Three Steps to Launching Your Nonprofit Blog (Case Study)

Introducing NominationWatch.org

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

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

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

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

  1. Shaping the Editorial Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

  2. Bringing the Blog to Life

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

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

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

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

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

Results – Increased Visibility and Excited Audiences

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

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

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