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!

The Intersection of Development and Communications

“It’s not necessarily frequency. It’s getting in front of them with the right message that tells them your story, but in a way that resonates with them.” — Nick Ellinger, DonorVoice

Some organizations suffer from failure to see things as the donors themselves see it, notes Nick Ellinger. Nick, vice president of marketing strategy for DonorVoice, joins in to talk about how to create a connection between development and communications, and why communications in nonprofits is often one-sided. He explains how you can get real, substantive feedback from donors — and then how to actually use it. Where can you improve in your messaging so donors feel a personal connection? He shares some key advice, such as be careful what you ask as well as how you ask. He and Beth explore:

  • Why do people start to get involved with an organization? What makes them stop?
  • How to avoid “acronym-itis”
  • Why he believes “pyramid schemes are lies”
  • Why tailoring your communication is worth the effort
  • How to collect valuable data on your audience
  • What questions to ask to get substantive feedback from your audience



Email Nick:

Find him on Twitter at @NickEllinger or on LinkedIn

DonorVoice website

Mothers Against Drunk Driving

U.S. Golf Association

Catholic Relief Services

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Turning Advocates into Champions for Your Message

“They’re not just members. They’re not potentially donors for every nonprofit. They’re not just funders. They’re champions and those are the people that are going out and really singing your praises.” — Jill Knaggs, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association of Manitoba

Jill Knaggs knows the perception about manufacturing typically evokes a sort of dingy image. But she also knows the industry is anything but dingy. She joins this session to talk about a campaign she coordinated as communication and marketing manager for the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association of Manitoba to change perception and show people what the industry is — and how they already interact with it, from food (pizza pops!) to aerospace. She explains how the organization incorporated hijack marketing around Canada’s 150th anniversary celebration and employing external influencers to reach a new and potential audience who can become advocates for your cause. She and Beth explore:

  • What is hijack marketing? How can it be useful?
  • How to change people’s perception of something like manufacturing on a small scale
  • Why identifying an organizational need before building a strategy is crucial
  • What is the value of working with influencers?
  • How to inspire your members to become advocates for your cause
  • How to create specific social media and marketing toolkits for influencers (it’s not as much work as it sounds!)
  • Most importantly: What are pizza pops?


Email Jill:

Find Jill on LinkedIn

Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association of Manitoba website


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The Hidden Flaw That’s Killing Your Marketing

While we do a lot of work helping organizations define their brand, many others come to us with a professional look already in place. Thoughtful messaging that’s been carefully crafted. Impressive programming.

And another problem entirely: their marketing just doesn’t produce the results they want.

Could your conferences be better attended? Your services more widely utilized? Your donors more generous? Is your organization’s membership like a revolving door—people are in and out, but not as many stay as they should?

If you can relate to any of these challenges, you might have the same problem we see stealthily undermining so many organizations’ marketing efforts.

Before we tell you what it is, you have to promise us to keep an open mind. Because nearly every time we’ve helped a client or taught a workshop on this problem, everyone’s skeptical at the outset.

“We’ve already got a handle on this,” they tell us.

But as we actually lead people through the exercises that help them start solving the problem, they become believers. And it changes their entire perspective, paving the way for new insights and better results.

That’s just what happened over the summer when we presented a workshop for network affiliates of NeighborWorks America, an organization that helps build the capacity of independent nonprofits working in affordable housing and community development.

The topic of the day? Knowing your audience.

Like many before them, the workshop participants told me at the beginning of the session that they already knew their audience. But I’m not easily deterred. And based on past experience, I suspected they were wrong.

So to help them uncover their true, most profitable, most potential-laden audience, I guided them through an exercise in creating a detailed “persona” for their perfect person. The person they’ll think of when they write their messaging. The person they’ll think of when they choose their communication channels. The person they’ll think of when designing programs.

And that’s when my class discovered that all along they’ve been talking to “Millenials” when they should have been talking to 29-year-old Ashley. Millenials are a broad, generic group at best, a limiting stereotype at the worst. Ashley, on the other hand, is worried about paying student debt and a mortgage, values career networking opportunities, spends weekends hiking with her fiance and loves science fiction novels.

If this sounds crazy, let me tell you, the ideas that participants generate in a 15-minute marketing exercise after they create their perfect person always blow me away. And people leave excited by the new energy this changed perspective brings to the way they think about their communication strategy.

Because the thing is, once you know who your ideal audience member really is, you know exactly how to talk to her and what you need to offer— just like you know the best way to present something to your boss to win buy-in, to your teenager to entice cooperation or to your friend to convince her to check out that new movie you wanted to see.

Is your marketing falling flat—even though you feel like your doing everything right?

Maybe this same hidden flaw is plaguing your marketing strategy.

Maybe it’s time you discovered your Ashley.

From a workshop at your conference, an exercise for your team or through consulting, we can help you meet her (or him!). Give us a call at 267-468-7949 or email us at to talk about how it works.

Branding Gets You to the Starting Line

“That spirit of trying to replicate what others do is the antithesis of branding.” — Jen Martindale, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

As Jen Martindale will say, having a brand strategy in place just the starting line — not the finish line. She helped the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts undergo a strategic re-branding — which goes much deeper than a new logo. As Chief Marketing Officer, she guided the organization to understand the needs of their community and find their place in it.

On this session of the Driving Participation Podcast, she talks with Beth Brodovsky about the role both arts and culture play in enacting change. The importance of zeroing in on what makes your organization unique — and then delivering on it — was key to their success. Deeply understanding their audience allowed her to innovate in ways they had not explored before.

Hear how Jen led the organization through a re-imagining of their brand, their business model and their culture — and what’s happened since. Beth and Jen discuss:


  • Why you should never try to replicate what another organization does
  • How to create trust when you’re taking a big risk
  • How to navigate the waters of buy in to get enough support to move forward when making a big change
  • What is the real role of a brand?
  • How does a rebranding affect other departments and programming of an organization?
  • Why interdepartmental collaboration is so important


Yerba Buena Center for the Arts website, Facebook and Twitter

Find Jen on LinkedIn and Twitter


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Building Buy-In for the Value of Risk

“You can start effecting small changes along the way and then leadership will notice. If you are in a place where it’s just about the bottom line, well, you can start changing the culture and the culture will help shift the bottom line, too.” — Will Dennis, St. Joe’s Prep

Will Dennis wants people in leadership positions to come from a place of “yes.” With a background in theater and improvisation, Will, manager of the Prep Fund at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, knows the notion of “yes” and taking a risk on an idea is paramount — and often pays off. He believes in the value of conversation in determining what drives people’s participation with an organization and creating a real relationship. For those who want their organization to start taking more risks, he gives listeners who want start making a difference a two-part challenge and shares advice on how change starts from anywhere. He and Beth explore:

  • How companies can use the techniques of improv
  • Why failure doesn’t always mean what you think it means
  • How to create genuine relationships in a time when communication is done over email
  • How can you start to learn to think about risks?
  • Ways you can help create an environment where risk is supported and encouraged
  • Why calling someone by name can make a difference in a conversation


Email Will at or at

Follow Will on Twitter at @WilliamJDennis

St. Joe’s Prep website

Revisit Session 153 with Anika Rahman


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Working Wikipedia as a Content Outlet and SEO Strategy

“We just look for ways to share broadly and when you start talking about how are you going to share beyond Philadelphia, you have to do it digitally.” — Shelley Wilks Geehr, Chemical Heritage Foundation

This week, Beth is back with the team from Chemical Heritage Foundation. This time, she talks with Shelley Wilks Geehr, director of the Roy Eddleman Institute, about the roles of social media and digital content for the museum. Shelley explores the various media assets of the organization, from its quarterly print (yes, print!) magazine to a podcast to weekly Twitter takeovers. She also explains the role of Wikipedia in their organization and how it has helped attract attention to the museum. They talk about:

  • What is the role of a Wikipedian?
  • How to make Wikipedia an invaluable resource
  • The benefits of having social media-focused projects like Twitter takeovers and Wiki salons
  • How the museum decides what content they create
  • How CHF’s Wikipedia page has drawn more visitors to their website
  • Why was working with a Wikipedian more worthwhile than investing in an SEO consultant?


Chemical Heritage Foundation website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Email Shelley:

The Roy Eddleman Institute for Interpretation and Education

CHF’s Wikipedia page

The Lantern Theater

Conversations on Chemistry by Jane Marcet

The Fairy-Land of Science by Arabella Buckley


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Creating a Bigger Impact Through Collaboration

“We are surrounded by historic content and historic sites and so it makes perfect sense to me that we would seek out partners who are also working on issues of the historic preservation.” — Elisabeth Berry Drago, Chemical Heritage Foundation

When you start a new project — like a new exhibit at a museum — you might look at what other organizations are doing, and that can be a good thing. This session is all about collaboration — both internally and externally — as Elisabeth Berry Drago and Rebecca Ortenberg from the Chemical Heritage Foundation join in to talk about how the museum worked with other organizations as it developed its newest exhibit. They discuss how they worked to personalize the exhibit for museum-goers and how they looked to other organizations for help in creating that experience. They talk about the new Things Falls Apart exhibit and how they strive to create a personal connection with both visitors and the wider community. They explore:

  • How to ask other organizations for help or advice
  • Why an emotional connection is just as important as a personalized one
  • How the museum seeks to connect with a wide audience
  • Ways you can learn from other organizations or institutions
  • How to work with other departments within your organization on a project
  • Why it’s OK that one project won’t connect with everyone


Chemical Heritage Foundation website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Things Fall Apart exhibit and walking tour

Email Elisabeth:

Email Rebecca:

Eastern State Penitentiary

National Park Service

Drexel University’s Fox Historic Costume Collection

Detour guided walking tours


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Become a Champion

You want people to participate in your work. Donate, attend events, enroll, join — whatever it is you need to thrive.

Participation, however, is not just an external thing. Who you are on the inside reflects what happens on the outside. The most successful, thriving organizations have gotten where they are because they’ve rallied around a clear, impactful, shared vision.

NOT by chasing “buy-in.”

Because if you’re chasing buy-in, that means that the vision you’re promoting isn’t SHARED.

If you want to catapult your organization to the next level, the most important role you can play is to become a champion by helping your team create this vision.

And by “team” we mean leadership, staff, donors, students, volunteers … which brings us to fear. It feels risky to let your community have a say in who you are. It can be terrifying to tell your leadership they need to think differently. But it is only when there is cohesive excitement that you build a foundation for growth.

When this is working people report it as getting “buy-in,” but it really requires more than that. We call it “becoming a champion.” Buy-in sounds like someone was convinced that another person’s idea is worth doing. Champions are all-in supporters who inspire others.

When organization leaders invite participation into and among their team members to create a shared vision, their championship becomes a culture of championship.

And it’s so much easier to attract people who want to invest in a shared future.

Becoming a champion is just one of the shifts in thinking it takes to build a participation-centered brand and skyrocket success.


If you’re ready now to become your organization’s champion and advance a shared vision, we’re here to help!

In October we’ll be running a new session of our Build Your Brand Course. The program will include weekly Mastermind sessions to ask questions and get feedback on your work. To get a feel for what the experience is like, we are running a free Mastermind-style session, Skyrocket Branding Mastermind in September. This will help us get feedback and give you a taste of what you’ll get out of the course.



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