Blogging for Nonprofits

Nonprofit Marketing Blogging in 5 Sensible StepsYou can’t imagine how many queries I get from nonprofit organizations wondering if they should launch a blog. They’re usually feeling pressured (by the media, colleagues, perhaps even competitors already blogging) to do so.

My response is always the same; to stress that blogging is a low cost but high effort endeavor that does generate some very clear benefits for nonprofits. Key benefits include opening new channels for documentation and knowledge-sharing, especially for for non-profits that have been constrained by the time and costs of other web technologies, and enlivening your group’s Web presence and engage clients, supporters and strangers alike in your work. Read more about the benefits of blogging here.

But many of you are wisely cautious about jumping into blogging. Resources ($ and time) are all too finite for us nonprofit communicators. So here (inspired by MarketingProfs’ TJ McCue) is a simple five-step approach to tiptoeing into the blog conversation:

  1. Identify key terms—what’s your org’s expertise? Define it with key words and phrases and confirm with a free search term tool like Nichebot.
  2. Identify the top blogs in your field based on key terms using Google Blog Search, and start to read them (use a blog reader like Bloglines).
  3. Set up search alerts via Google Alerts for those key terms (How tos here) to see where else they’re covered (you can choose to get alerts on blog coverage only if you’d like).
  4. Set up a comment tracker like Co-Comment to see what your comments generate.
  5. Comment on blog posts when you (or your ED or program director —
    whoever would be blogging) have something valuable to contribute.

Tiptoe in with this five-step program today to get a taste of blogging, without setting up your own blog. When you do, you’ll get a much clearer sense about whether your organization’s investment in blogging makes sense. And there’s a bonus — you’ll be developing a corps of online readers and colleagues who “know” you and are likely to read your blog (when/if).

P.S. Here’s how the National Women’s Law Center put blogging to work.

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Nancy Schwartz in Blogging for Nonprofits, Nonprofit Communications | 3 comments
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RE3.org Case Study -- North Carolina Recycling Campaign Using Social Media for Social Marketing SuccessLet me introduce you to RE3.org, a North Carolina campaign to raise awareness about waste reduction and recycling. Launched in 2005, the RE3.org campaign targets high schoolers, college students and twenty-somethings via compelling social marketing strategies.

Pay close attention, readers, to the thorough audience research campaign communicators implemented — working closely with collegiate recycling coordinators throughout the state to identify barriers to recycling perceived by twenty-somethings, and how they get their information and influences. Based on this research, the campaign has focused on social marketing techniques such as commitment, norms, incentives and prompts. Here’s how the RE3.org folks describe their social marketing strategy.

Initially, the campaign used more traditional marketing channels, such as a Web site (yes, the Web can now be considered traditional), ads on cable, pre-movie ads, billboards, trucks and Mountain Dew cans (a fav drink of the target audience).

This year, the campaign has grown to incorporate some powerful social media techniques including:

  • A BLOG! — Yes, the first time I’ve seen a social marketing campaign so effectively integrate a blog into its communications. Nice work. This blog is up-to-date (with posts three to five times/weekly), chatty, fun, interesting, productive (used also as an informal idea motivator/workspace for RE3.org staff and supporters).
  • Online WOM (word of mouth) marketing via YouTube (lots of catchy videos motivating recycling) and MySpace (sample Grandaddy Nature Anthem, it’s funny and memorable).

Nice work, RE3.org. I know that much of its success comes from being so closely in touch with target audiences. It’s the only way to understand the needs, interests and habits of those you’re trying to reach.

Thanks to Craig Lefebvre for the tip.

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How to Nurture Strong Relationships with E-news and Blog Readers -- More Depth, Less Often, Advises Jakob NielsenMore depth, less often (if necessary due to time constrictions), is the way to go with blogging (or your e-newsletter), asserts online communications expert Jakob Nielsen.

Nielsen, who’s been researching and advising on the way we tend to use the Web and other online communications channels since 1995, advises bloggers to “avoid commodity status.” Translation — prove your value to readers with insightful, pithy commentary rather than superficial patter limited to links to others’ insights or comments on other posts. In doing so, says Nielsen, your nonprofit will succeed in building strong relationships with loyal readers, rather fleeting flirtations with “blog dilettantes” who skim 200+ blogs daily.

I think he’s got something. How can anyone relate to so much information, especially when a lot of it can be found elsewhere online?  And if your nonprofit just reiterates what your readers can get elsewhere, where’s the value?

Where I disagree is Nielsen’s insistence that blogs don’t have value as a channel. He’s a contrarian, so I take his claim with many grains of salt. I hold that blogs and e-newsletters have value: What’s critical is that each one is used strategically in the way that fits best.

Let me share my experience… You may have noticed that my posts tend to be longer than those of many other bloggers. That’s because rather than having something to say about everything that crosses my lens, I find it more useful (as do my readers, they tell me) to dig into what’s really significant, frequently relating communications campaigns I come across in my “regular life” to nonprofit communications, analyzing a nonprofit marketing launch, or a news item that suggests some useful approach marketing wise.

On the other hand, I sometimes write two-sentence posts pointing you to a valuable article or some eye-opening stats. That’s it, and that’s enough, and results in a good mix of blog posts.

Again,I do believe in the value of parallel communications channels. A blog and e-newsletter are  complementary. Nielsen is right, however, in insisting that the only way to differentiate yourself in this world of TMI (too much information) is to craft content that’s valued by your target audiences.

Your nonprofit’s in-depth content just can’t be recreated by 99.5% of the other nonprofits out there. As he puts it, “A thousand monkeys writing for 1,000 hours doesn’t add up to Shakespeare. They’ll actually create a thousand low-to-medium-quality postings that aren’t integrated and that don’t give readers a comprehensive understanding of the topic — even if those readers suffer through all 1,000 blogs.

Or, as my husband says, “blog posts are like popcorn, dissolving the moment they’re in your mouth, but in-depth news articles are like an ear of corn…something to really hold on to.”

So when time and budget are short, as they always are, I’d go with a modified Nielsen approach. In-depth articles, published less frequently if necessary, conveyed via blog or e-news (why not both, readers have their own preferences in terms of getting info), are more memorable and more engaging. Use your blog as a complementary tool for short updates and calls to action, or to highlight nuances or insights that you get during your workday, and of course a link. That’s the best of both worlds.

Most important to remember — content (perspectives, news, guidance) is the most powerful means you have of showcasing your nonprofit’s expertise and value.

P.S. One issue Nielsen fails to address is how to get your longer articles — delivered most typically via email — through email spam filters. My recommendation is to publish articles via e-newsletter, add those articles to your Web site (here’s the Getting Attention e-news article archive), and post a brief article summary on your blog linking to the full article. It works. Promise.

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University presidents, that is. Thanks to university communications expert Bob Johnson for this very useful list that includes leaders of large public universities to small private colleges to two-year colleges:

As Bob says:

“The list of (university) presidents who blog continues to grow despite the fears and admonitions of lawyers and public relations people who warn against some terrible damage to their institutions if their presidents are let loose to say whatever they want to say on the institutional website. So far, that’s not happened. And if indeed it does, it won’t be cause to remove everyone else’s blog from the Internet.”

What do your organization’s leaders have to say, and should they be blogging?  Read Should Your Executive Director be Blogging. You’ll find more examples of nonprofit leaders who are blogging here.

BTW, take Bob’s admonition to heart — advise your nonprofit’s leaders to blog if it’s appropriate (more on that here), and not to be dissuaded by fears (legal, PR or otherwise).

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Nancy Schwartz in Blogging for Nonprofits, Nonprofit Communications, Unique Approaches | 4 comments
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Happy Birthday -- Carnival of Nonprofit ConsultantsIt’s been a year now that nonprofit writer Kivi Leroux Miller has run the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants — giving bloggers in the nonprofit space a bigger megaphone. Even more importantly, the Carnival has brought together some of the most creative minds (and pens) in the sector, and generated some incredibly fresh perspectives in doing so.

To celebrate, Kivi has listed all 93 bloggers who’ve participated in the Carnival’s inaugural year. You won’t find a better "to read" list anywhere.

Happy birthday, Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants.

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How to Pitch BlogsGreen Media Toolshed Blog sums up strategies for pitching bloggers — as recommended at a recent training by the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights. This take from Moveon.Org blogger Adam Green says it all:

"Bloggers should be seen as activists and strategic partners. Blogs are so effective because they band together as a community and are able to make news that way. George Allen’s ‘macaca’ incident was picked up by the news because so many bloggers were writing about it. So when you are ready to pitch to blogs, think strategically. You need to target the right audiences. Who is your audience and what blogs target them? Secondly, don’t treat bloggers like reporters. Your goals need to be aligned and you should give them a heads up about your issues or campaign – let them know what you are working towards and how they can help. Finally, legitimize blogs. You can do this by helping them build credibility – bring them the hot news and the breaking news first."

More tips for pitching bloggers here:

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MIT Admissions Staff Bloggers Respond to Dean of Admissions Scandal -- No Better Crisis CommunicationsHigher ed marketing Guru Bob Johnson reported recently on how blogs have helped MIT talk frankly about last week’s departure of the dean of admissions. Read Message from Ben and Matt, the recently-launched blog from MIT’s admissions communications director to see how the blog format serves as a natural, honest way to communicate directly with future students.

Nothing like conversation (and blogs are online conversation, when done right) to quell worries, emphasize credibility and build loyalty. Good move MIT.

Consider launching staff  blogs (from by staff members who most public facing — or should be), member-to-member, donor-to-donor, volunteer-to-volunteer or a mix thereof blogs for your organization, before its crisis communication time. Then you’re good to go with a strong channel if/when a crisis arises and you need to get the word out quickly.

Are any of your staff members blogging? Let me know if the comments field below please.

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They’re watching…

Take a look at Sharing Witness, a new blog where leaders from various fields offer insight on, andShare In Sharing Witness -- Compelling New Blog
innovative solutions to, social problems. Launched by innovator Share Our Strength (SOS) (see post on its great tagline here), it’s a great model on several fronts:

  • Reinforces “brand extension” for SOS,  perpetuating  organizational identity with the inclusion of share in the blog title
  • Features “witness” via posts from a wealth of hard-thinking individuals active in various ways (from board members to advocates to foundation staffers) in five issue areas searchable by topic, by post date and by tag.
  • Enables “regular folks” to share (via the comments field) thoughts, opinions, ideas and experiences about the needs and opportunities in our communities in ways often not part of the national dialogue.

Join the conversation and become part of this extraordinary opportunity to engage on the topics that really matter.

One more idea for Sharing Witness — schedule topical sub-blogs incorporating cross-disciplinary posters.

Thanks to Lucy Bernholz for the tip.

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Star Light, Star Bright -- Don't Miss These Ops for Your Nonprofit to ShineKivi Miller, mastermind behind the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants, asked for input on some of nonprofits’ most commonly missed or overlooked opportunities to share success stories, good deeds, accomplishments. What should nonprofits be bragging about, but aren’t? What tools can you use to help your organization shine more brightly?

I anticipate an incredibly useful conversation among the experts who participate in the Carnival. Here are a few of my ideas:

  • Comment — Every time you read about another nonprofit’s accomplishment, innovation, success or new program, you have an opportunity to talk about your organization’s related accomplishment etc.
    • Blog comments, list servs and MySpace pages are all great venues for doing so.
  • Speak and share — Toot your own horn while you share your expertise and the experience with colleagues in nonprofit communications, via Webinar, conference, workshop:
    • I just finished participating in a Webinar (web-based conference call) with players in the powerful communications success enjoyed by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists when it moved its doomsday clock closer to midnight.
    • Participation is a benefit of my membership in The Communications Network, an association of communications specialists working for and with foundations.
    • Speakers included the Bulletin’s ED and the various communications experts who shaped the very innovative campaign.
    • The result was a great learning experience for me, and a wonderful opportunity for the Bulletin to spread the word on the hows, whys and results of its innovative campaign.I’m going to write about it, and I’m sure others will spread the word too.
    • Also, a great way for a professional association to offer a benefit for its members — a win-win for The Communications Network and the Bulletin.
  • Quit Thinking so Much, and Make it Quick and Easy — Sometimes I think we all overthink. One of the most effective communications I absorbed recently was a simple letter-size flyer I picked off the circulation desk at the local library. Titled Facts and Figures for 2006, it cites number of patrons served, books checked out, volumes purchased and other stats that say a lot, without any comment from library staff. Less is more in action.

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Puhhleez -- Include The Entire Blog Post in Your Blog FeedJust venting here. But seriously. I read some 150 blogs on a regular basis — 145 of them via my blog reader, so every moment counts.

And I just can’t stand it when bloggers set it up (yes, bloggers can control this feature) so I have to click on the headline and open up a new Web browser window to read the post. What about making it easy for the reader?

Just one woman’s opinion. The whole point of having blog posts delivered to your in-box or blog reader is ease. So make it easy for me.

Interested in hearing any reason why not to. Let me know if you have one.

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