Posts Tagged ‘Nonprofits’


Rethinking Communication Tactics in Educational Organizations

By Deborah Mersino

Educational organizations, schools, businesses, and foundations have vast amounts of information to share. So how can they ensure this information doesn’t wind up being ignored? That’s the subject of today’s post. We’re circling back to our “5 Common Marcom Mistakes Made by Educational Organizations and Schools” and focusing on ways to overcome “One-way Communication” propensities.

It makes sense that so many educational institutions and organizations still fall prey to one-way communication strategies and tactics. After all, when you’ve got news to share, it’s natural to want to broadcast it.

However, in a day and age ripe with email burnout, fast-moving Twitter feeds, Netflix, junk mail, mobile screen dominance, Pandora, and enough channels and platforms to keep marketing departments swirling, it’s more critical than ever to understand market segmentation and strategies to support the building of brand evangelists.

Here are three ways to get out of the habit of one-way broadcasting:

  1. Communicate more humanely.
  2. Crowd-source.
  3. Go narrow.

Let’s unpack these.

Communicate more humanely

Schools, foundations, organizations, educational businesses, and nonprofits inherently understand communication. Too often, though, these organizations mimic the old “write it on the board” for the class to see and then stop (thinking it’s enough). We no longer educate our learners this way; yet, we’re still catching on to what communications looks like in world dominated by screens competing for attention.

Tone (showcasing some personality), content, and approach can mean the difference between delighting and dulling relations. You’ll succeed by communicating with campaigns, news, and content that showcases you not only care, but also understand each audience segment’s pain points, personality, and passions. People are simply too busy to pay attention otherwise, and ROI will suffer.


This is not a new concept, but it’s one that educational organizations and schools would be wise to adopt. Educators already know the power of crowd-sourcing. Check out what transpired last month with Connected Educators Month if you need convincing. They embrace it via their blogs, Google+ Hangouts, educational chats on Twitter, and more. Savvy crowd-sourcing is synonymous with engagement.

Whether you want to conduct research, cull resources that will benefit your audiences, and/or want to leverage partnerships, crowd-sourcing can provide you with insights and ideas, as you engage.

Go narrow

This one is likely more obvious, but it’s worth reinforcing. Often times, we still think casting the widest net will garner the best outcomes; however, messaging gets watered down with this approach. Whether you’re a University going after a specific demographic, a nonprofit hoping to gain more pre-K or higher education members or parents, or a Foundation looking to recover lapsed donors, you can’t reach these targets without going narrow and customizing.

I’d even go so far as to challenge you to segment former segments. Dice them down even further. Today’s technology will allow it, and you’ll see new opportunities arising.

Just remember that conducting research on emerging markets or stagnant ones is required. Thankfully, it’s now easier than ever to do this in the education field. With better insights and ongoing dialogue, you’ll be more likely to develop and share the right products and services, value propositions, calls to action, and messaging to connect versus shout.

And in the end, isn’t that what we all hope to achieve?


Reveling in Each Other’s Strengths

By Deborah Mersino

This post will be a slight departure from our series on marcom mistakes. Today, I’d like to share a bit of hope and reminders about what makes leaders and managers positively influential. Notice the “positively” as it’s a clear demarcation from what scores of employees are experiencing from their supervisors, as they try to impact education at nonprofits, foundations, schools, businesses, and universities.

No matter how well an organization nails its brand positioning, invests in design, grows its digital footprint through engagement and creative campaigns, funds strategies, revamps its membership model, and/or establishes cross-functional teams, the real magic of an organization is realized when employees are able to utilize their top strengths and talents the majority of the time.

Hundreds of books have been written on leadership, culture, and employee engagement. Whether you’re well aware of what makes Level-5 leaders so effective (“Good to Great“) or think yanking down cubicle walls, installing an espresso machine or raising salaries will lift spirits, I encourage you to simplify your thinking as you look to the year ahead.

Poignant Questions

  • Do you know your employees’ strengths?
  • Have you hired them with their strengths in mind?
  • Do they have the opportunity to use these strengths on a regular basis?

I’m not talking about experience or skills. I’m talking hard-wiring.

After hearing Marcus Buckingham speak more than a decade ago, I purchased, “Now Discover Your Strengths.” It was life changing. Moreover, it was energizing and illuminating to discover that Strategic, Ideation, Activator, Positivity, and Woo (Winning Others Over) were my top themes. Admittedly, discovering my DiSC profile mimicked Donald Trump’s profile (didn’t I have ANY blue?) and that I’m an ENTJ proved helpful. StrengthsFinder, though, allowed me to see “what made me me.

If you’re a leader or a manager at a nonprofit, school, university, foundation or business serving the education market, having knowledge about your own strengths and your employees’ strengths will have a greater impact on your 2014 P&L than your new financial software, spiffy new couches, or revamped 360s.

Why? Because although we can – and do – operate with some effectiveness outside of our strength areas, leaders and managers who aren’t hard-wired to be managing certain areas (even people) will likely cause their share of havoc on an organization and impede overall effectiveness.

True growth and influence comes when individuals are working in concert, utilizing their strengths, and demonstrating respect and trust for one another. Imagine that!

Take the first step today and check out StrengthsFinder and learn more about what Gallup is doing in the area of education. Your organization will thank you.


Five Common Marcom Mistakes of Educational Associations and Schools

By Deborah Mersino

I’ve had the good fortune to interface and work with scores of educational associations and both private and public schools through the years. These inspiring organizations have talented employees and serve their members and communities powerfully; however, many bump up against best practices in marketing communications. While not all are guilty, here are five common marcom mistakes I continue to see.

  1. Poor design sensibilities
  2. Lack of digital prowess
  3. One-way communication
  4. Lack of investment
  5. Poor coordination

Today, I’ll address the first misstep. Read along to discern if you’re guilty or not. {Note: If you’re not, congratulations! If you are, you’re not alone. I’m here to help.}

Poor Design Sensibilities

Admit it. You’ve all seen one…the logo that looks like your brother-in-law’s babysitter designed it while watching Pretty Little Liars and texting…The all-too-familiar logo with some stars and/or outstretched hands…The low-resolution version appearing on the school’s Facebook page…The intentional Comic Sans font on the website or newsletter, which was meant to be kid-like, but actually downplays the intelligence of parents and kids everywhere.

Whether you have mixed five different fonts in one newsletter or still put cartoon clip art in your presentations and advertising – or on your website, your audiences are not going to recognize your brand promise.

I understand nonprofits and schools must often rely on volunteers. I get it. I also know stellar design costs money. However, in today’s digital world, your digital presence is a visual extension of your brand. It impacts the perceptions of members, donors, parents, prospects, and influencers and deserves attention. Not investing can be quite costly in the long run. Whether you’re a $15 million nonprofit or a small school, perception is reality.

Give design its due. Your target audiences will thank you.


Not Evil: Why Branding Matters in Education

By Deborah Mersino

In my last post, we covered two common myths about branding in education. Today, I’d like to discuss the third:

  • Branding is for big corporations, not universities, schools, foundations nor educational nonprofits.

I understand why a good chunk of leaders think this. To some (not all), branding and marketing communications are big business practices having nothing to do with pedagogy and real-time pressures facing nonprofit execs, educators, university leaders, and policy makers (e.g., Common Core, infrastructure, tenure, funding challenges). Given the current rise and misuse of other business practices within our education systems today, it makes sense why leaders would be wary. Shoving business terms, principles, and constructs onto education feels like an evil intrusion. Take teacher evaluations on standardized tests; you get the picture.

Time to shift

I want to help you shift, though, and discover a new way of thinking about branding that’s authentic, strategic, and ultimately critical to bottom-line revenues, enrollment, student retention, member and donor relations, and target market engagement.

Whether you run a private school in California, a foundation benefiting special education in Maine, an association promoting STEM in the U.S., or are in charge of university communications for a engineering department at a large state school in Arizona, you have a brand – whether you realize it or not.

“A brand is perception in the minds of target audiences.”

If you don’t define your brand, your audiences will do it for you. With the rise of digital communications, this reality has never been more poignant.

Contrary to popular belief, branding is not about deception…putting a shiny bow or wrapper on something to make it more salable or appealing to target audiences. It’s about what makes your school, nonprofit, foundation, small business or university program tick.

What are the dangers of not embracing branding?

Branding is what separates you from your competition (another “dangerous” term to some in education circles) and helps define your vision and mission. All strategic planning for schools, foundations and educational nonprofits should align with brand positioning.

To be successful, it’s vital to focus on, define, and have your brand positioning guide all that you do. What happens when you don’t?

Common side effects and symptoms of brand confusion

  • Decreased revenue: attributable to lower enrollment, slow or plummeting product or service sales, stagnant or decreasing conference attendance or memberships, fewer donations, and higher staff turnover
  • Silos: caused by internal misalignment with an overarching vision and departments operating independently (some going rogue)
  • Board/leadership tensions: due to assumptions, but also often exacerbated by misunderstood governance models and rotating leadership
  • Time woes: dealing with squeaky wheels not aligned with greater purpose or positioning; continuation of outdated programs and services
  • Lukewarm mission impact: primarily caused by opportunity costs, missed ideation tied to brand positioning, and the continuing battle of competing priorities

Think branding still belongs in business only? Stay tuned for more on why branding matters in education. And thank you to everyone who showed such enthusiastic support for yesterday’s launch. What a privilege it is to serve you!