Literally Crazypants

Back in 2006 while scrolling through the new multi-channel broadcast of the Olympics I landed on the shuffleboard-on-ice that turned out to be curling. My whole family became fascinated by this simple looking sport that completely confounded us.

Every 4 years I have gotten excited for Olympic curling while still having no idea what was going on. It’s mesmerizing. All the yelling in Nordic languages. The crazy sweeping. And The Pants.

The Norwegian curling team debuted wild pants in their national colors in 2010. Now, two Olympics later, The Pants have their own Facebook page with nearly half a million fans. For PyeongChang, the team packed a different pair for each day — and pants with hearts for Valentine’s Day play.

What started out as a lark has become a signature. From a fashion show to video of the players putting their pants on with no hands, media is nuts for the Pants.

Here’s the thing: The Pants are not their brand. Just like your logo isn’t your brand. But who they are led them to express themselves in a way that shows the world what they are about. They are a TEAM. Everyone wears the Pants. I heard another Skip (captain) interviewed who said he could never get his guys to do that. I think that says something about their unity.

And how they choose to do it shows their personality. Not that they are different but how they are different. It leaps over language and game rules. Just like how the New Zealand Rugby Team the All Blacks, pre-game ritual Haka, has helped attract a global fan base.

I mean, do you know anything about any other curling team? But I bet 4 years from now, you’ll be saying “The Pants are back”. And who knows – you might even start Googling to learn the rules and see where curling is played in your town.

Brand isn’t a static thing. It’s a process that builds over time.

How Extreme Audience Focus Led to Explosive Event Growth

“Everything has to be audience-first, and our first audience is the business owner so … how can we make even a free community event more friendly for our primary audience, the business owners, while entertaining the guests? It’s tough, but there’s always steps you can take, even if they’re small ones.” — Chris Blockus, Downtown Somerville Alliance

How can knowing who is coming to your events change how you hold events in the future? Chris Blockus learned firsthand — by applying lessons from our Master Class on Audience Focus — how knowing your audience can transform the events you want them to attend. He was able to take data from his town’s first Girls’ Night Out event and use it to make the second one even better — from finding the right attendees, getting vendors and businesses on board and developing an exciting theme for the night. The result? Participation jumped by 50 percent. Here, he and Beth explore:

  • How to use Excel to properly name sort and why that’s helpful
  • Getting people beyond the “grab your friend and drag them over” stage of participation
  • How personalized emails and phone calls can be beneficial
  • Focusing your audience for a big event
  • Catering an event to a primary audience — like business owners — as well as potential guests
  • Techniques to determine the demographics of your ideal event attendees


Find Chris on Twitter at @ChrisBlockus and LinkedIn

Downtown Somerville Alliance

Tapestry Segmentation by Esri

Chris’ wife’s blog


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Leveraging Connectivity

“The ability to leverage your connections and your contacts on LinkedIn is probably the single most important thing and again, this applies to any type of working environment, whether it’s nonprofit or for profit.” — Michael Kirby, Within3

Are you using LinkedIn to its fullest? Michael Kirby, vice president of business partnerships at Within3, joins in to talk about how to use LinkedIn to its full potential. From advice about targeting potential connections and leveraging your contacts, Michael shares his favorite approaches to communicating on the social platform and the messaging that works. He talks about the commonalities between the nonprofit and for profit worlds, such as the importance of business development. He and Beth explore

  • The steps to take when making a LinkedIn connection
  • How to use LinkedIn for research
  • Is it best to send an email or an InMail?
  • Why you should be active on LinkedIn
  • How participation differs in the for profit world
  • How do people respond differently to an invitation to connect and to an InMail message?



Find Michael on LinkedIn

Email Michael:

LinkedIn Sales Navigator


Revisit Lynne Wester’s Session: Stop Combining Asking and Thanking


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Peer to Peer is More than Technology

“It’s just a nonprofit’s version of the Mary Kay lady and/or Tupperware. … It’s just somebody doing multi-level marketing for you, doing fundraising for you and dealing with their network of people and engaging and asking them to participate with your organization financially.” — Dorene Ocamb, MADD

The concept of peer-to-peer is nothing new, but it has certainly changed over the years with the advent of technology. Dorene Ocamb, senior director of integrated marketing at MADD, joins this session to explore what peer-to-peer really is (it’s simpler than you think) and how technology has offered new ways for constituents to engage with your organization and spread your mission. She describes what she sees as a “renaissance of participation” and how new generations are engaging with organizations in new ways, citing groups like “parennials” and millennials. She and Beth explore:

  • What really is a peer-to-peer campaign?
  • The seven goals of MADD’s strategic plan
  • The unexpected benefits of being a smaller organization
  • Is segmenting messages worth the headache?
  • How technology enables peer-to-peer
  • Why there is a “resurgence of civic engagement” and how that helps nonprofits
  • What are the emotional levers that make people participate?


MADD website

Email Dorene at

Find Dorene on LinkedIn and Twitter

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown on Amazon


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Resolving to rebrand? Why a new logo shouldn’t be your goal.

And just like that, it’s January again. A time of new goals, crisp calendars (for those who still do paper) and optimism for the new year ahead.

But just about now, there’s a common imposter “goal” that finds it’s way onto many organizations’ annual communications plans. This year we want to remove its mask and reveal it for its true nature.

We’re talking about “The Rebrand.”

Far too many organizations — large and small — confuse their visual look and logo with their actual brand. And it’s common to reach for a visual rebranding as a panacea for lackluster marketing performance and community engagement.

Yes, it’s true that maintaining a current and attractive look is important. And if you’re sporting creative that is older than your interns, it’s definitely time to refresh.

But in reality, your brand is far more than just your logo. And it’s not a goal in and of itself, either.

Your brand is the bridge between your mission and your vision. It’s a tool for engaging your community in order to reach your goals.

And for the tool to properly do its job, a rebranding effort should neither start, nor end, with your logo. It requires clear vision and a comprehensive approach, with each step advising the next, including:

  • Understanding your audience
  • Developing a message that marries your mission and your audience’s needs
  • Designing a recognizable image to reinforce that message
  • Creating an experience that drives engagement

Audience. Message. Image. Experience. Try to make “image” do all the work on its own, and you’re destined for disappointment.

Too often we hear about organizations who dropped thousands of dollars on updating their letterhead, their website and their print collateral with their new “brand,” without taking the time to really define their vision, their voice and the audience they’re trying to reach. Sadly, their efforts have typically failed.

So this year, don’t just put a new look on your list of goals. Instead, revisit your organization’s vision. And make a true rebranding a key objective that helps you achieve it.


For an expert approach to research-driven rebranding—an approach that impacts your organization’s very culture and drives member participation—give us a call at 267-468-7949 or drop us a line at!

What you Should Invest in for 2018

GUEST POST from Claire Axelrad

We’re well into the second decade of the 21st century, yet many nonprofits still operate like it’s 1999. There’s a pervasive anti-technology bias that’s causing well-meaning organizations to shoot themselves in the foot.

Why? The reasons I’ve heard from nonprofits include:

  1. Technology is expensive.
  2. Our current staff don’t have technological expertise.
  3. We don’t have the resources to hire technologically-savvy staff.
  4. We’ve done quite well in the past without all this technology.
  5. We don’t want to chase shiny new objects.
  6. This is a fad. Tried-and-true techniques will win in the end.

While there may be a nugget of truth in all these excuses, they’re still just that.

Excuses. Excuses. Excuses.

You can either jump onto the technological rocket ship that’s taking everyone else into the future, or you can get left behind. You can embrace, or reject.

For 2018 Claire suggests beginning with a thorough analysis of what you really need, and what those things might cost you.

  • Begin with a user-friendly website. 82% of donors visit your website before they make a gift to you. Keep it up-dated, use visuals and stories, and have clear calls to action.
  • Facilitate online giving. It continues to grow at 7%/year, while overall giving remains flat, growing just 1 – 3%/year.
  • Find out what social media channels your constituents use, and prioritize those. Track engagement via your current channels, and consider eliminating those that are moribund. Even though your board member thought Snapchat or text-to-give would work like gangbusters for you, maybe that’s not the case.
  • Short videos, short online articles and short emails keep donors most engaged, informed and inspired to give.  Are you using these tools?

Based on the current zeitgeist, not investing in technology has a real cost!

Figure out what you need. Is it staff? Skills? Budget? Tools? What do you do every day, and what requires only periodic support? What are the areas of expertise of your current staff responsible for daily digital operations, and what skills do they lack? Make a list of “must have” vs. “would be nice.” Then determine whether you can train current staff in some of the missing areas, or whether there are some essential skills you’re missing.

Since often tech folks specialize in a particular area, small nonprofits might consider outsourcing some of these functions to a professional team that can assist you with skills you lack on staff. There are companies specializing in IT support, website management, online fundraising, digital marketing and other functions. Develop a budget so you can use your resources wisely.

Key things I recommend investing in (and you can get some of these for free):

  1. Cloud hosting to free you from the cost of on-site server maintenance.
  2. Web hosting to improve your professional appearance and give you room to grow.
  3. A CRM to help you build and maintain strong donor relationships.
  4. Email automation software to help you segment your lists, run segmented and automated campaigns and optimize delivery times.
  5. Social media content marketing tools that increase your efficiency and maximize use of limited resources (e.g., BufferHootsuite).
  6. List building tools so you collect contact information from website visitors (e.g., Hello BarSumo).
  7. Graphic design tools to improve branding, grab greater attention and increase engagement (e.g., CanvaPicMonkeyPablo).

What Tools and Tactics Are You Letting Go?

“Give yourself permission to let go of what isn’t meeting your goals, serving your audience or working for your team.”

Happy New Year! As we head into 2018, Beth wanted to know: What tactics or strategies are you letting go of? She gathered responses from past Driving Participation guests. From foregoing massive website launches to leaving phonathons in the past to changing up social media habits — maybe even letting go of Facebook altogether — listen in to hear what some in the community are leaving behind in the new year. Some propositions:

  • Letting go of demographics as a marketing segmentation strategy
  • Giving up massive website launches
  • Shifting focus toward sustainability
  • Giving up #GivingTuesday
  • Deactivating Facebook accounts
  • And more!



Master Class Recording – Audience Development.

Master Class – Website Makeovers. Register Here (until 1.24.18)

Pew Research Center study on Americans’ social media habits

“How Facebook Can Amplify Low Self-Esteem/Narcissism/Anxiety” from Psychology Today

“The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel” from Harvard Business Review

“Online Social Networking and Mental Health” from Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking

Zeynep Tufekci’s TED talk

Arianna Rehak’s website

“What’s the Value of a Like” from Harvard Business Review

What you should invest in for 2018 – full post from Claire Axelrad

Email Beth at  


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What Starbucks has Learned about Participation

“I think there’s success that I saw of Starbucks and the success I have seen of Compassion is that they are both organizations that haven’t wavered from who they are and even though times change, products change, there are many dynamics around both the for profit and nonprofit entities that changed.” — Mike Lenda, Compassion International

Mike Lenda had been going to Starbucks for years as a customer before eventually starting to work as a barista and moving up until he became a marketing manager for the beloved coffee brand. Now, he works as director of mobilization at Compassion International, but there are plenty of lessons he learned from Starbucks that can carry into the nonprofit world. The passions around which Starbucks has built its brand — such as education, clean water, ethical sourcing — helped him transition easily into the nonprofit arena. He shares some practices Starbucks has used successfully that nonprofits can use as well. He and Beth explore:

  • How Starbucks strived to be a “third place” for people where they feel recognized and valued outside of their home and work
  • How Starbucks inverted the typical attitude of profit first
  • Why success is not an entitlement
  • The key role of community
  • Why nonprofits shouldn’t be afraid to collaborate
  • What are the different ways your audience can more deeply engage with your organization?


Email Mike:

Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeLenda


Compassion International

Revisit Session 126: The Difference Between Participation and Engagement with Adrian Segar


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Moving Out of the Culture of Poverty

“If we continue to feel as though we cannot deliver beyond a certain bandwidth, we can’t deliver a certain set of services or we can’t change the outcome of the community because the resources aren’t there, I think we start to limit our own imagination.” — Sarah Davis, University City District

From the outside, Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station is just a big train station. But for Sarah Davis, director of development for the city’s University City District, it represents a connection to lifelong employment and exit from poverty in some cases, or the home of outdoor space The Porch, where West Philadelphians can connect over lunch from the food truck on-site. She talks about how the 20-year-old organization revitalized an area of the city, initiatives its created to help those in need in the neighborhood, and the conversations the organization has held with their audience to find out what the University City District means to them. She and Beth explore:

  • Why you shouldn’t be afraid to look at the structure for-profit or another organization for guidance
  • How to create openness with your audience
  • Tackling scarcity of resources in the nonprofit sector and how it affects your organization’s mentality
  • How can your organization cultivate openness and a feeling of value internally?
  • Where is the separation between not having the money and the attitude around not having the money?
  • What questions should you ask to determine what your audience thinks of the work you do and why they connect with you?


University City District

West Philadelphia Skills Initiative

Session 156: Creating Emotional Traction with Cynthia Round

20 Years, 20 Stories


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Find Your Focus. Banish the “And.”

As the holidays approach, we’re entering the time of year that one of our clients, a school communications director, always found the most challenging.

I like to call it her season of “ANDs.”

As in: the holiday appeal AND the year-end email AND the distribution of the holiday performance recording via YouTube AND Facebook AND Twitter AND email AND the blog. AND did I mention, she was a communications staff of one?

Maybe you can relate, even if your staff is a little larger. Even if your season of ANDs is a little more year-round.

Maybe you’ve finally figured out how to juggle all the communication balls you have in the air when your board wants to know why your organization’s not on Pinterest and Instagram (because Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter aren’t enough).

Or your boss suddenly decides the target of your next appeal should be your usual Baby Boomer cat lovers AND Millennial dog lovers—to cover more ground.

The problem with the AND spiral is that it eats up valuable resources without an equivalent return on your investment.

It’s one of the roadblocks to skyrocketing participation that I always point to when I’m teaching our clients the five shifts in thinking needed to succeed like an eight-figure organization.

 The solution to the “ANDs”? Finding your focus to leverage your effort.

It doesn’t matter how much time your staff pours into an endeavor if your audience just doesn’t relate—or just isn’t there. Which means your first, most important step is knowing your audience. We’ve covered that topic a lot and you can read more about it on our blog.

Once you’ve clearly defined who you’re talking to, the mantra “FOCUS” is your best friend.

Focus means messaging that speaks directly to your perfect audience and no one else. Promoting only the initiatives that are likely to interest them. Sharing in the places they like to interact with you.

How do you hone this focus? Pair a communications audit with a short-term action plan.

This is an exercise we take our clients through when we’re conducting a rebrand. However, it can be an incredibly powerful endeavor as a stand-alone exercise as well.

Chances are that by this time of year you have a neglected document at the bottom of your drawer or buried on your server—gathering real or digital dust: your Communications Plan.

Now is the perfect time to pull it out, take a close look at what you are—or intended to be—doing. Take some time to evaluate what’s working, where you may have gotten sidetracked, and whether you’re even likely to find your audience in the places you’re looking. Review the materials you’ve produced and the campaigns you’ve conducted over the last year, noting whether it all comes back to one focused center and identifying the efforts that produced the greatest returns.

Armed with this new perspective, you’ll be able to start laying out your new, streamlined plan, without all the baggage that’s been weighing you down.

For even greater focus, try using our approach: write a short-term Action Plan that focuses on the next 3 things you can do that will have the greatest impact. This will help you to continuously reevaluate what you’re doing and where you’re going. Besides, with the speed that today’s world moves, what’s big now could already be old hat in six months.

If this task sounds daunting, you’re not alone! Many find it helpful to have an objective eye take look at their plans, because when you’re on the inside, it’s easy to get too close to the details—or too caught up in execution to have the time.

For an outside perspective on your communications plan, or to get help with where to cut and what to streamline, give us a call at 267-468-7949 or drop us a line at!

Iris Creative Group Inc. • 451 S. Bethlehem Pike, Suite 310 • Fort Washington, PA 19034 • P: 267.468.7949
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