Gail Bower's Blog

Gail BowerThis blog will help you and your organization flourish.

Find provocative ideas, strategies, and best practices to increase your organization's visilibity, revenue, and impact.

Your comments, questions, and topic suggestions are welcome.


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New terrain for nonprofit leaders: the experience

As the marketplace evolves and our customers, donors, members, visitors, and constituents become more sophisticated, our need to evolve our organizations becomes an imperative, too.

In the business world for decades now, companies have been applying strong strategic focus on the experiences customers have with their brands or services. Bernd H. Schmit codified these ideas and approaches in 1999 with his book Experiential Marketing, now sadly a collectible in Amazon for 1¢ in its used section. It's still an important book — perhaps more so with generations now so glued to screens that they're missing real life experiences.

(Have you seen the Toyota commercial where the helpful Toyota dealership employee, Jan, encourages a customer who's spent hours researching cars online to take a test drive?)

It's time for nonprofit leaders to pay attention to and capitalize on this practice. I can think of many experiences with organizations that have been in the underwhelming to not-so-good end of the spectrum. Here are three places to start.

How's the Experience of These 3 Operations in Your Organization?

Material Donations

True confession: I place a little too much sentimental value on certain material goods — favorite clothes, gifts people have given, good books, household objects. Fortunately I live in a loft with a minimalist, so being a hoarder is out of the question. That said, I'm nowhere near being a minimalist.

When I work up the gumption to clear some clutter — a task I loathe! — I pack up my gently used treasures and head over to a charity that accepts such objects and imagine the new life these things will have with someone who really needs them. The problem is the experience of donating material goods is pretty awful, especially for a sentimentalist. 

Your stuff goes in dumpsters or trash bins — or the equivalent. The staff or volunteers pretty much ignore you. And there are so many other boxes, bags, and piles of other people's things that you don't feel like you're doing anything special or useful. To the contrary, you feel like you just drove trash to a location, instead of putting it out on the curb.

We need to work on this. People want to feel that their donations are helping people, are necessary, and that in a small way they've made the world a better place. Not that they have just dropped off garbage.

Financial Contributions

Here's another problem area. There are some organizations that are truly grateful for your financial contribution. I've donated to others where you receive no personal acknowledgement. Instead, you're placed on the email newsletter list, getting news you can't use.

As my grandmother taught me, if you can't take the time to thank someone for a gift, donors soon won't take the time to send you one. 


The volunteer experience is also one that needs an upgrade. I remember volunteering as a project captain for a disaster of a project. The job was too big and overarching for the time alloted; other volunteers did not show; the facility was ill-prepared; and the coordinating organization for this and other volunteer projects was MIA. 

Frankly both parties could do a better job with this. Sometimes people who volunteer aren't always reliable or as well-intentioned as an organization would prefer. And organizations sometimes put little thought or effort into creating a great experience for volunteers.

Take a look at your operations in these areas. Have someone mystery shop the experience and provide feedback. How does it feel to be a donor or volunteer? Are you engaging individuals? Is your brand coming alive through these experiences? Or are you buliding your brand through your marketing operation and undermining it through these or other operations?


Are your messages accurate?

A frequent challenge organizations have is implementing marketing strategy. One common mistake is getting the messages right — translating that strategy into messaging — and communicating, in a compelling way, about the value deep at the heart of a brand. Here are a few examples.


Take this clause. Besides being a little clunky, it makes you wonder. Is this how graduate students select universities? "Largest selection"? Would this billboard inspire you to dust off our GRE scores and apply? Is that the key attribute — the core value — of a university?

Here's another. Maybe for hardcore accordion afficionados, this sign harkens welcome news. Otherwise, I find it amusingly ambitious. Feeling hassled by making several stops to pick up all our accordion needs is not an experience most of us are having. Indeed very few of us likley have any accordion needs. Thus, this sign communicates a solution to a problem most of us do not have.

(That said, I love the ambitiousness implied.)

Both of these examples make the same mistake: they haven't identified the key buying reason at an emotional level. They're communicating benefits ("selection" and "one stop" [sic] shopping) but not the key reasons a customer might buy.

Communicating core value is as important for a big brand as a small, for a for-profit brand as a nonprofit, B2B and B2C. The strategies and tactics look different, but the imperative is there for all.

Take a look at this little flyer I found on my front step. Also a bold approach, the folded flyer made me curious to unfurl the page to learn more. I remember reading the bold statement about being the answer to my problems and thinking to myself, "OK, let's see what you've got?" 

Calling themselves the "house whisperers" and listing myriad home projects they tackle got me. I do have some of these problems. Are they the answer? We'll see.

Homeowners, especially those who own historic homes like I do, have never ending "problems." Finding good support is always a challenge. So this down-and-dirty flyer does the trick.

3 Steps to Compelling Communications

  1. Understand at the most core, fundamental level, the emotional drivers for your program, service, or product.
  2. Identify your customer, constituent, or members' buying steps.
  3. Communicate about your value addressing what they need (#1) and where they are in their buying cycle (#2). And don't forget to have your claims backed up online.

And one more suggestion? Use grammatically correct language.



Tips on talking: banishing blah blah blah

Has this ever happened to you at an event? You're having a nice time, networking, connecting to the cause or conference, or having fun at a festival or fair, when suddenly the collective energy spirals to a stop.

Someone is standing on the stage, holding the microphone, and all you hear is "blah blah blah blah blah blah." A montonous stream of words exits the speaker's mouth and tumbles out of the sound system, casting a pall over the audience. 

Public Speaking Tips

Here are 4 tips to help you improve your speakers' or your own presence as a public speaker, even in short roles.

1. Don't read.

I advise a client on an awards event that is part fundraiser and part influence-builder. Through our strategy, we engage civic leaders from disparate arenas in brief but meaningful speaking roles. The speaking effectiveness has been equally diverse.

Here's my petpeeve: reading remarks. If you have a :30 to 1 minute speaking role, jot a few bullet points and talk to us. Do not read to us. It's deadening, and as I learned from a speaking coach I worked with early on, the audience will forgive you of anything except being boring. Worse, you sound disengaged and dispassionate, coming across as if you invested no time or energy in your role. If you can't make that small commitment, decline the speaking engagement.

If your speaking engagement is longer, your notes may need to be in another form, and it's perfectly acceptable to use them — discreetly. You may also benefit from mnemonic devices. Or you may do well with training or personal coaching to build your speaking presence and skills.

2. More is not more.

How many events have you been to where a speaker gets on stage to make "brief" remarks and talks so long you think the person has moved in? Me, too.

People, more is not more. If you haven't noticed, we have become an attention-span deprived culture. Even if we're at a professional development event or class, our key reason for being at an event is probably not to hear speakers pontificating. The pontificator list includes:

  • sponsors with unclear messages or blah blah blah about how wonderful their companies are,
  • many politicians, especially before an election,
  • presenters who are really nervous, and
  • people who seem to love to hear themselves talk.

Imagine listening to yourself as an audience member. Are you telling a story? Are you making me laugh? Am I engaged or emotionally moved? Am I gobsmacked by a new discovery or statistic or result? Or am I hearing blah blah blah? What's the experience you want to deliver?

4. It's not about you.

An event is really about a connection between the audience and the subject matter. Even if you're receiving an award, the event is really not about you. It's about engaging and transforming the audience.

Tell us something inspiring. How did you get to this place to win this award? How did you do it? How can I emulate your behavior and improve my life? How can I follow in your footsteps and make the world better?

4. Contain yourself.

It's natural to feel nervous about speaking. You're up there all by yourself with hundreds of faces staring at you, waiting for brilliance, and who knows if the sound system will work or if, unbenownst to you, the static electricity in your pant legs is exposing your socks and bare legs (yes, I saw this once).

As the saying goes: "Keep calm and carry on." The audience reflects your energy right back to you. Breath. Relax. Be in control and contain your emotions.

Once at a major conference for a top national association where I spoke, even they had challenges. The sound from another session was broadcasting into my meeting room, precluding my audience from hearing me. 

I could feel myself getting angry and flummoxed — how could I simultaneously handle the problem and continue speaking? Afterall, the show must go on, right?

I took a deep breath and soon realized the audience was as aggravated if not more so than I. They took care of it. Several people ran out to find a tech guy. People complained to the organizers and in evaluations. I realized this was not my problem but rather my opportunity.

I continued my talk, calmly and with large doses of humor, maintaining continuity in my subject matter, so the audience stayed with me. At the end, the audience applauded — not necessarily because I was so brilliant, but because together we achieved success. I maintained control of the room and session, and they got what they came for.

Practice staying calm and relaxed behind the microphone. Make your presentation about the audience.

Whether you're speaking or your engaging speakers for an event, don't leave their speaking behaviors to chance. Craft strong messages. Prepare your speakers. And consider training if necessary. Just don't blah blah blah us.


This blog will help you flourish.

With a nod to Martin Seligman,* I introduce you to my new blog, dedicated to helping you and the organization you lead flourish.

In the last couple years, I’ve noticed that this word, “flourish,” keeps popping up in our culture archetypally, perhaps beckoning us out of the Great Recession and recent world turmoil and towards an easier, simpler, happier, more enjoyable life. It's the antidote to the volatility many experience through the accelerated change present in our world.

Seligman, of course, published his book, Flourish, around this time and identifies five “endeavors” we may choose to pursue:

  • Positive emotion
  • Engagement
  • Good relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment or achievement

He urges each of us in the free world to choose this approach, PERMA for short. (Watch this short talk to learn more.)

Flourishing Organizations

Not surprisingly an organization that flourishes shares many of the same characteristics. Here are my observations:


Thriving organizations are clear on their core value. It's the reason they exist and what makes them distinct. It's not the set of services you offer, the programs or products you have. That's the surface. Dig deeper. It's the heart and soul of your organization, its raison d'etre.


Because flourishing organizations are clear about their value and who they are at the core, they can manifest and express that value meaningfully. 


Customers, constituents, donors, stakeholders, volunteers, sponsors, and others are attracted to that value and enjoy the experience of it. They become engaged and ultimately, hopefully, loyal.

Economic vitality

Because customers, constituents, donors, and sponsors are engaged, organizations enjoy economic vitality. They are relevant, aligned, and compensated or funded for the value provided.


Trusting, collaborative internal and external relationships among staff, suppliers, partners, and stakeholders — and of course with customers, constituents, and donors — are the norm.

Positive culture

The organization's culture values a positive, optimistic outlook; is proactive in its endeavors; and innovates continously as an indicator of such culture and expression of value.


An organization that flourishes has a clear, ambitious, practical strategy designed to guide its team into the future.

That's it: VMEERPS. Certainly not as aesthetically pleasing an acronym as Seligman's PERMA, I realize. But it is that simple. Perhaps not easy, but simple. 

What You'll Find Here

My core value is about helping leaders design their futures so they and their organizations (nonprofits, associations, destinations, regions, or businesses) flourish. Through this blog, a complement to my blog on corporate sponsorship,, we'll explore ways organizations can:

  • uncover and bring their organizational value to life, 
  • engage audiences in meaningful experiences,
  • deliver messages and articulate value in compelling ways,
  • generate new revenue by developing new value or existing value to new markets, and 
  • become cultures where innovation thrives and a flourishing future emerges.

I look forward to your comments and dialogue through the journey. A couple thoughts as we begin:

  1. I sincerely welcome your participation in the community I hope this blog will create. 
  2. Feel free to post your comments; however, please note that I reserve the right to remove posts that are inappropriate or not in the spirit of this blog. That said, challenge, provocation, questioning are all welcome.
  3. Have fun and feel free to contact me with your suggestions, questions, or topic ideas.  

Ready? Set? Flourish



*Seligman opens his book, Flourish, with "This book will help you flourish," an uncomfortable promise for a scientist, he tells readers.


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