Linnie Carter & Associates LLC - Public Relations, Marketing, Fundraising, Executive Services

How to Not Get Stuck with a PR Firm that Sucks

With limited PR and marketing budgets, it important that colleges and universities use those funds responsibly and strategically. That means hiring high-performers, using effective strategies and tactics and hiring the right PR and marketing firm.

 

Here is an easy-to-follow process to help ensure you do not get stuck with a PR firm that sucks:

  1. Post a request for proposal (RFP) that clearly spells out the expectations of the firm. Post the RFP online and email the link to reputable firms throughout the country.
  2. Create a committee that will guide the RFP process. Include members of the PR and marketing team, student affairs team and finance team.
  3. Agree to a process. Develop a checklist that reflects the process, use it and modify it as often as needed.
  4. Develop a matrix to use when evaluating the RFPs. Make sure the matrix aligns with the expectations outlined in the RFP.
  5. Schedule on-site interviews with the top finalists. Use email so there is a paper trail.
  6. Develop questions to ask during the on-site interviews. Ask questions that will help determine if the firms would be a good fit. At least one question should be, “Do you have any questions for us?”
  7. Use a two-part format for the on-site interviews. Pose questions to the firm. Allow them to make a presentation, focusing on information that was not covered during the question-and-answer session.
  8. Debrief with the committee to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the finalists.
  9. Schedule follow-up telephone interviews to narrow the field to two firms. Again, maintaining a paper trail is key. Allow the firms to invite the necessary firm team members to participate in the interviews.
  10. Develop interview questions to address any concerns you have. Use this as an opportunity to drill down.
  11. Check references. Find out how effective the firms were and what goals they achieved for their clients.
  12. Schedule a telephone interview between the college president and finalists. Refrain from sharing your thoughts with the president in advance so that you will not bias him or her.
  13. Debrief with the committee to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the finalists and vote on the top finalist.
  14. Submit the name of the top finalist to the finance team. Make sure you can justify the reasons for this choice and put them in writing.
  15. Seek approval from the appropriate parties to negotiate a contract. In some cases, this may be your board of trustees.
  16. Sign the contract. Make sure the contract includes the expectations outlined in the RFP. Make sure the cost of the contract does not exceed your PR and marketing budget.
  17. Contact the new firm to congratulate them. Communicate early on the college employee who will be the firm’s primary point of contact. Establish a secondary point of contact as well.
  18. Schedule a full-day orientation session with the new firm. Make sure it occurs on site. Develop an agenda. Invite members of the PR and marketing staff and student affairs staff.
  19. Schedule a follow-up meeting between the firm, college president and college chief PR officer. Make sure expectations are candidly, openly and honestly discussed. Send a written recap after the meeting. Ask all meeting attendees to sign it.

 

This process is rigorous but well worth it. Although there are no guarantees that a PR and marketing firm will be excellent, this process will help root out those firms that are average at best.

 

 

About the Author

 

Linnie S. Carter, Ph.D., APR, is the president and CEO of Linnie Carter & Associates LLC and a community college vice president.

 

 

Posted in Business Communication, Public Relations Strategies and Techniques | Tagged , , , , |

Ethical Issues in Fundraising

Introduction

Fundraising for nonprofit organizations is challenging, but it is particularly tough when the economy sours. Professional fundraisers receive pressure from all types of stakeholders – their bosses, board members and, in some cases, donors and the benefactors of the philanthropy. There is pressure to meet fundraising goals and even exceed them. Facing these stressors, professional fundraisers increasingly encounter ethical dilemmas. They have to decide what is more important – their ethics or their job.

These stressors and ethical dilemmas are no different for community college fundraisers. One hundred and two (102) CRD (Council for Resource Development) members throughout the country participated in a research study that examined ethical dilemmas faced by community college fundraising professionals.

A colleague and I conducted the study after learning about an increasing number of ethical issues in the profession. We wanted to learn more about ethical issues in our profession and determine how to use the research to better educate our colleagues.

 

Here are a few real-life examples of ethical dilemmas in fundraising:

  • Tuition payment vs. charitable contribution: A donor contacted a university and asked if he could contribute a charitable contribution to pay the college tuition of a student he knows. He was told “no” and directed to the college’s business office to pay the student’s tuition. While donors may develop criteria used to select scholarship recipients, donors cannot select the beneficiaries of their philanthropy, and they certainly cannot use charitable organizations to “pass through” tuition payments.
  • Donor names employee as beneficiary: A fundraising professional became very close friends with a donor. The donor added the professional’s employer to her last will and testament. The donor later changed her will to include the individual rather than the employer. When the donor passed away, leaving a substantial amount of money to the professional, the professional was asked to give the money to his employer or resign. The professional refused and later resigned.
  • Romantic relationships with donors: A fundraising professional began an affair with a married donor. The donor, who was very wealthy, contributed a great deal of money to the professional’s employer. When the affair ended, so did the donor’s commitment to the nonprofit organization.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Some of these ethical dilemmas are “black and white.” However, some are “gray,” which means the correct action is not obvious. As fundraising becomes more important and prevalent, these types of ethical dilemmas may continue to occur.

 

Methodology

For this research study, we used the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Code of Ethical Principles and Standards as the framework for the methodology. Specifically, we took the ethical principles and standards and modified them as survey statements. We then provided the following instructions for the survey respondents: After reading each of the items listed below, please decide if the practice is ETHICAL or UNETHICAL. If you are unsure, then select that choice [UNSURE].

 

Survey Results

Following is a summary of the survey results, including the survey questions. The results reveal demographic information about the survey respondents and which activities they considered ethical and unethical.

 

Which of the following functions do you handle in your current position? Please select all that apply:

  • 81 percent of the respondents indicated that they handle development in their current position
  • 67 percent of the respondents indicated that they handle alumni fundraising in their current position
  • 67 percent of the respondents indicated that they handle an institution-affiliated foundation in their current position
  • 67 percent of the respondents indicated that they handle private fundraising in their current position

 

What is your institution’s unduplicated headcount?

  • 21 percent of the respondents work at community colleges that have 10,000 to 14,999 students
  • 20 percent of the respondents work at community colleges that have 2,000 to 4,999 students
  • 19 percent of the respondents work at community colleges that have 5,000 to 9,999 students
  • 12 percent of the respondents work at community colleges that have  15,000 to 19,999 students
  • 10 percent of the respondents work at community colleges that have 30,000 students or more

 

How many employees at your institution (including you) handle alumni fundraising, development, grant development, institution-affiliated foundation, private fundraising and/or public fundraising?

  • 44 percent of the respondents indicated that one to three employees at their institutions handle alumni fundraising, development, grant development, institution-affiliated foundation, private fundraising and/or public fundraising.
  • 31 percent of the respondents indicated that four to six employees at their institutions handle alumni fundraising, development, grant development, institution-affiliated foundation, private fundraising and/or public fundraising
  • 11 percent the respondents indicated that seven to nine employees at their institutions handle alumni fundraising, development, grant development, institution-affiliated foundation, private fundraising and/or public fundraising

 

After reading each of the items listed below, please decide if the practice is ETHICAL or UNETHICAL. If you are unsure, then select that choice [UNSURE].

Item Percentage of Respondents That Indicated This Item Was ETHICAL Percentage of Respondents That Indicated This Item Was UNETHICAL Percentage of Respondents That Indicated They Were UNSURE of This Item
  1. Making derogatory public comments about leadership or organizational activities
0 percent 95 percent 5 percent
  1. Maintaining your education in philanthropy and fundraising best practices to convey appropriate advice to constituents, the community, and the public
98 percent 0 2 percent
  1. Providing accurate and complete information to constituents regarding projects, programs, or other activities  they might support or endorse
100 percent 0 0
  1. Knowing and informing organizational leadership and/or organizational stakeholders of applicable ethical and legal fiduciary practices
100 percent 0 0
  1. Conveying false or exaggerated information
1 percent 99 percent 0
  1. Refusing to participate in activities contrary to your organization’s mission and goals
73 percent 7 percent 20 percent
  1. Developing internal contribution acceptance and stewardship policies that address the legal and fiduciary obligations of your organization
100 percent 0 0
  1. Being prepared to inform the appropriate organizational leadership of any illegal practices in which your organization may be participating
96 percent 1 percent 3 percent
  1. Neglecting to complete a transaction involving a contribution or pledge as promised
2 percent 96 percent 2 percent
  1. Ignoring unethical practices of others and not reporting them to organizational leadership or appropriate authorities
1 percent 97 percent 2 percent
  1. Holding an ownership interest in a vendor firm that provides products to your employer without reporting such interest to your organization’s leadership.
1 percent 98 percent 1 percent
  1. Ignoring known illegal practices of your organization
1 percent 98 percent 1 percent
  1. Refusing to hire a consulting firm to assist with fundraising activities after the firm approaches one of your employees with a job offer
14 percent 45 percent 41 percent
  1. Encouraging a donor or prospect to seek independent professional advice when including your organization in the individual’s estate or financial support plans
96 percent 2 percent 2 percent
  1. Agreeing – in writing – upon the amount of time per month that you can devote to private consulting
67 percent 5 percent 27 percent
  1. Failing to report to your employer that you are a beneficiary of a donor’s estate plan
1 percent 90 percent 9 percent
  1. Accepting an expensive gift from a financial supporter who you know from current or past employment
3 percent 82 percent 15 percent
  1. Encouraging a donor or prospect to inform his or her family of the intent to include your organization in the individual’s estate or financial support plans
87 percent 1 percent 12 percent
  1. Refusing to solicit contributions from any individual who seems incapable of making an independent and informed decision
87 percent 3 percent 10 percent

 

According to the AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards, items 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 18 and 19 are ethical. Also, the AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards indicate that items 1, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 16 and 17 are unethical. A significant number of respondents were unsure about items 6, 13, 15, 17, 18 and 19. These results indicate that there is more that professional associations like CRD and AFP can do to educate its members and fundraising professionals about ethics in fundraising.

 

In what state, territory, or country is your community college located?

Respondents from 31 states responded to the survey, with California, North Carolina, Texas and Washington having the largest percentages of respondents at 6.5 percent, 8.6 percent, 8.6 percent and 11.8 percent, respectively.

 

How many years have you worked in this profession?

  • 47 percent of the respondents have worked in this profession for one to 10 years
  • 34 percent of the respondents have worked in this profession for 11 to 20 years
  • 20 percent of the respondents have worked in this profession for more than 20 years

 

How many years have you worked at this community college?

  • 67 percent of the respondents have worked at their community college for one to 10 years
  • 14 percent of the respondents have worked at their community college for 11 to 20 years
  • 14 percent of the respondents have worked at their community college for more than 20 years
  • 4 percent of the respondents have worked at their community college for less than a year

 

What is the highest level of education that you have completed?

  • 55 percent of the respondents indicated their highest level of education was a master’s degree
  • 30 percent of the respondents indicated their highest level of education was a bachelor’s degree
  • 11 percent of the respondents indicated their highest level of education was a doctorate

 

What is your gender?

  • 76 percent of the respondents indicated they are female
  • 24 percent of the respondents indicated they are male

 

How would you describe your racial heritage?

  • 92 percent of the respondents indicated they were White
  • 5 percent of the respondents indicated they were Asian American
  • 3 percent of the respondents indicated they were African American

 

What is your age?

  • 42 percent of the respondents are in their 50s
  • 29 percent of the respondents are in their 40s
  • 15 percent of the respondents are in their 30s
  • 12 percent of the respondents are in their 60s
  • 1 percent of the respondents are in their 70s

 

 

Recommendations

Based on the survey results, I recommend the following:

  • CRD should offer opportunities for colleagues to present ethics-related topics during the annual conferences.
  • If CRD offers roundtables during the annual conferences, ethics should be a topic.
  • Articles about ethics should be solicited and submitted for the “Dispatch” and CRD Resource Papers.
  • CRD should partner with fundraising professionals to offer webinars for those who are new to the profession and those who need a refresher on ethics.
  • Presidents and fundraising professionals should integrate ethics into their hiring process. Include an interview question related to ethics. An example is “Please describe an ethical dilemma that you faced in our profession and explain how you handled it.” Or give candidates a fictitious ethical dilemma to address to see how they might handle it.
  • Fundraising professionals should do an ethics-related exercise with their employees at least once a year. The approach should be fun, interactive, educational and non-threatening. It can be facilitated during a team or meeting. Consider selecting a facilitator who does not supervise others. This approach will help ensure that a more objective person is facilitating the meeting, which may help ensure the meeting attendees feel more comfortable speaking openly and candidly.

 

Conclusion

While the survey respondents’ responses indicate they are knowledgeable about ethical issues in fundraising, some uncertainly with some of the responses indicate that more work should be done. There is a high turnover rate among fundraising professionals, and more fundraising-related academic programs are cropping up throughout the United States. In addition, fundraising is more important now than ever before, and donors place a significant amount of trust in fundraising professionals. With all of these factors at play, fundraising professionals and their professional behavior have to be above reproach, and ethical standards must be maintained at all times.

 

Continuing the Discussion

Let’s continue this conversation via social media:

 

Here are a few questions to get us started:

  • How would you have handled the aforementioned real-life situations?
  • Did the survey results surprise you?  How?
  • Are you familiar with other ethical dilemmas related to fundraising?

 

I would love to hear your thoughts and learn about any fundraising-related ethical issues you have encountered.

 

Linnie S. Carter, Ph.D., APR, is the president and CEO of Linnie Carter & Associates LLC and a community college vice president.

 

Posted in Fundraising | Tagged , , , , , |

10 Aspects That Made Our 50th Anniversary Gala Unique

Last year, the community college I am fortunate to serve celebrated its 50th anniversary. The year-long celebration was truly collaborative and included all of our stakeholders, including students, employees, alumni, board members, donors and the media.

 

Like most anniversary celebrations, we held memorable events and raised money in support of scholarships. However, the three events that created the most memories were a bike ride by the college’s incomparable president, a golf tournament and a gala. All three of these events garnered a significant amount of attention and media coverage and raised a lot of money. In fact, combined, these events raised more than a half million dollars.

 

I have attended many special events in my career, so I did not expect the gala to be a goose-bumps event. Boy, was I wrong….

 

There were 10 aspects that made the gala so unique and special:

  1. It was planned by a collegewide committee of employees and volunteers.
  2. The event attracted 24 sponsors.
  3. Some sponsors purchased tables for students to attend the event.
  4. The table centerpieces were created by the college’s horticulture program.
  5. The dessert was made by the college’s culinary arts students.
  6. The guest speakers were two college alumni – a member of the first class 50 years ago who was eventually elected to the state legislature and a nursing student who went on to graduate from an Ivy League school of medicine to become an anesthesiologist.
  7. The dance floor was packed by sponsors, donors, board members and students. Music is truly a universal bond that we share.
  8. We had a photo booth. Who would have thought the ability to put on a costume and take pictures with the ones you love would bring out the “kid” in so many people?
  9. We had a symbolic red carpet that we used to take pictures of our guests. The number of people who took advantage of it rivaled those of televised national award shows.
  10. The event raised more than $100,000.

 

Our goals with the gala were to celebrate the rich history and blindingly bright future of the College, thank our supporters and party like it was 1999. We did that and more!

 

Are you celebrating an anniversary? Are you planning special events? If so, what unique concepts can you share with us?

 

 

Linnie S. Carter, Ph.D., APR, is the president and CEO of Linnie Carter & Associates LLC and a community college vice president.

 

 

 

Posted in Business Communication | Tagged , , , , , |

From student to alumni: Sustaining support after graduation

 

 

 

One of the challenges we face in the world of community college fundraising is developing philanthropic relationships with our students and sustaining those relationships as students transition to alumni. Although the most effective ways to achieve this goal will vary with your institution’s student demographics, culture of philanthropy and the size of your development team, here are the seven best practices I recommend based on my 20 years of professional experience.

 

  1. Recruit students to serve on your foundation board. Your foundation board members help raise funds for your college. Therefore, what better person to raise funds from your students than a student board member? I advocated for this position at a community college several years ago, and the decision paid off for us. At my current community college, we recently approved a student to serve on the college foundation board.
  2. Teach students how to cultivate fellow student as donors. Most of us could use more fundraising talent, and students are some of the best fundraisers. They are walking billboards for our community colleges, and we can use them to cultivate, solicit and steward donors from among their peers. Whether they’re work-study students, interns or even student board members of our foundations, we should invest in them like we invest in our employees, teaching them approach potential donors, inviting them to planning meetings and bringing them along on selected fundraising visits.
  3. Empower students to raise money from other students. Once we identify superstar student fundraisers, let’s empower them to be creative and courageous in raising funds from other students. Let’s recognize that they may not follow traditional fundraising guidelines, philosophies and “rules,” and that’s OK. As long as they adhere to the core values of the college, the college foundation and our profession, let them go for it! For example: At a previous community college, the student who served on the foundation board developed a fundraising campaign in conjunction with the college president to encourage students to contribute to the foundation in honor of their favorite college employee. We then informed the employees of the honor. The campaign gained collegewide attention, raised funds and allowed us to honor hardworking employees. To us, that spelled success.
  4. Allow students to determine their fundraising priorities. We recently conducted focus groups with students to determine their interest in philanthropy and fundraising. The results showed that students are willing to help us to raise money, and they are overwhelmingly interested in contributing to the community college foundation. Most intriguing was the fact they would like to have input into the types of projects their philanthropy supports — especially helping other students who face emergencies. Since our college already has emergency assistance funds for students, we will be working with the student member of our foundation board , once appointed, to raise even more money to support that initiative.
  5. Tell students about the impact of their philanthropy. When we involve students in our fundraising, we need to remind them of their impact. If they helped us to raise $50,000 for scholarships, let’s tell them that, and let’s use both traditional and social media to do so. If they contributed $75,000 to renovate a wing of the student center, let’s celebrate and showcase their gift at work. The wonderful feeling of helping others is contagious, and thousands of students can spread it more quickly than a team of employees.
  6. Engage student fundraisers and donors as alumni when they graduate. We need to discuss the importance of our students paying it forward and giving back to their community college, both during their tenure with us and especially after they graduate. For example, during each graduation ceremony, my college president asks any graduating student who has ever received a scholarship from the college foundation to stand up. What a beautiful sight! Eventually, we want to add another question to the president’s graduation script: “How many of our graduating students have contributed to our community college foundation?” And we should be communicating with our alumni, especially new ones, via email, e-newsletters and fundraising solicitations. For example, my team and I send monthly e-newsletters to alumni for whom we have email addresses, we involve them in college activities and events and we solicit them at least once a year. Of the four community colleges where I’ve served, my current alumni are the most generous and engaged.
  7. Modify student-centered best practices and use them with alumni. Finally, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Take the student-centered approaches you have used and modify them with your alumni. If they don’t work, fine. At least you tried. But you have to try. At our college, we have an active Alumni Council of 10 to 12 alumni who lead our strategic planning, fundraising campaigns and alumni engagement initiatives. Currently, we are celebrating our 50th anniversary at the college, and the Alumni Council intends to take the lead in raising the funds to commemorate the milestone.

 

I believe that adding a student to our community college foundation board will be a game changer. In fact, I predict that the student will be a superstar who will help us to raise thousands of dollars from other students. I predict the movement will go viral and grow each year. I also predict the superstar will fall in love with our profession. And after he or she earns an associate degree and later a bachelor’s degree, my team and I will be waiting with open arms to welcome this superstar back into the fundraising fold.

 

I would love to hear your thoughts and learn about your best practices.

 

 

Linnie S. Carter, Ph.D., APR, is the president and CEO of Linnie Carter & Associates LLC and a community college vice president.

Posted in Fundraising | Tagged , , , , , , , |

Effectively Using a Treasure Hunt to Achieve PR, Marketing and Enrollment Goals

This past summer, a philanthropic movement took the world by storm when anonymous donors started leaving cash for others to find. I wondered what motivated these anonymous people to change strangers’ lives with these random acts of kindness.

 

An idea then occurred to me. Why can’t a community college do the same thing? We could partner with the community college foundation and hide scholarship vouchers in random locations throughout the college’s 10-county service area and change lives in ways we could never imagine. I called a member of the college’s integrated marketing communications team, and we set our plan in motion.

 

The initiative – called a Treasure Hunt for Tuition Giveaways – took the community by storm. The timing was excellent, because the college is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

 

Our goals were to:

  • Award 10 $1,000 scholarships in 10 days to individuals living in the college’s 10-county service region
  • Increase awareness of the college
  • Drive individuals to enroll at the college
  • Increase number of followers on the college’s Twitter account
  • Increase number of “likes” on the college’s Facebook account
  • Increase media coverage of the college

 

Our primary target audiences were (1) prospective students ready to start classes at the college  between Aug. 1, 2014-June 30, 2015  who were at least 18 years old and who lived in the college’s 10-county service region, (2) parents of prospective students, (3) current students and (4) local, regional and national media. We used a variety of communications tactics to spread the word, including our website, social media sites, news release and College newsletters.

 

Each week day for two weeks, we placed the scholarship vouchers (along with a prospect card,  fact sheet, viewbook and the treasure hunt rules) at a secret location by 6:30 a.m.  We announced a clue around 8 a.m. each day on the Facebook page and Twitter account only and via video or text. We announced additional clues if no one found the scholarship voucher after the first clue. We announced the winner each day on the Facebook page and Twitter account only.

 

The Treasure Hunt for Tuition Giveaways was wildly successful:

  • We awarded 10 $1,000 scholarships in 10 days to individuals living in the college’s 10-county service region.
  • We increased awareness of the college and inspired individuals to enroll at the college. Before this initiative, our enrollment decline was double digits. A month later, it was only three percent.
  • We increased the number of followers on the college’s Twitter account and increased the number of “likes” on the college’s Facebook account. Specifically, over a 19-day period, we increased the number of Facebook likes by 776 and increased the number of Twitter followers by 212.
  • We increased media coverage of the college. In only a few weeks, we received coverage in 12 newspapers, on four TV stations, on two media outlets’ websites and on two media outlets’ social media sites.

 

What types of short-term initiatives have you done that resulted in PR, marketing and/or enrollment success for your college?

 

 

Linnie S. Carter, Ph.D., APR, is the president and CEO of Linnie Carter & Associates LLC and a community college vice president.

Posted in Public Relations Strategies and Techniques | Tagged , , , , , , |