A “Donor Stewardship” way of life

Envelope 1024X864pxI’m worried about Lenora. I haven’t heard from her in awhile, and I fear age has caught up with her. Last time she pledged, she wrote that she had reduced her giving level and might not be able to give anything at all in 2017. What I like least is that letters remain unresponded to (but not returned with the dreaded “deceased” notation), phone calls aren’t answered, and she doesn’t do email.

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8 Lessons Learned from Starting a Podcast

Once a fringe “new media” tactic, podcasts have come into their own by taking advantage of smart phone automotive audio link capabilities and catering to the expectation of “my content, my choice.”

Podcasting is an easy tactic to deploy, well worth the time and money – so long as those who create the content tailor the way they talk about policy to a podcasting audience. Given a tech-savvy audience, it will help you achieve your communications objectives. You should know ahead of time that podcasting is also a regular time commitment on the scale of maintaining a website or a regular radio spot. Don’t start one until you evaluate how it fits into your organizational plans and structure.

Are you interested in getting a podcast going at your organization?

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Spark Freedom Interns: Meet Emily Orr!

My name is Emily Orr! I grew up in Southern California. For the past three years, I have been living in Logan, Utah while attending Utah State University. I am entering my senior year, majoring in political science and minoring in organizational communication

I love hiking, kayaking, going to the gym, political activism, cooking, brunch(ing), traveling, and watching those weird documentaries on Netflix. I also really love dogs. I don’t have one (yet), but I find myself spending (too much) time watching dog videos on the internet.

Last semester I was a Koch Scholar, which gave me the opportunity to fuel one of my greatest passions: reading.The purpose was to get students of different backgrounds to talk about issues in government and society.  As a scholar, my favorite book was “How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life” by Russ Roberts.

When I was a freshman in college I was introduced to the ideas of classical liberalism, and since then I have been absolutely smitten. I attended a club meeting called Aggies for Liberty run by a good friend of mine. I loved the ideas they were sharing, and I thought that they made a lot of sense and I looked further into them. I later became the president of Aggies for Liberty (which is an affiliate of Students for Liberty), which has allowed me to spread the ideas of liberty across the state of Utah. Since my introduction into liberty, I have become very passionate about Free Market Environmentalism (I started an FME club on my campus), freedom of speech and expression (especially on college campuses), proper fiscal policies, and the war on drugs. I am interested in all aspects of a free society, but these are the spheres that get me super amped.

I am very excited to be interning for Spark Freedom. After going through the process of becoming a Koch Intern, I discovered the job listing as a communication intern. I explored their website and was impressed with how many people they have worked with to help promote their stories of liberty. I believe that sharing your story is very valuable in such a connected world. I see so much opportunity for personal growth here at Spark Freedom, and I am eager to learn everything they throw my way! As a result of this internship, I hope to gain new skills in communication and development that will spill over into my professional and academic life. I am very excited about this opportunity and very happy to be on the Spark Freedom team!


[Webinar] April Spark Session: Ask the Experts!


For our April Expert Q & A Spark Session, we asked you to send us your questions about anything marketing and communications. Our experts who responded included Kevan Kjar from Arrowhead 3 Consulting, Sarah Johnson from Spotlight Liberty, and Corey Burns from eResources. (Learn more about them and other members of our experts council here.) Here are some highlights from the session.

Kevan Kjar responded to a question about how to engage someone who does not already agree with your policy. The best way to convince such a person is to tell a strong and meaningful story, one that is emotional to the buyer, differentiated from the competition, and stars a credible real-life hero.

Sarah Johnson shared advice with us on how to make your trade show booths more engaging and interactive. You need to do extensive research on your audience and really zero in on what message you want the attendees to go home with.

Corey Burns discussed the pros and cons of developing a phone application for your organization. Before jumping into the vast app market, consider: How much will it cost to create the app? Is your app new? Innovative? Why would people download your app if you already have a website?

Spark Freedom’s own Nicole Williams provided insight on how to develop a marketing plan for a market that seems to be constantly changing. Your plan should consist of goals that are grounded in change yet can be measured in terms of success. For example: “We want to change the way people are talking about liberty.” Such a goal is implicitly dynamic because it presumes the way people talk about liberty will keep evolving. But you can influence that change in the right direction, and you can create measures to determine that influence.

Listen to the entire April Spark Session to find out:

  • How should a company approach developing an app on a budget? Are apps worth the costs?
  • How do you avoid having a bad looking website on mobile phones?
  • 5 tips from Kevan Kjar on writing a successful story
  • 7 strategies from Sarah Johnson on having an attractive trade show booth



Image credit: xkcd.com

[Webinar] May Spark Session: How to use humor to (re)connect with your audience

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As many of us have experienced first-hand, it is difficult to make policy interesting and fun. So how do we lighten the mood and engage our audience better?

That’s what we talked about with our guest Wayne Hoffman in last week’s webinar. Wayne has spent 25 years in a journalism field before he took the helm at the Idaho Freedom Foundation. He’s well known for his coverage of the West Memphis Three murder stories, and he even appeared in a documentary about that. He has been running the Idaho Freedom Foundation for 7 years, taking it from a kernel of an idea to a thriving organization doing great work in Idaho.

Here are some of Wayne’s insights from the webinar:

Q: What is the first piece of advice you would give someone who wants to integrate humor into their policy work?

Wayne Hoffman: You don’t have to come up with the greatest punch line of all time. Just start out by looking at your policies and finding ways you can lighten the mood a little bit.

Q: What do you do if you’re just not funny by nature?

WH: First, remember this: You’re not trying to have people go home and say, “Oh, that guy from the free market think tank was so funny.” You’re trying to get them to connect with you as a human being. So be yourself; don’t walk into a room and try to be a stand-up comedian. Even poke fun at yourself sometimes.

Q: What things do you need to keep in mind as you’re trying to integrate humor into your policy communications?

WH: 1) Know your audience and know your issue. Know your opposition. Know the constraints of what you can say and not say. You don’t want to come off as callous or flippant when trying to lighten the mood a little bit. 2) Practice, practice, practice. 3) Run your presentation by someone who can give you very constructive, honest feedback about what works and what doesn’t work.

Q: People seem to think we need to take freedom seriously to defend it. Will adding humor to the freedom debate work for us or against us?

WH: It’s absolutely going to work for us, and it’s the one thing that’s been missing from our side’s tool kit. No one wants to join a club of old, stodgy people who are constantly talking about how bad things are.

Q: Who is funnier, liberals or conservatives?

WH: I think liberals do a better job with humor right now, and I mean that sincerely. You only need anecdotes to prove your point. The Daily Show. Give me a conservative alternative to The Daily Show and I guess you’ll demonstrate that I’m wrong, but the liberals have done a very, very good job. Most of the narrative, the dialogues, and a lot of the late night talk shows promulgate liberal ideology, so we’ve done a very, very lousy job of either communicating in terms of wit and light hearted moments.

Listen to the entire webinar to find out:

  • How using a good prop can break through the discussion of cold facts and big numbers
  • How tax policy can be funny
  • How we can help people get a real grasp of a debate by presenting an issue in a humorous way that also resonates them
  • On-the-fly ways to get a chuckle from your audience
  • Why Wayne once took a liquor bottle to testify at the state legislature


May Spark Session_ How to use humor to (re)connect with your audience


Join our email list to find out when our next Spark Sessions take place!

Also, check out our Spark Session archive.

How to prepare a killer speech

Guest Post by John Tsarpalas

John is a political candidate and public speaking coach. He is the former Executive Director of the Illinois Republican Party and President of the Sam Adams Alliance. John’s expertise includes campaign and organizational planning, and public speaking coaching. John hosts a weekly podcast that “Trains Those Who Understand the Benefits of Limited Government to Win Elections”. You can find him at www.commonwealthy.com.


Why Do Less Than Your Best?

Are you the type of speaker who puts together a few notes on the plane and wings it (pun intended) when you arrive at your venue. You don’t need to prep; you’re good enough. Why did you bother to travel all this way if is not important enough for you to rehearse?  If you wanted to be half-assed, why not just set up a conference call? What could you have accomplished if you had taken a little time to practice and – better yet – run through with a small group who could give you some feedback? Quit fooling yourself and short changing your organization, your clients, and your coworkers.

It doesn’t take much time to dial your speech or presentation to a 10. Just a little practice and forethought.


Questions to get answered before you even start to put together your notes:

What is my topic?

What is my goal for the speech?

Why was I chosen to speak on this topic?

Why have I chosen to do this presentation?

Are there key points my hosts asked me to make?

Who is the audience and why are they here?

Why is what I am about to say important to my audience?

What are the time constraints?

Are others also presenting?

Who is speaking before me?

Who is introducing me and what will he or she say?

Will there be further interaction with the audience, such as Questions and Answers?

Are there other speakers following me and what are they talking about?


Questions to ask yourself as you prepare:

How can you capture the audience’s attention from the very first moment?

Why is the audience going to stay interested in what I am saying?

Do I have good stories to illustrate my points?

What feelings and emotions am I trying to project?

Can I inject humor? Can I pull it off?

What is my body language projecting?

Are my gestures and movements in sync with my words?

Am I keeping eye contact with the audience?


Questions to work through in rehearsal:

Is this presentation the right length?

Does it fit time constraints?

What should be eliminated, tightened, or emphasized more?

If I have to fill a time slot, how do I break this up into smaller, memorable segments?

Do I have a strong closing?

Does my closing review and sum up key points?

What is my call to action?

Is your call to action going to bring down the house?

Or will it at least get the proper response?


Now that you have put in the time, gotten feedback, and worked your presentation through a few times, you are going to kill it. Just think how much more you can achieve!

A simple tool brings your marketing budget in line with your organizational goals

One question I often get from clients is: What should be our ideal ratio of marketing dollars to our overall organizational budget?

While this is what I am asked, the question I hear is: How can we make sure that our marketing investments will accomplish our overall business goals?

My first answer is, of course, the dreaded “it depends.” What is your organization’s long-term business goal? What is your most important target audience? What are your supporting marketing plans? Without answers to those key questions, you will have a hard time determining how many resources you should focus on marketing and communications.

Once you have those answers, try the following approach to create an integrated overview of how much to invest in marketing and communications, across programs and for the organization in general.

Create one calendar combining general marketing activities with marketing and support required for specific projects.

This calendar gives you an overview of how much you invest in programs vs. general marketing and communications. You get a side-by-side view of general marketing activities with current programs, projects, and events. The calendar also helps you make decisions about optimal timing, based on workloads, revenues, and cashflows. Most importantly, you can evaluate whether the marketing budget and activities are in line with organizational goals, and adjust course as necessary.

For example, say that in order to maintain brand awareness with your target audiences, you figure that you need to invest 5-10% of your budget in general marketing. This is just to maintain the status quo. But your long-term business goal is not served by the status quo. In fact, to achieve your long-term business goal, you have to grow your influence. An integrated marketing calendar will help you to align your marketing and communications investment for both maintenance and growth with your overall budget and your primary organizational goals.

To get you started, we’ve created a communications calendar template for you. Download it here:

Sample communications calendar.

The War with Words

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We recently read a blog post from Hammock, a Nashville-based “customer media and content company,” that stuck home with some of the struggles we encounter in policy every day.
The war with words.
Seattle’s “war on cars” resulted in “bikelash” not because people were anti-bike or pro-car, but because the felt that they must pick a side.
Ill-chosen words and phrases can lead to unintended consequences for marketers or advocates of any type.
Rex Hammock writes, “

In 2009, those three little words, ‘war on cars,’ threatened to set back the efforts of people who wanted to make bicycling in Seattle a safer and viable option for transportation. When the phrase was picked up from Toronto for the Seattle initiative,  the “war on cars” made people take sides in a battle most citizens of Seattle hadn’t realized was being waged.
Instead of productive and civil conversations over whether walking or riding transportation should be improved, some people began to see the issue in terms of keeping driving from getting worse. A winning issue had become a losing one, according to People for Bikes, a bicycle industry advocacy group.”
His take away? Use language that supports the way you customers view themselves, not how you define them. And resist the urge to them into buckets with words like good vs. bad, pro vs. con.

Lasse’s Top 5 Takeaways From SXSW 2015

Another SXSW come and gone. Leaving Austin is always bittersweet, given how exciting it is to be around so many inspiring people and innovative ideas. I experienced a lot this year, and I could probably write endlessly about the things I saw and heard, but for brevity’s sake, here’s the cream of the crop – my Top 5 Takeaways from the 2015 South by Southwest Interactive Festival:

Great Sessions

The core of the SXSW Interactive experience is built around the panels, keynotes, workshops, and discussions you gain access to by buying a badge. These things can be very hit and miss, depending largely on the speaker, so it’s not uncommon for people to get up and leave mid-discussion if they aren’t getting the value they want out of it. There’s always something else to go see.

Evany Thomas at the Use Your Words session. Photo Credit

Evany Thomas at the Use Your Words session.
Photo Credit – @FashCommute

However, you always manage to find something worthwhile. The following are the sessions that kept me glued to my seat:

  1. Use Your Words: Optimizing Content For Growth – By far my favorite panel of SXSW 2015. Evany Thomas, brand writer and content strategist at Pinterest, was the best presenter I’ve seen and shared some insights about how small wording changes can result in huge growth. You can read more about it here.
  2. Advocates vs Agitators: the Social Influence – A panel that featured Chevrolet and Southwest Airline’s social media leads. They shared fascinating case studies about how they leveraged online conversation, positive and negative, to boost their brand.
  3. Bill Gurley and Malcolm Gladwell in Conversation – The author of The Tipping Point interviewed Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Bill Gurley. They covered everything from health care reform to the future of transportation.
  4. A Conversation with Senator Rand Paul – It was interesting to see Senator Paul approach the tech-oriented crowd at SXSW. Any time he mentioned the word “privacy,” which was often, he received thunderous applause.
  5. Society Is One Big Cult: The Science of Movements – A Manhattan marketer discussed how cults form using psychological manipulation and how those tricks translate over into societal movements. Bonus points for creative use of Stairway to Heaven as an illustration.

Amazing New Products

This year’s SXSW gave me my best show floor experience yet, which I owe in part to my coworker, Sarah. My usual convention show floor practice is to cover the entire area looking for things that interest me, then go back later and visit those booths. Sarah’s much more methodical, and stops at many booths to engage with the vendors, even if the product isn’t interesting at first. We discovered many new products, ideas, and tools thanks to her thirst for what’s new and exciting.

Here are the standouts from the show floor:

Roost – Push Notifications for your web browser

GigSalad – Need entertainment for an event? GigSalad connects you with high-quality, local talent

iqMedia – One of the most advanced digital listening tools I’ve ever seen

LinkReader – Taking QR codes where they should have been years ago


One of the best parts about SXSW is meeting new people at any of the numerous sessions, parties, meetups, booths, or Starbucks lines scattered throughout downtown Austin.

Shoutouts to a few of the awesome people I met this year:

Caleigh Ripp, Illinois Policy Institute
Jen Knoedl, JenKnoedl.com
Trina Garnett, IMP Media
Caroline Henley, Falcon Social
Joey Esquibel, GigSalad 


Any time you work in a specific industry, or a specific role within a company,  it can be easy to get tunnel vision on techniques, attitude, and methods. This year was refreshing and inspirational for me because it got me out of the bubble that I operate in day-to-day and encouraged me to look at our business, client relationships, services, and approach in new ways. There’s no one thing I can point to that caused that; rather it was the combination of panels, discussions over dinner, shared experiences at parties, and new relationships that forced me to think differently and decide to create new habits when I got home.


As usual, Austin food is amazing. Here’s what you have to check out the next time you are in town:

Gourdoughs – the single best doughnut, and possibly dessert, you will ever eat in your lifetime

Jackalope – Amazing burgers and beer, although our service was…interesting

Piranha – Great sushi located right next to the convention center


You can review our SXSW 2015 journey by heading over to www.sparkfreedom.org/sxsw_2015. Also, share your favorite moments with us by using the #SparkAtSXSW hashtag. You might like these SXSW posts as well:

Saturday at SXSW – Tech Ethics, Word Optimization, and Data Stories

When you’ve seen one man in a gold lamé jumpsuit…


Saturday at SXSW – Tech Ethics, Word Optimization, and Data Stories

What draws people to SXSW is the insane volume of interesting things to see, experience, and eat. There are lounges, booths, tech demos, and of course, sessions. The challenge comes when a session’s popularity is underrated and more people than can fit into a ballroom attempt to get in. I originally tried to attend Netflix Shares a Decade of A/B Test Learning and Designers and Content Creators: Make Love Not War, but both sessions were packed long before I showed up. I tried to wait it out and see if some spots would open up, but eventually gave up and went with Option C: Digital Shift: Tomorrow’s Relationships and Ideals.

Photo Mar 14, 9 45 15 AM (1)

Daniel Bluzer-Fry and Kristy Richards

Digital Shift: Tomorrow’s Relationships and Ideals

Daniel Bluzer-Fry and Kristy Richards of Australian-based The Lab Strategy shared their thoughts and feelings on how humans are reacting to a more technology-driven world. They made three observations:

  1. We are always connected,
  2. We’re separating ourselves from the physical world, and
  3. We can shape ourselves how we see fit in this digital world.

They urged caution as we advance forward, suggesting that technology may cause us to lose something even as we gain (heady stuff like “Will the democratization of creativity truly make us happier or will we stand to lose something by devaluing imperfection?“). They advocated for guardrails to be put in place to help guide the future development of technology. In a surprising twist, they claimed that governments are ill equipped to deal with the regulation of such fast-paced evolution and that the onus is on the companies themselves to establish those guidelines. All in all, it was a fairly nebulous topic lacking a clear outcome of what brands or organizations should do.

Use Your Words: Optimizing Content for Growth

My second session was much more on-point and struck a great balance between clear structure, case studies, and overall presentation. It was also one that our community voted on, so big kudos to all of you for picking a winner! That session featured Evany Thomas, brand writer at Pinterest. When she wasn’t chucking Blow Pops at the audience, she shared some key insights into how finding the right words helped her team at Pinterest blow up their signups and get the brand out.

How They Measure Growth

Evany shared the metrics Pinterest’s uses to measure their growth. They were deceptively straight-forward.

  1. Sign ups – who completes the log in process
  2. Retention – who continues to log in and share content
  3. Affection and appreciation – this was much more of an intangible. The company actually collects physical snail mail fan letters and hangs them on a special wall in their office.

How to optimize your words:

Four steps to using words to optimize your organization/campaign for growth.

  1. Name Your Thing – Make it Recognizable, Legal, Internationizable, and Meaningful
  2. Describe It Well –  Just as important as how you name your company, product, or campaign is how you describe it when people ask to learn more. Case in point, which is more recognizable?

    “The Happiest Place on Earth” (hint: Mouse Ears)


    How Alexander Graham Bell described the telephone.

  3. Get People Inside – Once people have been introduced to your idea, you can begin to optimize how they interact with it. Pinterest went through numerous iterations before landing on a final design.
    These were the calls to action that the team tested before landing on the final:

    “Sign up with Facebook”
    “Join with Facebook” – did 40% worse than “Sign up”
    “Join Pinterest w/ Facebook” – did worse
    “Continue” – 29% better
    “Come on in!” – 48% better
    “Continue with Facebook” – 57% better, 19% more signups

    Pinterest’s final version of their Facebook sign up button.

    When they moved this design over to mobile web, it resulted in 811% more signups

  4. Show Them Around – Even the best designed products can use a little explaining. Don’t hesitate to revisit the topic and give your audience a helping hand.

“A great name can’t fix a bad product. A great product can fix a bad name.” – Paola Norambuena

The Art and Science of Data-Driven Storytelling

My last session of the day was The Art and Science of Data-Driven Storytelling, another choice of our web voters. The focus of this discussion ended up being much more journalism-oriented than I expected, but I came away with some impressive tools that nonprofit can use to great advantage.

Politicos will remember the presenter, Ben Casselman, who works at the Nate Silver-backed data journalism organization 538, as the popular data-analyst who made his mark during the past two Presidential elections. The conversation focused mostly on how 538 finds, scrubs, and interprets data, and then writes about the stories that the data describes. Ben shared a few tools that he finds useful:

Finding Data: FOIA requests, census data, economic releases. There is also a ton of publicly-available data available at Data.gov.

Organizing Data:
Google Refine
Microsoft Excel

Finally, check out the IBM Watson – Personality Insights Demonstration. Just copy/paste in the most recent State of the Union speech and look at the results. You’ll get back some very interesting insights.

That was a wrap for my Saturday at SXSW. I also got eat some great food and meet some awesome people, but hey, that’s Austin. Check back again soon for the recap of Sunday’s SXSW activities.