Relevancy After Elections: 5 Tips to Stay Connected

Nonprofits, social good, and politically affiliated organizations attract support in cycles. Charities earn most of their donations at the end of the end of the year, while political organizations attract the bulk of their support during election years. However, operations continue year-round and require year-round support. 

To fundraise smarter, create a sustainable base of supporters by staying in touch all year. Research shows that attracting new donors costs approximately ten times more than maintaining current ones. This means starting from scratch at the beginning of each election cycle hurts your organization’s fundraising efforts. It’s more cost-effective than letting supporter relationships slip.

This doesn’t just apply to donors. Whether they’re answering phones, researching potential donors, or canvasing the streets, volunteers help your organization function. Recruiting and training a new group every election cycle is a waste of time and resources. Manage and re-recruit past volunteers to build a knowledgeable base of advocates who can work on behalf of your organization during both on and off seasons. 

At Grassroots Unwired, we’re experts in helping grassroots nonprofit and political organizations make the most of their relationships with supporters. Our canvassing and event software solutions are all built around our belief that strong relationships are what drive powerful change.

To help you create and maintain these relationships year-round, we’ve compiled five tips for cultivating consistent support from both donors and volunteers:

  1. Keep Your Organization’s Website Up to Date
  2. Stay Active on Multiple Online Channels
  3. Empower Your Volunteers Through Peer-to-Peer Fundraising
  4. Create High Quality Branded Merchandise
  5. Offer Volunteers Resources and Opportunities all Year

Human resources are some of your organization’s greatest assets, and they often require the simplest maintenance. As we move forward in 2021, you can still make the most of our recent election year momentum. Build relationships with supporters and stay vigilant for opportunities to show your base that your mission never takes a break. 

1. Keep Your Organization’s Website Up to Date

Your website is the face of your organization. If your organization has a news page or blog, update it regularly, and if you don’t have a news page or blog, consider getting one. After elections, supporters’ attention can drift, but a steady posting schedule signals that your organization is active while also providing quality content to your supporters about your work. 

Even if news is slow, don’t neglect basic website maintenance. Here are a few ways to improve your visitors’ experience when they visit your homepage:

  1. Clear Navigation. Almost every nonprofit website has a few keypages: mission statement, contact information, and a donation form. Create obvious and easy-to-use menus so your supporters can find what they’re looking for in as few clicks as possible. 
  1. Fast Loading Times. Speed matters more than you think. 47% of people expect web pages to load in under two seconds. Ensure there is nothing slowing down your website. Uncompressed images and unnecessary link redirects are a few obvious suspects, and researching a caching method that works for your website can also reduce waiting times. 
  1. Mobile Adaptability. Make sure that your website will be viewable for your supporters to stay updated even when they’re away from their desktops. Minimize scrolling and design elements that may clutter the screen so key elements will be visible and easy to navigate to. 

If your website needs an update or more sophisticated features, consider hiring a consultant. Web design specialists will know how to create visuals for the web, and some even specialize in specific website types. Do your research ahead of time to figure out what your organization needs and what service makes the most sense for your website. 

2. Stay Active on Multiple Online Channels

Technology is your best friend for keeping in touch with your supporters. Regular updates will keep your organization in the back of your supporters’ minds even when election season finishes and they aren’t actively participating in events, pitching in for your canvassing efforts, or otherwise engaging in person. Online communication is also a low-cost investment, meaning you can hit post or send to remind your supporters about your organization without breaking the bank. 

However, different supporters watch different platforms for activity, making it necessary to diversify your organization’s outreach approach. 

Social Media

While social media has a low bar to entry, don’t start posting without a strategy. Create a formal social media plan with a timeline of posts, an index of appropriate post types, and knowledge about what strategies work best on what websites. 

Not all social media is created equal. Many nonprofits use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay in touch with current supporters and attract new ones. Consider these suggestions for tailoring your content to the context of each platform:

  • Facebook. Almost all social media platforms prefer short form content, but if you do have a long story or report to share with your supporters, Facebook is the place to do it. You’ll still have limited time to convince someone scrolling through their feed to read your post, so consider starting off with an eye-catching header image. 
  • Twitter. With its strict word limit, Twitter is all about quick, snappy updates. Twitter also rewards interactive content that attracts responses, making it a good place to post supporter shoutouts or polls.
  • Instagram. If you have high-quality pictures of your work, put them on your Instagram. Take lots of pictures during busy times so you’ll have a pool to pull from during lulls in activity. Attractive graphic designs can also serve in a pinch. 

Invest in the platforms your supporters are already on. Volunteers advocating on behalf of your organization will likely use their social media as their main platforms. Even if you don’t have the time to devote to a comprehensive strategy, creating a semi-active account your volunteers can link to will make marketing outreach smoother on both your and their ends.  

Email

No matter what other approaches your organization is using, you’ll need email. Regular emails will keep you in contact with your supporters by delivering thank you messages, newsletters, and fundraising letters. 

You can improve your email strategies to build relationships with volunteers both when they are and aren’t actively working for your organization. Personalize emails to reference past and current projects your volunteers have worked on and never forget to address them by name. Small touches like these will let your volunteers know that your organization recognizes and appreciates their contributions, which might convince them to lend a hand the next time things get busy. 

3. Empower Your Volunteers Through Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

During election cycles, your organization and volunteers coordinate schedules to meet campaign targets. After election season, your volunteers might keep different hours than your organization. Encouraging your volunteers to advocate for your organization individually can lead to connections and marketing strategies unobtainable if you’re directing their every move. 

Establish guidelines for branding and appropriate messages, then let your volunteers speak directly with their friends, family, and social media followers about your organization. 

While face-to-face marketing currently isn’t practical, your volunteers can still make personal connections online. For example, Grassroots Unwired has virtual canvassing software for political campaigns. This lends itself to giving more independence to your volunteers by letting them log-in from anywhere and engage supporters in video chats at any time. If your organization specialized in canvassing, check out this guide for strategies to employ when election season starts up again. 

Keep track of your volunteer’s efforts through regular check-ins and software with real time reporting. This way your volunteers will customize their approach to advocating for your organization while also providing feedback around what is and isn’t working. 

Also, never forget to thank your volunteers for all their work!

4. Create High-Quality Branded Merchandise

Branded merchandise benefits both your organization and your supporters all year round. Your supporters get t-shirts and sweaters as additions to their wardrobes, and your organization gets free advertising whenever they wear your merchandise in public. 

Designing high-quality merchandise will also be worth it in the long run for everyone. Your supporters will use and wear products that last longer, giving them more opportunities to show them off. Creative designs attract more attention, and out of the box merchandise ideas can spark conversations that lead back to your organization and the work you do. 

Shop around before investing in a store or supplier. Some online stores offer more opportunities for different organizations. For example, some suppliers give discounts to nonprofits while others like Bonfire let political campaigns collect donor information during checkout. 

5. Offer Volunteers Resources and Opportunities all Year

While it’s unlikely you’ll always have active projects for volunteers, create online resources for volunteers to engage with to keep them interested in your organization during down periods. Find opportunities to create evergreen materials, content your volunteers can interact with at any time without ever being irrelevant. 

A few examples of evergreen content are:

  1. E-learning courses. Your volunteers are interested in your field, so give them opportunities to learn more. Some courses on how to be a better volunteer are always appropriate, but additional knowledge will give your volunteers a better understanding about the implications of their efforts, leading to more investment in your organization’s mission.
  2. Entertaining videos. If your organization has or plans to launch events that will result in funny or interesting videos, be sure to save the produced content and urge your supporters to share their creations with you. Compilations of past events are fun to rewatch and highly shareable.

Inspire loyalty in your volunteers by making them feel like they’re part of your organization no matter what time of year it is. Pointing them towards activities to keep them interested can inspire volunteer retention and allow your organization to build long-lasting relationships with a strong core of reliable supporters. 


While your organization has busy seasons, it should never have an off season. Retaining your volunteers and donors will always be easier than attracting entirely new ones. Keep the lines of communication open all year long, let your volunteers advocate on behalf of your organization, and always say thank you to all your supporters for sticking around. 

How to Train and Onboard Your Nonprofit Volunteers

If you have volunteers within your nonprofit organization, consider the following multiple-choice question:

Volunteers exist to: a) save us money or b) make us money.

There isn’t a right or wrong answer here. But it does reflect on your attitude toward training your volunteers.

If volunteers are all about saving you money, then you might question why you should invest in their training. After all, training is an expense, and they’re about saving, not costing you money. In that case, stop here. You wouldn’t want to look at an alternative, right?

On the other hand, if you see volunteers as a way of making your nonprofit money, read on to find out how to train and onboard your dedicated volunteers!

1. Better understand your volunteers’ value.

When you’re looking to get the most out of your volunteers, keep in mind that “making money” doesn’t just mean an increase in revenue. It’s providing great mission services so that clients talk up your nonprofit to others. It’s keeping your files in order so your staff can make more appointments. It’s treating your assets like their own when stewarding your finances. It’s attending town council meetings so your local government understands how serious your cause is to the community. And yes, it’s selling their share (and more) of tickets to your upcoming fundraising gala.

2. Invest in volunteer management software.

When you look at volunteers like an endowment—a reserve that makes money that you can use to move your mission ahead—that is when you get the most from your volunteers. 

If you take this approach, it quickly becomes obvious that just like a typical finance manager, you’re going to need some organization to track your assets so you can get the most from them. In today’s world, that means investing in software.

In other words, if you’re going to manage more than a handful of volunteers, putting a volunteer management software system in place is essential to carry out key functions such as:

  • Organizing records. This houses your volunteer personnel files, and allows you to send one-to-one and mass communication with volunteers, make notes on conversations, and even record disciplinary actions.
  • Scheduling and tracking hours. The bane of most volunteer managers’ lives is scheduling. Knowing who needs to be someplace and when, how many volunteers are needed in each role, and how much time they contribute gives you a better picture of individual volunteers and your program as a whole. Plus, effective hour tracking is critical for additional funding opportunities—such as volunteer grants
  • Tracking training and qualifications. Volunteers progress in training at various rates, and you need to know who is qualified for what when making assignments.  
  • Evaluating volunteer progress. How are they doing? It’s a question you need to ask and answer from the board down to the office clerk. A formal evaluation system, recorded so you can refer to it on a regular basis, is a great decision-making tool, even if the decision is whether they remain as a volunteer or not.
  • Recognizing accomplishments. Do you have a “Volunteer of the Year/Month/Week” award? Being able to systematize the process through your software can take the politics, and headaches, out of the decision. Plus, it’ll make sure your volunteers feel appreciated!

Remember, for volunteers to make you money, you need to be as time-efficient as possible with both your time and theirs. Using the right software will be a major step in that direction.

3. Emphasize strategic volunteer onboarding processes.

All this is good, but let’s get a little more granular. For instance, what are you tracking? 

Perhaps your mother said to you “what starts right ends best.” You never knew she had volunteer training in mind when she said this! But she’s correct: it’s essential to start off right. Since at some point or another, everyone is a newbie, let’s start there.

Onboarding is a lot more than introducing your volunteers and telling them where the bathroom is. It starts with some data collection. You need all of the basics—such as name, address, phone number, and these days, even their social media account handles—so they get all of your latest news. Don’t forget to get an emergency contact name and number, too!

Getting some professional background information will be very helpful as well. That will give you insight into their skills and interests. Do they already come with some of the mandatory training or clearances that are needed for your work, like child protection and background checks? That’s essential information to have.

Have they already interacted with your nonprofit in another capacity—as a donor, a client, or a customer? Knowing this means they already have some familiarity with your mission, or at least how you fund it.

Need a checklist of 25 onboarding ideas? Get it here.

4. Explore low-cost and effective training resources.

After you get the information you need from your volunteers, it’s time to get them more intricately connected with your mission. You want to strike a balance between time efficiency and personalization. 

You don’t need a high production-value training course. In fact, your volunteers may connect with you and your mission better if your content has a bit of homemade quality. However, it’s important to remember some best practices like these:

  • Create short segments that are hyper-focused on one aspect of your work. Single segments of less than five minutes are best. You want the information to be easily digestible. Long segments could mean that your volunteer stops in the middle and never comes back. 
  • Consider a short quiz with a few questions between segments to help increase retention. 
  • Create an outline of topics like history, mission statement, impact, clients, volunteer roles, and more. If you can get clients, community members, or other volunteers to narrate your training, all the better. 
  • Make training resources available online, preferably in a passworded section of your website. That makes them portable so your volunteer can look at them at any time, and exclusive, so your volunteer feels like they’re getting on the “inside” of your nonprofit.

If you can automate a connection between your volunteer management software and the completion of the quizzes, great! If not, be sure to record their progress manually—a good job for a volunteer! 

As your volunteer progresses through the sequence, ask them about their progress. Do more than say “how are you doing with those videos?” Inquire about their response to certain aspects of what they see. For example, you might ask, “what was your response to our client Betty, when she told the story of why she came to us?” 

If your organization requires mandatory training on topics like child protection, and your volunteer hasn’t completed the necessary program, your next step is to provide or arrange for external training and clearances. 

The information provided in your basic orientation is great for anyone to have, whether they follow through with volunteering or not. But you don’t want to waste time if your volunteer doesn’t qualify to take part in your mission. Plus, it’s important to remember that if these programs are required by governmental authorities or your nonprofit’s policies, you cannot have them do any work until they pass. 

Now comes the specialty training that’s tailored to their specific work with your nonprofit. It may be in accounting, fundraising, board service, marketing, mission services, or a wide variety of other areas. Today, with so much available online (including many of your volunteer opportunities!), you can and should put together a robust program from a variety of sources. 

An online education platform like Nonprofit.Courses can be a great help. It aggregates thousands of nonprofit education videos of a variety of lengths and topics, most of which are free and open access. For a fee, they can even set up a specific page for your volunteers and help you curate content.


Now, with your volunteers trained and ready, it’s time to make some money. Good luck!

Matt Hugg is an author and instructor in nonprofit management in the US and abroad. He is president and founder of Nonprofit.Courses, an on-demand, eLearning educational resource for nonprofit leaders, staff, board members, and volunteers, with thousands of courses in nearly every aspect of nonprofit work.  

Faster UX on Your Website: A Crash Course for Nonprofits

User experience, or UX, involves the quality of the experience that users have when navigating and interacting with your nonprofit’s website. It’s a fairly broad but extremely important element to keep in mind whenever you’re updating your site. In today’s digital-first environment, UX can make or break your ability to convert new visitors into donors, and it plays a critical role in encouraging long-term engagement from existing supporters.

If you’re new to web design or the concept of UX, the easiest way to think about it is to simply consider your website from a new user’s perspective:

  • Is your organization’s mission easily identifiable on your homepage?
  • How easy is it to find your organization’s contact information, donation form, blog, or another main page that a visitor might be looking for?
  • How long does it take to complete an action, like making a donation?
  • Is your website easy to use and navigate, or do issues like broken links and poor mobile responsiveness make it a frustrating experience?

Questions like these are a great starting point as you begin reviewing your own website for potential improvements. However, there’s one element of UX that stands above all others in terms of importance: speed. 

How fast your website loads is the very first UX indicator that could cause users to abandon your site before they even fully land on it. As internet users, we’re more impatient than ever, and we’ve come to expect a lot from the sites we engage with. Studies have found that 40% of users abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load, and even a delay of one second can drop conversions by 7%. 

Simply put, if it takes visitors a long time to 1) access your website and 2) complete the action that they came to complete, you’ll see higher abandonment rates across your site. 
At Cornershop Creative, we specialize in web design for the nonprofit sector, so we understand what the top nonprofit sites need to accomplish and what donors are expecting when they visit. We’ve seen firsthand the difference that even small UX improvements can make on a site’s ability to engage and convert donors, so we wanted to share a quick crash course on how to speed up the UX of your own site. Let’s dive in.

Basic Components of Fast UX

All sorts of factors, from design elements to page load time to SEO (search engine optimization), can have huge impacts on your website’s ability to attract and engage visitors. The statistics mentioned earlier illustrate the importance of fast load speed, which is where we’ll start first.

Page Load Speed

Your website must load quickly on any browser, desktop or mobile. 

The generally accepted ideal load speed sits around two to three seconds or less — anything longer and you’ll likely see larger and larger numbers of visitors bounce away. It’s essential to be familiar with the two most common contributors to slow load speeds:

  • Large files. Large, high-resolution images, headers, animations, and other embedded visual files that need to load at the top of a page can seriously slow down your website. Website plugins can help you automatically cut back on duplicate files that might be clogging up your image library, as well. 
  • Redirect chains. Chains of redirects between outdated URLs increases load time by bouncing the visitor from page to page, and it can even make them (and their browser) feel that your site can’t be trusted.

Page load speed is one of the biggest components of strong user experience, especially as more web traffic moves onto mobile browsers. Think about it: how long are you typically willing to wait for a page to load on your smartphone when you’re trying to look something up or casually browsing? With the current necessity of digital-only engagement, load speed should be the first place you look when improving your website’s UX.

Barriers to Engagement

This component of fast UX involves the actual barriers to entry that you may place on your site. Whenever you add new elements to your website that users will directly engage with, think carefully about how exactly they’ll impact UX. 

For example, requiring users to log in with a username or password is one barrier to engagement that sites will deliberately include for important security reasons. Users’ security should always be a top priority, but make sure that your own site’s login process is streamlined. The best way to ensure that visitors will have a positive experience and find what they need is by making it easy to enter your site and quickly engage with your content. 

Consider Amazon and Google, two web giants that prioritize making it easy for users to get started with their services. Amazon’s one-click purchase buttons and Google’s SSO authentication tools are both great examples of how removing unnecessary steps like an extra login or data input can streamline user experience.

Design Elements

Design can also contribute to a faster, high-quality user experience on your website. Of course, “web design” encompasses a number of different topics and specific elements. As they relate to fast user experience, there are three main contributing factors to think about:

  • Navigation. Sites that offer strong user experience anticipate their visitors’ needs. Clearly-labeled navigation bars across your site and intuitive landing pages that don’t distract or bombard users with irrelevant elements are good starting points.
  • Simple visuals. Minimalist design tends to perform well online because it’s less likely to distract or confuse visitors looking to quickly find information or complete a task on your site. Plus, using simpler layouts and fewer (but high-quality) images will improve load speed.
  • Information placement. Websites should anticipate what their visitors are looking for, like contact information, and feature it in an intuitive spot. For instance, nonprofits can provide embedded donation forms to make the giving process easy and fast for visitors who will be more likely to donate while they still feel emotionally motivated.

These elements of web design can all contribute to a faster, more positive user experience, and they’re some of the first places that webmasters can begin to easily make improvements themselves.

Building a Faster User Experience on Your Site

As mentioned above, there are plenty of ways to speed up your site’s UX without the help of a professional web designer. Consider these additional tips:

Pagespeed Insights and Google Analytics

Google’s readily available tools are a perfect resource for staying on top of the quality of your website’s user experience. 

Google’s Pagespeed Insights tool is invaluable for a number of reasons, namely because it determines the time it takes for your site to load on both desktop and mobile browsers. It even indicates specific problem areas and offers optimization tips. Remember that load speed is central to user experience and increasingly important for Google rankings, too.

Google Analytics provides insights that can be crucial for your website’s overall health and performance. Most importantly, the platform makes it easy to track your abandonment or bounce rates, the first indicators of slow load times and poor user experience. Then you can look deeper to find specific pages that perform poorly and target your improvements in smarter ways.

Templates and Caching

Both of these techniques involve saving time and streamlining processes as you build your site and as your users engage with it:

  • Create custom templates to use whenever creating new content on your website. By creating a template for a generic campaign web page, you’ll save time and ensure a more cohesive experience for users across your site. A template built with a streamlined layout and fast-loading elements will take the guesswork out of the process as you launch and promote new campaigns.
  • Caching involves directing a user’s browser to save parts of your website that it already downloaded from a previous visit. This means your website will load much faster when the user returns to that page, which can result in a substantial improvement in user experience. Caching is more complicated to implement than other UX solutions, though, so do your research on the exact settings you can configure in your own content management system.

Streamlining aspects of your website on both the backend and user-facing side whenever possible can help to generally improve its user experience value.

Image Compression

We’ve touched on the importance of avoiding huge image files above. However, websites still need to include high-quality, attractive images to create engaging content. A full wall of text is unlikely to interest a casual browser, for instance.

Compressing the image files on your site will help you strike the right balance between offering attractive visuals and keeping file sizes low to prevent slow load speeds. 

Keep image file size in mind when creating new content, and use tools that help you automatically compress images as you upload them. Platforms like WordPress often come with this feature built-in. New image formats like Google’s webp image format can also help ensure that you’re offering high-quality visuals without sacrificing valuable storage space or the user experience.


With the current importance of digital engagement, it’s more important than ever that websites prioritize creating fast user experience. Pages need to load quickly, offer immediate ways to engage with content, and tell your nonprofit’s story swiftly and compellingly.

By using a few important resources, exploring additional tools to adopt, and building better habits, it’s easy to start enhancing your nonprofit’s site to improve its UX value! For a thorough audit or professional-grade improvements, working with a nonprofit consultant specialized in web design will often be your best bet for long-term value.

Build Your Brand Without Breaking the Bank

Branding is a term that sends nonprofit communicators and leaders running for the hills. This art of creating and conveying a consistent, recognizable, and clear unified brand that conveys your organization’s unique focus and impact seems almost impossible to master, at least without a million dollar budget and a fancy ad agency. But it’s not.

So don’t run for the hills. Branding has evolved from its humble beginnings in consumer product packaging to its current status as a key component of organizational strategy. And the organizations you’re competing against for attention, dollars, board members, volunteers and more are shaping brands that are helping them to form or reinforce enduring relationships with their bases.

Now Sarah Durham, author of Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications and founder and principal of the Big Duck agency, guides your organization to do the same, on a limited budget.

Durham recently spoke with GettingAttention.org about the concept of brandraising and the value it has for increasing the impact of communications and fundraising for nonprofits of every size and budget level.

Nancy:  What is brandraising, and how does it relate to fundraising, program outreach and advocacy campaigns?

Sarah: The Brandraising® process is, at its core, an approach to communicating that helps nonprofits get the most from limited resources. (Brandraising is also the title of my book, but you already knew that.) It shows how day-to-day communications are connected to your brand, and how all of that is vision and mission driven.  For example, how that newsletter you’re writing is directly related to your mission, where social media fits in and more.

Nancy: Branding is so intangible that it makes many nonprofit communicators and leadership want to bury their heads in the sand and ignore it. How can brandraising help?

Sarah: A brand is really just the sum of your audiences’ perceptions of your organization, so like it or not, you have a brand. If you’ve ignored the process of creating one, you’ve got an ‘accidental brand.’ If you’re lucky, it’s a happy accident, but those are rare.

Note from Nancy: I have a somewhat definition of branding—as the intersection of your organization’s wants and needs (e.g. to motivate your base to sign a petition or give to a dollar-for-dollar match campaign right now) and those of your target audiences. Sarah and I will discuss our distinct perspectives with you very soon. I’ll keep you posted!

Branding feels intangible (and tends to fail) when the reasons for doing it or the expected outcomes are murky. These elements tend to be poorly defined when in-house expertise in marketing and communications is limited. Poor timing (such as right before or during strategic planning) can also lead to brand failure.

The book helps the nonprofit or volunteer who is not a marketing specialist understand basic marketing concepts to demystify branding via its case studies, exercises and other tools designed to streamline the branding process.

Nancy: You advise that a brand must begin with a clear and agreed-on mission, vision, values, objectives and strategies. But isn’t that strategic planning, not marketing?

Sarah: Great communications grow from a clear organizational strategy. The first step is to agree what the organization is all about: that work happens in strategic planning. When it’s time to address how your organization expresses what it’s all about—beginning with mission, vision, values, objectives and strategies—you’re entering marketing territory.

Lots of organizations spend time wordsmithing during strategic planning. It’s really easy to become distracted by language and get mired in semantics, instead of focusing on the ideas and concepts that drive the organization. Once the concepts are clear, good communicators (in-house or consultants, strategist and/or writer) have what they need to translate those ideas into clear, compelling language.

Nancy: Let’s say my organization wants to develop more effective branding, and we’ve never done it before. The brandraising process seems overwhelming, especially if organizational issues such as objectives have to be clarified first. How can I build the understanding, interest and support to make it happen?

Sarah:  Ah, yes… Buy-in. I love that you’re raising this issue, because it’s so tough but so critical in the nonprofit sector. Before you undertake any significant shift (programmatic, communications, etc) your staff and board leadership need to agree on the value of investing time, energy, and perhaps even money. There are a few ways to get everyone on the same page.

First, take a look at how your communications materials compare with peer organizations. Are you doing a better or worse job getting your messages out there? Are their programs, fundraising or advocacy efforts more or less successful at reaching the right people and driving action? Discussing your competitor’s websites, and those of other organizations similar to yours, in staff or board meetings is a good place to start.

Secondly, share best practices. The nonprofit sector is full of useful resources, many available at no cost, that can be shared and discussed. Share some articles, webinar recordings or podcasts with your colleagues and discuss them freely, without any agenda. What works? What doesn’t?

Lastly, don’t push it. Like strategic planning, brandraising takes real effort and the timing has to be right. Keep the conversation alive and it’ll happen.

Nancy: Your concept of an organizational personality (rather than the dry and abstract “tone” or “image”) is great. But how does that help a nonprofit strengthen its communications?

Sarah:  Personality is an easy-to-use concept that can be very helpful in day-to-day communications. Let’s say your organization defines its personality as playful, smart, edgy, youth-oriented and agile and is producing a new newsletter. If a writer submits an article full of $5 words and dense paragraphs or the design submitted is very traditional, you have the defined personality to guide your clear feedback to the writer or designer about next steps. (Far better to share all key guidelines with writers and designers up front). It’s easy to see how your newsletter will benefit more from short, well-written copy sprinkled with colloquial terms and a fresh design treatment, such as using images cropped in unexpected ways. And you can see how an email or social media-based newsletter makes more sense than a printed one.

Nancy: You feature so many rich stories in the book that illustrate brandraising at work. Which case study best shows how brandraising is a life-saver for nonprofit marketing?

Sarah: The book features lots of case studies, and it’s hard to pick just one because success can mean such different things to different organizations. I’ve consistently seen these three benefits from organizations that brandraise:

  1. We’re much more productive and effective, spending more time actually doing the work (fundraising, for instance) now that we aren’t constantly noodling over communications.
  2. It’s a relief to know that we don’t have to start with a blank sheet of paper every time we sit down to create something.
  3. When a new person starts, we’re able to bring them up to speed fast so they can be effectively communicating in their first week on the job.

Nancy: What are the three most valuable takeaways from Brandraising?

Sarah:

  1. Brandraising means spending less time creating and more time reinforcing, which will make your fundraising, programs, advocacy and executive leadership more productive and consistent.
  2. When everything and everyone from the organization sends the same messages, you’re more likely to be perceived consistently and accurately.
  3. Being strategic about communications inspires confidence in donors, partners, and other key audiences.

Thanks, Sarah, for sharing such a clear system. Readers, get your copy of Brandraising now so you enter the path to effective branding. You don’t want to do without it (the book or the branding)!

More Branding Guidance

Three Steps to Launching Your Nonprofit Blog (Case Study)

Introducing NominationWatch.org

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), dedicated to advancing and protecting women’s legal rights, launched NominationWatch.org. This highly- focused blog focuses on the ongoing battles over judicial nominations, including John Roberts’ bid for the Supreme Court vacancy.

With its prominent history of involvement in key judicial confirmation debates of the past, NWLC was ideally positioned to lead the informal debate on current nominations. So NWLC leadership decided to capitalize on this unique role with a blog designed to shed light on the complexities of the nomination agenda (now even more so, with the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist and the subsequent nomination of Roberts to fill that role) and generate support for judges who support women’s rights.

Ranit Schmelzer, NWLC vice president for communications, says that for years the organization has relied on traditional press outreach tools (press releases and conferences, and teleconferences). But driven by the importance of the current judicial debates, Schmelzer and her colleagues landed on a blog as the most effective ways to “get substance out in small bytes.”

“We thought it was high time we wrote something that wasn’t footnoted,” says Marcia D. Greenberger, NWLC co-president and newly empowered blogger. “We are continuing to produce well-researched reports, but you won’t read them here. That’s what our website is for. Here you’ll find the latest on breaking news, vital facts, key findings and some behind-the-scenes information.”

  1. Shaping the Editorial Policy

    NWLC had a lot of work to do before NomininationWatch.org was launched, and developing an editorial policy was first on the list. Take a look at the blog and you’ll see the succinct but in-depth entries written by NWLC’s blogging team. Frequency of entries depends on what is happening in the news, says Schmelzer. At the height of the Roberts’ nomination coverage there were three entries daily while at other times entries are posted three times weekly. Frequency, and the decision to vary it based on the news, is central to the blog’s editorial policy.

    Another component of NominationWatch.org‘s editorial policy is the bloggers themselves. What’s unusual is that there’s a team of bloggers (writers include NCLW’s two co-presidents and two of its vice presidents, while two staff members serve as editors) who are assigned daily and weekly blog tasks. To streamline this team effort, the bloggers participate in a weekly editorial meeting.

    Even more unusual is that the four bloggers don’t sign their posts, which is rare in a venue that is known for personalization. “Our practice is not to sign our e-newsletters and e-updates,” explains Schmelzer. “The blog is very much a team effort, the voice of the Center rather than that of the individual blogger.”

    Next, the blog team defined how, and to what extent, to integrate links into NominationWatch.org. Most links are to mainstream media (The Washington Post figures prominently in many entries) and Capitol Hill sources from newspapers to public documents and court briefs.

    And finally the team decided not to include the reader comment option so common in blogs today. “We decided to focus our resources on the blog as a venue for NWLC perspectives at this point in time,” says Schmelzer.

    Once the team selected its blog tool of choice (Typepad, known for its ease of use, flexibility and economical fees), they were ready to blog.

  2. Bringing the Blog to Life

    Once editorial and access decisions were finalized, the NWLC team considered how best to interface with the NWLC website and organizational identity. Although the organization chose to highlight the issue (rather than its own name) in the blog URL or address, it remained a priority to link the effort back to NWLC and to capitalize on this work to generate donations and e-newsletter and e-alert subscribers, and to build awareness of NWLC and its work.

    In a way, the issue-branded blog reinforces the NWLC name (e.g., ‘Who publishes this blog? It’s great.’) and vice versa (e.g., ‘Oh, NWLC is publishing a blog now. Got to take a look.’)

    To push this cognitive connection, the blog features a link to the NWLC e-alert adjoining the most recent entry, and links to the NWLC home page and newsroom. Similarly, there is a large graphic link to the blog on the NWLC home page.

  3. Engaging Readers via Easy Access to Key Content and First Pass Promotion

    The NWLC team knew that as good as their blog content might be, its impact would be solely dependent on the number of readers, and motivating those readers to become regulars. First the blog team turned its focus to increasing ease of access to blog content. Schmelzer and her colleagues decided to provide access to entries via links (on a sidebar adjoining new entries) to highlights, sub-topics such as the confirmation process, recent posts and monthly archives for the chronological perspective. These varied points of entry provide almost any reader with a relevant path to blog content past and present. An online news feed option (RSS–real simple syndication) was added so that users could request to have new entries automatically delivered via a downloadable reader. Read more about this relatively new means of ‘pushing’ blog content.
    Using Typepad, one of the most popular, and inexpensive blog tools, the NWLC bloggers developed start-up content. To ensure that audiences knew about the blog and its unique perspective on this key public issue, NCLW distributed a pithy press release, negotiated link exchanges with related blogs and sites, and submitted blog pages to Google and Technorati, which searches blogs by keyword and for links.

Results – Increased Visibility and Excited Audiences

Since NominationWatch.org was launched in June, the blog team has seen a steady increase in visitors and links to it by related sites. I read about the blog in a review for the press (highlighting new and interesting sources), and when I Googled it, I got pages of links to other blogs, mainstream media and even Rush Limbaugh.

Schmelzer reports that this coverage has come without aggressive promotion. What I recommend to bloggers is to define up to 20 key words and phrases, and integrate them into blog posting. Readers, if you’re blogging, don’t forget this step so critical to generating search engine results.

Watch NominationWatch.org as the Roberts debate heats up this month. Although there are no stats to verify it, I bet that this blog has made a whole new audience (including the grassroots audience) aware of NWLC and its work, and shed light on a very complicated process. Way to go NWLC.

This ONE Thing Will Transform Your Marketing & Fundraising

The opportunity you have right now is SO big, that it’s a bit overwhelming. …
You have a blank canvas of a year in front of you, and the marketing and fundraising actions you take right now will have a huge impact on your results.

So, what are you going to change? And what should stay the same? How will you create a masterpiece with this year of time and opportunity?

You know that marketing and fundraising have to be more on target than ever, with messages based on right-now data and stories from across your channels, campaigns, and programs. That’s the path to Priority 2014—the relevant, memorable and unified supporter or participant experience you must provide, an experience that builds on each supporter’s or participant’s till-now engagement with your organization and is most likely to motivate her next action.

Practically speaking, there’s just ONE path to that kind of unified experience: Right-Things, Right-Now Marketing.  Get there with this Right-Things, Right-Now Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template

Here’s how to produce a relevant, memorable and unified supporter experience:

1) Center supporters and participants at the heart of your organization, now and forever.

This isn’t bright-and-shiny new, but it’s more important than ever. Let me put it this way: If you don’t shape program and services, marketing and fundraising around your supporters’ and participants’ actions, wants, habits, and values, you’ll alienate folks who are close now and fail miserably in making new friends.

Volunteers, donors, activists, program participants, and other supporters are vital to achieving your mission. You can’t do it without them, so keep your eye on the prize.

To Do

  • Focus on no more than three groups of individuals—those most likely to take the actions you need or who represent the greatest risk to achieving your mission if not engaged this year.
  • Break these groups into segments by special interest, wants, previous actions, location, or any other combination of selections
  • Get to know them (see #3 below).

2) Listen to and learn from your people in a way that’s radically different from what you’re doing right now.

To Do

  • Set your end goal as treating (and communicating with) your supporters and participants as individuals, rather than one-size-fits-all, as much as possible. That means, each person’s experience (or segment of folks with like experiences) defines your marketing and fundraising approaches.
  • To get there, learn everything you can about your people every way you can, on an ongoing basis:
    • Develop personas or profiles that typify a member of each audience or segment and surround yourself and your colleagues with persona head shots—it’s hokey, but it keeps the people who count at the top of everyone’s mind
    • Create an ad hoc marketing advisory group to call on for super-short input when you are uncertain about a certain message, channel, or approach. What you think counts far less!
    • Listen to what’s being said about your organization and team online, and engage with the speakers human-to-human
    • Survey via brief online questionnaires, motivating participation via e-mail and social media channels, and concrete incentives
    • Collect information on interests and more via every single active transaction (giving, volunteer sign up, event registration) pages, e-mail, social and, conversations.

3) Set up systems, roles, and responsibilities to harvest, share, and analyze data, feedback, anecdotes plus  other insights

To Do

  • Assess where supporter information to date—preferences, habits, relationships and interactions— lives across all departments and databases in your organization
  • Implement a robust database tool that enables you to connect all data on a single supporter or participant (now fragmented in multiple departments and records) in a single, in-depth profile. That the key to the rich insights (a true 360-degree perspective) necessary for truly integrated marketing that reflects your supporters’ interactions with your organization over time, and is delivered consistently—across marketing channels and strategies—for a more relevant, resonant experience.
  • Log, share, and analyze what you learn about your people across your organization—instead of limiting analysis to actions within a single program, campaign or channel—in a way that’s easy to access for all.

The more coordinated and robust your insight is into each person you’re hoping to engage, the greater the probability you’ll motivate him or her to take the next action (or realize that he/she’s not a likely prospect).

4) Shape rewarding and connected relationships with your people OVER TIME—a cumulative supporter or participant experience.

Your prospects and supporters are just like you—Individuals want, and in many cases, expect, content and programs to be customized to their preferences, habits, and history of action.

The Altimeter Research Group has deemed this the “me-cosystem: The ecosystem that revolves around “me,” an organization’s data and technologies to deliver more relevant, useful, and engaging experiences. Supporters will benefit from contextualized experiences (digitally and otherwise), in exchange for giving up personal data.”

To Do

  • Apply your learnings and analysis, and those of your colleagues, to shape marketing and fundraising outreach, and hone programs and services on the fly; and
  • Ensure that one experience links to the next for each one of them (within reason, of course).

The “days of the one-off marketing project or fundraising campaign are over. Now it’s about data and profiles and [a series] of connected experiences,” says Dianne Wilkins, CEO, Critical Mass.

5) Get agile to satisfy supporter expectations that your nonprofit is constantly adapting to fit their schedules and lives

And that has to include how they interact (or not) with your marketing and fundraising outreach, and your programs and services.

Beware! There’s still way too much talking about data and stories among nonprofits, and way too little acting on these insights. Priority 2014 means changing that. In fact, “[supporters and participants] are insisting that [nonprofits] sew together all of the micro-interactions (between organizations and individuals) in an intelligent way. And when [organizations] disappoint, their people often let them have it, and very publicly,” says Wilkins.

To Do

  • Replace traditional campaigns—based on pre-determined start and stop dates and series of messages—with real-time marketing, based on supporters and participants’ actions and schedules
  • Kill the e-mail blasts—sending the same e-mail to everyone at the same time—(they’re the loudest “who cares” I know; who wants to be blasted?)
  • Segment your lists as precisely as time, expertise and tools allow, grouping prospects by shared wants, values, or engagement history to produce more relevant content
  • Start to tear down the age-old barrier between program and marketing/fundraising efforts (and views of your participants and supporters).

6) Shift toward “all for one and one for all” teamwork

Priority? Throw down the gauntlet and tear down your marketing and fundraising ivory tower to excite and empower your colleagues!

In fact, that’s the only way you’ll build the all-organization relationships, sense of adventure, and satisfaction necessary to drive a speeded-up marketing, delivery, and revision cycle on both program/service and marketing/fundraising fronts.

To Do

  • Join your colleagues across your organization in shaping ambitious but realistic roles and responsibilities for data and story gathering, sharing, analysis, and action.
  • Dedicate yourself, no matter your role, to making your donor experience as relevant and resonant as possible.

I urge you to forget whether you staff a program, run the teen volunteer program, do back-end accounting, or have the word “marketing” in your title. Instead, focus on joining forces to produce a satisfying, memorable, and unified supporter experience. It’s the ONE thing that will move your mission forward.

Bonus: Reduces your workload, increases your confidence that you’re doing the right thing, and sends your professional happiness sky high.

Kick start your ONE thing now, with the Right-Things, Right-Now Nonprofit Marketing Plan Template

Toward a Relevant, Unified Supporter Experience–What are You Doing Now?
What are you doing to deliver right-things, right-now marketing? What’s working, and what’s getting in your way? Please share your experience here.

P.S. Thanks to Gary Keller for inspiring me to focus on the ONE thing, as “Success demands singleness of purpose.”  I strongly recommend you read Keller’s The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

Gotta Blog – Why Blogs Matter for Your Nonprofit.

You probably have heard more and more about nonprofit use of blogs over the last year. And you may have read my article, “Should your nonprofit launch a blog?,” last fall. It’s a great introduction to blogging for nonprofits.

A quick reminder – a blog is a website that takes the form of an online journal, updated frequently with running commentary on one or many topics.

Why blogs matter

There are few who will discount blogs’ role as a key component of online culture. If anything, blogs are quickly becoming popular with established users of the Internet, according to a late 2004 study on blogs by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Pew conducted two telephone surveys of nearly 2,000 Internet users, and found that 32 million Americans, or 27 percent of Internet users, say they read blogs– a 58 percent jump from the prior year (with a huge growth in readers 30-49 years old). More than 8 million Internet users have created a blog or web-based diary. Twelve percent of Internet users have posted comments or other material on a blog.

Nonetheless, the blogging concept is still evolving among the majority of Americans. Sixty-two percent of online Americans do not know what a blog is, according to the Pew study.

Other results found by the Pew organization indicate the blogging community is still far from average, even among Internet users. Blog creators are more likely (82 percent) to have been online for six years or more and have broadband (70 percent) at home.

This study, paired with a prior Pew report indicating 59 percent of Americans access the Internet as of 2002, begs the question: What, if any, impact do blogs have on how the public gets their news and information?

The answer, not surprisingly, appears to be mixed. But what’s clear is that blogging (writing and reading), like Internet usage, is growing at a phenomenal rate. Even if your nonprofit isn’t blogging, organizations that are competing for the same donors, members, volunteers and participants are likely to be doing so. As a result, it’s a venue you can’t ignore any longer.

For more details, read the Pew Project Report.

When to launch your nonprofit blog

Okay, so blogging is a growing phenomenon and definitely something you have to keep your eye on. But when does it make sense for your nonprofit to take the plunge? Here are just a few motivations and models:

These are just a few of the ways in which blogging can make a difference for your nonprofit. There are many more out there which I’ll highlight in future issues of Getting Attention.

But don’t wait for me. Get online and start reviewing the blogs mentioned above and others even closer to your organization’s needs. This process will help jump start your blog strategy and give you some concrete examples to show colleagues who may be less familiar with blogs.

Should Your Nonprofit Launch a Blog?

What’s a Blog?

An abbreviation of “weblog,” blogs are websites that take the form of online journals, updated frequently with running commentary on one or many topics.

A blog is the absolutely easiest way to provide regularly updated information to your audiences. Because blog creation process is simpler than website creation or print design and production, blogs enable nonprofits to easily publish a stream of constantly updated, linked content. And search engines love fresh content.

Most blogs are directed towards external audiences and cover alerts, news clips, human interest stories and volunteers. What’s very distinct to blogs in the personal voice in which these stories are told.

Blogs usually feature:

  • Brief entries running one-three paragraphs in length.
  • One or more columns on the page, with new content added to the largest column.
  • Sidebars linking to other blogs, previous posts or other comments.
  • Updates added at the top of the blog, so that entries read in reverse chronological order. This approach makes it easy for readers to find the most recent content.
  • Lots of links within blog entries (to other blogs, websites, and articles in your e-newsletter, as well as audio and video files). Some blog entries also feature photos.
  • Frequent updates, with updating schedules from several times daily to two-three times each week.

Here are a few examples of nonprofit blogs:

  • Citizens League

What: Frequent updates to educate Minnesota’s citizens and motivate action on legislation.

  • Oceana

What: Reports from the field from marine biologists and conservationists around the world on the battle to save the oceans. Readers are invited to participate in the discussion by adding to the blog.

How to Put Blogs to Work for Your Nonprofit Organization

Here’s how you can put blogs to work for your organization.

  • Quickly summarize and point to other articles on the web that are relevant to your audience.
  • Include audiences (or selected audiences) in conversation on critical topics.
  • Invite experts in your field or issue area to contribute as guest bloggers.
  • Get timely information out without tech staff or web designers. You can even do “real-time” reporting from a conference, field visit or legislative session.
  • Cross-promote and re-use all the content you create for your website, print magazines and e-newsletter.

Here’s a nonprofit blog scenario:

An association of healthcare nonprofits uses their blog as a highly efficient means of communicating with its members. The membership staff posts three-five new entries daily, which range from quick announcements on members’ special events to multiple entries about sessions at the association’s recent conference. Using the blog, staff members easily get this info to members in minutes.

How to get audiences to read your organization’s blog

  1. Add your blog headlines to your organization’s home page.
  2. Syndicate your blog via RSS format.

When you syndicate your organization’s blog content (RSS=real simple syndication), readers can use a type of free software called a “news aggregator” to automatically retrieve the latest stories from your nonprofit and thousands of other sites and blogs. The news aggregator pulls your blog right down to your audience’s desktops so they receive blog entries without having to open their web browsers!

NOTE: The BBC has posted a great explanation of RSS.

3. Form a network with colleague organizations to run your blog headlines on their own websites, and vice versa.

Use trackback (a link back to the initial entry on which the current entry comments), commenting on other blogs and re-posting of other blogs’ key stories to strengthen your network and motivate audiences when important issues need attention (e.g. pending legislation).

Readers, I urge you to take a look at the blogs I mention above, and start talking with your colleagues about the blogs they read. Blogging is a vital complementary communications vehicle, and one for which you should know the pros and the cons.