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Larry Checco

Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications and a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding and leadership. His books, Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization and Aha! Moments in Brand Management: Commonsense Insights to a Stronger, Healthier Brand, have sold thousands of copies both here and abroad.

Recent Posts by Larry Checco:

Good News Travels Fast

It seems these days everyone is enamored with social media.

It's hard to go to a conference that doesn't offer sessions titled, "How to Leverage Social Media to Benefit Your Organization" ... "10 Ways Social Media Can Help You Raise More Funds" ... "Social Media: Getting Your Story Out. What Every Social Marketer Needs to Know."

I'm no Luddite. But in full disclosure, even though I use it sparingly, I'm no big fan of social media for numerous reasons, including issues related to privacy, security, and time management, just to name a few.

Despite any of my personal biases, however, the axiom that "Good news travels fast; bad news travels faster" holds more weight in this age of incredibly fast communications technologies than ever before.

In short, when it comes to social media, be sure you've done your homework.

A Few Things to Think About

What follows are just a few things to ponder as you explore your initial, or expanded, use of social media.

  • How well do we understand this technology, and do we know the best—and correct—ways to employ it?

    For example, do we know the differences between social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), bookmarking sites (Delicious, StumbleUpon, etc.) social news (Digg, Reddit, etc.), media sharing (YouTube, Flickr, etc.), microblogging (Twitter, etc.), and the countless blog forums that are out there?

    Do we need to employ all of them, or will just one or two do?

  • Are we staffed to use social media in a timely manner?

    Social media is meant to be interactive. In other words, it's a dynamic—not a static—form of communications, and much of it is extremely time sensitive.

    For example, if someone posts a question on your blog, Facebook, or LinkedIn page, how long will it take you to respond? Hint: It better be sooner rather than later. Social media almost demands real-time turnaround.

  • Who within our organization should have access to and be responsible for our social media communications?

    Keep in mind that social media is a window to your brand. Subsequently, the person(s) responsible for messaging on it in many respects become the online face of your organization. Choose them not only for their ability to know and understand the technology but also for how well they know and understand your brand and the image you want to project to the public.

    Which leads us to ...

  • Do we have guidelines for online behavior?

    Do you understand that anything you say on social media is in the public domain, that it is all being archived, and that it can be retrieved at any time by anyone with a search engine—which means nearly everyone in the world?

    Subsequently, do you have written policies in place regarding such things as the accuracy of information you are putting online, the use (or non-use) of vulgarity, respect for others (individuals as well as organizations), and how to address online criticism of your organization?

    Which also leads us to ...

  • Do we have a crisis management plan in place should something negative about our organization go viral?

    If someone in your organization becomes aware that your organization is being challenged or criticized online, to whom should they report, and how should the organization respond?

  • Are we aware of privacy issues?

    Do you know not to provide personal or organization-related information on social media sites that scam artists or identity thieves could use?

  • Do we know when we may be overexposing ourselves to our audiences?

    At what point might you be sending out too many tweets or other online messages that, instead of holding the attention of your intended audiences are causing them to consider your messages spam?

  • What are our lost opportunity costs?

    Is social media taking up so much of your time that it is preventing you from doing things more directly related to the success of your mission?

Let's be clear. I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from using social media. Used knowledgeably and thoughtfully, it certainly has proven to have its advantages and revered place in organization communications.

I'm just saying ...

Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2014, Checco Communications

Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications and a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding and leadership. His books, Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization and Aha! Moments in Brand Management: Commonsense Insights to a Stronger, Healthier Brand, have sold thousands of copies both here and abroad.


Seven Ways to Avoid Toxicity in the Workplace

Are you married? Do you have a partner or significant other in your life?

Most of us do.

If you identify, think how difficult it often is to come to consensus on issues, both large and small. ...

How much hashing and compromising needs to take place before some kind of agreement (hopefully) can be reached. ...

How painful the process can be at times. ...

How unhappiness can easily seep into the relationship when one or both parties feel taken advantage of, abused, or disrespected by the other—with dysfunction always lurking in the shadows.

And this is between just two people who ostensibly love, or at least care about, one another to some degree, have consciously chosen each other as soul mates or life partners, and sometimes even come from similar cultures, backgrounds, and value systems.

Now think about your workplace.

How many people must you interact with there? One? Three? A dozen? Scores? All of whom have been randomly selected to work together by a board, executive director, or HR department, and many of whom you have little, if anything, in common with or could care less about.

It's not hard to understand how things can get out of control and workplaces turn toxic pretty quickly.

Such work environments are not only unpleasant to wake up, shower, and brush our teeth for in the morning. More often than not they are less efficient and productive than they can be, lose focus on providing quality programs, products, and services, and, in turn, do great harm to the positive brand image the organization may be trying to project to outside stakeholder audiences, including funders.

So, what to do?

Some Suggestions

Denial or blaming others is not an option. Quite frankly, the quality of a workplace environment is everyone's responsibility.

  • Those who do the hiring need to look at more than just an applicant's skills set. How well will this person fit within the culture of our organization? What evidence did they project in the interviewing process that tells us that their values, work ethic, and personality are what we're looking for? Do they have a history of working well with others? How good a job will we do to orient this new employee to our workplace expectations?
  • Those who lead must do so by example. It's not enough to talk the talk. Good leaders need to walk the walk. They need to set the standards for civility and good behavior and constantly reinforce the valuable—and valued—role everyone, from board members to support staff, plays in the organization achieving its mission. They must provide not only the vision but also the mechanisms that make for a healthy work environment. Which leads to ...
  • Those who are being led need to have a voice and a fair opportunity to air what's on their minds. In short, employees must feel free to speak their truth to authority without fear of retribution or being labeled. Grievances not aired fester into negative relationships difficult to repair.
  • Those who excel need to be acknowledged. This does not always call for an awards banquet. A simple heartfelt "thank you" often will do just fine.
  • Those with new ideas deserve a hearing. We live in a dynamic age. Disruptive technologies are forcing all organizations to take a new, fresh look at nearly every aspect of their businesses. "This is the way we've always done it" is no longer a good excuse to resist change and often suppresses creativity and lowers morale, especially among Millennials.
  • Those who are intolerant of others should be sensitized to the maxim that some date back to the ancient Greeks: Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
  • Those who fail to be accountable for their behavior and do not fit the profile of a cooperative, collaborative, and congenial coworker need to be reassigned or removed. Everyone deserves a warning and a second chance. But if things just aren't working out, for the sake of the entire workforce action needs to be taken.

I'm no marriage counselor, nor do I play one on TV, but I can attest that some of the above suggestions work in the home as well. Let's face it, there's no substitute for living, working, and playing in healthy environments. And most of it simply starts with respect for and sensitivity to others.
 

Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2014, Checco Communications.

Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications and a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding and leadership. His books, Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization and Aha! Moments in Brand Management: Commonsense Insights to a Stronger, Healthier Brand, have sold thousands of copies both here and abroad.


A Few Bad Apples Bruise the Brand of the Entire Sector

Reprinted from Branding Bytes

In the communications business perception is reality.

And lately the media has provided the giving public a large dose of perception that many nonprofits are often less than accountable or honorable in the use of the funds they raise, as well as the tax-exempt status the government bestows on them to do public good.

The sad fact is that there is truth in many of these stories.

Sadder yet is that the skepticism that stories such as these generate makes it increasingly difficult for the overwhelming majority of trustworthy nonprofits to raise funds, especially during these harsh economic times.

The Issue

In June, CNN, in partnership with the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting, ran a long, detailed story on the results of their year-long investigation to identify "America's worst charities."

The CNN story named names and gave specific examples of how some "charities," in particular those that employ for-profit companies to raise their donations, use names similar to those of legitimate charities to fool donors, lie to donors about where their money goes, secretly pay themselves consulting fees, along with other questionable practices.

More recently, the Washington Post published a front-page story entitled "Millions lost by nonprofits, with little explanation," that has spurred federal and state officials to launch numerous investigations into whether hundreds of nonprofits properly reported financial losses to authorities, including hundreds of millions of dollars in the aggregate lost to fraud and employee embezzlement.

Then there are the one-off stories about mismanaged organizations that fall under the rubric of nonprofit that tarnish the entire sector's trusted brand image every time they are mentioned in the media.

Not a pretty picture for donors seeking to ensure that their donations serve the greatest good.

The Challenge

Some within the sector fault the media for airing the dirty laundry of what they rightfully note turns out to be a relatively small number of "outliers" that give the public the impression that the entire nonprofit world teems with such dubious activities.

Outliers or not, these marginal nonprofit organizations are still legally part of the sector, taking advantage of their tax-exempt status—and donors.

Besides, we who work in or for the sector can't blame the media for exposing these bad apples. It's the media's job to investigate and report such things.

In fact, as citizens whose taxpayer dollars subsidize the tax-exempt status of the sector, we should all take heart when outliers are exposed. Every dollar donated to one of these problematic organizations is a dollar legitimate nonprofits—and the communities and people they serve—are doing without.

However we care to rationalize this situation, it should not absolve us from asking what should be done to reaffirm the public's trust in the sector and its all-important work.

Some Suggestions

  • Educate the public.

    In most cases, the giving public does not do its research, nor does it always understand exactly to whom and for what it is giving. Many people simply give based on a nonprofit's name or to appeals that come through e-mails, social media, or heart-wrenching TV commercials.

    It's incumbent on the entire sector to educate the public about responsible giving to inform donors to check with organizations such as GuideStar, Charity Navigator, the Case Foundation's giving.org, and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance (give.org), among others, before they make a donation, regardless of how large or small that donation might be.

    Giving to responsible, trustworthy nonprofits deprives the outliers of funding and helps ensure that generously donated financial resources are put to the best and highest uses.

  • Educate your staff.

    The overwhelming majority of people employed by nonprofits come to the sector because they are honest, honorable, often-passionate people wanting to do good by helping others.

    What's at risk, however, if they become sloppy with their financial oversight or ethics?

    Everything, including their jobs—as well as the jobs of all their coworkers—should the organization be forced to close its doors because of public distrust.

  • Understand the difference between doing what's legal vs. what's ethical.

    Lots of organizations get themselves in trouble here.

    If you're sitting around a conference table wondering if the decision you and your colleagues are about to make is legal or not, a red flag should immediately shoot up.

    Doing what's legal does not always translate into doing what's right.

    There's nothing illegal, for example, with spending what the public could perceive as an inordinate amount of your resources on direct mail or telemarketing fundraising instead of on the constituents your organization serves, a not infrequent allegation the media has made against numerous nonprofits.

    Rather, ask yourself, what would my mother think if this decision I'm about to make finds itself on the front pages of newspapers or on the six o'clock news?

    The sector can do without any more negative stories.

  • Be accountable and transparent.

    Poor bookkeeping is no excuse.

    Yearly, if not monthly, budget reviews are a must, not a luxury! And dual sign-offs on invoices is a wise internal financial control policy.

  • Don't be afraid to blow the whistle.

    If you know of someone in your organization—or any other nonprofit, for that matter—who is doing the wrong thing, don't be afraid to blow the whistle.

    You'll be doing the entire sector—including the hundreds of thousands of nonprofits doing all the right things, the millions of honorable people who work for them, and those whom they serve—a big, big favor.

This is the sector in our economy that I've been most proud to serve for nearly four decades. Let's not let a handful of bad apples take that pride from us.

Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2013. Reprinted from Branding Bytes, issue 32, fall 2013. Reprinted with permission.

Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications and a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding and leadership. His books, Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization and Aha! Moments in Brand Management: Commonsense Insights to a Stronger, Healthier Brand, have sold thousands of copies both here and abroad.


Branding Beyond the Logo

Adapted from Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization

Many organizations continue to spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, human resources, and money developing logos and taglines, believing they are creating their brands.

Not!

Logos and taglines are simply banners for your brand. Your brand itself penetrates much deeper into your organization's culture and values, far beyond what any attractive icon or a few catchy words attempt to represent.

What follows are some tips to help you brand beyond your logo.

Focus on Building Value as Well as Visibility

Rationale: Developing an effective brand entails more than raising visibility through consistent and widespread use of a logo. Such efforts help to raise name recognition; an effective brand, however, is built around a vision that reflects a positive identity, namely the "value" that the brand represents.

When defining your brand, ask yourself: What do people think when they see our name or logo? Do they truly understand who we are and what we do? Have we given them reasons to view us as effective and trustworthy? What's in it for funders, companies, foundations, government entities, other nonprofit organizations, and customers when they do business with us?

In short, what's our value? What's our identity? Why should anyone care about who we are and what we do?

View Branding as a New Way of Doing Business

Rationale: There are no quick fixes for creating a solid and successful brand image. On the contrary, it takes a great deal of introspection, time, effort, coordination, and collaboration. And once you've defined your brand, you must manage and maintain it.

Therefore, consider brand maintenance an ongoing commitment that needs to be incorporated into your everyday business activities.

View Branding as an Organization-wide Effort

Rationale: Maintaining your brand should not be the responsibility of your organization's communications and/or marketing units, but rather must be viewed as an organization-wide effort in which every department and/or business unit understands that it has a role to play.

Moreover, staff at all levels of the organization, regardless of job description, need to be involved in raising the visibility and value of your brand, and they need to know what part they are expected to play in achieving that goal (see Educate Your Staff below).

Keep the Effort Manageable, Yet Meaningful

Rationale: For staff in most small- to medium-size nonprofits, just keeping up with day-to-day operations can be overwhelming. Consequently, keep branding efforts within the range of what is doable.

For example, it doesn't take much in the way of time and resources to ensure clear, consistent messaging; to educate staff about the purpose and goals of branding; and to promote your brand actively through already scheduled public speaking engagements, events, and publications.

Promote Open Communication and Collaboration Among Staff

Rationale: For any branding effort to succeed, everyone needs to work in an atmosphere of open communication and collaboration so that the organization conveys clear, consistent, and accurate messages to target audiences. Branding also requires that everyone work toward common, rather than individual business unit, goals.

For the sake of uniformity and message consistency, you more than likely will need to centralize some of the message-creation and delivery processes.

Educate Your Staff

Rationale: People can't represent or promote what they don't know or understand. Therefore, to build employee pride and understanding around your brand, incorporate a strong educational component into your branding effort. Describe the brand, underscore the importance of promoting it accurately and consistently, and define what different employees' roles are in the effort.

Also, make supporting and promoting the brand part of your employees' overall performance reviews.

Lead by Example

Rationale: Executive officers and board members need to champion your branding efforts. Leading by example demonstrates their commitment as well as the importance they place behind these efforts. It reinforces the message to staff that "we are working together" to raise the visibility and value of the organization.

Be Flexible and Interactive

Rationale: Branding is a dynamic, not a static, process. Maintain flexibility in your thinking and be open to suggestions from all parties for strengthening your brand. Flexibility and openness will enable better, more efficient use of resources as well as make for a more dynamic, interactive, and collaborative process that takes advantage of branding opportunities as they arise.

Live Your Brand

Rationale: Your brand reflects your promise to the public and your commitment to your staff and volunteers.

If the brand that you seek to convey is one of an organization that is effective and efficient; caring and responsive; a responsible steward of public and private funds; and a reliable, trustworthy organization to partner and do business with, and to work for, then live that brand through all of your words and deeds.

Your Brand Is a Referendum on How You Treat Your People

Rationale: Your brand is only as good as the people who live it day to day. Staff and volunteers who are knowledgeable, who take pride in the brand, feel secure in their jobs, and are appreciated for the good work that they do make excellent ambassadors for your brand.

Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2013, Larry Checco. Adapted from Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization; excerpted with permission.

Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications and a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding and leadership. This excerpt is from his first book, Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization, which has sold thousands of copies both here and abroad. His second book is Aha! Moments in Brand Management: Commonsense Insights to a Stronger, Healthier Brand.


The Yin and Yang of Celebrity Leaders

The board of directors of a well-known, well-respected national nonprofit announced all agog to staff that the organization had just landed a high-profile former politician as its new president.

For all intents and purposes, the organization's selection for new president could best be described as a celebrity leader, someone with the personal charisma, cachet, and connections that could, in relatively short order, bring in millions of dollars from any number of corporations and industry titans as well as the general public.

Quite an envious catch! But as with all things, even celebrity leaders come with a price.

Is There a Celebrity Leader in Your Midst?

Celebrity leaders come in multiple versions. The one noted above was a national, if not international, public figure with high media visibility and public recognition.

But small communities often have their own versions of celebrity status, which may include prominent local business people, politicians, socialites, and philanthropists.

My experience with small and medium-sized grassroots nonprofit organizations is that popular, longstanding leaders or founders of these organizations often, over time, can take on a larger-than-life celebrity-like status of their own.

In the short run these folks may turn out to be good brand ambassadors, fundraisers, and even good leaders for their organizations.

But they also bring their own set of issues.

What to Be Mindful Of

Whether you currently possess a celebrity leader or are considering hiring one as part of your succession plan, here are some things to be mindful of:

  • Access.
    Upon arrival at her new job, the high-profile former politician I opened this article with brought along an entourage of loyal, long-time aides and advisors who effectively served as a buffer—nay, barricade—to accessing the new president.

    Having been a consultant for years to this particular nonprofit, and having had easy access to its former president, it soon became obvious to me, as it did to staff, that this was no longer to be the case, with negative consequences.

    I don't know about you, but I prefer a leader who gets in the trenches with us little folk, someone who seeks to understand the issues we and the organizations we serve face, rather than a celebrity who sequesters him-or herself in an impervious ivory tower, who dictates from on high—and whose decrees often do not reflect the organization's or staff's reality.
  • Who's giving to what—and why?
    As I previously mentioned, celebrity leaders have the potential to be good, if not excellent fundraisers. As we're all (painfully) aware, funding is the lifeblood of all nonprofits.

    With respect to celebrity leadership, the caveat here is that donors, large donors in particular, often give not necessarily to the organization and its mission but rather to the star-studded leader—for any number of reasons, including personal friendship, the need to cozy up to someone of note, or simply to share in some of the limelight the celebrity casts off.

    This is all well and good as long as the celebrity leader remains in favor—and with the organization. But what happens afterwards, when the leader leaves? Will the organization be left with both a huge leadership and fundraising hole to fill? Just something to think about.
  • Charisma doesn't always equate to leadership.
    Let's be honest, we're a star-struck nation. We're drawn like moths to a flame when it comes to people of fame and status.

    But just because someone has charisma and an aura of celebrity that intrinsically draws people and attention to themselves doesn't always mean he or she has the ability to lead us—or the organizations he/she has been hired to serve—to any meaningful destinations.
  • Ego.
    Need I say more about the complications this can bring to the dynamic of an organization and its staff?

I'm not saying exclude high-profile personalities from your leadership wish-list.

What I am saying is be sure to do your due diligence. Know with whom and what you're dealing—and don't allow stardust to blur your vision and decision making.

Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2013, Checco Communications

Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications and a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding and leadership. His first book, Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization, has sold thousands of copies both here and abroad. His second book is Aha! Moments in Brand Management: Commonsense Insights to a Stronger, Healthier Brand.


Government Funding Is Being Cut. Don't Panic. Act!

The handwriting is on the wall in big bold letters: government funding for many redevelopment and social service programs is going to be dramatically reduced over the coming years.


Make Trust the Foundation of Your Covenant

I'm the father of two sons who are now in their twenties and turning into fine young men. When they were younger, however, I used to call them Butch and Sundance because they always tried to stay one step in front of the law—and that was me!


Want to Raise More Funds? Go Out and Tell Your Story—to Everyone!

In his effort to explain to me the problems his organization was facing raising funds and being recognized in the community for its decades of good work, the board member of a nonprofit housing organization said to me in obvious frustration, "My own 28-year-old son was recently in the market for a house. I suggested he go down the street to the organization I've been a board member of for the past 26 years. You know what my son said?"


What Does It Mean to Be a Good Leader?

No brand, no matter how good the products, services, or messaging it represents, can ultimately succeed in the absence of good management leadership.


Think "People," Not "Organization"

Reprinted from Branding Bytes