This blog will help you win loyal friends for your nonprofit organization. I'm Dennis Fischman, and I approved this message.

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Chopsticks, Hammers, and Social Media

My dear father could never master the use of chopsticks.  He resented people who did.  ImageWhenever we went out to a Chinese restaurant and other people reached for the sticks, he would grumble, “A fork has always been good enough for me.  I don’t know why it’s not good enough for you.”

I think of my father sometimes when I hear colleagues ask why they need to use social media.  I’m a big believer in print, video, and face-to-face contact myself, but I have to wonder: how much resistance to adopting social media comes from the fear that we won’t use them well?  That we’ll be still dabbing away with tools we don’t understand while other people have eaten our lunch?

This fear is unnecessary.  Anyone can learn to use social media well enough for company.  Once we stop worrying about how to master them, then we can really ask why–and get good answers.

Contrary to what enthusiasts sometimes think, it is not self-evident why organizations should use social media. I see people who leap on board each social media trend as it comes along.  They remind me of the saying, “To the person who owns a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  Social media are tools.  One size doesn’t fit all.  We need to know what they can do, and what we want to accomplish.  Then, we can pick the right tool for the job.

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves to figure out what we really need, whether we are communications conservatives or early adopters:

  1. Who are we trying to reach?
  2. Where does our audience spend its time, and how do they like to get their information?
  3. What can we do for them?
  4. What are we hoping to get them to do?
  5. How much time can we invest?

Then, and only then, can we figure out which social media we should use, and how.  That’s a social media strategy.

What Nonprofits NEED to Learn from Rand Paul

Rand Paul may be a libertarian who would cut many government programs that nonprofits–and the people we serve–depend on. But there’s one important lesson he can teach us: what NOT to do.

Don’t Try to Fool the People

Rand Paul map

Not one person on this map endorses Rand Paul

Sen. Paul announced his campaign for the presidency of the U.S. last week. His website displayed the map above with the heading “Endorse Rand Paul for President.”

But if you thought the faces represented people who endorsed Rand Paul, you’d be wrong. All these are stock photos from the files of a German photographer. None of them could vote for Paul, even if they wanted to!

What can nonprofits learn from Rand Paul?

The lesson here is not to avoid stock photos. Sometimes, they’re your best option. The lesson is: think carefully about what you’re saying to your supporters. Make sure it’s completely true.


  • Making claims you aren’t in a position to know for certain
  • Fudging your figures
  • Giving misleading impressions (like bragging that your overhead is low, as if that were any indication of results!)


  • Tell real stories about actual people
  • Collect data that mean something–and report the bad with the good
  • Show how you’re making a difference, even in a small way, and even as one organization among many. Your real impact is enough.

Oh, and start taking photos of your work. Because sometimes stock photos can get you into trouble. Just look at Rand Paul.

The Best Fundraising Letter of 2015

Girl escaping ISISIt’s only April, and I may already have received the best fundraising letter I’m going to see in 2015. And they had me after the first sentence.

MADRE wrote:

Dear Rona and Dennis,

I have an extraordinary story to tell you about how six teenage girls escaped from the extremist group ISIS–and into the care that MADRE partners in Iraq provide, thanks to you.

All right, I quit. After that sentence, you want to hear the story, right? My piddling little blog post is not nearly as important as six teenage girls escaping from ISIS.

And that’s the point.

  • MADRE found a compelling story.
  • They made it personal. (“One night, 16-year-old Ola managed to slip the drugs meant for her into her captors’ teapot.”)
  • They made it topical and created a sense of urgency. (ISIS!)
  • They connected it to their work.
  • And they used the magic word, “you.”

Because of all that, you want to know what happens next. You’re probably cursing that Dennis Fischman who’s talking about how the letter worked–instead of just letting you read it.

Do your donors feel that way about your appeal letters? Do they give them a quick glance and file them, or recycle them?  Or…would they feel cheated if they couldn’t read them to the end?

I challenge you. If you think your letter might really be the best fundraising letter I’ll see in 2015, take a moment right now and share the first sentence of that letter in a comment. I’ll tell you what I think, and so will other readers.