3-6 Promotions, PR and Fund-Raising


Reaching out - with an eye on the return



What do you do, for what do you get…

The growth and success of any organization is based not only on its inherent appeal, i.e. a sympathetic cause, but on how well it sells itself. There are many organizations competing for audience, membership, donations, media exposure. This could be thought of as 'a marketplace', or perhaps the 'hard-edge' of your organization - those places where you contact the outside world. What is the 'image' your organization has? How is that created? A poor public image is easily created by a whiff of scandal or being judged intolerant or biased. The media loves to sensationalize, and extremism/extremists are good copy! In addition you may be 'attacked' by other organizations, perhaps longer standing with turf to defend, and who may feel threatened by what you stand for. Arguably men's self-help organizations will have to defend themselves against feminist rhetoric/judgement/attitudes that inherently seem to diminish men's issues in order to promote women's issues. This battle of the sexes is a battle that no men's self-help organization can win. From day one you may find yourself embroiled in a political scrum that you have no taste for, but must endure, in order to be in the 'marketplace'. If this happens to you, perhaps the best approach is to scrupulously emphasize your aims in balanced terms, without being 'reactionary'. Do not be surprised, that as a men's organization you may instantly be judged as anti-women, anti-feminism, and even repressive or hostile towards women. Are you? If not, how will you sell yourself/your ideas in this tough environment?

One place to start is to look at those hard edges where you touch the outside world. Your newsletter; your phone line; your promotional material - brochures etc. - media representations. Some organizations use their newsletter almost exclusively as PR, the emphasis on creating a certain public image, rather than on news items. I believe this is a poor approach for a starting self-help organization, which needs 'feel-good' news items, and meaty issues to draw interest and help build an 'identity' with your members. You will still need to keep an eye on content; do you print the more extreme or unbalanced articles/ideas of your members? Disclaimer? Or censor? Every issue will have a certain tone, or feel. A series of newsletters, over a longer period, establishes distinctively what type of organization you are. The same sort of overview is required for everything you put out - your brochures or flyers - your phone message - media representations. You must ask yourself, what image does this create in the public eye? Do we come across as tolerant and balanced, or intolerant and biased?

PR Officer?

Every so often there may be important events/news items that you feel are important to comment on; perhaps the media will contact you directly. It is very easy for individuals to go off 'half-cocked' at these times. You might want to consider your collective approach; do you want to debate the issue as a group and put out a news-release based on your collective thoughts, rather than one persons perspective? You may want to establish a PR officer, and choose a person who has a knack for this kind of thing/diplomacy - it is certainly not a skill everyone has! It then becomes their job to respond to media or help guide media relations. Even with the purest of intentions/motives, your organization will have to respond to others credulity, doubts and even fears, misrepresentation and slander. The best defence is a good offence… take the offence by promoting yourself in the clearest positive/balanced terms you can imagine… and attack only to point out the lack of balance, the inequality/unfairness, and the prejudice in the others argument, again coming back to aligning yourself with balance, tolerance and equality. Can you prove that you are balanced? How? Show it.

Getting your message out

After the newsletter, your advertising material will be the most distinctive statement of your organization. You could create brochures to promote your organization/membership/donations; you can create them to promote specific events, such as public meetings, speaker events and lectures, rallies etc. A basic informational brochure can be produced on a typewriter. Use of a computer, with a nice layout/graphics/photos (coloured paper?) has a much more professional look and will be more successful in drawing a response. Consider consistency in design/flair/being different so the public get to recognize your promotions. Local radio and TV and print media are always on the lookout for community events. They may publicise your event for free, they may even cover it as a news-worthy item, they may ask for an interview. (Do you have a media release available that details who you are, your aims?) Build a list of local organizations that take 'Public Service Announcements' (PSA's) and make sure to publicise your events with them; they may or may not take your listing depending on space etc. and timeliness - consider their deadlines. This may be set up on a fax-machine/computer to be handled automatically, to take the drudgery out of it. Also consider local libraries, community centres social agencies etc. Someone has to call/visit/drop off items - draw up list of places, assign each place to someone specific - it becomes their responsibility to make sure that location is 'stocked'.

Raising funds

Money coming in the door is inextricably linked to your public image. (A recent harassment scandal at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia [1997] led to the cancellation of a multi-million dollar fund-raising campaign). Your growth in membership is based directly on how well you get your message out, and of course, the relative appeal of your cause. But, a weak cause, well promoted will draw more support than a great cause that no one ever hears about…

A men's self-help organization will depend on personal donations of money (and time, naturally) by those that initially set it up. As you attract more and more members, their membership fees will help to cover the costs of newsletters/mailouts etc. Some individuals will make donations. You may want to consider a membership drive - mail-shot to a particular target group. Who are your potential clients? How/where can you reach them? What are the results of that approach? Is it cost-effective?

Is there a particular project you want to tackle? Do you need funds to do it? Draw up a plan/budget - and then go look for a sponsor. Government agencies may fund you, find out which ones are appropriate to approach. Local or national, even international philanthropic foundations may give you funds. (Is there a local United Way campaign you can join?) Research local etc. corporations e.g. banks, or unions to discover their 'giving' history. Funds are available from diverse sources; in each case your task is the same - research -find - approach - sell (meet requirements) - accept/thank - execute/monitor project - report back success of project to funder. Build a portfolio of organizations that have funded projects like yours in the past; approach those similar organizations that have received funding - ask/figure out their approach and difficulties, and their successes. Consider a 'blitz' - launching your organization/project to get as much exposure as possible with local and national media. Look for sympathetic companies to give you deals on advertising (bill-boards, magazines), even donations. Some may grant reciprocal benefits or subsidised rates for your members. Can you get a celebrity or politician to help launch you? Or perhaps another publicly recognized and respected person? Don't forget to build your infrastructure to cope with the response/enquiries you will get. Maybe you'll want to do this every year, as part of a promotions or membership and fund-raising drive.

There is a wealth of information, and even courses available on fund-raising - it comes down to determination and hard work to obtain funding for your essential project. Research, plan/schedule, execute, monitor/adjust, evaluate. Try to build fun into your projects, to help attract and keep your volunteers. Sometimes we are guilty of taking ourselves just a little too seriously, especially in the field of self-help.

Other considerations

Some organizations distance themselves from and even refuse government handouts. They do this so as to be able to promote their issues and actively and openly criticise government action/inaction without having to worry about losing their grant. They obviously must look for funds elsewhere. Some organizations are formed around the very availability of a government grant! They tailor their mission/identity around this singular source of their existence, and one or two people with initiative can create a working organization based on these circumstances. But government priorities can change - whole ministries are dissolved and recreated with different functions/goals/agendas. If you become dependent on one source of funds, what will you do if/when those funders recognize other priorities?

Perhaps the healthiest model is to create a solid foundation of membership that funds your basic/essential 'structure' - identify those items that without which you cease to function as an organization. Prioritise them. What is the minimal budget each component can survive on? (e.g. phone line, newsletter, brochures - other publications…) Can you adapt to changes? Slim down to essentials in tough times? This means changing your thinking. Survival requires adaptability in the changing marketplace. Sure the govt, has just cut funds for your two staffing positions - can you re-create yourself as a purely voluntary organization? Perhaps at a much reduced level of functioning, but still some of your work is being done, and maybe other funds are on their way… Time to go look for them, and encourage their arrival.

Lastly, people want to join or support a successful organization. Everyone wants to be part of success. No one wants their money going into a sink-hole, or an organization that is disintegrating. Try to avoid your outreach being based on 'negatives' - 'Because of govt, cutbacks…' - 'We're desperate to save…'. Instead focus on positives - 'We've grown from…' - 'We are putting into place/establishing…' - With your help… this (good stuff) could all happen'. Sure cutbacks and difficulties are true, seemingly unavoidable - but what is even more true, and more important, is your vision, and the good work you are doing. Promote the best of who you are, and you may dance right over those difficulties. Is the glass half-full, or half-empty? There will always be another something to trip you up - just keep on dancing!