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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3 cool, creative, free communications tools for nonprofits

Flickr/marcmo

It’s been too long since I’ve posted about free online tools, and there are some recent ones that deserve your attention. Depending on your audiences and communications strategies—these might make interesting new communications channels for you.

Your own live, interactive TV show

Want to stream an event live? Consider Ustream, which lets anyone with an Internet connection and a camera engage an audience of unlimited size in an immediate, interactive way. Ustream has been used to broadcast everything from high school sporting events to Hollywood movie premieres to Charity:Water’s well-digging, and people are finding new uses for it every day. You can create a channel for your organization, just like YouTube. You can also record your event for future uses. Here’s a quickie how-to overview and a recent blog post with tips from a nonprofit that’s used it. This is a great, free way to increase the reach of your special events.

Your own radio program

You may already listen to the nonprofit marketing and fund raising advice of Kivi LeRoux Miller or Marc Pitman on Blogtalkradio, but have you considered how this free internet radio platform could contribute to your nonprofit’s communication goals? All you need are a phone and computer and you can create your own online radio show, and share it everywhere–Facebook, itunes, Twitter, and more. What a terrific storytelling medium for sharing your work or interviewing the beneficiaries of it. If you’re not up to live video streaming yet, you may want to use this audio tool at events to increase audience reach. Or use it to broadcast discussions about nonprofit issues. (Here’s an example of that from Rosetta Thurman, talking about social justice and philanthropy.) Your supporters can listen where and when it’s convenient for them.

Your own animated slideshows

Last year I blogged about the promise of Animoto, Glogster, and Yodio as free ways to add more zip to your photos. I’ll add one more–Kizoa. I think Kizoa is more fun-loving than the other two, and may not work as well for more serious topics. You have a lot of choices among transitions, special effects, text, animation, and music–so the challenge here is to remember that “less is more.”  It would be very easy to incorporate so many gizmos that viewers are distracted from your message. But this could be a creative, engaging way to issue event invitations or say thanks to your supporters, among other things. Being light-hearted and humorous can be an advantage sometimes, just make sure you use it appropriately. You can share these slideshows through email or Facebook.

Multichannel communication is the name of the game these days, and don’t forget to effectively cross-promote! Connect your channels, align your communications, and invite participation in the form of comments, tweets, updates, posts, etc.

Any other newish free tools out there you’d like to add to this list? I’d love to hear about them.

Creative Commons photo credit: marcmo


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The Empty Package–Nonprofits, Social Media, and Content Strategy

giftbox

flickr/minxlj

I’m delighted to see recent data about the nonprofit sector’s leadership in adopting social media.

I’m also a little worried.

We’re all familiar with the knock-out Facebook pages, Twitter streams, flickr albums, and YouTube channels of large nonprofits who have become models in the use of social media to grow and engage supporters. I love keeping track of what they’re doing…thanks in part to Beth Kanter and others who share these organizations’ experiments and growing wisdom with us.

But I see a slew of other nonprofit social sites that remind me of empty packages. They can be beautifully wrapped sometimes—with great visual branding. But once you get beyond appearance to substance, there’s no meat, no content strategy. They’ve jumped onto the social media bandwagon without much of a plan.

Content freshness is a well known value by now; most organizations try to tweet and update often. And some of the pages look great. My concern is that there’s often so little evidence of a content strategy. Much of the time, it’s impossible from reading the content to know who the intended audience is or what the purpose of the communication is. That’s a bad sign. It tells me they’ve focused on paper and ribbons, and not the gift inside.

For example:

Twitbook

So many Facebook pages regurgitate Twitter streams, and vice versa. (Also true for blogs and FB.) That’s time-efficient for the administrator, but it can be a turn-off for your followers to find the same things in both places. Twitter, Facebook, and blogs are different tools with different strengths and uses. Think through your strategy for each of them, because they aren’t interchangeable. Maybe, for your organization, they should even be aimed at different audience segments.

My, me, mine

I run across a dozen Facebook pages a day that are simply a series of updates by the organization about its own news and activities. Even with clever text and good photos, those updates read like a PR newswire. There’s certainly a place for some of your own news on your Facebook page, but this medium is about conversation and community. If someone talks about themselves all the time, it’s not a conversation (in fact, it’s boring). Having 4,000 followers and no comments or posts from anyone else isn’t a genuine community or a successful Facebook page. Engagement is what you’re after.

Willy Loman lives

Too many nonprofits still try to use social media as a selling  instrument. They look at these communication channels as one more place they can tell you how important they are and what kind of impact they have–in hopes you’ll donate or volunteer. That selling approach—even if it’s done well—isn’t appropriate for social media. Use it on your direct mail, maybe even on your website donation page, but not on Facebook and Twitter. Social media require a service mentality, not a sales mentality. You really have to care about helping your followers in some way—making life easier for them, solving their problems, getting them where they want to go, helping them feel good. This is not to say these tools can’t be used at some point to help raise funds, but build your community first—and build it honestly. As one strategy guru said recently about content—“It’s not what you sell. It’s what you stand for.” (You know all those lofty values your organization shares on your website? You should be living them out through your social media.)

Cha-ching cha-ching

Many nonprofit Facebook pages are geared toward fund-raising, with donate widgets everywhere, sometimes in two or three places on the landing page. That might work well for websites, but social media aren’t websites. Lots of Facebook group pages and other pages are exclusively aimed at raising money for short-term crises and projects—I’m not really addressing those. I’m talking about organizational pages that are seeking to get more engaged followers, to build online communities. Maybe you don’t need a “give” message on every single social channel. Shouldn’t there be more places and occasions when you aren’t asking your followers and friends for something, but offering them something? Like the most relevant and significant content?

Nonprofits should heed the movement toward content marketing in the for-profit sector—where companies are starting to understand that telling people how important their brand/product is isn’t as effective as actually being important to them. So, instead of shouting out product benefits, they’re starting to create and curate social media, email, and web content that explicitly meets their customer’s wants and needs. There’s purpose behind every piece of content they put out there. They’re building stronger brand loyalty by letting their customers help drive that content.

I’m not suggesting that nonprofits turn to content marketing—but that they come up with a more disciplined strategy for their social media content. Content is your most powerful reader engagement tool! You can’t afford to randomly slap up photos, updates, videos, and tweets. You can’t just talk about yourself, you have to bring your friends and followers into the conversation. You can’t aim at everybody, you have to know who you’re trying to reach and why. You can’t expect followers to do something for you, at least until you’ve done something for them (and more than once).

Think about the purpose of what you’re tweeting, posting, and updating. This is not to say everything has to be deadly serious or a version of your organization’s key messages–but you should know why you’re sharing a piece of content and what outcomes you’re hoping for from which audiences.

I’m going to close with a great content strategy example.

The nonprofit blogger John Haydon has started a Facebook page that does only one thing—answers people’s questions about Facebook. It doesn’t promote his consulting services—it embodies them. There are no self-promotional ads or come-ons—he simply shares his considerable insights about how to use Facebook by answering questions his friends ask. (He brands himself as The Facebook Guy, which even takes his name out of the equation yet creates a well defined niche.) Even more—the content is personalized. His answers help one person at a time solve real problems.

What’s not to love? John has combined two of the most powerful friend engagement strategies out there—content marketing and personalization. You have seen the future.

My next post will be about the potential of content curation for nonprofits. (No, I don’t believe “Curation is king.” But it can be part of your overall content strategy for websites, blogs, and social media.)

PS: I will also soon wrap up the final installment of the strategic planning for nonprofits series from earlier this year. Thanks for your patience!

CC photo credit/minxlj


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Direct mail envelopes–five ideas for nonprofit fundraising

ricky(Another stellar guest post from nonprofit fund raising expert Rick Schwartz!)

My family usually shops for groceries with canvas bags that I pick up at conferences. But every third or fourth week we ask the checkout clerk to use paper bags instead, so we can use them to recycle newspapers, my son’s homework assignments, and about 99.5% of the direct mail we get, unopened.

A good half of my direct mail is from nonprofits and, even in my modestly generous home, nine out of 10 new appeals go unopened into the recycling bag.

I hate to say it, but yours may have been one of them. Too bad. With very little cost, effort, and imagination, you could have gotten me to at least open the envelope. Then who knows what might have happened!

Your first competitor is indifference

So says branding expert Harry Beckwith. A boring envelope signals boring contents. Sadly, experience has proven that true. Just one more lackluster appeal for money. Do you open those letters at your house? Me neither.

Remember, direct mail is a science, not an art. As such, marketers test everything about an envelope:

  • color and quality of paper
  • shape and size of envelope
  • postage stamp or bulk mail indicia (Herschell Gordon Lewis, Direct Mail Copy That Sells, recommends a postage meter)
  • “teaser” (Robert Bly, The Copywriter’s Handbook, says “no teaser” unless it’s really good)
  • typeface (gotten any ‘hand-addressed’ mail yet?)

Truth is, some methods work until consumers catch on to them. Then direct mail marketers have to find something new. Here are five ideas gleaned from real appeals I’ve received that made me at least stop and think. Most of these should fit into reasonable budgets; you just have to print the envelope.

Hey, I get something for free (benefits)

Some effective envelopes appeal to most people’s desire to get some kind of benefit (other than moral) from giving to your organization. You do have stuff to offer: maps of great hiking trails, 10 tips on choosing a doctor, note cards, a down-to-earth explanation of charitable giving. No, you’re not selling your soul to the devil by “selling” your nonprofit.

Words you might find yourself using: “free” and “enclosed”. Robert Bly suggests you include something that can be felt in the envelope. It doesn’t have to be expensive, something like a calendar magnet. (Be aware that some studies show that giveaways like tote bags and stuffed animals lead only to short, superficial relationships.)

What the heck’s in the envelope? (curiosity)

Some envelopes raise questions whose answers you must know, but can only find inside. Two examples from Planned Parenthood include envelope copy that reads: “They’re coming after our organization with everything they’ve got” and “More unintended pregnancies in 6 easy steps.” Another organization touts a curiosity-arousing “ultimate offer” on its envelope.

I’m special (exclusivity)

Making donors feel they are part of an elite group leads directly to the largest gifts (in many cases). Herschell Gordon Lewis says four words work here: “private”, “advance”, “invitation”, and “exclusive”.  Recently, the Smithsonian sent me something announcing on the envelope that I was one of a few select readers in my state to be chosen to complete a survey. (The envelope is pictured above.) Other appeal envelopes I receive come from celebrities or luminaries who sign their names in the return address slot. Another envelope told me” “We’re not for everyone, but then, maybe you’re not everyone.”

Uh, oh! (fear)

It’s sometimes powerful to call attention to a looming threat. Examples include an envelope bearing the message “A gathering storm of anti-Jewish hate” or one warning that “The religious right wants to change the way you live.”

To dream the impossible dream! (a call to arms)

Nonprofits should excel at enthusiastically stating the essential challenge. That’s what makes the boring envelopes above so unforgivable. Tell the prospective supporter what he or she is fighting for. Real-life examples include envelopes with the following printed messages: ” It’s one of the most powerful and dangerous initiation rights imaginable–and every day more than 5,000 girls are at risk” or “94 million American children with no health care; zero has been done to stop global warming; 155,000 US troops stuck in Iraq—49 US senators are behind it all.”

I’m so embarrassed (guilt)
Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving. I know LOTS of nonprofit folks who truly believe that everybody who is not supporting their cause should feel guilty. I almost always find that the nonprofit just hasn’t made its case well. That said, guilt can be used in strange ways. One example is a photo envelope of a mother polar bear and two vulnerable cubs with the headline “Please help.”

A few other ideas
Other effective envelopes I’ve seen:

  • blank except for the recipient’s handwritten address
  • a personal note (in real ink) on the envelope
  • way oversized envelopes

Your turn
There’s very little about envelope ideas above that you can’t tailor and re-create economically for your nonprofit of almost any size. Follow these steps:

  • Know the dramatic selling points of your cause
  • Package the information your nonprofit can share
  • Understand the motivations of your donors
  • Save sample envelopes you love (and hate)
  • Test ideas on your friends and family. Don’t give them more than four seconds to look at the envelope.
  • Devote the time and resources necessary to make the envelope work.

Thanks, Rick!

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Nonprofit database = Golden goose

flickr/mykl roventine

flickr/mykl roventine

A nonprofit’s database is the goose that lays golden eggs. Feed it, groom it, keep it healthy.

I read on a blog yesterday that now that social media’s here, nonprofits really don’t need to have an email database. I think that’s way premature. Email—and even direct mail—aren’t dead. And they may never be. So don’t stop caring for and honing your database. Start adding social media information to it, too.

It’s very rewarding to create fabulous communications; but it’s just as important to communicate with the right people. You have to know who they are and be able to reach them—through social media, email, snail mail, telephone, etc. And you have to know their history with your organization, their preferences and interests.

Maintaining and growing your database is the way you’re able to establish and build long-term relationships with donors, clients, supporters, volunteers, and others important to your cause. That’s crucial to your sustainability.

Databases are living bodies of information. It takes constant work to keep one in tip-top shape, but the alternative is wasted time, effort, and money…and occasionally, irritated supporters. (How many times do I receive two or three of the same communications from a nonprofit that hasn’t purged its list to remove duplications?)

Even if, as a communicator, you’re not in charge of your organization’s database management, get involved. A good database is fundamental to your success. I’ve rounded up a few good articles that can point the way. Invest some time and thought into making sure that your database is accurate, effectively segmented, easily accessible and searchable, and consistently well managed.

10 Commandments of data management for nonprofits (John Kenyon)

Five symptoms of list decay (Frogloop)

Best practices for managing a database (Robert Weiner)

8 tips to strengthen your database (Network for Good)

If you have any relevant advice from your own experience, or other resources on this topic to recommend, please add them below.

CC photo credit: Mykl Roventine

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Free tool of the week: VoiceThread for nonprofits

flickr/ //amy//

flickr/ //amy//

When I first found out about VoiceThread a while back, it struck me as something that foundations and nonprofits could make good use of. It’s a cool way to capture people’s engagement with a topic and image—to weave the threads of their voices into the story being  told.

A VoiceThread is a multimedia slideshow of photos, video, or documents that allows people to easily leave comments and join the conversation. Visually, it’s a slideshow screen surrounded by a mosaic of little avatars of all the people who comment on the image. When you click on the avatar you hear them or see what they’ve written or drawn. People can comment in five simple ways: by telephone, by computer microphone, by web cam, by writing text, or by drawing.

Once you’ve created the central slideshow story—you can invite people to view it and comment on it. Thus the conversation grows.

Wondering how you might use this free tool?

  • How about getting your donors to add their voices to a story about a common cause they all support, telling why they support it?
  • How about showcasing your grantees’ work by asking them to add their comments to a VoiceThread story you create about an issue they’re working on?
  • How about showing how real living human beings are affected by the work you do? Ask them to add comments to a VoiceThread about how one of your programs has helped them.
  • Honoring someone special? Create a VoiceThread testimonial to them including all the voice of people whose lives they’ve touched
  • Trying to build a social movement? Here’s a very visual way to start—tell your VoiceThread story and ask supporters to add their supportive comments. Watch the little avatars multiply!

These ideas should help you get started thinking about ways you might incorporate VoiceThread into your website, social media platforms, emails to help achieve strategic communication goals.  It’s very easy to share—embeddable, emailable, etc.

Now, for a little introduction from the Voicethreads folks. And here’s a great step-by-step how-to slideshow, and an example of how educators are using VoiceThread to carry out conversations with students. It’s a very versatile tool…as you’ll see as you browse through the collection of existing VoiceThreads; everything from podcasting tutorials to art exhibitions to children’s voices about what’s happening in Darfur.

As usual, I played around with this free tool—just enough to create a very simple 1-slide central story about the issue of homeless teens. When you get to the page, just click on the lone avatar for the ABCD Foundation to hear the story. (I pretended I was a foundation interested in highlighting the work of its grantees working on that issue.) You’re going to have to IMAGINE other little avatars surrounding it—each from a grantee talking about the impact of their work with homeless teens. (It would be terrific to have some of those voices be the teens themselves.)

There are a few different pricing levels beyond what you can get for free (3 min. maximums on recordings, max. of 50 comments, etc.). But, even the Pro account, which gives you the most creative freedom is only $60 per year.

I see a lot of potential of this tool for the nonprofit sector–and not just for educators. Nothing is more fascinating to us than other people–what they think, what they say and do, what they support. VoiceThread is a unique way to combine your organization’s voice with the voices of your supporters or beneficiaries. It makes for richer, more inclusive, more credible storytelling. Plus—it’s pretty darn easy to use! Try it.

CC photo credit: //amy//

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The best fundraising advice I’ve ever heard!

Language CaptureAbsolutely every nonprofit executive and development or communications director should listen to this 45-minute audio presentation–The Language of Change.

No exceptions.

No excuses.

You need to hear Tom Suddes‘ brilliant advice about framing your fund raising…not just the way you talk and think about it, but the way you do it. He focuses on 20 common words and meanings, all of which need to be replaced by new ones. For 90% of you, this talk will turn your world on its head.

It may be the most important thing you listen to all year.

We owe big thanks to Network for Good for bringing this to us all free!

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Guest post: It’s your nonprofit’s anniversary? Who cares…

Rick Schwartz

Rick Schwartz

Another great guest post by Rick Schwartz.

In late 2007, I was invited  to talk to a community foundation that was going to celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2008.

Coincidentally, 2007 was my own 25th wedding anniversary, and that was the basis of my perhaps controversial opening question to the community foundation’s board: “Who cares?”

Think about it. A couple celebrates a landmark anniversary. Of course it should be meaningful to them. It offers all kinds of opportunities for reflection and renewal. But why do we expect other people to care? However warm your family, however close your friends, anniversaries have a very weak gravitational pull as you move outside the hot inner core.

Apply that reality to your nonprofit, too. Who really cares that your organization is having an anniversary? Your staff? Your board? Your clients? Your funders? Your grantees (if you’re a grantmaker)? What is it exactly they should feel so excited about?

Yet many nonprofits assume that a fancy-numbered anniversary will somehow magically: 1) finally make them as famous as they deserve to be, and 2) bring in lots of money.

Actually, it’s worth a try

Despite my cynical approach, the community foundation decided it would forge ahead with a 25th anniversary celebration with me as their for the following 14 months. I think it was because I told them that their anniversary did, in fact, mean a great deal to certain key people in its fascinating mix of urban and rural, tiny and larger, poor and wealthier towns.

We just had to tell those people what that importance was. An anniversary year would be a good start. We could use the occasion to: distinguish the organization from every other organization, and bring inside circles of people closer. It’s also a perfect time to reinvigorate staff and board with the meaning and mission of the organization. I promise you, your organization will change in the course of the year.

Everyone’s anniversary means something different

So, I’m a donor to your organization. Why should I be excited about your anniversary?

The community foundation used its anniversary to tell key people four important messages: proof of permanence, legacy, achievement, and gratitude.

  • We made it! Twenty-five years ago, our founders had a dream of people creating a permanent endowment for the region. Today, $30 million later, it could declare victory, for everyone’s good!
  • Your ‘investments’ have made a difference. At the 25-year mark, we can look back and count the successes: programs launched, scholarships granted, land protected, children’s services created, etc.
  • You are a part of history! Stop and take a breath. This is no longer a two- or three-year project, but the first 25 years of history of what will become an even greater institution.
  • Thank you! Have we had a chance to thank all of you who actually planted the seeds? Can one ever say ‘thank you’ enough

What does your nonprofit’s anniversary mean?

Nine basic activities that made the difference

For the community foundation, here are what turned out to be the nine most important elements of the year. The first five prepared the soil:

  • The board and staff agreed to be ice cold clear and realistic about our goals for the year.
  • Every item we planned was judged and designed for its direct relevance to the goals. Lots of great ideas were proposed; lots were discarded if the link couldn’t be made.
  • We developed a no-surprises budget that even Ed, the CFO, could comfortably live with
  • Everyone agreed to and embraced the answers for “It’s your anniversary. So what?”Every public mention of the anniversary included the “so what?” answers.

The other four key elements were specific to this organization; your activities may be different.

  • The foundation held two lovely gatherings. The first one was at the beginning of the year for key donors and funders, former board members, and committee members. Attendees were thanked for their essential roles in the organization. They were given the official “reasons” for the anniversary and were given the first look at the schedule of activities. Finally, as “insiders,” they were encouraged to be ambassadors during this celebratory year. The second gathering was in the fall. Invitations went to the above group of insiders, but also to people more loosely connected to the foundation, grantees, and just about everyone of influence in the state.    The program and the setting were choreographed to answer the “So what?” question, but entertainingly.
  • With appropriate fanfare, the foundation gave an anniversary “gift to the community” that brilliantly represented why the foundation is such a unique organization. In this case, it was a $1.5 million gift to the local public library system.
  • The foundation created an award-winning annual report. The two-part publication is pretty spectacular (you can see it online) but the process of creating it was almost as important. The CEO and others interviewed people who had started the foundation as a dream and a promise 25 years earlier. In doing so, the report honored people who had drifted, perhaps, from the fold, and reminded them they were welcome. Their stories were heartfelt and respectful.
  • We requested, and received, editorial meetings with the daily press. The parties and the annual report brought the foundation’s existing circles closer. The gift to the community and the media work introduced the foundation to a wider public.

Sure, we had some great outcomes, but the best are yet to come

Was all the effort worth it? Some measures are quantitative:

  • A 57% increase in contributions from the previous year, despite a horrendous economy
  • Major turnouts at both events
  • The Gold award for the annual report from the Council on Foundations (yay!)
  • Governor Jodi Redl declared a “Community Foundation of Southeastern Connecticut Day”
  • Congratulatory editorials.

The anniversary year has passed. Now it’s up to the community foundation to keep that spirit of celebration alive by continuing its good work.

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