Archive for February, 2011

February 19, 2011

Cultivating Love for Nonprofit Fundraising

On February 14, 2011,  the average American adult spent $116.21 on Valentine’s Day merchandise, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2011 Valentine’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey. The total estimation predicted for holiday spending was $15.7 billion. I’m not trying to anger Cupid, but imagine if that money was donated to charity instead of spent on the indulgences of lovers around the country.

Fundraising is the core of nonprofit work. It could be argued that programming is the priority, but without funding, programs are dead in the water. So which comes first: visions that require funding or a donation to fund a visionary program? Sounds like the age-old contemplation about the chicken or the egg.  Both situations occur in the nonprofit world, so what really matters is that money comes into the organization at some point, any point, continuously at all points.

This chart from Giving USA displays a breakdown of where funding for nonprofits comes from. As you can see, most donations are from individuals. In an analysis of this breakdown by Cramer & Associates, bequests are defined as gifts from “nonliving individuals” and half of all foundations are individual or family-based. Therefore, combining these categories shows that 89.5% of contributions are from individuals. WOW. It’s true: Lots of little donations add up, and individual contribution slices make almost a whole $303.75 billion pie.

I interpret this data to mean that nonprofits should focus fundraising campaigns on the individual – with a personal, human approach. This means making emotional connections, pulling heartstrings, telling stories, relating potential donors to the situation, and helping them identify with the cause.

Many nonprofits capitalized on Valentine’s Day by asking donors to give love (in monetary form). Reframing the day as “Generosity Day,” inspired by Sasha Dichter’s Generosity Experiment, nonprofit organizations like Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy asked people to spend their money on “gifts that keep giving” instead of a bouquet of roses that die in one week.

Beth Kanter’s blog highlights individuals’ and organizations’ use of social media and creative twists on Valentine’s Day to romance their publics, raise awareness and appreciation, or encourage charitable giving. This technique was used in a nonprofit dear to  my heart, the American Cancer Society. I am involved in my university’s Relay For Life, and a fellow committee member posted this as her Facebook status yesterday with a link to ACS’s charitable contribution page:

“An estimated $18.6 Billion will be spent on this Valentine’s Day. Single? Donate what you would’ve spent on a date to The American Cancer Society.
A $5 Valentine card could provide an hour of toll-free access to the National Cancer Information Center. 1.800.227.2345
A $15 box of chocolates is equal to 50 test tubes needed by scientists….
A $100 bouquet of roses could provide a wig for a patient to boost morale.”

Not only are the statistics eye-opening, but the wording also caught my attention and made me feel connected to the cause. A comment also said, “Save the life of someone’s significant other!” I thought, “Yes, I’m single, so I should contribute to this cause and help save someone from cancer, instead of indulging in chocolate.”

Messages such as these inform the public, create awareness of an organization and its cause, establish a personal connection, and deliver both the call to action as well as how to act. A+ for message effectiveness (unlike the bra color or symbolic drink statuses plaguing Facebook with empty messages that I blogged about in my previous post).

Next time I think about buying myself a bouquet of flowers, maybe I’ll consider what societal good I could contribute my $10 to instead. What cause would you donate $10 to instead of buying yourself a few lattes?

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons by Shimelle Laine

February 15, 2011

Bras, Purses and Drinks: Statuses Without Substance are Miscommunicated Messages

Photo from

Facebook users utilize their status updates in numerous ways – to share their current state of being or location, announce news, ask questions or opinions, advertise, or display a meaningful song lyric or inspirational quote. Sometimes status content becomes a meme– a small piece of content that spreads voluntarily around the internet.

My friend recently posted “Tequila!” as her Facebook status on a Tuesday night. She is one of the last of my friends that I imagine would write a status update involving alcohol, especially on a school night. The only rational reason I considered she posted this word was that she was watching Pee-wee Herman dance to “Tequila.”

So I commented on her status, “WHAT? Tequila on a Tuesday?!” She immediately responded, “LOL – I’ll message you.”

In her message, she explained that this update is for breast cancer awareness. Women are supposed to post the alcohol that represents their relationship status (an explanatory list accompanied the message and can be found in a prTini post here). Tequila means single. I laughed –  not at my friend, just at the concept.

OK, this little “game” was obviously causing surprise and wonder. But what message was it sending about breast cancer? Not a very detailed or conclusive one. This meme follows after last year’s “What color is your bra?” and “I like it…” trends that had the same intention: to get women talking about breast cancer.

In some ways, these memes worked. According to a Washington Post blog, Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s Facebook fan count increased from 135 to 700 within two hours during the bra craze. The Facebook group “Bra Color as My Status” now has 2,650 people who “like” it. On the other hand, there is another group called “RED, GREEN, PINK, BLACK, B*TCH, I Don’t Care About Your Bra Color!” which has 3,395 fans. Although the creators of the latter group admit that at first they were unaware the movement was about breast cancer (and that they fully respect the cause) they still keep the page for laughs.

Without a concrete reason for the attention-grabbing phrases, a credible source (the original source of these memes is still unknown for certainty), and a call to action (besides “make men wonder what we’re up to and try to get on the news”), these memes fall on deaf ears. Effective message delivery for activism has to cause momentum and provide material for the respondents to run with it, as opposed to standing in a polka-dot bra with a martini in hand waiting for someone to ask what they are causing awareness for besides themselves. In the least, the message should contain a link to an activism website or a cancer foundation for more information and donation opportunities.

Whaling says, “PR partially involves inciting meaningful action by incorporating the right mix of tools and tactics to deliver the right message to the right audience.” If these memes were intended to send messages about breast cancer awareness and supporting survivors, they have gone awry. People are well-aware of breast cancer. Pink has become a symbol of the disease – a sign of honor and hope for those who fight it. Breast cancer is no longer taboo to say; in fact, more and more paraphernalia (if you will) play with the sexuality of it (“I love boobies” bracelets and “Real men make time for the girls” t-shirts). I don’t see anything wrong with these messages, including the bra color, unless they are disconnected from the cause, which the drink status seems to be. What does a symbolic alcohol for your relationship status have to do with breast cancer?

Sure, it’s fun, makes you smile, and hey – people are talking about it – but is it really affecting progress towards preventing breast cancer or supporting those who have it? Effective health communication should influence people’s thoughts or behavior in a positive way to cause change. Can this even be considered health communication? Or is it just a fun gimmick? I’d love to know what you think.

February 7, 2011

Communicating Nutrition: More Than Just a “leafy logo”

In a recent post in The Buzz Bin, Emily Valentine addressed the role of marketing in health communication. Valentine attended the Child Nutrition Industry Conference, sponsored by the School Nutrition Association, where she networked with professionals responsible for school food production and standards. Aside from the hot topics of debate about what food should be served in school cafeterias, conference attendees came to the consensus that nutrition education was paramount for improving the health of American children.

A panel of school nutrition directors said that branded food products play a role in nutrition education because they help students and parents recognize which products are smart choices. According to the panelists, “The average American might not take the time to read nutrition labels before making a food purchase, but a strong brand icon (like Kashi’s green emblem or Whole Foods’ leafy logo) can instantly communicate all the information consumers need (and want) to know.”


Lunch line options are colorful. What message does Goldfish brand send?

The role of branding in communicating healthy choices is valid; however, nutrition education cannot start there. Children and their caregivers have to understand what those symbols represent and that they are beneficial before they will choose them. This is where public relations comes into play: Education usually provides new information that influences the way learners think or behave (sounds like PR to me!). Health communication, as an avenue of public relations, involves informing a public about a health risk and suggests a recommended response to avert the risk.

The following are a list of concepts pertaining to health risk messages that I derived from Witte, Meyer and Martell’s book “Effective Health Risk Messages: A Step-by-Step Guide.” I give examples in italics of components from the extended parallel processing model  based on the child nutrition topic.

1. Problem recognition: The public may or may not be aware of a risk. It will not accept a health message unless it is aware there is a problem or need for change.

Poor health results from eating non-nutritious food.

2. Perceived susceptibility: The public believes it is at risk of the health threat.

My child is at risk of poor health because he or she eats non-nutritious food.

3. Perceived severity: The public believes the risk is significant.

Malnutrition could lead to diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

4. Fear: The emotional reaction comprised of psychological and physiological dimensions that may be caused when a potential threat is perceived. Fear instigates protection motivation or defensive motivation to avert risk.

I’m afraid that my child is at risk of these health issues, or

I do not want my child to be susceptible to these health risks.

5. Efficacy: The effectiveness, feasibility and ease of a recommended response to the threat.

  • Response efficacy – belief that the recommended response is effective in preventing the health risk.

Choosing to eat more nutritious food will decrease my child’s risk of poor health.

  • Self-efficacy – a person’s belief that he or she can perform the recommended response.

I can help my child make healthy food choices.

Students appraise their fruit and veggie options at a cafeteria salad bar.

Healthy-looking logos are like a cake topper for nutrition education; they are not effective message communicators without the layers of public relations efforts beneath – such as government action like Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign, nutrition lessons in the classroom, doctors informing parents about their children’s nutrition, and gardening experiences at home, school or in the community. Government protocol, school staff members, parents and other role models must work together to educate children about proper nutrition; once they know the importance of “5 A Day” then food marketing will signify and confirm healthy choices.


Fruits & Veggies More Matter new logo from Produce for Better Health Foundation, partner with CDC.