It's the tangible specifics that are memorable, like jobs which Romney came back to again and again or Big Bird (likely to disappear if he wins and cuts PBS funding). Obama's more professorial style consistently wandered towards the abstract which is hard to get understand and seldom memorable. But he hit it out of the park with the 42-student classroom story.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition. I'm left with a memory of Romney's focus on jobs, because he came back to jobs again and again. Repetition ensures your messages penetrate.
  • Less is usually more. Romney spoke in short sentences, most with a single focus. Obama's meandering sentences hid his key points.
  • Communicate with confidence. If you want your audience to have confidence in your organization, you have to start with having confidence yourselves. Romney was clearly in command. He manhandled moderator Jim Lehrer, ignoring manners and protocol to seize the exact right moments to counter Obama. Obama seemed nervous, spoke straight to the camera rather than to his opponent and frequently looked down at his notes.
  • Be prepared. You have to be ready to respond to anything, quickly and effectively. Obama was clearly the butting ram, trying to respond to Romney's string of accusations, none of which should have been a surprise. Nor did Obama run with some of the opportunities he had for a powerful rebuttal—He could have turned Romney's plan to de-fund the beloved Big Bird into a strong rally for strengthening the education system.
  • Stay positive. It's human nature to affiliate with the positive because we want things to get better. So even though Romney may have misrepresented some of his plans, he framed them in a positive way that made the audience want to believe. Focus on the future your organization and your supporters are going to create, and how it will benefit them.
  • Watch body language, expression and appearance. Romney smiled through much of the debate, appearing energized, hearty and relaxed. His frequent gesture of reaching out with both hands connected him with the audience. Obama's slumped shoulders and grim facial expressions conveyed defeat and discomfort. His vertical hand gestures conveyed how difficult the path to recovery will be. Click on the drawing of each candidate's gesture here to see examples from last night's debate.
  • Take off the gloves, when required. Romney was aggressive, taking every opportunity to jump on Obama. Obama never attacked, avoiding mention of potential Romney negatives (Bain Capital, the 47% video, tax returns, offshore holdings) as well as his own successes like killing bin Laden and ending the war. 

Audiences aren't usually there at the moment of action, so your communications about those actions shape your supporters' understanding and point of view. Follow these guidelines, staying honest and genuine, to be on top of your communications game. 

The 4 Cornerstones of an Engaging Message Platform

By Nancy E. Schwartz
Publisher – / President – Nancy Schwartz & Company

Messaging is one of the most overlooked and under appreciated charity and association marketing strategies there is. That was confirmed in a recent messaging survey of more than 900 U.S. nonprofit communicators. Just 16% of respondents said their messages connect with their target audiences. 

This is a huge loss, as effective messaging has significant ROI (return on investment). Creating engaging messages requires only a minor (if any) financial investment plus a moderate investment of time, but offers tremendous returns. The return on investment is huge: without messaging that connects, you’ll get nowhere with your marketing.

And, in a survey recently undertaken of non-profits by the Charities Commission here in New Zealand, between 50% and 80% of respondents said they were likely/most likely to need assistance with communications in the next 12-24 months.

I hear from many charity and association communicators who do believe in the power of messaging, but just don’t know where to start. This article guides you through crafting the four cornerstones of your nonprofit’s messaging—your message platform.

Three Must-Dos Before You Shape Your Message Platform

Take these three steps to ensure relevancy, the essence of messages that connect.
  1. 1. Clarify your top one or two communications goals—what you want to achieve; the action you want your audience to take to get you there.
  2. 2. Identify whom you need to engage to do so (your primary target audiences, no more than three).
  3. 3. Get to know what’s important to your audiences (wants, values and concerns) so you can articulate what’s in it for them and ensure no barriers stand in their way, and learn how best to reach them.

The Four Cornerstones of a Charity or Association Message Platform that Connects
When you’ve completed the three must-dos outlined above, you’re ready to draft, or refine, your organization’s messaging. These four components are the cornerstones of a strong message platform.

Be aware that although these elements are presented in a linear manner here, the message development process is cyclical rather than linear. For example, what you learn in building out your key messages and related support points may highlight an element that needs to be incorporated into your positioning statement. Design your timeline, and roles and responsibilities, for this process with that in mind.

1. Positioning Statement

Connects your organization with those you want to engage by 1) linking it with what’s important to them; and 2) differentiating it from others competing for their attention, time and dollars.

A one to three sentence statement that positions your organization most effectively in the environment in which you work. It conveys the intersection of what your organization does well, what it does better and differently than any other organization (uniqueness), and what your audiences care about.

Key components of your positioning statement are:
  • What you do.
  • For whom (whom do you serve).
  • What’s different about the way you do your work.
  • Impact you make (something tangible, like a stat, is compelling here, see example below).
  • Unique benefit derived from your programmes, services and/or products.

Most, importantly, this is not your mission statement. Your mission statement is internally oriented and serves as your organizational road map. Your positioning statement connects your mission with what’s vital to your audiences, so must be externally oriented.

How to Use 
Exactly as written in all print and online communications (with the exception of the occasional narrowly-focused flyer or mini-site).

  • The New Zealand Nutrition Foundation is a professional, non-profit organisation whose members believe all New Zealanders should have access to accurate information to enable them to make informed choices about food and the effect it has on their health. We help New Zealanders make these choices by providing a balanced viewpoint on important issues around food, nutrition and health.

  • @Heart has been providing support services to children with heart conditions and their families since 1984. Our practical and emotional support is vital for those affected, helping them cope with the day-to-day challenges of living with a childhood heart condition.

2. Tagline

Extends your organization’s name to convey its unique impact or value with personality, passion and commitment, while delivering a memorable and repeatable message to your audiences.

Running no more than eight words, the tagline is your organization’s single most used messaging component. An effective tagline provides enough insight to generate interest and motivate your reader/listener to ask a question, without providing too much information so that she thinks she knows everything she needs to and doesn’t want to read more or continue the conversation.

Be aware that if you are creating a Maori version of your tagline, you may have to massage the direct translation to convey the same meaning.

How to Use 
Exactly as written in print, online and verbal communications, including business cards and email signatures.

  • Organization: Lifeline Aotearoa
    • You can choose change
    • Ka Taea koe te huri to ao

  • Organization: Social Development Partners (formerly NZFVWO)
    • Strong Organizations for Thriving Communities

  • Organization: Nutrition Foundation
    • Enhancing the quality of life of New Zealanders by encouraging and enjoyable food choices as part of an active lifestyle. (Very long!)
    • o Kia whakareia te ōranga o ngā tāngata o Aotearoa ma te whakamana i ngā wawatā hei tohu kai hauora, kai reka, hei oranga kakama

  • Organization: @heart (also has taglines for each program)
    • Functional and emotional support for New Zealand kids, teens, adults and families affected by childhood heart conditions.

3. Key Messages or Talking Points

Succinctly elaborate on your positioning statement and provide the necessary proof required for validation, while enabling you to tailor your messaging to specific groups among your target audiences.

  • A set of three to seven key messages that build on the information conveyed in your positioning statement and respond to most common questions asked by your current and prospective audiences.
  • Most talking points should run no more than two sentences. They can be customized to a specific goal or focus, topic or group.
  • Be prepared with supporting points (a.k.a. proof points) for each talking point.
  • Frequently developed for use in specific campaigns (fundraising or issue-oriented) and/or for specific audience groups.

How to Use
  • Use in both written and verbal conversation.
  • However, talking points do not represent the exact words that must be used (especially in conversation), but rather convey the essential ideas to be conveyed. They can be customized for greater impact–to the specific interchange, the interests of the person you’re speaking with or emailing, and/or the topic of conversation.


4. Elevator Pitch

Enables you to transform any social contact (not just those that take place in an elevator) into a conversion opportunity (asking for more information, scheduling a call, etc.) in 60 seconds or less.

A conversational technique featuring a variation of your positioning statement, customized to the interests of the person you’re talking with, the context of your conversation, the “ask” you’ll be making and/or other factors. Takes no more than 60 seconds to deliver; 30 seconds is ideal.

These are the four steps to get there. Start with step one and end with step four, but the order of steps two and three can vary:
  1. 1. The lead-in. This is where you introduce yourself and your role in your organization to set up the conversation. It’s intended to spark the interest of the person you’re speaking with.
  2. 2. The differentiator. This identifies your organization as providing a unique resource valued by the person you’re speaking with, one that deserves immediate attention.
  3. 3. The hook. This is an open-ended conversation starter that allows you to assess the prospect’s interest level.
  4. 4. The call to action. This is the request to schedule a follow-up call to discuss the matter further, make an online contribution or participate in a gathering for prospective members, thereby making the conversion. Make it specific, clear and doable (e.g. don’t ask too much, especially in an initial conversation).

NOTE: It’s vital that the “pitcher” is adept at following the lead of his conversational partner to make the most of the short period he has. Role playing is an effective way to build this skill.

Hi, I’m Geoff Lawson, CEO of The Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust. We help grandparents who are faced with raising their grandchildren alone. Did you know we have over 5,000 members?

We have 5 Field Officers and over 30 support group co-ordinators throughout New Zealand, providing a critical support network for grandparents of all ages, mostly over the age of 50. With estimates of over 10,000 New Zealand children being raised by their grandparents we are in great demand. 

With energy levels that may be less and earning capacity decreased, our members are thrown into the stresses of child-rearing again - just as they are looking forward to a time of greater leisure and relaxation. This adds extra financial, physical and mental stress, as grandparents try to establish a safe, stable and permanent home environment for their grandchildren while battling with legal complexities.

We need your support so we can offer solutions for the myriad of issues our members are facing.

19 Elevator Pitches for Good Causes

These video clips of elevator pitches for U.S. organizations like yours are useful models of what to do, and what NOT to do. You’ll know at a gut level what works and what doesn’t.

Now It’s Your Turn—Next Steps

Your next step is to compare and benchmark your organization’s current message platform against this checklist:
  • What elements are in place as defined above (or near enough)?
  • For those that are in place, were they created based on the three “must-dos” outlined at the beginning of this article? 
    • If yes, you have some of the four cornerstones already in place.
    • If no, you’ll need to start at the very beginning, with your positioning statement.
  • For those cornerstones you need to revise, or create for the first time: 
    • Start with clarifying your communications goals.
    • Identify those you need to engage to meet those goals, and get to know them.
    • Start shaping your cornerstones based on this framework.

Nancy E. Schwartz helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing. Nancy and her team provide marketing planning and implementation services to nonprofit organizations and foundations nationwide. Nancy works with the New Zealand Association Resource Centre Trust to assist build capacity and capability with non-profits. She is the publisher of the Getting Attention e-update and blog. For more nonprofit marketing guidance like this, subscribe to her e-update here.