Tag Archives: Websites

A Practical Approach to Nonprofit Website Overhaul

Image: Iowaadguy.wordpress.com

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 dot.org 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.

Comments Off on A Practical Approach to Nonprofit Website Overhaul

Filed under Websites

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 ow.ly 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.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Arts Day of Giving Made History! Way to Go Sacramento!

Final Results Arts Day of Giving Give Local NowOn April 29, Sacramento held its first online fundraising blitz and generated $411,907 for ~80 arts-related organizations with programs spread across the region from Davis to Roseville, Placerville and Stockton. Even though another big local news story threatened to eclipse the attention being lavished on the event — the vote of the NBA Committee not to allow the sale of the Sacramento Kings to Seattle, posted by the Bee at about 2 p.m. —  Sacramento proved it could multi-task. People tweeted about the Kings while the Arts Day of Giving continued to generate email, Facebook and Twitter traffic.

The event was a big darned deal for a number of reasons:

Looking at the experience of other cities that have deployed similar technology, it also successfully demonstrated how much more opportunity we have. I’ll blog some thoughts soon about where we might go from here.

The Technology

There’s no doubt about it: many people want charitable giving to be dead easy. But technology costs money. Even if you acquire off-the-shelf technology, as our local organizers did, it takes a ton of time to wrestle a project like this to the ground. The software has to be modified, and nonprofits have to agree to participate and create profiles, all of which takes more time. Susan Frazier of Give Local Now credited the Sacramento Region Community Foundation with contributing resources – time and money – to build the engine of Arts Day of Giving. No doubt the collaboration with the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and For Arts Sake made a difference, too.

Give2Max home pageBut the results seem to be worth it for communities taking advantage of this new approach. In 2011, I blogged about Give2Max Day in the Washington DC area, which raised over $2 million in a 24 hour period from nearly 18,000 donors. Online giving blitzkriegs are picking up steam with events in places as far flung as Seattle (Big Give upcoming event on May 15), North Texas (Get Up and Give! which raised over $14 million from almost 28,000 donors) and Columbus, OH (The Big Give raised $8.5 million from over 10,000 donors).

Arts Day of Giving home page with categoriesI decided to test the technology by making several small donations. Dead easy indeed. If you knew which organization you wanted to donate to, you used the handy search field. But what if you didn’t know and wanted to “shop” for an object of your affections? The brain trust behind Arts Day of Giving created easily-digestible categories of arts organizations from arts education to dance, music, arts education, visual art, media and more. In each of those categories, you might see as many as a dozen nonprofits. You could click on a profile and learn more about them; seeing them in a consistent, complete framework made it a cakewalk.

Philanthrophile tweet stream #ArtsDayofGivingAs you can tell from my tweet stream, I made a series of seven rapid-fire small donations between 8:05 and 8:28 p.m. At the bottom of my first purchase screen was a link to allow me to select another charity. When I selected one, all I had to do was re-enter my credit card. Within seconds, I had an email receipt in my inbox.

The reason I tweeted my donation (which I normally wouldn’t) was to help charities vie for a social media prize worth $1,000. They had to be mentioned on a public post or tweet along with the hashtag #ArtsDayofGiving.

Who benefited most?

The Leaderboard (which is still visible) allowed charities and donors to see exactly who was winning the donation race. Sacramento Ballet received almost $50,000.

My informal visual survey of the Twitter stream during the 24 hour event revealed that Sac Ballet was the most active. They may have done a bang up job of promoting the event to their members in advance of April 29, but I suspect that the event brought them new supporters, largely through Twitter. And this is strange: Sac Ballet doesn’t promote its Twitter “handle” on its website and doesn’t seem to have a Facebook page. My advance prediction was that the Crocker Art Museum would raise the most funds because of its highly public profile. After all, it’s a place — and a place has the advantage when it comes to building relationships. Drop in anytime! But the Crocker also has a big social media footprint with nearly 18,000 likes on Facebook and almost 1,000 followers on Twitter.

But in some ways I think the biggest winners were organizations with lower profiles. The technology provided them with a way to raise visibility that they never could have achieved on their own. Case in point: @DDSOorg noticed me tweeting and sent me a message thanking me for supporting the Arts Day of Giving. I looked at their Twitter profile where they turned out to be the Developmental Disabilities Service Organization which “champions the creativity & potential within the hearts & minds of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities using innovative strategies.” Then I looked them up on the Give Local Now event homepage. Then I gave.

Another surprising winner was the Sacramento Mandarins, a drum and bugle corps, which raised $16,000 from 78 donors.

Inquiring minds want to know

Twitter traffic Arts Day of GivingAn event like this leaves me salivating with more questions than answers:

  • Did Twitter have the most impact on traffic to the event page?
  • What happened to traffic on nonprofits’ own websites during the event?
  • Did landing pages like the one on Capitol Public Radio convert traffic to Give Local Now visits?
  • Did nonprofits mostly find new donors, as has been the case in other cities? Or did they see old friends come back in a new way?
  • What were nonprofit’s best practices (IMHO) on Twitter during the event?
  • Why weren’t more individuals engaged (as opposed to organizational tweeters)? There were a few voices out there but some of the most active social media adherents (some of whom work for public relations agencies) didn’t seem to be involved.
  • Where was United Way? In some other cities they seem to have been involved in giving events like this one.

Tomorrow (I hope): Opportunity knocks! How this online giving technology could become an even better thing for Sacramento nonprofits? (And I might throw in a little about the risks – like rising administrative fees,  wearing out the market with fundraising contests, or failing to let people know what happened with their donations, a leading reason that people don’t give.)

1 Comment

Filed under fundraising, Uncategorized

20 questions from CSUS Graphic Design students

CSUS professor Gwen Amos’ “Visual Image” students have a tough assignment:  research and understand the scope of poverty in Sacramento, and develop a print piece, poster and campaign to assist a worthy nonprofit.  Today I met with four students — Biz Lemma, Charmian Mendoza, Jessica Ripley and Kevin Swaim — to discuss their preliminary ideas to benefit Women’s Empowerment, an organization that they see has having a vital mission and approach to helping homeless women. (Note: their work is not sponsored by Women’s Empowerment but they selected the organization and are busily working on ideas to advance its cause.)

They also came with a laundry list of questions – 20, to be exact!  More than a dozen were of general interest so I’ll do my best to answer them here.  Readers, do you disagree with me? Please comment.  I know the students would appreciate the input.

How can we, as designers, use social marketing strategies to influence the behaviors of the public?

How can’t you?  I know that’s not what you asked. Social marketing literally means influencing attitudes and behaviors to accomplish a public good. All causes have to “map” how they will get people from point “A” to point “B.”  They may have to create awareness first before getting people to take steps that will accomplish the good they envision. Or it may be that people are already aware of the issue and just need to know how they can get involved, usually starting with low-risk baby steps and progressing to higher involvement. Social media, which we discussed today, offers an important set of tools to get people to engage.

What methods have been used in “call to action” campaigns that would work on a local scale?

We discussed a variety of examples when we met, but I’ll share one here.  Some of the most successful campaigns address a problem that people immediately grasp, make it easy to support the effort, and have a short-term sense of urgency.  “Give to the Max Day” in Minnesota is an effort by that state’s nonprofits to come together and get people to give locally.  Last year, the effort raised more than $10 million from 42,000 donors in 24 hours.

What levels of interactivity do we need to reach in order to make an impact? How important is it for the audience to be able to interact with an advertisement as opposed to simply read information on a flyer?

I know from our conversation that you’re wondering whether a poster or flyer (which requires no interaction) is better or worse that some kind of communications tool that makes you take an action (like a tear-off pad).  Old school direct mail advertising used to favor pieces where you had to apply a sticker and send in for the free offer.  Asking people to do something yielded higher returns than just a plain old mail appeal.  But today, it’s important to remember that people have short attention spans.  Something tactile might work if it’s clever enough and makes sense, or it might get ignored.  Spend time thinking about where people are now in their decision process about involvement.  Do you need to spend time raising awareness as a “drip irrigation” method: delivering a steady stream of short messages through passive media like billboards?  Or do people already ‘get it’ and just need an easy way to act – like click a button on a website?  When it comes to interactivity, I’d think less about print, which has a substantial up front cost and may be risky in terms of return. Think more about online tactics.

For a cause like helping to alleviate poverty, is a magazine the right way to present the information we have?

It could be a way to present it.  First you have to reach an audience that wants to know more. Magazines have the luxury of multiple pages to tell the story, and the ability to present compelling visuals.  They might be a great tool for major donor prospects.  Another approach might be a video.

Do you think that social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) is more successful currently than traditional billboards, print ads, mailers, etc.?

The metric for success here is return on investment.  For every dollar you spend, what do you get back?  Because social media are cheap or free, it’s hard to beat the return.  Plus you can experiment rapidly.  On the other hand, the jury is out in terms of social media’s ability to generate substantial donations.  As pointed out recently by John Kenyon at the Nonprofit Resource Center conference, email and even “snail mail” still play an important role in generating donations.  (Here’s an old presentation of his that explains the role of email in fundraising.)  Online donors frequently become snail mail donors.

Is there any gain in having volunteer organizations on Yelp?

Yelp is definitely a social medium, but people tend to go there for reviews.  It can be a good place to create events to attract new friends and followers.

Do you feel that QR codes are a fad?  Are these marketable to older crowds as well?  Are people more likely o get involved with an organization, or at least visit their websites, if there is a QR in the ad?

Old like me 🙂 ? I think they’ll be useful eventually but right now they’re mostly sizzle and no steak for nonprofits.  On the other hand, there is a small set of people who love new tech toys, and those people might follow a QR to a website.  If you’re trying to recruit programmers to work with disadvantaged kids near Silicon Valley, a QR code on ads might work well.  Think about your target audience first.  Do they have smart phones and use a QR reader app?

What is a good way to advertise for volunteers as opposed to donations?

Volunteering and donating are both behaviors.  As we talked about today, friends are a more influential source of information than paid advertising.  Think about how you can mobilize people to bring their friends into a cause, whether it’s as a volunteer or donor.  You might think of those as alternative paths for giving.  Some people might have more time or talent, while others have more financial resources.  Nonprofits need both.

What is a good length for a YouTube video campaign?  Would these be effective for groups such as Women’s Empowerment so that the target audience can put a face to the cause?

Watch TV news and you’ll get a pretty good idea about the optimal length of a video.  Keep remembering: we all have short attention spans!  I haven’t seen data about optimal length but I’d guess 2-3 minutes would be the maximum before you start to lose people.  Videos do need a story arc: something that engages you, depicts a struggle or a challenge, and releases tension by providing information about what you can do.  Video is ideal for organizations like Women’s Empowerment, much harder for organizations that have “colorless” visuals – e.g. free tax preparation assistance. [Update:  The Give Minnesota folks are also running a nonprofit video contest called “Does this make my heart look big?” The second flash image that comes up once you land on the site asks for votes on the most compelling video.  Check them out and see what you think about length and impact.]

What sort of information would an organization trying to raise community involvement need to include on a Facebook page?  In trying to up the number of volunteers, would Facebook be more successful than traditional print ads or flyers?

What works best – always – is an integrated media campaign across multiple channels, but nonprofits rarely have the money for that.  Websites and Facebook are very cost effective channels for engaging people.  The beauty of Facebook is engagement and interaction; it’s a conversation rather than a one-way channel.  Spend time looking around on Facebook fan pages to see what kind of content (and messages) seem to be working for nonprofits that have similar appeals.  Draft a one-page “message and voice” guideline with your ideas about what the nonprofit needs to convey (prioritized) and what its personality should be.  The idea is to get other people to post on your page and on their own page.  Above is an example from today on River City Food Bank‘s Facebook page – 2 people who cared enough to post.

How many campaigns should an organization have per year?

Whatever number is effective!  It would depend on the organization and what it’s asking through the campaigns.  The big thing is that the organization should map out a strategy for the year.  For example, it might start the year with a personal outreach campaign to major donors, then promote an event, then focus on a membership drive, then do a holiday push and “it’s not too late” New Year’s reminder.

Parting words

Start with the end in mind (outcome).  What is the problem the client — in this case, the nonprofit — is struggling with that marketing and design can help solve?

Conceptualize a strategy that goes from awareness of a problem or cause through the behavior that the nonprofit wants to encourage.  You will undoubtedly have a limited budget so pick just one step on the long ladder from awareness to behavior as a place to begin.

Test it on your mother.  Can you explain what you want your Mom to do in 140 characters or less so that she gets it and wants to help?

Think in terms of a short campaign – or at least a fairly short experiment.  So many of the “old reliable” marketing techniques have fallen by the wayside with splintered audiences.  Now everything is test and learn, keep building on what works and stop doing what doesn’t.  What can you do that’s not too expensive and gets a response in 6 weeks or less?

Good luck.  And thanks.  The nonprofit world needs young people like you who care, and have talent to share.

1 Comment

Filed under Social media, Strategy, Uncategorized

Is your nonprofit website good enough?

Despite the emergence of new channels of communication — or maybe because of them — a nonprofit’s website is more important than ever.  An integrated communications strategy encompassing email, traditional advertising, PR and social media should point back to the website – or at least a basic landing page – as a “place” to learn more and get involved.  And the website must be designed to attract people who are searching for information related to the cause or issue.

I talk to many nonprofits who “put up” a website a few years ago and figure they have that box checked.  Last they looked into it, it was too expensive to make any dramatic changes. At one point, it did cost tens of thousands for a basic overhaul… but that’s no longer true. If you’ve been told by your agency or firm that you’re going to have to spend a bunch of money for them to update your content, or figure out how to improve your website, you may be working with the wrong resource.

Heard the slogan, “There’s an app for that”?  Third-party tools have also changed the world for website designers, making it easier and cheaper to integrate sophisticated capabilities into websites for organizations with limited budgets.

Cheaper tools don’t necessarily make for an effective website.  That takes a clear understanding of audiences, objectives and the kind of relationship you want the website to help build.  But so much more is possible, for less money and less effort, than was once the case.

Last year, I had the opportunity to hear a great presentation by Digital Deployment at the Nonprofit Resource Center fall conference.  I invited Mac Clemmens and Carsen Anthonisen to give Philanthrophile readers a quick update on what’s new in the world of nonprofit websites.  Digital Deployment has designed websites for nonprofits ranging in cost from $15,000-$50,000.  The price tag depends on the complexity of the site, size of the organization and so on.  If you want to check out some of their recent work, here are a few websites they’ve developed in the past couple of years: Jesuit High School www.jesuithighschool.org;
Nonprofit Resource Center www.nprcenter.org; Stanford Home for Children www.stanfordhome.org; United Way (redesigned) www.yourlocalunitedway.org/

And, no, I don’t have any commercial connection to Digital Deployment and this is not an ad – just thought they’d be good people to ask, and they were nice enough to respond.  (Apologies in advance for the changes in font and font sizes… WordPress is not happy that I pasted in their answers from an email I received on my Mac, and I can’t edit the section below.)

What’s changed with respect to website technology in the past couple of years? What’s possible now that would have been too expensive before?

Today websites are easier than ever to use, and are nearly limitless in their ability to share content, video, photos, and documents. Modern websites are easy to update, can provide a website visitor with potentially limitless information about the cause of the nonprofit, and can easily leverage third-party services and plugins.  An example of this is the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Los Angeles. A wish recipient’s parent was able to share a video she took with her digital camera on the website of her ecstatic daughter walking into her newly redecorated room. It allowed them to share a powerful story, and remind others why the non-profit was so important to support.

What’s the most important question a nonprofit should ask itself when evaluating whether its website is “good enough”?

Is it building measurable business value, and how are we measuring its success? For a domestic violence website, it might be something as simple as measuring the number of anonymous questions that came through the anonymous question board. Other nonprofits might measure the number of new subscribers to their blog or newsletter, the number of “likes” they have on Facebook, or the number of visits to the Donate Now page that were converted into actual donations. The process of establishing quantitative goals for the website is key to its success.


What’s the low end range to redesign a website these days?

You can get someone to put together a theme for a WordPress blog for $1,000, or you can pay someone to spruce up a Facebook canvas page. But most websites, deployed on your own domain e.g., www.yournonprofit.org with some sort of content management system (CMS), usually start at a few thousand dollars. The costs are usually in how unique and customized you want your design to be, and how refined you want the functionality to be. Generally, we find the more you pay, the easier and simpler the site is to use and administer, and the more unique the design is.


What basic homework should a nonprofit do before engaging a consultant, to determine what they need?

The best thing a non-profit can do is to start having conversations with different developers/designers and ask them what opportunities an upgraded website might offer them. This is especially important to do before developing a scope of work and issuing an RFP. Since building a website means different things to different people, a scope of work helps define the offering. We usually define comprehensive website development as: a) conducting a rigorous analysis of the opportunity and developing quantitative measures of success, b) Providing branding, design, and theming services, c) providing content consulting and information architecture services, d) tailoring and deploying a content management system and integrating third party services, and e) driving traffic through e-mail blasts and monitoring success through analytics.

With social media like Facebook and Twitter, is a website becoming less important for a nonprofit?

A robust, well-managed website is actually becoming more important because it is what is generally referenced as the authoritative source of information. Facebook and Twitter are channels to distribute content, just like e-mail. But what is being communicated, and how the communication is referenced and attributed to the domain for search engine optimization depends on a careful and thoughtful implementation of the website on the organization’s domain. That being said, the barriers to entry for non-profits to organize events and manage registrations, for example, have come down significantly. Eventbrite, for example, is a fantastic, simple way for non-profits to allow people to buy event tickets online.

What are common mistakes nonprofits make with respect to their websites?

Most websites are built from the inside out, rather than from the user’s perspective. In other words, organizations look first at themselves and then decide what to publish. Websites need to be planned and executed from the outside looking in, taking into account the demographics and lifestyle considerations of the audiences for the site.

Many nonprofits often post too many PDFs of documents, rather than posting content directly on a page of the site. This makes it harder for the user, and complicates the ability for search engines to find relevant content.

We sometimes see nonprofits buy overly complicated, overpriced, difficult-to-use software or products that don’t suit their needs.  The irony is that we sometimes also see a reluctance to spend money on a website content consultant or strategist who could help them tighten up their message or select less expensive and more effective tools.

Comments Off on Is your nonprofit website good enough?

Filed under Uncategorized, Websites

How to make a blog for nonprofits

Choosing what tool to deploy next can feel like this/gsbrown99 under CC

The virtual shopping aisle of digital communication tools is worse than a visit to Best Buy.  Where do you begin when you don’t understand half the features they’re talking about?  Redo your website?  Start with a Facebook page?  Begin with Twitter?  What about that new “plus” thing Google just launched (Google+)?

Each organization is going to have to consider its communications objectives, strategy and resources and then figure out how to begin chipping away.  A blog is a great communications utility to have in the mix (maybe not as fantastic as a universal remote, but worthy of investment).

Why blog?

1.  Blogging is good way to attract traffic to a website. As I’ve mentioned before, websites are still the best place to tell your story and convert the interested into the active.  If you incorporate keywords that people use to search, you have the potential to attract new visitors to your website.  (Click here for SEOmoz’s good beginner’s guide to Search Engine Optimization, the technique for identifying and building on keywords – hat tip Mashable.)  Blogs can be embedded right into a website.  Every time you publish a fresh story, voila!  Your website page is updated, too.  (It doesn’t even have to be your blog you embed if it’s relevant to your cause.  All it takes is an RSS feed.)

2.  Blogging is a great way to capture content, especially stories.  It’s best, of course, if community members share their stories directly, but that doesn’t usually happen right off the bat.  So you’re going to need to listen for and then relate stories.  And content is what you need to feed the every growing appetite of social media.

3.  Shortened blog links make great attachments to Facebook and Twitter posts.  If your message is interesting enough, you’ll get new people to look at what you have to say.  The “sharing” norm of Facebook and Twitter rapidly multiplies the people who are exposed to what you have to say.

How to get started blogging

A blog is dead easy to start, and free if you don’t count staff time.  You can set up a blog in 2-4 hours.  (It’s maintaining the habit that’s hard.)

1.  Choose your platform.  The biggies are WordPress and Blogspot.  Here’s one of the many debates out there about which is better.  Philanthrophile runs on WordPress, as do two other blogs I write.  In the fashionista community, there’s a general belief that Blogspot, because it’s a Google product, is preferred in Google searches.  I recently helped my son set up a blog on Blogspot (not published yet) and found that I preferred WordPress.  But maybe that’s because I’m used to it.

2.  Choose keywords.  In your Internet search bar, type “Google Adwords Tool.”  You may have to create a Google account if you don’t already have one, but this is a free tool you can use without signing up for Adwords.  Think of some phrases you might consider and input them, one per line.  Do NOT click the box “only show ideas closely related to my search terms.”  (The good stuff is the stuff you don’t think of.)  The tool will serve  up 100 results.  Pay attention to the “local monthly searches” column if you’re locally focused.  P.S. the original title of this post was “How – and why – to start a blog.”  I took my own medicine, did a quick Adwords search, and used the phrase “make a blog,” which would not be natural phrasing for me.  See the top 10 results from my Adwords search at the bottom.  P.S. key words are now critical for ANY form of communication that is shared digitally – from tweets, to website posts, to press releases.

3.  Set it up with one of the dozens of handy template options.  It’s easy.  Really.  It’s time for me to update the style of this one – maybe I’ll take my own medicine on that soon (the photo is one I took of clovers in Ireland – kind of a luck o’ the Irish talisman).  Take the time to enable widgets with a click – especially those that relate to sharing and subscribing.  In WordPress, they’re under the menu item “Appearance.”   I enabled the tools for email subscription (which almost no one does these days), RSS feed and social sharing.  It’s now easy to set up your blog to auto-publish to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Also take a minute to look at the tools for ipad and mobile.  I love the way my blog about my Dad looks on ipad (http://thehenrychronicles.com/)!

4.  Choose an idea, write a strong lead, and develop it.  Keep it short – less than 500 words.  (This one’s over 1,000 because it’s a tutorial.) Think what journalists do: give people a reason for continuing in the first 2-3 sentences.  Everyone has A.D.D. these days.  I chose to get into today’s topics with questions, for the same reasons that questions tend to provoke more engagement on Facebook.

5.  Add a photo at the top, which adds interest.  The photo does not have to be yours.  You can search for photos on flickr that are licensed for general use under a Creative Commons license (used the advance search feature to see only these).  They’ve made it a little trickier to find and use the URL, but it’s there under the “share” buttons (grab the link… you may have to fiddle a little.)

6.  Tag it.  Take full advantage of features like the ability to customize your own excerpt and tag your post with key words so that others may find it through organic search.  (I use categories, too, which are like file drawers, whereas tags are like file folder labels or cross-referencing labels.)

7.  Preview it, seriously.  If you don’t have someone to read your posts, then use the gift of time.  Save the draft and come back to it in an hour or two.  Review it with the preview feature before you press “publish.”

8.  Keep blogging.  Don’t think that you have to write the Constitution.  Some of my posts have been very short – literally 5-6 sentences introducing something I found interesting.  Just get in the habit.  Try it, maybe you’ll like it.

If you lose interest for a while, don’t drop it. It’s amazing to me that I haven’t killed my blog when I’ve ignored it for up to six months at a time.  If you’re writing good stuff, people will start to find it and link to it.  External links bring you followers even when you’re ignoring them.  Not that I recommend the practice… I’m just saying don’t give up!

And links to your own earlier blog posts can help your page ranking a little, meaning that you’ll come up higher when someone searches for topics you’ve tagged.

WordPress apparently understands that the interest of new bloggers may flag (even old bloggers like me).  When I published a post about my Dad this morning, up popped the screen below. Thanks, WordPress, but I don’t think I’ll be writing a post about what I’d do with a magic wand anytime soon… but then again…

Keyword Local Monthly Searches
blogging 368,000
free blog 301,000
how to make a blog 246,000
make a blog 246,000
make blog 246,000
how to do a blog 201,000
how to design a blog 135,000
how to get a blog 135,000
start blog 110,000
how do i start a blog 110,000

Comments Off on How to make a blog for nonprofits

Filed under Blogging

What’s a good level of growth in Facebook fans?

Key (read from the bottom up on the chart)

1 – Loaves and Fishes; 2 – Susan G. Komen; 3 – WEAVE; 4 – American Red Cross; 5 – Volunteers of America; 6 – Salvation Army; 7 – River City Food Bank; 8 – St. John’s Shelter

Benchmarks have really been on my mind this week, including reporting the median number of unique website visitors for small-to-medium sized nonprofits from a recent study.  Today I’m thinking about Facebook benchmarks.  A little over a year ago, someone asked me, “So what’s a good number of Facebook fans for a local nonprofit?”  I blogged about my unscientific survey in a post here.

The organizations I chose to examine then were suggested by United Way’s Steve Heath as larger, active nonprofits.  I noted that the two with the largest fan bases had big initiatives underway: the Crocker was working on its big expansion, and Loaves & Fishes had undertaken a big capital campaign.

This week, I took a look at the same nonprofits to help get at the question, “So what’s healthy growth for Facebook fans?”  NTEN’s 2011 Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report found that the average fan base grew 161% between 2009 and 2010.  Although the study was based on information provided by more than 11,000 nonprofit professionals representing organizations of various sizes, the findings weren’t broken out by organization size, so it’s of limited use to our small, local nonprofits here in Sacramento.  I did find it interesting that 89% of nonprofits in the study reported they have a presence on Facebook.

In the chart above, I excluded the Crocker because they are so far above the norm and put a ton of resources into promoting their new expansion and opening.  They grew from a fan base of 4,561 in March 2010 to 9,952.  Yay, Crocker!  (I also want to acknowledge that the decline in Facebook fans I report above for the American Red Cross makes me wonder if they had a different page name/type a year ago.)  So, some data observations:

  • Four organizations had fewer than 500 fans 15 months ago.  Their growth ranged from 122%-347%.
  • Three organizations had between 500 and 1,000 fans.  Excluding American Red Cross, their growth was 117% for Susan G. Komen and 169% for WEAVE.
  • Loaves & Fishes and the Crocker, our stars a year ago, are still growing.  They grew 78% and 118%, respectively.
  • The organization with the fastest growth was St. John’s Shelter, with that whopping 347% growth.  Go, St. John’s!

I noted a year ago that there was little apparent relationship between the number of posts per week and the size of the fan base.  I still think that’s true based on some other sleuthing I’ve been doing.  Based on my reports earlier this week about the importance of content in generating engagement, and the value of timing, I’ve begun investigating the value of links to/from partners and other organizations, which show up on a fan page as the organization’s “likes”.  I’m also looking at the relationship between the number of photos and videos posted and fan engagement, and the relative prominence of the Facebook badge or “like” button on the organization’s website.

I used to work with a crusty former reporter who always looked for the “so what” in a news release.  “If that’s so, she said, then so what?”

The “so what” for me, in this case, is that local nonprofits — for the time being — should strive for at least 5-6% growth per month in new fans.  Shoot for 10% growth per month and you’ll be in the neighborhood of 185-200%* growth over the course of a year.   That would be aggressive, and if it were me, I wouldn’t commit to it unless I knew that there would be promotional dollars and resources to support a campaign.  It won’t happen by just posting away on Facebook.  (*I refused to pull out my Texas Instruments calculator to look at compounded growth, but my chicken scratchings should be close enough for targeting.)

At some point, the market for Facebook “fanage” may diminish, and it won’t be realistic to target growth in the 100%+ range, but for now, adoption still seems to be growing.  Local nonprofits should also be cautioned against simply adopting a growth target.  Benchmarks for should be chosen in the context of the average fan base of successful peer/similar organizations or industry-wide averages.

You should also keep in mind your end game with Facebook presence.  Besides the number of fans, active fans, new fans, etc., you should be tracking the number of Facebook referrals to your organization website through a tool like Google Analytics.  You want people engaged for a reason:  volunteer, donate, etc.  Your website is your involvement center.  (Google Analytics is free and makes it very easy to examine how visitors got to your site.  People who looked for you directly through your URL, and organic search through Google, will likely be the top two sources, but after that you should look for Facebook referral traffic… it may be down in the data details a waze.)

As a side note, Twitter adoption by nonprofits seems to have leveled off at about 60% according to the NTEN benchmarking study.  I don’t know if that’s a reflection of Twitter fatigue, or just that the consensus seems to be that there is better return from Facebook resource investments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments Off on What’s a good level of growth in Facebook fans?

Filed under Social media, Uncategorized

For nonprofits, sharing is caring and Facebook is the #1 to show it

I feel like a statistics magnet this week, but here’s another finding I had to share.  TechCrunch carried a story about a new study of the more than 7 billion sharing signals that were passed in March 2011 over the top 1,000 websites that use the ShareThis widget to facilitate social publishing/sharing of content. The study’s sponsors were ShareThis, Starcom MediaVest Group and Rubinson Partners.  A few highlights that got my attention:

  • 10% of ALL visits to websites come from sharing.
  • Sharing produces 31% of all referral traffic to websites.  If you’ve ever looked at website analytics (Google Analytics works great as a free tool), you can tell what percentage of visitors came from organic search, direct (when someone types in your URL) or referral.  When someone arrives at your website by clicking on a link, it shows up as a referral.
  • Facebook is the number one way that people share content.  By a mile.  It accounts for 38% of all sharing referral traffic.  Twitter and good old email tied for second with 17% each.
  • Sharing is a numbers game.  The more people who follow you, the more people will see that shared content.  On average, shared links are clicked on 4.9 times each.
  • Not every shared link gets clicked upon.  People are generally influential on one or two topics.

What’s it mean to nonprofits?  First, you should have in place measurable goals to increase the number of absolutely unique website visitors, and to maintain a reasonable bounce rate (the percentage of people who came and immediately left because your site wasn’t a good match for what they were seeking).  Next in line, focus first on Facebook to grow the number of people who are engaged with you.

The finding about influence and relevance is also important to nonprofits.  As you hone your “voice,” don’t try to chat your friends and followers up on every topic.  Follow the rule of good PR and make sure you know your key messages, and seek to become an opinion leader on one or two relevant topics.

Comments Off on For nonprofits, sharing is caring and Facebook is the #1 to show it

Filed under Social media, Uncategorized

Nonprofits: how many visitors should your website generate?

Hat-tip to Allyson Kapin of Frogloop for turning me on to a recently released website benchmarking study: Groundwire’s analysis of 43 small to medium nonprofits that focus on environmental issues.  I work mainly with Sacramento-area nonprofits that provide services to low-income adults, children and families… but I still found the benchmarks above worth saving.  One of the nonprofits I work with, which has roughly a half-million dollar budget, has 3,500-4,500 unique visitors per month and a bounce rate similar to the medians calculated by Groundwire.

Comments Off on Nonprofits: how many visitors should your website generate?

Filed under Uncategorized, Websites

Not-too-late tip #4: update your website copy

To large non-profits, this is an insultingly basic suggestion, but the fact is that small non-profits don’t usually have webmasters on staff.  Often, no one has a formal accountability to make sure that the website is up to date.  So when someone is moved by a holiday e-newsletter or snail mail appeal to check the organization out, they often turn to the Internet.  What they see will either move them… or not.

Tip #4:  Take full advantage of your website real estate by tying in – though not parroting – your other materials.

Writing for a website is different than a snail mail appeal, so make sure your copy is punchy.  You may want to break up the content you included in your holiday appeals into a few short stories.  The website is also a great canvas for videos and images that connect emotionally with your constituents.

So go look right now.  Is your website as effective as it can be in supporting your holiday fundraising efforts?  Or did it get forgotten?

Comments Off on Not-too-late tip #4: update your website copy

Filed under fundraising, Uncategorized