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Online Fundraising: A Startup Guide

10 Online Fundraising Basics You Need to Know

By , Guide

Online fundraising is the wave of the future. Already, it is making a dent in direct mail fundraising, and, as the “wired” generation matures, online may become the dominant form of fundraising.

The lesson is that if you have not started building your capacity to raise funds online, start now.

Here are some things you will want to think about.

1. Get legal with your online fundraising.1

Just as with other types of fundraising, online solicitations must be registered with the appropriate officials. Check with your state attorney’s office or secretary of state office to find out the requirements in your state.

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2. Market your online fundraising program. 4

It is not enough to just put a “donate now” button on your website and wait for the money to roll in. Promote your online capacity in your newsletters and include your website address on all of your collateral materials.Include information about the online giving option in all of your direct mail campaign literature. Put together a special promotion for online giving using your email list and your mailing list.

3. Explore all your options for online fundraising.

Expand your thinking about online fundraising to include social networking sites, so popular with the Millennial generation8.For your own site, do you want to set up your own system and be able to process credit card transactions? Or do you want to engage a company that provides that service for you? Would you like to be able to offer recurring (preauthorized) donations to your supporters? Do you want to use another site to collect your online donations?

4. Make sure your website invites online donations.

You don’t need a flashy website, but you do need an attractive one that is easy-to-understand and navigate. Consider too the various generations that will be using your site. Design it in a way that will please all ages.

5. Observe proper online etiquette in your online fundraising.

Don’t spam, and don’t look like a spammer. Don’t overwhelm your donors with too much email, and don’t use email to the exclusion of other methods of fundraising. Online fundraising should be only part of a well-balanced portfolio of strategies.

6. Provide lots of ways for people to donate – not just online.

Everyone has a preference…by mail, phone, online, even instant messaging or from their cell phones24. Make sure you accommodate as many of them as possible. See this great example from the Red Cross25.Include information about planned giving26 options too. The World Wildlife Fund has a good page about planned giving27 that can be reached through its donate button.

7. Make sure that your website donation button is big and above the fold.

Your visitors should be able to locate it immediately. And, it does not have to say “Donate Now.” The Hunger Project has a button that says “Invest Now.”28 That button leads to another page that offers options to the donor. Nothing but Nets has a Net-O-Meter that is counting the number of nets bought by donors and the call to action button says “Buy a Net.”29

8. Provide the opportunity for non-monetary contributions such as volunteer time.

Getting people to volunteer is one of the best methods of donor cultivation. Indeed, a study from the Association of Fundraising Professionals30 found that people who are asked to give of their time before being asked to donate will ultimately give more money to that organization.

9. Show real donors and specify how donations will help.

Include testimonials and photos of donors. Provide photos of people receiving help. Be liberal with success stories, stories about real people, and use plenty of inspirational photographs. St. Louis University’s giving page33 is laced with profiles of donors and testimonials of students.Provide information about how a specific level of donation will work. Soles4Souls has a good donor page34 that tells exactly what each donation level will buy.

10. Try segmentation of your online fundraising audience.

As your expertise and experience with online fundraising advances, think about segmenting your audience. This will require good record keeping and growing a large enough list that there is something to segment. Segment based on age, gender, income, interests, previous giving history, geography, or role, such as donor or volunteer.Develop versions of your email campaigns to fit targeted groups and then test. Testing involves breaking down a particular group into smaller groups and testing different versions of your copy. Track the results and you will soon get a feel for what kinds of appeals work for whom.

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Is Your Nonprofit Board Helping You or Hurting You?

Dream Board or Scary Board? Which Is Yours?

By , Guide

The legal responsibilities of your nonprofit board of directors are pretty clear. The board:
  • Ensures that your organization is fulfilling its mission.
  • Guarantees that your organization complies with its bylaws and other rules.
  • Reviews your financial performance.
  • Hires and evaluates the CEO.

But, beyond those basics, a smoothly functioning board with a broad array of skills can be a godsend; while a quarrelsome, nit-picking board with thin experience can distract you at best, and bring down your organization at worst.

Dream Board or Scary Board?

Use this list of optimum behaviors to see which yours is.

  • An effective board looks at the big picture. It is alert to signs of trouble before a crisis erupts and is always asking questions such as: “How are we doing in meeting our mission?” “Are we working the hardest on the most important tasks?” “Could we do things better and more efficiently?” “Where are we in meeting our long-range goals?”
  • A good board has a keen sense of priorities. It works from an agenda so that it does not waste time on frivolous issues. It encourages planning and the use of planning tools, freely endorsing time and money spent on anticipating future problems and preparing for them.
  • The caring board provides growth opportunities for the staff. Staff stability is crucial and the best way to achieve that is by providing employees with the means to develop professionally and personally. Staff retreats are encouraged and good personnel policies are constantly evolving.
  • A judicious board thinks before it acts. When staff and board members disagree, every effort is made to understand the opposing side’s position in order to come to a fair resolution. The board makes sure that the staff operates in a fear-free environment and feels confident that if they express their opinions, they will not be punished.
  • An efficient board values teamwork. The board elects members that have skills in legal matters, accounting principles, and programmatic areas, and then fosters teamwork among them. The goal is to achieve the organization’s objectives by utilizing board intelligence through teamwork. Staff should not have to act as referees among directors.
  • The outstanding board constantly evaluates itself and keeps improving. It reviews the organization’s mission annually and re-energizes itself through retreats and other activities. It invites outside expertise and educates itself in best practices.

If your board exhibits these signs of health, you will be able to attend to your service mission fully confident that your board will back you up.

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Keeping the Arts Alive, Even in a Recession

Hello Everyone

This article from the Americans for the Arts’ website is a good read and very insightful. Please take a gander when you have the time. .Enjoy.Learn. Grow!

August 23, 2010—Bill Radke: So if that’s how the recession is hitting boards in Britain, what is the story like here, where arts funding comes from ticket buyers and — even more than that — private donors?

My guest is Randy Cohen, with the national nonprofit group Americans for the Arts. Welcome.

Randy Cohen: Thank you. Good to be here.

Radke: What do you think of the assertion you just heard, that the British system of government support produces risky, innovative art? Is American art less innovative?

Cohen: No, no. The art is very innovative here in the United States. And even in a down economy, we see arts organizations still doing premieres, still doing new work. I don’t think we’ll ever see a significant decrease in innovation in the arts. Now, that said, when contributed support to the arts decreases, you will see arts organizations sometimes going to more popular kinds of presentations. You know, you look at the typical ballet company in this country, a big piece of its revenue stream is “The Nutcracker” around the holidays.

Radke: And is that a trend, “The Nutcracker”-ization of the arts in America, in this recession?

Cohen: It’s hard to say. I think you see some arts organizations keeping up a much closer eye on the public demand. I think arts organizations need to focus on “how do we increase demand to meet the existing capacity of arts organization?” And there are also arts organizations are keeping an eye on private sector giving and the trends there. We’ve seen actually over the last decade, a decrease in the share of business giving going to the arts. And in this recession, in fact — obviously, the economy has hurt things — but the finance sector has always been the strongest within the business sector of giving to the arts. And of course, they’ve been hit the hardest.

Radke: The finance sector, you mean Wall Street is the biggest patron of the arts?

Cohen: Yes, among corporations, finance sector’s always been very strong in supporting the arts. So, it’s a bit of a double hit. But overall, what we’re seeing is the business sector moving their support out of the charitable giving budgets and more towards marketing-based and sponsorship-oriented budgets. And what that does, that enables businesses to support the arts, as well as advance their business, to build markets, to get greater visibility for their investment in the arts. And so it’s less of a pure philanthropic contribution, it’s more purposeful.

Also, though, what we’re seeing is an overall shift towards social services, human needs, that type of thing. So I think that’s another issue that a lot of arts organizations are facing, as they look at where the contributed dollars are going.

Radke: Well, this is part of your job, Randy, to make the case — and I want to know how you do it — make the case to companies that right now, in this recession, slump, that the arts, that a new opera is more important than supporting a food bank or job training.

Cohen: Well, and it’s all important, and a healthy society has food and shelter, needs being met. It also has a vibrant arts community, because the arts are fundamental component of our humanity. It’s not an either/or situation. That said, arts organizations are needing to help funders understand the value they bring to the community. And so, while that great opera performance, or that great museum exhibition helps improve our quality of life, it provides other benefits as well. There’s 100,000 nonprofit arts

organizations. That supports 5.7 million jobs in this country. If you’re a company or a government worried about jobs, that makes the arts a smart investment.

Radke: Randy Cohen with Americans for the Arts. Thanks a lot.

Cohen: Thanks for having me.


New Orleans Five Years After: A Transformation Unfolding

Five years since Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans and its region stand out as a bold experiment in rebirth and reinvention. This is pretty remarkable given the fact that this fifth anniversary is bookended by two of the worst disasters in history—Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill—with the worst recession in 50 years in between.  That is a lot of “worsts” for one community to handle in five years.

This transformation also flies against the face of popular perception, or misperception.

When I tell people that I’ve been working on post-recovery efforts in New Orleans, this is what I often hear:

  • “We’ve poured a lot of taxpayer funds into the Gulf region.  What a waste.”  (I was literally told that on my flight to New Orleans last week)
  • “Nothing’s happening down there so why should we give them more money?”
  • “The feds have done too much.  When will New Orleans do their part?”

Well, new evidence from a report by Brookings and the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center reveals that promising developments are underway, debunking these myths.  But it also offers a frank assessment of the major hurdles that remain and a roadmap to stay on the course to prosperity.

The new report, “The New Orleans Index at Five,” includes an analysis of  the region’s performance along 20 indicators of prosperity, and a series of essays from local authors reviewing key reforms underway, including schools, housing, criminal justice and community engagement.

While economic trends in New Orleans metro area are still fluctuating from the impacts of the recession and the oil spill, there are early indications that greater New Orleans is rebounding, in some ways, “better than before” with several signs of a healthier economy, better social outcomes, and improved schools and basic services. Recovering “better than before” is a good thing because we don’t want taxpayer monies and other investments to replicate some of the serious problems that existed in the region prior to the storm.

Further, New Orleanians have risen to the occasion. They have organized as a community to establish a binding comprehensive land use plan, community-based health centers, neighborhood-based housing redevelopment, a more efficient and fair criminal justice system, a transformed public school system, and a new inspector general’s office to root out fraud, waste, and corruption. These reforms, driven often by broad citizen and civic engagement, demonstrate that New Orleans is serious about transformation and has the capacity to be an equal partner in recovery and reinvention. These efforts also show that New Orleanians are increasingly resilient, improving their capacity to adapt to future disasters, like the oil spill.

So, there is much to celebrate and build from, but many challenges remain. The region’s full reemergence is being held back by a sluggish economy overly dependent on a few shrinking industries, a small share of educated workers, wide racial and economic disparities, severe housing affordability constraints, and eroding wetlands.

With the Macondo oil well now capped and the federal efforts transitioning to a “recovery phase”, this report only reinforces the importance of building on the progress made since Katrina while also acting on the opportunities being presented by the oil spill. In particular, leaders need to pay close attention to the future of the regional economy and the coastline. Three of New Orleans’ biggest economic drivers have been declining, either for decades or since Hurricane Katrina, and the top two—tourism and oil and gas—have already been further weakened by the oil spill. As federal leaders begin to work with state and local leaders to adopt strategies to stem and reverse job losses and help displaced workers find jobs, they should be candid about how such strategies and investments can help the region strengthen and diversify its core industries.

And while New Orleanians had a wake up call after Katrina to embrace a more comprehensive approach to coastal protection, most of the efforts to date have been strengthening levees and other safety measures which are long-term barriers to sustainability. The latest disaster underscores the need to commit to and invest in the natural protections to the coast line—restored and healthier wetlands. Doing so could also have the added benefit of creating jobs and strengthening the region’s engineering and innovation might in coastal protection technology, products, and services.

In short, as greater New Orleans and the nation grapple with another crisis in the Gulf coast, they must not keep their eye off the long-term goal of transformation. The next wave of efforts and investments should aim to continue to reinvent the New Orleans as a prosperous region and reinforce its economic and cultural value to our nation.

To do otherwise would truly be a waste.

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New Request for Proposals (Arts, Community, Health, Sciences, Social Entrepreneurship)

Arts and Culture

Philadelphia Music Project Announces Application Guidelines
Grants of up to $200,000 will be awarded to professional nonprofit music performing and presenting organizations for the development of musical activities, including public performances that work to advance the long-term artistic development of the organization….

Posted on August 19, 2010
Deadline: September 15, 2010 (Letter of Intent)Chamber Music America and American Society of Composers Invite Entries for Adventurous Programming Awards
Awards of $500 will be given to U.S.-based professional ensembles, presenters, and festivals that have demonstrated a commitment to contemporary chamber music through adventurous, distinctive programming….

Posted on August 19, 2010
Deadline: October 1, 2010

Children and Youth

Nominations Invited for Operation REACH Gulfsouth Youth Action Fund Change Maker Awards
Young people between the ages of 7 and 25 who have shown exemplary leadership in community service initiatives in the American South will be honored with a $500 donation to the nonprofit or project of their choice….

Posted on August 20, 2010
Deadline: September 17, 2010Foundation for Child Development Seeks Applications for Young Scholars Program
Awards of up to $150,000 will be given to researchers who have earned their doctoral degrees and are working on both basic and policy-relevant research regarding the early education, health, and well-being of immigrant children from birth to age 10….

Posted on August 19, 2010
Deadline: November 3, 2010

Applications Available for Youth Garden Grant Program
Five winners will receive a $500 gift card from the Home Depot for child-centered garden programs that work to educate, encourage entrepreneurship, and build social aspects of gardening for at least fifteen children between the ages of 3 and 18….

Posted on August 19, 2010
Deadline: November 1, 2010

Community Improvement/Development

Greater New Orleans Foundation Invites Letters of Intent to Apply for IMPACT 2010 Grant Program
The program will award a total of $700,000 to nonprofit organizations working to support the community of New Orleans through arts and culture, youth development, civic engagement, education, health, and human and social services….

Posted on August 20, 2010
Deadline: September 3, 2010 (Letter of Intent)Environment

Proposals Invited for ConocoPhillips Spirit of Conservation Migratory Bird Program
Grants of up to $200,000 will be awarded to nonprofits, educational institutions, and local and state units of governments working to protect, restore, or manage habitats for migratory birds….

Posted on August 20, 2010
Deadline: October 1, 2010 (Pre-proposals)Health

National AIDS Fund Announces Availability of Grant Support for Public Policy and Advocacy Activities Through Southern REACH Initiative
Grants of up to $100,000 will be awarded to nonprofits working to protect and advance the health, human rights, and dignity of persons most affected by HIV/AIDS in the southern United States….

Posted on August 22, 2010
Deadline: October 11, 2010Komen Maryland Announces Availability of Breast Cancer Grant Funding for Maryland Organizations
Grants of up to $150,000 will be awarded to nonprofits, government agencies, and educational institutions working to reduce breast cancer disparities and mortality among Maryland’s underserved residents….

Posted on August 21, 2010
Deadline: November 15, 2010

Missouri Foundation for Health’s Social Innovation Funding Program Seeks Concept Papers for Obesity Prevention and Tobacco Control Programs
A total of $4 million will be awarded to up to sixteen Missouri organizations working to expand physical activity options, encourage healthier food choices, and reduce overall tobacco use in their communities…..

Posted on August 17, 2010
Deadline: September 22, 2010 (Concept Papers)

Philanthropy and Voluntarism

Louisville Institute Offers Grants for Scholars and Researchers
Grants of up to $40,000 will be awarded to support ecclesiastically-engaged research with the potential to contribute to the life of churches in North America….

Posted on August 17, 2010
Deadline: VariousScience/Technology

Nominations Invited for Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability
An award of $100,000 will be given to a U.S. citizens, permanent resident, or foreign national working to develop products or processes that promise to enhance human development while mitigating human environmental impact….

Posted on August 20, 2010
Deadline: October 5, 2010Schlumberger Foundation Announces Call for Applications for 2011 Faculty for the Future Fellowships
Grants of up to $50,000 will be awarded to female students pursuing Ph.D. or postdoctoral studies in the physical sciences and and related disciplines at top universities abroad….

Posted on August 18, 2010
Deadline: November 30, 2010

Substance Abuse

Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky Accepting Applications for Community Grants Focusing on Prevention of Youth Smoking and Substance Abuse
Grants of up to $10,000 will be awarded to nonprofits and government agencies working to prevent smoking and other substance abuse among Kentuckians between the ages of 10 and 18….

Posted on August 23, 2010
Deadline: September 10, 2010

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How Cultural Groups Can Use Social-Media

How Cultural Groups Can Use Social-Media


Museums and other cultural institutions are using social media tools to connect with their patrons in novel ways.

Nina K. Simon, author of The Participatory Museum, and Rob Stein, chief information officer at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, join Allison Fine, the host of Social Good, to discuss how arts groups are adopting social media to connect with their supporters.

Allison Fine, a nonprofit leader and expert on technology and communications, discusses how charities and foundations can more effectively use social-media tools to spread their messages and raise money. Ms. Fine will incorporate suggestions and questions from readers into her podcasts and invites you to send e-mail messages to her at Look for new installments on the first Thursday of every month.

To Listen to the 14 minute podcast, please visit the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s website @

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Tony Robbins Asks Why We Do What We Do

What drives you internally? Ambition,Love, Anger,Resentment, Intelligence,what drives you? This thought provoking lecture by Tony Robbins forces you to confront what drives you and how you can use that drive to achieve you goals and objectives.

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How to Write Grant Proposals

Very interesting article and helpful too! Please read below:

The Basics of Grant Proposals – From Summary to Budget

By , Guide

Grant proposals are a part of any fundraiser’s portfolio. Although grants can be from a variety of sources (such as foundations or a government entity), most require the same basic information in grant proposals. Most grantmaking organizations have their own proposal/application forms, although a few may only give you some basic guidelines. In any case, here are the most common sections of grant proposals, and the information you should include.

1. Cover Letters for Grant Proposals

Getty Images
You may think that writing the proposal is the most important task a grant writer has. It is, but attention to the finer points of putting together the proposal package, including the cover letter, can make or break grant proposals.


2. Executive Summary for Grant Proposals

The summary actually comes first and helps the grantor to understand at a glance what you are seeking. At the beginning of your proposal, write a short summary of your proposal. The summary can be as short as a couple of sentences, but no longer than one page.

3. Need Statement (may be called a statement of need or problem statement)

This is the meat of grant proposals, and where you must convince the funder that what you propose to do is important and that your organization is the right one to do it.

Assume that the reader of your proposal does not know much about the issue or subject. Explain why the issue is important, and what research you did to learn about possible solutions.

4. Goals and Objectives for Grant Proposals

What does your organization plan to do about the problem? State what you ultimately hope to accomplish with the project (goal), and spell out the specific results or outcomes you expect to accomplish (objectives).

5. Methods, Strategies or Program Design

Once the goals and objectives of your grant proposal are in place, you need to walk the grantor through the methods you will use to achieve those goals and objectives. You may be required to provide a logic model in this section.

6. Evaluations for Grant Proposals

How will you assess your program’s accomplishments? Funders want to know that their dollars actually did some good. So decide now how you will evaluate the impact of your project. Include what records you will keep or data you will collect, and how you will use that data. If the data collection costs money, be sure to include that cost in your budget.

7. Other Funding or Sustainability

Have you gotten committed funds from other sources? Or have you asked other sources? Most funders do not wish to be the sole source of support for a project. Be sure to mention in-kind contributions you expect, such as meeting space or equipment.

Is this a pilot project with a limited time-line? Or will it go into the future? If so, how do you plan to fund it? Is it sustainable over the long haul?

8. Organizational Information

In a few paragraphs explain what your organization does, and why the funder can trust it to use the requested funds responsibly and effectively.

Give a short history of your organization, state its mission, the population it serves, and an overview of its track record in achieving its mission. Describe or list your programs.

Be complete in this part of your proposal even if you know the funder or have gotten grants from this grantmaker before.

9. Budgets for Your Grant Proposals

How much will your project cost? Attach a short budget showing expected expenses and income. The expenses portion should include personnel expenses, direct project expenses, and administrative or overhead expenses. Income should include earned income and contributed income.

10. Additional Materials for Your Grant Proposals

Funders are likely to want the following:

  • IRS letter proving that your organization is tax-exempt.
  • List of your board of directors and their affiliations.
  • Financial statement from your last fiscal year.
  • Budget for your current fiscal year.
  • Budget for your next fiscal year if you are within a few months of that new year.

11. Putting it all together

Put everything together with your cover sheet and a cover letter. You may need to have your CEO and/or the Board President sign the cover sheet or letter. You do not need a fancy binder, but it should all be neatly typed and free of errors.
Hope this resource and article helps you. For more information, please go to…Enjoy.Learn.Know!
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What Fundraising and One-night Stands Have in Common

I thought this was a very interesting article written by Sherri Garrity, President of Make It Count Communications and author of the Ready, Aim, Inspire! blog for nonprofit organizations, because in my career I’ve encountered problems such as this where organizations forget that its important to practice stewardship in order to promote perpetual giving and execute successful fundraising campaigns. Please read below and enjoy(Of course learn something as well, I mean what the heck, right?).

By: Sherri Garrity

Dear Non-Profit Organization,

I haven’t heard from you in awhile and I admit, it hurts.

I find it hard to believe you aren’t answering my letters or returning my calls. I thought we got along so well and we seemed to have so much in common.

I really hoped our relationship was going to be long term. I don’t know how to put this delicately, but it seems like once you got what you wanted, you weren’t interested anymore.

I know you’re busy but I’ve detected a pattern. I only hear from you when you want more. I feel used.


Your Corporate Donor


The best way to raise money for your organization is to keep your existing donors connected and happy with the experience. Like a milestone first date, the relationship is tentative and vulnerable.

Remember, donors are looking for a mutually beneficial and rewarding relationship. Unfortunately some nonprofit organizations are

guilt of relationship faux pas. Here are some examples.

Top Ten Turn Offs

  1. No thank you letter sent – the ultimate sin!
  2. If a thank you letter is sent, it contains spelling mistakes and appears to be a form letter with no impact statement or relationship to the specific gift.
  3. No follow up report or evaluation is provided despite this being a condition of funding. Give the organization enough detail to confidently portray your initiative. How was the money used? What was the impact? Were the milestone dates met? This will help the donor organization easily and accurately promote your project through its corporate public relations activities.
  4. Disregard for approval policy and corporate identity standards.
  5. Lack of notice given when requesting approvals on news releases, logo use, etc. Respect that a corporation receives hundreds of requests, and at any given time is working on existing projects, as well as reviewing new proposals.
  6. Worse than lack of notice, is not asking for approval before announcing the donation or sponsorship. Corporate funders request to review news releases and announcements in advance, not only to make sure they’re correct and consistent, but to make sure they have the opportunity to maximize communications. The organization may wish to post on its website, and may have reasons why the date might not be optimal.
  7. Providing too much, irrelevant information. This makes it difficult for a corporate funder to easily communicate the partnership in various vehicles, such as its website, speeches or annual reports. If a funder has to spend valuable time sifting through, it is simply easier to profile a different nonprofit organization instead.
  8. Sending photos with no index, identification or captions.
  9. Lack of coordination within your organization. If you are providing more than one point of contact for your project, ensure all of your team is on the same page.
  10. No followup. If you have worked together on a news release or event, ensure to send copies of coverage along with feedback. This is golden for corporate communications and public relations departments

Relationship Rescue

If you see yourself in any of these scenarios, it’s not too late. You can still have a chance at a long and mutually rewarding relationship. At the very least, you can still be friends!

Sherri Garrity is a consultant and coach who specializes in helping organizations achieve greater results through better communications from the inside out. She is the president of Make It Count Communications and author of the Ready, Aim, Inspire! blog for nonprofit

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Big Marketing Stunts, Small-Business Style

By: Geoff Williams

Creating buzz around your business is tough, but it’s nothing compared to keeping that momentum going.

So you want to create some excitement. You want that video you made to go viral. You want the evening news talking you up. You want, in other words, to pull off a successful marketing stunt. That’s all well and good, but if you want a marketing stunt to be a success, you should be looking at the long run. You’re looking for a stint, not a stunt.

That’s why we’re taking a look at 10 marketing stunts–five that worked and five that didn’t, because we can arguably learn more from a business’s mistakes than its triumphs. Plus, it’s just fun to laugh at–er, with–other people’s mistakes.

The Giddy Gander Company
Creator of the Wumblers, a line of educational children’s characters. The company is based in Ridgewood, N.J., and Laura Wellington, 43, is the CEO and creator.

The stunt: Since the Wumblers are born out of watermelons (think eggs hatching and then picture a watermelon hatching), last summer the Giddy Gander Company held a watermelon seed spitting contest at Six Flags Great Adventure.

Takeoff: Besides pulling off an entertaining contest (you can see what we mean at this YouTube link ), the two winners got to spit seeds on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. (You can view that clip here ; funny stuff.) While that didn’t translate into a mention of the Wumblers on the show, sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed that the contest winners were wearing Wumblers T-shirts, and of course Wellington has been able to reference Fallon’s show in the company’s marketing.

How they kept the momentum going: Wellington’s company partnered with an iPhone app called iSeedSpit! that lets you simulate the experience of spitting watermelon seeds. But what the stunt really did, says Wellington, was put her on the radar of local and national media. “I’ve been invited numerous times to a variety of news and talk shows,” says Wellington, and her blog has been referenced in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Three Muses Inspired Clothing

Jacksonville, Fla.–a women’s costume boutique owned by Candy Keane, 34

The stunt: Dress up as the characters from Alice in Wonderland and hit the main drag of bars in downtown Jacksonville to pass out fliers and business cards. Unfortunately, says Keane, “I got zero business from that night.”

Why the stunt flopped: Keane’s friends, dressed as the characters, drank at the bars, and one of them in particular drank very heavily. “My caterpillar became a drunken spectacle and got us kicked out of the first bar,” laments Keane. “It was so bad that they called the other bars and we were barred from going in. As we waited for a cab for the caterpillar, I burst into tears.”

Moral: “Not to hire friends and expect them to be professional,” says Keane.

Melt Bar and Grilled
Located in Cleveland, Ohio, owned by Matt Fish, 37

The stunt: They have an ongoing promotion–a 25 percent discount for life for anyone who gets a tattoo of their logo anywhere on their body. You might think, “What the heck? Not even free food, or maybe a 75 percent discount…”

Takeoff: So far, 136 customers have gotten tattooed. Fish suspects part of the appeal is that “customers really like to be recognized as members of an exclusive group.” He has also learned to accept the good with the bad: “Even the few who have been negative about the promotion can still be fans of the restaurant. Whether it’s positive or negative excitement, it’s still excitement about the business.”

How they kept the momentum going: Every time a new customer gets inked, Melt Bar posts a photo on its website and Facebook page. And Fish holds special promotions and events for his 136-and-growing tattooed customers “to reward them for their diehard support.”

Space Coast Credit Union
(formerly Eastern Financial Credit Union)

The stunt: Handing out barf bags to potential customers. Let us explain: Every year, the Florida-based credit union would sponsor a booth at the Chili Cookoff, a “huge, outdoor, country music concert,” says Dan Shube, now the director of marketing for Labor Finders International , who, at the time, worked for the PR firm that handled the credit union account. “Every year, we’d give out thousands of dollars of items but never get any business.”

So Shube came up with an idea that harkened back to the history of the credit union, which used to be an airline’s credit union. Give out unused barf bags, emblazoned with the question: “Is your bank making you sick?” Inside the bags were coupons totaling $425. Customers were advised to bring in the coupons and the barf bag–unused, they urged.

Why the stunt flopped: “The employees assigned to give out the bags thought the idea was gross, so they didn’t pass them out,” says Shube, who says he was stuck with an awful lot of unused barf bags–costing him 25 cents a piece.

Moral: If a seemingly clever idea is also somewhat inappropriate, it may leave a bad taste in your customers’ and colleagues’ mouths. And if you have to explain the stunt–Barf bags? Really?–it’s probably not going to work.

Strategic Guru Inc.

A full-service direct marketing agency in Raleigh, N.C., owned by Carolyn Rhinebarger, CEO, 55

The stunt: In 2009, the company held a “Worst Website Contest” to see who would get the vote for ugliest website in the Raleigh, N.C., area–with the winner getting a free website makeover by Strategic Guru. “People could anonymously nominate websites,” says Rhinebarger. “One of the finalists chosen was very surprised to learn he had been nominated and didn’t think there was anything wrong with his website.”

Takeoff: “We ran the contest on our blog and attracted quite a bit of traffic,” says Chelsea Junget, a project manager for Strategic Guru. “The winner won a complete web redesign from us, including copy, SEO and development.” Local websites like and covered the contest, of course providing the company some welcome attention.

How they kept the momentum going: They held another contest this year at and plan to make this an annual promotion.

Turner Broadcasting System

The stunt: The company placed creative advertising throughout Boston. Unfortunately, it was too creative. The ads, packages with flashing lights, resembled bombs and threw the city into a panic. This led to arrests, hefty fines and a resignation–it was a mess.

Why the stunt flopped: Any time you try to do a nontraditional ad or stunt in the public arena and you don’t involve city officials, you risk a marketing misfire.

This mistake is more common than you might think. Back in 2001, IBM spray-painted its logo on city buildings in Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and New York. The company called it advertising; the police called it graffiti. Fines–and cleaning crews–commenced.

Moral: Don’t become so arrogant that you forget that the world isn’t your playground. There are rules to follow. In this case, the PR folks apparently forgot they were living in a post-911 world. Guerrilla marketing is fine as long as it doesn’t look like guerrilla warfare.

Jon Charles Salon
Minneapolis, owned by Jon Charles, 45

The stunt: In February, 2009, Charles’ salon offered a new promotion. First-time customers who had lost money in their 401(k)s could bring in documented proof of their loss, and whatever the percentage of the loss had been in 2008, that amount would be deducted from their bill, up to 50 percent of the total bill. In his marketing, Charles brilliantly reassured customers that nobody should be embarrassed by their 401(k) plunge. “We’ve all been in tough spots before,” he said at the time, adding that “it’s between you and your hair person. That’s a relationship that’s even more confidential than the attorney-client privilege.”

Takeoff: The Associated Press wrote about the promotion, so a gazillion newspapers ran the story. Local TV stations followed suit. Soon, Charles was interviewed by Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News. Business boomed so much that Charles opened a second salon.

How they kept the momentum going: The promotion is still going at the second salon, and it brought Charles 700 new clients in two months. But the real success of his promo lies in the fact that he was able to retain 88 percent of those new clients, smashing the industry average of 33 percent.

“The idea has to be timely, using whatever the news of the day is,” advises Charles to any entrepreneur who wants to duplicate his success. “You have to make it funny; people have to get a kick out of it. It’s got to be easy to understand. As soon as people heard this idea, they got it.”

Charo’s Hair Design & Day Spa
Elmwood Park, Ill.

The stunt: In early 2009, Theresa Charo’s hair salon made former and recently disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich an interesting offer. He had been mocked in the press for his hair style, so Charo offered to donate $1,000 to charity if Blagojevich would let her shave his head. If that didn’t fly, the salon had a counteroffer–to cut the entire family’s hair for free through January 2011.

Why the stunt flopped: Blagojevich didn’t take the salon up on the offer; he likely didn’t see much of an upside to accepting. A smattering of local outlets reported on the gimmick, but the stunt went nowhere. As for the media that did report on it, Charo’s PR guy, Matt Baron , speculates that “what attracted the media was the levity that we had at the governor’s expense at a time when a lot of people were upset with him.”

Of course, maybe Blagojevich would have taken the bait if there hadn’t been any snark attached to the offer.

Moral: It’s good practice to invent marketing stunts that won’t cost you much if they don’t go anywhere. Baron doesn’t think Charo got a lot of business from the stunt, but she didn’t lose any time or money, either. Try to avoid a marketing stunt that, if it fails, could cost you a lot of time and money that you can’t afford to lose.

Langton Cherubino Group
A communication design firm in New York City, founded by David Langton, 49

The stunt: Web vs. Webb , a vintage TV quiz-show-style online game that asks people to decide if a word or phrase is related to the World Wide Web or was uttered by Jack Webb, the actor who played Sergeant Joe Friday on Dragnet. Because, you know, that sort of question comes up in life all the time.

They also have MasterpieceYourself , which allows users to upload their photo into famous paintings like the “Mona Lisa” and see how they look.

Creating online games for your firm’s website may not sound like a marketing stunt–but when your business does something a little zany and completely removed from its core business in the hopes of drumming up attention, that could be considered an ongoing marketing stunt. It’s also a good reminder that if you’re going to do a marketing stunt, you don’t have to spend millions of dollars or completely embarrass yourself in an attempt to get national attention.

Takeoff: They’ve had over 100,000 unique visitors, reports Langton. “ was featured in Redbook magazine, and a country radio station in the Midwest selected us as its site of the day. Italians love MasterpieceYourself–we’ve received over 65,000 visitors from Italy.” But what Langton’s really happy about–“visits to our website are up 61 percent.”

How they kept the momentum going: Langton and his business partner, Norman Cherubino, 47, have used the online games as examples of what they can do for other businesses. Of course, this all begs the question–has all the additional traffic and exposure brought the firm, which usually works with companies in the business-to-business arena, new clients?

Langton says yes. “It’s hard to put a dollar figure on it,” he admits, “but [the games have] helped us stay at the forefront with potential clients during a very difficult economic climate.”

Aspen BrownieWorks
Owned by Jill and Jim Pomeroy, both in their early 40s and, as you’d expect, based out of the famed ski town in Colorado

The stunt: The Pomeroys decided to do a free brownie giveaway and to use the promo to build up their database of potential customers. After posting the offer on their website, 9,000 people signed up for a free brownie.

Why the stunt flopped: They were only expecting 500 people to sign up–maybe 1,000. But the free offer spread virally, and their budget wouldn’t let them fulfill the free gift for most of the potential customers. As their PR guy, Steve Skadron , observes, “Once your message is out there, sometimes your ability to control it is limited.”

Moral: Put a limit on giveaways, whether that means making the offer time-sensitive or setting a maximum number.