Monday, April 21, 2008

Who's Talking About Your Organization?

Did you ever wish you could be a fly on the wall – listening to what your members, donors and supporters are saying about you when they're casually chatting with their friends and neighbors?
[photo credit: psd]

Hopefully, they're saying nothing but good things about your organization – but what if they're not? What if they're passing along outdated or incorrect information? What if they're griping about things you could easily change if you only knew?

Social media (aka "social networking") – including Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and others – has created an enormous, global, non-stop conversation. Some of those conversations might be about you - and if they are, wouldn't you want to know?

There are a number of ways to keep track of online conversations that are about your organization. I've posted before about using Google Alerts as a tool for precisely this need, but some new tools have emerged, including TweetScan and Yahoo!Pipes (note: creating a new Yahoo!Pipe is definitely for more advanced users - but the Social Media Firehose Pipe is already set up and very easy to use). With all this information at your fingertips, it's worth taking the time to find out what people have to say.

Jason Alcorn and Shabbir Imber Safdar wrote a wonderful case study that illustrates how keeping track of what people are saying in the social media universe can help make a difference in your organization's communications strategy.

Now more than ever, knowing really is half the battle.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

When to Use Stories Instead Of Statistics

Kivi Leroux Miller posted recently about when to use stories rather than statistics to make your organization's case to potential donors, volunteers and supporters.

[photo credit: luiginter]

I've posted often about the value of storytelling in non-profit environments, and I'm pleased to see others making similar points. I've summarized Kivi's post (which is definitely worth reading in its entirety) below:
  1. What Do Other People Think About This Group?
    Answer with Testimonials.
    When someone is learning about you for the first time, they’ll be curious what other people think about your organization, your staff and your effectiveness.
  2. Are People Here Like Me?
    Answer with Profiles.
    When someone donates time or money to your organization, they are joining a virtual community of people who believe in the same cause.
  3. Does This Work?
    Answer with Success Stories.
    Do you get the job done? Are you going to make a difference with the money I give you? Success stories show donors (and potential new donors) exactly what it is you do and how you do it.
  4. What Difference Can a Single Person Make?
    Answer with Personalized Giving Options. Big problems are overwhelming. One way to overcome this problem is to focus on the difference that a single person can make and clearly demonstrate through storytelling that a new donor, as a single individual, can bring about change by supporting your organization.
  5. Can I Come Along?
    Answer with Personal Chronicles.
    For your supporters to fully engage with your nonprofit, you have to be willing to share what’s really going on.
Does your organization follow these simple guidelines when interacting with potential supporters? If not, it's worth making the effort to do so.

The Value of Volunteers

The NonProfit Times just released an article with the headline "Volunteers Worth 3.3 Times Minimum Wage." Given that federal minimum wage is $5.85 an hour - that means that each volunteer hour is worth $19.51 to your organization.

[photo credit: Coed]

Your volunteers are much more than an auxiliary workforce. They're the front lines of your organization in the community. They represent your organization as they move through their social circles, and they are the ones who carry your organization's message farther than your marketing efforts ever could.

Most organizations value their volunteers tremendously - but few assign a dollar value to their worth. If your organization were to do so, what would your volunteers add to your bottom line? If the number is significant (maybe more than a staff person's annual salary), it might be time to make sure you're getting enough bang for your buck.

When was the last time you examined your organization's volunteer program? Could you, without hesitating, draw a map of a volunteer's experience with your organization from the moment they transition into your volunteer program, to the moment they transition out?

Given the amount of money at stake, it might well be worth your time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Making your organization's website work for you

So many of my clients have websites that were designed by "Volunteer Bob" - who used to code HTML back during the DotCom bubble. Now, Bob doesn't answer emails and phone calls promptly, no one knows how the site really works, and making even the simplest changes is like pulling teeth.

[photo credit: tyger_lyllie]

This is a problem - and not one to be taken lightly. Your donors, volunteers, and constituents expect you to have an online presence that works. It's not optional, it's required.

If you're unable to quickly link to new news stories that appear online about your organization, your press efforts are partially wasted. If you're unable to invite people to join your mailing list, donate money, or RSVP to an event, your organization is missing out on enormous fund raising and goodwill opportunities. If you can't keep your online press kit (Nancy Schwartz's article is also a great reference for information about online press kits) up to date, journalists may opt to cover another organization in your sector that has more readily accessible information.

If keeping your site updated is a constant headache - consider taking the following steps:
  1. Take the time to decide what you want your site to do.
    Work with your team to map out, on paper, how each page of your site should look and behave. Take social networking options into account, be clear about who is responsible for maintaining and updating each section of the site, and set a schedule for those updates. A great way to do this is to draw outlines of each page on regular sheets of copier paper, and then tape them up on the wall of a conference to form a giant, life-sized map of your site.
  2. Contact a reputable local web development firm.
    Your going to need professional help. It's going to cost money. Using volunteer assistance is probably what caused your problems in the first place. The amount of time, energy and anxiety you've probably already expended is likely to be easily offset by finding someone to do it right the first time. [Some great firms in the Bay Area are Advancing Ideas, and Creative B'stro]
  3. Ask them the following questions:
    (a) "Will you provide a back-end interface?" - This interface will allow you to make simple changes to your own site without having to go through a third party
    (b) "Do you use open source CMS applications?" - Content Management System (or CMS) applications are engines which store content in a database for use on your site. This means the content isn't "hard-coded" into each page of your site. This is good, because it means you can change the content in the database (through the back-end mentioned in #1) and it wil automatically appear on the site. Open source is good because it means a lot of people are using it and are constantly making it better.
    (c) "Do you provide training?" - You're going to need it, and you don't want to end up paying extra for it.
    (d) "Do you provide both design and development?" - This could be a great opportunity to consider both re-designing your website and creating a way to make keeping it updated easier. Some shops do both, and do both well. Others specialize in just design, or just development. Know which skills you need, and which they offer, before you begin.
Expect to spend between $75 - $100 an hour for their services. And expect each page of your site to take them about 2 hours to develop. Also be sure to build in time for revisions and changes. And expect to do a full refresh of your site at least every other year.

If your site is losing money and members just because it's out of date, hard to navigate, or difficult to use, think about how much money those problems are costing your organization over a 12 month period. Spending money now on getting your site in shape is a wise investment for most organizations.

Monday, April 14, 2008

What's your keyword?

One of the most important goals of your organization's communications plan should be to make sure people can find your organization when they are looking for information about your sector.

Does your organization's website appear at the top of search results that include keywords for your sector? A study by confirms that that "most people use 2 word phrases in search engines. Of all search engines world wide, 28.38 percent use 2 word phrases, 27.15 percent use 3 word phrases and 16.42 percent 4 word phrases."

[photo credit: cambodia4kidsorg]

This is a critical piece of data. It means that most people only type in 2 or 3 words when they're searching for information. If you had to express your organization's mission, purpose, vision and values in only 2 or 3 words, which words would they be? If you aren't sure, now is the time to come up with a strategy, and create a plan of action. By elevating the chances that you'll appear in the search results of those looking for organization's like yours online, you're guaranteed to increase your organization's visibility - which is more than can be said for more traditional publicity efforts like mailing out a press release.

Once you've taken the time to determine what your keyword strategy should be - spend the time to make sure your materials - both online and offline - use those keywords deliberately. It's not enough to bury them in your mission statement - or on the "about us" page of your website. Your keywords should be visible everywhere, and repeated as often as possible (without negatively impacting the quality of your written content).

The more you reinforce your keywords' connection to your agency, the more the search engines will do so as well. This practice is often called Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) and it's worth the effort if your organization doesn't appear on the first page of the search results for your chosen keywords.