Your 10 Favorite Posts of 2014

JG_Holiday_Crd_300_dpiMy memories of nonprofit headlines for 2014 can fit neatly into a bucket. An ice bucket. Over $100 million raised online in the relative blink of an eye. And now every nonprofit is trying to develop its own challenge. It’s crazy to think about the opportunities to fundraise when creativity is applied.

On the flip side, Greenpeace saw a senior staff member make a $5 million mistake while a board messaged away from its own responsibilities. And then a recent federal study shows Americans’ engagement with the public sector is waning and in fact, 2 million fewer people volunteered in 2013 from 2012.

What does all this tell us? I know what it tells me. Nonprofit organizations need more support and skill in building sustainable organizations that engage people in meaningful and creative ways. Business as usual is not an option as we look ahead to 2015.

It is support and skill that I have attempted to offer you this year and so, in that spirit, I follow in the footsteps of other kindred spirits like Buzzfeed who post year-end “listicles” like The Top 20 Common Names for Badly Behaved Children.

I present to you your top ten favorite Joan Garry posts of 2014.

With his retirement this year, it only seems fitting to do this David Letterman style.

Drumroll please….

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How is a Staff Meeting Like Thanksgiving Dinner?

staff meeting

In honor of Thanksgiving, today I want to ask you a question.

How is a staff meeting like Thanksgiving dinner?

I’ll start you off.

  • There will be crying.
  • Someone will be looking at her phone the entire time.
  • Someone will arrive really late.

Your turn! Get creative!

Have some fun and enter your own ideas to the list in the comments section below.

Happy Thanksgiving!

How to Get Great Press Coverage For Your Nonprofit

Get Press Coverage for Your NonprofitRaise your hand if you’ve ever heard any of these questions from a VIP in your nonprofit?

Quick question: why were WE not quoted in this story?”

“What a great profile on another Executive Director in our community. Can you make that happen for us?”

“If you expect me to fundraise, we really need to get press coverage just like this.”

Ugh. Right?

I always wanted to respond in one of three ways.

The snarky approach:

“OK. You choose. Should I focus on hitting payroll or writing a press release?”

The kvetchy approach:

“Do you think, just maybe, this other organization has a Director of Communications? The only director WE can (barely) afford is ME, the Executive Director.”

The old-school approach:

“We send press release all the time and get radio silence.”

But the truth is, at the heart of these responses is one theme. You have no time or money to focus on this. That’s just how it is in the nonprofit world (sometimes.)

But it’s a BIG thing for your nonprofit to get press coverage. Your board is right. It gets your organization visibility. Visibility drives credibility, leading to more visibility. That leads to power and to money and to impact.

Here’s what you need to know about the press and five steps you can take to significantly increase the likelihood that your organization will get the press coverage it needs and deserves.Continue Reading

The Big Mistake That’s Hurting Your Nonprofit (and How to Fix It)

nonprofit elevator pitchThere’s a simple question you get asked all the time. It comes up nearly every time you meet somebody new. At cocktail parties. Restaurants. Fundraisers. Everywhere.

If you handle it the right way, it can be enormously valuable to you and your nonprofit. More volunteers. More donations. More engagement, awareness, and interest. You know… all those things you desire and worry about and pay money for. Money that could be going to your programs instead.

But you’re blowing it.

And you’re not alone. If what I see at the many board and staff retreats I run is true, it turns out most nonprofit people are messing this up.

So what exactly am I talking about? And if this is so valuable, how can I fix it?

Don’t worry. It’s easy to fix. Read on to find out how.Continue Reading

How to Get Nonprofit Press on the Cheap

No communications director. No budget for billboard ads. And yet....

No communications director. No budget for billboard ads. And yet….

Your board member: “I can’t fundraise without more press!”

Your development director: “Yes! And look at all the press Nonprofit Q is getting!”

Your finance director: “Well, I’m sorry, but there’s no money for a communications director.”

Your executive director: “Why can’t our board members be better at fundraising? If only they were, we could afford a communications director!”

The Press: [Crickets…]

Whether it’s a school, a social service organization, an advocacy organization or a research group fighting to cure an illness, a lack of nonprofit press is one of the most common problems I encounter. Lots of finger pointing but no visibility.

And by the way, while nonprofit press is critical, every member of the cast of characters above has a very valid point. The problem is they are too busy complaining to see a most excellent solution. Between racquetball games, a client of mine told me how she handled this exact issue. I just want to share for the Apple fans, you can sit in front of your Macbooks and gamble online.

It’s brilliant. Allow me to share it with you…

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The Time I Was Attacked At A Board Meeting

managing a crisis

I needed one of these after a controversy surrounding these.

10 Steps to Managing a Crisis

This is a story about what I did to provoke a presenter to literally attack me at a board meeting. And yes, I mean physically.

It’s also a story about making a tough and controversial decision – one that caused a crisis for my organization.

But most importantly, it’s a story with important lessons about the right way to handle crisis situations at an organization. Lessons we all need from time to time.

In 1998, the Coors Brewing Company became a sponsor of GLAAD (where I was the Executive Director.) We became the first gay rights organization to accept sponsorship dollars from a company “tainted” by board members’ affiliations with the right wing Heritage Foundation.

This move ended a long-standing boycott by a small group of men now so old they were no longer doing a lot of standing. But they had been men with a mission for years and had mobilized an entire community to turn Coors into a polluted brand for gay and lesbian consumers.

It was my decision and boy did it hit the fan. Not so much with the anti-gay opposition, but with members of my own tribe.Continue Reading

Podcast 1: Howard Bragman on Nonprofit Messaging

From Cameron Diaz to The Lewinsky Family to AIDS Project Los Angeles,  Howard Bragman, preeminent Hollywood PR man.

From Cameron Diaz to The Lewinsky Family to AIDS Project Los Angeles. Howard Bragman is the go-to Hollywood PR man.  Joining me for an in-depth podcast.

Did you know that public relations is the second oldest profession?  So says Howard Bragman, one of the most successful Hollywood publicists and currently Vice Chairman of

Howard was extremely generous with his time, allowing me to interview him for about 30 minutes and share the audio with you. My first podcast. It was totally worth it.

Among the topics we discussed:

  • How messages can evolve. Nonprofits often do messaging poorly — neither strategic nor sticky.
  • The Red Cross. What they’re doing really well.
  • Celebrities. Whoopi Goldberg received over 20 requests a DAY to attend events. Why should she come to yours?
  • The perfect fundraiser. If you start with a VIP reception, you drag attendees through 5 or 6 painful hours of a special event. Howard offers a better way.
  • Mission fatigue.

You should listen to what Howard has to say. An in-depth discussion with one of America’s biggest messaging gurus.

No charge. No brainer.

Have a listen:

Note: The podcast is currently unavailable. 

For the full transcript, click here.Continue Reading

My Teacher, Jerry Falwell (yes, THAT one!)

Some of my most effective media training came courtesy of Jerry Falwell

For those of you who know me well, you will appreciate the irony. During my tenure as the executive director of GLAAD, I often found myself debating Jerry Falwell on national television. Your friendly neighborhood gay rights activist vs. one of the most powerful evangelical fundamentalist Baptist ministers in America.

Believe it or not, we did have something in common, Mr Falwell and me: we were both deeply concerned about gay rights.  In our own ways.

Here’s one of his most famous quotes.

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way… I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.'” –on the 9/11 attacks

How could he possibly have taught me a blessed thing (pun intended)?

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Young People Are Very Smart

In teaching college students, I get as much as I give.

For the past four years, I have taught at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, introducing seniors to the world of nonprofit media.

This semester, teams of my students were linked to Philadelphia nonprofits, playing a role that was something north of intern and south of consultant.  The students worked closely with the communications staff of each organization to help untie different strategic communications knots.

I know I was supposed to teach them, but honestly, I got as much as I gave.

The first thing I learned is this: Nonprofits need these kids!  They are hungry, passionate, smart, and digitally savvy. It would be a shame for them to end up in banking. But I’ll get back to that shortly.

First, let me share the most important lessons I learned this year from my students.

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Our Mission

If you have an interest in effective nonprofit leadership, I’m sure glad you’re here. I have a lot I want to share.

Nonprofit organizations are messy. It’s inherent in the formula: A + B + C + intense passion = messy!

A) A poorly paid and overworked group (staff) who…

B) Relies on the efforts of people who get paid nothing (volunteers) and is overseen by…

C) Another group of volunteers who get paid nothing and who are supposed to give and get lots of money (board).

All of this is in the service of something that every single one of them cares passionately about. Wow. Now that is a recipe for messy. And that organization you care so deeply about can get messier still if not led and managed well.

This is where I hope my blog can be of value.

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