nonprofit communication

"The Customer is King" ... and other things that get forgotten

A sobering thing happened to me the other day. The kind of thing that causes a marketer to break into a cold sweat.

I went to Sweet Tomatoes. If you haven’t been there, it’s a giant salad and soup bar ('nuff said). Food’s great. But in truth, it’s overpriced UNLESS you have a coupon. Then, it’s a great deal. But the food isn’t my story for the day.

As I approached the cash register, I spied this flyer, declaring they will no longer be accepting paper coupons.

Then I looked around the room. A good 80% of the tables were filled with patrons ages 75 and older.  I just watched them in line, all with paper coupons in hand!

I have to wonder to myself what impact such a bold move will have on their business. Sweet Tomatoes was smart enough to offer a direct mail option, but counting on customers to complete the form in store is a long shot at best. Most likely, patrons will just go elsewhere.

It's the bitter pill that so many businesses and organizations need to swallow.

You have to serve the reality of your people now — and also be looking ahead to tomorrow's people. It's not an either-or proposition. It's both-and.

Occasionally, I'll have a nonprofit ask me if it's time to abandon a direct mail campaign in favor of social media or a text-to-give promotion. The answer is no for now.

Our job is to be in all the channels in which our customers or constituents want to interact, even if that means paper coupons in the newspaper!

Merritt Engel, Monica Tiffany Assume Ownership of Merrigan & Co. (M&C)

Business partners now co-own the 25-year-old agency that specializes in messaging and strategy for nonprofits

After a gradual transition process that began in the fall of 2010, Merritt Engel and Monica Tiffany have assumed equal co-ownership of Merrigan & Co. (M&C). The duo have worked alongside each other at the company for the past ten years and look forward to leading the business started by Bob Merrigan in 1990.

"It's been a very natural process," said Tiffany. "Our clients and partners won't notice a huge change."

Merrigan will continue to work with clients and serve as President. He's excited to usher in a new era of leadership at M&C.

"This is our 25th year in business," he shared. "Merritt and Monica have been instrumental in helping the company grow to this point and their transition to co-ownership is a logical next step. I'm happy to celebrate this milestone and look forward to our continued growth."

M&C specializes in messaging and strategy for non-profit clients. The agency, housed in a recently rehabbed office on the corner of 55th and Troost, has clients ranging from national organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Unity Village to other local and regional clients.

Learn more about M&C at

Personalizing Your Nonprofit's Communications

Not long ago, Facebook unveiled a new feature with great pride—the "Year in Review."

The concept seemed brilliant on the surface. Facebook pulled highlights from your year and created a slideshow for you to share with friends. Problem was, the slideshow feature was completely automated, and it created the slideshow from WHATEVER you posted, happy or sad moments. For Eric Meyer, who lost his six-year-old daughter to brain cancer, Facebook automated a painful reminder of a trauma. Even worse, the automated slideshow ended with a default tagline: “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” 

Facebook is a dramatic example of an automation fail, but it serves as cautionary tale for the rest of us.

Let me start by saying that personalized communications are not the big bad wolf. Fact is, they work well. In fundraising, for example, testing has shown that increased personalization consistently yields stronger performance.

But many nonprofit organizations, in a rush to get to see the benefits of the personalization, make some pretty serious missteps. Personalizing your communications is meant to say to a constituent: "We know you. We care about our relationship." When the personalization goes awry, the exact opposite message is conveyed: "You are a number, and we use machines to communicate with you."

Here a few simple tips to make the most of your personalization efforts. 

1. Remember This Mantra: Garbage In, Garbage Out—The ability to execute personalization boils down to one key: the integrity of your data. If it is bad, then your communications will reflect it. Things to watch out for: incomplete fields, data in wrong fields, improper capitalization, incomplete donor history, wrong gender in record, etc. Err on the side of using data you can rely on 100%.

2. Test and Then Test Again—Many blunders happen due to sheer lack of testing. At M&C, when we test email, we conduct live sends to see exactly how the system will generate the email. Be sure to complete and personalize default information for those fields that are blank. Nothing worse than "Dear ." In direct mail, ask your printer to run off a few samples of letters and response forms to using names from your actual list. This is essential.

3. Turn to an Expert—Yes, DIY is all the rage, but this is one area where your organization would benefit from the counsel of an expert who has done this before ... and knows what to watch for. Ask around for a solid reference and ask lots of questions.

I advise you to start small in your personalization and build on your successes from there. And remember, the relationship is what's important. The personalization can simply help strengthen, or weaken, it. Use it for good.