How to make a magnificent mini-impression

Posted on February 21, 2012. Filed under: Storytelling | Tags: , , |

These insights and tips should help you to start formulating some attention-grabbing ideas for your storytelling videos. Good luck!

Thank you for sharing, Katya!

Kathie van Vugt

How to make a magnificent mini-impression

People decide very quickly whether something appeals to them – usually in a matter of seconds. If you work in communications, marketing or fundraising, it’s wise to remember to focus on that mini-impression formed in the first few instants of engagement.

You can be sure the Super Bowl advertisers knew that – heck, they were spending $116,667 a second to make a good impression. They didn’t always do a good job, but there is a lot to learn from their successes and failures.

In the Harvard Business Review blog this week, Ron Ashkenas shares reflections on the three things needed for the best possible mini-impression, drawing on lessons from the Super Bowl. He says to think about your favorite commercial and three things that might have made it great. Did it:

1. Capture attention. Which part of that commercial stays with you? What technique did the advertiser use to draw you in?

2. Convey a clear message. Consider the key message for the target audience. What did the company try to convey, and how did the advertiser use that to connect with viewers? How did they frame the message to make this point?

3. Differentiate. Think about what distinguishes your advertiser from the rest. How did the company use the commercial to portray its unique brand?

Now think about how this applies to your work. What attention-grabbing technique can you incorporate into your next important conversation? How can you ensure your audience walks away with your most critical takeaway? Are you making clear what sets you apart from others?

Good advice. You don’t have to have an insanely large marketing budget to master the mini-impression – you just need to remember these basics. In fact, if you have a small budget, these tenets are even more critical. You want to leave a big impression right away, every time you get the chance.

Source:  How to make a magnificent mini-impression –

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How non-profits become experts at Social Branding

Posted on January 17, 2012. Filed under: Storytelling | Tags: , , |

This article by Simon Mainwaring is very insightful and I would recommend every nonprofit to take the time to think about this topic in the context of their own branding.

Thank you Simon, you’ve definitely given some food for thought here!

Kathie van Vugt

How non-profits become experts at Social BrandingSimon Mainwaring

There are two elements critical to the success of any branding effort, non-profit or otherwise. The first is compelling brand storytelling, and the second is fluency in social technology. Unfortunately few brands effectively master both, as veteran storytellers struggle to deeply understand social technology, or digital natives rush to emerging technology only to overlook the importance of storytelling. Here’s how a non-profit effectively combines them both.

Brand storytelling, the process by which a company defines and shares its purpose or message, has three parts:

1. You have to make a conscious decision to look inwards and work out what your brand stands for. This is even more difficult for non-profits as often the cause itself can mistakenly serve as a substitute for this important work. A cause is not your brand and this work is important if you hope to define your core values, business strategy and vision for the future.

2. Having done the difficult work of defining your core values and purpose, each non-profit must now frame their story in a community-facing way. Like most marketers today, many non-profits still tell their story in a way that positions themselves as the focus or destination. Instead, every brand must shift from being the celebrity of their community to being its chief celebrant. That means the brand and its story exist to celebrate the success of its donors, field workers or community at large, and in so doing, inspires further fundraising and volunteer efforts on the basis of shared values and a sense of community.

3. Like any product category, every non-profit must also frame its messaging in a way that distinguishes it from competitors within the cause space. This is not being done to beat out “competitors,” but rather to make it very clear to donors as to why they should support your particular non-profit.

The second major element of social branding success is fluency in social technology. The beauty of effective storytelling is that it ensures your brand makes an emotional connection with its audience and that’s when social media works best for you. For what compels a reader to share your cause, event or donation drive with others using social media channels is not the tools themselves but their emotional connection to your brand.

Fluency in social technology is a complex issue but there are three key elements.

1. Fascination: Despite limited resources and time, every non-profit must develop a persistent interest in emerging technology because that is where their customers or donors can be found. This should include a daily diet of blog posts from industry leaders, a study of best practices and case studies, and a curiosity about how for-profit brands are using social media in ways that you can also leverage.

2. Familiarity: Every member of a non-profit should engage in social media themselves to understand the tools and the human dynamics that drive engagement. This takes time and new competencies but the rewards are waiting for those that tap into the scale made possible by these new, relatively inexpensive tools.

3. Failure: Failure implies a willingness to learn new things and to risk mistakes. It demands a decision to be accountable and to apologize. It implies recognition of the fact that online engagement is now a tireless organic, fluid and real time practice.

It’s through the marriage of brand storytelling and social media that non-profits become effective community architects. It also makes them better candidates for for-profit partnerships as the alignment of values, stories and communities becomes far clearer to prospective strategic partners. Ultimately, it is this powerful combination of effective storytelling by non-profits and purposeful branding by for profits that will transform the lives of millions, and ultimately our economy, country and future.

Source: How non-profits become experts at Social Branding –
Author: Simon Mainwaring, Founder/Author WE FIRST 

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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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Telling Your Story Like Steve Jobs

Posted on November 14, 2011. Filed under: Storytelling | Tags: |

Lately, I have been emphasizing storytelling with the articles I’ve been posting to our blog, having read these you will be aware that it’s rather an important aspect of nonprofit communications.

In this article posted on the Inspiring Generosity blog, there are some great insights into what made Steve Jobs such a brilliant storyteller.

You can take some cues from Jobs to implement into your own organisations’ storytelling. In my mind, one of the key components is the use of visuals. However, it is worth adding here that your organisation is not limited to a stage presentation scenario with the topic of an inanimate object. Your human stories about real life situations can be told using the power of video to take supporters on a journey.

And, of course you can monetize your video stories and use the connectivity of social media to engage your audience, expand your reach and enhance your relationship with your supporters.

Kathie van

Telling Your Story Like Steve JobsTelling Your Story Like Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was a classic storyteller. With every product launch, he took us on a journey into the world of possibility. He peeled single ideas with clever anticipation drawing in our curiosity with more intensity, “wowing” us with a product’s features, functionality, design and must-have aura. How? By turning a product launch into more than a product–into a presentation that delivered a story.

In your communications, are you trying to make sure and pack every “key message” into your delivery? Doing so can dilute your message and your mission. Let’s review four lessons we can learn from the presentation and storytelling style of the great Steve Jobs.

Lesson #1: Package your main point into a punchline.

When Steve Jobs launched a product, he introduced it with a punchline–one clear, descriptive message that read more like a headline. It was social media friendly (watch those character limits!) and evoked a sense of wonder.

For example, when Jobs introduced the MacBook Air, Apple’s ultra-thin computer, he simply said, “It’s the world’s thinnest notebook.” With the iPod, he said, “1,000 songs that fit in your pocket.” Get in the mindset of the volunteers, donors or stakeholders you’re talking with and think about what message resonates the most with them. Get rid of the bullets and package the value-add your offer into a tangible one-liner. Avoid the jargon–and get right to the punch.

Lesson #2: Use less text and more visuals.

Why do you think the use of infographics as a storytelling tool is increasing? People not only like visuals, but they remember them. When you say something orally, people remember 10% of what was said. Add a picture, and people recall 65%. You can say more with less.

Lesson #3: Go for the experience.

Are you pushing out communications and printing posters and pamphlets yet not seeing your desired ROI? Perhaps it’s time to consider the donor experience you’re offering. Jobs was about creating great products, but he was also about creating and designing unique experiences. How can you better integrate the concept of “experience” into your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts?

Maybe it’s by taking engaging area businesses and supporters in a cup night, inviting fundraisers to scale down a high rise, helping others honor their moms, or participating in a lip-synch contest. Get those creative juices flowing!

Lesson #4: Find an antagonist.

Every good story has a villain. Who or what can your supporters rally against? In the infamous 1984 Macintosh commercial, Jobs and Apple painted IBM to be the villain–and now sits as one of the best commercials ever-made. A more current example comes from with their, “F*CK: Famine is the real obscenity” video. It’s jarring, but it immediately turns your perspective upside down, gets your attention and draws you in. What’s working against you and how can you make it work for you?

What’s your story?

You can make the content and the technology work for you. But until you have your story fully developed and thought through, neither one is going to be too compelling in the long run when it comes to fundraising (online or off). At your next meeting, ask each team member to tell your organization’s story. You may be surprised, moved and inspired by what you hear.

Source: Telling Your Story Like Steve Jobs –

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Microsites in Action: Telling Your Nonprofit’s Story

Posted on November 7, 2011. Filed under: Effective Website Design | Tags: , , , , |

This article by Carla Chadwick demonstrates how a nonprofit organisation can maximise the way its website creates connection with supporters by using microsites to segment various story topics that will appeal to different segments of your membership base and allow you to delve deaper into each issue.

This is a very effective way to arrange your website contents and lends itself brilliantly to enable you to implement video storytelling as a component of each topic’s page.  

Think about which of your organisation’s communications topics require specialised attention, and how your website could be maximised with the use of microsites.

As Carla concludes: ” While microsites are an investment, they are a powerful tool in the new age of online fundraising and marketing.”

Kathie van

Microsites in Action: Telling Your Nonprofit’s Story

Let’s face it: nonprofit websites often suffer from multiple personality disorder.

There’s the “program” side that wants to tell you all the amazing ways your programs help save homeless pets, feed the hungry, find cures, protect our children, or empower women. There’s the “events” side that must sell tickets. And don’t forget the “communications” side, whose press releases and news items help raise awareness. While often a complicated web of messaging, it’s a necessary evil when many departments must relay information using a single corporate website.

So as fundraisers, how can we tell the real story – expose the true heart of an organization – when our messaging is only one part of a huge multi-dimensional website?

The answer is simple: create a microsite that allows you to focus on a particular topic, present specific calls to action and, with the help of social media, reach large numbers of people much more quickly than a traditional website.

When done correctly, a microsite can be one of the most powerful storytelling tools available to fundraisers.

But don’t take my word for it, here are some examples of wonderful and highly effective, microsites:


Covenant House is the largest privately-funded agency in the Americas providing food, shelter, crisis care, and essential services to homeless and at-risk kids. In an effort to mobilize their existing activists and acquire new ones, Covenant House developed a microsite that digs deep into the issue of domestic child trafficking.

Through the stories of four young victims, the A.C.T. microsite raises awareness of a crisis that affects thousands of American kids each year and issues an urgent call to action. Clear, concise information, bold statistics, and striking graphics help further engage the audience and dispel the misconception that human trafficking is a trend relegated to foreign soil.

While the content makes a strong case for giving, the main goal of this campaign is to use the broad reach of Facebook, Twitter, email, and free infographics to help raise awareness.

There is a valuable lesson to be learned in this strategy. Microsites do not have to be used solely for fundraising. Even though microsites cost money to develop, there are times when building a solid warm-prospect list is a legitimate goal that deserves the investment.

2. NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) – Voting Rights Microsite:

Problem: How do you educate people about racism in the post-Obama era? For America’s first and foremost civil rights legal organization, the solution had to be educational, factually accurate, and most importantly, compelling enough to remind people that the fight for equality is not over.

LDF decided to tell the story of minority Americans – in 38 states across the country – who still face obstacles at the voting booth. Their microsite reveals documented, widespread threats to voting rights in America and effectively weaves localized challenges into a broad picture of the problem.

Any one of these local challenges may be too small to spark a national call to action, but when combined, they serve to rally a renewed commitment from LDF’s constituency.

This microsite allowed LDF to take a complex issue like voting rights and break it down into small, easy-to-understand pieces. The site also enabled LDF to break out of their normal website messaging mode and dig deeper, providing more detail, substance, and emotion. The Voting Rights microsite shows that often the greatest impact is made with a singularly focused story.

3. American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) – Making AIDS History Microsite:

Dedicated to ending the global AIDS epidemic, amfAR has invested nearly $325 million in innovative research and awarded grants to more than 2,000 research teams since 1985. They have increased the world’s understanding of HIV and helped lay the groundwork for major advances in the study and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

While finding a cure for AIDS is the driving force behind amfAR’s work, their motivation comes from the sum of 50 million personal stories of heartache, courage, and triumph over adversity. To help mark the 25th anniversary of their founding, amfAR decided to share a handful of these stories on the Making AIDS History microsite. With compelling video and a simple call to action – a $25 gift in recognition of amfAR’s 25 years – this microsite encourages a renewed, collective commitment to the organization.

Making AIDS History is an example of how a microsite can complement its parent site and act as a powerful fundraising tool at the same time. While the main website establishes amfAR as a world leader in HIV/AIDS research, their microsite connects donors to the people who have benefitted from the research.

Is a microsite right for your organization?

There is no question that microsites allow you to effectively tell the story of a single compelling issue – one that is important to your organization and the people you serve. They can easily take off, gathering new supporters for your cause and generating many types of action. They are also just as effective for mobilizing your existing base and serve as a starting point for engaging people in social media conversations.

But don’t jump on the microsite bandwagon just because other nonprofits are doing it – make sure you put some careful planning in before deciding if a microsite is right for your organization.

Only use microsites when you have something urgent to say, when you feel a specific topic or area deserves specialized attention, and when you’re willing to set aside or reduce your core messaging. It’s true that microsites allow you the freedom to break away from your normal brand – but remember, you have to give a microsite as much attention to detail as you would a flagship site. You need to create a good design, you need to do keyword research and SEO, you need functional/practical on-site navigation, and ultimately you need to have a compelling story to tell.

We are all looking for innovative ways to reactivate our existing audiences and cultivate new ones. The more we can provide constituents with interactive ways to connect with us, the better we will be in growing our communities. While microsites are an investment, they are a powerful tool in the new age of online fundraising and marketing.

Author: Carla ChadwickCarla Chadwick, daughter of fundraising pioneer Sanky Perlowin, has been with SankyNet since 2000. Carla develops unique and innovative creative strategies for dozens of non-profit organizations, and oversees SankyNet’s creative team on a broad spectrum of online marketing, fundraising and branding projects. Under Carla’s creative direction, SankyNet has won many prestigious awards, including the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Award for Excellence in e-Philanthropy, DMFA’s Package of the Year, the Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and the 2011 Web Marketing Association’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Web Development.

Source: Microsites in Action: Telling Your Nonprofit’s Story –

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HOW TO: Tell the Story to Your Donors

Posted on October 26, 2011. Filed under: Storytelling | Tags: , |

I’ve been adding a lot to our blog lately about the importance and power of storytelling and the reason I’ve been focussing on this topic is because I believe it is fundamental to effective nonprofit communications.

For most people, it is a skill that needs to be studied and doesn’t necessarily come naturally. This article posted on the Inspiring Generosity blog has some great examples of how a nonprofit can shift the sentiment of a story to ensure maximum connection with the reader.

These techniques work not only for written communications, but can also be applied to video communications. Take it one step further and monetize your video content and you have a viable and powerful fundraising channel.

Now, all you need to do is implement an effective online communications strategy and the tools to manage it, and your organisation will be tapping into a new, untied revenue stream.

Go for it!

Kathie van

HOW TO: Tell the Story to Your DonorsHOW TO: Tell the Story to Your Donors

After Friday’s Give to the Max Day training, I came back with great, practical ideas from experts like Beth Kanter and Katya Andresen on how nonprofits can tell their stories to effectively convey the importance of their mission. The best part is that they dug deep and outlined easy steps anyone can follow.

Why is it important to tell a good story? Because, as Katya said, one person’s story will have a better chance at getting empathy from your target audience. But the more people you talk about in your story, the less compelling your story is.

Find the Story of One Person to Tell

Every nonprofit has a story to tell. Instead of using statistics—which are the death for storytelling, says Katya—find one person your organization has served, or talk to a volunteer that has done something for you. Interview them and find out what their story is. Don’t talk about the masses; by honing into the story of one person, you’ll maximize your chance of gaining empathy from the people you’re asking to donate.

Here are two examples to show you:

Bad storytelling:

“Hundreds of senior citizens are left without health insurance, and consequently can’t afford their medications.”

Good storytelling:

“Rose is 83 years old and six months ago, she reached the “Donut Hole” in her insurance. She can’t afford her asthma medications anymore, so she’s been taken to the emergency room five times so far, gasping for air.”

Be Emotional But Show Your Work

Your nonprofit does great and important work. So when you tell the story of that one person, show how your organization is working to help that. Give concrete examples of how you helped or can help that one person and make a difference in their lives. For example:

“When Rose asked for help, we quickly worked to help find a prescription drug program that significantly lowered her costs and we’re able to cover her medication until her insurance kicks in again. Rose is back on her prescribed drug regimen, and hasn’t had an asthma attack ever since.”

Tell Your Donors How they Can Help

Spell it out for them in a few, easy steps. And explain how is their donation—no matter what amount—going to be a worthwhile investment.

“Rose isn’t the only person who is struggling to find ways to pay for their prescriptions and we need your help to reach others. Your donation will go towards paying for medications and medical services that people like Rose, who need it but can’t afford. Please help by mailing back your donation in the preprinted envelope.

Thank Them With a Story

When you get that donation, you’re gold. More than likely, you successfully won the empathy of the donor but you’re still on shaky grounds. What comes after the donation is almost more critical than how you made the ask.

Get into your donor’s shoes. When they made a donation, they believed in it. They thought they were doing some good, making a difference in someone’s life. So if you don’t reaffirm that belief, they may get discouraged and you could lose them forever.

So thank them. Profusely. Don’t just send them an auto-generated email. Send them a personal message. Send them a story of how they helped someone. Tell them how you couldn’t have done it without them, and how grateful that person is for what they did.

Thank you for your $50 donation, Eric! Your $50 went towards paying for a prescription drug plan that is helping someone like Mark, who joined our program last month. Mark is 65 years old and has diabetes. He’s a happy man, a grandfather to 3 girls. When he retired, he couldn’t keep up with his medical bills, but your contribution made it possible for him to never skip a beat. Now he’s overwhelmed with joy and relief that he gets to take his 7 year-old granddaughter Alexa fishing on the weekends without having to worry.

These are just some examples of how you can gain compassion from donors. Try different things and see what gives you the results you’re looking for.

Source: HOW TO: Tell the Story to Your Donors –

Photo by: Francisco Osorio

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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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The Power of Nonprofit Storytelling

Posted on October 3, 2011. Filed under: Storytelling | Tags: , , |

I found this article by Wilton Blake and it’s a goodie (although I haven’t quite worked out the significance of the Star Wars Leggo image yet -I guess it’s a reference to the “Tens of thousands of years of tales being told by firelight”…?). 

Whilst researching Blake’s Blog page, I found another article I found interesting in which Jacqui Banaszynski is quoted as saying: 

“Certain tools work better for some things than others: audio (the human voice) is intimate; still photos freeze a moment and capture time; video allows action to play out; text (good old print) is best for complexity and connections and depth.

But the underlying elements of good storytelling are eternal:

  • Find the humanity at the center of a situation.·
  • Look for the universal theme or meaning in individual situations.·
  • Be as specific and vivid as possible.·
  • And sometimes tell. Put stories in context so readers know what world they come from, time they live in, situation they are related to.”

I think that’s very good advice…

Kathie van

The Power of Nonprofit Storytelling

The power of nonprofit storytelling

Why is storytelling so powerful?

We all tell stories. It’s one of the most natural ways to communicate. The power of storytelling is unmatched. And there are several proven reasons for that.

Storytelling is in our nature

The oral tradition of storytelling is one of the oldest and most powerful teaching and learning methods we have. It is the way human beings have communicated information since before written language.

Tens of thousands of years of tales being told by firelight. Thousands of years of written stories. Hundreds of years of stories performed in the theater. A hundred years of stories on the silver screen. Decades of stories broadcast over the airwaves.

Through generation after generation, our brains have evolved to look for the familiar patterns of stories.

Storytelling transfers knowledge

The storyteller is still the best teacher. Stories transfer unquantifiable elements of knowledge, the most important element being experience. When we hear stories we absorb second-hand information and it becomes first-hand perception. We learn from each other through stories.

Stories help us remember

Because our brains are structured around stories, its easier for us to remember facts if they are wrapped in a story. In Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Intelligence (Rethinking Theory), Roger Schank concluded that human memory is story-based. He also advocates for a story-centered curriculum.

And there have been many research studies that show that stories are fundamental to how we learn, organize, and recall what we know.

Stories unite meaning and emotion

Life situations, in the moment, are typically either intellectual or emotional. As time passes, we may feel this way or that about an intellectual situation. And we may intellectualize an emotional situation. But stories blend the intellectual with the emotional, in the moment.

Stories give an emotional charge to ideas. And when that idea is charged with emotion, it becomes powerful, profound, and memorable. Robert McKee put it perfectly in his screenwriting book Story when he wrote:

“. . . a story well told gives you the very thing you cannot get from life: meaningful emotional experience.”

When we hear stories, we are moved. Sometimes moved to tears. Other times moved into action.

The right story motivates greater giving

People tend to give more to one clearly identifiable victim than to a large group of similarly suffering people. People also respond greater to victims of loss than to victims of chronic conditions. See the Sympathy and Giving section on my Nonprofit Storytelling Resources page for links to these studies.

Stories are your best tool

Again, I can’t say it better than Robert McKee:

“A story becomes a kind of living philosophy that the audience members grasp as a whole, in a flash, without conscious thought—a perception married to their life experences.”

So it is through storytelling that you can best communicate your organization’s mission, successes, and future. It is through storytelling that you can activate donors, win grants, rally supporters, motivate staff and volunteers, and ensure your sustainability.

Author: Wilton Blake


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Online Communications Solutions for Nonprofits and NGOs

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

Author: Kathie van Vugt

The Chronicle of Philanthropy
In an article written some months ago by Raymund Flandez entitled: 10 Burning Questions About How Charities Should Use Social Media, there were a number of key questions raised on the subject of Not-for-profit organisations’ use of social media and the success they have seen from various social media and online campaigns.

Raymund’s article was written following a meeting of nonprofit workers at the annual NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference held in Washington in March 2011, where attendees discussed how to use social media to advance their causes.

I found a number of points in Raymund’s article very interesting and have commented on these below:

* Email marketing campaigns are being used effectively to raise funds

I have heard some commentators saying social media will overtake email marketing as the key communication technique and the reason being because of the potential to be seen as SPAM. I disagree with this sentiment when it comes to the NFP arena. While email marketing is becoming increasingly rocky territory for businesses, I feel that email is a very strong communication technique for organisations that have a particular connection with the people on their email database. So, for NFPs and NGOs there is still strong evidence to suggest that email campaigns can drive significant results…so long as the email is compelling, and that’s where it can get tricky.

The best way to overcome the ‘SPAM effect’ is to ensure each email campaign is targeted to a specific segment of your database and the message communicated in the email is compelling and provides a ‘call to action’ that will appeal directly to the reader. In our experience, the most compelling content involves images or video. And if the email can be used as a ‘call to action’ for a supporter to view your video content and that video content is monetised – voila! Money in the kitty.

* Call-to-action is key to raising funds

 This may be true, but first the NFP must decide what the purpose of the communication is. As Beth Kanter points out in her article ‘Ask What’s the Change, Not the Return!’ “Nonprofits should focus on continuum of value that incorporates both tangible and intangible benefits to integrating social media in communications or program goals” and I couldn’t agree with her more. It is vitally important for Nonprofits to build a foundation of support, if the organisation is constantly issuing a ‘call to action’ without nurturing the emotional connection with supporters people may get sick of the ‘ask’ and stop paying attention.

In my mind, fundraising must be seen as a long-term process that comes from fostering an emotional connection with your audience, and therefore I see it as vitally important that NFP bean counters relax a little and let the storytellers in the organisation loose. Of course, the key to a good story is a well-structured outline but once you’ve got the basic story-board sorted you can take your supporters on a journey with you and have them become part of the solution you are trying to achieve. As Dave Eggers so poetically puts it in his Q&A article posted on Evelyn & Walter Haas Jnr Fund’s Blog: “first-person narratives have a unique immediacy and power. There’s really nothing as direct and electric as hearing one person’s voice describing clearly and powerfully what they’ve seen and done”. Indeed.

Once again, video springs to mind as being the most powerful storytelling medium. Overlay images (either still or moving) with a powerful commentary and your supporters will be in the moment with you. Take it one step further, to appease the Finance Controller, and monetise that content with a message to viewers that by watching this extraordinary story unfold, they are assisting financially with the solution.

* Offering incentives to court more fans or dollars

 I loved the example Raymund gave of Camfed USA, which offers an incentive every time someone joins its e-mail list: It gives 10 pencils to girls in Africa. It just goes to show you don’t have to give away a car or a holiday to offer an effective and appealing incentive.

* Fund-raising sites that encourage people to raise money from friends

Raymund notes that attendees said not many charities have made these fundraising sites work. Again, I think this may be more about how the message is being communicated rather than the effectiveness of this type of network fundraising. There is enormous potential for network fundraising to work, but the message needs to pull on the emotional trigger and organisations who implement this tactic as part of their strategy need to be mindful not to be always asking without making sure there is a strong connection between the give and the solution.

* How do you persuade people who “like” your group on Facebook or retweet your posts on Twitter to give?

Raymund notes that many didn’t have an answer to this and attendees are trying but not successfully. I think the lack of success in this area is most likely due to the spin on the message being misplaced, I don’t believe you can persuade people to like you just for the sake of it. I strongly believe the key lies is in taking your supporters on a journey through effective storytelling and social engagement. World Vision recently had four young agents of change touring India and submitting Video logs of their journey and the stories of the people they met. This is an inspired concept and enables World Vision to drive home the message that the organisation enters these areas with a long-term view to ensure the communities they support become self-sufficient over time. Once potential followers can see clearly the role they can play in your organisation’s journey, they will respond.

* Cross-training staff members to work in social media

Of course, training can be a costly exercise, however, once you take the plunge and invest in cross-training key staff, the uplift in the employees’ feeling of self-worth and commitment to the organisation is well worth the expense! It’s a win-win situation and there should be no hesitations. The problem is, who can you get to train them? And once they’re trained, what impact will it have on their ability to complete their normal daily tasks? Well, that’s where can help. We not only have the expertise to cross-train your staff, we also have the tools to enable them to effectively manage your organisation’s social media and SMS and email communications campaigns, including reporting and analytics, from one single console.

Or, if it is simply too difficult for your organisation to manage it’s social media campaigns, can take control of your online communications on your behalf. For information contact by email at or visit our website at

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