This is the Best Blog Post Ever


Instead of responding to a particularly annoying political post on Facebook, I’d like to ask a question about today’s political rhetoric. Does everybody and everything have to be the best or the worst ever? Any time I hear that claim about any politician (or anything really), I disregard it immediately. I’m a sucker for polls about who was the best/worst president, but only because I’m curious about what people think — and I know it’s just an opinion.

But Donald Trump is good at throwing out these kinds of claims — without being challenged — and making them stick. Even after he back-pedals on a position or “clarifies” a statement, he has (intentionally) made an impression that won’t be undone.

The talking points about Trump’s opponent have worked well for him and the Republicans, if the web is any reflection. Google “Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt candidate ever,” and you’ll get 1.8 million results. But “Trump is the most corrupt candidate”? About 5,000. Bucking the trend is the New York Magazine article titled…wait for it…”The Most Corrupt Candidate Ever is Donald Trump.”

Also, according to Trump, Hillary was the “worst secretary of state ever.” I wish a reporter would ask him who the second worst was, to see if he can name another person who’s held the office. In 2011 he said, President Obama “has been a horrible president. I always said the worst president was Jimmy Carter. Guess what? Jimmy Carter goes to second place. Barack Obama has been the worst president ever.”

If you don’t believe him, you can read the book. Yes, there’s a book titled 150 Reasons Why Barack Obama in the Worst President in History. But after it was published in 2013, authors Matt Margolis and Mark Noonan discovered 50 more reasons, leading to their latest release, The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama, complete with 200 reasons. Or you can just follow the authors’ Twitter account with the username…yes…@WorstPresident. Or contact them by email at I mean, who has time for this?

Something tells me this is going to be the longest presidential campaign ever.

Is Your Cause “The Greatest”?

aliMuhammad Ali, whose life was celebrated in a public memorial service today, will be remembered as one of the greatest boxers and athletes of all time. The accolades for his athletic accomplishments, social activism, and religious convictions will continue for several more weeks and months.

It’s hard to imagine any other athlete (or anyone, really) giving themselves the title of “The Greatest” and having it stick. Many people cheered against him because of the way he boasted and belittled his opponents. But in addition to calling himself The Greatest, he also said, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”

In promoting your organization or cause, don’t shy away from sharing its value, importance, and impact on society. But also make sure you can back it up with stories, statistics, and examples. A superlative without evidence will quickly be ignored, and will actually make people trust your organization or cause less. There are so many examples of this in nonprofit communications. How many times have you heard about a “unique approach,” “the first  of its kind,” “the biggest/the best/the only” with absolutely no proof that any of these claims are true? I won’t bore you with examples, but if you’ve got the time, you can read the 4.3 million search results for “unique approach” and tell me how many are actually unique.

You KNOW your organization or cause is The Greatest, right? So prove it.



“Weiner”: Crisis as Tragi-comedy

weinerHere’s the best description I’ve read for the new documentary “Weiner,” from NPR’s David Edelstein:

“…a cross between ‘The War Room,’ in which resourceful operatives steer a scandal-ridden but confident candidate to victory, and ‘The Blair Witch Project,’ in which everyone runs around screaming and dies.”

The film, which follows the mayoral campaign of Anthony Weiner, could have been a comeback tale about a disgraced congressman who turned around his reputation to serve the city he loved. Instead, it’s about a disgraced congressman who is further disgraced…this time in front of cameras that he invited into his professional and personal life.

It’s also a lesson about why crisis communications, no matter how well it’s executed, can’t make up for dishonesty. In one scene that will be uncomfortable for any communications professional to watch, Weiner tries to determine how to answer a question from reporters — not by telling his communications director Barbara Morgan the answer, but by trying to remember what he has said in previous interviews. “I think we’ve got to answer the question,” he tells her. “The problem was that a series of interviews that I did when I got in the race were after this. And people asked is the number still the same? I think I said to…six…and then cleaned it up in subsequent interviews because I knew that was a problem. The question is do we answer it or not? I think we have to answer these questions.”

It’s as much a film about Weiner’s wife, Hillary Clinton confidante Huma Abedin. She comes across as a strong and confident woman who deserves better, but in a situation that is out of her control. (If you ask me offline, I’ll tell you my Huma story, but I’ll just say that while I could somewhat enjoy watching Weiner’s downfall unfold on the screen, the movie is hard to watch knowing that it was Weiner, not her, who sought this cinematic attention.)



What’s Your Medium?

medium-show_7024What’s the ROI of annual reports and other publications? It’s a negative if no one is reading them (no matter how well they are written and designed).

In a guest post for The Communications Network, Ory Rinat, who leads digital strategy for the Heritage Foundation, makes a strong case the “the PDF is dying.” For the first time in 2015, the foundation published its 2015 Index of Culture and Opportunity entirely on Medium, replacing the original format of a print book and a PDF. Take a look — it’s a LOT of content but easy to skim and get key points.

Rinat explains, “The Index has a wealth of valuable data, but…we doubted that many of those who received the book read through a majority of it…What about those who were interested in just a few of the data points, or even a single indicator? Asking them to read through an entire book to get the information they need is simply unrealistic.  We knew that if we didn’t make the information easy to use and find, our audience would look elsewhere.”

Completing the “publication” took less than a week from setup to launch, Rinat says, and “the end result was exactly what we were looking for: a de-facto microsite that looks and functions as well as a custom-built destination.” And it attracted 20,000 views in the first month.

Compare those results with a study by the World Bank that examined the ROI of its policy reports. While the reports are intended to inform and influence the development community, more than 32 percent of its reports had  never downloaded. And only 13 percent of the reports were downloaded more than 250 times. Almost 87 percent had never been cited by another source.

The study’s authors note, “Knowledge is central to development. The World Bank invests about one-quarter of its budget for country services in knowledge products. Still, there is little research about the demand for these knowledge products and how internal knowledge flows affect their demand.”

Not that the World Bank has asked me, but the format of reports is just part of their usefulness and readability. It’s telling that the second page of their study lists 36 acronyms that are needed to understand World Bank jargon.

In my organization, these days we’re talking less about channels (websites, blogs, and social media) and focusing more on content. There are many ways to market content, and the medium (pardon the pun) is only part of the message.




Ray Rice, NFL & Ravens: When is Your Reputation Beyond Management?

I’ve done my share of my share of crisis communications and reputation management, but the Ray Rice video — and the public reaction to it — makes me wonder if some reputations are beyond repair. Ray Rice’s career and reputation may already be ruined, but this story’s not over, and the NFL and Baltimore Ravens will be under scrutiny in the following days.

Back in May, when Rice spoke publicly about his alleged abuse of his then-fiancee, he said of his 2-year-old daughter, “One day she’s going to know the power of Google. Me having to explain that to her, what happened that night, that’s something I have to live with the rest of my life.” Well, with the release of the new video footage today, those Google searches just got a lot worse.

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March, the Ravens, eager to hold on to their Pro Bowl running back, brushed it off as a private incident. Coach John Harbaugh called Rice “a person of character,” saying “When you drink too much in public, those kind of things happen.” [Watch the elevator video and read that again: “…those kinds of things happen.”]

General Manager Ozzie Newsome added, “We respect the efforts Ray has made to become the best partner and father he can be. That night was not typical of the Ray Rice we know and respect.” The team even took to Twitter to publicize the fact that Rice’s fiance addressed her own role in the dispute:


That tweet was removed today, a few hours after the video was released by TMZ Sports. In a press conference tonight, Harbaugh said that he and other Ravens officials had seen the video this morning for the first time. The NFL also stated it had not seen the video. That raises a few questions:

1. If the NFL conducted a thorough investigation, how could they have been unable to obtain the video? This happened in a casino, where there is no shortage of cameras. If they wanted to know what happened in the elevator, they would have insisted on seeing the video, and clearly it was available. But the NFL said today: “We requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident, including the video from inside the elevator. That video was not made available to us and no one in our office has seen it until today.”

2. If the NFL and Ravens are being truthful, and they saw the video for the first time today, what does the video change? They knew that when Rice and his fiance entered the elevator, she was conscious. When he dragged her out of the elevator, she was not. Hmmm. I wonder what happened?

Call me a cynic, but here’s what really changed — the public saw a graphic video and now the NFL and Ravens can no longer defend their efforts to explain this incident away. The message to NFL players? If you beat up your wife or girlfriend, don’t get caught on tape.

What Your Nonprofit Can Learn from This $10 Million Event


I write a lot about online fundraising, but I was recently reminded of the power of in-person events when our annual Children’s Ball for Children’s National Health System raised a record $10.7 million. (The previous high was $2 million.) You can see photos and read about the event here, but even if your organization doesn’t have large fundraisers, I think our experience provides a few lessons for all nonrofits:

Never underestimate the impact of your mission. The success of the Children’s Ball was possibly only because of the passion and hard work of our co-chairs — the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, his wife Abeer, Bret Baier (of “Special Report with Bret Baier” on Fox News Channel), and his wife Amy. The Baiers have been involved with our hospital ever since their son was diagnosed with congenital heart defects. He has undergone three successful open-heart surgeries and is doing well. The ambassador first got involved in 2009 when the Government of the UAE made a gift of $150 million to our health system to improve pediatric surgery. More recently, the Ambassador and his wife had their own personal experience, when their daughter required surgery.

Every dollar counts. Even though the Ball was sold out two months before the event, ticket sales were a small portion of the proceeds. Every component was needed — sponsorships (including four seven-figure sponsors), an online auction, a live auction, and a “call for cash,” as well as numerous in-kind donations.

Relationships matter. The key to the success of the Children’s Ball was the personal commitment and hard work of our co-chairs. The Al Otaibas and the Baiers were able to leverage their personal and professional relationships to inspire others to support a mission that’s personal to them. They’ve seen what Children’s National does for all children, and the many ways that philanthropic support helps families.

Your donors want to engage. We made it easy for our sponsors to share their enthusiasm about the event and our cause — by creating and sharing a communications plan that included a detailed social media plan with a hashtag, tips, and sample posts. On Twitter, we tagged corporate sponsors in our posts, allowing them to spread the word about our cause with simple retweet. Immediately after the event, we shared photos, a news release, and other information to support their own communications about the event’s success.

The event is the beginning, not the end. With the engagement of new sponsors, increased visibility through media coverage, and inspired supporters, now the real work begins. The value of a fundraising event is not just in the dollars raised in one night, but in the relationships and engagement it can inspire. It takes carefully planned follow-up to build on the success and answer the question, “Now what?” We began discussing our plan to recognize and follow up with our sponsors months before the event itself. Our recognition included a special video — with children thanking all of our sponsors at $100,000 and up:

After they saw the video the night of the Ball, we emailed them a link the following day so they could share it with their employees, customers, and others.

Impact Doesn’t Matter…or Does It?

Maybe it was a slow news day in philanthropy.

After all I’ve learned about the need to show donors the impact of their giving, the top headline in the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s daily email today got my attention: “Giving Donors Data on a Charity’s Impact Doesn’t Always Lead to More Gifts.”

The Chronicle’s post cited a study from a California nonprofit that tested direct mail appeals with and without scientific data on their impact. Donors who had given $100 or more were more likely to give when they received the impact data, but smaller donors were less likely to give again.

The paper was written by Dean Karlan, a Yale economist and founder of Innovations for Poverty Action, and Daniel Wood, an economist at Clemson University. Their evaluation of the test done by Freedom for Hunger led them to believe that larger donors ($100+) were inclined to give more money to fewer charities, so they care more about how the money is used. Those who give smaller amounts are more motivated by the “warm glow” of giving and are more responsive to emotional stories but not data.

Who am I to question two economists published in the smart-sounding Social Science Research Network? (A blogger, that’s who.) Their conclusions are speculative and based on one nonprofit and one tactic (direct mail) in one state. From that, they conclude that $100 is the cutoff point for people who are motivated by emotion and not data?

The Chronicle’s headline irks me more than the study itself. Read the study and decide for yourself. But in the meantime, please don’t stop reporting impact to your donors, large or small.

Facebook launches a newswire so it can help the media — while it competes with them

Have you used Paper? What do you think?

Using Social Media to Improve Service and Expand Reach in Health Care

It would be hard to make a case that hospitals are leading the way in innovative communications, but social media is becoming more important as 1) patients depend more on apps, websites, and review sites for health information and 2) the Affordable Care Act makes it more important than ever to add value and improve efficiency. Using social media is not just about having a Facebook page or a Twitter account — it’s about integrating online and offline strategies to improve health in real and measurable ways.

On Saturday I had the pleasure of leading a panel discussion on social media for the National Capital Health Executives at George Mason University. Other panelists were Ed Bennett of University of Maryland Medical Center, Shana Rieger of Inova Health System, and Joey Rahimi of Branding Brand. View slides from the presentation to see some of the latest uses of social media in the areas of health care marketing, reputation management, customer service, education, fundraising, and more. Ed has some great talking points for people who are trying to advocate for social media access in their organizations.

Nonprofits: Now Where Do We Go With Facebook?

fbLogoCh2In a new “Social Good” podcast, Allison Fine and guest Frank Barry, director of digital marketing at Blackbaud, take a look at Facebook a year after the company went public. Describing Facebook as “the social network so many people love to hate,” Allison asks: “Is Facebook more interested in us as a product than customers?” and “Is Facebook shifting more to shareholder interest than user interests?” My answer is yes. And yes. Listen to the podcast.

Several years ago, when I first heard that Facebook was going public, I expressed concern about what that would mean for nonprofits. So many charities were finding creative ways to leverage the free tool to engage and expand their supporters, but were also facing challenges because Facebook was making decisions that seemed less about meeting the needs of their users and more about developing revenue streams.

The truth is, Facebook will continue to make changes that are good for its bottom line. Many of those changes will also be good for nonprofits, but that will simply be a side effect. In 2010, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes launched Jumo — a social network created specifically to allow people to follow and support causes — which some described as “a Facebook for causes.” At the time, I wondered, “Why can’t Facebook be a Facebook for causes?” (Despite Hughes’ success in raising $3.5 million in grants, the vision and execution of Jumo was flawed from the start, and magazine publisher and digital platform GOOD bought Jumo in 2012 for $62,221.)

As algorithms change for news feeds, what works one day might not work the next. What used to be free may now require a fee. But nonprofits have more influence than they may think, Barry says in the podcast. “If we started using the platform in different ways instead of just consuming it in the way they serve it to us, it would set off signals on their end that the users are changing, and we need to adapt.”

Listen to the podcast for other tips about how to leverage Facebook as it continues to evolve.