I spend a lot of time working on marketing and communications (what’s the difference?) with LiveWorkPlay. I believe in outcomes, not outputs, but the challenge of that perspective is outcomes are really hard! Pushing out old school press releases, or the modern version of that activity – pushing out tweets or Facebook updates – is a lot easier. You just hit send, and check off “done.” Those are outputs. They can provide for feelings of satisfaction, but it’s often a hollow victory, unless you are able to create and track actual relevant changes in behaviour (e.g. someone attends an event, applies to become a volunteer, sends a letter to their local councillor, writes a story, etc.).
We don’t have a marketing department at LiveWorkPlay. As is typical of a small grassroots charity, our HR funding comes out of what funders want, and I’ve yet to encounter a funder that is interested in supporting marketing and communications (but what a neat idea!). So, the marketing and communications work is something that I do as a part of activities with other labels – like events, education, and advocacy.
Outcomes take time, and they aren’t guaranteed. Unlike outputs, trying to achieve outcomes ensures failure some of the time. You can’t always get what you want from other people. But if you don’t try, you’ll never get what your mission says is needed (in the case of LiveWorkPlay, a good life for people with intellectual disabilities). If your goal is simply to “send things out” then you will never fail. The printer will always print you more brochures. The fax machine will always keep faxing. Tweetdeck will always keep on sending. But then again, does it really take a communications and marketing specialist to create outputs? Is that really the best use of hard-earned donor and funder dollars?
One would hope that every non-profit organization is out to help change the lives of others for the better. When we lose sight of that, we can easily become absorbed in outputs, because those can fulfil our own selfish but understandable need to feel as though we are achieving. But “spinning our wheels” is not really an achievement to be proud of, is it?
It’s easy to get impatient from investing in an outcomes-focused strategy. But solid investment in an integrated marketing and communications strategy1 often pays off in unexpected ways, especially when you remain focused on relationships, not your pride in writing what you believe to be a well-crafted press release that vanishes into the ether.
Which brings me to the second half of my title: a great week! This was one of those weeks when the investment in relationships really paid off. I’d actually have preferred for all of these good tidings to have been spread out a little more, but it’s a happy problem when you can’t keep up with all the good news.
On Monday I found out that Spotlight on Transformation, a newsletter of the Government of Ontario, published an article I had prepared for them about social media. To me this was big news. I’ll explain.
It’s been a huge frustration of mine for years that “developmental services” (the government sector from which funding for many LiveWorkPlay supports and services is derived) does such a poor job of engaging the community in their work. Did you know there are some FIFTEEN agencies in Ottawa that serve people with developmental and intellectual disabilities – all of them BIGGER than LiveWorkPlay? Don’t worry, nobody else knows that either.
Spotlight on Transformation goes out to every developmental services agency in Ontario, so this is an opportunity to have an impact in a very targeted way. The newsletter containing my article goes straight to my ideal audience – the marketing and communications staff at all of these agencies. You might be asking “But how do you know this is resulting in a behaviour change?” Well, I know this because I’ve already received two new invites for speaking engagements on that very topic from recipients of that very newsletter.
Next up came a last-minute campaign to influence City of Ottawa staff into reversing their plans for making cuts to OC Transpo route 16. That bus route is vital to 10 people with intellectual disabilities that we are supporting to live their lives in quality affordable housing in Britannia (in condominiums that are owned by LiveWorkPlay). I was not fighting this battle alone, in fact, I was playing catch-up to the issue. I had great support from Shelley Ann Morris (hard to pin a single label on her, she’s an athlete, a disability activitist, a colleague at partner organization Volunteer Ottawa and more) and her family members, as well as chair Catherine Gardner and the vastly under-appreciated City of Ottawa Accessibility Advisory Committee.
In the end, I don’t know exactly what resulted in the decision to recommend that route 16 service on evenings and weekends be maintained, but it was a wonderfully happy outcome, and also gave two of our members the opportunity to shine in the media spotlight! We used Twitter, Facebook, email lists, submissions to the AAC, emails to councillors, and print media (see previous link). I know we had an impact because (and this is increasingly rare these days) strangers took the time to call me at the office and tell me that they were concerned about the situation and were moving to action, such as writing a supportive submission (104 in all, which appears to be second-most of any of the dozens of proposed changes).
The ball kept on rolling. It was National Volunteer Week, and although at LiveWorkPlay we believe in honouring our volunteers every day of every year, sometimes these symbolic efforts can be useful opportunities to help promote the positive. In this case, we are always willing to contribute to encouraging volunteerism, and our Volunteer Coordinator helped out with a spot on Rogers Daytime television.
Although it wasn’t published this week, I also discovered there had been an article discussing volunteerism and social media in which I was heavily quoted in Your Ottawa Region.
On Thursday I was hosting what is in many respects a very old school LiveWorkPlay charity fundraiser called Recipe for Success. There’s a certain brand of “event specialists” that can be just as annoying as “social media gurus” of the variety that try to tell you there is one right way of doing things. In the world of some event specialists, there is a life cycle for events, and you need to start over with something “fresh.” In the marketing world, we know better than that, because we ask the customer if that’s what they want. That’s why Recipe for Success goes through little tweaks each year, but it remains essentially the same after 12 years: eat some delicious food, bid on silent auction items, and have a fun-filled live auction with celebrity hosts.
This year we actually had our biggest turnout ever of Recipe for Success newcomers. A lot of them came from extended networks of our core community, the connection often being social media, especially Twitter and Facebook. We also got some last minute take-up thanks to an interview during the morning rush by co-autioneer Sandy Sharkey on 93.9 BOB FM. This year’s audience was completely charmed by Sandy and Derick Fage of Rogers Daytime TV and Mayor Jim Watson did a wonderful job of warming up the crowd, as well as some live tweeting with Councillor Scott Moffatt and MPP Yasir Naqvi getting in on the act. There was extensive coverage of the event with lots of additional information about LiveWorkPlay in the EMC Ottawa West.
Friday brought news that LiveWorkPlay will benefit from United Way Ottawa funding to help us develop employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. Details are pending, but for a small charity like ours, we expect this support will enable us to double our efforts in this area of our work, which is a very good thing since the unemployment rate for people with intellectual disabilities is a staggering 75%. We’ve got that number well below 50% for the people we are supporting and with extra resources we’ll do even better.
We are also working with the United Way Ottawa and many other service providers to make our entire community a more inclusive workplace for people with disabilities. That’s a big shift from our past relationship, when LiveWorkPlay publicly challenged what we saw as confusing messaging and processes. They’ve made a lot of changes and it feels good to have something positive to say (and that would be the case regardless of our new funding relationship).
That’s about as good as it gets in the life of a small grassroots charity in Ottawa. With revenues of less than a million and staff of less than ten, we’re a little fish swimming in a big pond with more than 3,000 charities in this region. But we are making a difference and feeling good about it. And it was one of those weeks. I sure hope there will be more of them!
1 If you are looking for opportunities to developing your marketing skills in the non-profit and/or public sector, consider attending the MARCOM conference at the new Ottawa Convention Centre, June 11-12. If you visit the website right now, you might even see yours truly (wearing a suit no less!) as the profile image on their YouTube video.