Online Communications

What Skills Should a Communications Team Have?

Posted on January 10, 2012. Filed under: Online Communications | Tags: , , |

Kivi Leroux Miller gives us some great advice in this article and it is well worth a read for any nonprofit wanting to ensure their communications are consistent, professional and on-topic.

Enjoy the read, and thanks again, Kivi!

Kathie van

What Skills Should a Communications Team Have?

Can you help me answer this question?

“My name is Matt Silva, and I work for a nonprofit based in San Francisco called EARN. At EARN, we give low-income working families the power to create prosperity for generations. I’m a member of EARN’s first-ever communications team, and we’re thinking strategically about what roles and functions we’ll need to fill for the coming year.

I was wondering if you’d be willing to share any insights or resources into how best to setup a communications team at a nonprofit. We love the best practices you’ve shared, and are now looking for information related to the actual positions a nonprofit communications team should fill, and what each of those roles should be doing.

Right now, we’re two full-time people with a half-time Director (she shares her time with Development). I think what we’re finding is that, like most organizations, PR, branding, marketing, and online engagement (including social media) will all be important functions for us. Perhaps a better way to frame my question is this: what skill sets do you think a two- to three-person team should have?

Any help would be much appreciated.”

Great question, Matt, and one I know a lot of you have opinions about! Here’s my take . . .

Naturally, the actual structure of a communications team is going to vary based not only on the needs and goals of the organization, but on what actual team members are good at and what they themselves enjoy doing.

Here’s one way to approach your questions. I’ve listed what I consider to be three essential skills/roles for a marketing team for long-term, sustainable success.

I’m not talking about tactical skills/roles (who can best engage supporters on Facebook, who writes the best newsletter headlines), but rather what you as a team need to accomplish.

As you noted, everyone on the team will be responsible for all of these at some basic level, but I believe that each of these items is so important that they demand someone to be assigned as the “lead” staff person. How you mix and match these into specific job descriptions depends on the actual people involved.

Continuously Learning about Your Supporters

Someone should be responsible for actively seeking and capturing information about your target audiences and then regularly sharing the trends with the team. This is absolutely essential to getting your messages right and picking the right communications channels.

This can include everything from what we often call “listening” in social media, to doing surveys and focus groups throughout the year, to making sure that your databases are set up to easily segment your mailing lists, to watching analytics on your website, email marketing, Facebook, etc.

While another team member may be closer to Facebook Insights on a daily basis, for example, the lead for this particular role would be the person who looks for the trends over time, and compares those to data from other sources. Because this person will be putting different pieces of the puzzle together, he or she may also be the best one to identify ways to tap into your social capital (e.g. who are your biggest fans, and how can you better tap into their networks).

Ensuring Your Messaging is Both Consistent and Responsive

While you should decide as a team what your key messages and calls to action are during any given period (e.g. over a campaign or story arc of a few weeks or months), it’s helpful to have someone tasked with keeping the team “on message” but — and equally importantly — watching for good times to redirect your messaging so that you can highly responsive to breaking news or hot conversations in your space.

It’s a delicate balancing act: Communicating consistently over time so that your core messages and calls to action get through, but being flexible enough to respond to what’s happening around you (including newsjacking, which I’ll talk about in a later post). It’s too easy for individuals to stray off message, and to miss real-time opportunities to connect to what people are already talking about, which is why I think it’s best to give someone this responsibility directly.

Managing the Content Creation and Delivery Process

Everyone on the team will be creating content, and probably delivering the content too (posting to Twitter, setting up bulk email messages, giving in-person presentations). But one person needs to be responsible for the bird’s eye view of the process and the editorial calendar to ensure that the what, when, who, where, how and why of communications makes sense to the people on the receiving end.

Are your supporters or clients getting the right messages at the right times in the right places over weeks and months? Communications teams often get so caught up (and head down) in producing and sending out all the stuff on the day’s or week’s to-do list that they fail to see how it all fits together over time. Providing that focus — and helping other team members adjust as needed — should be someone’s specific responsibility.

These three roles are highly interrelated, which is why I think it’s good to distribute them among different staff. It will force more strategic conversations to take place regularly, as you are feeding each other information and holding each other accountable.

What Do You Think?

What do you think of Matt’s question and my answer? I’m also happy to create a more specific tactical list of job responsibilities if that would be helpful. But I do believe these roles are incredibly important and often overlooked. Failure to address these responsibilities leads to overworked, and under-performing, teams.

Source: What Skills Should a Communications Team Have? –
Author: Kivi Leroux Miller

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Rock Stars of Nonprofit Thank You Notes

Posted on December 20, 2011. Filed under: Online Communications, Tips and Ideas | Tags: , , |

Kivi itemizes the key elements that make a great thank you note, and using this example of a real note is a brilliant way to show how these elements come together.

Thanks again for your insights, Kivi!

Rock Stars of Nonprofit Thank You Notes

I’m a nonprofit marketing geek, so I get really, super excited about things like awesome nonprofit thank you emails. That’s why you are here, right?

This week I received a thank you email from Stacey Monk of Epic Change. You may know Stacey and her organization as one of the shining examples of using Twitter for fundraising via campaigns like Tweetsgiving/Epic Thanks and To Mama with Love.

But you may not know her as an awesome nonprofit thank you note writer. Now you do.
Rock Stars of Nonprofit Thank You Notes
Stacey hits all the high notes in this email:

  • Personable
  • Positive
  • Results
  • Taking Us There
  • Credit to Donors
  • Building Anticipation for More Goodness to Come
  • A Great Photo
  • Reminder about Our Connection
  • Integration with Website and Social Media

. . . and does so in a short, very readable email.

Because I was so thrilled with this email, I asked Stacey to share a few thoughts on the results it produced.

She says the open rate was average, about 20% (which is solid, if you aren’t familiar with these metrics).

She reports that it also produced 100 Facebook likes on the linked blog post, which is “way north of normal – more than double, actually” and that “only 9 of those are from people with whom I personally am friends on Facebook” so it spread far from Stacey’s personal circle.

Stacey also received an email from someone who’d been forwarded the email from someone else who wrote:

“Hello Stacey,[Friend’s name] forwarded me the Epic Change email about Shepherds Junior 7th grade graduation. I loved it. Can you include me in on any emails re: Shepherds Junior? Thanks so much!”

She also got kudos for the email on Twitter, and here I am blogging about it.

Wonderful job, Stacey, and thanks for sharing such a great example!

Source: Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog – Rock Stars of Nonprofit Thank You Notes

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What’s missing from your emails? A great tip on a good ending

Posted on November 18, 2011. Filed under: Online Communications | Tags: , , |

What a fabulous idea! Thanks for sharing Katya.

What’s missing from your emails? A great tip on a good ending

An often overlooked, free way to promote your cause is right in front of you – your email signature.

You send out loads of emails every day. Each is an opportunity to tell your story.

I was reminded of this by an email I got today from Dean Munro of Via Services. The signature line caught my eye, because it said: A Story. Below was written:

Sixty-six years ago two women saw a little boy sitting in a window everyday, isolated from the real world because of cerebral palsy. With permission from the boy’s single working mother, they carried the boy and his wheelchair down a steep flight of stairs so he could explore new places that would spark his intellectual and emotional development. That act of generosity led to the creation of the organization that would become Via Services which has continued to serve youth and adults with disabilities for over half a century.

I have never, ever seen a signature line with a story in it, and it seized my attention and thoroughly won me over.

Why is a mini-story a great signature idea? Because most emails are workaday, left-brain fare and adding a mini-story is like a mental break and emotional recharge. People will remember it, and they’ll remember your cause.

If you think I’m making this up, there’s a new study highlighted in Roger Dooley’s Neuromarketing blog that once again proves emotional messaging is processed quite differently by the brain than appeals to logic. It’s a great idea to experiment with story to make a connection in unexpected places – like the clogged, dim world of the inbox. Thanks, Dean, for the inspiration.

Source: What’s missing from your emails? A great tip on a good ending –

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People Are Multidimensional

Posted on October 31, 2011. Filed under: Online Communications | Tags: , , , |

In this age of technology, we all need to get our heads around the fact that people’s habits are changing, and what would have been inconceivable as a method of connecting with potential donors a few years ago is now commonplace.

I have often heard comments from potential clients wondering if monetising their video content really is achievable, the technology is here to enable it, but there is a level of disbelief that people will pay to watch video that in the past has been offered online for free.

People’s habits are changing. The more organisations use pay-per-view technology, the more people will become accustomed to it. And if your story resonates with your target audience, they will pay to see it particularly if they know that their payment will be directly assisting the cause and that they are therefore playing their part in the solution.

This article by Geoff Livingston demonstrates that people are being selective about what they watch and are no longer constrained by conventional free-to-air TV. NFPs and NGOs should take advantage of this shift in consumer behaviour, tell their stories through video and montetise that content as an additional fundraising channel.

Kathie van

People are multi-dimensionalPeople Are Multidimensional
Sometimes when you hear nonprofits discuss donors, you would think that people are one dimensional. They only read blogs. Or they only respond to mail solicitations.

This one dimensional approach towards donors belies the way people use media.

People aren’t so simple as to single track their media usage. In fact, if you consider the way most people watch TV these days they are doing so with a laptop, tablet or smartphone in hand. This has given rise to social TV, the back channel of conversation on social media during, before, and after programs.

Social TV is just one example of a very valid concept: people receive information across diverse media sources, such as ads on public transportation to the internet on their smartphones. The concept of multichannel marketing–or what used to be called integrated communications in the ’90s–holds weight now more than ever.

BlackBaud released an infographic last week that highlighted the importance of cultivating online donors with more than just social media or email. The data shows that online donors who give through multiple channels are worth up to 3x more than single channel donors (specifically, donors acquired by mail or email).

Strong social media based online fundraising programs integrate other traditional aspects of communication to achieve the desired result. This isn’t risky. Multichannel efforts simply match the reality of the way your cause’s potential investors interact with media.

Source: People Are Multidimensional –

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Fourteen Ways to Improve Your Open Rate

Posted on October 24, 2011. Filed under: Online Communications | Tags: , , , , , |

Brett from NTEN has put together a very thorough list of methods which will assist nonprofits to improve the effectiveness of their email campaigns. If you are using email communications I would suggest you use Brett’s list as a checklist for your email proofing/approval process.

And remember, our CommsConsole enables you to manage your entire email marketing campaign process – from lists to templates to analytics. Contact me if you want to look into how CommsConsole can assist your organisation to manage its social media and online communications campaigns.

Great ideas, Brett, thank you!

Kathie van

Fourteen Ways to Improve Your Open Rate

Writing last month’s post about how NTEN differentiates between types of open rate made me think about the ways we’ve worked to boost our numbers. We’re on pace to deliver more than 1,000,000 messages in 2011, so our data is beginning to amount to something meaningful. Despite the increased volume, we’ve managed to increase our absolute open rate year-over-year.

Looking just at our webinar messaging, we saw an open rate of roughly 22.5% in 2010, but have bumped that up to 23.5% so far this year.

While you should keep in mind that all of this is based on data specific to NTEN – your own results may vary – here are 14 ways we’ve worked to achieve that modest bump.

  1. Keep the new names coming in. We’ve made list growth a continuing concern – not just to fight the inevitable churn, but because new subscribers open our messages at a much higher rate. Recent tests from our 28,000-name newsletter list found that the folks we’d added within the prior month were up to 25% more likely to open the first message.
  2. Deliver content people want to read. Once you’ve captured somebody’s attention, it’s yours to lose. You don’t have to write like Raymond Carver, but make sure you put the requisite effort into making your messages crisp, readable – and interesting. Develop a reputation for giving your constituents what they want, and they’ll be more likely to read your messages out of habit.
  3. Tell them who it’s from. The “From” line is often the first thing folks look at when your message arrives in their in-box, simply because Westerners read from left to right. We believe e-mail should come from a person, not an organization. We use the format “First Last, NTEN”. New subscribers probably don’t know who “Brett Meyer” is, but they’ve hopefully heard of NTEN; long-time list members will (hopefully) see my name and at least look at the subject line. This sort of format will also help you introduce new staff members to the community as they begin to send out messages.
  4. Worry about your subject line. Subject lines have become even more important as webmail and smartphones have become ubiquitous: the preview pane is disappearing. Books could be written on how to write subject lines, but in general, we try to keep them factual and descriptive of the content of the message. I also try to avoid going with the first thing that pops into my head. Spend a few minutes thinking about who your audience is and what they’ve responded to in the past. For more, Kivi Leroux Miller has some great tips on writing subject lines.
  5. Test, test, test. There’s no reason to go with your gut instinct when so many email providers have A/B test functionality this days. (And, even if yours doesn’t, it’s worth the effort to build your own test lists every now and again, especially for your most important messages.) Try some subject line variations on 10-20% of your list, then use the best performer for the rest.
  6. Try playing with the send time. A few years ago, before we could test our messages, I hypothesized that folks are most likely to look at a message when it pops up on their screen with little competition. We try not to get lost in the 8 am rush (when I, at least, clean out all the messages from the night before without paying much attention). Most of our messages go out between 10 and 11 am Pacific — before lunch on the West Coast, right after folks get back from lunch on the East. But I seem to remember Event 360 sending out a message about how Saturday mornings can be effective, too. The important thing for you is to test and test some more to find out what’s best for your list.
  7. Segment your lists. Even if your organization is focused on a single issue like, say, rescued Pomeranians, various cross-sections of your constituents will respond differently to your messaging – in spite of their shared interest in your mission. Here at NTEN, we segment by job type (Marketers vs IT staff vs EDs), organization size, activity level (number of our events attended, messages opened, etc.), membership status, and more (sometimes all at once). Just for webinars, we’ve sent out more than 200 unique messages in 2011, even though we’ve only had 60 events. Sometimes just the subject line is different, sometimes the entire message changes; it depends on the segment. Social media has taught people to expect a more personal experience online, so the more you can personalize your messages and deliver just the content a particular subscriber wants, the more likely they’ll be to open your messages.
  8. Vary your messaging volume. Some of your constituents will want to hear from you more often than others. I know that people who have attended more than 2 of our events in a year are more likely to open a message from me (and sign up for the event), so we send more messages to them than to subscribers who haven’t engaged with NTEN yet. We look for the best opportunities to reach out to the unengaged groups – like our recent free Cloud Webinar series – so they don’t become overwhelmed by messaging they may not be interested in. Just be sure you…
  9. Collect and use your data. You need to keep track of how often your subscribers want to hear from you, which subject lines perform best, the times of day most likely to result in an open, and what your various segments have responded to the most. Your data should focus your efforts as time goes on, since you’ll have a better sense of what works. Just don’t forget to go back and test to make sure your assumptions continue to hold true.
  10. Don’t ask for something every time. This goes back to the whole “deliver content people want to read” idea: if your constituents know that your message will just ask them to donate again, they’ll likely get tired of it. Mix it up. Send out important news, a free offer, a cool conversation happening on your Facebook page. You want to build a relationship with your subscribers – just not like the relationship you have with your ATM.
  11. Avoid the spam filter. Even if you run a double opt-in for your list, your messages can get trapped by the increasingly sophisticated spam filters in place just about everywhere. It pays to know why your messages may be sent into the dank, squishy depths of the spam folder. MailChimp has a fantastic overview of “How Spam Filters Think“.
  12. Develop a good email template. On the more technical side, sloppy HTML code can certainly trigger spam filters, but a nice, clean, easy-to-read and understand template can make it more likely your subscribers will want to open your message – particularly if you make sure it renders properly in every mail client. Sean Powell put together a great HTML email boilerplate as a starting point. We go a little further by separating out content from the details of our call to action in our template: the “pitch” is on the left, while those who know just from the subject that they want to take the action can quickly find the time, place, etc. on the right. (And yes, we have tested it versus a single column format.) The key, as with so many things, is to remain consistent.
  13. Include some Easter eggs. While I haven’t crunched the numbers yet to find out if a link to a cute cat video makes folks more likely to sign up for a webinar, I do know it helps me find out how many people are reading my messages all the way to the end. It’s okay to include fun links in your messages; bonus points if you can make them relevant to the content. Vary the placement, so they’ll have to at least scan your entire message to find them. This is just another form of engagement, and engagement is the name of the game.
  14. Develop a strategy. It’s one thing to try a few of these suggestions to boost your open rates, another to plan it out. You need to approach your email marketing program as you do all things: mindfully. Lay out a plan. Implement it. Record the results. Tweak the plan based on the data. Try again. Treat your subscribers well and they’ll reward you by actually reading the messages you spend so much time putting together.

Bonus Tips!

Here are two more things that will likely boost your open rates that we haven’t fully implemented yet.

Clean your list. We don’t quite have enough data to do this to the extent we want, but: if you’ve had a name on your list for 5 years, and they’ve never engaged with you – no donations, no events, no click-throughs or even message opens – you probably don’t need them on your list, even if the address is still deliverable. This may sound like an artificial boost, but it’s more important to have an active, engaged list than a big list that never does anything. It may not cost much to send an e-mail, but it does add up over time.

Try some predictive analytics. I heard Event 360’s Jeff Shuck talk about predictives at the 2011 NTC, and it made me excited to be a nonprofit marketer. We’re close to being able to build our lists based on how we think subscribers will respond. For example, if somebody has opened 70% of the messages I’ve sent about Cloud Computing and registered for several of the events, that person is much more likely to want to attend an advanced “Security in the Cloud” session than your average IT staff member. This may sound a bit creepy to some, I know, what with the ads for digital cameras that follow you around after you visit a camera review site. But – as long as the data is collected and used in aggregate – I’d much rather see advertisements targeted to my specific interests than yet another Unilever ad for Axe body spray.

Source: Fourteen Ways to Improve Your Open Rate –


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5 Commandments of Good Email Newsletters

Posted on October 21, 2011. Filed under: Online Communications |

Here is a great post by socialbutterfly, I’ve posted a few articles in the past few weeks about the importance of email marketing campaigns and how to ensure you are using your campaigns effectively. Note with regard to the CAN-SPAM Act information, that this may differ from country to country but the rules are generally consistent.

Happy emailing…

Kathie van

5 Commandments of Good Email Newsletters

So you want to start an email newsletter? Congratulations! Email is one of the best channels you can use to connect with your community. Outside of needing a person’s email address, there are a few additional considerations you’ll need to work out before pressing “send.”

1. Know Thy Audience

Who are you sending your email to? This plays a huge role in how you craft the information in the email. The better you know and understand your audience, the more value you can provide them through your email marketing. This may mean that you’ll want to segment your list. For example, say you are a nonprofit that addresses a variety of different issues. If you provide subscribers the option to receive emails based on which issues they’re interested in, then you can better tailor the content in the email to that group of subscribers.

Note: Subscribers that opt-in to your email newsletter tend to span the horizon in terms of awareness of what your organization does and their involvement in what you do. Your challenge will be providing valuable content that bridges this spectrum.

2. Manage Thy Lists

List management is key for audience segmentation. Most email marketing platforms only house email addresses. This often means you will need to figure out another system or tool to manage individual contact information–such as addresses and phone numbers.

The more you can finalize your email marketing strategy before you implement it, the easier your life will be when it comes to list management. Some email marketing tools help you clean your list and others do not. Be sure to read the fine print on what your tool does and doesn’t do so that you can plan accordingly–and keep subscribers happy.

Note: If you’ve recently met someone who is new to your organization, a great way to invite them to get more involved is to forward them a copy of your latest email newsletter along with a personal email inviting them to subscribe as a way to stay informed and to get more involved.

3. Liven Up Thy Content

Email newsletters can easily become a list of links. To avoid this trap, be sure each email newsletter has a specific call-to-action. When you go to design your email template and layout your content, prioritize (1-X) which content, links and sections of your e-blast you want to get the most attention. This will help you flush out your template design and better focus your content.

Once you have a clear call-to-action and you’ve prioritized the sections in your e-newsletter design, you can fill in the content. Newsletters should provide a comprehensive snapshot of the past month, quarter or campaign, but they should also be focused. Some popular sections of email newsletters include relevant news headlines, new research, reports and resources, and upcoming events. If you want to get really fancy, try conducting some A/B split testing to see which version of your email newsletter receives more traction.

Note: To get good content ideas, subscribe to other email newsletters from organizations you admire. Learn from what they do–you’ll be sure to find more than a few new ideas.

4. Follow the Rules

You don’t want to have your emails marked as “spam” and thrown into the gauntlet. To avoid this problem, there are some best practices that have become like rules that you should follow. One example is the CAN-SPAM Act which was instituted by the government in 2003 to cut down on misleading emails from commercial entities. If broken, an organization is penalized in the form of a fine. In general, the CAN-SPAM Act has become one of the best guides around email marketing best practices. Some items nonprofits should note include:

  • Provide the opportunity for an email recipient to opt-out of the email list. The option to opt-out must be in every email message and must be provided to all individuals receiving the message.
  • Provide a valid physical postal address of the organization sending the email.
  • Let subscribers know who the email is coming from and use a subject line that is not misleading as to the actual content in the email.
  • Honor opt-out requests in a timely fashion.

Note: Learn more about what the CAN-SPAN Act means for non-profits.

5. Plan Thy Delivery

Though this tip is listed last, don’t wait until the end of planning to think about how often you need to send your email newsletter. It could be quarterly, monthly or even weekly depending on the specific goal and content. While you think through delivery items, you’ll want to spend some time setting up and testing the logistics of your email newsletter delivery.

Note: Before you send your email newsletter, send a test to yourself and a couple of others from your organization to make sure all is smooth sailing. You’ll also want to test your email template to make sure it’s readable across all email clients. Email on Acid and Litmus are two such tools that can help you do this.

Source: 5 Commandments of Good Email Newsletters –


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Enabling Program Staff to Become Digital Editors

Posted on October 19, 2011. Filed under: Online Communications, Social Media Marketing | Tags: , , , , , |

In this article, Steve Heye summarises by saying: “If you read this and thought, wow, my organization just doesn’t have the time or resources to do this, my response would be that you will spend the time either way. You can spend it building this capacity or you can spend it managing the communication crisis, funelling content to that one author and continue missing opportunities.”

I think this is a very important point to make, so I have put it first to catch your attention.

He also makes a number of other salient points that resonate with me and touch on issues we’ve addressed in our Blogs over the past few weeks: 

Firstly, Steve recognises the importance of storytelling. Steve seems to make the assumption that this is just a normal part of non-profit communications, however, there are many non-profits that are not using storytelling. If your organisation is not telling its stories for whatever reason, you need to find a solution and work out a way to make sure your stories can be told. Storytelling is key to creating a connection between you and your supporters.

Steve also suggests that it is important for external communications to represent the voice and brand of the organisation. This is very important and training is certainly a key part of ensuring all of your digital editors know how to communicate as the brand. However, I firmly believe that internal communications are more effective than specific training at developing your staff’s an understanding of the organisations communications expectations.

It seems to me that Steve’s organisation is doing a fantastic job of communicating the organisation’s stories internally through publishing metrics, interpreting them and putting them into the context of people’s jobs. This is evidently giving staff a clear understanding of how the organisation wishes to communicate its stories in general. By applying your desired ‘tone’ to your internal communications you will be continually developing your staff’s understanding of your organisation’s expectations in terms of external communications. 

Finally, this article is focussed on empowering staff to tell their stories, however, Steve focusses on the communications benefits and there is little emphasis on the additional benefits from an HR perspective of investing in this type of training. In my blog a couple of weeks ago about Online Communications Solutions For Nonprofits And NGOs I touched on cross-training key staff, and from an HR point of view the uplift in the employees’ feeling of self-worth and commitment to the organisation is well worth the expense and effort required to begin this cultural change process.

In terms of removing barriers, CommsConsole is the perfect tool to assist with your online communications. And to manage your digital content, you can’t go past our digital streaming platform. And of course, the team is there to provide advice and assistance for your organisation.

Good Luck!

Kathie van


Enabling Program Staff to Become Digital Editors

Working for a large nonprofit focused on programs and services that have impact on peoples’ lives, we often find ourselves with great stories of inspiration to tell. The challenge is identifying ways for the staff, who are responsible for implementing programs of impact every day, to tell the organization’s stories.

This challenge is further complicated by the fact that while we want to empower our staff to share client stories, we also want to make sure that our external communications are shared in a single voice that represents the organization’s brand. In this article, we will explore how to manage these challenges from a technology standpoint, including publishing metrics, establishing structure, removing barriers and offering training.

First, let’s start with where we are today, and where we’re headed. The web has become social. This has radically changed the need for more stories and content. Think back 10-15 years. Only a few of our staff were really comfortable with computers. We had to rely on those staff for their technical knowledge. Today, it is a job requirement to have computer and software experience for a vast majority of our jobs. Content creation, storytelling specifically, is headed in the same direction.

The ability to write e-newsletters, post to the website, manage social media, or speak on behalf of the organization in so many different digital ways will soon be everyone’s job. The faster we equip all of our staff to tell our stories, the better off we will be. Content and stories can be so many different things like videos created by participants, photo blogs from maintenance staff, schedule updates from instructors, sharing lesson plans, etc.

We have been working through this cultural shift at the YMCA of Metro Chicago over the last few years. The Y serves children, families and communities through a network of 25 member centers, five resident camps and hundreds of extension sites in Chicago and its collar counties – with more than 4,000 full- and part-time employees. We want each of our employees to feel empowered to tell the stories of the work they do every day to change lives for the better.

We have tried numerous methods with varying results, but learn from it each time. As a result, we have seen a noticeable difference in the quality and quantity of content along with rising confidence in program staff. We have seen growth in metrics, attendance at trainings, increase in requests for access to tools, suggestions for improvement and a general shift in culture.

Gradual Culture Shift

Storytelling and content creation needs to involve a culture shift, not a project launch with a rapid start and defined stop. Below are the key elements to creating a culture shift to enable staff to become digital editors. This is not a complete list; you will need to adapt to your culture and organizational structure.

Elements to enable digital editors:

  • Publish metrics (recognition, competition, feedback)
  • Establish structure and accountability
  • Remove barriers
  • Regular training and resources
  • Enable individuals while managing the brand

It’s important to note that the type of content an organization wants to publish should be identified by its communications department, and the process for gathering that content (which is what I write about below) should be developed in collaboration between the communications and technology departments.

Publish Metrics

There are numerous articles out there with great information about creating metrics for your digital efforts. For starters, I would recommend “How to measure your nonprofit’s social media success” from Socialbrite and “What’s Your Nonprofit’s Social Media Measurement Strategy?” from Beth’s blog. But in my opinion, picking and creating the metrics doesn’t mean as much until you share them across your organization. How can you expect staff to see the importance of your digital efforts without seeing the impact and statistics?

But publishing numbers isn’t enough. You need to make a connection between the social media numbers and everyone’s job. Demonstrate how the digital efforts impact the organization, the goals and the mission. From there, have some fun with your metrics. By publishing the metrics publicly and breaking them up by program areas, departments, locations, or some sort of groups, you can create peer pressure. By providing some interpretation of the metrics, putting them into context, you can help people learn from them.

The metrics we use at the YMCA of Metro Chicago compare each of our locations against each other and compare to last month. We also set a goal for each metric (email open rate, web visits, Facebook likes, etc.) based on industry standards and other YMCA stats. The goals for these centers are adjusted based on the membership size. These are published openly to Executive staff, membership staff and all digital authors. As we publish our metrics we pull out an example of what one center did well to highlight the importance of engagement, not just a focus on numbers.

Establish structure and accountability

Define roles and guidelines and create a sense of accountability to establish clear expectations. This structure is key, but it needs to be realistic and designed to empower and encourage. Creating an author agreement, documenting escalation process, content templates, and content calendars can all help with this structure. At the YMCA of Metro Chicago we created a set of these resources that you can use as an example.

Accountability can also be managed in a more fun way by grouping authors in teams and using metrics to help them push each other.

Remove Barriers

Often, the technology used to create technology seems difficult or appears too technical for program staff to use. We surround our websites, social media, and other digital media with policies, levels of authority, procedures, expertise, and all sorts of mystery. Couple all of this complexity with numerous tools that are all foreign to program staff and you have a long list of barriers to success. Each organization needs to do an honest investigation into what staff see as barriers, and review the current process and tools.

At the YMCA of Metro Chicago our initial largest barrier was our website content management software, Adobe Contribute. The software was limited to being installed on one computer and was simple in functionality but not easy to understand. We migrated our website to Expression Engine and streamlined the content creation.

Our ongoing struggle is the number of places our staff manage content. We create flyers, class schedules, program guides, e-newsletters, emails and press releases, not to mention posting to our website and Facebook. As we have moved to new tools we look to allow reusing content, eliminating redundancy and spreading out the responsibility to the content originator.

Regular Trainings and Resources

Enabling authors will require regular training and access to resources, offered in digestible bites. This could include:

  • Monthly webinar on different topics
  • 1 page cheat sheets
  • Video recordings from trainings on a single topic
  • Peer sharing sessions
  • Integrate content training into all meetings
  • Send champions to conferences

Tip: don’t have time to create video trainings? Just record your webinars.

It is easy to overwhelm program staff with too much information. All of these trainings and resources should focus on single topics and build off of each other. Keep it clear and use examples.

If you don’t have the resources to create these, then be sure to leverage organizations like NTEN, TechSoup and Idealware, plus look to volunteers and your vendors for help.

This is a journey! Yeah, that is an overused phrase but sometimes you have to stick with what works. If you read this and thought, wow, my organization just doesn’t have the time or resources to do this, my response would be that you will spend the time either way. You can spend it building this capacity or you can spend it managing the communication crisis, funneling content to that one author and continue missing opportunities.

Author: Steve Heye is the Digital Content Services Manager at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. He is responsible for managing all aspects of the YMCA’s online presence including the web sites, intranet and social networking. Previously he was with the Technology Resource Group at YMCA of the USA for about ten years where he provided resources, conferences, and training that allows YMCAs nationwide to better leverage business systems and technology. He has a Bachelors degree in Finance from North Central College. You can keep up with Steve’s thoughts and tips regarding nonprofit technology issues on his blog.

Source: Enabling Program Staff to Become Digital Editors –

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Measuring the Return on Relationships

Posted on October 17, 2011. Filed under: Analytics, Online Communications, Social Media Marketing | Tags: , , , , , |

I really like the discussions that are occurring with regard to the difference between standard business ROI and measuring the ROI of social media engagement, particularly in terms of philanthropic and nonprofit organisations. This guest blog article written by Claire Diaz Oritz (nee Williams) and posted on Beth’s Blog gives a great insight into how nonprofits and NGOs need to think about social media and I think she is on the money with her model: Return on Investment = Reach, Outcome, Influence.

Kathie van 

Measuring the Return on RelationshipsMeasuring the Return on Relationships by Claire Diaz Ortiz (nee Williams)

Last week, I started a discussion on Social Edge entitled, Fundraising, It’s Not Always About the Money ( I explained that while researching my new book, Twitter for Good (, I took a long, hard look at fundraising on social media and came to a new, startling conclusion: it’s not about the money. As I asserted, the real ROI (return on investment) of fundraising on new media is the relationships.

Although I opened the discussion, I didn’t take it far enough, and too many of you came away with the same, burning question: How can we measure the ROI of relationships?

Measuring the ROI of a marketing campaign can be time-consuming, but it’s always straightforward. Measuring the ROI of a fundraising campaign is equally simple. We spent $1,200 to send out 500 pieces of mail in our direct mail campaign and we netted $4,500 in donations. Done. We spent $50,000 to host our annual fundraiser and we received $200,000 in donations. Understood.

But relationships? How can you possibly measure the intangible?

What was the value of my first meeting with the lovely Beth Kanter a few years ago at the old Twitter offices, where we chatted for far too long about the highs and lows of adoption (and, a little bit about nonprofits and social media)?

Who knows. But I’ve written some guest posts, so I guess she doesn’t hate me.

What is the value of the strong connection I’ve built with Amanda Rose ( from Twestival (almost exclusively virtual save the frantic annual “we’re in the same place let’s have lunch!” phone call) over the years?

Don’t ask me. But she gave me a book endorsement.

What is the value of Amy Neumann’s ( ongoing, selfless offers to provide support on anything non-profit related on Twitter?

Got me. As far as I know she’s never made a donation to the non-profit I started (, but I’m sure she’s told some folks about it.

When trying to promote our cause to the world, we yearn for relationships. And to some extent, we all have relationships like this, relationships that we are cultivating or have cultivated or hope to cultivate. We know we need them, we know we should spend time with them, but we’re not entirely clear on how much, or why, especially when it comes to fundraising.

Or are we?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we can quantify these relationships (to some extent). Yes, we can break down the real ROI of fundraising on social media.And here’s how.If you know me, you know I’m fan of uber simple acronyms and word games that help people remember and implement what I’m teaching. Heck I did create the pathetically obvious T.W.E.E.T model (Target, Write, Engage, Excel, Track) ( for excelling on Twitter, didn’t I?

And now I’m going to do it again.

How to Measure the ROI of Fundraising on Social Media:

Fundraising on social media is about relationships, and we can measure the ROI of those relationships by breaking down the return on investment into three parts.

Return on Investment = Reach, Outcome, Influence

  • Reach: A relationship you develop becomes more important the larger the reach is. If Susie P has 9 friends on Facebook, and Susie Q has 900, Susie P is probably your better bet. But remember, reach isn’t always about numbers. See Influence to better understand.
  • Outcome: Any relationship that yields tangible benefits is working. Did a three-hour dinner in London with an international aid worker bring you one quality application (the aid worker’s Facebook friend, no less) for an outstanding position at your non-profit you’ve been trying to fill? Did you have a blast at the dinner to boot? Even better.
  • Influence: Is a person popular, or do they actually have sway in your given area of interest? In one example I share in Twitter for Good, Scott Stratten’s @unmarketing ( Twitter following (then about 40K) clicked more times on the link he sent out of him singing than Ashton Kutcher’s million followers did. Why? Perhaps Ashton’s followers are more interested in watching Ashton sing. Likewise, if @ClaireD ( were to tweet about sports, no one would bat an eyelash. Targeted reach is what you’re after.

Specific case studies back up these three points. Born2Fly ( is an organization dedicated to banishing sex trafficking, and Diana Scimone of Born2Fly’s excellent guest post ( here on Beth’s blog (which was reproduced in Twitter for Good ( tells the story of learning from a fundraising campaign that didn’t meet expectations. Her take-away? Build relationships with bloggers to better promote the next fundraiser. REACH.

Fireside International (, a non-profit media company in Haiti, needed English language learning materials for a new school they were building. They reach out to Rosetta Stone, and scored $18,000 worth of materials. Query a hundred individuals or companies, and one hit may just come through. OUTCOME.

Global Citizen Year (, another organization featured in my book, is another. The key support they received from Nick Kristof convinced them of the power of Twitter to build relationships in order to garner support. INFLUENCE.

Measuring these specific points will bring you an ROI with all the shiny numbers you’ve been hoping for.

Ultimately, the success of fundraising on social media highlights what we have always known: to fundraise effectively (in the virtual or the brick-and-mortar world), you need relationships. Be smart about building them, cultivating them, and maximizing them.

Measure them as well. It doesn’t make you mean, it makes you smart.

Claire Diaz Ortiz (nee Williams) leads social innovation at Twitter and wrote Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time (  Want more from Claire Diaz Ortiz? Follow @ClaireD (, read her blog at, or download the first chapter of Twitter for Good for free here (

Source:  Beth’s Blog – Measuring the Return on Relationships –


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My Name Is Not Donor

Posted on October 14, 2011. Filed under: Online Communications | Tags: , , , |

A poingnant and poetic piece by Geoff Livingston, demonstrating the importance of keeping your donor lists current and accurate and your communications personal and engaging. You may be tempted to think data is a dry and boring subject, but just think what each name on your database actually represents…

Beautifully written, Geoff, well done!

Kathie van

My Name Is Not Donor

My Name Is Not Donor

My name is not donor, the mythical ghost in the machine you are targeting.

You don’t know my name. Why? Because it’s some random field in your house file. A random Bob, a misplaced Jane in a sea of Johns, Alices, Michaels and Jennifers.

Really, you don’t care about me. I know this. I can tell when I receive all of your “communications,” your solicitations, your ceaseless asks. Invariably, it’s always about money.

I get it. It’s the “donor acquisition” strategy. And because I didn’t “give enough,” the level of outreach is impersonal. You can’t invest in me.

I’ve got bad news for you. I don’t want to invest in you either. It doesn’t make me feel good. You don’t treat me like a valuable person, an individual. You don’t report results back to me. You don’t remember what I have done, and you don’t provide extra value or access in my life.

What you don’t know is I give thousands of dollars every year to more than a dozen charities. I have raised another $9,000 on average per year for the last three years.

But you wouldn’t know that. Because I am just a cheap donor to you. Maybe if you spam me enough I’ll bite.

Ha! We both know that won’t happen.

That’s because my name is not donor.

Source: My Name Is Not Donor –

Author: Geoff Livingston


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7 Tips for Better Fundraising Emails

Posted on October 10, 2011. Filed under: Online Communications, Tips and Ideas | Tags: , , , , , |

To me, Geoff Livingston sums up the necessary elements of a great fundraising email brilliantly. I shall say no more and leave you to read his wise advice…

Kathie van

7 Tips for Better Fundraising Emails 

7 Tips for Better Fundraising Emails 

Email marketing represents a critical component of online fundraising. In fact, in spite of the social era or perhaps because of it, more email is being generated. A growing minority of emails are read and responded to on mobile devices now. Contacting friends and supporters who may back your fundraiser via email cannot be overlooked.

For most nonprofits, email has been and remains the heart and soul of their online strategies. Even social media-heavy programs seek to engage more loyal supporters through email programs like newsletter, petitions, pledges, advocacy and more. The purpose is to build a house file.

So how can you make email work best for your campaign? Here are seven tips to consider. Please add yours, too!

1) Vet your list

Carpet bombing your entire rolodex and house file is not a great way to make potential investors feel good about receiving your email. If you are looking for support from friends, focus on creating a small list of people who will likely care about the effort. The email itself is an ask. If at all possible, a personal email to each fundraiser makes a big difference.

If you are a nonprofit, you will want a list that is opt-in, and not purchased wholesale. There are great solutions from companies like Care2 to develop email lists of customized, qualified parties who will opt-in to information from you. Spend the money to build a list, but don’t buy an existing one that is not directly associated with your cause.

2) Write a fantastic headline

There are many elements to consider in writing a great headline, but make no bones about it, this is essential. Only 15% of emails are even opened, according to Blackbaud. Creating pithy headlines that are active in tense, short in length, and clear in purpose are critical to success.

3) The first paragraph should tell all

Similarly, like any well written piece, the first paragraph should clearly communicate what the email is about, and what you are asking of the reader. Get to the point, as they say. This is no different than any other business letter or memo.

4) Short paragraphs work best

Be considerate of the medium, which can be hard on the eyes. In that vein, consider your paragraph lengths (electronic media works best with smaller paragraphs) and be liberal in your use of white space and subheads to break up the document. Generally speaking, a long email is hard to read, so the top-heavy approach with purpose clearly communicated at the beginning makes a difference.

5) Make sure to tell that story

Almost every fundraising best practice discussion suggests personalize stories that show why you care, are critical to fundraising success. If your email reads like a wooden ask, it will fall flat. Be sure to review for not only form, but content and that you’re telling your potential donors why you believe it matters so they can feel your conviction.

6) Simple, specific, direct call to action

You have to make your ask. So ask. But don’t be wishy-washy about it. Be specific and direct, and make sure people understand why they are donating. What is the actual benefit of their contribution? An example might be: “Please give your $50 to provide homeless children in Washington, DC an education today.”

7) Use links and HTML

While you are using email, it is still an electronic document. Use anchor links to let readers see your cause, view a picture, and go to your donation page. Almost every email client developed in the past decade has this feature. Use it!

Source: 7 Tips for Better Fundraising Emails –

Author: Geoff Livingston



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