Top mobile social media apps for nonprofits

Flickr/Irish Typepad

Reminder: If you don’t have a great website and email strategy, you probably shouldn’t be focusing on social media yet. Those have to be your first priorities.

It’s predicted that by the end of 2014, mobile (smart phone and tablet) access to the web will have outstripped desktop access. Think about that in relation to your current website and social media strategy.

It’s time to start thinking/acting mobile.  Even if you’re aiming for older audiences, you can’t ignore mobile—tablets are becoming very popular.

I just took a great webinar from Heather Mansfied, author of Social Media for Social Good, on the most useful social networking mobile apps for nonprofits and I want to share the top 8 with you. These apps are essential content management tools when you’re away from your desktop.

But first, a couple of pieces of sage advice from Heather.

  • Real-time stories rock. Understand that your communications role via mobile is that of a 24/7 reporter. You need to keep your eyes open for storytelling opportunities that you can post, update, tweet, and upload on the spot (rather than next week when you have time).
  • For small nonprofits with tiny staffs, probably the most important entry into mobile is the creation of a mobile website. She recommended doing that through, where it costs about $8 a month to launch a mobile site.

Top 8 mobile social media apps

Now for the social media apps nonprofits should consider downloading and using. Most nonprofits won’t need all of these because few organizations have a presence on every social networking site. Where on the social web you invest your time and money depends on which sites make the most sense for you in light of your strategic communications plan. But once you’ve got a presence on one or more social media, use these apps to add and edit content on the run.

  1. Facebook
  2. Twitter
  3. Location-based apps: Foursquare (Gowalla–more a travel guide; Google Latitude–which will probably merge with Google Places and Google+ brands at some point). Location-based nonprofits (museums, parks, etc.) have just scratched the surface of these apps’ potential. Great for activism. But be very clear whether you’re using them as an individual or an organization—it can get messy.
  4. Photo-sharing apps: Flickr works best with mobile right now, but other options include Twitpic, Twitrpix, and Instagram
  5. Video-sharing apps: Twitvid and Youtube
  6. Live-streaming apps: USTREAM, but a warning from Heather that this is hard to use on iphone 3. Great for events and conferences. Heather believes live streaming apps will get better and much more popular very soon. Nonprofits will even start their own TV stations as this medium gets more traction.
  7. Payment app: Square (allows any smart phone to accept credit card payments for 2.75% fee, with next day direct deposit to your bank account.)
  8. Free group-texting app: GroupMe (great for working with volunteers)

My advice to communications staff is  to download one app at a time and get used to using it. Once that one becomes routine, download another—if that makes sense. For instance, maybe you’ve got conferences coming up that you want to do live tweeting from—so you might want to download the Twitter app, learn to live tweet, and then download Twitrpix or Twitvid apps and learn how to use those with your phone camera.  The app combinations are endless, but if you learn one at a time you won’t feel overwhelmed.

The most important thing to remember is the 24/7 reporter role you play for your organization. To do that well, you’re going to have to learn some new tricks! These 8 apps are one way to start.

Thanks, Heather!

Creative Commons photo credit: Irish Typepad

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

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


12 New Year’s resolutions for nonprofit communicators


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


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, 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


Tactics—Step 4 in strategic communications planning for nonprofits

Tactics photo


This is the last in my series of posts guiding nonprofits through strategic communications planning. So far, I’ve tried to help you figure out your true communication objectives, your key audiences, and the kinds of messages and interactions that can motivate them.

Now we move to tactics—selecting messengers, communications channels, and timing. Deciding on tactics is usually pretty easy when you’ve done the hard work outlined in the first three posts. As you well know by now, my mantra is spend 80% of your time on strategy and 20% on tactics. You won’t be sorry.

Your messengers

Often, nonprofits—satisfied they’ve figured out what stories and messages their audiences would find motivating—skip an important step: thinking carefully about which messengers pack the most punch. They can be as motivating as the message sometimes.  Here’s a past post of mine that encourages nonprofits to be strategic in picking messengers—including unusual suspects. The only thing I’d add to that post now is that—thanks to social media—your supporters can and will be some of your most important messengers. Take a look at this case study post from Nancy Schwartz about priming them for that job.

Choosing channels

The medium is a messenger too. The channels you pick also influence the audience’s reception and response to your communications. (If all your communication uses one-way channels, that sends your supporters a pretty clear message you’re not very interested in them.) Channels have proliferated like rabbits over the past few years. It’s difficult to keep up with them (and who they are most popular with), but keep up you must. Ways to do that include:

1) follow a few good tech news blogs like NTEN, The Next WebMashable, TechCrunch, and Google’s public sector blog

2) subscribe to the RSS feed of the Nonprofit Marketing Zone, where someone is sure to be covering nonprofit uses of the latest communications tools and channels

3) find and follow blogs that specialize in popular social media channels, like John Haydon who covers the latest developments on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter as they relate to nonprofits. Beth’s Blog is another must follow if you’re trying to keep up with new channels and their nonprofits uses. Think about following good business tech sites, too, like allfacebook and mobilemarketingwatch.

4) check out my del.ici.ous list of free and low-cost communications tools, which I keep adding to all the time

Finally, look over IdealWare’s new The Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide, a great, research-based report about which new communications channels are best for which kinds of audience and outcomes.

Social media have changed the communications landscape forever, shifting power and stirring new expectations among your audiences. Still, these new channels are just tools—like websites, publications, direct mail, emails, media stories, and old-fashioned letters and telephone calls. Your plan should consider the full breadth of communications tools, their strategic uses and relative costs. Don’t  dismiss the personal touch as old-fashioned. As digital communications become more and more dominant, a handwritten note or telephone call makes a very powerful statement.

In the end, the best channels for you are the ones that are: 1) most popular with the audiences you’re trying to reach, 2) best matched to the objectives of your communications—whether that’s getting a crowd to an event, enlisting volunteers, changing public policy, or raising money; and 3) doable for you, in light of your staff and budget limitations. (That last item is darn important.)

Timing is everything

That old saying holds true for communications planning as well. Even if you have clear objectives, understand your audiences, and use the best messengers and channels—timing your communications flow is key to success.

What you’re after is a steady, even stream of communications using multiple channels. (This is general advice; the specific preferences of your audiences are always the determining factors.) Timing is a delicate balance, you don’t want to be seen as a spammer or a nuisance, but you don’t want them to forget you. You probably  don’t want three communications to arrive one month and none for the next two. Nor do you want to wait until your end-of-the-year fund raising to communicate. If you can, keep up the drumbeat all year and please, don’t make every communication an “ask” (not even every other communication).

Channel integration is a critical part of timing. The more they hear from you in a variety of channels (that are popular with them)—the more they’ll remember you and have a chance to interact with or respond to your communications. Just be sure to think through how each of those channels can reinforce the others in your tactical flow.

Message integration is also important. Think about your annual communications plan as a building wave that moves your audiences closer to you and closer to action. Within that big wave there are smaller waves that add momentum. You can create an engagement path for them month by month. And you can choreograph those little waves to resonate with their shifting interests throughout the year. What messages and information might be most resonant in January—after the holidays at the beginning of a new year? What would they be most interested in as spring approaches or as the school year starts? Look how retailers shamelessly leap from one holiday to the next in their promotions. Don’t emulate them! But learn from them—they are tuning into the shifting interests of consumers throughout the year.

Once you have a tactical plan for the year, don’t get so married to it that you miss late-breaking opportunities to tie your communications to news happenings. But try not to overuse these or they can lose their punch.

Start now

Late summer is a great time to start your 2011 strategic communications plan. I know the temptation (and pressure) is for nonprofits to go into full fund-raising mode in the last two quarters, but get out of the trenches long enough to take in the long view. Devote adequate time to planning next year’s strategy and budget. You will be so grateful in January.

I didn’t want to end this series without pointing you toward two other helpful resources—The SPIN Project’s Strategic Communications Planning guide (pdf) and Nancy Schwartz’s nifty Nonprofit Marketing Plan template.

Lastly, thanks for your patience. I realize it’s taken me a while to finish up this series. I hope you find it useful!

Earlier posts in this series:

Strategic communications planning for nonprofits: Step Three—Audience research and messages

DIY stratetgic communications planning for nonprofits: Step Two—Key audiences

DIY strategic communications planning for nonprofits: Step One—Objectives

Creative Commons photo: popculturegeek


Guest Post: Kivi Leroux Miller

Kivi's new bookKivi Leroux Miller is an author, trainer, coach, consultant, and president of Nonprofit Marketing If you’re in nonprofit communications and marketing and you don’t know about her–change that right now and check out her new book–The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause. (It’s already a smash hit on Amazon.)

I’ve been a long time admirer of Kivi’s, and am delighted to have IMPACTMAX be part of her virtual book tour. I hope you enjoy her guest post. I’ll be talking more about her comprehensive book in a future post.

From Kivi:

Through my weekly webinar series, I get to talk to hundreds of nonprofit marketing and communications staff over the course of a year, and the challenges and frustrations I hear the most are not about any particular tool like email newsletters or Facebook, but about much bigger issues:

“I’m pulled in so many different directions, I don’t know what to do and what really matters.”

“We’ve never really had a marketing budget and I don’t expect to get one anytime soon.  We just dig around and borrow from other line items.”

“I feel like it’s impossible to keep up with everything I’m supposed to be the expert on for my organization.”

When I was writing my just-released book “The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause,” I knew it was important to go beyond marketing strategy and tactics and talk to these questions as well. That’s why the last section of the book is called Doing It Yourself without Doing Yourself In. It contains three chapters that cover what I think are the biggest challenges for nonprofit marketers: finding and managing time, talent, and treasure.

Every project or program, no matter how big or small, depends on a mix of these three ingredients. How much time can you devote to marketing, and how can you get others to offer their time? What can you do yourself, what other talent do you have on staff, and what tasks do you need to hire out? How much money do you have available and how should you spend it? Figure out creative ways to answer these questions and you’ve got it made.

In the meantime, here are a few suggestions that I elaborate on in the book.


  • Get fear out of the way. Nonprofits waste much too much time hand-wringing.
  • Organize what you’ll need again and again. Get your logos, mission statement, bios, and other boilerplate text all in one folder on your computer.
  • Test, track, and do what works. If you aren’t measuring how the different parts of your communications plan are working and adjusting them regularly, you are probably wasting a lot of time on things that don’t work while short-changing the things that do.


  • Everyone on staff is a marketer. Whether they (or you) like it or not, everyone talks about work outside the office, thus everyone on staff is part of your marketing team. Educate them and empower them to help you.
  • Learn to delegate. If you are control freak, you are doomed to working really, really long hours for never enough pay. Learn to let go and delegate some of what you do to volunteers, junior staff, or affordable consultants.
  • Build your own skills. Nonprofit marketing is a complicated job. To do it well, you need to incorporate learning and professional development into your regular routine. I’d rather see you spend 30 minutes a week reading the many outstanding blogs in our field (like this one) than attending a three-day conference once a year. (It’s about the same amount of time).


  • Go casual. If you still have a Casual Friday mindset, it’s time to go to Casual Monday-Friday. Formality is expensive, and it usually stifles creativity. Many people appreciate a more friendly tone and approach and it’s usually a lot cheaper, whether you are buying print or hosting an event.
  • Do more online. Print still has its place, but it’s not cheap. So you need to be more strategic about what you put on paper and in the mail and continue to move more of your communications online.
  • Put it in the budget. You need a real budget to work with. Start including communications line items in every possible grant proposal you can. Develop a short list of individual major donors and corporate sponsors who understand the need for marketing and would be willing to donate to you specifically for it.

Thanks for the great advice, Kivi. And now that you’ve had a taste of her bookmy advice is buy it. (But don’t stop reading her terrific blog.)

As for this blog, and my rather long absence. . .blame my consulting work, which has overtaken me. But I hope to back to a more regular posting schedule later this summer.