Summer Nonprofit Management: Creativity for Year-Round Sunshine

While in the offices of a client this past winter, I came across a cluster of laughing staff members; lemonade and saltwater taffy were on the table. They were chuckling at an album of themselves bedecked in summer fashion – Nantucket reds and Hawaiian shirts – at a barbecue the previous July. Our client had decided to wait until the dark days of February to share the photos, hoping that they might rekindle the happy memories of summer silliness. In the brainstorming session that followed, I noticed a certain sunniness to the team members’ enthusiasm, and wondered if the photos had perhaps brightened the midwinter mood.

Summer’s trappings of relaxation and fresh starts can create new energy. Leveraging summer’s predisposition for sunny events and team outings to set an energetic tone for the coming year can be a boon to nonprofits. To some, that means volunteer appreciation and team activities, and to others it means taking a chance on something unusual.

A student I advised last year implemented a zero-based programming approach to better regulate her communications with stakeholders and to reassess what research she truly needed. She scrapped her existing strategy and started from scratch—building her programs item by item and quantifying and qualifying each element. She found that with a different perspective and creativity, she was able to produce more zing for less money.


To encourage her team to buy into the new programming approach, she built a six-month reviewinto the restructure – immediately after a lighthearted summer/winter pie-baking contest in both cases – promising to go back to the old way if the zero-base approach couldn’t be reenergized in January. The memories and creativity of the good-natured baking competition reminded her team of the generative and inventive atmosphere they established when they first worked through zero-based building that previous summer.

Like the client who waited until February to bring back the memories of his team at the agency’s summer cookout, this student saw remarkable dividends from her new approach – despite the initial reluctance by her team to change the status quo. Making the process fun with a mixture of brainstorming, sweet treats and pie-in-the-sky ideas that inspired much laughter encouraged the team to generate a comprehensive program that they believed in and totally owned. And it worked – the staff is now gung-ho and even more energized than before.

Nonprofits are always charging ahead. The reason nonprofit-oriented folks can take on such daunting challenges with success is that they neither take no for an answer nor think to rest until they have reached the top of the mountain. Both my student and that client are cut from this cloth. They also figured out something important: changing your approach and saving some summer for the winter can pay off in a big way without slowing you down. In those winter months, routine and darkness might press in, so bringing back the creativity of summer can totally invigorate a team. Frankly, I’ve never encountered a person or nonprofit to be averse to warmth and change.

Marketing like the Big Guys for Small Businesses and Nonprofits: Announcing Under3PR

Sometimes that “do-it-yourself” approach can only get you so far. While small-budgeted organizations fueled by passion and talent can be extremely effective, a roadblock might appear that necessitates outside expertise.

Under3PR, a collaborative service from Winkleman Company and Coa Design, was inspired by the interests and challenges posed by my students throughout nearly two decades of teaching at Columbia University’s Institute for Not-for-Profit Management, Mailman School of Public Health, United Jewish Appeal, and Fordham University’s Center for Nonprofit Leaders. Each student’s organization shared the acute need for quick, strategic and affordable guidance to targeted challenges.

Through public relations, marketing and graphic design, Under3PR addresses the most common issues facing small nonprofits and businesses. Projects range from drawing media attention for a program, branding and social media management to crisis response and counsel on leadership continuity – and everywhere in-between. Like many of my students’ organizations, prospective clients must have revenues under $3 million and a short-term project that fits within Under3PR’s targeted parameters.

Our test drive for Under3PR came to us in the form of Heart Gallery NYC. A small nonprofit, Heart Gallery NYC uses the artistic talents of renowned photographers to raise the visibility and public awareness of children in foster care seeking their “forever families” – all on an annual budget of under $500,000. Laurie Sherman Graff, Founder and Executive Director, needed help drawing coverage for a press conference but had limited funds. Heart Gallery NYC was a perfect opportunity for Under3PR – small budget, acute project, good cause – so we set about being perfect for it.

Our PR expertise packed Laurie's press conference with reporters and photographers.

Our PR expertise packed Laurie’s press conference with reporters and photographers.


“The media coverage was awesome, and the professionalism of the Winkleman Company team was so apparent and appreciated! I look forward to continuing to work together on future events,” Laurie wrote in an email to us the day after the conference. As Under3PR, our team brought together the right television and traditional media to help tell these children’s incredible stories to a broad, multilingual audience of potential families.

Working on a project basis can be the right approach, especially when a challenge may be outside the scope of small business or nonprofit managers who is already too stretched for the cause/goal that drives them.

When a small organization comes up against a roadblock, it can’t afford to slow down. Under3PR will help you navigate and resolve those roadblocks.

Please see our full menu of Under3PR offerings or call Katherine at 646-234-8077 to discover what we can do for your business.

Walking the Corridor: Finding PR Stories Where Nobody’s Looking

When acting in a PR capacity, many people struggle with the problem of finding stories. Every organization wants press – but what strikes you as newsworthy about your operation might not seem quite so fresh to a journalist. Where, then, do you find something to pitch?

A very fuzzy journalist

A very fuzzy journalist

One option, of course, is to make the story happen yourself. If nothing new is going on, think of the kind of story you’d like to read and guide the organization toward it. Sometimes this works out and sometimes it doesn’t. But the best kinds of stories are the ones that serve themselves up organically – complete and irresistible, like catnip for journalists, and never where you expect to find them.

Just because the best stories happen by accident doesn’t mean you’ll find them by accident, though. Our colleague Roberta makes a point of visiting clients as often as possible, learning everyone’s name from the reception room to the boardroom, and stopping to chat. She calls it “walking the corridor.”

Even if it’s easier and more convenient to conduct all your business over the phone or via email, those intentional channels only bring you the first kind of story: the ones that you and your client expect. The real gold only ever comes to you when you’re not (appearing like you are) looking for it. It’s like keeping your eyes in a softer focus to look for new patterns, or, as Ann Handley puts it, “seeing content moments everywhere.” 

From the New York Daily News

From the New York Daily News

One of Roberta’s stories, for example, was a grade-A “people story” about a resident at a client’s elder care facility. A veteran of World War II, this gentleman took public transit by himself into Manhattan at the ripe old age of 90, in his old uniform, to help out at the Occupy Wall Street protests. Incredibly, nobody knew about it until he mentioned it to Roberta while she was on-site! He simply never thought to tell anyone, because he wasn’t involved in the traditional PR loop – Roberta just happened to be there when he shared the story of his experiences. It ended up widely reported and shared.

Of course, many trips don’t include such wonderful gifts of stories wrapped up with bows. They’re a bonus, not an expectation, but you have to be in the right place at the right time. Besides, you can never have too many friends. So the next time you’re stuck for a story, don’t go back to the drawing board – walk the corridor and chat with the folks at the water cooler instead.

Analog Social Media: The Power of a Hand-Written Note

On my desk is a piece of robin’s egg blue stationery. It’s a thank-you note from a former student who asked me to help her with her job search. I keep it in clear view as an unremitting reminder to help her as soon as I can. I have many papers on my desk that accumulate throughout the day – white paper, beige paper, glossy and flat stock, all printed neatly and clearly. Admittedly, there is a feeling of accomplishment as the pile dwindles to nothing by the end of the day. Yet her note remains. This particular letter is special. It is blue and it is handwritten.

hand-written noteWould I have read an email from my student? Yes, of course I would. While there is an immediacy to email, it doesn’t linger. Once read, I’d jot a note in my planner and move on to the next task. The message wouldn’t just sit there on my desk, subtly demanding action.

Neither do most of the items that come in the mail – bills, circulars, trade publications, credit card offers and so on. There are also those donation asks with fake handwriting printed on them, just to trick you into looking long enough to notice. All of us receive too much email and junk mail – just imagine how much the media, foundations, industry leaders and business owners receive.

On top of all of this noise and bustle, voicemail, text messages, Facebook posts, Linked In requests, Twitter and RSS feeds form a stimulus shield that can make it very difficult to get someone’s attention, as we discussed in our last blog entry. Only around 20 to 40% of emails are ever even opened.

When you really need to captivate, some neat penmanship on crisp cardstock or applying a highlighter on selected lines and a few Post-its in your annual report can often do the trick. But there really isn’t anything that beats a personal, handwritten note.

Your target audience, whether it’s a donor, trustee or a favorite aunt, will definitely open one – and these days, it can feel almost novel and nostalgic to even tear open a card-shaped envelope. A handwritten note shows that you took the time and effort to share with them. Your audience will understand that you wrote the note specifically for them because they personally are your priority. It’s flattering to feel important.

The robin’s egg stationery is still sitting there. It’s only been a few days, but every time I look at it, I’m reminded that I can help this student. Her note makes me want to react. She’s taken the time to let me know of her appreciation and that she doesn’t want to be forgotten. The least I can do is to make sure I don’t.