Lessons from NPR’s Snafu


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I’m a member of the Fund Raising Executives of Metro Louisville.  At each meeting, I’m surrounded by people with titles like Director of Development, Director of Planned Giving, Annual Fund Manager, Manager of Major Gifts, Manager of Foundation and Government Relations, Donor Relations Manager, Manager of Corporate Relations, and Development Coordinator.  These are people who are in charge of securing and overseeing the distribution of millions of dollars that individuals, city, state, and federal governments, private foundations and corporations donate to their respective organizations.

I introduce myself as a grant writer and a communications consultant at FREML meetings and at most other organizations that target fund raisers or nonprofits.  My skill set may seem like an odd combination, but development and marketing are inseparable.  When a fund raising executive solicits donations, that person does so on behalf of the organization.  The executive represents the organization’s brand, everything that every member of the organization has spent years putting together and everything the marketing department has spent millions of dollars sending out to the public, wrapped up as one clear, consistent message.

That’s why I couldn’t believe a fund raiser like Vernon Schiller was so easily hoodwinked.  The manner in which he was brought down — with heavily edited video courtesy of conservatives incognito and armed with hidden cameras — is appalling.  But it is also a lesson for any nonprofit seeking funds from any source.

Stay on message.  Schiller knew that NPR is in a fight to keep federal funding going to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Yet he diverged from the message to his opinion, damaging weeks of a campaign aimed at generating more support from the people who love NPR, which included some of the people he insulted.  When in public and on company time  — and as a part of a brand, when, outside of your own home, are you not on company time? — stick to the message.

Nonprofit leaders, your marketing, communications and PR departments know what you should be telling clients/patrons, the media, volunteers, donors and enemies.  In each case, you are trying to sell your organization to:

  • someone who needs it but may not know it
  • someone who needs or wants it but has many options for where to go
  • institutions you need for publicity and partnership
  • people you need for support, and
  • people not out for your best interest.

So work with your marketing, communications and PR departments.  Keep the health of your brand in mind when you speak or send an email.  Remember that a healthy brand is a consistent one, so for goodness’ sake, stay on message.

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