By Kirsten Lambert
It’s easy to let your standards slip when you ply your trade in a not-for-profit organization. You may feel hampered by a small staff, a tiny budget or a committee who wants to sign off on everything. But several nonprofits recently won awards for their communication efforts, despite the obstacles.
What convinced the judges to bestow the awards? Measurable goals.
The International Association of Business Communicators honored several nonprofit organizations with a Gold Quill or Silver Quill award. Two Chicago-based groups were among them.
DePaul University won both a Gold Quill and Silver Quill for its project, “Marketing the University Center of Chicago.” The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association won a Silver Quill Award for its entry, “Communicating Strategic Services’ Goals and Objectives.”
DePaul University got two nods from IABC judges, winning a Gold Quill, an international award, as well as a Silver Quill, a districtwide honor. DePaul garnered the awards for its work marketing the University Center of Chicago, a residence hall for students that opened in 2004.
The objectives: The project’s objectives included securing 683 rental contracts between June 2003, when DePaul’s marketing staff got the assignment, and August 2004. The campaign also required the university to meet smaller objectives along the way, such as having a certain number of applications by specific dates.
The challenges: Students generally began thinking about housing for the next academic year in February, but university executives wanted hundreds of beds filled by the end of December. Securing those contracts was no mean feat; the new residence hall was in downtown Chicago, where real estate tends to be commercial, not residential. Plus rents at University Center exceeded those in most existing student housing.
The tactics: Kris Gallagher, the university’s internal consultant, worked with three other staff members to employ some standard communication tools: print, meetings, video, posters, e-mail, Web. The team integrated its messages across the different media; it also refined and measured the messages throughout the 10-month campaign.
The cost: The marketing staff pulled off the campaign on what Gallagher calls a shoestring budget. It cost the university $30 per bed—just 0.3 percent of the $9,000 in revenue per bed. DePaul outsourced only one portion of the campaign: the broadcast e-mails. Working with a local vendor allowed the university to segment its audience into different kinds of buyers, then target each one with a tailored message and analyze the resulting data.
The results: The campaign yielded winning results for both the university, which met its goal of renting all the housing stock, and the marcom staff, which was able to show that its efforts contributed to the bottom line.
“We had good research, very measurable goals and objectives, and a consistent strategy that rolled out,” Gallagher explains.
To get more details, contact Gallagher via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association snagged its Silver Quill for an internal program aimed at educating employees about the annual goals of one of its divisions. The factor that made it a winner was—like the DePaul project—measurement.
Internal Communications Manager Joanne Kitsos calls the project “almost a textbook example” of how to communicate a strategic message to employees.
The objectives: In early 2004 a BCBSA senior vice president wanted to explain her division’s annual goals to the employees of that division. The communication objective was twofold: 1) increase understanding of the goals, and 2) motivate and engage employees in order to achieve those goals.
The challenges: Materials had to be produced very quickly early in the year. Communication materials required review by multiple parties.
The tactics: Before launching the communications program, Kitsos measured how well employees understood the goals of the division. Then she rolled out different tools for explaining the division’s annual goals to employees.
Each employee received a booklet that provided an overview of the division’s goals; department heads received a discussion guide to help them tell employees about the goals during face-to-face meetings; the intranet site, BlueWeb, contained related information.
Kitsos evaluated each tool throughout. For example, after the departmental meetings she asked managers whether the discussion guides were helpful. She also queried employees about whether the face-to-face meetings with their department heads had helped them grasp the concepts.
The cost: Printing the booklet for employees cost about $2,000, the only out-of-pocket expense for this project. Luckily, Kitsos had access to internal resources such as the IT department, a creative services group and market research staff.
The results: A survey conducted at the end of 2004 showed a significant increase in the number of employees who said they understood the division’s goals and how they contributed to those goals.
Kitsos says, “This is probably one of the most successful initiatives I’ve been involved in; it was successful in terms of accomplishing what we set out to do and in terms of measurement.” She credits a 2003 Ragan workshop led by Roger D’Aprix, which gave her the blueprint for the project.
Perhaps the most telling comments came from the division’s senior vice president. At the February 2005 division meeting the senior VP reported that the division had achieved all of its 2004 objectives. She then asked Kitsos, “What are we doing next year?”
Contact Kitsos via e-mail at Joanne.Kitsos@bcbsa.com for more details.
Kirsten Lambert is principal of Watermark Communications, a Chicago-based communications and marketing consulting firm. She has worked with numerous corporations and not-for-profit organizations over the past 18 years.
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