A 2021 guide to nonprofit marketing.

A 2021 Guide to Nonprofit Marketing

Imagine this: Your nonprofit spends months planning the perfect fundraising event. You’ve gathered the resources, hired the catering, and recruited volunteers to pull it all together. A scattering of your most active supporters register, but you don’t get the turnout that you hope. This shortcoming is due to your nonprofit marketing. 

As a fundraising professional, you already know the importance of an effective marketing strategy. A comprehensive nonprofit marketing plan can spread awareness of your mission, deepen relationships with donors, help you engage with new prospects, and better align your team with your organization’s values and goals. 

However, every marketing effort has its challenges. Whether resources are tight, strategies aren’t garnering the needed results, or you just aren’t sure how to craft your next fundraising email, nonprofit marketing is no walk in the park.

You’ve come to the right place! During the past year, nonprofits have made tremendous efforts to digitize their communication strategies and increase convenience for their donors. In this 2021 guide to nonprofit marketing, you’ll learn more about:

Whether your organization is at the grassroots level or your nonprofit is more established, it’s always beneficial to ensure that your current marketing plan isn’t missing any essential elements. Let’s dive in with an overview of what nonprofit marketing is. 

Contact us to learn how the Google Ad Grant can help your nonprofit marketing.

What is nonprofit marketing?

What is Nonprofit Marketing?

Nonprofit marketing is the use of marketing tactics and strategies to amplify an organization’s cause and mission, solicit donations, and attract volunteers and supporters.

After you and your fundraising team work hard to plan out a campaign or set up an exciting fundraising event, the next step is getting supporters interested and invested. Without an effective marketing strategy, you won’t be able to grab your supporters’ attention, let alone meet new prospects. 

Effective nonprofit marketing is easier said than done, however. You need a carefully crafted plan with clear goals in mind and dedicated software solutions to carry them out. This level of thought and comprehensiveness in your nonprofit marketing can benefit you by:

These are the benefits of nonprofit marketing.

  • Raising mission awareness — One of the biggest roles of your nonprofit is to spread the word about your mission. Effective marketing will raise awareness of your mission, ensuring that people not only know your nonprofit goals, but also what you’re doing to achieve them. 
  • Increasing funds — This is an obvious one, but worth noting. When you’re able to market your nonprofit and raise awareness about your mission, the more potential funding you’ll receive. 
  • Driving long-term donor support — Nonprofits don’t just thrive with monetary funds, they need long-term support. Good marketing can build key relationships and result in more consistent and reliable donations, rather than one-off gifts. In fact, the average monthly online donation is $52 (which is a total of $624 per year) compared to the average one-time gift of $128.
  • Attracting all types of support — As you craft your nonprofit marketing strategy, you might be thinking that your main goal is to get donations. However, there’s an abundance of other types of support that your marketing can help with. This includes volunteer recruitment, fundraising events, membership programs, and other forms of support you may have. In fact, this can even lead to monetary gifts down the road. In fact, volunteers are twice as likely to donate as non-volunteers.
  • Promoting your services — What exactly does your organization do? How does it aim to impact your mission? Your nonprofit services are an integral part of your fundraising efforts and is inspire your supporters to give. With a comprehensive marketing plan, you can more effectively promote those services. 

But how can you utilize nonprofit marketing smartly and reap the above benefits? The answer: with a detailed and organized nonprofit marketing plan. 

How to create a nonprofit marketing plan.

Creating A Nonprofit Marketing Plan

If you want your donor outreach and communication strategy to be successful, it’s recommended to craft a dedicated nonprofit marketing plan. A nonprofit marketing plan is a comprehensive document that outlines all the information you need to meet your audience’s needs and spread your mission effectively.

Your nonprofit marketing plan will be unique to your goals, mission, and audience. However, you can take these general steps to ensure you’re not missing out on any essential elements:

  • Perform a marketing audit — It’s a good idea to get a sense of your current marketing standing and gather the resources you have. This way, you can start thinking about the changes and tweaks you’ll need to make. A marketing audit can consist of a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis, data analysis of results, and then creating an action plan.
  • Define goals and mission — Your marketing plan shouldn’t just guide your actions, but really support your nonprofit journey to your ultimate goals. We recommend using the SMART (Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) method to create your marketing plan goals. Then, list your goals by priority. 
  • Understand your audience — It’s critical that your nonprofit marketing plan knows who it is trying to reach. You should outline both your current audience and your target audience. Further narrow down your audience with donor segments and donor personas. 
  • Craft your message — Your supporters are bombarded with online ads and companies trying to get their attention all of the time. It’s important that your marketing messaging stands out through the crowd. We recommend using the CRAM (connected to a cause, rewarding, actionable, memorable) rule to connect with donors. This is also where you’ll think about the language and tone of your message, the specific calls to action you’ll use, and any visual branding elements. 
  • Allocate budget — Marketing plans aren’t cheap. You need to create marketing materials, invest in online tools, and pay your hard working staff. As a general rule, it is advised that 5-15% of your operating budget is reserved for marketing. This is also when you might consider applying to nonprofit marketing grants.
  • Outline marketing channels — There are tons of marketing channels that you can choose from, and each has its own strengths and challenges. We’ll review the different types in the following section. 
  • Analyze performance — Every marketing plan needs a dedicated way to measure performance. Otherwise, how do you know if it worked or whether it needs to be improved for the future? Consider the metrics you want to track and the tools you’ll use. 

Crafting a comprehensive nonprofit marketing plan isn’t a small feat, but once you have one, this document can guide your team to its goals.

For more help, we advise you to visit our dedicated article on nonprofit marketing plans with free downloadable templates to keep you organized and on track. 

Explore these nonprofit marketing channels

Nonprofit Marketing Channels to Explore

The nonprofit marketing channels you use are incredibly important when it comes to effectively reaching your donors and meeting new prospects. With new tools making online communications easier and nonprofits leaders hosting elaborate fundraising events from the comforts of their own home, there are several valuable marketing channels.

Let’s walk through some of the most popular channels that can catapult your marketing efforts:

How does email marketing impact nonprofit marketing?

Email Marketing 

Email is an extremely reliable and comprehensive channel for nonprofit marketers because it allows you to connect with all types of supporters. From first-time donors to longtime major donors, fundraisers use email to send appreciation letters, event invitations, and regular newsletters with general organization updates.

Here are a few ways to leverage email marketing to reach all of your audiences:

  • Send a regular newsletter with your newest content, updates about your organization, industry data, and volunteer needs. 
  • Send monthly emails with donation needs and opportunities.
  • Segment your email audience based on common traits for more targeted and relevant messaging. Marketers who use segmented campaigns note as much as a 760% increase in revenue.
  • As soon as a donor gives, a volunteer participates, or some other form of support, send an email showing your appreciation. 

Email generates $42 for every $1 spent. With an ROI of 4,200%, it makes sense that this is a marketing channel worth investing in and taking the time to flesh out. 

How does direct mail impact nonprofit marketing?

Direct Mail

Many nonprofit marketers make the mistake of assuming that direct mail is dead. However, direct mail response rates actually hover between 5% and 9%. When compared to the email response rate of 1%, it’s clear why direct mail is still an incredibly valuable channel. 

For nonprofits, direct mail marketing and fundraising is the process of writing, printing, and sending out hard copy requests for funds, event invitations, or thank you letters to your passionate supporters. These letters arrive in your donors’ mailboxes and end up in their hands, providing a tangible connection to your organization — especially when compared to opening up an email.

If you want your direct mail content to hold genuine value and inspire action, here are some tips:

  • Lean on storytelling — Perhaps the most unique aspect of direct mail is the personal touch. This is a key opportunity to connect with donors through good storytelling. For example, you could describe a family that your nonprofit has helped to get readers invested in your cause and excited to give.
  • Connect copy with visuals — No one wants to read a huge wall of text. Make sure you incorporate visual and written elements together so that they support your call to action. Whether you use photos of real people or creative graphics to explain different points, the visuals you choose should be strategic and reinforce the messaging in your copy. Plus, a compelling photo can do wonders in enticing readers to internalize your mission. 
  • Combine direct mail with digital marketing — Direct mail marketing does best when it is combined with your other digital marketing efforts. For instance, make sure to include easy ways for direct mail readers to connect online if they’d like. You might include a QR code within the letter directing supporters to your online donation page. Or, you can include social media information to encourage engagement on a different platform. 

Direct mail can benefit both your nonprofit and show donors that you really care. Make sure to check your recipient’s communication preference before sending out letters willy nilly, however. Plus, consider partnering with a direct mail marketing company to make the process of writing, stuffing, and sending your letters easier. 

Explore how event marketing can support your nonprofit marketing.

Event Marketing

One of the most engaging and fun ways to market your mission to supporters and gain some beneficial press coverage is with a nonprofit fundraising event!

From charity marathons to fundraising auctions to fancy galas, there are a number of different nonprofit events that you might host. Not only do you raise a good amount of funds, but you’ll also have the opportunity to connect with your community in-person (or virtually) on a more personal level.

Here’s how you can take your nonprofit event to the next level and market your mission effectively:

  • Have consistent branding on digital and physical event materials.
  • Advertise mission on event signage, both digital and physical.
  • Provide easy ways to give or connect after the event, like a text fundraising phone number.
  • Send an event thank you letter as soon as it is over.
  • Provide free or sell branded event merchandise so that attendees can continue to promote your mission.

Nonprofit events provide invaluable opportunities to engage your donors in unique ways and promote your mission memorably. Make sure you’re making the most of this marketing channel. 

How does video marketing impact nonprofit marketing?

Video Marketing

Video marketing has been exponentially growing in popularity, and for good reason, too. From short videos on TikTok to longer content on Youtube, many nonprofits have found success in using this form of media to promote campaigns, events, and their mission in general.

Why is this? Well, here are some reasons why video marketing is so valuable:

  • Easy to process — Humans process visual content 60,000 times faster than text. This is why it’s so great for educating your audience or explaining a point. 
  • Inspire action — Videos are known to do really well when it comes to inspiring emotions. This is much harder to emulate with just a photo or a paragraph. 
  • Shareable — Who hasn’t gotten a cute video of a pet sent from a friend? In fact, 92% of consumers on mobile will share videos with others. 
  • Entertaining 60% of people report that video is a media they consume thoroughly, unlike images which are easy to flip through. 

Some popular ways to use video marketing are within your nonprofit website, in social media posts, and in email content! Send out an event invitation with a video teaser or record a video of a community member your nonprofit has helped to show donors just how much they’ve made an impact. 

Bonus Tip! Because of their file format, videos can potentially slow down a website. We recommend turning off auto-play to prevent this from happening!

Social media and nonprofit marketing.

Social Media

In 2020, there were 3.96 billion people actively using social media in the world, which is an increase of 10.9% from 3.48 billion in 2019. It’s no surprise that this is one of the most viable and successful ways to reach supporters and market your mission.

Not only is social media free, but it’s also a key way to connect with supporters on a deeper level. You can engage with followers, encourage them to comment or repost, and build a brand personality that supporters want to keep coming back to. 

While this will depend on the social media platform you use, here are some general ways you can leverage this type of online engagement:

  • Share news about your organization and cause.
  • Boost brand awareness and recognition.
  • Post calls-to-action for online gifts, event registrations, volunteer signups, and more.
  • Recruit volunteers and employees.
  • Announce appreciation to donors, employees, and volunteers.

Whether you use Twitter for its short-form posts and shareability or  Facebook for its pages and peer-to-peer fundraising features, social media is definitely a channel you should spend a good amount of time thinking about. 

How does your nonprofit website impact marketing?

Website

Your website is a huge resource when it comes to marketing your mission. It’s likely the first place prospects go to learn about your mission and where long-term supporters go to give support. It not only hosts valuable information on your organization but also provides engagement opportunities like online giving, event registration, and more.

When designing or optimizing your nonprofit website, keep these tips in mind:

  • Ensure full and regulatory accessibility compliance with the WCAG and ADA.
  • Liberally use calls-to-action buttons and links to direct users to your popular landing pages.
  • Keep user experience in mind when it comes to ease of use and navigation.
  • Make sure all tools and content management systems are functioning properly and are updated.
  • Have consistent branding throughout the site.

It’s important to remember just how much your website does. Not only do you use it to collect online gifts, but it’s also where supporters learn about your mission, get inspired through its online content. Essentially, your website is the accumulation of all of your marketing efforts in one platform. 

Thus, making sure your website is optimized and functioning well is essential if you want your nonprofit marketing to be successful. 

How can content marketing help nonprofit marketing?

Content Marketing

Content marketing is all about creating valuable and promotable nonprofit content that can build your nonprofit brand and reputation in the sector. This content will likely live on your website, but you can also create specific content to email or host a downloadable or gated resource. 

Here are the type of content you might create:

  • Educational content about your mission, cause, and industry news and trends.
  • SEO optimized blog content to get your online content ranking higher in search engines.
  • Easily shareable content that encourages your audience to send it along to their friends.
  • Content that is easily repurposable, like a downloadable resource into an email message!

Plus, your content marketing materials can be used for future marketing efforts, whether it’s for email or social media. Consider creating a dedicated team focused on content copywriting.

Use text message in your nonprofit marketing.

Text Message

With a 98% open rate, text message marketing is one of the best ways to promote a campaign and reach your audience where they already are. 

To use text marketing, it’s recommended to invest in a comprehensive text giving tool. This not only allows you to send outbound messages but also empowers donors to give by text as well! This is a powerful way to leverage contextual giving.

Contextual giving is a donation given at the moment when the donor was inspired in the first place. For instance, let’s say a prospect stumbles upon an in-person fundraising event and is inspired by the turnout and the mission. They see the phone number plastered on event signage and decide to text it to give a gift. If you didn’t have text giving, they might have waited until they got home to give, which at that point was too late. 

Use text marketing to announce events, send urgent appeals (remember to include instructions for donating!), remind volunteers about upcoming shifts or training, and promote donations throughout your campaign or specific event. And, you can do all of this with your text giving tool.

How can the Google Ad Grant help your nonprofit marketing?

Google Ad Grants

A popular way that nonprofits expand their marketing is with Google Ads, a platform where organizations display advertisements, services offerings, products, and other marketing content. Google places these ads strategically in the search engine result pages as well as non-search websites, mobile apps, and videos. 

This is why many nonprofits will apply for the Google Ad Grant, a program that offers nonprofit professionals $10,000 in ad credits to spend each month. This is an incredible opportunity to not only expand your marketing strategy but do it all without pushing your budget.

The best part? Any nonprofit that is eligible and complies with Google guidelines can use this grant. 

Interested in learning more about how to apply and manage the Google Ad Grant? Explore our dedicated article about applying for the grant here. 

Contact us to learn how the Google Ad Grant can help your nonprofit marketing.

 

The number of marketing channels you can use to reach donors these days seems to be never-ending — we only listed the most popular ones! The good thing is you don’t need to leverage each one for your marketing campaign to be successful. 

Choose a couple of key channels, and then take a multi-channel marketing approach to reach your donors at multiple touchpoints. This is the best way to build meaningful relationships and successfully spread awareness of your mission. 

Follow these nonprofit marketing best practices.

Follow These Nonprofit Marketing Best Practices

When it comes to your nonprofit marketing, there are a lot of moving components that you have to keep in mind. From how to craft your messaging to the strategies and channels you use, there’s quite a bit to juggle.

To keep your marketing team organized, here are some general best practices that can help any fundraising team hone their marketing:

  • Understand your audience. Every marketing campaign should have a target audience in mind. Knowing what demographic group or type of supporter you are trying to reach will inform every step of your nonprofit marketing plan.
  • Have a goal. Are you trying to raise money or awareness? Encourage volunteering? Garner registrations for a fundraising event? Every marketing campaign needs a concrete goal and target action in order to be successful.
  • Make it personal. It’s much easier for people to relate to other individuals than broad generalized groups. Make sure your marketing efforts feel personal enough to connect with donors emotionally and inspire them to take action.
  • Segment your list. We mentioned this already, but segmenting your marketing audience is critical. After all, people will respond best to communications that are targeted to their needs, goals, and preferences.
  • Use current events. A good way to bolster your nonprofit marketing is to use what is currently going on in the world as a way to create urgency. Is there a story related to your cause in the news? For instance, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many nonprofits took the time to connect their mission to this broader world issue and leverage that public awareness.
  • Follow up with donors and volunteers. For a successful nonprofit marketing campaign, you don’t just send out materials and communications and be done with it. Marketing isn’t just to promote your nonprofit services but to build ongoing relationships with supporters. Make sure you have a system in place to check in with current donors or volunteers, as well as follow up with any lapsed supporters to ensure they stay active.
  • Track your data. Data is the backbone of your nonprofit marketing efforts. Not only is it tracked to ensure that your campaign is performing positively and creating genuine benefits, but it can also be used to improve future campaigns or act as a resource for supporters wanting to learn more about your nonprofit efforts. In the end, your nonprofit data can be just as valuable as a marketing asset as your email!

The fundraising landscape seems to change year by year, so keeping up with nonprofit marketing best practices and trends is critical. With digital innovations making it easier to connect with donors and new tools increasing the types of support you can utilize, you have to remember that your supporters’ needs are a priority. Without them, your nonprofit cannot make as meaningful of an impact in your community. 

Additional Resources

How can you continue to kick start your nonprofit marketing efforts and drive even more conversions for your organization? Explore these additional resources to continue your research:

How can Getting attention help your nonprofit marketing? With the google ad grant!

This ONE Thing Transforms Your Marketing & Fundraising

The opportunity you have in front of you today is SO big, that it’ can seem overwhelming. …
You’ve decided to take another look at your engagement practices (Yea, yea, yea!), rather than just doing it. Breathe deep—the changes you make will have a huge impact on results.

What are YOU going to change? What will stay the same? PRIORITY NOW is the proven path forward.

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 Now—the relevant, memorable and unified supporter or participant experience you must provide, an experience that builds on each person’s till-now engagement with your organization and is most likely to spur her next action.

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 marketing goals (how you use marketing to achieve your organizational goals) if not engaged within the next six months.
  • Break these groups into segments by special interest, wants, previous actions, location, or any other combination of characteristics
  • Get to know them.

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

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 an end goal of treating (and communicating with) your supporters and participants as individuals, rather than one-size-fits-all, as much as possible. That means you shape engagement to each person’s experience (more realistically, each segment of folks who share similar perspectives and experiences).
  • 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 headshots—it’s hokey, but it keeps the people who count at the top of everyone’s mind
    • Ask and listen to input to learn more about your people’s habits, preferences, wants, and dislike. People want to get what’s relevant; this is how you make it happen
    • Listen to what’s being said about your organization and team online, and engage with the speakers human-to-human
    • Compile information on interests and more via every single conversation (make it easy for your team to share the insights they gather) and active transaction (giving, volunteer sign up, event registration) pages, e-mail, and social.

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 integrate all data and anecdotes on a single supporter, prospect, or participant (now fragmented in multiple departments and records) into a single, in-depth profile. That’s the key to the rich insights (a true 360-degree perspective) necessary for truly integrated marketing that reflects your peoples’ 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 your 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 higher 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 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 insights, profiles and personas, and [a series] of connected experiences.

5) Get agile to satisfy supporter expectations that your nonprofit is continually 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 action on these insights. Priority Now 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 is the loudest “who cares” I know
  • 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 the people you want to engage or engage more).

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 speeded-up marketing, delivery, and revision cycles 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 engagement experience for your people. 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

P.S. Get more nonprofit engagement tools, tips, templates & case studies delivered to your inbox!
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P.P.S. Thanks to Gary Keller for inspiring me to focus on the ONE thing, as “Success demands singleness of purpose.” I recommend you read Keller’s The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

6 Tips for Writing Nonprofit Marketing Copy That Works

  1. Be reader-centered, not writer-centered. Write for your audiences, not for your colleagues, board or funders. Content has to be accessible.Many web sites, e-news and direct mail I see from nonprofits is focused on how great their services, staff, programs and organizations are. Hello?
    Audience, anyone?Your reader’s lens is always “What’s in it for me?” or “What’s my connection here?” And you’re likely to lose him when your marketing copy doesn’t make those answers clear and easy to digest.

    If you can, speak with some of your current donors, volunteers, members and clients and ask them 1) why they are involved with your organization, and 2) what they get from your program, service, volunteering or giving.

    HINT: To instantly make your copy more reader-focused, insert the word “you” frequently. Speaking like a human works every time.
  2. Focus on the benefits – not just the features. The fact that your program, service or giving and volunteer opportunities offer a lot of neat features is great, but describing these features isn’t enough. Instead, focus on specific benefits and the value these benefits provide to your audiences. Let’s say your organization provides health services to the uninsured, and to Medicaid and Medicare patients. Feature/benefit pairs to highlight in marketing content might include:
    Feature: Access to healthcare services for everyone.
    Benefit: You’ll be healthier, feel better and have more energy. As a result, you’ll miss less time from work and family responsibilities.
    Feature: Appointment times guaranteed within 15 minutes.
    Benefit: You have to take off less time from work and can accurately predict when you’ll return.
    Feature: Medical staff is skilled in environmental health problems in the local community.
    Benefit: Peace of mind. You can rely on the medical team’s skill in diagnosing and treating health issues that are unique to your community.
  3. Draw audiences in with a whammo headline. The first line your reader sees means the difference between success and failure. Most leads are clever headlines that play on words. They’re cute, but most of them aren’t effective.There are many ways to get attention with a headline, but it’s safest to appeal to your reader’s interests and concerns. And again, remember to make it reader centered.Blah: “Nonprofit Leadership Center Offers Unique New Accounting Training Program.”Better: “Turn Your Nonprofit’s Finances Around in 60 Days!”
  4. Use engaging subheads. Like mini-headlines, subheads help readers quickly understand your main points by making copy “skimmable.” Read through your copy for your main promotional points, then summarize those ideas as subheads. To make your subheads engaging, it’s important to feature action. Bad: “Our Organization’s Success Stories.”Better: “Meet Three Clients Who Won Their Legal Battles With Our Help.”
  5. Be conversational. Write to your audiences like you talk to them. Don’t be afraid of using conversational phrases such as “So what’s next?” or “Here’s how you can join today.” Avoid formality and use short, simple words. Even if you think your copy can’t be misunderstood, a few people won’t get it or take the time to decipher it.
  6. Design an air-tight editorial process, and stick to it.. Before you send content around for review, put it aside for a day or more. Then, when you come back to it, simplify; aiming to cut by 1/3 or more (Word’s word count tool is a great help here), and strip out the jargon. Next, pass the copy on to your jargon-hating editor (a willing spouse or colleague out of your department works best as objectivity is a must) for review. Revise and cut again, then distribute for approval. In the long term, crafting a specific style guide (including a jargon defense strategy) for your colleagues and training them on it is the best way to ensure your org’s content will be on target all around.It’ll take some time but will generate real ROI. Promise.

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

Five MORE Tips for Nonprofit Copywriters

1. Cut the jargon.

Avoid industry jargon and buzzwords — stick to the facts and the benefits. Skip “capacity building” and “technical assistance.”

An easy way to weed out jargon is to think of your mother reading your copy. Would she get it? If not, clarify and simplify.

The exception? When you’re reaching other nonprofit professionals who know the jargon. In these cases, buzzwords are often crucial. Just make sure your key points don’t get lost in them!

2. Keep it brief and digestible.

No one has time to wade through lengthy prose these days. The faster you convey your program or service’s benefits to the reader, the more likely you’ll keep her reading.

Fire your “biggest gun” first by beginning with your biggest benefit – if you put it toward the end of your copy, you risk losing the reader before she gets to it. Aim for sentence lengths of less than 20 words. When possible, break up copy with subheads, bullets, numbers, or em dashes (like the one following this phrase) – these make your points easy to digest.

3. Use testimonials when possible.

Let your prospects know they won’t be the first to try your program or volunteer with your organization. Provide results-oriented testimonials from clients, community leaders, donors, volunteers and members who have benefited from your work. Include attributions with full names, titles and organization when relevant – and be sure to get their permission first.

A good example:
“It is always wonderful to see what we accomplish during our projects. We really feel like we make a difference by improving the land and beautifying the urban wilds,” said Matt Lynde, a Boston Cares project leader who works with EarthWorks Projects to spruce up and landscape wildlife sanctuaries in Boston.

4. Push the action you want.

Tell your readers what you want them to do – don’t leave them hanging. Do you want them to call or email for more information? Join or give now? Register for a workshop? Complete a brief survey? Think about what you’d most like them to do, and then ask them to act (ask a few times).

It’s amazing how many marketing materials I come across every day that don’t make it clear what the reader should do. If you write compelling copy, your reader may forget you’re trying to motivate him or her to act! Include your call to action (and an incentive to act now, if possible) and readers are far more likely to act.

Effective motivators:

  • Return your pledge today. We need to raise only $50,000 to meet our goal.
  • Register today. Only three seats left.

5. Have your copy proofread!

Great. Now have it proofread again. Don’t risk distributing any typos, misspellings or grammatical mistakes that will poorly represent your nonprofit. Hire a professional editor/proofreader (usually in the $25/hour range) to perfect your words and double-check your grammar. Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impession! Oops – *impression*.

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. Improve the ways in which you gather personal information and email addresses from stakeholders.
    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. Publish plain text as well as HTML format email newsletters.
    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. Dive 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. 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. 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.

Last-Chance Marketing Checklist—Finish the Year Strong

December is the hands-down most powerful month to fundraise and to strengthen relationships for the year to come.

So stop cranking it out right now—for one to two hours—and start your last-chance marketing audit to uncover if you’ve been doing the right things and should quickly do more of what’s worked, or need to re-tool pronto to wind up strong…

If your planning year is a fiscal year, rather than a calendar year, I urge you to shape your outreach to your donors, volunteers and program participants who live on the calendar year model. It’s your job to match their outlook, rather than shoehorn them into yours.

No matter if you’re scrambling to increase year-end impact or you’ve hoping to shape your 2014 plan to surpass 2013 results, jump into these four last-chance marketing to-dos today.

1) Pinpoint Where You Are Right Now

Roll up your sleeves and take a long, hard look at your results, both quantitative and qualitative. Note: If you have no idea what they are, designing ways to measure success is a must for 2014.

Assess results against your benchmarks
Review YTD results, then compare to your benchmarks to see what’s working as hoped, and what’s not.

This is easiest with hard numbers, like those associated with online petition signing or registration, online giving, or other actions that you can directly track back to their source. More challenging is drawing insight from quantitative information such as client, volunteer or donor feedback, and stories from the field.

Identify meaningful trends

  • What matches are working: Which target audience is responding to what campaigns, channels and messages?
  • Who else should you be in touch with: Are there any surprise visitors—groups that you didn’t expect to be engaged with your org who’ve shown up this year?
  • Who’s fallen off your radar but you need to be in touch to try to rekindle the relationship before it’s too late: Who was a loyal supporter in previous years but significantly less responsive this year?

2) Execute What You Can A.S.A.P. to Boost 2013 Results

Every connection you squeeze into 2013 allows you to deepen the relationship just a little more! So clarify your goal, think through what’s going to be top of mind for these folks and start reaching out right now.

December stands out as the month to generate the donations you need. Fundraiser Gail Perry cites that studies show 40% of online donors make their gifts in December, and that 40-60% of those gifts are made the last two days of the month. Offline giving is up as well in December. Just don’t wait until December to start your campaigns, or stop too early in the month!

Do more of what’s worked best, to engage your most loyal supporters while you have their attention
Your trends analysis will also highlight the channels and messages that hit a (positive) nerve with each audience group, and these are the ones you’ll want to replicate in the remaining weeks this year. Use that info to shape some year-end-specific messages.

Go beyond online channels to share those messages. Although email is a timely and relatively low-cost way for targeted campaigns, print and social media campaigns can be great complements if resources allow. There is still time to get another postcard out the door, if it makes sense.

Launch an energized, donor-focused email and social fundraising campaign in late December, including emails the last two days of the month
Although the stats indicate that December is a productive fundraising month, you’ll have to work better and harder than ever to generate gifts as all fundraisers are onto the same stats.

Make sure your tone is personal and your call to action clear and easy to act on. Follow these five steps to a successful year-end email campaign.

But first, get your website and staff ready to respond
Make sure that your site features:

  • Recent stories about programs, including some programs introduced pre-2013 (to connect those folks who haven’t checked in much this year)
  • A big donate button on every page, with a “phone in your gift” number
  • A recently-tested online giving process
  • Consistent messages and look-and-feel across your entire site, including the donation page. Avoid confusing donors by making it easy for them to be confident that they’re still on your site.

Prep your team to:

  • Be confident in sharing year-end messages
  • Be ready for a flood of last-minute requests for help and info
  • Immediately share important feedback they get on any component of last-minute marketing, so you can course correct if necessary.

3) Nurture Your Relationships Now, to Build Support in 2014

Spend a few minutes, ideally one-on-one, with colleagues in your organization to thank them for their help in making marketing a success (even if their role is very indirect).

Thank your current supporters, of all stripes
That includes clients, board members, donors, volunteers, partners and others who help your organization move its mission forward. The more personal and relevant the better—make sure to segment your audiences (e.g. high-dollar donors, entry-level donors and prospects; or five-year or more volunteers, two- to five-year volunteers and new volunteers).

If the number of personal notes required is overwhelming, consider sending hand-signed custom holiday greeting cards to at least your Tier 1 network: Board members, loyal volunteers, donors (or at least some donors—returning, new, young or any other group that deserves special recognition). That personal (real!) signature makes all the difference.

We all want to know that our effort (be it money, time or attention) is valued. Don’t miss this natural opportunity to appreciate your supporters. And encourage colleagues, who many have slightly different networks, to do the same.

Reach out to rejuvenate relationships that have gone dark in 2013
You’re likely to find a group of former supporters (don’t limit it to donors) who have gone quiet in the last year or six months.

Now’s the time to nudge them out of hibernation, by thanking them for their prior support and sharing stories that showcase how your organization has moved your cause forward in the last year. Focus on established programs they’re likely to be familiar with rather than new funding or volunteer needs.

Select the channel that fits best with each sub-group’s habits and preferences, and—if you have the info—feature messages that have generated response in the past. I recommend a multi-part campaign (preferably multichannel, try a mix of email and direct mail, with a call thrown in if possible for high-value supporters).

4) Refine Your 2014 Right-Things Marketing Plan Based on Your 2013 Learning

Or, if you don’t have one at all or it’s just in your head, create a first-time plan. Wherever you are in your marketing planning, you’ll find this right-things marketing plan template helpful.

Fine-tune your marketing goals and primary target audiences
Look at what’s changed within your organization and the environment in which you work. There is change whether you acknowledge it or not, so make sure you find it and adapt accordingly.

Remember to find a way to build the engagement of those “surprise visitors” you identified in your trends analysis. They’ve found their way to you on their own, which demonstrates persistence and the likelihood they’ll be back for more.

Set or refine ambitious but realistic benchmarks, and your methods of measuring where you are on the path to achieving them.

  • If you didn’t set benchmarks for this year, use 2013 results to set quarterly benchmarks for 2014.
  • If you’ve already drafted 2014 marketing benchmarks, update them to reflect your 2013 trends.

Make your personal plan for 2014
Do you have measurable goals for your own professional development? If so, review them and see if you have made progress.

Either way, write down some ambitious yet realistic goals for yourself for 2014. It’s the best way to move yourself forward.

Be honest with yourself about your performance, then use the holiday season to recharge and prepare to start strong in 2014.

What’s on your last-minute marketing checklist? Please share your to-do list here.

 

How to Design an Effective Marketing and Communications Budget (Case Study)

Question: What percentage of a nonprofit’s budget should be spent on marketing and communications?

–Sherri Greenbach, Executive Director
Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York

Dear Sherri,

What a great question! The answer is (as you probably expected) “it depends.”

You definitely need to have a comprehensive, realistic budget. It’s a critical component of your annual marketing and communications plan and, like the work plan, serves as a map to ensure you reach your goals. The budgeting process helps you to determine whether your plan is realistic. If not, cut the plan to focus on ultimate priorities and retool the budget.

In the for-profit world, it’s fairly standard to determine a marketing budget by allocating 10-20% of projected gross revenues to marketing and communications. However, things aren’t so black and white in the nonprofit world with our dual bottom line of people and dollars. You can take the percentage approach OR the flat dollar approach.

What’s most important is that you establish a detailed marketing and communications budget prior to the start of each fiscal year, and track costs (by strategy and program or project) and results AS YOU GO so that you can analyze cost vs. benefit. The budget should be integrated into your annual marketing and communications plan, with a dollar cost allotted to each strategy (direct mail, email, paid advertising, media relations, etc.) and program or project, each of which should be broken out by its various components (consulting, evaluation, printing, postage, etc.).

Each organization’s plan (and budget) will cover a unique set of components. Don’t forget to budget for the tasks – such as researching your audiences and evaluating outcomes – that give you the information to make your selected strategies as successful as possible.

The Percentage Approach

This approach is favored by those who believe that marketing and communications expenditures should directly reflect a nonprofit’s evolution and the size of its budget. Personally, this is the approach I prefer. The advantage of developing a budget based on your organizational finances is that it’s organic. Communications spending grows as does your organization. Of course exceptions are made for special needs such as the launch of a new program, introducing new leadership, or tackling an urgent advocacy campaign.

The average allocation is from 9-12% of your annual organizational budget (start with 10%). Advocacy organizations tend to allocate a higher percentage (12% or higher) of their organizational budgets to communications, since much of their advocacy work is communications based.

Here’s a highly-simplified example of a budget shaped by the percentage approach:

2% Purchasing all advertising and promotion media, including internet, newspaper, radio, TV, and direct mail (postage).
+
4% Producing (design, artwork) and printing all communications. This includes newsletters, brochures, web sites, press kits, etc.
+
1.5% Producing special events.
+
3.5% Salaries, consultants and freelancers.
=
11% Total percentage of the organizational budget going to marketing and communications.

The Dollar Approach

Others in the field consider a flat dollar approach to be more relevant (and safer) than the percentage approach since your total budget has to cover utilities, rent, taxes, health insurance, etc.

Defining the dollar figure is challenging the first time round but becomes much easier once you have records of several years’ marketing expenditures to work from. Start out with a quick-and-dirty calculation based on last year’s costs and revise it to reflect special campaigns, inflation, etc. Or, if this is your first year out, estimate the costs of what you think you’ll be doing based on what you know today. Contact colleagues in the field and prospective vendors to get your projections as accurate as possible. Either way, you’ll end up with a baseline budget.

Frankly, I’ve heard a lot about this method as a viable alternative to the percentage approach, but have never seen it put into practice.

What Budgeting Does for You

Whichever approach you take, you’ll find that a formal budget is a great aid in decision making. To begin with, your marketing communications budget (and plan) will help you distinguish between needs and wants. You’ll see clearly how much you have to spend to reach your goals and, via tracking results, will gain a sense of what strategies work best to achieve which goals. For example, based on your budget framework, you may decide to promote your advocacy campaigns via direct mail and email, media relations, and paid advertising in order to match legislative timeframes. However, you may decide to hold off on enhancing your already strong membership campaign with the launch of a members-only web site.

So, Sherri, start your budget process today, even if you’re in the middle of your fiscal year. Make sure that you track costs by category and maintain a spreadsheet of actual vs. projected expenses. By next year, you’ll have an accurate map of expenditures that will serve as a great foundation for next year’s planning process and a sure means of ensuring you make the most of your marketing and communications budget.

Do keep in mind that your budget will have to be adjusted each year to reflect increasing costs and changes in your organization. For example, launching a new program requires an increased marketing budget for the first year or two so you’ll need more dollars or do less on other fronts.

6 Steps to Stronger Relationships – Share Your Relevant, Valuable Content

Email marketing strategies have matured and are no longer strictly about increasing the number of subscribers.

Today, the priority lies in building a quality list of names. And the 2011 Email Marketing Benchmark Report is a must-read guide to getting there, highlighting what works best to grow relationships with an engaged base and prospects.

The Report is based on survey findings initially billed as insights on building a stronger email list. But the strategy I’m going to share with you goes much further than that.

Effective marketing is rooted in strong relationships with the right target audiences – those with whom your organization’s shares wants and/or needs.  I write about that time and time again.

Assuming that’s so (it is!), content marketing — creating and distributing relevant content to your target audiences — is the best way to strengthen those ties and raise the engagement level of your base.

Here are 6 steps to effective nonprofit content marketing:

  1. Build your understanding, and your boss’ and colleagues’, that relevant content helps your organization develop trusted relationships which motivate your prospects to share email addresses and contact information.
  2. Review models: The Environmental Working Group is a wonderful example of an organization that shares most of its practical, unique content at no charge and, in doing so, has built a huge cadre of loyal supporters!
  3. Do do the audience research it takes to find the point of content connection, based on where your organization’s wants meets those of your audiences. That’s the he sweet spot.
  4. Inventory your content. Most nonprofit organizations are rich in useful content, but don’t know where or what all of it is so can’t use it to build engagement.
  5. Plan and launch your first content marketing campaign. Make it small and focused so you can get clear and quick results.
  6. Fine-tune and get out there again!

Is content marketing one of your strategies? If so, how are you implementing it? If not, why not?

How to Create Enough Good Content
(Case Study)

Guest blogger Holly Ross has spent seven+ years at the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), working with community members to identify technology trends that are reshaping the nonprofit sector. Brett Meyer, NTEN Communications Director, co-authored this post.

As nonprofits have flocked to the e-newsletter as an inexpensive and timely way to communicate with stakeholders, the number of newsletter tips has also proliferated. While subject lines, “from” addresses, and your template design are all important, they aren’t the biggest challenge to putting out a quality newsletter.  The most difficult part is creating good content, content your subscribers want to read.

For many organizations, simply getting an e-newsletter out regularly, with enough  content — let alone enough good content — is a win. That was certainly true for NTEN a few years ago. But since then, we’ve developed loftier goals for our e-news NTEN Connect, transforming it from a chore we had to cross off the monthly to-do list to a blockbuster driver of traffic to our blog. And we managed to reinforce our values and culture while doing so. Here’s how:

THE CHORE

NTEN is a small organization. With just a handful of staff members, we felt the pain of the e-news challenge intensely.

Writing enough good, timely content to fill a monthly newsletter was simply not an option for our overburdened staff. Instead, in 2007, we started stocking it with articles written by members of our community .

While we selected the topics and the authors for each issue, producing the newsletter itself became a matter of curation rather than creation. This shift also aligned nicely with one of our core values: providing a platform for our community’s views. And we took one step further to publish our newsletter stories on our blog (on our website). Readers of the newsletter received a teaser for the article – usually the first paragraph or two – and a link to read the entire article on our site.

We very quickly saw a jump in the website metrics we track. Traffic started to rise and we got lots of compliments on the new format. At that point, we knew we had something good on our hands, but knew we could do even better.

THE EXPERIMENT

We shook up our e-news format again in November 2008. Rather than hand-picking topics and authors, we invited the community to write about anything they wanted. Submissions flowed in, including quite a few we couldn’t use. While we put out an interesting issue, it didn’t drive traffic quite the way we had hoped it would.

Then we added a twist to the experiment in Fall 2009. We had always used the newsletter to “break” stories, publishing all of the new articles at once on our website, on the day we sent out the newsletter. This time, we posted the articles on our website as they were submitted, letting the authors know that the most successful posts — those that generated the greatest usage as measured by page views, time spent on the site, and comments — would be included in the November newsletter.

By this time, of course, social media had burst upon the scene. Being that the NTEN community is generally pretty tech savvy, we saw them using blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to share news, likes and their own accomplishments. So we tapped the power and reach of the community for the newsletter, leveraging our authors’ social networks to drive traffic to our site and increase newsletter subscriptions.

Our incentive strategy worked! That November, we saw an 80% increase in blog traffic over November 2008. We watched our authors using their social networks to highlight their accomplishment – “Look! I have an article on the NTEN site!” – driving traffic our way. That single month was a huge factor in our 22% increase in blog traffic in 2009.

Unfortunately, blog traffic in every other month (when we curated newsletter content) flatlined.

We continued experimenting with the e-news throughout 2010 to boost site traffic, redesigning the template and removing less-popular features. Nothing helped us reach the boost that the social network November 2009 edition created.

THE LEAP

So, in September 2010, we moved to our Community Guided Content model. We still ask authors to write about specific topics, but we post new articles to our website almost daily, then use the stats to determine what goes into the actual newsletter. Since this shift, blog traffic is up 37% year-over-year  and shows a fairly steady month-to-month growth rate. Plus time spent on web pages on page is up – a modest but welcome increase of three seconds.

This new strategy means we’re driving a lot of traffic to NTEN.org overall: We’re up 24% year-over-year in 2011. The blog/newsletter strategy drives most of that, as you can see from the increase in blog traffic as a percentage of total site traffic for the last few years:

2008: 17%
2009: 19%
2010: 22%
2011: 25%

Most importantly,  publishing more and more diverse content on the blog gives us a sense of what the NTEN community is most interested in. Then, when we compose NTEN Connect each month, instead of guessing what we should send out to our 30,000 subscribers, we can look at our blog and social media analytics data to learn what our blog readers have already found most engaging.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

We now have a successful newsletter strategy in place — one that aligns our values and goals, and has significantly expanded our visibility and prominence in the sector. This year alone, our newsletter subscriber base has increased 50%.

Next, we’re hoping to match newsletter content even more closely with our audiences’ wants and interests. We’ve begun experimenting more with segmentation: instead of sending out one issue to our full list, we deliver seven different versions based on job function, e.g. Executive Directors receive different content than IT staff members.

Going forward, we’ll be able to tailor newsletter content based on the articles our readers have interacted with over time. Already, we’ve seen the potential for this level of segmentation by including dynamic content based on our subscribers’ membership status and activity levels. And we expect to continue refining our content strategy on an ongoing basis to ensure it meets the needs of the NTEN community. That’s what makes a successful e-newsletter!

What are your strategies for creating content that’s valued by your audiences and advances your organization’s mission — for your e-news, blog, or other channels — when it’s just one of many must-do tasks?

How to Time Your Marketing Outreach for Greatest Impact – Begin with the Open-Minded Moment

Timing is everything. It’s the gatekeeper to having even a chance of connecting with your target audiences.

If you do connect with your network at the right time – when they are open minded – you have a good chance of motivating action (assuming your messaging clearly conveys the values and interest you share with network members, and the benefit the action will bring to them). If it all comes together, your network will pause, listen and is most likely to act.

But if you connect with your network members at a time when their minds are closed – when they’re getting their kids ready for school, prepping to deliver a key presentation, gobbling lunch or about to finish up for the day – your outreach will fall flat, no matter how well it’s crafted.

That’s why knowing your target audiences’ daily habits and schedule is central to engaging them. You need to pinpoint their open-minded moments.

1) Find the Open-Minded Moments

You’ve told me that few of you actually know how to get to know the members of your network, including what their days are really like (a.k.a. when they are open minded).

Just as you’d show interest and respect in meeting your mother-in-law-to-be, your partner’s colleague, new neighbor or even a stranger you meet at a party, show some respect to your target audiences.

Talk to them, find out what’s important to them and what works for them, and ask your colleagues to do the same. The timing of open-minded moments is just one topic to cover.

Formalize the getting-to-know-you process and make it an ongoing one by taking these steps:

  • Involve your colleagues cross-organization in info gathering – anecdotal conversations can be incredibly productive.
    • Ask them to help and focus them on the key question of the moment. Right now, it’s the time network members are most likely to dig into an email, click through to an event shared by a friend on Facebook or pick up the phone.
    • Train them to ensure they’re most effective at getting real, useful information.
    • Make sure there’s an easy way for them to log and share these insights.
  • Create personas (in-depth profiles) for no more than three groups or segments within each of three or fewer primary target audiences.
    • Each group should share common wants, interests and habits.
    • Base personas on individuals you know if you can.
    • Flesh out their lives so you have a true sense of who they are, beyond a demographic or giving level.
  • Engage your marketing advisory team (or form one if you don’t have one already).
    • There are five or 10 folks that you work with who are passionate about your cause and frequently in touch.
    • Select those that are representative of your primary target audiences and ask if they’re willing to give you no more than 10 minutes monthly to provide feedback on various marketing questions.
    • 90% of them will say yes and that’s instant, valuable audience research.
  • Research directly via online surveys and informal phone interviewing and/or focus groups.

2) Then Tweak Your Timing to Your Channel

Once you get to know your target audiences – especially what they want, but also when they are open minded – you’re well positioned to connect with them.

But you can do even more to fine-tune timing according to usage habits of specific channels – from email to Facebook, as long as you remain focused on the open-minded moments.

Here are the two most valuable guidelines that I learned from online communications expert Dan Zarella via his recent Science of Timing webinar.

  1. Reach out when others aren’t, if that’s when your network is open-minded.
    Dan introduced me to this concept of contra-competitive timing. Here’s an example: It used to be thought that the most effective time to send e-newsletters or other mass email was 11am on Tuesday or Wednesday morning. However, as you can imagine, everyone started doing just that, resulting in a very crowded inbox at those times.
  2. Contra-competitive timing is the opposite approach…looking for the quiet moments as long as they are times when your network is open-minded. Open mindedness is the ultimate criteria for fine-tuning your timing.

  3. Weekends are the new black. Consider reaching out on weekends when your audiences have more time and attention for you. But ask them first if that’s right, and test your weekend outreach before going all out.

Don’t forget that you have to figure time zone into your timing planning. If you reach out to those within a single time zone, just follow the guidelines shared below. But if your target audiences are more dispersed and in multiple time zones, you want to ensure you bridge those time zones in your outreach or are able to segment your list for e-news and email blasts.

BTW, these guidelines are relevant for professional and personal communications. Online communications dramatically reduces the personal/professional divide in open- minded moments.

Here’s how you can do even more with timing your marketing outreach to open-minded moments:

E-newsletter and Email Blast Timing

  • Dare to send on the weekend to personal email addresses. Email open rates are higher on the weekends because people pay more attention to emails then. This holds true if your email list is most personal email addresses; not as fully if you reach out to folks at their work emails.
  • Send email blasts early in the morning to take advantage of contra-competitive timing (when you go against common practice in email timing to increase your chance to be heard and get your content noticed.)
  • Keep content relevant to keep your network engaged. Newer subscribers are more likely to open your emails and click on the links. Make every subscriber feel like your e-news or email blast is relevant every time.

Blog Post Timing

  • Post on Monday morning. Page views are the highest point of the week at that point.
  • If your goal is mostly to generate conversation, post on Saturday morning. Readers are mostly likely to comment over the weekend, when they have more time. However, post views dip strongly over the weekend. Also, weekend comments won’t flow in if you’re hoping to connect on a purely professional basis.
  • Blog more frequently. If you blog less than two times a week, readers won’t be looking for your posts. Just as when you send your e-news less than once a month, readers will forget all about your organization between issues and are less likely to open your e-news.

Facebook Post Timing

  • Focus your Facebook posting on mornings and weekends. That’s when most of us are there. Saturday and Sunday till 11am (figure in time zones if you’re reaching out nationally) are primo Facebook times.

Twitter Timing

  • Don’t overload with your own content – Plan on spacing out tweets related to your own content. But if your organization’s goal is to become the next master curator of content on your issue or field, tweet external content and retweet as much as you like.
  • Tweet mid- to late-afternoon if you’re seeking retweets. RTs are vital if you’re trying to grow your network.
  • Tweet late morning (11am) or late afternoon (5pm) for greatest click-through rates. Click-throughs are key to increasing your networks engagement.

What are your criteria for timing your online marketing outreach?
How do you decide when to email, blog, post on Facebook and/or Tweet? And how do those times overlap with offline outreach? Please share your timing strategies and criteria here.