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!

Marketing a Nonprofit Event Tips

Marketing a Virtual Nonprofit Event: 3 Essential Tips

2020 proved what we’ve known for a long time – nonprofits are resilient. Virtual events have been an effective option for nonprofits of all sizes for a year that looked very different from others. As we hit the ground running in 2021, virtual events can and should play central roles in your engagement strategies.

Unlike the lesson from “Field of Dreams,” just because a virtual event is built, doesn’t mean that contributors will come or that donations will flood in. To get the word out in today’s virtual world, you have to invest as much into your marketing efforts as you do to your fundraising!

To get the most from your fundraising, your virtual event needs to be marketed effectively before, during, and even after. 

There are a few reasons why this is true. Marketing provides you with an excellent chance to engage with the larger community and your supporters. Also, marketing informs people about what you do, your mission story, and over time, it helps to build your brand awareness. Let’s get started on 3 amazing marketing tips essential to planning and promoting your next virtual event:

  • Recruit ambassadors to help spread the word.
  • Centralize the virtual event experience.
  • Target your messages to particular donor segments.
Recruit ambassadors to help promote your virtual fundraising event.

1. Recruit ambassadors to help spread the word.

If you’re looking for a creative way to generate excitement for your event and reach new donors, we’ve got the perfect strategy for your nonprofit: Ambassador Fundraising.

This new trend harnesses ambassadors, or your most loyal supporters, to spread the word about your virtual event and fundraise before, during, and sometimes after.

Think of it as creating a fundraising army, whose built-in social and professional networks allow you to engage and funnel new volunteers, donors, and activists to your cause. But for it to be successful, you need to choose the right ambassadors for your cause.

Good places to look for ambassadors include:

  •  Board members: Board members are natural ambassadors. They are already committed and dedicated to the success of your nonprofit. They often have large professional networks, making them perfect social fundraisers. Engage them at a new level and watch their contacts turn into participants for your event.
  • Event committee: The people working on the event itself are passionate about the outcome! Tap the most dedicated committee members to become your ambassadors.
  • Volunteers: Volunteers are another reliable source for ambassadors, since they are deeply involved with your cause. They are used to giving their time and talent to your efforts. Target your most active and generous volunteers and ask them to join your ambassador campaign.
  • Micro-Influencers on social media: This is a great place to look if you’re just starting your ambassador program. Look for local personalities with a large network and an active social media presence.
  • Sponsor connections: Ask your sponsors and long-times community partners if they know of potential ambassadors. Call in those favors you have stored up to get great ambassadors working for your team.
  • Honorees at your signature event: Honorees are well-respected members of the community, which makes them the perfect supporters to raise donations before the gala.

Once you find the right ambassadors, the next step is to set them up for success! Outline clear goals, provide the right marketing assets, and let your ambassadors loose. Watch as their new network brings new attendees and donations to your virtual event.

Centralize the virtual event experience to simplify the process of promoting it.

2. Centralize the virtual event experience.

The world of fundraising has changed. Virtual events mean trading ballrooms for family rooms, stages for screens, and in-person entertainment for a new level of online engagement.

Successfully marketing your virtual event depends on your ability to reach and engage donors through a seamless donor experience. That’s why it’s essential to centralize the virtual event experience for your attendees – a one stop shop for them to support your mission virtually.

Tapping into the power of a tool like the OneCause Virtual Event Center takes the virtual experience to the next level. For your nonprofit, it means a centralized destination to point supporters towards with your marketing efforts. For your supporters, it means the ability to:

  • Engage with the event using a single device (mobile, tablet or desktop)
  • Register to effortlessly gain access to the virtual event
  • Consume content before, during, and after the virtual event
  • Explore why supporting the mission of the Nonprofit matters
  • Donate through traditional means (e.g. fund-a-need, live appeal)
  • Bid effortlessly in silent and live auctions without leaving the broadcast (i.e. live stream)
  • Purchase raffle tickets and other fixed price options

Centralizing your attendee’s virtual event experience means a more intuitive user experience during the event, resulting in boosted engagement and revenue.

Creating that sense of a giving community before, during, and after the virtual event – and delivering a delightful, online experience anytime, anywhere – is critical to fundraising success in this new virtual world. By centralizing these efforts, marketing your event is as easy as ever.

Target your promotional messages to specific segments of your donor  base.

3. Target your messages to particular donor segments.

Data is the key to unlocking your virtual event marketing potential! It allows you to engage better with donors and grow at scale (while still being personalized). By targeting your marketing messages to specific donor segments, you can boost engagement and registrations for your virtual event.

How you decide to segment your donors depends on the needs of your organization. Let’s take a look at a few ways that you can segment your donors to help make sure you are connecting with donors where they are.

  • How your donors were acquired
  • Size of gift
  • First time versus returning donor
  • One-time gift versus recurring donations
  • Age/demographics
  • Donor interest

You can even target the way your donors have engaged with your events. For example:

  • New donors who haven’t attended an event before
  • Loyal donors who used to attend events but haven’t virtually yet
  • Lapsed donors who haven’t donated in a while but need to be re-engaged

Figure out what will help you scale your virtual event fundraising while also keeping a personal touch to your efforts and roll with it!

After figuring out how you’re going to segment your donors, the next step is to create marketing messages tailored to their particular motivators. For example, donors who haven’t yet attended virtual events should be clearly shown how your virtual event will work and that your past virtual events have been enjoyable experiences for attendees and impactful for your cause.

Think about taking a multi-channel marketing approach to reaching these segments. Multi-channel marketing refers to using a variety of mediums to spread the word about your event in advance. Reaching a wide audience can be a difficult task. The best way to do so is to diversify your communications!

Use marketing channels such as:

  • Email newsletters
  • Social media networks
  • Text messages
  • Video marketing
  • Direct mail
  • Print handouts
  • Bulletin boards

A tactful multi-channel strategy is key to attaining maximum engagement with your event. But don’t try to do it all at once! Choose 2-3 tactics that work best for your team and your mission and focus your attention there.

Conclusion

In order to cultivate better relationships with your supporters, your organization should be consistent in its outreach, communications, and engagement. A strong marketing strategy for your virtual event will give you what you need to grab and maintain donors’ attention from a distance.

Nonprofit Virtual Event Tips

Nonprofit Virtual Events: 5 Tips You Haven’t Thought of

If you’re like other nonprofits, you’ve probably incorporated virtual events into your organization’s strategy this year. Due to the wide-spread social distancing guidelines, virtual aspects of nonprofits’ strategies have become more prominent and popular throughout the year. While organizations may have been shifting towards more virtual activities anyway, the pandemic guidelines dramatically accelerated the popularity. 

However, because the shift was accelerated so suddenly, many organizations didn’t execute the move to an entirely digitally-focused strategic plan as smoothly as they could’ve done. There were plenty of missed opportunities to get supporters more involved and plenty of room for improvement in future virtual events. 

Whether your nonprofit is planning your first virtual event or you’re just trying to make your next one better than your last, this guide is written for you. 

The way you plan and organize your virtual event is key to gaining traction, getting supporters more involved, raising more funds, and ultimately reaching your goals for the event. In this guide, we’ll cover some tried-and-true tips that you may not have considered when planning your virtual event. Specifically, we’ll cover the following suggestions: 

  1. Decide what you want to accomplish.
  2. Plan ahead and choose a virtual platform. 
  3. Test all of your software. 
  4. Encourage attendees to engage with one another. 
  5. Follow up in a timely manner. 

Ready to get started planning your next event? Let’s dive in. 

1. Decide what you want to accomplish.

When you plan your in-person fundraising events, you expect to accomplish certain goals. Before you start planning, you’d likely decide which of the goals is most important to your organization and make it your main focus for the event. 

Virtual events are the same way! You shouldn’t just throw together a virtual event because it’s what everyone else is doing or because you’ve always had an annual event in the past. Instead, make sure your event has a targeted purpose and that you have effectively planned to see that purpose fulfilled. 

For example, let’s consider a local dog shelter. In the past, they may have hosted an annual adoption event where their main goal is to encourage families to adopt pets. However, secondary goals for the event may have been to raise funds, and increase community awareness. When pivoting to a virtual event, this animal shelter should be sure to keep those same goals in mind and incorporate elements that will accomplish the same purpose. They may: 

  • Include an online adoption board so that virtual attendees can read profiles on the dogs that need to find new homes. They may also host live feeds of puppies playing with one another or push notifications that highlight individual dogs to draw the attention of the audience. This helps fulfill their goal of adoption at the event. 
  • Provide virtual fundraising opportunities. Simply by incorporating a text-to-give platform or an easily accessible online donation page, the dog shelter can easily make fundraising available online. Be sure to set a specific fundraising goal and incorporate a fundraising thermometer to encourage people to give. This helps fulfill the fundraising goal. 
  • Spread the word about the event on various platforms. By marketing the virtual event on social media, on your website, by phone, by word of mouth, and using other communication platforms, the organization can easily tell the community about the event. Without flyers and in-person communication, they should be sure to amp up the virtual marketing to spread awareness. This helps fulfill the goal of increasing community awareness. 

In this example, the dog shelter should ensure they prioritize their goals before diving into how they’ll incorporate them into the virtual event. For your own virtual event, be sure to determine your own goals beforehand, and then prioritize them accordingly. 

Key Takeaway: List out all of the goals and objectives that you want to see from your virtual event, then order them by importance. Your top one will be your main goal for the event, keep this in mind when planning the rest of the event. 

2. Plan ahead and choose a virtual platform.

Now that you’ve identified your primary and secondary goals for your virtual event, it’s time that you brainstorm how you’ll meet those goals. While you should make sure you accomplish the same goals that you would meet at an in-person event, you won’t necessarily accomplish them in the same way. 

Rather, you need to adapt to the virtual environment. Bloomerang’s list of virtual fundraising ideas represents some of the diversity you’ll find in the types of events available to your organization. The type of event you choose to host should reflect your goals for the event and guide the virtual platforms you’ll need. Consider, for instance, the following two organizations: 

A small food bank wants to spread awareness about food insecurity in the community. In order to raise awareness and educate the community about the issues, the food bank decides to host an educational event. They need to invest in registration software so that people can register for the event online. However, they’ll also need video conferencing software for live speeches from experts in the community and forum software to create discussions between attendees. This event will become slightly more complicated and require a number of solutions to accomplish the goals of the food bank. 

A homeless shelter wants to raise funds to purchase clothing for men and women in the community. For this type of virtual event, the goal is a bit easier to achieve with fewer solutions. The shelter might pre-record videos and write social media posts that will display the need in the community. Then, for the duration of the event, they’ll send and post these resources to their supporters. They may also decide to incorporate a product fundraiser where supporters can purchase t-shirts for themselves while simultaneously purchasing one for a homeless man or woman in the community. 

As you’re considering the plans for your event and purchasing the appropriate software to make it happen, be sure to carefully research each solution. The last thing you want is a data breach at your nonprofit

Start your research to choose the best software solutions with resources like software referral lists and reviews to help indicate the top solutions. Be sure to also consider the platform’s other clientele (are there other nonprofits of a similar size and mission?) and what aspects of your goals will be achieved with the investment. 

Key Takeaway: Create plans for your virtual event and identify the software solutions you’ll need to achieve those plans. When you go to invest in new software, look for solutions that combine some of the tools that you (or integrate with one another) need so that you can streamline event activities and collection of event data. 

3. Test all of your software. 

Before the event begins, your nonprofit should make sure that everything works seamlessly for your attendees. Once you’ve found the best solutions, you should test them multiple times to ensure they’ll work the day of the event. 

Run through the event activities yourself and make sure everything is functional. Look specifically to make sure that: 

  • Payment processing is functional for ticketing, donating, and purchasing merchandise items. 
  • All transitions from one event activity to another are intuitive and easily recognizable by event attendees. 
  • Forum discussions and questions are available to attendees and notifications are functional. 
  • Live streaming visuals are high quality and the sound is functional. 

After you’ve tested your software yourself, ask a third-party (volunteer or co-worker) to also run through and test it. They’ll be able to identify comprehension issues that you might overlook and identify opportunities to make the event more intuitive. 

Key Takeaway: Act like an event participant and walk through each step of the event. Purchase a ticket, donate a dollar, post to discussion boards, and watch the various video collateral. Then, ask someone else to do the same thing before the event starts. Be sure to also create a contingency plan for if something becomes dysfunctional during the event itself.

4. Encourage attendees to engage with one another. 

During in-person events, supporters and attendees are able to mingle amongst themselves. They may discuss the event, your organization, or otherwise develop connections that help create an aspect of community within your organization’s support base. 

To encourage this networking and mingling at your virtual event, you need to create and encourage opportunities where attendees can communicate and engage with one another. For example, you might decide to: 

  • Enable chat functionality. Ask questions that will lead to effective discussion between attendees. For instance, you might make a statement then ask if they agree or disagree and why. Try gamifying these opportunities to encourage more people to participate. You might offer bronze, silver, and gold virtual badges depending on the number of times an attendee posts to discussion forums. 
  • Encourage breakout sessions. After informational sessions or educational videos, encourage attendees to join breakout groups where they have a list of set discussion questions that they can use to guide conversation. This encourages interaction between supporters and continuous engagement throughout the event itself.
  • Create social media groups. Social media is a resource that almost everyone can use to network because almost everyone has an account! Encourage attendees to join a Facebook group where they’re allowed to ask questions, share insights, and otherwise connect with one another. 

Consider a virtual gala as an example. In an in-person gala event, the mingling tends to happen at different tables while there might be an ongoing auction in the background. Similarly, you can host a virtual silent auction in the background of an online gala, but you’ll need some specialized tools to do so. 

According to Snowball’s virtual auction guide, it’s challenging to keep supporters engaged if they’re simultaneously checking their item bids and listening to your keynote speaker. To combat this, consider enabling bidding notifications so that supporters always know when they’re outbid. This allows them to pay attention to speakers and other event activities. 

Key Takeaway: Consider your own virtual event plans. Is there a natural place to incorporate community interaction? Ask yourself, “as an attendee, how would I want to get in touch with others?” Then, incorporate those opportunities in your own virtual event plans. 

5. Follow up in a timely manner. 

This tip is probably one that you’ve heard before. It’s a vital step when it comes to any nonprofit event plans, especially when you plan or pivot for the virtual sphere. A timely follow-up is key if you want to express appreciation for the attendee’s participation and invite them to continue engaging with your mission.

When you follow up after a virtual event, get the most out of it! Your supporters are probably expecting a thank-you, but they may also be open to other ways to get involved after having a wonderful time at your event. Try incorporating strategies like: 

  • Specifically explaining the impact they had at the event. You might say, “The For-the-Kids virtual event raised over $100,000 this year! Your donation of $100 was key to help us achieve this goal, which will provide medical resources for over 500 kids in the community.” Impact statements like this will help your organization put the thank-you in terms of what has been accomplished. 
  • Provide social media calls-to-action or email subscription options. After sharing their impact, simply ask your event attendees to continue following the story of your organization by keeping in contact with you. This allows them to see any upcoming opportunities you provide and allows them to continue direct interaction with your organization after they receive the email follow-up. 
  • Ask for feedback on the virtual event itself. You will probably need to plan another virtual event in the near future. Therefore, make sure your event planning process is as effective as possible by optimizing it based on the feedback provided by supporters. Send out a short survey to the attendees at your event asking them how they enjoyed the opportunity and if they have any recommendations to make it better in the future. This can also help you determine if the tools and virtual solutions you invested in are doing their job. It also allows your most engaged supporters to make themselves apparent.

By providing an immediate action that your supporters can take after the event, it ensures their engagement with your organization doesn’t end with the event itself. Use your follow-up message as an opportunity to say “thank you” and to further engagement with your supporters. 

Key Takeaway: Draft your follow-up message for your attendees and be sure to encourage them to continue engaging with your mission after the event ends. 


Virtual events are the new norm in the nonprofit world of today. By planning effectively and providing plenty of opportunity for engagement, your organization will be able to reach all of your goals effectively. 

Incorporate these tips into your event planning now. In the future, virtual events won’t go away. Be sure you have the best steps to plan and execute these events so that you can use them both during the pandemic and beyond.

This article was contributed by our friends at Bloomerang.

Author: Steven Shattuck
Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang

This article was contributed by Steven Shattuck, chief engagement officer at Bloomerang.

Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang and Executive Director of Launch Cause. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to “Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition” and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member.

Protecting Your Donors From Fraud | A Quick Guide

As a fundraising leader, two of the most rewarding parts of your job are building meaningful relationships with donors and raising revenue for your mission. Luckily, modern fundraisers are equipped with online tools and digital engagement methods, making it easier than ever to connect with your supporters and collect gifts on the go.

With online fundraising increasing in popularity, this also means that data breaches, hacks, and other forms of fraud can become more prevalent. That’s why investing in the best tools and keeping fraud protection tips in mind is crucial for your organization. One donor data scandal can mar your nonprofit reputation for a good amount of time. 

At iATS Payments, we work with over 14,000 nonprofits to help them process their online gifts safely and securely. We’ve written about online fraud protection for nonprofits before and have compiled some of the essential information and top tips that any fundraising leader needs to protect your online donors in this quick guide. Specifically, we’ll answer the following questions:

  1. What are some common payment scams and risks?
  2. How can you protect your donors from fraud?

Your online donors want to support your mission, but they can’t do so if your tools and giving process are untrustworthy. Ready to learn more? Let’s dive in:

1. What are some common payment scams and risks?

Did you know that 68% of total charitable giving in 2018 in the U.S. came from individual donors, and over half of donors worldwide now prefer to pay online via credit card or debit card? This is extremely convenient since all you need is the card number and some other basic personal information.

However, credit and debit card information is also very delicate. If that information somehow gets leaked, it might be targeted by hackers, scam artists, and even identity thieves. Unfortunately, nonprofit organizations are also targeted more because they tend to be not as aware of the necessary payment security measures that for-profit businesses are familiar with.

For instance, the most common card scams that you should be aware of are:

  • ACH fraud or direct debit payments. While this offers donors an easy way to give by connecting the payment tool directly to their bank account, it can also open the channel to fraud. Often, fraudsters will try and steal a bank account routing number through phishing or database hacking. They’ll then contact your organization and say the gift was a mistake and ask for a refund via credit card or check. They might even contact the bank associated with the routing number and claim that your nonprofit withdrew an authorized amount and request another refund. This results in two refunds of the original online gift to the hacker!
  • Donation form fraud. Sometimes scammers use online donation forms to test out different stolen credit card numbers. If one of the stolen card numbers works, the individual will make a false donation and then ask for a refund, similar to how ACH fraud works. 

Online fundraising likely makes up a good chunk of your overall nonprofit revenue. That’s why you must approach the online giving process carefully, considering all the risks and challenges and acknowledging them before they can even happen. This can often be done with the right nonprofit payment tool, along with other best practices. 

2. How can you protect your donors from fraud?

Now that you know about the common scams and hacks that can hamper your online fundraising, it’s time to take steps to reduce those risks. Let’s start off by going over the payment solution you should depend on, and then go over some of our favorite tips and tricks.

Choosing the right payment processor

When your supporters make an online gift, they’re likely entering information in the donation form on your nonprofit’s website. According to our iATS Payments article on donation forms, it’s crucial that you have a dedicated online payment tool to process the gift, collect the necessary donor information, and keep their financial details secure.

To ensure that your nonprofit payment processor is doing all it can to keep your donors safe, it needs the following fraud protection capabilities:

  • PCI compliance or certification. The Payment Card Industry has a set guideline of safety standards that all online payment tools must meet. Whether you’re a nonprofit collecting gifts or a corporation selling a product for profit, PCI compliance is the minimum requirement, with PCI certification as the top security level a tool can have. Learn more about this topic here
  • Security assistance. If you ever have a problem with your payment tool or find that you do have a data breach, you must have a dependable channel for security assistance from the service itself.  
  • Nonprofit experience. There are some general payment processors, like PayPal, which are easy to set up but might not meet the specific needs of nonprofits. These payment tools are considered large aggregators, and often collect your donated funds in a shared merchant account with other clients before it reaches your main bank account. This can result in a time delay in usable funds for your nonprofit and make you more susceptible to large-scale data breaches. Consider investing in a more specialized payment processor made for nonprofit organizations, like iATS Payments

With the right nonprofit payment processor by your side, your organization is better equipped to handle your supporters’ information and ensure that it is secure. For additional ways you can protect your donors from fraud, read on for some best practices. 

Best Practices for Donor Fraud Protection

What else can you do for your nonprofit to better secure your donors’ data and set up the stage for a healthy and long lasting relationship? Here are our top tips:

  • Improve password security. If any of your staff, volunteers, or donors ever have to create an account with a password, those passwords must be as secure as possible. To screen password safety, consider requiring certain character length, specific symbols, numbers, and a mix of upper and lowercase letters. For more information on making your passwords more secure, explore this Swoop article on modern passwords.
  • Keep an eye out for phishing emails. Phishing emails are scams that ask the recipient to click on links or attachments. These are often tricks that result in the recipient’s personal information being hacked or malware being installed into the device. Ensure that you, your staff, and your supporters know the common signs of phishing emails, like having poor grammar or being sent from a misspelled email address. 
  • Implement CVV2 verification or address verification. Often, hackers only have the stolen card numbers/routing information and not any other crucial identifiers. An easy way to monitor for fraudulent donations, whether by ACH debit or donation form, is to ask for the CVV2 number or the donor’s billing address. 

While the above best practices can help with donor fraud protection, remember that investing in a dedicated and secure online payment tool is the first step. How you protect your donors, and your fraud prevention strategies, will likely change over time, so it’s essential to have a solid foundation with a capable nonprofit payment processor.


To summarize, your donors are the most important and driving factors for your cause, so it only makes sense to do all you can to ensure they’re protected. This not only keeps your supporters’ important information safe, but also sets the stage for a reliable and trusting relationship going forward. Make sure to use a dependable nonprofit payment processor that is able to meet all your needs and keep your donors safe. Good luck!


Author: Matt Dunne

Driven by his desire to support numerous charitable causes in his home country of Ireland, Matt joined the iATS Payments Team in March 2016 to leverage his entrepreneurial experience in support of the non-profit industry. He empowers partner organizations to provide impartial, accurate, and valuable payment information and knowledge to the Nonprofit community.

3 Reasons to Include Direct Mail in Your Marketing Strategy

Initially, you may think that simply asking your donors to support your cause will be enough to reach your fundraising goals. However, in order to truly maximize your fundraising efforts and better engage with the individuals who help fund your mission, direct mail marketing is an immensely transformative option. 

Direct mail appeals are the backbone of communication and fundraising for most nonprofits in the US, and it can be a great way to engage with supporters in a more personal way.

Overall, direct mail is a tried and true method of fundraising for nonprofit organizations, but if you’re still on the fence, here are three reasons to include direct mail in your marketing strategy: 

  1. It has a high ROI for your marketing dollars
  2. It provides an opportunity for powerful storytelling
  3. It pairs well with fundraising opportunities

Now, let’s get into those convincing reasons why you should include direct mail in your fundraising strategy. 

1. Direct mail has a high ROI for your marketing dollars

To put things is in perspective, if you implement direct mail into your campaign strategy, you typically yield a 28% higher conversion rate than a single fundraising channel alone. Direct mail has one of the highest ROI as compared to any other fundraising channels. Therefore, you shouldn’t be hesitant in your choice to implement direct mail strategies because the money you spend on marketing will be made back multiple times over in fundraising revenue. 

In addition to a higher ROI, if executed successfully, direct mail accounts for over 90% of direct response revenue to charities. Furthermore, direct mail’s ability for personalization has the potential to draw your donors in like never before. With more engagement from your donors through direct mail, your marketing campaigns have the potential to garner long-term support and a higher ROI in the long run. 

Overall, direct mail is one of the most transformational tools to implement into your marketing campaign. If you feel that your nonprofit doesn’t have the funds to utilize direct mail, be sure to carefully look over your budget plan for your nonprofit and make note of areas you can reallocate to your marketing dollars. All in all, direct mail is actually an immensely cost-effective strategy that will pay for itself if executed successfully. 

2. Direct mail provides an opportunity for powerful storytelling

As mentioned prior, direct mail provides for more opportunities to personalize your tasks. One way to create a personal and engaging ask is by incorporating storytelling strategies into your fundraising campaign. Stories appeal to the emotional quotient of your members by giving them more to grasp, rather than just a piece of mail. After all, people remember stories way more than they remember facts and figures.

There are many ways to tell a story that effectively appeals to your audience. One way to do so is simply by sharing the history of your nonprofit organization. For example, you can touch on things like the overall brand story, your personal influence behind your nonprofit, and constituent stories that showcase how transformative your organization is. 

Just make sure that when you do share constituent, case studies, and other success stories, you do so in a way that is well-thought-out and ethical. For example, ethical stories take the protagonist’s feelings into consideration, shape the stories in a way that maintains dignity and respect, and does so in a transparent and honest way. 

3. Direct mail pairs well with fundraising opportunities

Not only is direct mail a powerful marketing and fundraising strategy on its own, but it also pairs well with a number of other digital and face-to-face methods as well.

In this case, incorporating a multichannel approach leads to more touchpoints overall. And with more touchpoints, comes more donations! Furthermore, incorporating a multichannel approach will lead to a higher engagement overall between campaigns. This occurs because more channels lead to more encounters with your supporters on multiple platforms. After all, if your donors think about your organization more often, they will likely want to donate more frequently and more generously. 

One example of incorporating direct mail with other channels includes bringing more traffic to your website, alongside your direct mail campaign. To do this, integrate your direct mail and digital strategies by including the URL or QR code driving donors to your online donation page in your direct mailings. Or, you can even include your dedicated mobile giving number and specific trigger words so that donors can quickly and easily text in their gifts!


All in all, direct mail is an immensely transformative tool to implement within your marketing strategy. When you integrate this powerful channel alongside your current marketing strategy, you get to reap benefits such as an increased ROI, powerful storytelling opportunities, and integrated fundraising campaigns. Good luck!

This guest post was contributed by Grant Cobb at GivingMail.

Grant Cobb is a fundraising specialist with over 6 years experience in the nonprofit space. Currently the head of marketing and analytics at GivingMail, he is a huge proponent of data-driven decision making and the push to bring high-level analytics and fundraising to all.

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

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

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

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

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

The Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 13 Principles Driving New York Cares’ Volunteer Communication Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chart—Volunteer Lifecycle Communications Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Turn—Just Do It!

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

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

Making It Work – Nonprofits and Pro Bono Creative

Welcome back to guest blogger, Susie Bowie, Communications Manager at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County

There’s an unexpected stranger standing at the intersection between nonprofit organizations and creative agencies offering “free” website, advertising or marketing services.  He has many names, but is most commonly known as “Why did we say yes?,” “We should have thought about this more” and “Man, this is a disaster.”

The danger can come from both sides. Small to mid-sized nonprofit organizations are notoriously (but often unfairly) characterized as unsophisticated when it comes to marketing prowess. Boards and grantmakers alike often don’t want to fund basic marketing. Nonprofit staff can underestimate the investment of their time required—even in a pro bono project. On the agency side, creatives may get into the business of over-promising and under delivering to the simplistic nonprofit client who shouldn’t have been such a big deal.

I recently spoke with Patricia Courtois, Principal of Clarke Advertising and Public Relations (based in Sarasota, Florida), about how to make it all work from both sides of the fence. A long-time award-winning veteran of the advertising and public relations field with clients from Tropicana to Sara Lee and ClosetMaid, her team’s campaigns have won national recognition. Her recent engagement with All Faiths Food Bank here in Sarasota included a television spot that won a National ADDY. It was a great experience for both, by the way. And if anyone knows the ground rules for a healthy and productive engagement, Patricia does.

Here are some checkpoints, based on her extensive experience in the field:

For Nonprofits:

  • Free isn’t always better than nothing. Use discretion when it comes to choosing your creative consultant. Just because a company or individual offers their services without a fee doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for your organization. Do your homework—check references, find out what the agency might expect from your nonprofit in return. If they want to promote their firm on your collateral material, for example, that may be something you need to consider carefully.
  • Understand that you share the commitment. Pro bono creative still involves staff direction, availability and support from your nonprofit. Know that many times, agency staff work after-hours on your pro bono project so they can still fulfill obligations from paying clients. Respect that with flexibility and being super-organized so your meetings are efficient and productive.

For Creative Agencies:

  • Make sure your staff is fully committed to the cause. Is the nonprofit’s mission a fit with your agency’s mission? Is it something everyone is on board with? If not, your account executives may feel resentment about the use of their time on the project. And finally, the nonprofit engagement should be much more than a way for you to market your own services.
  • Make sure there’s skin in the game. Creative services can be undervalued if there is no cost at all to the nonprofit. Patricia recommends payment for some portion of the service—even based on a nominal amount a nonprofit may have budgeted—so there is some level of devotion to the project.
  • It’s a business contract, even if it’s pro bono. Providing a full scope of work to be jointly signed—along  with timelines, the number of hours being provided by the agency, graphic assets provided by the nonprofit, etc.—is key to avoiding frustration and inconsistent expectations.

The name of the game here is clearly defined boundaries, expectations and intentions. Keeping in mind that not every creative agency is a match for your nonprofit (and visa versa), you can use these guidelines to find the right partner and to firm up relationships with existing ones.