Pinterest Primer for Nonprofits

Flickr: stevegarfield

My name is Gayle Thorsen…and I’m a Pinterest addict.

Me and 21 million other users, more and more of whom are nonprofit organizations.

The demographics of Pinterest–82% females with higher education and income levels–hold a lot of promise for nonprofits. That combined with the fact that it now drives more referral traffic than Twitter doesn’t hurt. (It had already exceeded the referral traffic of Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn combined!)

Rather than repeat all the sage advice out there for nonprofits who want to add Pinterest to their social media portfolios, here are the most recent, best tips.

Getting Started

Why and How Causes Should Use Pinterest  (Joe Waters on Huff Post IMPACT)

How to Get Your Nonprofit Started On Pinterest (Nonprofit Tech 2.0)

10 Strategies for Nonprofits on Pinterest (Mashable)

Ideas/Best Practices

9 Pinterest Best Practices (Nonprofit Tech 2.0)

12 Ways to Use Pinterest for Your Nonprofit (John Haydon)

42 Creative Pinterest Ideas for Nonprofits  (Frogloop)

Role Models

11 Must-Follow Nonprofits on Pinterest  (Nonprofit Tech 2.0)

It’s important to acknowledge that there are still copyright issues related to Pinterest, despite the fact that they announced policy changes last month. The best advice (from the linked copyright article) is to:

  • pin from the source
  • pin from permalinks
  • give credit and write a thoughtful description

Ready, set….pin (and repin!)

CC photo credit: Steve Garfield

Blogs vs. Facebook for Nonprofits


(My 100th post!)

Over the past few months, I’ve helped a couple nonprofit clients who are ready to move into social media decide whether to go with a blog or Facebook. (I’ll talk about Twitter strategies in a future post. It’s kind of a different animal.)

Most approach it as an either/or decision because of their limited staff resources. That’s a real concern. If you truly don’t have the staff time to blog at least once a week or make a Facebook update twice a week, you shouldn’t be considering either medium.

If you do have adequate staff resources, go back to your strategic communications plan to make this decision. You have to start there—with what you want to happen as a result of your communications efforts. (If you need help with strategic communications planning, here’s the first part of my four-part DIY series.)

Each organization has unique goals and needs, they have to drive your choice. Don’t be seduced into thinking that because everyone’s on Facebook or such-and-such an organization has a blog, that you have to do the same thing. Do it only if it supports your strategic communications goals.

Here are a few hypothetical examples of how different organizations might make this decision. (There are many factors to consider in these decisions, but because these are hypotheticals I’m going to  keep it simple.)

Nonprofit A relies mostly on foundation funding. It’s identified program officers, board members, and executive staff from current and potential funders as its key communications audiences, and the priority goal is to keep those people impressed with and supportive of its work.

Nonprofit B has a very different communications goal. That organization is dependent on individual contributions and volunteers, so it’s crucial to engage, feed, and continuously grow its fan base to keep support levels consistently high.

Nonprofit C has developed a brand that emphasizes knowledge sharing and leadership. One of its priority communications goals is to be recognized by local partners, peers, and other influencers as THE knowledge source on a particular issue.

With limited funds and staff time—where do each of these nonprofits begin branching out to more social media: a blog or Facebook? (For now, let’s assume they have no other social media presence.)

MY ADVICE

Here’s what I’d probably advise.

Nonprofit A–blog

Although Facebook can be a very engaging medium, given the demographics and motivation of senior foundation staff, I’m not sure Facebook is where they will go first to find out about a nonprofit’s work. I’d say, first make your website and email newsletters very compelling for this audience, and work up a series of personal interactions that gets your CEO in front of key members. If you want something more—then consider a blog.

Facebook is fun, but blogs can be more professional and credible sources of information for this particular audience. Once embedded (I recommend embedding blogs in websites in most cases), they also add badly needed dynamism to a website. I also believe that a blog can go farther in advancing your brand than Facebook can—after all you own and control it, not some third party.

Nonprofit B–Facebook

Not only can Facebook help increase the size of your fan base, it can encourage and enable peer-to-peer fundraising and individual contributions to your campaigns and volunteer participation. It’s an exciting interactive medium for cultivating relationships, but do think through the demographics of Facebook before making a commitment. The key here is full integration with your website, email, direct mail, and all other social hubs you eventually develop. Remember, Facebook is one step on a much longer path to lasting engagement. Clearly understand the tactics and media you’re going to use to guide that new Facebook friend down the path. Here are some interesting “onboarding” ideas from a past post.

Nonprofit C–blog

Effective knowledge sharing goes far beyond adding a report PDF to your website. We’re not talking about mere information dissemination. Knowledge sharing involves adding context and meaning. You can’t just give somebody something to read, you have to help them interpret it…and quickly, because no one has very much time these days. While Facebook is great for snippets, links, and photos, a blog gives you more control and space to do that kind of interpretation of information. It also provides comment interactivity, which can lead to new information and refined knowledge.

And for organizations interested in high leadership profiles, recognize there is a difference between popularity and leadership. Facebook leans more toward the former and a blog more toward the latter.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

In general, here are some things to consider when you’re making this decision for your nonprofit.

1. CONTROL  Facebook is owned and controlled by a third-party. It’s policies and practices are in constant flux and have to be kept up with. Branding is limited. Blogs are created, owned, and controlled by you. They can be completely supportive of your brand, and you have more control over the interactivity.

2. CACHET  Although Facebook makes it very easy to share your organization’s activities, accomplishments, and engagement opportunities, it’s not easy to convey your organization’s expertise. Consistently well-written, relevant, thought-provoking blog posts are better at that. If you want a reputation as a thought-leader, go for a blog not Facebook.

3. REACH  Facebook posts last a day or a week, blog posts last forever. You can build up a body of knowledge on a blog that people can use as a resource for years. Also, Facebook posts aren’t easy to share as blog posts, and although Google recognizes Facebook updates/custom tab content now, blog posts are probably going to rank higher on search engines.

Finally…

This doesn’t have to be an either/or choice. If your communications goals match up well with both Facebook’s strengths and a blog’s strengths, and you have enough resources—maybe try both. Just be very clear about what your audiences and objectives are for each medium.

One more thing—if you go with a blog, try to optimize it for mobile!

Late breaking news–today (Oct. 26) IdealWare published the 2nd edition of their free Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide–a fabulous resource that can help your organization make better informed choices about which social media you need most.

10 Time Management Tips for Nonprofit Communicators

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a consultant (and a former nonprofit communications director), it’s how incredibly busy nonprofit communicators are–-always. There don’t seem to be peaks and valleys, it’s all just climbing, climbing, climbing.

Nonprofit communications professionals are pulled in 17 different directions at any given moment, and it can feel like you don’t have much control over your day. Pretty soon you find yourself working at home in the evening just to stay afloat.

I encourage my clients who call me short-of-breath from work overload to make the time to rethink how they organize their days. You may not be able to incorporate every tip I’ve described below, but even using a few of them can have an impact. Keep in mind—when you’re waist-deep in project management—that it’s an important part of your job to stay attuned to news, trends, and larger environment. (I’ve aimed these tips at communications managers, but any communication staff member could find them useful.)

Tip #1:  Don’t overload your plate

If you’ve got too much on your plate, acknowledge it and decide what has to go. You risk your own reputation and that of your organization when you take on too many activities to do each of them well.

To help you figure out what you should let go of, organize tasks/projects into a four-quadrant grid with the horizontal axis as URGENT and the vertical axis as IMPORTANT (this axis is where you measure the impact of a project). Your biggest priorities are probably in the quadrant where important and urgent coincide. (If anything falls in the least important, least urgent quadrant, why are you doing it?) Lean toward acting on what’s important first. But keep an eye open for urgent actions that can hold someone else up if they don’t get done—try to be as sensitive to others’ deadlines as you want them to be to yours.

Another skill you absolutely have to master is saying no. When someone pops into your office with a cool idea that’s either not strategic or impossible to add to your already full plate—be straight with them. If the idea’s worth considering at a later time, tell them you’ll do that. Be nice, thank them, but don’t leave them believing you’re going to undertake something you have no resources or time to undertake.

Tip #2:  Sunday evening prep

I know this is off-the-clock time, but by spending 15-30 minutes doing this your Monday morning will be SO much easier. Take a look at new emails and emails from the past week that you’ve flagged for action but not acted on. Listen to new voicemails. Make a quickie online, chronological list (starting with what you need to do early in the week) of the things you have to do related to the content of these emails/voicemails. Flag top priorities.

Tip #3: Monday morning me-time

(Beg your ED not to schedule staff meetings on Monday mornings; Tuesday mornings are more productive. You’re all back into the swing of things and new questions will have arisen.)

Spend your first half- to full-hour figuring out your biggest strategic priorities for the week—this is your big picture thinking time. Your priorities shouldn’t be all implementation—there should be relationship building/management, evaluation, information gathering, budgetary, and planning activities as well. Understand how this week’s tasks fit into your goals for the month and year. This is one way to keep on track with the projects that matter most, without getting mired in the morass of tiny “emergencies” that inevitably crop up.

Tip #4:  Be the first to know

Every workday morning (except Monday), spend your first 15 minutes to half-hour reviewing top news headlines and alerts related to your work in your online reader and on Tweetdeck. There may be developments that present opportunities or require response, and those need to be added to your weekly project grid too. Be the first to know, and share news with whomever in your organization needs to know. (Your colleagues will find this a valuable service.) At 4 pm, revisit these two sources again to keep up with relevant news. (If you tweet, this is a good time to share links of interest with your followers.)

Tip #5:  Tame your tools

Your phone and computer are tools, don’t let them become bosses. If you’re at your desk, resist the temptation to answer the phone or look at emails throughout the day (there are obvious exceptions, if you’re expecting an important call and you see that number flash up,  you answer it). This allows you to move on your priorities. At 11 am, review phone messages first and emails second…and act on what needs response right away. (A lot can wait until the end of the day). If an email response is only going to take a minute, do it then and get it off your to-do list. At 3 pm, do this same routine. Be sure to flag emails that are going to require later action. If you’re on the run a lot, use time between meetings to check emails and voicemails on your smart phone. Try to have gone through all your messages before your day ends.

Tip #6:  Make meetings matter

Schedule meetings between 9:30-11 and 1-3, to give yourself time to catch up on emails, phone calls, and news beforehand. Be selective about scheduling your own or attending others’ meetings—80% of the time they aren’t necessary. Meetings are for making decisions and building relationships, not for sharing information. (There are great ways to do that through other channels.) If you’re not sure how important a meeting you’ve been asked to attend is, ask yourself this: If I don’t attend, what’s the worst that could happen? If the answer to that question isn’t compelling, if your priorities call you elsewhere, and if an important relationship isn’t at risk—consider sending apologies and not going. Be as concerned about not wasting other people’s time with your meetings as you are about wasting your time with theirs.

Always be prepared for and on-time to meetings. It’s a basic sign of professionalism and respect. It also helps speed things along.

Tip #7:  Recognize trouble

It’s easy to get so absorbed in meeting deadlines that when a tiny red flag waves, you don’t see it or just dismiss it and hope it goes away. Always be vigilant for what can go wrong and when you see signs, take a deep breath and sit for a minute. Don’t panic, just let the right course of action come to you (it will). Smart actions are better than knee-jerk responses, they have a greater likelihood of forestalling further problems and will save you time later on. An ounce of prevention…

Tip #8:  Keep chats short

Part of your role as a member of your organization is to contribute to a healthy, enjoyable culture. You can’t just close your door and bar chatty neighbors who may be less busy than you at the moment. But you do have the right to: 1) Tell them you’d love to catch up but you’re facing a deadline, or 2) Limit the chat to no more than a few minutes. Informal exchanges with your colleagues are important for team-building (and sometimes information gathering), so don’t cloister yourself away completely. If it works for you, use your lunch time for informal chats.

Tip #9:  Take a break at least once a day

At times, it may be impossible to take a lunch break because a project needs to get done, but make those times exceptions. Walking away from your work for at least a half-hour a day can provide mental downtime that increases your clarity, creativity, and productivity. Get away from the office (and outside) during those breaks as much as possible.

Tip #10: Be kind

Just as you’re slammed with deadlines, others in your organization often face the same level of pressure. Watch the tone of your emails and your voice when dealing with unwelcome interruptions and requests. “Lean and mean” behavior may get a project out on time but lose you the long-term cooperation of colleagues. A nonprofit communicator’s success depends on good relationships on every side, internal and external. (Remember, you will need them at some point, just like they need you now.) So be kind and as helpful as you can.

Any time management tips of your own to add?

Creative Commons photo credit: Leo Reynolds

Cultivate new supporters fast: A five-week “on-boarding” plan for nonprofits

flickr/benkessler

I’ve already mentioned in past posts Common Knowledge, whose highly useful webinars I regularly take (did I mention most of them are free?). This time I want to share part of a recent CK webinar on building your email list. I may get into that whole topic in another post, but what I want to share here is a brilliant strategy for quickly engaging new supporters who sign up with your cause and nonprofit through Facebook, your website, an email, or other channels that ask for email addresses.

These supporters have taken a huge first step—they’ve responded in some way to your communications and showed an interest in your cause. Now it’s up to you to get them engaged as fast and effectively as you can. CK calls this “on-boarding.”

One way to do that is to set up a rapid cultivation process through email. The example given in the webinar was a from a wildlife protection organization, but this strategy is widely applicable to other nonprofits.

The process kicks in immediately when the supporter gives you his/her email address, and lasts 5 weeks—with two emails sent each week (on Tuesday and Thursday) for a total of 10. Each email is educational and inspiring, with clear yet different calls to action. The whole sequence is structured as a ladder of engagement that creates much more knowledgable supporters and greater potential for their financial support.

The content of this 10-email sequence is all important. This is not just a means to a donation, it’s the opportunity to open the door to a long-term relationship with people who feel as passionately about your cause as you do. If your emails aren’t interesting, substantive, and valuable to your supporters—they’re going to be viewed as a nuisance and people will unsubscribe or not open them at all. (You need to track opens and unsubscribes carefully throughout the five weeks to gauge how successful your email content is. If lots of people keep unsubscribing or not opening throughout the first few weeks, you may have a content problem.)

To give you an example of how this might work, here’s the sequence of emails sent by the wildlife protection organization:

Week 1 Tuesday, welcome &  link to their organizational blog; Thursday, about seals with a link to their seals blog

Week 2 Tuesday, more education about threats to seals and a link to a petition to sign; Thursday, info about whales and a whale quiz

Week 3 Tuesday, info about orangutans and a video about them; Thursday, info about elephants and an audio about them

Week 4 Tuesday, more about elephants and a petition to sign; Thursday, a chance to pick their favorite endangered species and take a survey

Week 5 Tuesday, about bears and a donation appeal (the first, you notice); Thursday, more about bears, and another donation appeal

Again, you need to craft really great emails! This campaign triggered a pretty steady 21% open rate throughout the 5 weeks, which is a good sign that people remained engaged with the content. Compared with new supporters who were just mailed regularly scheduled communications, new supporters exposed to the rapid cultivation process took more actions and made first donations quicker.

And a word to the wise—once you’ve quickly engaged your new supporters, you have to keep them engaged! Be sure to immediately acknowledge their donations with a communication that tells them what their money is going to help you achieve. This 5-week process is only the beginning.You certainly won’t want to continue emailing them twice a weeks, but your long-term engagement strategy should be as thoughtful and effective as your short-term cultivation strategy.

This is a great way to increase your rate of conversion from supporter to activist to donor. Kudos to Common Knowledge for sharing it!

CC photo credit: benkessler

Mobile giving: 4 trends nonprofits should consider

flickr/closari

This is my second post based on information gleaned from a recent Common Knowledge webinar on nonprofit communications trends for 2011. This time the topic is mobile giving.

Many believe that mobile giving reached a tipping point with response to the Haiti crisis last year. This year, it may be poised to grow even more. Nonprofits should think about how they can leverage quickly evolving mobile giving options in their fund raising to make it easier for  supporters to donate. But remember, there are strengths and weaknesses with each option.

Make a habit of reading nonprofit tech blogs to keep up to speed with mobile technology. There’s also a Linkedin group: Mobile Technology for Nonprofit Organizations—a good place to ask questions.

The 4 big trends predicted are—

Text to give goes mainstream

Text to give—texting on a smart phone to pledge money to a nonprofit and paying for that donation as part of your mobile carrier’s phone bill—has definitely gained traction. It’s convenient because it alleviates having to enter credit card information on your phone. Last year, by the weekend after the earthquake, the American Red Cross had raised more than $10 million for Haiti relief through its text-to-give campaign. The limitation right now is that text to give pledges can’t exceed $10-$20 each. That has the potential to cannibalize larger gifts. There are other challenges nonprofits need to consider before adopting text to give, as captured in this Mashable post.

Apps and mobile support credit card giving

Kind of cumbersome on a tiny screen, but the option to type your credit card number into your phone and give securely is getting more prevalent on nonprofit websites and apps. One advantage is that your donation reaches the nonprofit significantly sooner than it would through text-to-give, where the mobile carrier is an intermediary.

Another development related to this is the popularization of QR codes (quick response) on mobile devices. You can create these codes free at several sites online (just search for create free qr codes). These are little square bar codes that can immediately link to a url (for example your Facebook page or a donation form), send a text message, or dial a phone number when you scan them with your phone. Just be aware all links should be to mobile friendly pages. Here’s a great post from Nonprofit Tech 2.0 on 22 creative ways nonprofits can use QR codes. (Update–there’s now research from consumer marketers saying that QR codes are too labor intensive for the vast majority of people. Few really use them.)

Facebook credits

Facebook introduced the concept of its own virtual currency—Facebook credits—last April. They allowed people to buy from $1-$100 worth of these credits to give to their friends for great status updates. This was the first small step toward a more widespread use of this kind of virtual currency by Facebook. Later in the year, two charities accept donations using Facebook credits for their fund raising campaigns. Recently, Facebook made credits mandatory for any gaming transactions. It’s pretty clear that at some point in the near future, Facebook will expand credits throughout the Facebook system (maybe even beyond!). In that case, people may be using credits instead of dollars to donate to a nonprofit through Facebook. (Are you ready?)

The advantage to Facebook is that it will take 30% off the top of many transaction fees. And to keep as much money as possible inside the Facebook system, they’ll also give better terms for trading credits for Facebook advertising than for cash outs. But, at some point, Facebook may also give nonprofits a break on transaction fees. Stay tuned.

Paypal Mobile Express Checkout continues to grow

Just launched last summer, Paypal’s Mobile Express Checkout is in the news because of Starbuck’s new app that lets customers pay by having a QR code on their phone swiped, which uses PayPal’s Mobile Express Checkout. It’s a convenient, safe way to make mobile financial transactions, but it’s not yet clear that the people who support and contribute to nonprofits are the segment of the population with Paypal accounts. Maybe that will change.

Smart mobile devices are an increasingly important platform for interaction with your supporters. Think about ways you can leverage this medium more effectively for fund raising. But don’t just jump on the bandwagon—do your cost/benefit research and make sure whatever option you choose supports your brand and your fund raising strategies. Here’s a good post (from MediaPost) to get you thinking about mobile strategy!

CC photo credit: closari


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Nonprofit video roars into 2011: Here are the trends

flickr/John Biehler

I just took a terrific, free, Common Knowledge webinar on the five big nonprofit communication trends for 2011. It was beyond great; it was inspirational! So thorough and well-grounded in strategy-first. I’m going to be sharing some of the major take-aways in my next couple of posts.

BTW—Common Knowledge hosts a weekly webinar series, usually free. I highly recommend them.

One of the trends that excited me most was the increasingly central role that video will play in nonprofit (and everyone else’s) communications starting this year. Two things are contributing to that fact: Technology’s making it easier to stream video and video production tools are easily accessible, simple to use, and affordable.

In the last several months, mobile devices like smart phones and pads have made huge leaps in their capacity to stream video, and internet providers continued to provide faster wireless services and increased bandwidth. Meanwhile, the flipcam and other small, simple video cams—and easy movie editing software included on most computers—have brought production capabilities to almost anyone. If you don’t have any one on staff who knows how to shoot and edit video, you can easily find someone to do it for you at a reasonable rate.

The big predictions

What’s going to be happening in the nonprofit world with video this year?

  • Mobile video breaks out

Greater speed and capacity will have everyone viewing video on their phones or pads.

  • Video advertising becomes more popular

Following commercial advertising trends that recognize dynamic is more effective than static, video ads will join SEO and banner ads as ways that nonprofits can cultivate supporters.

  • User-generated video content goes mainstream

Your nonprofit isn’t the only one capable of producing video that can advance your organization. Your supporters can—and do—too. They’ll be looking for ways to help you tell your story through this medium. Invite them.

  • Marketing video blossoms

Our lingering reliance on text and photos will fade further as nonprofit storytelling makes more and more use of video—a medium (thanks to TV) that everyone’s familiar with and one that humans find very engaging.

Your first steps

If you’ve never done a video before, start now! And probably, start small.

Produce a video in 2011. Take a look at all your communications strategies and objectives this year (and your budgets) and seriously consider which could be better met through a video. There must be at least one opportunity in there somewhere! (Read more about video strategy in my past post on it. Figuring out who you’re trying to reach and why is a critical first step.)

Find a videographer who knows how to shoot, edit, help create a story arc, and do effective interviewing. Work with them on your first production to learn the ropes.(BTW: The rule of thumb for budgeting is about $1,000 for each finished minute of video, but you can pay more if you want a really professional result.) Once you’ve been through the production process a few times, and have gained skills, you may be able to buy a small video camera and do production yourself.

Think in advance how you will use/promote the video, and what ROI you’re after. Will you put it on your website, in an email, on YouTube, on your social networking sites? Also think how the video will integrate with and support your other communications tactics. What response to the video will spell success?

Measure results against the ROI you outlined. By tracking these results, you can get better with each video production you do. You don’t have to be great right off the bat, but you do owe it to your supporters to get better and better.

I leave you with one statistic: Within the next three years, it’s estimated that nearly half of all the information on the internet will be streaming video.

Need any more motivation?

CC photo credit: John Biehler


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12 New Year’s resolutions for nonprofit communicators

Flickr/alykat

1.  Spend no less than three hours a week listening online to what’s going on in your field and what’s being said about your organization. This is how you stay in front of the curve. (Be sure to include couple of good tech news blogs in your listening…NTEN, ReadWriteWeb, TheNextWeb.)

2.  Spend five hours in January scanning the web and social media sites of your organization’s main competitors and peers. You need to know what they’re doing.

3.  Attend at least two professional development activities a year in the field of communications, and at least one that will provide a deeper context for the work of your organization. Tune into one free communications webinar a month to keep your skills sharp.

4.  Learn how to use one new free online communications tool (with possible applications to your job) every month.

5.  Earmark serious time in the first quarter to 1) research and understand the needs and desires of your key audiences, and 2) improve your database.

6.  Draft a set of realistic, meaningful, and measurable communications outcomes for 2011. Create a baseline to measure those outcomes against by Jan. 1, 2011.

7.  Every time someone suggests (demands) a new publication, think strategically about other communications channels that might be more effective and cheaper before committing.

8.  Regularly review analytics for all your organization’s enewsletters, social media platforms, and websites to better understand what users value and what deserves more investment.

9.  Design an intentional, one-year “stairway” of communications and activities that lead each of your 2-3 key audiences from initial awareness closer to engagement, loyalty, and support.

10.  Thank people with sincerity at every opportunity, both inside and outside the organization. Don’t forget reporters. Talk in person to every key partner inside your organization once a week.

11.  Learn all you can about mobile—study what other nonprofits are doing in terms of optimization, apps, marketing, etc.  (Also keep your eye on how consumer marketers are using it.)

12.  Embody the values of your organization in every human interaction you have on the job. (actions=brand)

And most of all—while you’re doing all these things—remember your life is bigger than your job. Be kind and have fun!

If you’d like to contribute a resolution for nonprofit communicators, please add it in comments below.

CC photo credit/alykat


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The CEO bully pulpit: Commentaries in the digital age

Flickr/southtyrolean

I’ve wanted to post for a while about one of my favorite media tactics for nonprofits and foundations. I guess it’s one of my favorites because I’ve been lucky enough to work with some courageous CEOs and executive directors who were willing to use their stature and credibility in the community to move the needle on social issues—everything from renewable energy to the importance of arts for school children.

I call this media tactic the bully pulpit, and you should only use it if you and your board are comfortable taking a public stand on an issue.

As more foundations and nonprofits understand that information is one of their chief assets, their leaders are using online tools like blogs and twitter to share their knowledge and perspectives with a wider audience. One simple sharing tactic is the submission of opinion editorials or commentaries to online media outlets—both mainstream and niche.

Most mainstream media have robust online websites, and nearly all include invitations for people from the community to submit opinion pieces or commentaries for online publication. Think about the media outlets—and don’t forget the specialty media—that are read by the audiences you’re trying to reach.

First, let me remind you that any tactic has to fit within your larger communications strategy. For instance, if you’re trying to change an issue frame on a particular issue, or bring new information and wisdom to light about a public policy, this tactic may be of use to you. If you’re trying to change public policy, this can work too, but be sure to adhere to nonprofit guidelines about advocacy.

Part one: Placing the commentary

This tactic actually has two parts, both equally important. First, you need to write and place the commentary. That involves five steps:

1) Clarify what you want to change (behavior, policy, awareness) as a result of the commentary and who can actually make that change (your key audiences).

2) Thoughtfully pick which media outlets reach those people and look over those outlets’ submission policies.

3) Think about timing (if you’re submitting more than one, do you want a blitz or a stream? Do you want to tie this to an event?).

4) Write a commentary tailored to each media outlet and the audience it attracts, which includes understanding your main talking points and path of persuasion, as well as the commentary guidelines for each outlet. Most op-eds run between 500-800 words.

5) Submit the piece online, including a brief explanation of who you are. (NOTE: Most outlets can take up to three weeks to publish op-eds. They may ask you for a photo.)

For each of the outlets you think are good matches for you key audiences, take time to read through the last few months of  published op-eds—both from  their editorial staff and members of the community—to get a sense of what kinds of issues and approaches each outlet is interested in. (Also, make sure no one has already written what you’re planning to write.)

Then do a topic search of their news for the past two months on the issue you want to write about. Pay special attention to what they’ve published about this issue in the past two weeks—there may be a news hook for your piece in there. For instance, if you want to write about education, it’s important to know that a new educational achievement report just came out last week—you may want to tie your commentary to that article.

Part two: Targeted recycling

Part two kicks in when the commentary is published. It’s great when visitors to the media website happen to read your piece, but don’t rely on serendipity for getting your key audiences to the website. Let them know once it’s been published through a short email with a link included. Don’t look at the email as a way to toot your own horn, think of it as sharing interesting content with potential readers. (Check to see if the media outlet requires link rights. Sometimes, these articles go offline after a couple of weeks unless you have obtained those rights.)

If you want to get even more personal, get reprint permission rights from the media outlet and send it out to key people with a personal note attached. (Be aware, reprint rights can cost money. Be sure to ask if they offer a nonprofit discount.)

More likely than not, this post-publication recycling of the op-ed is going to be the best way to ensure that those people you really want to see it actually do.

You can use online commentaries to create buzz by submitting different pieces to different media on the same topic in a short period–3-4 weeks. Or you can create a steady stream over a few months, or aim at quarterly placements that keep an issue in front of the public.

If you have any other advice for nonprofit leaders who write commentaries—please share it below!

CC photo credit: southtyrolean

Social issue documentaries: Building a movement

Here in the Twin Cities, we’ve just experienced an interesting media frenzy about a social issue documentary called Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story that was produced by the University of Minnesota and funded by various foundations and governmental agencies. The one-hour film–which was scheduled to debut on Twin Cities Public Television this month–examines the contribution of modern agricultural techniques to the dangerous degradation of Midwest water and soil, and the burgeoning growth of the dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

A few weeks before the film’s scheduled airing, the University’s vice president of external affairs pulled the plug on it. They said they were going to have to review it more closely and that it villified agriculture. I won’t get into the PR debacle this last-minute censorship unleashed for the University (and rightly so in my opinion)–that’s a sad cautionary tale in and of itself. The story broke in a community media blog and spread to every other media outlet in the region. After much public outcry and pressure from funders and advocacy groups, the University allowed the film to be shown to a SRO crowd at the University and finally, to be shown on Twin Cities Public Television—without any pre-promotion.

I watched it last night, and was impressed at how clearly it raises important questions about U.S. farm policy and points toward next practices that could help stem the rapid loss of our best soil and the pollution of our watersheds. With all the publicity surrounding it–I’m hopeful it will have a long shelf life and eventually reach a much larger audience.It deserves that kind of exposure. (I wish I could give you a link to the film, but both the University and Twin Cities Public Television provide only minimum text information on their sites. I hope that changes!)

All this reminded me what a powerful medium film has become for igniting social movements. We all haunt the halls of YouTube, but we sometimes overlook the extraordinary film documentary work that’s being done to help people understand the causes and solutions for what seem like intractable problems. It’s not just Al Gore and Michael Moore—there are hundreds of writers, directors, and producers devoting their talents to this new way of educating citizens and building social movements. Here’s a great blog post from the Center for Social Media at The American University on Social Issue Documentaries: The Evolution of Public Engagement.

The good news is that—like Troubled Waters, which was funded in part by The McKnight Foundation—foundations are starting to grasp the promise of film documentaries. Obviously, this isn’t a realistic communications undertaking for most nonprofits—high quality production and distribution cost money. But for foundations, large nonprofits, and consortia of nonprofits—it can be a very effective way of sparking public and media interest, and getting more people engaged in behaviors that support the common good. And remember, as the line between television and computer blurs, these productions could gain much wider viewership in the next few years.


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Nonprofits: Become a personal “content” shopper for your audiences

shopping bags

flickr/Somewhat Frank

Content curation isn’t new, even though a lot is being written about it these days. Some nonprofits have been curating content on their websites and blogs for quite a while…maybe without exactly calling it that.

Content curation is filtering, selecting, and/or remixing and reorganizing online content, typically to meet the needs and interests of particular audiences.

Why is this practice valuable? Because none of us has time to comb through the web for the bits we’re most interested in. Think of this service as akin becoming a personal shopper for your audiences—someone who finds the stuff they love and pulls it conveniently together for them, saving them hours, frustration…and 500 bags!

Ever since Clay Shirky’s observation about information overload being a problem not of too much information but of filter failure, folks—including the corporate sector—have begun paying more attention to the crucial role of filtering quality content to serve their customers/supporters. Now that about anyone can publish and the web is rife with information of questionable quality/credibility, this filtering role has taken on even more value.

If you look around, content curation is everywhere—from “10 best restaurant” recommendations to magazine features on sustainable gardening tips to blogs that provide the latest tech news for geeks. Remember, this isn’t just collecting, it’s selecting. Good curation is more than aggregation. Your supporters want you to provide them only with the cream of the crop.

It also involves organization. Using the personal shopper metaphor—you have to decide whether your clients prefer to view outfits (where the shoes, tops, bottoms, etc. are put together by you), functional categories (all the shoes, all the tops, etc.), or everything grouped by color. You want to make it as easy for them as possible to understand what parts of your content they’re going to like the most.

If you want to get more intentional about curation, first become your key audience. Think from their perspective about what information they want and need related to your issue or cause. What will help them make the decisions they face in their lives? What will reward them and make life easier? What will amaze and delight them?

Here are a few examples of blog and website curation that hit the mark. They’re audience-centric, selective, and presented in a way that provides enough information about relevance and significance for viewers to decide what links to click. These examples range from simple lists to broader topical contexts.

  • Wild Apricot blog’s monthly list of free webinars well serves their audience of nonprofits interested in technology and social media. Professional development content is very relevant (especially the word FREE). They further help you filter your interests by telling you both the date/times of the events and a bit about the topic, so you can go right to the content that fits your schedule and interests.
  • The Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science blog curates news and information about conservation and climate change, covering everything from migratory birds to coral reefs and rain forests. They include original content, links to interesting online features, news from around the world, and reader comments. But it all centers on conservation , their core work.
  • The National Wildlife Federation’s Be Out There blog helps parents think of creative ways to get kids away from their computers and video games to spend time outdoors. They want young people to build a relationship with the natural world that will benefit both the kids and the planet…and develop potential future donors to NWF!
  • Another great curatorial site is mnartists.org, an online marketplace for Minnesota artists and a clearinghouse for almost anything art related that’s happening in the state—from competitions to concerts to community events. Because the site’s so good at curating content useful to artists, it’s built a large, active following.

My curatorial aim in tweeting is to share the best resources and advice I find in my daily online reading about nonprofits, communications, and social media. The intended audience is nonprofit communications staff, and my goal is to do some of the heavy “sifting” for them. Organizations can use Facebook the same targeted way. You already know that from all the pages you’ve “liked” that provide you with continuous content related to a favorite book, TV program, movie, celebrity, etc. Even advertising is curated on Facebook.

As repositories of important information, nonprofits and foundations can be great content curators. Not only does their knowledge about their causes allow them to spot the best online resources, but they can also curate their own original information.

For example, does your website categorize your information by type—publications, links, news releases, speeches, video? Why not gather your best resources from those categories on specific topics of interest to your audience? (Few viewers come to your site eager to learn about your publications or news releases, they’ve got a subject in mind.) Put it all in one place for them—and that includes links to your social media channels if they contain relevant information. (Don’t forget the share buttons!) Here’s an example from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—a news page on multicultural health issues for journalists who write for Latino and African American readerships.

Another way to curate content is to display it by its popularity. You can do this by tracking clicks or by actually opening up your content to “Like.” It may feel risky, but it will be a great source of intelligence (rather than guesswork) about what kinds of content matter most to your audiences. Lots of retail sites have already begun to display their most Liked wares (e.g., Urban Outfitters). In the nonprofit world, Wild Apricot blog does a great job of this—allowing viewers to vote on which content they like best and then highlighting that content each month.

Chances are you’re already doing some kind of content curation on your website, blog, and social media. I hope this post helps bring sharper focus to that practice. It’s crucial expertise to have as the amount of online information grows every day.

CC photo credit: Somewhat Frank


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