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


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

The CEO bully pulpit: Commentaries in the digital age


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

Using social media to drive policy change

Consider how you can best use social media to achieve your policy change goals

Before I launch into my real post below, I want to take a minute to revel in being a Minnesotan. In the past several years, there have been very few opportunities to do that. But Tuesday, we reclaimed something of our past selves by setting a new state one-day online fund raising record of $14 million!!!

As Beth Kanter says, it’s a jaw dropping figure. One day, one state, one website…hundreds of nonprofits supported.

The success of this venture is due to many factors–great communications among them–but we all owe a debt to the local foundations who helped come up with this idea and who gave major support to it–the Minneapolis and St. Paul Foundations, the Blandin Foundation, the Bush Foundation, and the Minnesota Community Foundation. (United Way was in the mix, too.) Did I mention they matched the first $500,000 in contributions!

This unprecendented outpouring of good will in such hard economic times is not only a fabulous case study for the potential of online giving, but an inspiration for other states. Today, I’m proud to live here.

But, even as GiveMN day was an important proving ground for online fund raising, this post is about a excellent new free online tool for those who want to use social media to support program related goals. Cause Communications has come up with yet another in its great series of guides for nonprofit communicators.

Their new Online Outreach Tool Guide is one the most helpful, concise resources I’ve seen to help nonprofit executives and communications experts decide how to use social media to advance their social issues and mobilize policy change.

The guide features a grid that shows which social media channels are best at achieving four different communications objectives: increasing credibility, raising awareness, encouraging dialogue, and mobilizing support. The authors also provide great examples from the real world about nonprofits that have employed each of these channels successfully—from social bookmarking and online advertising to microblogging and photosharing.

The short booklet also contains a lot of common sense wisdom that can help nonprofits start using these online tools strategically and measuring their results. There’s a whole section listing the ROI milestones that can be measured to gauge progress over time.

What especially appeals to me is the application of social media to policy change and issue framing, rather than just fund- and friend-raising. These tools have tremendous potential for informing people about issues, engaging them in civic dialogue, and ultimately, mobilizing them to take action.

Nonprofits should be thinking about using social media to support their program and organizational goals, not just their development goals. People like Beth Kanter and Allison Fine are helping lead the sector in that direction, and I’m hopeful that—even as beleaguered as nonprofits are right now—they will seize this new opportunity.


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


Free tool of the week: Glogster for interactive posters you can share

glog3CaptureThis week I’m back on the trail of online storytelling tools for nonprofits and foundations. In past weeks, I’ve reviewed Yodio, Animoto, and Prezi. This week it’s Glogster.

Glogster lets you create interactive “posters” using various bits of pre-made and user-generated content—video, photos, music, text, graphics, etc. You can use this service and save/publish your glogs without registering, which is handy. And, it’s fun to use!

If you look at Glogster’s homepage (above), you might think this is a self-expression tool for teens. It’s that, and much more I think. In a matter of about 15 minutes, I whipped up two super-simple cause posters about the need for youth development opportunities. They’re no award winners, but I got a sense for how powerful these posters might be if you spent more time and thought on them. I didn’t even explore the music aspect, but that could be a nice effect. Just click twice on the images to go to the full sized glogs. (Note: The one on the right has an embedded Youtube video.) For a better idea of the range of this tool, check out new glogs featured on the Glogster site.


The creative process is simple, but you do have to download videos, music, and photos before you can place them on your glog.

Sharing glogs is pretty easy, too. You can send them by email; bookmark them; and embed them on Facebook, MySpace, Blogger, WordPress, and other social media sites.

This could be a great way for nonprofits to create unique, engaging visuals for special event announcements, fund-raising appeals, donor thank yous, or even cause or educational messages. (NOTE: If you’re going to create a glog without professional design guidance, it might be a good idea to review my Design Eye-Q post from a few weeks back.)

Hope you find glogging as promising as I do!


The road to remarkable emails



Last week at NTC, Katya Andresen and Mark Rovner commented that before nonprofits start investing heavily in social media, they need to make sure that their blogs are fantastic and their emails are remarkable—because that’s where the technology comfort level probably is for most nonprofit supporters.

Great emails can help build your brand, drive offline or online action, and raise funds. It pays to devote attention to their purpose, appearance, subject lines, content (especially what the first few lines say–that may be all that the readers see in their preview windows), and frequency.

Keep in mind that emails need to be part of a larger strategy that uses other communications tactics. Recent research shows that only one in four recipients opens nonprofit emails, so don’t put all your eggs in that basket.

Here are some thought provoking links that provide advice for your organization on creating remarkable emails.


CC photo credit: mzelle-biscotte

Nonprofits: Create “customer pathways” to build loyalty



Recently, I was sent a free copy of You’ve Got to Have Heart, a new book about how to achieve success in the nonprofit sector by Cass Wheeler, longtime CEO of The American Heart Association (AHA).  I went right to the “Big Brass Bands” chapter on marketing.

Wheeler talks a lot about AHA’s growing customer focus, both the methods it employs to understand customer needs and how it uses that information in designing programs and communications.

One of his ideas in particular struck me as relevant to communicators—the recommendation that nonprofits consciously create “customer pathways” to make it easy for people to deepen their relationship with the organization.

The example he shares is AHA exploring how an initial contact—like a Web site visit—can be turned into call to a call center, which can then turn into participation in a Heart Walk, which can then turn into a lifelong relationship and possible donations.

Think about how your supporters typically come into first contact with your organization. Is it through your Web site, another Web site, a social networking site, an ad, a newsletter, attendance at an event? (If it’s your Web site, track analytics to find out which pages they land on most. In the age of search engines, they can zoom right into a subsection and never hit your homepage.)

Then think about the next step you’d like those new supporters to take to get more involved with your organization. (Don’t necessarily leap to donation, you’re building a long-term relationship here. Put their interests, needs, and comfort level first.) Do you want them to sign up for a newsletter, add their name to a mailing list, get more information on your cause or organization, visit your Web site, call with a question, sign up for your Facebook fan page?

How can you intentionally prime your initial contact points to encourage new supporters to take those next steps?

  • Do you need to add an enewsletter sign up to your most popular Web pages?
  • Should you feature an information line phone number in your newsletter?
  • Do you need to promote your Web site more in your printed pieces?
  • Do you need to add a social network widget to your enewsletter?
  • Do you need to create a tailored landing page for the link from your social network page or the link from a charity hub Web site?

Make it easy for them to get to know you better, in ways that are meaningful to them. This is an offer of friendship, not just a sales pitch. Provide them with simple ways to satisfy their need to be connected to a worthy cause that has personal significance, and to learn how they can support that cause with their social and financial capital.

Now, go even further. What would you like them to do after that—participate in an event, become a volunteer, refer their friends, comment on your blog, contribute content to your communications, raise awareness or funds through their social networks, provide a testimonial, donate money?

Create clear, convenient paths for them to move forward, making sure at every touch point they have a satisfying, consistent experience. Seek their feedback, answer their questions immediately and honestly, don’t be stingy with thank you’s, and remember the power of even small incentives. When they sign up for your enewsletter, offer them a free, short, well done, up-to-the-minute report on something they might be interested in related to your work. And in that report, offer them a link to your institutional blog or Web site as a way to keep up with other news and events. Maybe you can offer them free or discounted entry to an event or conference if they refer 5 friends.

The best way to start creating customer pathways is with a simple segmentation of your potential supporters—so you can develop paths specific to each major segment. That assumes you’ve done research on those segments and have a good idea of their preferences, needs, and interests. Getting back to the book, the American Heart Association has identified six major customer market segments and assigned staff to each. These staff are responsible for creating customer profiles through data gathering and annual surveys, then creating loyalty action plans. The goal—very satisfied customers.

Not every nonprofit can undertake that level of commitment to finding out what supporters want and need, but there are free or inexpensive ways to gather that information. I’ve suggested several in a past post.

Don’t be satisfied with just putting a big donate button on your homepage. (Yes, you should have a big donate button on your homepage.) Think creatively about how to integrate all your points of communication in ways that encourage your newest supporters to become your lifelong friends.

I’m going to be sending this hardcover book to someone free! If you’d like it, tell me why in the comments below by Thursday, April 30.

CC photo credit: egg on stilts