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.

How to Create a Nonprofit Style Guide: 7 Steps to Greater Consistency and Impact

Here’s a problem nonprofit communicators like you share with me time and time again: Due to the ubiquitous nature of information and promotion, we’re all bombarded by content—every waking minute.

In the face of this flood, inconsistencies in your organization’s content—both editorial and graphic—make it difficult for your audiences to digest, at a glance, that these varied communications are all coming from your organization.


Here’s the problem with that: When you’re recognized, it’s much more likely your email or envelope will be opened, which is the only way it will be digested and acted upon.

Consistency Is the Long-Term Solution

Consistency – cross-channel and over time – is the key to your audiences absorbing your messages, and for them to be able to “whisper down the lane” – repeating those messages to friends and family. Keep in mind that this consistency must stay flexible, to be adapted when the channel, audience or other factor is radically different from the norm.

No other form of communication is as powerful as this natural network which exponentially extends your organization’s reach. And a style guide helps you make it happen.

A Style Guide Is Your Path to Consistency

An easy way to ensure clear and consistent communications is to create an editorial and visual identity style guide, made available organization-wide as an ever-accessible PDF.

Everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to getting the word out. The standards featured in your style guide will make it easy for them to do so, reducing time spent, errors made and endless frustration.

A style guide also makes it unnecessary for you and your colleagues to re-invent the wheel each time, saving you a great deal of effort while increasing your marketing impact.

How to Create Your Organization’s Style Guide

Here is a step-by-step approach to putting together, or updating, your style guide.

  1. Review your communications by spreading a full range of them out in front of you, including pages printed out from your website, e-news, blog, Facebook page and online fundraising campaigns, as well as print materials.
  2. Jot down standards that work best for the editorial and graphic guidelines outlined below. Traditionally, style guides covered punctuation, spelling and other editorial guidelines. I suggest you expand this concept to include visual guidelines as well so you and your colleagues have a single point of reference to shape communications.
  3. Craft a usage policy, outlining who (partners, volunteers) can and should use your organization’s graphic identity elements and how.
  4. Get input on your draft from colleagues and external audiences if possible. These conversations are a key way to get insights from the folks who matter most (your audiences) and buy-in from your colleagues who you want to use the guide.
  5. Make it as brief as possible—ideally a max of 6 pages—so people can quickly find what they need.
  6. Feature the contact info for the Consistency Czar—the person on your team in charge of the style guide—so that your colleagues can easily ask questions. You’ll revise the style guide to include responses to frequently-asked questions, and revise existing content more clearly when you hear that colleagues don’t understand it.
  7. Launch it with a training session for your colleagues—See below.

Editorial Guidelines

The primary purpose of editorial guidelines is to address topics specific to your organization that are not adequately covered in the standard published style guides, such as The Chicago Manual of Style or The Associated Press Style book.

In addition, your style guide summarizes your organization’s approach to the most-frequently-raised questions of style, topics that are dealt with in greater detail in these manuals, in order to offer a quick, but more comprehensive, reference tool.

Questions of style, unlike many questions of grammar, usually do not have a right or wrong answer. Instead, establishing a preferred style is helpful so that your consistent presentation can be maintained throughout an array of materials that may be produced by many different individuals.

Having a set of predetermined guidelines will also save those individuals the time and energy required to develop their own guidelines.

Guidelines should include:

  • Your organization’s name (spelling, abbreviations or acronyms that work)
  • Names of your programs and services
  • Your address, phone number, emails, website and social channels (should you begin writing your url with “http://” or simply with “www”)
  • Your tagline
  • Your positioning statement: The two or three sentences that establish your position in the philanthropic world and how it should be included, as a whole, in most communications
  • Talking points for staff and board members: Key messages that briefly cover the who, what, when, where, and how of your group, and how they should be incorporated in most communications
  • Person, tone and voice
  • Word style preferences (preferred spelling and capitalization, e.g. web site vs. website, grant making vs. grantmaking)
  • Words not to use
  • The title of the published grammar style guide that your group uses: Share the title of the guide that your writers need to follow when deciding whether to insert that final comma or not, or selecting the right preposition to follow the word parallel (to or with). Most importantly, buy print or online copies for all who need to use it!

Review these top two published grammar style guides, talk to colleagues, and select one if you haven’t already (partner links):

Graphic Guidelines

Since the power of a strong visual identity can only be realized through consistent application, these standards are crucial for colleagues throughout your nonprofit to follow.

Elements should include:

  • Organizational and program logos: Sizing; colors; position on the page; what elements should be included when logo is used
  • Color Palette: Official colors and details on how those colors are to be used
  • Typeface (e.g. all newsletter headlines are in Times New Roman, Bold, 14 pt.).
  • Layouts, templates
  • Web, e-news and other online templates
  • Photo and image library.

Putting Your Style Guide to Work

Your next step is to distribute the guide and ensure that staff and consultants are clear on its content and how to use it.

An in-person training session is often an effective way to introduce the guide, answer any questions and ensure that your colleagues view it as an aid (fewer open issues, decisions, delays) to them, rather than a dictum imposed upon them.

Remember to refresh your guide on an ongoing basis as questions come up and preferences are determined.

Useful Models–Nonprofit Style Guides

You’ll see that these examples range from a one-pager, which might be enough for your organization, to Rutgers’ multi-page guide. The more complex your organization, programs and audiences, the more depth (and, unfortunately, length) you’ll need in your style guide.

Consider contacting your communications colleagues at these organizations to learn more about the development or implementation of these guides:

Does your organization have an editorial and/or visual standards guide? If so, please share the link and/or how the guide has helped (or not) here.