Retired MD Collects 5,800 Petition Signatures

A campaign to restore funding to a palliative care community service on the Upper North Shore has received a big response reports Tracey Findlay in the Hornsby and Upper North Shore Advocate.

Retired Wahroonga doctor Yvonne McMaster has collected 5800 signatures since launching the campaign in March. She intends to present the petition to Parliament House. Dr McMaster said she had been encouraged by the community response.

“I am now pretty confident we will get at least 10,000 signatures. I have had lots of replies and offers of help,” she said.

As reported in the Advocate in March, Dr McMaster is protesting against “a rationing of services” for the terminally ill after palliative care community funding was cut by $1.2 million by the then Northern Sydney and Central Coast Area Health Service in 2009.


The Zombie of Public Awareness Campaigns

According to the National Institutes of Health, 20 percent of Americans sleep less than six hours each night.  This can lead to mistakes in the workplaces, costing American businesses billions of dollars each year.

That’s why the Better Sleep Council (BSC), a trade association representing the mattress industry, declared May as national “Stop Zombieitis!” awareness month.

The BSC sought to use social networks to identify and educate those who complain of the symptoms of “zombieitis” – feeling like death, exhaustion, irritability, and a slow gait.

“Linking sleep deprivation to zombies is a clever idea, especially for a social media campaign,” said Sparklight President Joseph LaMountain.  “Millions are sleep deprived and zombies are a popular online meme, so this was a great opportunity for BSC to reach a wide audience with its messages.”

But that hasn’t really happened.  The campaign website was not intuitive and took several visits to understand.  Their three YouTube videos were seen fewer than 700 times while the “Stop Zombieitis” Facebook group counted fewer than 600 friends and hardly any engagement with members.

“What the BSC discovered is that it takes more than just a clever idea for an awareness campaign to work,” LaMountain said.  “Putting a couple videos online, creating a Facebook page, and hoping that your video goes viral is not the best strategy.”

As representatives of the mattress industry, the BSC could have aggressively reached consumers through retail outlets, manufacturers lists of customers and delivery trucks.  They could have used targeted online advertising (Facebook and Google AdWords) and reached out to niche “horror” blogs to gain traction.

“Social media is a great tool for reaching people,” LaMountain said, “but it’s not enough to simply post your content online and wait for the masses to arrive.  It has to be part of a comprehensive marketing and communications plan if it’s going to work.”

Newt’s Presidential Launching Pad?

Newt Gingrich has been out of office for more than a decade. But he’s running for President? This National Journal article by Alex Roarty teh web of groups around Newt, and how he may use them in a 2012 White House bid…

He’s a 67-year-old with jowls and has a résumé that includes three wives and nearly 20 years in one of the nation’s least favorite institutions. He hasn’t held elective office in more than a decade. He’s been around so long that he defined the face of the last Republican revolution (in 1994). To reach the White House, he must overcome a field of fresher faces with larger political bases—not to mention more than a century of history that says there’s no path down Pennsylvania Avenue from the House of Representatives to the White House.

But for all of his drawbacks, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who on Thursday became the first major Republican figure to formally declare his interest in the GOP presidential nomination, still possesses something his foes can’t match: a network of businesses, political action committees, and media contacts that provide him relationships across the conservative movement. He owns or chairs five notable groups, which alternatively showcase his fundraising muscle or connection to the party’s grassroots activists. His 2012 candidacy, which faces significant challenges, could turn on whether he can mobilize that network into a formidable asset.

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Don’t Overlook the Power of the Phone

The new Broadway musical Sister Act has found its social media groove. It has more than 55,000 Facebook “likes,” 1300 Twitter followers, 30,000 YouTube views and a set of apps.

But as The New York Times reports, there’s just one problem.  “Ask Broadway insiders how many tickets have been sold as a result of all this social networking, and the look on their faces reads, ‘Server Not Found.'”

“You hope these sites generate good word of mouth,” said Sister Act director Jerry Zaks, but the the “best measure of our popularity and financial return is group sales.”

And according to the article, group sales are driven largely by the tried and true method of sales agents working the phones. The agents work from decades-old databases of church groups, schools, businesses and clubs and work these contacts to make sales.

“This is a relationship business and I can trust Stephanie [my sales Representative],” said one ticket buyer who sends 35 groups a year to Broadway. “I don’t know who is on the other end of a Twitter or Facebook account saying such-and-such a show is good.”

Though Broadway tickets sales are far removed from the nonprofit world, I think there’s a couple takeaways here for nonprofit leaders. First, it is important to have a robust social media presence in order to generate word of mouth and exposure for your cause.

But where Broadway excels, and most nonprofits fall flat, is the next step. Following up personally with potential supporters by phone and making the sales pitch. I’ve been amazed how many organizations fail to take this crucial step in their fundraising, awareness and advocacy efforts.

For example, a nonprofit with whom I work was organizing a fundraising walk. More than 4,000 people had participated in previous years, but had not registered for the 2011 event. But instead of setting up volunteer- or staff-led phone banks, or even paying someone to call, they relied exclusively on social media and email. Result: Money left on the table.

“Facebook and Twitter are great tools,” said Stephanie Lee, President of Group Sales Box Office said, “but the buzz from all these shows can be deafening.”

While decidedly unsexy – the Times calls them “version 1.0” on Broadway – the company’s communications plan is clearly working. Ticket orders were up 43% from last year, a track record of success few nonprofits or businesses can match in this economic client.

Do you need help reaching your audience?  Contact Joseph LaMountain at or 202.288.5124 today.

2010: Top 6 Successes

Last year we published a post highlighting our top accomplishments of 2009.  It’s been getting a lot of traffic recently, so I figured that it’s about time I make a similar list of top successes in 2010.

(1) Parity for HD – In 2010, we worked with the Huntington’s Disease Society of American to persuade 155 Representatives to cosponsor the HD Parity Act (HR 678).  We also persuaded 180 candidates for Congress to complete and return our candidate survey in support of the HD Parity Act and funding for HD research.

(2) Get Seizure Smart! – We reached 2.25 million Americans through the Get Seizure Smart! campaign.  Organized with the Epilepsy Foundation, the campaign had a simple call to action: Distribute the Get Seizure Smart! quiz to family, friends and coworkers.  More than 2,000 people responded and 95% said they’d do it again.

(3) Shaking the Tree – We created a corporate and foundation sponsorship marketing plan for National Geographic Education.  We focused their messaging on “reach, results and reputation” and created an off-the-shelf corporate sponsorship package that will help the NGE team raise bigger bucks in 2011 and beyond.

(4) Generating Media – We generated significant media coverage, print and online, for the Hanover Investment Group and established them as economic “thought leaders.”  Placements include Bloomberg News, The Economist and the Financial Times while interviews with the Wall Street Journal and Reuters may lead to future coverage.

(5) Get the Bug! – The annual MV Big Flea charity event raised a record $25,665 by selling items donated by members of the community.  By being interesting and using low-cost word-of-mouth communications tactics, we’ve also generated 50,000 visitors to our website.  Not bad for an elementary school PTA fundraiser.

(6) Congress Responds – The PAD Coalition is seeking better coverage to test for atherosclerosis of the legs, also known as clogged leg arteries.  In 2010, we succeeded in having a key provision included in the Affordable Care Act (health care reform).  We also generated a letter from 15 Representatives in support of our key policy directive.

A Bright Idea for Raising Awareness

Nearly every nonprofit tries to raise awareness about its cause.  Unfortunately, most rely on the same old tactics which, I find, don’t really reach or educate that many people.

Most groups try to raise awareness with media coverage.  They issue a news release, call a few reporters, maybe post a video on YouTube, and hope for the best.

If you’re lucky, this can result in a couple news stories.  But because we live in a 24/7 media culture, those stories are largely forgotten the next day.

My recommendation?  Stop focusing on mass media and start using “people media” to spread the word.  In other words, get your members and supporters to spread the word, and raise awareness, for you.

While mass media is fleeting, personal communications are persuasive and can have lasting impact.  Think about it this way: What would convince you to try a new restaurant in town, a newspaper advertisement or a recommendation from a friend?

Nonprofits often have thousands of volunteers who are willing and able to spread the word.  Put them to work!  By giving them specific tasks to perform, you can reach millions with your message while cultivating an active, informed and engaged membership.

The Epilepsy Foundation used this strategy for National Epilepsy Awareness Month in 2010.  It created the Get Seizure Smart! quiz and told volunteers how to distribute it.  More than 2.25 million copies were distributed through schools, libraries, businesses, houses of worship and online.

It gets better.  More than 95% of campaign participants declared it a success and said they’d do it again.  This is also a great way to show your members the value of supporting the organization.  My guess is that a follow-up fundraising appeal to this engaged audience would do spectacularly well.

Fortunately, a word-of-mouth campaign doesn’t cost a ton of money to create and implement.  So the next time you need to raise awareness about your cause, forget about mass media and instead harness the power of your supporters and friends.

A Hatchet Job on Health Care Advocates

The American Journal of Public Health published yesterday an article examining the relationships between health advocacy organizations and the pharmaceutical industry. The following is my response to the author:

I am writing to express my complete and utter disappointment with your article “Efforts to Undermine Public Health” which examines the relationships between health advocacy organizations and the pharmaceutical industry. I’ve worked with many non-profit health organizations over the last twenty years – several of whom are named in your article – and take great exception to your characterization of their relationships with pharmaceutical companies.

Given the nature and scope of our health care system, it is inevitable that health advocacy organizations and pharmaceutical companies have overlapping and shared interests. That a company would choose to fund initiatives in alignment with their business interests is also inevitable, and not surprising; would you expect Halliburton or General Motors to fund a cardiac health awareness campaign? And while I agree that disclosure of these relationships is beneficial, their mere presence does not constitute de facto “conflict of interest” or “biases” as your article strongly implies.

In the 1990s I served as the National Director of Advocacy for the American Diabetes Association. At the time, insurance companies routinely denied patients coverage for necessary diabetes supplies – insulin, meters, testing strips and syringes. To address this problem, the Association launched a nationwide advocacy campaign to enact laws to require coverage for these items. This campaign was supported, in small part, through the sponsorship and technical support of Eli Lilly and other companies.

As a result of our efforts, nearly 40 states enacted laws requiring coverage of these items; Congress also enacted a law that required Medicare to improve its coverage for these medical supplies. Did our corporate partners benefit from the enactment of these laws? Most assuredly. But the real winners in this campaign were the millions of Americans affected by diabetes who, prior to the laws enactment, were unable to obtain these necessary medical supplies and effectively manage their condition.

This was made clear to me one morning during a summer vacation in Maine. Seated at a small town lunch counter, a woman overheard my conversation and approached me. “Were you involved with the diabetes campaign here in Maine?” she asked. I responded yes and she said that for the first time, her elderly father could now obtain the test strips and insulin he needed to effectively manage his type 2 diabetes. “Thank you,” she said, almost in tears. “You have no idea how much this has changed our lives.”

That conversation took place more than a dozen years ago, but I still remember it vividly. It reinforced to me why we launched our campaign, and the positive impact we could have on people’s lives. That is what health advocacy organizations do, on a daily basis. Your article not only discredits that honorable work, but demonstrates a stunning lack of understanding about their missions, the who work there, their millions of committed volunteers and the needs of the people they represent.

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