5 Steps to Newsletters that Keep Your Donors Close (Part Two)

Donor-loss danger ahead!  An all-time low 39% donor retention rate means donors are likely to cut your organization from the list next time round.

You have to stop the attrition: “A 10% improvement in retention can yield up to a 200% increase in projected lifetime value, as with higher retention significantly more donors upgrade their giving, give in multiple ways, recommend others, and, ultimately, perhaps, pledge a planned gift to the organization,” says fundraising expert Adrian Sargent.

That’s mammoth potential, and your donor newsletter is a vital tool for getting there.

Here’s how:

Read Part One first

4. Use a tried-and-true donor newsletter formula

Print newsletters

You’re lucky enough here to have a well-tested format formula for your print newsletter, created fundraisers at the Domain Group in the 1990s. It still works!

The Domain formula includes:

• Page count: Four to six pages (in tests, adding more pages did not produce more revenue)
• Short articles
• Write for skimmers (use superstar headlines, bullets and lots of white space)
• Send to donors only, but ensure it goes to ALL donors
• Make the voice personal (the word “you” dominates) rather than institutional; get one-to-one
• Focus on progress updates (tell donors how much they have changed the world through their gifts)
• Include a response envelope
• Mail in an envelope

Source: Tom Ahern

I’d go one step further to suggest you:

  • Design a 4-page (11×17) newsletter, that folds to 8 ½ x 11
  • Print it four-color (it’s cheaper than 2-color in most cases)
  • Test the outside envelope with your list. I’m not as convinced of its value.

On the fundraising content, it’s more implicit than explicit. You do want to put the opportunity out there and make it easy for folks to give. In addition to including a response envelope like the one below, mention your donation page web address and the speed and safety of online giving frequently and clearly.


This response envelope makes it clear how to give clear, and easy to do so.

Email newsletters

43% of all emails are opened on mobile devices. That means your single most important formatting to-do is ensuring your e-news is easy to read, and click on, via smartphones and tablets. Make it happen now.

Otherwise, make your emails brief, punchy and a pleasure to view and read. Follow usage patterns closely to see what issues, calls to action, layout, subject lines and other elements drive interest and action, and which don’t.

Two must-includes here, beyond the content:

  • A big, bold Donate Now button
  • Links to follow your organization on social media channels, and to share your e-news content there as well.


Source: Nonprofit Tech for Good

5. Set a donor newsletter schedule

I recommend that you publish your print newsletter quarterly, and your e-newsletter once or twice monthly.  If that print newsletter schedule is absolutely impossible—due to budget and/or time limitations—send two print newsletters annually, timing them to arrive four weeks before your late spring and year end appeals

Of course, twice (or even four times) annually means that your publication is more of an update or progress report than a true e-newsletter. So set expectations (and name your publication) accordingly.

But whatever schedule you commit to, meet it! I know that can be hard. We’re a 1½- person firm so I face the same kind of time and budget limitations you do.  But breaking a promise is bad news, shouts “who cares,” and undermines your organization’s credibility.  Just don’t do it!

Read Part One here

What feedback do you get on your donor newsletters? Please share it here, along with newsletter suggestions for your donor-loving peers in the field! Thanks.

5 Steps to Newsletters that Keep Donors Close (Part One)

Read Part Two Now

Your organization’s relationship with your donors is like any other relationship you have; it requires focus and nourishment, forever. That’s the only way to keep your donors satisfied, engaged and, hopefully, giving.

In fact, most fundraisers are doing a poor job of it, with donor retention rates plummeting to an all-time low of 39%. That means donors are likely to cut your organization from the list next time round.

You have to stop the attrition: “A 10% improvement in retention can yield up to a 200% increase in projected lifetime value, as with higher retention significantly more donors upgrade their giving, give in multiple ways, recommend others, and, ultimately, perhaps, pledge a planned gift to the organization,” says fundraising expert Adrian Sargent.

That’s mammoth potential, and your donor newsletter is a vital tool for getting there. Here’s how:

1. Share engaging content

Before you write a line, set up the right frame for your newsletter. The primary goal is to reshape your donor relationships from the transactional to one that’s more personal, productive and long-term—the triad of donor retention.

The only way to get there is to get beyond the ask. After your heartfelt and prompt thanks for a donor’s first gift, you want to invite her further into your organization­­.

Make her feel acknowledged, appreciated and right at home—just as you would invite a new-ish friend over for dinner when you’re ready to get one step closer.Your style, schedule, family, aesthetic and cooking finesse are all laid open during that visit. In much the same way, your donor newsletter invites donors in to experience your organization’s (and community’s) personality, promises and values in a way far richer and more meaningful than ever before.

2. Leverage audience personas

You fundraise day in and day out, making it challenging to remember that your organization is just one of many elements in each donor’s life. Think about your own giving—how often do you think about the nonprofits you support in the course of a typical day?

To counteract the urge to talk to folks like you, rather than your donors, you need to consciously step into their shoes to identify what to focus on and how to make your content easy to digest and remember.

A reliable path to content connection is to launch an imaginary editorial board, comprised of personas (how-tos here) representing up to nine of your most important donor segments.

Next, create one-page persona profiles like the one below. Liz Henkel represents the “Retired Women, Annual Gifts $200-$500” segment so important to one of our clients, a foundation that supports a regional parks network.


Then spend some time with your board members by surrounding your desk with these profiles. When I work on the foundation’s newsletter, I’m writing to Liz and the foundation’s other donor personas. I couldn’t ignore them, even if I wanted to. It works!

3. Share your newsletter on the right channels

Use your newsletter to spend time with your donors in two channels—print (if you’re your donor base includes 55+ers) and email—each with distinct content. Shape your print newsletter as a rich, immersive visit, and your e-newsletter as a quick check-in call.

Send this newsletter to donors only, so your voice stays clear and focused. This includes ALL active and recent donors, not just selected segments, with the option to opt-out.

Print newsletters

One of the most common errors I see in print newsletter production is using a different content mix for every issue. Although this “whatever we’ve got” approach may make it easier for you to get the newsletter out the door, it makes the product far harder for your donors to absorb and diminishes the likelihood they’ll do so.

Instead, create a content formula or mix based on your personas’ wants and interests. Consistent use of this formula will makes it easier for you to be seeking and creating the content you need on an ongoing basis, and for readers to recognize your newsletter at a glance (increasing probability that they’ll read it).

Prioritize the elements donors focus on most: photos, headlines, photo captions and articles, and include:

  • Pull quotes: Highlight important or meaningful quotes.
  • Photos: In the twice-yearly donor newsletter I create for one client organization, we showcase one or two beneficiaries (including children whenever we can) in a enewsweb2few photos. We caption each photo with a description of what’s going on, and then connect that activity to donor support. Who can resist a photo with mini-story like the one at left?
  • Success stories: Show how donor support leads to visible impact. This is great material for the first page.
  • Donor-created content: Testimonials should top your list.
  • Coming attractions: New programs, services, locations present a golden opportunity to show donors what you can do with more money.
  • Program updates: What have you accomplished and how have your donors helped?
  • Issue or cause updates: Highlight what’s changing, why that matters and how your organization is adjusting accordingly.
  • Donor profiles: Select profile subjects who most of your donors will relate to.
  • Letter from your executive director: Do this only if you must and then, never on the front page.

Note that there’s no hot news here; we’ll address that in your eNewsletter

You can change your content formula when the insights you gather and assess—from your donors, the trajectory of your issue or cause and more—indicate that makes sense.

Email newsletters

Your donor eNewsletter’s main job is to remind supporters your organization is active in moving your cause forward. This is where you can update them on hot news or share an immediate call to action.

Content options mimic those for your print newsletter, in short form. eNewsletters function more like a quick drop-in than the leisurely visit of the print newsletter experience; so keep your content brief.  Include one or two content features in each newsletter, but no more than a single call to action.

Weave your key messages—conveying your organization’s promise, impact and appreciation of your donors—throughout all print and online newsletters. Donor newsletters done right will help keep your donors close.

Follow these steps to strengthen your relationships with your donors and increase your retention rate. Promise!

Read Part Two Now

What—if any—feedback do you get on your donor newsletters? Please share it here, along with newsletter suggestions for your donor-loving peers! Thank you.


Your Nonprofit’s Facebook Timeline Page: Checklist for Connection (Part 1)

Be sure to read: Message It—How to Make the Most of Your Facebook Timeline Page (Part 2)

There’s no stopping it…your organization’s Facebook page is changing forever, whether you like it or not.

If you haven’t started on Facebook yet, this is a great time to dive in (and it is the place to start with social media—with the potential to be a second website for your organization).

Even if you aren’t really launching publicly yet—as you’re still working on your marketing plan or have determined that social media isn’t yet a priority channel for your organization—get your feet wet now so you’ll be ready to go 100 m.p.h. when you have to.

For those of you already on Facebook, the format change will happen whether you’re ready or not, so be proactive in using the shift to boost your relationship building.

Changes to Facebook page formats

You’ve probably heard about the transition but may have resisted diving in. Here are the crucial changes:

  • Greater opportunity to tell your organization’s story over time as Welcome Pages disappear, replaced by Timeline.
  • More visual: A large-format “cover photo” must be featured at the top of your page (851×315 pixels). Using these specs, the photo will take up about 70% of the vertical space of the top screen on your page. This is a huge amount of real estate; you’ll have to work hard to use it well.
  • Increased ability to highlight:
    • A key post at the top of your timeline for up to seven days by “pinning” it, to feature your call to action. Change it weekly if possible.
    • Important stories/posts with the star icon (and de-emphasize those less relevant).
  • Plus even more visuals: Larger photos and videos in your posts.
  • More interaction: People can message your organization (much like they message their Facebook Friends) and can see what their friends are saying about your org.
  • No more landing pages.

These changes are significant and take some time to review, digest and strategize on. Start now if you haven’t already.
Read on for what these changes mean, to your organization and to your Facebook network…

How do these changes impact nonprofit Facebook pages?

Your organization’s Facebook page now features an engaging cover photo (if you do it right) like this one:

By April Fools Day, the Facebook community you’ve been working to build (whether you’ve been slaving away or approaching it more casually) or thinking about trying to nurture, will see something completely different. But the something different goes way beyond your “cover page” (as it’s called).

Equally important is your ability to tell your organization’s story over time on your Facebook page, much like you do on your website. That means you have to actively curate current and past Facebook content to make the connections for your audiences, and ensure they make sense. That’s very different from the “of the moment.”

And since nonprofit pages will be more similar in appearance than ever before with this new standardized layout, it’s more important that you are as strategic as possible with every element on your page to make the experience visit most compelling for your Facebook network.

As a result, your Facebook community’s experience with your organization via Facebook will change dramatically and, assuming you want to continue building and strengthening relationships via your Facebook page, you must focus on shaping that experience to be most satisfying for them, and most productive for your organization!

I urge you to be proactive; to use this shift in Facebook’s own strategy as an opportunity to strengthen your organization’s Facebook presence, or launch a great first-time page.

Additional resources for crafting an engaging nonprofit Facebook page

Then jump on it.

What’s your strategy for your Facebook Timeline page, whether your page(s) are a minor part of your marketing agenda or a major component? Please share your strategies and questions here.

Be sure to read: Message It—How to Make the Most of Your Facebook Timeline Page (Part 2)

Five Tech Tips to Punch Up Your Nonprofit Communications

There’s a disconnect in the nonprofit world. I read countless articles about technology and its powerful applications for the nonprofit sector, but seldom is there coverage of the critical interface between technology and communications strategies. That’s a serious gap.

What’s happened, in my opinion, is that many of us shy away from technology. By leaving tech decisions to the IT department rather than schooling ourselves on these opportunities, we limit the impact of our communications strategies.

My advice to you is to learn what tech tools can strengthen your nonprofit’s communications strategies, and what choices you have. If you have an IT team or consultant, ask them to dig into the details. But get to know the basics yourself. That way you’ll make sure you get the right tool, and you’ll get the most out of it.

I interviewed nonprofit technology expert and author Michael Stein for his take on tech tips to strengthen your web and email communications impact. Michael, who has worked with Children Now, Groundspring and now as an Internet strategist with the eOrganization.com, had some great ideas:

1. Gather accurate communication information

Improve the ways in which you gather personal information and email addresses from stakeholders with the following tips:

Tip: Don’t just ask for email addresses when you ask your audiences to subscribe to your e-news. Gather name, street address, zip code, how they heard about you. Take it one step further to do some quick surveying on issues.
Tip: Think more like a business in terms of figuring out the sources of these leads. You want more of them.
Tip: Ask for an email address when your web users request a PDF download.
Benefit: You’ll learn more about how various outreach techniques are working to validate (or not) marketing expenses and impact.

2. Make your communications accessible

Readers have different preferences on every platform. For email newsletters specifically, publish plain text as well as HTML format versions for the following reasons:

Insight: Many of your readers are likely to prefer HTML e-newsletters, so publish in both HTML and plain text versions. The format makes it much easier for readers to act. Studies show that HTML format performs much better in terms of click-throughs, forward to friend, etc. (NOTE: Readers, there is conflicting data on this last point.)
Benefit: Better engagement with audiences, by giving them a choice of format and the opportunity to take action with a click.
Caution: Don’t forego your text version. Many readers still prefer text.

3. Publish content in a timely manner

A great way to disseminate content quickly without compromising thoroughness is by diving into blog publishing:

Definition: A blog (an abbreviation of weblog) is a website that serves as an online journal, updated very frequently with commentary on one or more topics. Blog authors — called bloggers — commonly provide links to related information, with commentary. Because of their low barrier to entry (blogs are easy and cheap to implement), blogs are proliferating in the nonprofit sector.
Insight: The “blogsphere” is becoming huge, with content feeds (RSS readers deliver blog content to interested audiences) growing at a rapid pace. Blogs are a great way to disseminate content in a timely way.
Benefit: Some high-impact ways to put your blog to use for your nonprofit include:

  • Serializing content, such as daily reports from an oceanographer on an expedition or an advocacy campaign hard at work.
  • Building community by providing a venue for multiple voices (staff and/or members, experts or others).
  • Critiquing events or news items in your issue areas, as they occur.
  • Reinforcing content disseminated via other communications vehicles — broadcast, print or online.
  • Providing personal perspectives, which enable your audiences to get to know your nonprofit’s staff members. Emphasize the people in your organization to strengthen relationships with your audiences.

4. Use effective communications tools

Explore using application service providers (ASP) to streamline your online operations:

Insight: There are now automated systems, that you don’t have to maintain (they live in a server, which you access via the web) for operations from website content management and online donation processing to email messaging and online event registration.Consider moving these processes online and off your desktop computer.
Benefit: Easier software interfaces. Faster learning curve. Sometimes your software cost will be higher, but your total cost of operation (since you’ll save hours in set up and maintenance) will be lower.
Example: Take a look at Citysoft, an ASP targeted to nonprofits, associations, educational institutions and other socially-responsible organizations. Citysoft offers a menu of tech tools from email marketing to web content development software, and donor and event management.Depending on the modules you select, your organization can send email newsletters to members and constituents and track the results, create online communities for audience use, provide event registration and much more.

5. Make an online communications strategy

Develop a web search optimization agenda to improve search engine positioning:

Tip: The best way to improve search engine positioning is to get links to your site placed at other web sites where your audiences already are.
Tip: Once you’ve identified key sites you’d like to be linked from (start with a list of the top 20), start calling or e-mailing. A great way to do this is to find an intern or volunteer to beat the bushes. Link placement isn’t skilled work (after you identify the key sites) but it is extremely labor intensive.
Benefit: Improved positioning in search engine results.

Michael, thanks for your clear and practical ideas on how Getting Attention readers can put tech tools to work to strengthen their communications impact.

Communicating on Difficult Issues (Case Study)

Question: As a small domestic violence service agency in rural Pennsylvania, we face a real communications challenge. Whenever we publicize our existence or events or what have you, our communications are seen as bad news, i.e. that there is domestic violence in our county. How do we make sure the public is aware of this important issue and of the help that is available without “turning off”? The general public often holds erroneous beliefs about the cause, prevalence, etc. of domestic violence.

– Cheryl Miller
Training Coordinator/Legal Advocate
Clarion County, PA

Dear Cheryl,

You’re facing a classic communications dilemma – talking about an issue that makes people uncomfortable. Many audiences don’t want to hear it and respond with the “it has nothing to do with me, so I don’t want to know about it” mind-set. So how do you communicate in a way that ensures your audiences really listen to what you’re saying, and respond in the way you wish?

Keep in mind that, in most cases, the underlying foundation of difficult issues is the soft, or the human, issues – attitudes, opinions, self-image, values, beliefs, and feelings about how the world is organized and people’s place in it. This context is difficult enough to tackle in a one-to-one, face-to-face conversation, much less through broader communications strategies.

However, Cheryl, you’ve already identified the challenge (an important first step), and there are definitely some concrete steps you can take to build public awareness of the issue and ensure that county residents know that SAFE is there to help.

Clearly define your communications goals

The first step is to precisely define your communications goals so that you focus your communications work in the right direction. Here’s what I think your goals are likely to be:

  • Raise awareness that SAFE is there to help victims of domestic violence.
  • Educate the public about domestic violence so that people are able to identify their situation as victims or abusers.
  • Motivate behavioral change among abusers and abuse victims.
  • Change policy to improve protection for and support of victims of domestic violence.

In order to achieve these goals, SAFE must:

  • Create and/or retain a positive reputation in the community so that the legal and social welfare systems, county government, education and religious institutions, donors, and others view SAFE as an ally, rather than an adversary.

Pinpoint your audience

Next, look closely at your audiences and see just who composes that “general public.” For many nonprofits, the general public remains a vast, undefined secondary audience. For an organization like yours, focused on a problem so often hidden, the general public is a primary audience. Having volunteered in domestic violence shelters, I know that it’s impossible to predict who may need your help. So you need to get the word out there quite broadly.

In addition, in order to meet your communications goals, I’d suggest targeting the following audiences, who can serve as intermediaries:

  • Caregivers: Social service agencies, the medical community;
  • Clergy and teachers: School and religious institution staff;
  • Legal: Police, the judiciary;
  • Children’s and family-oriented organizations: Church groups, Girl and Boy Scouts;
  • Community organizations: Library, civic clubs;
  • Press.

Also, for realization of your policy goals, you’ll want to reach legislators at all levels.

Hone your communications messages

When you’re talking with audiences who don’t recognize that your issue IS an issue, or those who actively recoil from it, it’s critical to put yourself in their shoes and get to know their point of view. That’s the only way you’ll create messages that they’ll relate to, emotionally and rationally.

Start by creating a profile of your target audiences, including their attitudes, beliefs, habits, and interests. If you can, attach the profiles to people you really know, to reinforce your understanding.

Next, create a set of core messages that concisely convey what you do, what its importance is, and what you want your audiences to do about it – in a way that your audiences will hear. I don’t know enough about your community to know everything that’s important to citizens there, but I know that linking your work to the following benefits will have a positive impact:

  • Healthy and happy families;
  • Reduced drain and expense on social service agencies and the judicial system;
  • Overall stronger community.

These are benefits everyone has to appreciate, Cheryl, and you can probably list many more generated by your work. These benefits should be at the core of your messages and communications.

Let your intermediaries promote your communications

Now that you have your messages, honed to reach the audiences you need to reach, how do you get the word out?

Cheryl, we don’t have room for a complete strategy here. But let me suggest the following approach, in addition to your existing communications program:

Because you’re working with difficult and sensitive issues, and are striving to build a positive reputation for SAFE, it makes sense to enlist intermediaries (whom you train) such as those listed above, to get the word out. These intermediaries, from physicians to the clergy and Girl Scout leaders, already have relationships with your audiences, are trusted, and are likely to be heard far better than direct communication or education from SAFE.

Nothing is better than conversations on difficult issues because conversations can adapt to attitudes that emerge. Printed materials don’t offer that flexibility but ensure that you are getting your messages out, broadly, in the way in which you feel most comfortable.

I’d suggest running training sessions for your intermediaries to ensure that they are clear on what domestic violence is, how to know if someone you know is being abused, and what the services are that SAFE and other organizations provide to those in trouble.

These folks are the best “distributors” of your messages and printed materials. Of course you have to ensure that your intermediaries carry your messages out to your audiences, rather than their own. In addition, I’d ask these intermediaries to talk about domestic violence and SAFE in their own communications, such as newsletters.

And of course, Cheryl, you should continue to produce your own public education materials and do some direct communications yourselves via mail, email, your web site, postering, and other vehicles.

You’ll find former victims and abusers to be powerful spokespeople. Again, when SAFE steps backstage, letting others talk about the work it does and the issue of domestic violence, you’ll be “un-demonized.” This approach offers the opportunity to situate domestic violence services as a means of strengthening the community.

For more articles and case studies, subscribe now to the Getting Attention e-update.

Is Cause Marketing Right for Your Nonprofit?

You know that cause marketing is a partnership between a for-profit and a nonprofit. Each partner has something to offer the other.

Cause marketing is certainly a potentially significant strategy in your overall nonprofit marketing plan. And some of you have a cause marketing program in place already. But for those of you who don’t (and that’s most nonprofits), how do you know when cause marketing is right for your nonprofit? And if it is, how do you bring the program to life?

These questions are more weighty than ever in light of the controversies surrounding the Komen-KFC deal (guidelines for productive partnerships here) and the more recent Nature Conservancy (and other major environmental organizations)-BP deal.

I interviewed expert cause marketer Joe Waters, Director, Cause & Event Marketing at Boston Medical Center, to answer these questions and more. There’s no better resource on cause marketing than Joe’s blog, Selfish Giving. Joe features case studies (with specifics), trends and news from the field – it’s a must read for all cause marketers, and those still considering jumping in.

Cause marketing basics

Nancy: How do you define cause marketing? There are so many definitions out there. Many nonprofit marketers are confused.

Cause marketing is a win-win partnership between a nonprofit and a for-profit for mutual profit, usually involving point-of-sale and/or percentage-of-sale programs. The “profit” for the nonprofit is visibility and/or money. For the for-profit, it’s an enhanced image and sales.

Nancy: How did cause marketing evolve as a major strategy for corporate support of nonprofit issues and causes?

Joe: American Express’ campaign for the Statue of Liberty in the early 80’s was the first major cause marketing effort. Since then, companies have slowly caught on to the value of moving beyond straight philanthropy. Frankly, many have had no choice because of the disappearing bottom-line that once made “charity” possible. Cause marketing allows companies to serve two masters: Consumers that expect them to give back, and investors who demand growth. It’s called cause marketing, but a more accurate name is “Cause Sales”.

Benefits of cause marketing

Nancy: What kinds of nonprofits are likely to benefit from cause marketing, and to solicit interest of corporate sponsors?

Joe: A company will sometimes partner with a small, unknown charity simply because it’s a worthy cause, but most look for charities that are well-known and respected by consumers. There’s a double benefit here because they’re supporting a worthy cause AND a reputable organization. Companies also favor charities with a large supporter base and, increasingly, marketing know-how.

For instance, the studio that released Charlotte’s Web partnered with Heifer International, an Arkansas-based nonprofit that provides livestock to poor farmers, because of a natural farm animal connection. What sealed the partnership was Heifer’s 160,000 person mailing list and ability to conduct grassroots marketing from a nationwide network of offices. The studio could have partnered with any organization that worked with livestock, but Heifer delivered advantages they could take to the bank.

Nancy: Who usually benefits most, the charity or the corporation?

Joe: People always seem to think it’s the company, but I disagree. For most companies, cause marketing is just one of the ways they’re building reputation and driving sales.

Their marketing mix is like a dish with 100 ingredients: If you leave one out, no one will miss it. But with fewer ways and dollars to promote themselves, nonprofits stand to gain a lot from cause marketing, especially if they land the right partner.

Take the partnership between Starbucks and Boston-based Jumpstart, focused on early literacy skills. Since 2006, Starbucks has raised money and given Jumpstart great visibility via its website and stores, especially in the northeast. Thanks to Starbucks, Jumpstart now enjoys national awareness. But what has Starbucks gained from this one partnership? Can we really say that Starbucks would be any less successful if they hadn’t partnered with Jumpstart? Nope.

Cause marketing tips and best practices

Nancy: What are a few “best practices” case studies?

Joe: Well, I think the Starbucks/Jumpstart partnership is a very strong one. It demonstrates just how much one company can impact a nonprofit. And Starbucks has benefited over time from its cause marketing partnerships with Jumpstart and others to forge a credible brand that has probably helped its business.

I also really like the point-of-sale cause marketing program A. C. Moore and Easter Seals recently completed. Even though it was a national program, it has some good lessons for local cause marketers like me (and probably most Getting Attention readers).

The breakdown of the program was simple. At A. C. Moore’s 136 stores cashiers asked customers to donate a dollar to Easter Seal’s Act for Autism campaign and together they raised over $141,000.

Great results, but here’s what makes this cause marketing effort noteworthy…A special in-store event. During the point-of-sale campaign, A. C. Moore invited customers to a Make & Take crafting event in stores that involved a jigsaw puzzle (for autism awareness). What a great combination of crafting and cause! I was thinking how great it would be if we did an in-store pumpkin decorating event at iParty stores during their October point-of-sale program for us.

: How should a nonprofit dive into cause marketing for the first time?

Joe: There are many steps, but the first is to honestly assess what you have to offer a corporate partner. Does your organization’s mission resonate with a company’s customers? Do you have an event that will provide great visibility for your partner? Do you have a relationship with a sports star or celebrity to feature in a joint advertising campaign? Do you have an extensive network of volunteers or local offices to help market a company’s products or services?

With my organization, Boston Medical Center, we started with strong relationships with just two Massachusetts-based companies, iParty and Ocean State Job Lots, which had been consistent supporters of the organization for many years. Since then we’ve inked over 50 cause partnerships with Mass-based companies.

Nancy: Whom on the nonprofit staff should be involved? Is this a marketing or development responsibility?

It’s both. But what’s more important is that everyone understands the value of cause marketing to the organization. If leadership and staff members aren’t committed, it really doesn’t matter what department you work for or how talented you are. It won’t work.

: OK, let’s assume that there’s a nonprofit that doesn’t fit your criteria for cause marketing success? What other kinds of corporate support are available?

I would tell them to stop worrying about cause marketing and just focus on opportunity. If you have something of value that you think companies will want, you don’t have to stay between the lines of cause marketing.

A friend of mine works for a Boston organization with lots of foot traffic. She does traditional cause marketing, but she closed her best deal when she convinced a company to sell their products in her main entrance area. That one deal raises her organization several hundred thousand dollars annually. Is it cause marketing? No. Is their money green? You bet it is.

Final thoughts on cause marketing

Readers, I’d appreciate hearing your experiences with cause marketing so we can share them with the Getting Attention community.

  • For those of you still on the fence, what are the barriers keeping your organization out of cause marketing partnerships?
  • For those of you whose organizations are recent entrants, what motivated the decision to develop such partnerships and how are they going?
  • And for those of you who are long-time cause marketers, what is different (and more challenging) in today’s cause marketing arena?

Six Steps to Finding the Right Web Site Development Firm for Your Nonprofit

Choosing the right Web site development firm can be a difficult decision – especially in today’s changing world, where there are many firms promising to meet or exceed your nonprofit’s goals through Web site design and programming.

Take these six steps to identify the firm that will be the right long-term partner for your organization:

Create a site development RFP

The more detail you provide up front on scope (content, functionality, look and feel), the more accurate the site development proposals will be. And you need a sense of these specs to begin your search for the right developer.

Establish baseline criteria for web site development firm selection

Firms you consider should:

  • Develop in open source environment – open source offers more flexibility at a lower cost (the software is free but needs to be customized) than propriety platforms
  • Have three or more years in business as a firm, or working together (for partner organization teams) on Web site development
  • Use a Content Management System (templates that you plug content into) to build its sites, rather than flat files
  • Listen well so they “get it,” before investing resources down the wrong path
  • Be client-centric
  • Be value priced (e.g. provide significant value for their fees)
  • Not serve clients whose mission or work conflicts with that of your organization.

Know the 5 categories of web development firms

  1. Web developers (technologists), with a strong understanding of strategic communications
  2. Web developers with a technology slant, little understanding of communications context in which sites will be used; implementers not strategists NOTE: There are sub-sets of categories 1 & 2, e.g. firms that are open source leaders.
  3. Full-service strategic communications firms that offer Web site development as one of many services (always more expensive and frequently less skilled tech wise)
  4. Graphic design firms that also develop Web sites (or do so with a partner technology firm)
  5. Technology firms that plan and implement organizational IT strategies, including Web sites

In most cases, unless a client organization is already working with a full-service communications agency, I recommend developer type #1. These firms are focused on developing public sites, extranets and intranets, and understand the communications context in which the site will live.

As a result, they offer the greatest depth and range of experience in the field and are up-to-date on the latest innovations in terms of programming, software, user interface design and functionality.

Research your web development firm options

Don’t just go with the firm that “everyone is using.” Those may indeed be the folks you end up working with, but don’t forget due diligence. Remember that you want your organization’s relationship with its Web development firm to be a long-term one; the medium requires successive iterations and it’s easiest and most cost-efficient to continue working with the firms that builds the next iteration of your site, if at all possible.

So ask around for recommended firms that fit the criteria above, are Web developers with a good understanding of strategic communications, and develop sites comparable to yours in scope and budget.

Contact colleagues within your organization and communications colleagues at peer organizations. Contact the site editors at nonprofit sites you have identified as strong models for your organization’s next site. I’ve found that nonprofits are eager to share contacts of firms who have provided good service and a stellar product. They’re paying it forward.

Once you have your list of the top five or ten, take a look at these firms’ Web sites. A strong caveat though – I find many firms don’t update their sites with best recent work on a timely basis. It’s a classic story of the shoemaker’s children. So don’t cross a firm off your list until you take the next step.

Interview your top picks

A two-part interview – first email followed by a phone call to firms that seem to be a good fit – is the quickest way to narrow down your list.

Here’s what you want to ask in your initial email:

  • We’re looking for a site development firm that meets these criteria (see above).
  • If there’s a strong match, we’ll want to talk more.

Here’s what you want to discuss in your follow-up call:

  • Very briefly outline your site’s development timeframe, scope and budget
  • Ask about:
    • Average budget range of site development projects (You’re seeking a firm that works in the same budget range – if it’s higher, they may not give your organization enough attention; if it’s lower, they may not bring the desired experience to your project)
    • Expertise in integrating other online tools (social media, email, databases)
    • Client mix – you want the development firm to show some interest and experience in working with nonprofit organizations or foundations
    • Related sites (in scope or topic) developed in the last couple of years (You’ll want to review these sites to assess if the firm has dealt with similar challenges to those faced by your organization)
    • What differentiates the firm from the many others out there
    • Do they have a defined process that will ensure that your project will be completed on time and on budget
    • Services offered.

Distribute your RFP and select the right web site development firm

Once you have these answers listed above, and review the sites mentioned by each firm, you’ll have a good sense of the firms you’ll want to bid on your RFP.

Send it out to no more than three firms (writing these proposals is a huge endeavor; analyzing them is too). You’ve already done the front work to ensure that the proposals submitted will be serious contenders. If you must, send it out to four firms.

While the firms are crafting their proposal, recruit a proposal review team (if you don’t have a site advisory committee in place). Firm selection is a major decision; and you want respected colleagues to weigh in.

When you receive the proposals, make sure you ask about any content you don’t understand. Remember though, you want your site development firm to be able to communicate in plain English. Too much “tech-ese” may indicate that it’ll be difficult for you and your non-techy colleagues to communicate effectively with the Web development folks.

Begin by evaluating each proposal individually. Evaluate not just what’s included in each proposal, but the proposal tone and comprehensiveness. Weigh in on each firm’s potential as a long-term partner.

Once that’s complete, compare the proposals. How do they fare in terms of presentation? How do their processes appear in terms of project management? Do they present scalability and/or upgrade paths for your project, that go beyond the needs of the goals outlined for the next site?

Before you make a decision, arrange an in-person meeting (if possible) with the finalist firm. Personal connection is a pre-requisite for a healthy working relationship.

If an in-person meeting isn’t possible, schedule a conference call (with your Web advisory team), ideally with Web cams in place on both sides.

Once you finalize your decision, contact the firms that you won’t be working with, thanking each for its proposal and sharing the reasons (in general terms) why your organization has selected the winning firm. Lastly, contact the Web development firm you’ll be hiring, and let them know the good news.

Six simple steps taken; hundreds of calamities avoided. You’re off and running towards a powerful new Web site.


Seven Steps to Compelling Testimonials for Nonprofit Organizations

Read Part One of this article series here.

You know that there’s no message more valuable than testimonials from partners, donors, members, volunteers and program participants on their experiences with your organization. Testimonials rationalize a prospect’s decision to support your organization as they back up your claims and vouch for the value of your work. As a result, these unbiased words carry more credibility than anything your organization’s staff has to say.

Questions to ask for compelling testimonials

It’s challenging to get the right testimonials from your network. But you can count on getting strong material when you ask this series of questions (via phone or an online survey) as soon as possible after an individual’s interaction with your organization.  This approach is vastly more effective than an “open mike” call for testimonials strategy.

You can ask the questions at an organization or program-specific level, depending on the messaging you’re working on. Beware that asking broad questions generates broad responses that tend to be weak testimonials.

Here are the questions to ask:

  1. Why did you [join/give/volunteer with/participate in] our organization? This question establishes the interaction as “customer-feedback” rather than a request. A request for a testimonial is imbalanced, frequently creating a measure of tension and sometimes a resistance to responding. Customer feedback is an equal conversation; a two-way street.
  2. Please list the three things you like most about your [membership/support/volunteer work/program] and why you like them? Implying ownership (“your membership”) personalizes the survey. Positioning this question as a positive (“like most”) increases the likelihood of generating a positive response. Requesting a report back on three distinct features (for example, a program’s relevance, workshop format and take-home materials) makes the respondent think hard and specifically on her response. As a result, the end product is likely to be more useful to your organization.
  3. What do you see as the most valuable aspect of your [participation/advocacy/giving to us/membership/volunteering]? By asking your base to pinpoint benefits, you’ll learn which ones are most important (to them and to prospects).
  4. Please tell us about any specific success that your involvement with our organization helped you achieve, and how. By asking for personal experiences, you’re likely to hear stories that map directly to the challenges faced by the rest of your network. Stories make information easy to relate to, and much more interesting.
  5. How has your involvement with our [organization/program] benefited you or your community in terms of increasing quality of life or satisfaction? This is one of my favorite questions, leading the respondent right to the answer you’re looking for. It will motivate her to tell you how your organization or program has changed her life.
  6. Is there anything about your [volunteer work/program/membership/donor communications] that you would like to see changed? This question emphasizes how much you care about feedback and gives you insight into problems that need to be addressed.
  7. May we use your comments in our communications, with attribution? Remember that an anonymous testimonial has far less weight that one attributed to an individual cited by name, title and organization. If you can feature her photo, all the better. That increases believability hugely! But you do need to ask her permission on all fronts.If you’re conducting this interview via phone, send an email follow up to solicit a dated release.

How to polish nonprofit testimonials for ultimate impact

Once you have a few testimonials in hand, move on to editing. Editing is expected, as long as you don’t change the intention of the testimonial in doing so.

Here are the critical steps to take:

  • Use only the strongest testimonials you have. It’s far better to have a few really good testimonials than several mediocre ones. Make sure the testimonials cover a range of benefits. Different things are important to different people. Your prospects are going to decide to get involved for different reasons. You want to cover all the main ones.
  • Focus on a single benefit in each testimonial. Load too many in and you’ll deplete the strength of the message.
  • A length of two to three sentences works best. However, testimonials can run longer if you’re telling a story.
  • Positive messaging works best. Do edit out negative elements, such as slams on other organizations. And don’t use testimonials that have an overall negative tone. They won’t help your organization.
  • Conversational is the way to go. You’re bound to generate some great raw material by asking these questions. But make sure you don’t overdo polishing what you get. Testimonials should be conversational in tone, just as you initially heard them. If you rewrite them formally, they’ll lose their impact.
  • Send the edited version with attribution to the source for approval, showing them exactly how it’s going to look with the attribution included. Save the confirmation email you receive in return. In about 20% of cases, you’ll be gifted with a revised testimonial that’s even more glowing than the original.

What makes a compelling testimonial?

Start by identifying what doesn’t work. Weak or negative testimonials are worse than no testimonials at all. Here are a few examples that add little messaging value:

“Imagine standing and just looking at a stainless steel 1936 Ford.  It is great right?  Now imagine working on it!  EVEN BETTER!”
–Crawford Auto Aviation Museum Volunteer

So what? This testimonial provides little insight to the reader.

“I very much appreciate all of your time and insight.” (On a nonprofit news service)
—Anonymous, California, USA

Why is that effort and insight of value? And who is speaking? If I don’t know the speaker’s role and organization, there’s no way I can assess whether her take is relevant to me.

Nonprofit testimonials that work

Here are four examples of testimonials that work, and explanations of why they do so.

“The best part of camp is, without a doubt, the kids – their smiles, laughter, and maturity. I volunteer to help the kids, yet I always leave camp with a renewed sense of hope and life, which comes from the kids, and what they do for their fellow campers, the volunteers, and me. In my opinion, Camp Hope is the toughest vacation you’ll ever love.”
—Catherine Brown, volunteer

Catherine’s articulation of all she gets from giving her time and effort is moving and motivational.

“They are very consistent in their pick-ups. It’s very easy to arrange and I know that the things I donate will not be wasted and any money raised goes to a good cause.”
—Nora C., Bridgewater, MA

Nora C. donated goods to the Big Brother Big Sister Foundation and shares the practical features (reliable pick up, easy to arrange) and more spiritual benefit (any money raised goes to a good cause) that will motivate her to do so again.

“I credit meeting many of my career goals this year to my mentor.  As a result of my mentor’s invaluable coaching, I have been able to map out my job experience and determine my areas of concern, update my job application form and develop my interviewing skills.”
—Carolyn Ellenes

The specifics here make this testimonial a powerful one. Ms. Ellenes shares her experience in a way that highlights specific benefits (analyzing her career path and honing related skills) and value (meeting many of her career goals) of the mentoring program. We understand who she is and how program participation has made a difference in her life, making it easy for us to evaluate the relevance of this testimonial.

Finally, take a look at the Center for Media Democracy’s video compilation of testimonials from members and community producers. It’s three minutes of warm, fun, informational, and memorable marketing, that doesn’t seem like marketing at all.

Craft a compelling testimonial headline

It’s hard to overestimate the power of a headline. Remember that today’s readers skim at a fast clip. Headlines can stop them in their tracks.

Effective headlines frame a testimonial to capture attention, making content easier to absorb and increasing the potential for audiences to digest your full message. Feature a bolded headline for every testimonial (and include it when you seek permission to use the quote). Your headline should highlight the value of the testimonial, as it does in the three headline/testimonial pairings below.

Toughest Vacation You’ll Ever Love
“The best part of camp is, without a doubt, the kids – their smiles, laughter, and maturity. I volunteer to help the kids, yet I always leave camp with a renewed sense of hope and life, which comes from the kids, and what they do for their fellow campers, the volunteers, and me. In my opinion, Camp Hope is the toughest vacation you’ll ever love.”
—Catherine Brown, volunteer

Easy to Arrange, Reliable Pick Up
“They are very consistent in their pick ups. It’s very easy to arrange and I know that the things I donate will not be wasted and any money raised goes to a good cause.”
—Nora C., Bridgewater, MA

Invaluable Coaching Moved My Career Forward
“I credit meeting many of my career goals this year to my mentor.  As a result of my mentor’s invaluable coaching, I have been able to map out my job experience and determine my areas of concern, update my job application form and develop my interviewing skills.”
—Carolyn Ellenes

How is your organization developing or using testimonials?

Please leave your strategies for soliciting and using testimonials as comments below. I’ll be sure to share them with the other nonprofit communicators in the Getting Attention community.

A Volunteer Communications Strategy: 13 Steps to Driving Recruitment, Engagement and Leadership (Case Study)

When it comes to recruiting and motivating volunteers to ever higher and more effective levels of engagement, no organization has its work more cut out for it than New York Cares.

As New York City’s leading volunteer organization, New York Cares runs volunteer programs for 1,000 New York City nonprofits, city agencies, and public schools, enabling more than 50,000 volunteers annually to contribute their time, expertise, and energy to a wide array of organizations that address critical social needs citywide.

In order to ensure that its massive and complex operation runs smoothly, the staff at New York Cares has spent considerable time developing and refining their volunteer recruitment strategies, whose lynchpin, not surprisingly, is communication.

I’ve spent some time talking with the folks at New York Cares recently, and as you’ll see below, their strategies can be put to work to boost your organization’s volunteer recruitment, engagement and retention rates, no matter the size of your organization.

The challenges facing volunteer communications

In the recent past, New York Cares realized it faced three challenges that limited its ability to grow the base of volunteers serving its nonprofit partners.

1) They needed to raise “activation rates” of attendees who came to learn about New York Cares volunteer opportunities. Only 45% were immediately signing up for an assignment after their informational orientation.

2) They needed to increase the levels of volunteer engagement. The great thing about New York Cares is that it’s a one-stop shop for want-to-be volunteers to learn about opportunities to help a broad range of nonprofits, and register for a project that has a commitment level of as little as just a few hours.

But New York Cares needed and wanted volunteers to come back again and again for more of the meaningful volunteer assignments they offered. “We needed to increase the average number of projects volunteers completed in order to grow the services we provide to nonprofit partners,” says Colleen Farrell, senior director of marketing and communications at New York Cares.

Farrell notes that New York Cares also needs a volunteer team leader for every project they start.

3) They needed to create new leaders. “We wanted and needed a higher percent of our volunteer base to step into leadership roles. Taking a leadership role is the ultimate form of engagement and is critical to our expansion,” says Farrell.

What follows is a group of key principles for volunteer communication strategies I’ve gleaned from my observations of New York Cares’ work. I want to thank executive director, Gary Bagley, as well as Colleen Farrell, for volunteering their time and insights on how they’ve achieved their success. Where credit is due for brilliant insights and ideas, it is theirs alone; for anything less, I take responsibility.

New York Cares’ volunteer communication strategy

1) Understand that all volunteers aren’t the same. Every group of volunteers incorporates various segments, each with distinct wants, needs and interests.

2) Get to know each segment well—very, very well. And keep in touch on an ongoing basis.

3) Use targeted interactive communications. They’re the best way to move volunteers from one level of engagement to the next.

New York Cares segmented its audiences and developed communications plans for each. “We focused in on volunteers, segmenting them by commitment level, and developed a new framework for our engagement with them over the course of their involvement: the Volunteer Engagement Scale (VES),” says Farrell.

The VES enables New York Cares to pinpoint the best way to motivate volunteer movement from episodic to more engaged participation. This targeted, personalized approach is now the cornerstone of all volunteer communications.

4) Plan communication activities for each segment based on what you know. Planning enables you to focus on what’s important in the long term, rather than be distracted by what just hit your inbox.

5) Speak directly to the “wants” of each segment.

6) Roll out more frequent, targeted communications to build engagement and motivate volunteers to act.

New York Cares developed its Volunteer Lifecycle communications program—aligned with the VES—to provide key information at each stage and encourage deeper relevant engagement, such as more frequent volunteering. The plan specifies how to communicate to recruit volunteers and cultivate them from their first experiences to long-term engagement. For example, only volunteers who have demonstrated a significant commitment to New York Cares are engaged with leadership development messaging.

The plan also defines triggers for outreach including thank you emails, calls to volunteer leaders and special letters and awards for volunteers who reach key milestones in their volunteer lifecycle.

Here are some of the ingredients that make this plan work:

  • Online communications are the backbone of New York Cares’ outreach, a focus that enables it to manage and deliver targeted communications at a moderate cost.
  • Messaging focuses on volunteer impact and outcomes (vs. outputs, such as number of meals served, volunteer hours etc.).
  • Increased use of storytelling, imagery and more emotional language does more to engage New York Cares volunteers.

Chart—Volunteer Lifecycle Communications Program

7) Make the ask—Converting interest in volunteering, just as in fundraising, swings on it.

8) Focus on your volunteer orientation program to ensure you’re maximizing your communication activities in this critical engagement activity.

New York Cares took a three-pronged approach to increase its “activation rate.” Bagley and team:

  • Revamped the orientation process from start to finish. One striking change was that orientation leaders aimed to have most participants signed up for a project before they left the room.
  • Streamlined communications with volunteers.
  • Ensured that communications were clear and consistent, and that follow-up support was in place.

9) Put the 80-20 rule to work for your volunteer program.

New York Cares focuses on the 20% of volunteers who are most highly engaged to motivate them to become even more involved, and leverages them to more effectively engage less-connected volunteers.

10) Train colleagues, volunteer leadership and board members as messengers to expand the reach of your volunteer communications.

New York Cares increased the number of staff members focused on volunteer leadership development and training. The staff also strengthened its relationships with current team leaders via increased communication, and with prospective team leaders through personal and direct asks. For example, the staff is focusing now on getting team leaders more involved by inviting them to serve as organizational ambassadors.

11) Remember that your audience’s perspective, wants, needs and interests change over time.

12) Establish an active volunteer feedback loop. It’s the only way to know what’s relevant, what’s working and what’s not, and how to do it better.

13) Track outreach—responses to specific emails, changes in messaging or channels—to supplement the feedback loop. Your findings will highlight what is effective so you can do more of it.

Here’s how New York Cares’ tracks its communications impact on increasing engagement and retention:

  • Its in-house technology infrastructure enables New York Cares to track and measure volunteer engagement in real time. Farrell aligns communications metrics with the VES and tweaks continually.

It’s unlikely your organization has this kind of resource in-house, but online communications platforms, from e-newsletters to Facebook, provide insight into what is working for your review.

  • This real-time tracking “enables New York Cares to make real-time adjustments to both communications and program delivery,” says Farrell. “For example, we added more orientations and projects to the schedule last year to accommodate the influx of new people wanting to volunteer.

Tracking is supplemented by New York Cares’ volunteer feedback loop. The staff keeps in close touch with its volunteers’ satisfaction level and wants via monthly online polling, periodic surveys and focus groups. In addition, its volunteer advisory council provides input on an ongoing basis.

Create your own volunteer communications strategy

These 13 steps are making a huge difference for New York Cares. Any or all of them will do the same for your organization.

Don’t be put off by New York Cares’ size and sophistication. You can put these strategies (or some of them) to work for your organization, no matter its size. Select one or two steps to start with, and add more over time. Now get to work!

In this post, you’ll learn some strategies for creating an effective nonprofit website.

3 Strategies for Creating An Effective Nonprofit Website

Nowadays, having a website for your nonprofit is non-negotiable. You need your own internet outpost, a place where both committed supporters and curious website visitors can go to learn about your mission and contribute to your cause. 

Luckily, designing a nonprofit website is easier than you may think. Whether you’re working with a designer or taking a DIY route with a user-friendly website builder, there are hundreds of tools at your fingertips that can help you establish a distinct look and identity for your nonprofit online.

But to make your website a truly effective tool for your community of supporters, you’ll need to make sure you’re doing more than just making your site look good. Your site will need substance, too—educational information and useful resources that make it possible for your supporters to take action and help you move your mission forward. 

Read more