Now THAT’S Followup – Thanks Figgy Pudding!

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 3.50.43 PM

In December, just before my father’s health fell apart, I was visiting Seattle and managed to be there for Figgy Pudding, a big caroling contest that benefits a local charity.

Each caroling team has a hashtag. When you vote by text using the hashtag to identify your favorite, it generates $5 for the Pike Market Senior Center.

I just received this text:

Your gift to Figgy Pudding 2012: already provided 23,445 meals at Pike Market Senior Center this year. Thank YOU!! Save the date: Figgy 2013 is Fri, Dec. 6.

#ArtsDayofGiving folks and local Sacramento charities, take note!

If you’re in Seattle the first weekend of December next year, GO! It’s a blast.

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What’s “Good” Nonprofit Facebook Growth?

Being liked on Facebook isn’t enough, but it’s not a bad place to start. Facebook continues to be an important channel for building engagement with community members, volunteers, donors and potential donors.

In March 2010 I started tracking a sampling of Sacramento nonprofits to understand something about the growth of Facebook. By “sampling,” I do not mean that I constructed a representative sample; let’s say I taste-tested them to get a sense of average performance and growth. Though there were baseline numbers out there in the blogosphere, they were generally for big, national organizations. I wanted to know what a local nonprofit should be striving to achieve.

I’ve now got 33* organizations in my sights including a few that I added in this round and a few that I exclude from analysis as outliers.

Here are the highlights from an analysis of 24 local nonprofits:

  • In 2010 (when I was tracking a much smaller comparison group), the average number of likes was around 500. The average is now 973.
  • I was surprised by the continuing growth between June 3, 2012 and June 3, 2013. As the denominator gets bigger, it gets harder to achieve impressive growth. That’s just math. I was also concerned that Facebook’s changes have made it harder for nonprofits’ content to be seen as widely. Among the 24 nonprofits who had at least 500 likes last year, growth ranged from a low of 11% (People Reaching Out) to a high of 63% (United Way California Capital Region).
  • In the group with 500-1,000 likes last year, growth averaged 34%. (United Way fell in this group, with 501 likes as of 6/3/12 and 815 as of 6/2/13).
  • In the group with 1,000+ likes last year, growth averaged 39%. The “winner” in this larger category was Effie Yeaw Nature Center, which grew from 1,125 likes a year ago to 1,763 today. The growth of this larger category impressed me. It suggested that whatever “machine” they ginned up to get to the 1,000 mark is still accelerating.

What about the outliers?

I don’t know what’s going on with Stanford Youth Solutions (formerly Stanford Children’s Home). They started their Facebook page in 2011 and had 393 likes this time last year. Now they have 70. They’ve redone their website but their social link (singular) is buried (unobtrusively displayed on the right several screen swipes down).

Susan G. Komen, which experienced a dramatic drop in racer participants, has also had a huge loss in Facebook friends, dropping from 9,815 in 2012 to 6,948 today, a 29% drop.

I also exclude the Crocker Art Museum because of their size. But they should be feeling great about continuing growth, from 13,860 a year ago to 18,194 today, 31% growth!

How’d they do that?

Facebook doesn’t have to be a part of a nonprofit’s marketing strategy, but I’d be hard pressed to come up with a circumstance when it doesn’t belong in it.

One of the obvious differences between organizations that grew rapidly and those that didn’t is the placement of Facebook on their website page. I suspect that also carries over to other communications – printed materials, emails, etc.

For every rule, however, there’s an exception. Effie Yeaw is obviously doing a great job of promoting their Facebook page, but not on their website. If the link is there, I couldn’t find it!

I’ll do some more sleuthing to see if I can ferret out winning approaches in content as a driver of Facebook growth.

*The organizations I track – all local affiliates:

United Way, American Red Cross, Boys and Girls Clubs, Child Abuse Prevention Center, Children’s Receiving Home, Crocker Art Museum, Diogenes Youth Center, Effie Yeaw, Foodlink, Francis House, Give Local Now, Goodwill, Hands On Sacramento, Junior Achievement, Lilliput, Loaves and Fishes, Make a Wish, People Reaching Out, PRIDE Industries, River City Food Bank, Sacramento Children’s Home, Sacramento Steps Forward, Sacramento Tree Foundation, Sierra Forever Families, Salvation Army, Susan G. Komen, Stanford Youth Solutions, St. John’s Shelter, Volunteers of America, WEAVE, WIND Youth Services, Women’s Empowerment, The Y of Sacramento

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#ArtsDayofGiving: The Learning Continues

How often are you thrilled to receive an online survey? I was yesterday when I received an email invitation to complete an online survey for Arts Day of Giving donors.

What did inquiring minds want to know? Besides the usual demographics, satisfaction, and “how you heard about” questions, the survey should be helpful in answering some of the questions about cannibalization – specifically whether the event brought in existing donors, or new donors.

After asking donors how many nonprofits they supported, it gave donors the opportunity to identify whether the nonprofit(s) they supported were those they:

  • Already support
  • Supported in the past
  • Were aware of but never supported before
  • Never supported before but learned about through the event, or
  • All of the above

It also probed the importance of the match in spurring action, and whether participants helped a nonprofit to pursue and/or win a challenge prize.

Other follow-up notes

Museum of Glass

I received a mailer from Museum of Glass promoting Seattle/Tacoma’s #GiveBig event… which unfortunately came about a week after the fact (it also promoted their annual membership drive – I’ve been a member). It did answer my question about whether some nonprofits mailed promotional materials out to existing supporters; at least in Seattle/Tacoma, they did.

I’ve also been paying attention to which of the 7 organizations I supported through #ArtsDayofGiving sent some kind of follow-up thank you. As mentioned in a previous post, Capital Public Radio’s Arla Gibson was right on it with a personalized thank you email as was Fairytale Town’s Kathy Fleming.

I also received snail mail thank you letters from Fairytale Town, the Crocker Art Museum and the Davis Art Center. Which means – unless I missed it – that I didn’t receive an acknowledgement from three organizations. I was a past (but not current) donor to two, and a new donor to the third.

So here’s a tickler for the organizers of the May 2014. KEEP tracking what happens with new (or resurfaced) donors, and how nonprofits communicate with them, even if just with a few “beta” nonprofits who agree to provide information… my theory is that the organizations who pay attention to new donors will convert more of them to repeat givers.

Three out of seven nonprofits I gave to fell down on the job.

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How Should a Nonprofit Board Track Progress?

Since what you report and manage can lead to better performance – and better implementation of a nonprofit’s mission – I’m a fan of periodic housecleaning of Board reports.

Habit creeps up on all of us. In the case of nonprofits, a Board president may ask to see certain reports as part of the Board meeting packet. Time goes by, and another Board president asks for additional information to be reported. Pretty soon, the executive director’s email has six or seven attachments – the things that he or she is used to reporting plus the other wiggly bits that have been added.

What the Board tracks is vital to a nonprofit’s ultimate success – if for no other reason than it educates the Board as to what is most critical to organizational performance.

A nonprofit that decides it’s time for a Board report house-cleaning should consider these questions:

1) What are the best indicators that the nonprofit is on solid footing and making progress on its goals and/or strategic plan?

2) What’s Board level information?

3) What’s it look like? What’s the best way to focus the Board’s attention by appropriately formatting the report or reports?

I’m actually going to address my three questions in reverse order.

What’s it look like

One of the most helpful tools for organizational effectiveness is a Dashboard Indicators report. The term derived from car instrumentation; we rely on our speedometer, gas gauge, etc., to tell us how things are going when we’re driving, right? Dashboard indicators for organizations point us to the information that tells us if something is wrong (or right).

Much of Corporate America has been using some form of a Dashboard Indicators (trademarked name Balanced Scorecard) since Robert Kaplan and David Norton popularized the idea in the early 90s. Although originally developed as a tool for management, many corporate Boards receive and review quarterly versions of these reports.

Below is an example of a county government’s scorecard. Notice that they figured out the  indicators that they believe to be most important. Then they color-coded the indicators as to whether they were on target (green), at risk (yellow) or below target (red).

Is this a Board-level report? No. The Board needs something more streamlined that speaks to its role and responsibility.

What’s Board level information?

Higher level information, for one thing. Boards shouldn’t see all of the information that management does. It would not only be crazy-making for the Board members but tempt them to step in and manage rather than govern. They should protect the public interest by ensuring that the organization is using its nonprofit resources appropriately and in a way that sustains the mission, identifying risks to the organization’s mission and stability, approving the strategy and evaluating the nonprofit’s work. Not focusing on things like why a mailing cost $1,100 instead of $1,000.

So what are the best indicators?

Kaplan and Norton’s approach used categories to focus attention not just on financials, but the measurable processes and activities that are required to deliver on the customer value proposition. For example, without a reliable and prepared supply of volunteers, many nonprofits couldn’t deliver their programs, so it’s critical to keep an eye on volunteer resources.

Typically dashboard indicators include four categories: financial, customers, operational business processes, and learning and growth (I tend to call this last one “organizational capacity”). Financial is pretty self explanatory. Operational business processes include things the organization must be really good at to deliver its programs while “customers” takes a little bit broader view of the value proposition and includes management of the brand. (Many businesses end up combining these in some fashion because of overlap, or just assigning some indicators to one bucket or another.)  Organizational capacity indicators include the activities that are critical to the organization’s continuity of internal management; it includes indicators or activities related to the technology platform, for example.

I don’t think the buckets are that critical, but they can help nudge management and the Board that there’s more to protecting the mission than the money. A whole system of moving parts – from internal capacities to operations – drives financial performance.

How does that translate to a nonprofit? It depends on the nonprofit and its funding model. An organization that receives government funding to provide a service will have a very different dashboard than one that provides compassionate relief services and is funded largely by individual donations.

I don’t want to complete wimp out on you and not offer some specifics, so here are 10 Board-level indicators that are important to many nonprofits:

1) Reserve operating funds – For many nonprofits, reserves are what allow the organization to smooth out nasty bumps like loss of a grant. This is a link to an example operating reserve policy provided by the Nonprofits Assistance Fund.

2) Gross “profit” % (also called contribution to overhead) – Management certainly needs to look at days of cash on hand and surplus or deficit compared to budget, but I think it’s important for nonprofits to realize they can’t be break even. They have to generate some surplus in order to pay for improvements to plant and technology, for example. A business might look at gross profit (revenue minus operating expense, divided by revenue). So, yes, nonprofits should track this number, expressed as a ratio, in the single digits (the number depends on the budget).

3) Revenue diversification – We’ve all heard stories about nonprofits that lost a big grant on which they depended for 50 or 60% of program revenues. Depending on the nonprofit’s funding model, it should have a target “mix” in mind, e.g. the % from individual donations, the % from grants, and the % from its major fundraising event.

4) Donor growth or average gift growth – A nonprofit may have plenty of donors, but a fairly small average gift size, or it could see its future strength coming from attracting more/new donors. What the right indicator is depends on the nonprofit’s situation, but it needs one or more indicators that reflect its fundraising strategy.

5) Program efficiency – Large funders are becoming savvier shoppers. They want to know that a program is achieving real long-term outcomes and that it is a good or better approach relative to others. Now is the time to start considering how many clients were served for the money (including some allocation of overhad).

6) Client service/satisfaction – The problem with measuring long-term outcomes is, well, they’re long term. Nonprofits have to translate the outcomes they hope to achieve into mid-term and short-term indicators such as the percent of clients completing a program and client satisfaction.

7) Volunteer supply or growth – For nonprofits that depend on volunteers to deliver their programs, tracking volunteer supply vs. budget and volunteer growth (net of attrition) are important indicators.

8) Meeting (big) contract standards – If the nonprofit has government funding for a program, there will be specific standards in the signed scope document.

9) Training completion – Hopefully the nonprofit has a documented process for delivering services, with expectations down to the employee or volunteer level. Ensuring that 100% of employees or volunteers is trained according to the organization’s service standards would be a worthy indicator.

10) Strategic goals or big project milestone tracking – If the organization has an approved strategic direction with specific objectives, or has budgeted for a big capital improvement, it would be appropriate to include high-level milestones in the dashboard indicators report.

Here are some more thoughts from’s Board cafe.

Technology to the rescue: business intelligence tools

Believe it or not, dashboards are a baby step (but a really, really important one). If your organization has absorbed the idea of paying attention to a limited number of critical indicators, it may be time to consider tools that make the job easier. has a great page about business intelligence tools you should check out.

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A Nonprofit’s Business Plan for a New Program

engineering photo credit:

Organizational business planning is like carpentry. You’ve got the elevations and floor plans, but you have to build the house, and build it right. (Yesterday’s blog post contains practical tips about organizational business planning.)

Business planning for a new program or service is more like engineering. The problem of how to achieve the desired result could be accomplished several ways, but you have to figure out the optimal approach and then do the calculations to prove that it will work. Practical tips for creating a business plan for a new program is the focus of today’s post.

I recently made two suggestions to a nonprofit that has staked out its intent to develop a new program to address an unfilled community need:

  1. At the idea stage, use a framework for evaluating the program model options, and
  2. Agree on the end-state of the proposal for the pilot that will go to the Board for funding

I’m interested in what program evaluation criteria you’ve found helpful, as well as what you include in a business plan that will be used to propose a new program.

I’m sharing my take in the hopes you will share your experience. And of course I’ll publish comments here on Philanthrophile.

Framework for evaluating program model options:

Based on the program profile:

  1. Not duplicative: To what extent is this program truly needed and different than existing programs that address this need?
  2. Measurability: How likely are we to be able to identify a measurable outcome from this program? (definition = long-term end result) Note: requires a clear theory of change.
  3. Core Capabilities: To what extent is this something that draws upon our current knowledge of the community and operational experience?
  4. Ease of Implementation: How hard or easy will this program be to set up and manage? (The more “moving parts” and new processes, the harder.  Also, the availability of partners/allies is not listed as a separate criteria, but will affect ease of implementation, etc.)
  5. Affordability: How confident are we that we have the financial resources absorb the startup expense without putting our other programs at risk?
  6. Confidence: How confident are we that our estimates of cost are realistic?
  7. Staff-ability: How likely are we to be able to manage this new pilot program without putting our current operation at risk?
  8. Fund-ability: How likely are we to be able to secure seed funding for the pilot program?
  9. Volunteer resources: How likely are we to be able to secure reliable volunteers for this program?
  10. Scalability: If this program is successful, how easy or hard would it be to expand and scale it?
  11. Mission fit: Does well does this fit our general mission and what people expect of us?
  12. Sizzle factor: How potentially exciting is this program to the community and our supporters?

Program Proposal

Once you have a pretty good idea about the program model, it’s important to develop a document that puts the meat on the bones and provides assumptions for the financial pro forma.

Table of Contents

  • Executive summary
    • What is our strategic intent in developing this program? Is this about broadening our response to need, or deepening what we already do?
    • How does this fit within our mission and history?
    • Proposed program profile (elevator speech)
  • Proposed outcomes and theory of change: What are the specific outcomes for which we want to be held accountable? How will our proposed program work to achieve the outcomes we aim to achieve?
  • Target audience profile: what do we know about who they are, how many there are, where they are, and how they are (e.g. status)
  • Operational requirements
    • Human resources
      • Staff including management oversight
      • Volunteer
    • Administrative business processes
    • Physical plant
    • Partnerships
    • Distribution
    • Transportation
    • Technology
    • Quality evaluation (how will we know we are providing service that meets clients’ needs?)
  • Funding targets (what are the top sources of funding dollars that might support this?)
  • Financial pro forma including allocation of indirect costs, with upside and downside scenarios
    • Cost per client
  • Dependencies (are there certain resources – internal or external – that we are dependent upon to implement the pilot successfully, on time?)
  • Milestones and monitoring plan

Share this with friends in the nonprofit sector and invite them to contribute observations from their practical experience. We’ll all benefit!

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Organizational Business Planning for Nonprofits

Nuts and bolts guy

Back in April I wrote about the successful conclusion of a year-long D.I.Y. strategic planning process I facilitated for a small nonprofit.

Toward the end of the retreat that sealed the deal, the incoming chair asked, “How do we make sure that the strategy is implemented? What does the Board need to track?”

Great questions. While it’s important for the Board to track the progress of the strategic plan and key performance indicators through a dashboard (more on that next), it actually isn’t the Board’s job to micromanage the myriad of steps that will go into an implementation plan. That’s what a business plan is for as a tool of the executive director.

The job of the business plan, as I’m defining it here, is to bring the strategic plan to life. How will the executive director, in concert with its partners and allies, build out the strategy? Whereas this particular strategic plan has a five year horizon (five years because the small nonprofit needs running room to reinforce its financial base and fix core programs before it can develop new programs), the organizational business plan will be what the executive director uses to keep on top of the most critical tasks in the 1-3 years ahead.

What did it look like? Nuts and bolts. A project plan, broken into monthly milestones, created in Excel. (Digital project planning software is handy when large teams need to collaborate, but it doesn’t add much value when a small handful of people are performing all of the activities. Larger organizations also tend to include more narrative because they are used as a tool to communicate direction and priorities to the “ground troops,” but in this case the executive director would have been preaching to herself.)

The test of the business plan is this: if all of the steps are implemented on time, will they be sufficient to ensure the successful implementation of the strategic plan? If not – if it doesn’t have sufficiently robust activities to ensure the financial stability of the organization, customer and donor satisfaction, achievement of chosen outcomes and operational stability – then something is missing. It’s back to the drawing board or at least the computer.

As an organizing scheme for the project plan, we used a slightly modified version of the four perspectives typically associated with a strategy map and dashboard: financial, client and donor value proposition, operations and organizational capability. (The strategy map, developed by Robert Kaplan and David Norton, was originally developed for businesses in general and later adapted to nonprofits. Several years back, I led a workshop for nonprofit executive directors under the auspices of the Nonprofit Resource Center to help them devise a strategy map for their own organizations.)

Besides the organizational business plan, this small nonprofit also has work ahead of it to develop a new program. The term for that kind of plan is also “business plan,” but it will look a lot different. A business plan for a new program considers alternatives, creates the case and builds the operational plan for a new program. Then it demonstrates the sustainability of the new program with a financial pro forma that is pressure tested to create best case and worst case scenarios.

Stay tuned for more about how to create a business plan for a new program.

[For another point of view on the definition of a business plan, it’s worth looking at the approached used by Bridgespan, a large consulting firm that specializes in nonprofits. It defines business plans as an opportunity to “connect the dots between mission and programs, to specify the resources that will be required to deliver those programs, and to establish performance measures that allow everyone to understand whether the desired results are being achieved.” As a starting point, Bridgespan recommends looking at the entire portfolio of a nonprofit’s programs and taking stock, asking what audiences it really wants to serve, to achieve what outcomes, and which outcomes go farthest to achieve positive change. (More detail on their approach, which is methodical and thorough, is included in their white paper on the topic.) The DIY strategic planning process we just completed asked those very questions. So what they’re calling a business plan, I’m calling a strategic plan. Potato, po-tah-toh, either approach will take a nonprofit to a stronger, more outcomes-focused place.]

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Greenpeace Gets Brand Tone, Donor Motivations Right

Greenpeace membership renewal

Great example, Greenpeace!

Driving from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. last week, my old colleague and pal Sharon Swanson (producer of the Elizabeth Spencer documentary among other career hats) and I had plenty of time to talk. About street signs like the one posted below, sure, but also about how nonprofits sometime miss the mark with events and promotions that aren’t in keeping with their brands.


This got in here because it just cracked me up

Then this little blurb caught my eye this morning, thanks to The Nonprofit Times:

Individual donors contributed about 73 percent, or $217.79 billion to nonprofits in 2011, out of a total of nearly $300 billion, according to Giving USA. Knowing your donors’ motivations can help you create more targeted asks and get more contributions to your organization. Eric John Abrahamson, Ph.D., outlined seven types of donors in his book Beyond Charity.

  • Communitarians give out of a sense of belonging to a community, using their gifts to reinforce collective efforts.
  • Devout donors are motivated by faith, adherence to religious teachings, and loyalty to religious institutions.
  • Investors view money as a means to create social change.
  • Socialites participate in philanthropy as a social activity.
  • Altruists see philanthropy as a way to fulfill their life purpose.
  • Repayers give out of a sense of gratitude.
  • Dynasts are born into families with deeply embedded philanthropic traditions.

Exactly. Individual donors need to be described in terms of profiles that reflect their attitudes and motivations. When I was wearing my corporate marketing hat, we called it psychographics.

So the piece at the top of this post caught my eye. I thought this membership renewal piece was downright brilliant. It appeals to the group of people who define themselves as nonconformists and 99%’ers. It is a great execution right down to the creepy charcoal illustrations, the ironic reverse psychology, and even the use of snail mail to reach an audience that uses snail mail rarely. My son will love it.


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How Do Nonprofits Track the Customer Journey?

photo credit:

Integrated marketing and communications is critical to nonprofits, and not just big ones. The smaller a nonprofit’s footprint in the community, the more that it has to consistently beat the drum on a narrow and powerful message. It also has to pay attention — track and measure — both activity and results from all of its external promotional efforts.

Small nonprofits may do the basics like track activity on their Facebook pages through Facebook Insights, or occasionally look at Google Analytics. They may even use a free or low-cost tool like HootSuite to understand activity and sentiment for select keywords across social networks and the organization’s website.

But what I really want is the nonprofit version of the image below:

Google Analytics Customer Journey

The basic idea is that some promotional channels assist a customer in becoming aware of or forming an opinion about an organization, while the customer turns to other channels when (at last) they are ready to act.

(In case you’re wondering, the number assigned to each promotional channel is a ratio. Google says, “In general, ratios less than one mean the channel acts more as a ‘last interaction,’ while ratios greater than one mean that the channel acts more as an ‘assist interaction.'”)

The “customer journey” reflects what many have been suggesting about nonprofit promotional strategy for some time. Potential donors to nonprofits may interact on Facebook, read e-blasts, etc. but not use links in those tools to donate until they are good and ready. Nonprofits rarely understand how all of that promotional “dating” turns into commitment.

The image is the marketing funnel for industries as a whole, created by Google using transactional data from 36,000 Google e-commerce tracking enabled accounts who gave their permission for data to be aggregated. Google also makes available the data for seven specific industries including health and education/government, but, alas, not for the nonprofit sector.

Here’s the health industry “customer journey” so you can see how it differs:

google health customer journey

Still, I think the idea that these affinity-building activities connect somehow to donations is one nonprofits must keep in mind. What channels seem to play a role well in advance of purchase (donations)? What channels come into play when someone is about ready to give? How long does it take from initial exploration or contact to spur a donation?  All communications may play a role and be necessary to build the steady drumbeat necessary to spur contributions.

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A Practical Approach to Nonprofit Website Overhaul


I’ve got nonprofit websites on the brain this morning and am passing along information about a great, inexpensive resource to help you improve this critical asset. Idealware, a that aims to help nonprofits make good decisions about software, has a series of five, live 90-minute webinars coming up that costs only $200. That’s a heckuva deal, and the content looks great.

Websites are on my mind because later today I’ll present my top 10 get-started tips for nonprofit communications and marketing to an independent study group associated with UC Davis’ MBA program. Allan Alday, one of the students, found me through LinkedIn while searching for someone with that expertise.

Overhauling or setting up an effective website is, of course, on my top 10 list. When I met a couple of weeks ago with Amber Stott, the force behind the one-year old California Food Literacy Center, we talked about what communications tools are most effective. “It’s still the website, Facebook and blogging,” Amber said. I agreed.

Idealware’s series is called “From Audit to Redesign: The Complete Nonprofit Website.” The series starts June 4. Even if you can’t make them all – they’re on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. Pacific – it would still be worth participating.

Here’s part of the description, but head on over to the page that describes it for more detail. And PS, although this implies that a nonprofit has an existing website, a seminar like this one could be equally helpful in creating a website from scratch.

Over five Tuesdays in June and July, join Idealware as we walk you through Website 101, review best practices for accessibility, mobile-optimized sites, and reinforcing your organization’s online brand. We’ll also take a look at the content management systems (CMS) that can give even your least tech-savvy staff members the tools to update website content themselves. Finally, we’ll talk about how your website content works alongside your email, direct mail, and social media efforts to create your organization’s communications mix.

Takeaways from the course:

  • Define goals for how your website will serve your audience
  • Learn best practices for designing an accessible, usable, and polished website
  • Compare your content management system (CMS) options
  • How to make sure your website shows up well on search engines 
  • Create your organization’s website action plan with next steps and action items for an improvement process

P.S. I just noticed that Idealware posts “Best of the Web” monthly, a round up of articles worth reading. If you’re thinking about social media, technological solutions (e.g. cloud), data, mobile giving, etc., you’ll find some worthwhile articles there.

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More on Seattle’s #GiveBig Online Giving Event

Give Big home screen

I popped over to Twitter to see if #GiveBig was being used as a hashtag for Seattle’s community-giving event since it wasn’t obviously promoted on the home page of The Seattle Foundation, host of the event. Sure enough, #GiveBig was beginning to heat up.

I immediately noticed that my alma mater, the University of Puget Sound, was tweeting about its “One of A Kind” capital and scholarship fundraising campaign. As I did with Sacramento’s Arts Day of Giving, I made a small donation to support the Loggers (yes, Loggers) and learn more about how Seattle/Tacoma is deploying technology to support charitable giving. And naturally I sniffed around a bit to see how different nonprofits were using the opportunity.

Not all tweets were created equal

Some nonprofits seemed to use their 140 character message spaces more effectively than others:

  • The Pike Place Market Foundation won my prize for “best Twitter voice.” Twitter messages tend to be a bit cheeky and I liked their “#GiveBig to the Pig” message (“Rachel,” the 550-lb. bronze pig statue at the Pike Place Market is a famous landmark). But I suppose it’s hard to replicate this particular tactic if you don’t have an iconic farm animal associated with your charity. However, this can be emulated: The Pike Place Market folks chose to include a shortened link to take people right to a donation page. I noticed that other charities linked to their event profile page, which would have required one more click to donate. A small thing perhaps, but you lose “customers” with every extra click.

Pike Place Market #GiveBig tweet

Seattle Foundation giving page

  • Some nonprofits’ messages struck me as more powerful than others. They moved beyond the obvious, such as focusing on the generic “it’s #GiveBig day” message, the opportunity for matching funds, or a few phrases about what they do (e.g. “serve 5,000+ homeless families ea yr” or “supporting girls and women”). Better examples: @ConservationNW got a little conversation going by encouraging people to list favorite animals. @MakeAWishAKWA tweeted a beautiful image they posted on Instagram.

@Conservation NW tweet

Make a Wish tweet

Make A Wish Instagram Image #WishBig #GiveBig

  • A number of charities asked for help funding specific programs. @IslandWood tweeted: “Every gift of $25 on May 15th funds an outdoor learning adventure,” and @GenderOdyssey made an appeal for funding of a staff position: “It’s true! We want to hire a Conference Director!! There’s just one thing…” (the tweet continued with a link to a blog post about the need for paid staff help).

Technology notes

Communities have assembled the technology for online giving events several ways. Sacramento’s Arts Day of Giving modified Guidestar’s Donor Edge ecommerce tools. Several other high profile online giving events, like Greater Washington’s “Give to the Max,”  have used Razoo.

I know that the Arts Day of Giving folks worked hard to make sure the e-commerce site wouldn’t crash with the volume they hoped to generate, and it looks like Seattle’s behind-the-scenes e-commerce provider, ClickAndPledge, also kept up per the Tweet below:

Tweet about receipts

BUT least two nonprofits posted that their website was down during the event. Nonprofits could experience more intense website traffic than they have experienced previously, since all of the push happens in a 24-hour period. Nonprofits: be ready!

Comparing Seattle/Tacoma and Sacramento:

There were a few things that I liked better about the way Seattle managed its Give Big event, and a few things I liked better about Sacramento’s approach:

Seattle wins:

  • For including the option of a survey (an embedded Survey Monkey link) that popped up right after you make a donation. It might have been a bit long (15 questions), but I liked the additional information about whether these are additional gifts if someone has given before.

Give Big survey - 1st five questions

  • For being able to process receipts that come through with the name of the organization as the sender (the email also had a pdf attachment with a printer-friendly version). The receipts lacked any kind of emotion, but the specific sender did underline the connection to the charity (and tax deductibility).
  • For giving people the option of donating to a stretch pool. Sacramento used matching funds from partners, but Seattle let community members continue to add to those matching funds. I thought this was a nice solution for people who wanted to participate in Give Big, but weren’t attached to a specific nonprofit.
  • For their use of Twitter pics, which looked great on a computer screen. I also noticed that Jimi Hendrix Park made nice use of this feature:

Give Big Twitter pic

Jimi Hendrix Park

Arts Day of Giving wins:

  • For promoting Twitter more visibly on the home page of the campaign. Seattle’s Give Big folks did promote social sharing but you saw the Twitter and Facebook push after completing a donation. This shouldn’t be an either/or. It would be best to promote the Twitter hashtag on the home page and have easy next-steps on the screen that pops up after donating.

Give Big post-donation screen

  • For a better way to list nonprofits. Both cities had a search field that made it easy to find a nonprofit if you knew who you wanted to donate to. But Sacramento created “buckets” — categories — of nonprofits while Seattle offered up a verrrrryyyy long directory of nonprofits. It felt like it took five minutes to find University of Puget Sound.

Seattle Give Big nonprofit list

Should Sacramento be afraid of becoming too successful?

I stumbled across one other important bit of dialogue while kicking around the Seattle event: it may be beginning to wear out some participants. Seattle’s event, by the way, is now in its third year.

Humanosphere, which reports news and analysis of global health and the fight against poverty, noted that it “drives many people nuts” because people are getting deluged with emails from nonprofits who have their email addresses. It’s a big enough issue that a guest column by Joy Portella, a consultant formerly with Mercy Corps, was published in the Seattle Times.

Both note that the online giving event may be especially helpful to small nonprofits that simply can’t get their message to penetrate to the same degree on their own.

If people in Seattle/Tacoma are getting deluged with emails from nonprofits, it suggests to me that there is a cadre of people who are very involved in supporting the community. These people may indeed get a bit annoyed by the “cacophony” as Joy Portella put it.

But Sacramento has a long way to go to get more people to give charitably, on a par with other communities our size.

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