Nonprofit Marketing: What to do when you DON’T want the story shared

Last week, my blog post told you how to create stories and share them. This week, I promised to tell you what to do when you DON’T want the story shared.

Nonprofits are afraid of controversy and scandal.

Controversy: when one group wants a story shared, and the other one doesn’t

Scandal: when no one wants the story shared!

Here’s how you can help your nonprofit when the story is not a good one and you’d rather, well, have everyone stop talking about.


    My grandmother had some great wisdom. “Everything in moderation.” “Bad news travels faster than good.” And: “This too shall pass.” The news cycle moves faster and faster these days. One story will probably not mean nearly as much as you think it does. I used to say, “Today’s news is tomorrow’s puppy pad.” Well, today’s news is probably now today’s news because there will be something new in a few hours. And when there is scandal or controversy, it galvanizes people to their perspective. If they loved you before, they will love you again. If they didn’t love you, they weren’t your people anyway.


    If you follow the tenants of my book Courageous Communication, you already know the benefits of authenticity and transparency. Trust is everything. And authenticity and transparency are the keys to building and keeping trust. In my book I give the example of Scholarship Foundation closing the ScholarShop. The staff and board were clear about the reason for closing and took the time to explain the situation, trusting their supporters would understand. They did.

  3. LISTEN.

    Stories get shared because the storyteller wants to be heard and understood. When ScholarShop closed, the executive director and communications manager both said they understood because they loved the store too! Listening and empathizing, without trying to convince or change, will go along way. Hear the story, get into their head, ask questions. Strive to understand. When people feel heard then they will seek to understand. And then their story changes and it become one of empathy and respect.


    This could be a good thing. Your true supporters will come through. When Stray Rescue of St. Louis struggled with a distemper outbreak at their shelter, they used it as an opportunity to learn better shelter management and care. And they told the story of the outbreak, their heartbreak, their lessons learned and their changes, all with authenticity and transparency. They raised money and galvanized support of their loyal donors, and got new donors in the process.


    I will never forget Randy Grim going live on Facebook in the lobby of Stray Rescue crying at the death of the dogs in their care. He wasn’t polished, he wasn’t rehearsed, he was real. His emotion was palpable. Admit when you were wrong, apologize, and share your lessons learned. Admitting failure shows strength and respect.


    Controversy. Crisis. Yes these scary C words freak us out in the risk-averse nonprofit culture. Here’s the thing, and the EXACT POINT of my book and the entire reason I started my company. If you are doing or saying something interesting, someone is not going to like it, and that’s ok. Stop trying to convince people to care, find the people who share your heart and mission and speak to them.

    Marketing and fundraising is hard because we are trying to CONVINCE people to care instead of finding like-minded people and CONNECTING with them. When the ScholarShop closed, there really weren’t that many people who were fans of the mission of the organization. By closing the shop and showing donors they were good stewards of the funds in their care, they galvanized support of people who cared about the mission.

If you want to read about the social media crisis I caused, read this! Just so you know I am not above controversy! And that I survived. The big lesson I learned. People talk. It’s what I do, it’s what you do. And the stories people share are a reflection of an experience through their lenses. If you are honest, transparent and trust your supporters with the truth, you will survive.

If you want to learn more about how to create a culture that CONNECTS with like-minded people so you can attract new supporters to your organization and raise more money, HIT ME UP! I am happy to take a deep dive into your current marketing efforts and give you some guidance on how to be more effective.