Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Distributed Funding - Keeping Track Of Online Giving

A number of online giving aggregators - sites that either track or bundle online donations - have sprung up recently adding even more momentum to the idea of distributed funding.

[photo credit: jenn_jenn]

A recent post at Xconomy points to three such sites:
  • Givvy - providing online tools that give individual donors “more control and more empowerment over why, when, where, and how they give to charities.”
  • Jackpot Rewards, a site that will donate half of its after-tax profits to children’s charities
  • Good2Gether - (which I've posted about before) a “hyperlocal giving aggregator”—an advertising-supported, keyword-based widget designed to appear alongside news stories on the websites of major regional media organizations, where it displays information about local non-profit fundraising campaigns or volunteer opportunities related to each article...."the non-profits get to make their pitch to a lot of readers, the newspaper website gets some ad revenue, and the advertisers get the glow of being associated with a humanitarian cause."
All three of these sites (and there are many others doing similar things) have a slightly different take on distributed funding, but all three share the idea that small donations can be combined to create meaningful impact.

For non-profits that have been in the habit of focusing on large, institutional donors for the bulk of their fund raising revenue, the model is changing. Not immediately, but sometime soon, the long tail theory will alter the face of traditional fund raising. Organizations that get ahead of this curve will benefit tremendously from it.

New Features on Facebook Causes

I got this email today from the Causes application on Facebook:

Dear Cause Administrator,

Since you started a cause on Facebook, you might be interested in an exciting new Causes feature. If you work for the nonprofit for which you started your cause, you can now claim your official Nonprofit Profile on Facebook.

To do so, just submit a nonprofit partner application here:

By claiming your profile you become a nonprofit partner, which allows you to control all of your interactions with Causes on Facebook from one central dashboard. Here you can edit your official Nonprofit Profile, select official and featured causes, keep track of all causes benefiting your nonprofit, see a list of all recent donors, and download donor contact information.

If you don't work for a nonprofit but are in touch with someone who does, feel free to let them know about our new system. If you've already submitted a partner application then there's no need to do so again - you're all set.

The Causes Team

This is a really smart move, both for the makers of the application, as well as those who administer applications on Facebook. Popular non-profits tend to have multiple presences on Facebook, and until now there hasn't been a good way to keep track of them all - or to be sure they all originate from people actually representing the organization's best interests.

If you haven't started a Cause on Facebook for your organization yet (click here for reasons why you should) - now is a great time to do so. If you have started a Cause, now is a great time to go through and see how your efforts have multiplied across the network. You might be surprised.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about how non-profits can use social networking to their advantage. What's important to remember is that social networking is just a new way of generating word-of-mouth (or WOM) marketing.

photo credit: Dano

WOM is the one thing that money can't buy. It must be earned, cultivated, and maintained. the good news is that spreading the word is something that non-profits are good at anyway. In fact, non-profits are - for the most part - doing a better job of using Web 2.0 tools than their for profit counterparts, precisely because it's a natural thing for people that are engaged with a cause to talk about it amongst their peers.

It's not enough, though, to assume that your organization's word-of-mouth will take care of itself. The stakes are simply too high. Consider this post detailing the economic impact of Social Marketing from Esther Lim at the Crimson Consulting Group:
  • Companies enjoying higher levels of word of mouth advocacy such as HSBC, Asda, Honda and O2 - grew faster than their competitors
  • Companies suffering from low levels of word of mouth advocacy and high levels of negative word of mouth grew slower than their competitors
  • 7% increase in word of mouth advocacy unlocks 1% additional company growth
  • 2% reduction in negative word of mouth boosts sales growth by 1%
  • For the average company, a 1% increase in word of mouth advocacy equated to $16M extra sales

Source: London School of Economics, Harvard Business Review

I think it's fair to assume that these metrics translate from the for-profit, to the non-profit sector. What would your organization be willing to invest in terms of time and resources to achieve a 1% growth rate? For a $3 million dollar agency, that translates into $30,000 - the size of a respectable grant.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Free Technology

For non-profits that need to keep track of donor data, behavior and solicitation frequency, the Salesforce.com Foundation is offering 10 free licenses to Salesforce which essentially allows any non-profit to use their CRM services for free.

For non-profits that need spreadsheet, word-processing, calendaring and email applications, Google is offering its enterprise edition application package to non-profits for free as well.

For organizations that are strapped for resources (and I have yet to meet one that isn't), these free tools open up worlds of possibilities without costing a penny.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Putting Your Best Brand Forward

Many of the non-profit organizations I encounter don't believe they need to worry about public relations, marketing or branding. Many of them get great press from time to time without really trying, and many of them rely on active supporters to spread their message to new people.

The problem with this organic approach is that it's unlikely to result in a consistent experience for those who happen to encounter any or all of its disparate pieces. Each person walks away with a different impression of the organization, and the cycle continues.

The face of the organization - its brand - is worth deliberate and conscious maintenance at the very highest levels of both board and executive management. Consistent messaging, accessible materials, and clear presentation are the responsibility of the organization - not the press, and not its supporters. The better an organization's public relations efforts are, the more credibility it will have in the long run with the media and with the public in general.

Many organizations are concerned that by looking too polished - too branded - supporters may begin to believe that the organization has become successful and is no longer in need of donations. This, of course, is belied by the fact that the organizations that raise the most money are usually high-visibility brands. The fact that projecting an appearance of success leads to success - and projecting an appearance of scarcity leads to scarcity - is counter-intuitive for many non-profit managers.

Two excellent posts - one from Katya Andresen and one from Michele Martin (h/t Beth Kanter) - came to my attention today that explore how a mindset of scarcity generates more scarcity. Michele Martin explains it this way in her post:
From what I can see, most nonprofits operate from a scarcity mentality. We are constantly talking about what we lack--money, information, staff, resources. There's a strong feeling that there isn't enough to go around and so the focus is on grabbing the largest share possible for your organization and holding onto that share for dear life. In a scarcity mentality, the impulse is to hoard, not to share--at least when it comes to anything of value. And the focus is on the individual organization, on survival and limits, not on the collective social mission and on growth.
While non-profit managers must be prudent about how an organization's resources are allocated, failing to invest in the organization's brand has long-term consequences that shouldn't be ignored. An organization's brand strategy speaks volumes about its ability to both project, and attract, success.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Organization Spotlight - Publicolor

This series of articles is meant to highlight organizations doing great things. Of course, there are so many I could never write about them all. And, of course, I tend to be a little wrapped up with work for my existing clients. That said, I'd still love to use this blog to shine a light when and where I can.

If you have suggestions for other organizations that should be spotlighted here, please let me know


I first heard about Publicolor on the Good Magazine blog, and I couldn't resist spotlighting them here. What a lovely, and desperately needed, idea!

[photo credit goodmagazine.com]

I've excerpted the Good Magazine article below to highlight what they do.


[original article at goodmagazine.com]

School Colors
by Yvonne Puig

Take a quick glance at a public school in New York, and it would seem as if government painters were restricted to a very limited color palette. Publicolor, a New York City–based nonprofit organization dedicated to brightening the walls of inner-city schools, is betting that kids learn better when their schools are painted a bright sapphire instead of an institutional gray.

Trained as an industrial designer at the Pratt Institute, Ruth Lande Shuman started Publicolor in 1996 after noticing how many schools in Harlem resembled prisons. The organization has since painted nearly 200 schools and community buildings (police stations, pediatric wards) across the five boroughs. After the painting, teachers and students say they feel safer; graffiti and violence also decrease. In each school, the students do the redecorating, learning useful painting skills in the process. "I want our youngsters to paint their way out of poverty," Shuman says. "I want them to paint their way through college."

For more information, check out Publicolor's online press kit (which I highly recommend for any organization) here

Making Google Work For You

For organizations that already have a solid web presence - meaning a site that explains the mission and vision of the organization in a compelling way and also encourages supporters to provide their contact information and donate to your cause - the next step is to find a way to bring more people to your site.

Begin by typing in some keywords about your organization into Google. The higher your website is on the list of search results for your keywords, the more visitors your site is likely to get. If your organization is dedicated to serving homeless children in New York, type "homeless children New York" into the search engine and see what happens. Is your organization on the first page of the results? Most people don't navigate beyond Google's first page, so if you want to connect with those searching for organizations like yours, what can you do to appear higher in the results?
  1. Search Engine Optimization. Sometimes you'll hear this referred to as SEO in the tech world. This is essentially a series of steps you can take to make sure that search engines can read and catalogue your site easily. Many companies offer SEO services for a fee, but you can probably make many of the changes yourself.
  2. Keep your content fresh. Search engines consider recent information more important than old information. Keep your site updated, read and comment on blogs in your sector, and publish press releases, journal articles and studies regularly to be sure your organization appears in as many new online locations as possible.
  3. Encourage connections. The more places on the internet that link back to your site, the higher your search engines rankings will be. Encourage connections by giving people something to talk about - and a place to do it. Social networking sites create satellite outposts for your organization throughout the web - allowing you to alert supporters to newly published press releases, journal articles, studies and other tidbits of information as they're available on your site. As those supporters discuss and distribute new news, their links back to your site will increase your search engine standings.
  4. Advertise on Google. If your search placement still isn't ideal, consider advertising. Google offers grants to nonprofits who would like to appear in the paid search results that appear at the top and right-hand side of search results.
Have other ideas? Share them in the comments section below!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Distributed Funding - Some Early Statistics

As the idea of distributed funding becomes more mainstream, it becomes important to settle on some ways of measuring its effectiveness.

Slate recently posted an article on the topic, and points to some early statistics for electronic giving:
To date, sums raised have been relatively modest, though the trend shows movement in the right direction. According to the latest Chronicle of Philanthropy survey, electronic giving to the nation's largest charities, which has been growing at a rapid clip over the last five years, increased at an average rate of 37 percent in 2006. The portals Network for Good and JustGive.org, which allow donors to contribute to a variety of charities, saw increases in giving of 50 percent in 2007. And yet Internet giving still constitutes a tiny portion of total dollars raised—typically between 1 percent and 5 percent of an organization's overall contributions. Donating via social-networking sites (such as Facebook Causes, MySpace Impact, or any number of cause-related networks like dosomething.org or youthnoise.com) accounts for an even smaller share. The greater promise of viral philanthropy may lie not in electronic check writing, but in increased involvement; 21st-century technology for philanthropos in its most ancient sense.
The fact that electronic giving constitutes a small portion of overall donations shouldn't come as a surprise - it's still early in the game and most established individual contributors aren't accustomed to giving online. In contrast, new donors - younger people who are just beginning to become habitual givers, and those not local to a given organization - are much more likely to use the internet as they look for a cause to support. As these trends become more prevalent, organizations that show up online are much more likely to receive support. A robust presence in multiple locations online will make it that much more likely that your organization will be first in line to receive these new donors.

The key take away though is the idea of "increased involvement" as the most important outcome - check writing is actually byproduct of this primary goal. Engagement is critical for these new donors - and the way to get them engaged is to create an infrastructure in which they can interact with the organization and other supporters. Today, social networking is the best tool available to accomplish that. The tools may change over time, but the underlying trend will not.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Death of Social Networking For Non-profits?

Today's NonProfit Times' newsletter has two contradictory posts - one encouraging users to take advantage of the fund raising potential social networking - and one announcing that social networking is already dead.

This contradiction actually mirrors the difficulty many of us have when trying to counsel our client organizations to take the plunge into social networking. So many organizations are reluctant to burden staff with one more task, and so many are barely able to maintain their main website. Why should they make the additional effort if they don't absolutely have to?

The truth is that the benefits of communicating effectively - regardless of the tools one uses to communicate - far outweigh the burdens. Good communications save time and effort because they help minimize confusion, help increase your organization's ability to reach new and existing supporters, and they help ensure that you get the most favorable press coverage possible.

Tools are just tools. Social networking tools, when used strategically, are a great way to help build your organization's network. If your organization uses other tools to use for that purpose, it's worth evaluating whether or not social networking tools would be more - or less - effective. If you don't currently use any tools to build your organization's network, ask yourself why you don't? What would your organization gain if you did?

Since non-profits rely on their networks of supporters in more ways than for-profit organizations, rejecting tools designed to communicate effectively with that network is short-sighted at best. As your network of supporters ages out of printed mail and email - as young people are doing in droves - what's your strategy for communicating with them?

Organizations that eliminate social networking as a communications option will miss out on the opportunities it holds.

Developing Your Distributed Funding Network

There's even more buzz these days about a movement to a distributed funding model for non-profits who are able to get into the game early.

Today's NonProfit Times newsletter offers these tips to turn your most engaged supporters into an online fundraising network:
  1. Start with social networking - "Social networking may not be a gold mine of donations, but it is a successful way for organizations to educate the public about its mission and cause."
  2. Develop an online communications strategy and plan. "For organizations with limited resources, this can be as simple as a monthly e-newsletter. A more elaborate e-communications plan will include a number of online activities such as social networking, online or virtual events, and video clips in addition to e-newsletters and general Web site maintenance."
  3. Employ viral marketing tactics. "Personalize communications. Offer incentives. Make messages clear, easy to understand, and easy to share."
Have other tips? Share them with the rest of us by leaving a comment on this post!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Crisis Communications

One of the benefits of doing communications and PR work in the non-profit sector is that the stories we tell are usually of the positive, heart-warming variety.

Sometimes though, we find ourselves faced with a crisis - a financial or personnel scandal, inappropriate remarks by a staff member, a sudden loss of funding, or something similar - that needs to be dealt with by the communications team.
[photo credit: Corrinne Curcio]

If you are responsible for your organization's communications, what should you do in a crisis situation? Like most things, the key is to be prepared.
  1. Create a Crisis Communications Plan. Do it now, before there's a crisis. That way when you need to respond to a difficult situation, everyone will know what to do right away. The plan should be a formal document that is easy to access anytime day or night (on an organization intranet, as a binder in a central location that can be easily referenced, etc.).
  2. Create a Crisis Communication Team. When a crisis hits, it's critical that the right people do the talking. Everyone should know who's responsible for creating and delivering the organization's response so that no time is lost making those decisions along the way. Make sure enough people are on the team to handle media inquires promptly, produce and distribute appropriate materials, staff a press conference if needed, and handle inbound calls from concerned institutional funders, donors and members.

  3. Tell the truth, tell it all and tell it fast. Although you may be counseled by legal staff to withhold certain factual elements, be as forthcoming as possible. Release information as soon as you have it (even if you only have bits and pieces), and be clear about what you know for sure and what you're still waiting to confirm. Always, always tell the truth. That doesn't mean you have to tell everything all at once, but never, ever lie.

  4. Show emotion. Be concerned, use language that shows concern, and take actions that demonstrate concern.

  5. Be prepared. Set a regular schedule for media trainings with your Crisis Communications Team so that team members - especially new ones - can systematically prepare for tough questions. Brainstorm potential problem scenarios, and have each team member take turns playing the part of reporter, and organization spokesperson. Videotape this exercise and play it back for the group to critique so that the entire team will know how to maximize their effectiveness on-camera.

For additional reading on this topic, try these great references:

Friday, February 8, 2008

Press Release Basics

I've posted before about what separates a good press release from a bad one for non-profit organizations. It's been a while though, so I thought it might be helpful to revisit some basic principles of press-release writing in an easy-to-digest format.

Never forget that a press release is chance to tell a story. And any good story (and therefore any good press release) has the following elements:
  1. A central human story. If your release isn't about people - their lives, passions and struggles, it's a lot less likely to grab the attention of anyone - including the media. Start with the people in your story and deliver your message from their perspective.
  2. A central conflict. A great story requires conflict - something that must be overcome or resolved. Without conflict there can be no transformation, and without transformation your release is likely to fall flat.
  3. A beginning, middle and end. Your release has to answer the question "what happens next?" to grab your readers attention and keep them engaged. Begin by explaining who is telling the story, then discuss what conflict they're trying to resolve, then end with the outcome of that resolution. Skip a step, and you'll lose your reader's attention and interest.
  4. A way to find out more. The point of issuing a press release is to create a reason for the media to write about your organization. If you're successful, reporters will need to contact you to generate a story. Make it easy for them to find out more about your organization (see my earlier post about creating a media kit), and easy for them to contact you directly.
In terms of structure - your release should follow these standard conventions so that reporters can easily find their way through your information.
  1. Your organization's logo should be at the top of the page
  2. Your designated speaker (probably your ED) should be listed immediately underneath your logo along with their direct contact information (land line, cell phone and email address)
  3. When your release can be published (e.g., "For immediate release", or "Release Date: February 24th, 2008")
  4. Release headline (in all capital letters) and (optional) subhead (with the first letter of each word capitalized)
  5. Location and date of the release (e.g., "San Francisco, CA - February 24th, 2008") in bold text
  6. Leading paragraph (a short paragraph that acts as a summary of the release - assume that this is all the reporter will read before deciding whether to throw your release away - make it as engaging as possible)
  7. Body of release (try to keep it to a single page)
  8. A brief descriptive organization paragraph (begin the paragraph "About [orgname] - " in bold text) that describes what your organization does.
  9. Contact information (e.g., "If you’d like more information on this topic, or to schedule an interview with [designated speaker], please contact [name, email and phone number of scheduler for designated speaker].")
  10. A marker that the release is complete (the convention is to use "--- END ---", centered, at the bottom of the release). If you aren't able to keep your release to a single page (which is always preferred), be sure to use the tag (again, centered) "--- MORE ---" at the bottom of the first page, and then "--- END ---" at the end. This is a holdover from when most releases were faxed - and fax machines were notorious for only sending partial documents.
I hope this helps as you generate press releases for your organization. Good luck - and be sure to send me any success stories you might have!

Creating Community

H&R Block - of all things - has created a great real-world example of how a comprehensive online presence can create a sense of community. If H&R Block can create community around doing taxes - it should be that much easier for non-profit organizations to do so.

A post on the blog Social Media Today outlines H&R Block's strategy that involves Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter and a dedicated Forum. The post goes on to say "It’s great to see a traditional company in an highly traditional industry that’s better known for being incredibly boring starting to reach out to people in a much more helpful and fun way."

To check out what they've done, go to these sites:
At first glance, it might seem like a daunting task to create and maintain this kind of multi-faceted social network for your organization. But think about what you do now - you generate emails to your supporters, you create newsletters and brochures, you submit press releases and you do interviews with the media.

With all of those activities, you're already generating a ton of content. Why not take that existing content and give it a home on the web? Better still, once you do - your supporters will add their own content to your own - creating a rich environment in which your community can truly flourish.

What has your organization done to create a community for your supporters? Is there a community out there already that has formed organically? Are you a part of it?

Building Your E-Mail Base

Something that many of my clients overlook is the opportunity to collect email addresses - and permission to use them - from their supporters.

Most of my clients have a list of emails they've gathered from donors and event sign-up sheets over the years, but very few have a consistent strategy for either adding to that list, or keeping their existing list current.

Can your organization answer yes to the following questions?
  1. Does your website have a prominent email collection box that's visible on every (or almost every) page?
  2. Do emails that you send to your current list have both a "forward to a friend" button as well a "sign up for our newsletters" button - making it easy for your current supporters to recruit new supporters?
  3. When you collect emails addresses at events, do those new people receive a welcome message from you within one week?
  4. Do your printed mailers include an "update your information" section - pre-printed with the information you currently have - to make it easy for people to notify you when their information changes?
  5. Do you regularly purge invalid emails from your list?
If you can't answer yes to all of these questions, you aren't optimizing your organization's email strategy. Your email list is one of your most valuable assets - make every effort to treat it accordingly.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Focusing On The Customer

Non-profits don't often ask themselves the question "Who is our customer?"

It's an idea from the for-profit world that doesn't easily translate for many in the non-profit sector. Some non-profits feel it's crass to frame their work in terms of "customers," others simply don't think about what they do in terms of "customers" or "clients."

Just like for-profit businesses that fail to focus on satisfying their customers' needs, non-profits that fail to do so risk becoming eventually becoming irrelevant - a dire outcome indeed.

So who is your customer? Who does your organization exist to serve? How do you communicate with them? How do you know if you're meeting their needs? Do you have a way to measure whether you're doing a better job of serving your customers this year than you did last year?

For-profit businesses actually have an advantage in this arena. Businesses that sell a product or service can use revenue as one metric (among others) of customer satisfaction. For non-profit organizations, revenue is often generated separately from the services the organization is designed to provide. This means that revenue numbers (while clearly important) aren't a reliable measurement of customer satisfaction. It also means that, generally speaking, much more energy is put into communicating with, and understanding the needs of, donors. If you're donors aren't your customers, what's your strategy to find out what your customers are thinking, what they need, and how better to serve them?

The recent conference "Customer Service is the New Marketing" offered a "Company-Customer Pact" that outlines the ideal relationship between corporations and customers.

Since the image is a little tough to read, I've reposted the text of the pact here:



  1. Be human. Use a respectful, conversational voice, avoid scripts and never use corporate doublespeak.
  1. Be understanding. Show the respect and kindness to company reps that you'd like shown to you.

  1. Encourage employees to use their real names and use a personal touch.

  1. Use your real identity, and foster your long-term reputation with the company.

  1. Anticipate that problems will occur, and set clear, public expectations in advance for how you will address (and redress) issues.

  1. Recognize that problems will occur, and give companies the information and time required to competently address issues.

  1. Cultivate a public dialogue with customers so they feel they are being heard and to demonstrate your accountability.

  1. Share issues directly with the company, or through a forum in which the company has an opportunity to respond, so it can work with you to solve problems.

  1. Demonstrate your good intentions by speaking plainly, earnestly, and candidly with customers about problems that arise.

  1. Give companies the benefit of the doubt, and be open to what they have to say.

While clearly designed for a for-profit environment, these key principals could easily guide non-profit organizations as well as they look to interact with those they serve. Plain language, authentic interactions, public forums and clear problem-solving practices should come naturally tho those who've chosen to work in the non-profit sector, but they often don't.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Value of Video

While many of the presidential contenders are using video as part of their campaigns, Barack Obama's campaign (and I say this only by way of illustration, this is not a political blog) has gone one step further and created a music video.

Those in PR in general, and those doing publicity for non-profits in particular, should stand up and take note of this tactic for 3 reasons:
  1. The video is easy to share. The first lesson of the interactive Web (or Web 2.0) is that anything you create in support of your organization must be easy for your supporters to pass on to their own networks.
  2. The video is compelling. The second lesson of the interactive web is that sub-par creations aren't tolerated. Technology has allowed even amateurs to create high-quality, highly engaging pieces. Anything less won't be passed along the network. Your supporters, no mater how fervent, won't pass along anything that puts their own reputation at risk.
  3. Video is the right medium for the message. This message of hope and human aspirations wouldn't have had the same impact if its message had been presented as a PowerPoint presentation or a bulleted list of talking points. If you're trying to communicate emotion, video is the right medium - do it right, and it will have a larger impact than any other efforts you might be considering.
Video is not a fad. It's emerging as a key message delivery system for both for-profit and non-profit organizations precisely because it so effectively conveys information and emotion in a single package.

How can your organization use video to its benefit? If you already have video assets, are they good enough to ensure your supporters would pass them along to their personal networks? If not, what can you do - now - to change that?

Friday, February 1, 2008

Teaching Philanthropy

Dragon School in Oxford, England has hired a Director of Social Impact and is planning to offer "generosity" classes, which will introduce lessons on philanthropy as an alternative way to give back to the community.

[photo credit: www.psfk.com]

I think this raises a fascinating cultural question - outside training our own children, how exactly do we as a society train our children to become philanthropists? And how do we give them the tools and information they need to evaluate whether or not their actions are helping - or hurting - others?

For those of us charged with spreading the word about the organizations we believe in - how often do we consciously consider speaking directly to an audience of children? What has your organization done - and what should it do - to specifically reach out to this younger audience?