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Get More from Conference Participation

Guest blogger, Caroline Avakian is the founder & CEO of SourceRise, a social enterprise connecting journalists to nonprofit subject matter experts and sources, and managing partner of  Socialbrite, a social media for nonprofits consultancy and digital learning hub.


Conference season is ongoing these days. So I was particularly pleased when, at the recent, Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, keynote speaker and Echoing Green president, Cheryl Dorsey, shared some valuable hints to us attendees on conference participation best practices.

Here are the helpful tips I learned—all easy to manage but packing a big punch. Bet that you’’ll be glad you set these in motion when you return from your next conference.

1. Start with the end in mind

What are the top three things you want to get out of this conference? Whether it’s meeting a particular attendee or speaker or gaining a better understanding of how to create a social media strategy for your nonprofit, the more specific you are, the likelier you are to walk out of that conference feeling satisfied and accomplished.

Also, something that stood out to me as being really powerful was that Cheryl mentioned being conscious of not only meeting those who can help you, but those who you can help as well. They are equally important.

2. Use your business cards to their fullest potential

In the flurry of meet and greets, it is likely you get home and don’t remember half of who those cards are from. To remedy this, think of one actionable item for each person you meet. Then write it on their business card before you walk out of the room.

3. Lessons learned

Take a minute and write down the three things you learned after each conference session you attend. It will all seem like less of a blur once you get back home and you’ll be able to take action on the items that really stood out.

What are some of your favorite conference-going tips and tricks?

Nonprofit Facebook ROI—Yay or Nay? (w/John Haydon)

Get ready for a roaring point vs. counterpoint, thanks to Facebook for Nonprofits expert John Haydon, who shares his Yay below.

I’ll be following up with mini case studies and links to research supporting my recommendation. Please share your Facebook plan (or plan not to use) and why here, and/or tell us what it does (or doesn’t do) for your organization.

NAY, IN MOST CASES
You’ve probably noticed the raging discussion about the value (or not) of Facebook for all organizations (profiteers too)—it even made the most mainstream ever Time magazine.

There are two main reasons Facebook use is in question:

  1. Long-time ugh: Facebook constantly changes its algorithm (a.k.a. formula) for what’s fed to your org page “likers” on their own pages and its page design, without advance notice or how-tos. That means for those of us with limited resources, it’s an enormous expenditure of time (and the related ) to learn how to adapt, and to do it.
  2. Most recent ugh: Pay to play with a huge decline in organic reach of your content. Now the frequency with which your posts are placed on “likers'” own pages relates to the level of Facebook ad buy by your organization.

What’s clear is that Facebook isn’t free— plan to pay to have your messages delivered.

My recommendation: Use Facebook ONLY if

  1. You’ve selected Facebook as your social media channel of choice because your priority people ARE on Facebook, and you have a good way to drive them to your page and keep them there. Few organizations can effectively utilize more than one social media channel, at least to start.
  2. You use Facebook as a complementary channel to direct marketing (online and offline), your website and the other places where you have a track record of motivating the actions you want (giving, registering, etc.). Content and look and feel are consistent, tone varies depending on channel and the segment of folks you’re reaching out to in each channel and/or each campaign.
  3. You set concrete goals for whatever is measurable on your page (much isn’t) and try to link actions taken on other channels back to Facebook (and other influences)
  4. You are willing to invest a lot of time, expertise in your Facebook presence, AND a lot of cash for ad buys (your nonprofit will be competing against Zappos and Proctor & Gamble—what are your chances?).

Most organizations I know DON’T FIT THIS PROFILE. So for most of your organizations, Facebook is NOT worth the investment, even if your CEO or board chair is pushing it hard.

Please share your Facebook plan (or plan not to use) and why here, and/or tell us what it does (or doesn’t do) for your organization.

Now over to John…
YAY, IF DONE RIGHT (from John Haydon)

Nancy: What is the value in nurturing a brand page/community for orgs on Facebook?

John: Every marketing plan—whether it’s for a brand or a nonprofit—should include word of mouth elements. You want to create opportunities for your community to tell their friends about you.

The fact is, people talk with their friends on Facebook about what’s important to themmovies, weekend activities, family milestones, and causes.

Nurturing your community on Facebook increases the likelihood that they’ll talk about your nonprofit with their friends. In fact, according to one study, Facebook is the most powerful word-of-mouth social media channel.

Nancy: Are there a few criteria a nonprofit can assess to clarify if and/or they should invest (or continue to invest) in its Facebook brand page?

John: It isn’t reason enough for you to simply have a Facebook Page. If your nonprofit depends on fundraisers and volunteers to exist, Facebook should be an important communications channel. Most of the people in your database probably use Facebook already.

If you want to see how many people in your community use Facebook, you can upload your email list as a custom audience and see how many Facebook users are in your email list. Just follow the instructions in this video.

Nancy: What should orgs change strategy wise, with this new algorithm?

John: The purpose of the News Feed algorithm is to display the most interesting content to each Facebook. This way, they will continue to to use Facebook as an important way to connect with friends.

Because Facebook is a friend network, using your nonprofit’s “brand voice” will not work. For example, if all you talk about is your 50th anniversary fundraiser gala, you will bore people and therefore get zero visibility in the News Feed.

The solution is igniting your nonprofit’s “friend” voice (your community sharing your content with their friends).

Nonprofits can start with these questions:

  • What does out community get passionate about?
  • What’s truly useful and interesting to them?
  • What needs are not being met by competing organizations?
  • What are specific ways you can become indispensable in their lives?

– again, getting your current true fans talking about you with their friends on Facebook.

Nancy: How should nonprofit communicators start advertising on Facebook, if they fit the criteria I shared?

John: There are four things to keep in mind when using Facebook ads:

1. Have a plan. As with any type of ad investment, be really clear about why you are using ads in the first place. Do you want more website traffic? Do you want more engaged fans? Do you want more likes?

2. Target wisely. If a breast Cancer foundation targets all women in north America, they will be wasting money on Facebook ads.

For example, it’s better to target only women who have expressed an interest in breast cancer (liking breast cancer related Facebook pages). Additionally, use your Facebook page Insights to determine what demographic is most likely to like your page, and engage with your posts. Targeting Facebook adds wisely will not only save you money, it will increase conversion rates for those ads.

3. Only promote awesome. If you are using Facebook ads to promote page posts, make sure you’re only selecting posts that have performed well. This way when people do see the post as a result of an ad, they will be more likely to engage with it as others have done before.

4. Avoid smelly fish. Facebook ads are like relatives and fish – they go bad after about 5 days. Always make an effort to push fresh posts with ads, instead of letting an ad run for 30 days.

Nancy: What can we expect next from Facebook?

John: You can expect more competition in the newsfeed from brands, friends, and competing nonprofits. Your only solution is to become likable in the real world, not just on Facebook.

Please share your Facebook plan (or plan not to use) and why here, and/or tell us what it does (or doesn’t do) for your organization.

Reactivate Your Email List (Case Study)

Since 1996, Karla Capers has been working for advocacy organizations, figuring out ways to use the internet to raise visibility for progressive issues, engage people in campaigns, and try to make the world a better place.

Note from Nancy: I came upon Karla’s terrific guidance for re-engaging folks on the Progressive Exchange list serv, and got her permission to repost here.

I’m Online Director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, and we were faced with a real challenge—how to re-engage the many folks who were not reading or acting on our emails.

Here’s our three-part reactivation method:

We Segmented Our Inactives
We defined “inactive” as anyone who’s never given the organization a donation (online or off) and hadn’t opened, clicked, or taken any action online in the last year.

Then, in February, we started to segment out the “inactive” people on our list and excluding them from all outgoing messages. That “inactive” segment turned out to be about 25% of our deliverable email file.

Then Sent Our Campaign
Next, we set up a three-part series of emails to try to re-engage those inactive people:

1. Initial email

  • Goes out when someone first falls into the “inactive” file.
  • Subject line: “We miss you [first name]”
  • Asks them to click on a link to let us know they still want to receive emails from UCS.
  • The landing page that click gets them to says something like “Thanks and welcome back….” and automatically adds them back into the “Active” file.

2. Second email (if recipient doesn’t click on first email)

  • Goes out one week later.
  • Subject line: “Science still needs you [firstname]”
  • Tries to re-engage people with an action alert, talks about recent attacks on science and asks the person to sign a generic pledge to “stand with science”.

3. Third email (if recipient doesn’t click on second email)

  • Goes out one week later.
  • Subject line: “thanks and goodbye”
  • Informs the person that since we haven’t heard from them in a long time we are going to unsubscribe them and offers one last chance to click to still receive emails from us.
  • The landing page is a survey where they can update their email subscriptions by issue topic and type of message and give us feedback on why they have been out of touch.

Our Results—Good But Want to Do Better
Since February, we have re-engaged almost 5% of our inactive file. That’s a value of about $13,000 if we were paying for those names so that seems worth it to me.

Of the three emails, the third email performed the best re-engaging 3.17% of the inactive file. Email one re-engaged 1.56% and email two only 0.88%.

Next Steps—Before Inaction
One thing I would like to do is add another email to the series to try to re-engage people *before* they fall into the inactive pool–so maybe when they haven’t clicked or acted on anything in 3 months or 6 months. I think if we tried to reconnect with them sooner we might pull even more people back into the active file.

How do you reengage inactive supporters, whether those on your email list who don’t respond or lapsed donors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are 6 steps to effective nonprofit content marketing:

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

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

How to Create Enough Good Content
(Case Study)

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

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

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

THE CHORE

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

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

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

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

THE EXPERIMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE LEAP

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

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

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

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

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

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

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

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

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

Email Subject Lines: 6 Cardinal Sins to Avoid

Welcome to our newest guest blogger, Kerri Karvetski. As owner of Company K Media, Kerri helps nonprofits communicate online.

Email subject lines have one main job—to get your email opened. You have two seconds to grab your reader’s attention. That’s a lot of pressure. So avoid these avoidable mistakes.

Writing subject lines is mostly art, but there’s some science to it as well. If you steer clear of these subject line sins, there’s a world of opportunity available to you.

Sin #1: Too Long
At 50 characters, most email programs cut off the subject line preview in the inbox. Subject line real estate is extremely valuable, so go shorter when possible. Your readers will thank you, especially mobile readers.

You are absolved of this sin if…you have a highly targeted audience. MailChimp analyzed millions of headlines and found that these audiences appreciate the extra detail you can put in a longer subject line.

Sin #2: Too Short
One-word subject lines used to be the hot new technique, but the party’s over. A few political campaigns still use them, but most nonprofits can’t pull it off. Too vague and gimmicky. Skip them.

Sin #3: Boring
Nothing makes me reach for the “delete” button faster than subject lines like, “March Newsletter.” I know you’ve got a monthly newsletter; I signed up for it. I also know it’s March.

Give me a reason to read this newsletter. Tell me your best story.

Sin #4: Personalization Abuse
Personalization is great, but you can get too much of a good thing. Use personalization in subject lines wisely and sparingly.

Sin #5: Sticking Your Tongue Out at the Spam Filters
Gone are the days when the word “free” automatically flags your message as spam, but you still have to be careful. Avoid these content spam triggers:

  • AVOID ALL CAPS. It’s shouting and tempting fate.
  • Holy $%*&^$!!!???? Excessive use of punctuation and symbols will surely get you in trouble.
  • If you can, look in your spam folder. Cringe. Be offended. Have a chuckle. Don’t write stuff like that. (Learn more at MailChimp’s How Spam Filters Think.)

Sin #6: Betting the Farm on the Subject Line
High open rates are great, but high conversion rates (getting people to take action) are better. Once you get the reader to open the email, you need to quickly and convincingly deliver on the promise of your subject line. And never trick your supporters into opening an email. No one likes a bait and switch.

Great subject lines don’t always have to be clever or witty to work. Experiment. Accept failure as part of the learning process. And, most importantly, keep trying.

More Ways to Strengthen Your Email Impact

Where to Begin with Nonprofit Marketing

I’m so proud of my friend and colleague Kivi Leroux Miller for crafting the excellent Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause (partner link). And Kivi’s been gracious enough to make Getting Attention the first stop on her virtual book tour.

I recommend you purchase the book today. Here’s why:  It’s a source every time-strapped communicator can count on time and time again – comprehensive, accessible and smart. When you buy the book before midnight tonight (June 1, 2010) and forward your receipt to book@nonprofitmarketingguide.com, you’ll be entered to win a free Getting Attention tagline review. You’ll also be entered into a drawing on Friday for several All-Access Passes to the Nonprofit Marketing Guide Webinar Series.

Here’s a small taste of Kivi’s practical nonprofit marketing advice…

“Where do I begin?”

That’s hands down the most frequently-asked question that nonprofit communicators ask consultants like Nancy and me.

Like any good consultant (or therapist), I always respond with a question of my own: What is it that you want people to do?

I can usually tell how long – and difficult – the conversation will be based on the answer I get. Responses like these signal a long conversation ahead:

  • “We want them to support . . .”
  • “We want them to care about . . . ”
  • “We want them to understand . . . ”

The problem with responses like these is that there isn’t any specific action involved. No one is doing anything. So I ask the same question again, but using the language from the response.

  • What does someone do when they are supporting you?
  • What does someone do to show they care?
  • What does someone do when they understand?

Now, we start to get to more specific responses, like

  • “Give us money.”
  • “Call their legislator.”
  • “Talk to their children about it.”

With these more specific actions as our goals, we’re equipped to shape a nonprofit marketing strategy. The conversation continues by discussing

  • Who needs to take these actions (helps us define the target audience)
  • What will motivate them to act (aids in creating a powerful message)
  • How and where to reach them (guides us in channel selection).

Writing an email newsletter or updating your Facebook page may end up as key elements of your strategy, but tactics aren’t the place to start . Instead, take some time – even just five minutes of quiet behind a closed door – to sort through these questions. That’s where to begin.

Two Don’t-Miss Tools for More Effective Nonprofit Events

In a time when we rely more and more on virtual interaction, face-to-face gatherings are more important than ever.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m a big believer in building relationships, and community online. But face-to-face can’t be replaced. So often, face-to-face gatherings can bring a movement or a campaign to the next level, further engaging your base.

Here are two tools I’ve discovered that will help you take your organization’s events to the next level.

1. Event-management service Eventbrite has just introduced Eventbrite for Causes, a discounted program (no fee for free events) are  designed for nonprofit needs. This new program that makes it easier for
orgs to leverage tech tools and best practices to manage,
promote and raise money through successful events. In talking to colleagues about Eventbrite, I’ve found several fans of its capabilities such as the once-click opportunity for attendees to share event info with their Twitter and Facebook networks.

Current org users include The Craigslist Foundation, Full Circle Fund, Citizen Effect and NTEN.

2. Analyze This, just released by Event 360 is 18 pages packed with practical guide on event analytics. You’ll learn how to pinpoint what’s working best so you can do more of it in the future, and what’s not working well, so they can avoid it down the line. Traditionally, event managers have used this data to review events once they’re over; it’s even more valuable to shape those coming up.

The featured case study on the Komen Global Race for the Cure is particularly useful, as it highlights how analytics showed the way to transform a popular event into a fundraising phenomenon.

P.S. More effective messaging is a priority for all organizations, campaigns and events. Learn how to craft the most essential message — your tagline. Download the free Nonprofit Tagline Report, filled with must-dos, don’t dos, case studies and 2,500+ nonprofit tagline examples!

Photo: OneWoman

6 Steps to Showcasing Your Marketing ROI

I was really jolted by this Ask Nancy query I recently received. Jessica (names have been changed to protect the innocent) asks for help with the most challenging (and most critical) step in nonprofit marketing — getting the support of decision makers and colleagues for doing it right.

Q: Help — We’re losing ground past and we need professional marketing help. How do I get the budget and support to get it?
      
My organization has been in existence since the 1960s, longer than any other environmental group in the state. But, like many nonprofits, we’ve never been good at marketing ourselves, and therefore don’t have the membership base we need. As a result, we’re beginning to lose our historical advantage.
       
We clearly need professional marketing help. I’m an implementer, but I’d be far more effective working with a marketing expert who has analyzed our challenges and designed a strategy for me to implement. While leadership recognizes our need for professional marketing help, they are not moving forward in that
direction. Help!
Jessica, Outreach Manager, State Natural Resources Council

Believe me, lack of support isn’t uncommon, especially now when tensions are high and budgets low. Many nonprofit professionals either don’t understand or doubt the value (or, in some cases, the seemliness) of marketing. Others see value in marketing but are in the “just do it” camp, not understanding that professionalism is as essential here as in other fields. It is these organizations that are frequently eclipsed by competitors in membership, fundraising and awareness. As a result, their impact is significantly limited.

Build support for marketing in your org by learning how to showcase your marketing ROI (return on investment). Read my guide to building support for doing marketing right today.

Flickr Photo: William Hartz