Reflecting on 2020 and looking forward to 2021

What could be said about this pandemic-dominated year 2020 has already been said a million times over.

“Challenging” and “unprecedented times” are our stock phrases to describe the circumstances we’ve endured. If we’re in a glass-half-full frame of mind, we congratulate ourselves and others for our adaptability and the resiliency we’ve shown in the face of the thousand disruptions large and small in our daily lives.

When we confront things with a sober view, our emotions are a mix of sorrow for a world (yes, imperfect, but previously normal to us) now lost, apprehension about the unknowns ahead, and determination to get on with life regardless. We tally up the social, economic and psychological damage from this annus horribilis but hope that next year will bring improvement and then the start of recovery, like the first green shoots of spring.

Pictured is Goff’s Cali Owings helping a client prepare for a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony this fall.

At Goff Public, we typically help clients share good news, elevate their reputations and solve routine communications challenges. But since the pandemic descended on us in March, we have largely been called to help our clients deal with incredible difficulties and major changes. The circumstances of this year have made our work in the use of communications and persuasion even more important. We have a humble appreciation for what we have been able to do for people this year as they face some of the greatest problems in the history of their organizations and communities.

So, what can you expect from us at Goff Public in 2021? More of the same. Our role is to walk side by side with our clients – as problem solvers, advocates, advisers, creative thinkers and grind-it-out doers. We are doing our work better than ever before. And we will continue to be here for you.

Strategic philanthropy: What it is and why you should practice it

We are in the midst of the holiday season – the “giving” season – during a pandemic and economic crisis. Many donor organizations have become financially hard-pressed, necessitating that they curtail or narrow their charitable giving. At the same time, many recipient organizations – nonprofits which address educational, health, hunger, human development, housing and other social problems – face enormous new demands for their programs and services.

With these simultaneous problems of greater needs and diminishing resources, there is no more urgent time than the present for funders to reassess the what, why and how of their activities.

If your organization is not already practicing strategic philanthropy, now is the time to begin doing so.

What is strategic philanthropy? It is the practice of aligning an organization’s charitable giving with its broader mission, values and goals. It also ensures that the social good of an organization’s donations to worthy causes is matched with a corresponding benefit for the donor.

Some might find that notion cynical. We’re conditioned to think that donations of money, goods or volunteerism should constitute an altruistic act. But, as much as we like to idealize it, to some extent most charitable giving is transactional in nature.

The two common mistakes that most donor organizations make are:

1. Not being honest about their full motivation for giving and hiding behind that vague, overused phrase of “giving back to the community”; and

2. Not being focused on how doing good for the community should maximize benefits for itself.

Look at it this way: Your company, professional association, labor union, tribal government, or trade association will best be able to serve the community and your members/employees while continuing to perform acts of charity if it survives and thrives. Being deliberate about the benefits you hope to reap from those same charitable acts simply advances your organization’s staying power to perform its mission and contribute to society. When the economy is on such shaky ground as it is now, this makes especially good sense.

Strategic philanthropy can help organizations accomplish a variety of goals, including:

• Establishing (or rehabilitating) an external reputation or brand

• Bolstering the organization’s culture or internal reputation

• Asserting a leadership position on an issue or within a community

• Strengthening relationships with existing stakeholders (employees, members, customers, guests, vendors, neighbors, etc.)

• Building new relationships

• Galvanizing other donors to join in support of a cause

None of these goals is ethically compromised or compromising in and of itself. And all of them can benefit the public at the same time they benefit the organization pursuing them.

When you donate your money, goods or services, you will amplify its strategic value for yourself (and often your recipients) by an accompanying exercise of moral leadership. This can take several forms:

• Organizing your giving thematically, even packaging it as a campaign focused on a single problem and thereby bringing greater public awareness to it.

• Being a thought partner: Not just giving away some of your money, goods or time, but also your and your employees’ expertise and best thinking.

• Using the power of convening: Lending your reputation and prestige to recruit and partner with other groups to bring more resources or attention to a problem you want to be known as helping to solve or ameliorate.

Too often, organizations let vague goals drive their charitable giving. While it may cover a lot of bases, their scattershot approach to donations will diffuse their ability to make a real difference in the community and do little to advance their own strategic imperatives. Applying the principles of strategic philanthropy will help you avoid these pitfalls, better integrate your charitable activities with your core mission or business, and let you derive the maximum benefit of your good deeds.

Helping others is one of the most characteristic impulses defining our humanity. At this time when the world is so unpredictable and nothing can be taken for granted in the business and professional world, strategic philanthropy offers a way to realize the adage, “you do well by doing good.”

We’d be delighted to hear from you and help develop or fine-tune your organization’s strategic philanthropy plan.

The 2020 elections: Minnesotans opt for divided government (again)

Now that the 2020 election campaign season is behind us, it’s worth asking ourselves what it all meant. While the ballots were still being counted, the presidency and control of the U.S. Congress received most of the attention. But the real-world impact for most of us will be more greatly influenced by state politics. It’s striking to note that more than $23 million was spent by the state’s traditional major parties (Republican and DFL) to influence state legislative races.

Here are my key takeaways from the 2020 campaign trail and the days that have followed:

We need to educate voters not only on how to vote, but on what happens after they vote. Like any political nerd, I was glued to my TV screen, Twitter feed and about 30 different tabs on my computer trying to get results on election night – which turned into the day after the election, which turned into two days after the election, which…you get the point. Even my most astute colleagues (and many state legislative candidates) questioned immediately reported results as inaccurate. On election night, our state’s elections website was showing 100% of precincts reported but also communicated extremely low voter turnout, which didn’t jive with anything we anticipated. By the next day, things seemed to right themselves here in Minnesota, but nationally you could sense mass confusion on how ballots were being counted, particularly in how absentee or early ballots were being calculated.

On top of this, the rhetoric about rampant voter fraud led many voters to doubt the fundamentals of our democracy – and I don’t blame them. Candidates, political parties, and even our nonpartisan election judges and tabulators tend to expend all their energy getting voters to the polls but forget about telling them what comes next. This election cycle, one valuable takeaway is that voter education shouldn’t end when someone casts their vote and collects their “I Voted” sticker. Communicating clear expectations (both in advance of and throughout the process) about how ballots will be counted, how results will be reported and when results may be known should be a top priority for our elections officials.

Political parties need to listen to constituents (not activists) to truly meet voters where they are at. As mentioned, we saw an incredible amount of money spent by political parties and their allies to influence Minnesota’s legislative elections. We saw lit pieces, heard radio commercials and (in some parts of the state) saw local cable ads talking about issues that simply were not the issues voters were talking about at their kitchen tables. From DFL allies tying candidates to cleaner energy proposals or Republican allies keeping their candidates close to issues of law and order, Minnesota voters spoke clearly that those messages weren’t really going to work for them.

We see this in DFL legislative candidates’ inability to sweep the suburbs and regional centers, which many anticipated. DFLers tied a lot of their messaging to the national platform and attempted to link state Republicans to the shortcomings of President Trump, hoping this would gain them suburban seats like they did in 2018 with success. For their part, Republicans hoped to make gains in the suburbs and greater Minnesota by tying state DFL legislative candidates to Governor Walz’s exercise of executive power and uncomfortable social unrest.

We are hearing more and more about Minnesota voters’ motivations and it appears that both parties missed the mark a bit. More voters are “in the middle” instead of on the fringes that major political parties play to. I think there’s enough we know about this election cycle that hints to political parties that they should pay attention in order to have electoral success moving forward – Minnesota likes balanced government, and they will vote for it.

This leads me to my final takeaway:

All politics have the chance to be local. This cycle, there’s a lot of evidence of ticket splitting: Joe Biden outperformed U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar; some state legislative Democrats in greater Minnesota underperformed Joe Biden; some state legislative Republicans outperformed Donald Trump in the suburbs; the list goes on. It has long been a strategy of political parties to seize upon the strengths of the candidate of the highest office in election years, the theory being that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Here in Minnesota, we saw that voters differentiate their support of Joe Biden and their frustration with state DFL electeds. And we saw voters who support the work of President Trump, but feel state Republican leaders have fallen short. Both political parties are going to need to do some soul-searching to better understand these voters. For incoming legislators, these November election results should tell them a lot about what kind of elected officials their constituents demand come January 2021.

Civic engagement is good for business

Politics tend to make companies and business leaders nervous. That’s why prior to this year, standing on the sidelines was often the default approach. But in 2020, employers are engaging on topics they never would have before. Many employees and consumers who used to prefer that companies stay out of politics now expect them to get engaged in civic discourse. It turns out that if done right, civic engagement can actually be good for business.

Company leaders should not feel nervous about encouraging employees to exercise their right to vote and get involved in the political process. Successful civic engagement campaigns give employees the tools they need to learn who their candidates are, what they stand for and how to vote. Some companies, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, even embrace civic engagement as part of their mission. President and CEO Craig Samitt said they believe that “community health is shaped by the strength of the democratic process.”

Companies that have taken on civic engagement campaigns aimed at informing their employees and encouraging them to vote have found that it positively impacts their brand. A 2019 case study by Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation found that both small, internally-focused efforts as well as large, externally-focused campaigns led to positive impacts for business, as well as increased voter turnout. Companies in the study cited “meeting consumer expectations, raising brand awareness and increasing employee satisfaction” as benefits their business experienced from communicating about civic responsibility.

While Minnesota law requires employers to provide time off for voting without the loss of pay, personal leave, or sick time, a growing number of companies are making additional accommodations for employees this year, such as closing their stores or offices on Election Day, limiting office hours or meetings that day, or offering paid time for voting and volunteer efforts. For great examples, check out the more than 1,300 companies that have made public commitments to give their employees time to vote this year as part of a nonpartisan campaign called “Time to Vote,” started by Patagonia, Levi Strauss and PayPal.

Even though Election Day is drawing near, remember that civic engagement happens year-round. It’s never too late to thoughtfully plan for an employee or consumer-focused civic responsibility program. We’re going to have a lot of new elected officials at all levels of government in January. It would be an opportune time to help employees better understand how their government works for them and encourage them to engage.

Pay attention to what other companies are doing and use these examples as inspiration for your own plan to strengthen your company culture through civic engagement. Or, call Goff Public. We can support you in designing your own program tailored to your company’s unique culture, values and goals.

Top four fundraising tips ahead of Give to The Max Day

This year’s Give to the Max Day (GTMD) is right around the corner! With traditional in-person fundraising opportunities no longer viable this year, GTMD will be an especially useful opportunity to connect with new and familiar supporters virtually.

Here are four recommendations for making your GTMD successful:

1. Plan your campaign communications ahead of time – don’t try to wing it. 
Whether you plan to stick to the basics with a few social media posts or want to go big with a multimedia approach, planning your campaign communications ahead of time is critical. By taking the initiative in advance, your content will be more engaging and more effective.

Even though you may pre-schedule content, it’s important to stay nimble and adjust your communications approach as needed. Did any relevant current events or community updates crop up last-minute for you to incorporate into your call to action? Is there any content your audiences really seem to be responding to? By having a general plan of attack to begin with, you’ll have more capacity to monitor and adjust your approach as it happens live.

2. Make sure your GTMD page has complete information that looks visually appealing.
Approach your page as though you are learning about your organization for the first time. Take the time to explain your group’s mission and vision, fundraising goals, and what donations will fund. If possible, include quality photos or graphics that can breathe a little life into the descriptions you’re giving – bonus points for consistency in language and colors! Finally, double check that all links to your organization’s website and social media pages are functional.

If you’re feeling especially ambitious, consider including a brief video message (recorded via Zoom or iPhone – it doesn’t need to be high budget!) from your organization’s leadership or from beneficiaries of your work. People want to donate to causes that inspire them and align with their values. Cultivating a nice balance of information, resources and visuals will help them feel more knowledgeable and confident in donating.

3. Create high-quality, creative content for your GTMD page.
Once you have the above basics covered, tap into your creativity to help communicate your organization’s unique voice. Ask yourself if the message you’re trying to convey is better communicated through writing, video or a still image. Adjust as necessary!

There are many ways to have your page stand out from others. Specify a fundraising goal and include a progress bar. Or, with their permission, highlight stories from people whom your organization has served on your page.

Keep in mind that no matter what creative content you include, it should all still be written in an approachable, easy-to-understand way. It’s also important that communications are transparent and consistent, but not constant – too much will clutter up the page.

When it comes to the day-of content being shared on your organization’s social channels, you should have more than two simple introductory and ending communications. It’s widely considered that the average person needs to hear a message seven different times before they take actual action. Depending on your organization’s fundraising goals, planning for 5-10 posts throughout GTMD is recommended.

Don’t have the capacity to draft content? Not a problem – GiveMN has you covered! In addition to their general guide with featured tips and training, GiveMN has also put together templates, graphics and other helpful communications content that will help your campaign shine.

4. Engage your allies.
Leverage board members, employees, volunteers and existing donors to broaden your reach. Research shows that an individual is 83% more likely to act when someone they know and trust makes a recommendation. Ask your allies to share your GTMD content on their channels to get in front of their networks and increase your chances of getting more donations.

Another helpful way to plug in your allies is by tagging any people or organizations participating with your campaign in your social content so it shows up on their audiences’ feeds. Showcase a wide variety of donors on your page to demonstrate the impact of your group’s work.

With much uncertainty around the 2021 legislative session, here’s what we can count on

As we are distracted by the upcoming election, the start of the next legislative session feels like a long way away. However, legislators will be heading back to the Capitol before we know it. The 2021 legislative session will begin on January 5, bringing a new crop of legislators together to construct a new biennial budget (that will have to address a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit) and push forward policy priorities.

While we do not know which parties will hold majorities in either chamber, we know one thing for certain: The Legislature will continue to operate in an unusual way due to COVID-19. During the second half of the 2020 legislative session and the four special sessions this summer, we saw a nearly 170-year-old process move from a heavy reliance on paper shuffling and in-person work to a process that can adequately be described as a remote and in-person hybrid model.

Packed hearing rooms, Capitol Rotunda demonstrations, closed-door meetings and holding open voting boards for absent members now seem things of the past. In a matter of weeks and in a crisis atmosphere, legislative staff did their best to create committee hearing, floor proceeding, and remote work environments that were functional, albeit imperfectly. Yes, it worked, but there was great criticism for the lack of transparency and there have been calls for reforming.

So, what changes may be made next year to the way virtual lawmaking is conducted?

• The Minnesota House of Representatives is investing in remote voting technology that would integrate biometric security. This change could eliminate the need for the lengthy roll call votes read by the Chief Clerk, expediting the proceedings of that 134-member body.

• The Minnesota Senate has not made any additional changes to its remote voting protocols since March. However, this could change.

• The Minnesota State Patrol has expressed concerns about the ability to monitor large crowds with the number of access points in the Capitol. If Minnesota still has restrictions on large gatherings during the winter and spring, access to the Capitol will likely still be limited. This has lobbyists and advocacy groups reimagining their work.

• The public may have sympathized with the Legislature’s procedural shortcuts in the immediate wake of the pandemic; but the general public and interest groups will be less tolerant of obstacles to their full access to and participation in the legislative process this next regular session go-around.

Even as the state’s response to COVID-19 will continue to evolve, it is clear the next full regular session of the Minnesota Legislature will convene in a different way from years past. Our government relations team is focused on building and fostering relationships (virtually and in person) with current and incoming lawmakers, knowing those relationships will be critical to navigating whatever the waters of the Legislature might look like. While the tactics we use may look different, we are focused on employing smart strategies for our clients to tell their stories in persuasive ways to legislators in these uncertain times.

As we draw closer to the start of the legislative session, please do not hesitate to reach out to our team to help you reimagine your organization’s legislative strategy.

LinkedIn tips for better virtual networking

At Goff Public, we’ve been working remotely for nearly six months. This new professional reality is coming into clearer focus as we look to the fall – many of the conferences, chamber meetings and networking events we usually attend won’t look the same this year.

While we can’t network in person for the foreseeable future, it’s a perfect time to brush up on digital networking skills – beginning with your LinkedIn profile. Like other social media platforms, engagement on LinkedIn surged at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as many users sought to maintain their professional connections, find new opportunities and use this time to enhance their skills.

Once seen primarily as a tool for jobseekers, LinkedIn today is the place to build your professional brand, nurture relationships with colleagues, peers and clients, and share your expertise. With more than 690 million users, the platform is well-loved by entrepreneurs and sales professionals, but even people working in large organizations can benefit from the ability to self-define their work and value on the world’s largest public network.

Here are our best tips for building an authentic profile and engaging more on LinkedIn.

1. You are more than your current company and job title: The default headline is usually your current position and company. Unless potential connections are deeply familiar with your organization, your job title likely doesn’t say much about what you do. You can include your current role, but use the 120 characters to also describe what that means, focus on specific areas of expertise and provide more detail on your geographic reach.

2. Ditch the third-person bio: Many users utilize a third-person biography from their company website for LinkedIn’s 2,000-character ‘About’ section which appears before your job experience. This isn’t the right approach for a platform that’s all about building authentic, professional connections. Instead, outline what you do and why, how you got to this stage in your career, and what kinds of connections and opportunities you’re looking for. Pepper in some personal details to make it easier for potential connections to strike up a conversation with you.

3. Find and build connections: Take stock of your current connections and see who’s missing. Make it a habit to seek new connections on the platform, even if you’re only meeting digitally at first. If you participate in online events – like panels or webinars – connect with other participants, panelists and organizers after.

4. Participate as much (or as little) as you’d like: Once you’ve cleaned up your profile and connections, your LinkedIn presence can passively work for you by helping you put your best face forward, but that’s only the beginning. Set a goal of logging in twice a month to catch up with connections and share content. To really build your brand, demonstrate your expertise through conversations in LinkedIn groups and blog posts.

Check out this great example profile from LinkedIn’s Talent Blog. Here, Bruce opens with a strong statement, describes his unique approach to the recruiting field and gives readers insight into his personality.

More example profiles can be found on LinkedIn’s Talent Blog.

While many of us forget about our LinkedIn profiles once we’ve secured a new opportunity, we could be missing out on new connections, partnerships and clients. Revisiting our profiles and participating more online during the era of social distancing can help keep us connected to the world beyond Zoom.

Video was important. Now it’s key.

The competition for your audience’s time is fierce. Never before have there been as many messages or mediums used to engage consumers. To successfully communicate in today’s landscape, you must think of new ways to engage your audience through the powerful and growing medium of digital video.

Businesses have felt the headwinds, and data shows that video is a strategic investment. According to Forbes, the average person will watch 100 minutes of video content per day by the end of 2020. Forbes also estimates that 82% of content creation will be video by 2022. Market forecasts point to continual growth, signaling the need for organizations to adapt their communications and leverage video going forward.

Currently, many consider video a great tool when time and budget allow. This should no longer be the case. As Goff Public’s video production expert, I encourage clients and organizations to prioritize video as a primary component of their communications.

Accelerated by COVID-19 and a work-from-home society, video has become one of the most effective storytelling methods for organizations. This is true for three primary reasons:

1. Video reaches a larger audience. 
We are constantly bombarded with online content. So, what messages are proven to break through? Research shows that people are more likely to pay attention to video compared to other mediums. As a result, many online platforms boost the reach of video content to appeal to this proven user preference.

2. Video boosts engagement
In today’s fast-moving world, it’s hard to stop people in their tracks. Visuals, sound and text combined creates more impactful messages that get noticed. People better understand and relate to video, because the medium employs multiple forms of communication to share an idea (such as watching, hearing and reading). Coined as an “empathy machine” by Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Roger Ebert, video resonates more deeply with viewers.

3. Video simplifies the complex. 
Video is the most effective medium for communicating complex concepts in a way that is understandable and accessible to your audience. They’re the perfect conduit to tell comprehensible stories, and are less labor-intensive to interpret.

Multimedia is now the mainstay for modern communications. Video is an effective and fast-growing medium with no signs of slowing down. Savvy communicators will recognize that investing in video is a way to modernize your messaging and strategically position your organization for success.

Video is a valuable communications tool for every industry and organization. Click here to see how it was used to showcase the legacy of iron mining and the mission of the Iron Ore Alliance. Learn more about Goff Public’s comprehensive video services.

What to watch for in Minnesota’s August primary

By Kevion Ellis

As our calendars turn to August, we usually think of back-to-school season and the start of the State Fair. This year is different. So many of our usual summer “constants” won’t occur, but in the political world, the show goes on.

As a recent Minnesota transplant, I’m excited to vote in my first primary here this year. Minnesota’s primary election is set for August 11 and voting is already underway. According to the Secretary of State’s office, more than 350,000 Minnesotans have requested absentee ballots, choosing to vote by mail rather than in person.

When the results arrive, here’s what we will be watching:

1. Key DFL primaries
The battle between red and blue is well-publicized and closely examined. But watching the intraparty battles can often give us political junkies a little better insight on what’s driving the politics of the moment, and what it might mean for the governing road ahead.

In May, we saw several well-established Minnesota DFL legislators lose their party endorsements to more progressive candidates. This has been a growing trend in DFL politics for the last several election cycles and is especially pronounced in the metro area. Over time, this has pushed the DFL legislative agenda in ways that haven’t produced electoral success in state races outside of the metro area.

We will specifically be watching the outcomes in these races: Senate District 62 (south Minneapolis, Senator Jeff Hayden); Senate District 07 (Duluth, Senator Erik Simonson); and House District 59B (downtown/north Minneapolis, Representative Ray Dehn).

Bucking this trend is the very visible battle between 5th District U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and challenger Antone Melton-Meaux. Melton-Meaux outraised Omar six-fold last quarter and has a significant cash-on-hand advantage. Melton-Meaux has criticized Omar’s congressional work as being too extreme. While Omar is currently polling ahead of Melton-Meaux, we will be watching this race for any “down ballot” effects.

2. Challenges to Republican leaders
The intraparty bickering isn’t limited exclusively to the DFL Party. Republicans face challenges from within their party as well. This primary season we see a concerted effort to take out House and Senate Republican leaders.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (East Gull Lake), House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (Crown) and House Deputy Minority Leader Anne Neu (North Branch) all face primary challengers. There is a coordinated effort by factions within the Republican Party to criticize these leaders for cutting deals and not standing stronger against Governor Walz, particularly as it relates to Walz’s flexing of executive powers.

While we expect these three leaders to easily win their primaries, some suggest that these challenges are affecting the leaders’ negotiating flexibility in this summer’s special sessions.

3. Voter turnout
Minnesota generally ranks among the highest in the country for voter turnout in general elections (with the most recent 2016 and 2018 elections being the highest). But the COVID-19 pandemic certainly has voters thinking twice about heading to a physical ballot box.

Absentee ballots are rolling into the Secretary of State’s office at 20 times the rate they did at this time in 2016 and 2018. And, the state is hoping to assist local communities in ramping up safety precautions at its 3,000 polling centers. However, efforts to recruit the needed 30,000 election judges are slow, and it’s not clear whether Minnesotans who typically show up in person will fully embrace a mailed ballot or early voting process.

Primary voter turnout will give political candidates a good sense of how they should approach the remaining months of their campaigns. Low voter turnout often harms Democrats in statewide offices. With a hotly contested presidential race and Minnesota having been a 2016 battleground for Clinton/Trump, I suspect those voter turnout numbers will influence how campaign dollars are spent between now and November.