5 Reasons Nonprofits Should Take Search Seriously - Part II

You've been waiting for our last 2 reasons!  We saved the powerful boost of motivation for last.  Here's part II:

4.  Getting started is free!

It’s an uphill battle to compete with commercial clients in the search jungle.  The bottom line is that nonprofits just don’t have the kind of SEM budgets that commercial companies do.  But, you can at least get yourself on the links lists, even if you’re not at the tippy top.  Google Grants are MADE for nonprofits to do just that – get in the game.  It allows you to buy your way in by offering grants up to $10,000 per month to use for Google AdWords to help promote your website.  Learn more here:  Google Grants .  But first, you have to have the internal structure in place to be successful with this sort of science.  You’ve got to have the analytics capabilities (and people) to understand what keywords are driving traffic to your site.  Then, you need someone to do something about these findings by optimizing your site content.  The fundraiser then needs to be sure to place the donation page and button in the right place on this site.  A lot of people and departments, I know.  But, working towards this will be essential to increasing your house file.  It’s no secret that the industry is suffering from a “bodies” problem.  Take action to fix it for the sake of your missions.

5.  We have worldwide motivation 

No need to feel like the nonprofit underdog in a sea of Coca-Cola and Nike successes.  The nonprofit industry has proven its ability to be #1 when it comes to search.  In fact, the Japanese Relief Fund actually ranked #1 worldwide 2 years in a row as the highest searched site.  It turns out that in a worldwide time of need, the search to give and take action trumps the release of a new sneaker.  Also take Breast Cancer Awareness Month for an example.  On Yahoo! alone, searches for “breast cancer awareness” in October were up 552% compared to 2009 and searches for “breast cancer ribbon” were up 412%.  “Breast cancer signs” were also among the leading searches during this month.  As users search these terms, some of the most well known breast cancer nonprofits appear in the results.  We all want donors, but just look at the site content nonprofits provide to save a life:  FAQ pages, testimonials, self-awareness information, educational resources, etc.  Maybe this is why breast cancer diagnosis rates have increased 30% since 1990.  Nonprofit websites provide the right content for early detection!  Search marketing efforts have helped to save thousands of lives – exactly what most organizations aim to do.   


We hope our 5 reasons have been motivating for your organization.  Don't forget to let us know if you're already ahead of the SEM/SEO game and share with us your examples!  If you have questions or are facing challenges, let us know too!  I bet we have answers.

-Amber Bonner

Amber is a Strategy Manager and soon-to-be Digital Geek in Merkle’s nonprofit vertical.  She chooses to Do What Matters because “it’d be too easy not to.  Challenge is good.”

5 Reasons Nonprofits Should Take Search Seriously - Part I

Did you know that search is one of the only marketing channels where you can 100% determine ROI?  Hopefully you received a copy of our Donor Strategist newsletter this week that talked about search marketing.  If not, we forgive you; our SEM experts at IMPAQT have a white paper to explain it all: A Brave New Advertising World:  The Future of Search Marketing .   One of the featured articles, “The Future of Search Marketing” laid the visionary groundwork for where we’re going in the field of SEM.  And while the commercial world is definitely investing the dollars and leading the way in this digital realm, nonprofits still need to get on board if they want to be successful in the future.   We’ve got 5 reasons why.  Read the first 3 now:

1.  Your email list will thank you

We all want more traffic to our sites, right?  Well, why?  So they can see our pretty pictures and read our donor stories?  Of course, that’s part of it – the engagement piece.  But we also need donors.  And online, a large part of that end revenue goal is fueled by getting their email address.  Improving your search marketing efforts means just that – a bigger email list, a bigger pool to target, more gifts, and a bigger number on the online bottom line.  

2.   It’s the Holidays 

It’s end of year - one of the most critical fundraising seasons.  Many nonprofit organizations are building microsites around their holiday campaigns and inserting themed content throughout their various communication channels.  What better time to optimize your search to drive users to your site?  Our friends at IMPAQT  did some research and found that some of the top trending keywords during November and December are “gift”, “top 10” and “gift ideas”.  Being sure to include content with these popular search words will be crucial for driving traffic to your site this time of year.  After all, as a nonprofit you’ve got plenty of gifts for people to buy, right?  Once visitors get there, don’t forget to include a prominent call to action – must fundraise!

3.  We’re digital girls (and guys) in a digital world

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the world is moving in an overwhelmingly digital direction.  Search and other areas of digital are evolving and beginning to play in the sandbox together.  As a fundraising organization, figuring out how your constituents connect with your cause in the digital world will help you to more effectively plan your communication efforts.  Search can lay the groundwork for this type of understanding with your constituent base.  Through search analytics, you’ll recognize what part of your mission people really care about and what sorts of topics people seek out information for.  This way, you can target them with the right content at the right time, so your donations can roll in on time!  Focusing on this part of your digital plan will improve your other digital efforts including social media and mobile – 2 of the most predicted nonprofit digital trends for 2012.  If you’re not getting your feet wet and starting to integrate search now, you’re going to leave yourself behind.

Is your nonprofit effectively using SEM or SEO?  Share with us your success stories and stay tuned for reasons #4 and #5 in part II. 

-Amber Bonner

Amber is a Strategy Manager and soon-to-be Digital Geek in Merkle’s nonprofit vertical.  She chooses to Do What Matters because “it’d be too easy not to.  Challenge is good.”

Digital-Mobile Sphere Rallies Around Japan Relief Efforts

Last week, I wrote here about how social gaming platforms were helping raise money for the Japan earthquake-tsunami relief efforts. As the news grew increasingly more worrying, I started to take note of a rallying of effort across the digital and mobile sphere, echoing relief efforts from Haiti, but pushing channels to a new level of engagement. 

I've rounded up some of the interesting examples I've seen in the last week. Yes, most have the Red Cross as the charity that benefits from the donations, but this is also a testament to the work the Red Cross has done in optimizing new and developing channels as fundraising channels in times of disaster. So, in no particular order:

Living Social:

Last Thursday, Groupon-like site Living Social sent out an offer: Give $5 to the Red Cross, and we'll match it to make it $10. Doesn't seem that huge right? With 15 hours still left to go in the deal, over $750,000 had been raised!


iTUNES gets into the game:

It started some time last week and can still be seen on the iTUNES homepage today--amidst promos of artists, movies, and whatever else, now comes a promo to help Japan relief efforts. Donation goes to Red Cross, your iTunes account is billed. No news that I could find on how much has been raised, but millions of eyes have been exposed to the offer.





Do you HULU?

Just this past week at the annual NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference, discussion abounded about using Hulu's free service for nonprofits to run in-video ads. And what do I see pop up this past Sunday while catching up on some TV viewing time?   A special ad just for Japan relief that was visible during the entire show and had in-video spots.





Travel a lot for business and pleasure? I sure do, and I make it a point to try to stay at the same hotel family to collect points.  I am sure many others do too. Instead of redeeming them for night stays, I can now donate them to disaster relief (well, at least if I'm collecting Hilton points). They also did this during Haiti, but rolled out much quicker with the offer this time around.


Mobile keeps evolving:

The role of mobile in disaster relief efforts certainly proved itself with the Haiti earthquake. since then, some of us have been pondering important questions like: do I want the $10 donor?  What do I do with them after? How do I convert/upgrade them? How do I even find out who they are? 

Having donated $10 to the Red Cross, I see them trying something interesting in the upgrading department: a text back telling me that if I'd like to donate more $$, to call this number...(Can't wait to find out from the Red Cross folks how well this worked!)


Have you seen other great examples of fundraising for Japan disaster relief?  We'd love to share them with our readers!

-Miriam Kagan

Virtual games, real $$ for Earthquake and Tsunami Relief

If you've ever experienced someone interrupting your dinner conversation or even important work meeting with words like "oh no, I forgot to harvest my raspberries and they are going to wilt!", and then watched them run off in a frazzle to their computer, then you have first-hand knowledge of the virtual gaming phenomenon, even if you are not yourself a proud virtual farm, city, coffee shop, bakery, etc owner.

With over 300 million active participants, virtual games like FarmVille, and platform owners like Zynga, have a unique engagement platform that has been used in the past to raise funds, especially for disasters like the Haiti earthquake.

And just today, from TechCrunch,comes even more proof that if nonprofits are still not at least paying attention to the power of games to drive real $, they should be. In less than 36 hours, various Zynga properties have raised over $1 million for tsunami and earthquake relief efforts in Japan, through Save the Children's Disaster Relief Fund. Players use real cash to buy all sorts of "useful" items for their various virtual properties, and now, special items are being offered with revenues going to disaster relief efforts.

Earthquake relief virtual games 

Now, as those of us working in the field of fundraising every day know, disasters are in their own special fundraising category--the need is obvious and great, the mission easy to communicate, and the potential impact easy to calculate, so it's no surprise that funds can be raised in all sorts of non-traditional ways and from non-traditional audiences. 

And some may somewhat rightfully critique this way of fundraising: instead of donating through a virtual game and having a third party take some of the money donated, people should be donating directly to organizations so all the money can be used for relief efforts.

We all know, however, that inertia is a huge barrier to fundraising and convenience is key. Would I rather take $10 and give $2 as a fee to a partner rather than take no money at all because my organization's website doesn't happen to accept whatever form of payment is more convenient for my potential donor and/or they can't be bothered to navigate away from their "Ville" game to fill out my donation form? My personal answer would be a categorical "yes!, I'll take that donation!". The sheer volume of the audience should make us all think twice about discounting games as a potential source of revenue, in non-emergency times and for non-disaster missions.  Has your organization dipped a toe in the virtual gaming space? Are you listed on Games that Give or other virtual gaming sites? We'd love to hear your experience.

-Miriam Kagan

Nonprofits Vs. Apple and the iPhone

A recent article in the New York Times Technology section  highlighted a struggle that is underway between non profits and Apple over the ban that is in place that restricts charities from using iPhone applications to assist with mobile fundraising.   While it’s technically possible to use these apps to facilitate a donation, it’s done by taking a user out of the application itself and redirecting to the non profits website which is a less than ideal user experience and tends to create disengagement.

As anyone that has followed this space knows, mobile giving has grown substantially in recent years, as is evidenced by a few recent unfortunate disasters around the globe where the mobile channel provided an invaluable link between those who needed help and those ready and willing to donate.   In the recent Haiti disaster, mobile giving was used to raise a total of $45-$50million.  Likewise, in the Gulf Oil Spill crisis, a number of charities used mobile to raise a total of approx $3-$4m to assist with disaster relief efforts. 

Combine this with earlier success that charities like United Way, American Cancer Society, Salvation Army and a host of others have had and there’s little question that TEXT2Give has become a powerful took for professional fundraisers when harnessed correctly.

Charitable donations via mobile devices — and especially via mobile apps — present challenges, however, which has led Apple to place a ban on making any kind of donation through charity-based applications on iOS devices.  The move has angered many nonprofits who see mobile applications — and especially the iOS platform itself — as a vital tool in collecting funds.   

While Apple has been quiet on its decision, the move stems from the fact that processing donations via its payment mechanism would mean the company would have to be in the business of managing and distributing funds and verifying charities, which adds complication and responsibility the company obviously doesn’t want to take on.  An Apple spokeswoman, Trudy Muller, declined to explain the rationale completely, saying only; “We are  proud to have many applications on our App Store which accept charitable  donations via their Websites.”

Organizations like theMonterey Bay Aquarium and the American Cancer Society already have iPhone apps available in the App Store, but none can be used to make gifts. Prospective donors  instead are directed out of a nonprofit’s app and to its Website to make donations, which  the organizations say makes the process of contributing  more cumbersome.  For the foreseeable future, we don’t foresee Apple changing their stance appreciably and this just places more importance on using mobile in a more holistic manner. 

To be specific, most non profits have become enamored with  mobile as a giving instrument. While it has great potential in that area, the enlightened non profits are beginning to appreciate that mobile has a unique ability to establish a relationship with a whole new generation of donors, advocates, supporters and consumers that are passionate about a given cause.

ARC apps 

Looking at mobile in this manner means that the brand begins to look carefully at a strategy that seeks to use mobile to forge a relationship that they evolve overtime.   A solid mobile program uses text messaging to create specific alert groups that take valued content from the NPO (news, information about the cause or issue, advocacy updates, etc.,) and use that content to begin a relationship with people that have an affinity for your cause.   

Over the course of that relationship, efforts are made to gain an identify of this consumer (via an email address or some kind of mobile web based registration) so that the donor/supporter/advocate can be marketed to in a manner that is relevant to them.  Likewise, this donor then becomes a part of the database marketing efforts going forward and has the potential to donate more ($$, time, efforts) than they might give via the $5 and $10 microdonations that are a reality in the mobile giving world today.

In this world, SMS, mobile web, applications, QR codes, mobile video, MMS and a host of other mobile technologies work in concert to create a sustainable relationship with a consumer that has an affinity for the cause.   Going forward, we believe this is the right model for mobile and we’re seeing many of the non profits that were early leaders in the mobile giving space searching for this kind of strategic model.

For more information don’t forget to check out the NY Times article on this subject:

-Mike Ricci

(Mike Ricci is VP and Mobile Practice Leader at Merkle. Mike has over 20 years of experience orchestrating Olympic sponsorships, architecting sports marketing activation programs and helping companies create successful interactive marketing strategies. In his "free" time, he pens Merkle's Mobile Marketing Blog, the almost daily what's what of the mobile world.)

My hot chocolate is saving the rainforest!

A few weeks ago, there was a mix up at my doctor's office and turned out my appointment was an hour after I had turned up. So I decided to pass the time at a nearby Starbucks.

As I stood in line waiting to order my hot chocolate, I was, as most people anywhere near my age do, checking my Facebook account from my phone.  Facebook has recently added the "places" functionality (in addition to the millions of other changes it has gone through in the last year), and I thought I'd try it out.

I was about to "check-in" when I noticed that there was an "offer" associated with this check-in.  If I checked-in at that specific Starbucks, $1 would be donated to help protect the rainforests. Now, I am sure that Starbucks did not know about my obsession with saving the planet, but boy oh boy was I excited! My doing something so mundane--buying a hot chocolate--something I was planning on doing ANYWAY, was also resulting in something good! Granted, $1 isn't going to save the forests, but, what if everyone who was there did the same thing?  Just imagine the acres and acres that could be protected! My mind was spinning with excitement.

Of course, I "shared" my check in with my Facebook community: maybe my friends who were visiting other Starbucks would see the deal and check-in too.

A few weeks later, I found myself at REI with a friend who was looking for a new winter coat. "Hmm," I thought to myself, "REI is a company known for its 'do-gooding', I wonder if they have a deal similar to Starbucks?" Well, lo and behold, (and maybe because it was Black Friday), REI did have a deal going: by checking-in, $10 was donated for clean up of waterways.

The moral of the story: prior to the historic hot chocolate day, I had reservations about using geolocation services that are increasingly ubiquitous on social platforms. Concerns over privacy, people knowing where I was, safety, all seemed not worth it.

But now, checking-in almost seems like a part of my civic duty. If I am going to be somewhere or doing something and by checking-in I have the opportunity to do something good, how can I not do it? 

I am going to start keeping an eye on businesses and brands that have do-gooding offers.  I am going to keep an eye out for announcements from my favorite charities to see whether they might be the beneficieries of any such offers. Because, who knows, one day, my addiction to hot chocolate COULD save the rainforest! (Hint: is YOUR organization taking advantage of the hot chocolate-drinking masses?) 

-Miriam Kagan

Strategy Director (follow Miriam on Twitter, @MiriamKagan)


If you pay attention to only 1 thing digital this week...

Make sure to keep an eye on what is planned on Twitter for World AIDS Day on Wednesday, December 1.

Led by Alicia Keys, a slew of celebrities, with millions of followers, are going 'silent' on Twitter on Wednesday for World AIDS Day. The celebrities plan to stay 'silent' until $1 million has been raised for AIDS efforts.

According to the AP, "[f]or the campaign — which also includes Jennifer Hudson, Ryan Seacrest, Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Elijah Wood, Serena Williams, Janelle Monae and Keys' husband, Swizz Beatz — celebrities have filmed 'last tweet and testament' videos and will appear in ads showing them lying in coffins to represent what the campaign calls their digital deaths."

We already know the impact celebrities can have on influencing high volume donations--witness the Haiti relief efforts and Keys' appearance on American Idol last year. How long celebrities may have to stay silent (and will they be able to refrainfrom sharing their every move with the world in the name of do-gooding)?  We are eager to find out on Wednesday.

Follow all the tweets (or lack of them) on Twitter under the following hashtags: #BUYLIFE, #WAD, #AIDS, #HIV, #WorldAIDSDay and some of the participating celebrities.

(can't see this video? check it out here.) 

VIDEO: Melinda Gates on what nonprofits can learn from Coca-Cola

If you have not yet heard of TED, which describes itself as a "small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading," this is an organization worthy of familiarizing oneself with.  In addition to the exclusive "thought" conferences that bring together the brightest minds out there, TED has a robust library of TED talks that are available for viewing on its website.

One of the talks featured today on TED's Facebook page, and one we thought was very appropriate to share with our readers, is a talk given by Melinda Gates on what nonprofits can learn about the way Coca-Cola operates around the world, and in particular, how it has become successful in developing markets.  In the 16 minutes talk (well worth the time), Mrs. Gates also provides examples of how the successful Coca-Cola tactics are already being used by governments and nonprofits around the world to improve reach, efficiency, and success of their own efforts aimed at improving lives.

If you cannot view the video below, you may view it here on TED's website.


 -Donor Power Blog


My Favorite Tweets

Does your organization Tweet? Maybe, maybe not, but I’d be willing to bet this whole “tweeting thing” has been at least discussed in marketing, fundraising, and perhaps, even board meetings.  Many organization that are already Tweeting (and there are many, just search #Nonprofit on Twitter), have a good handle on the “basic” best practices of Twitter, like building a following, best ways to fit useful information into 140 characters, and how to use the discussion and list functions. In this post, I wanted to call attention to a couple of really innovative ways Twitter has been used in the past few years that got on my radar (the “wow, this is unusual even in this fast-evolving medium” radar).

Account settings promote freedom and democracy:

My favorite use of Twitter to date, that many organizations with a large advocacy component should pay close attention to, is what was utilized during the protested Iranian election in 2009.  Because of state censorship, many protesters were expressing their dissatisfaction with their government via Twitter, as well as organizing protests and providing protest locations. The Iranian government began to crack down on these protesters, by blocking Twitter accounts and servers hosting Twitter accounts in Iran, as well as attempting to locate the protesters themselves via Twitter.

To counteract the authorities, a call went out to the Twitter universe for everyone to switch their location to “Tehran, Iran” in their Twitter account settings.  Why would this help? Well, the more people that are listed as being in one location, the more difficult it becomes for the authorities to sort through the tweets coming from that “location” and find the specific accounts they were looking for, and therefore disrupt the protesters.  Now, I can’t tell you how many of us non-Iranian followed through and switched the account settings, but if this was not an innovative way to engage the global community to support democracy and freedom of speech, I don’t know what is!   Twitter went beyond a link to a petition, or counting the number of tweets about something and equating them to a corporate sponsorship, to using the actual account settings for activism.

When you’re smiling:

Last year, Operation Smile* launched an integrated, fully branded, and entirely Twitter platform-focused “140 Smiles” campaign.  This was, and to this day remains, one of the most forward-thinking Twitter-based fundraising campaigns ever executed. The reason I love this campaign is it included all the best practices one would think of when referring to Twitter:

· Used Twitter list building, reTweeting, and Tweet trending to spread the word

· Provided regular and timely updates

· Created a microsite to engage the Twitter community specifically including videos, the ability to log in and donate using Twitter accounts, see who else had donated, as well as displaying a running counter

As I am sure those of you who visit the site will note, the goal—140 smiles—was not reached, but in terms of building an integrated, fully-thought through campaign, this has to be my favorite.

A day for charity:

If you or your organization is on Twitter, what conversations do you follow? If you don’t already check out #charitytuesday on a regular basis, you should.  According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, back in 2009, “The #charitytuesday tag was created as a way to help nonprofit groups spread the word about their causes on Twitter and to help charities better understand how to use the site.”  Why is this tag so neat?  You can see, hear, and find out about all sorts of interesting things going on in the charity universe—including across the globe.  24/7.

These are just three of the many innovative ways organizations are using Twitter. What are some of your favorite examples? We’d love to hear from you.

-Miriam Kagan

(contact Miriam: [email protected], @MiriamKagan)


 (P.S. Just a few additional tags Miriam follows regularly to keep abreast of the nonprofit Twitterverse: #beatcancer, #nonprofit, #socialgood)

*Full disclosure—Operation Smile uses Merkle’s services for gift caging.


Facebook Giving: How one donor got recruited

As social media increasingly becomes a part of the nonprofit marketers’ toolkit, many nonprofit fundraisers are wondering whether the big mama of all social networks—Facebook—is really worth the effort and investment from a fundraising perspective.

Sure, we all know we can get people to like our page, maybe post some comments, watch some videos, but, stories abound about the lack of success in terms of turning Facebook followers into donors.  Sure, there is Facebook Causes, and socially branded efforts by commercial marketers (check out the Chase Giving campaign for a great example), but can Facebook actually cultivate the kind of donor relationship that results in “real” donations?

Based on personal experience, I have to say yes.  As a fundraising professional, I get A LOT of solicitations—DM, online, TM, you name it.  And I read most of them, and every once in a while I get moved to give.

Below is the story of one organization that regularly receives donations from me, and my relationship with them exists entirely because of, and continues to be cultivated by, their Facebook presence.

I first became familiar with the Wildlife Friends of Thailand (WFFT) because a friend “recommended” it to me on Facebook. I am an animal lover, so I was eager to learn about what these folks were doing to help animals in Thailand.

Before you knew it, I was giving on their website 3-4 times a year. Why? Because the WFFT follows some very basic best practices that we all apply in our marketing programs every day, and is successfully using them on Facebook.

We all know the age-old truth that a compelling story of an individual will in most cases beat statistics and generalized calls to do “something” for “everyone.”  So, instead of telling me about the plight of animals in Thailand and making me feel helpless about the magnitude of the problem, WFFT’s posts are frequently focused on a specific need:

· We need money to help transport Jane the elephant to our facilities. Here is how we found Jane the elephant, her condition, and why we need to help her.

They also do a great job of providing updates and showing my money at work:

· Hey remember Jane the elephant that you helped us rescue? Well, here are photos of Jane, us treating her, and here is how she is doing.

They make me feel like my contribution is really accomplishing something on a regular basis (it does not disappear in some giant hole of “helping animals.”)

· Here are 7 monkeys who’ve lived with us and we’ve helped support for 6 years. See them play in their new enclosure.

They regularly thank the community for its support:

· It was hard for us to struggle through the political tensions in Thailand. Some of our largest volunteer groups cancelled. But, because of your support, we were able to continue on.

What WFFT is doing on Facebook is no different in its essence from the best practices of direct fundraising:

· Make the ask relevant and compelling

· Provide updates and feedback of donor’s money at work

· Engage donors as part of your cause and mission—turn them into constituents, not just wallets

· Create a  two-way discussion (make donors feel a part of your mission every day)


The moral of our story: sure Facebook is a great way to cultivate a community, spread your brand, but, tell people about your need in the right way, and it IS possible to get people, well at least some of us, to open our wallets.


So, ask yourself this:

· Who in your organization owns your Facebook presence and what do she/he/they believe its ultimate value prop is for the organization?

· How thorough is your Facebook post follow-up?

· How frequently do you measure the impact of calls to action (if there are any)?

· Has your organization truly developed a strategic approach to Facebook fundraising that is able to measure the long-term impact to organizational revenue from Facebook donor cultivation efforts?

 -Miriam Kagan

(Miriam is a strategy director with Merkle's nonprofit group. She is obsessed with everything Social Media and Do-Gooding.  Find her @MiriamKagan on Twitter.)

(WFFT is not a client or associated with Merkle)

Is direct mail dying, or should we just kill it?

You hear it all the time: Direct mail fundraising is dying: HOORAY!

Read a recent example at the Sea Change Strategies blog: Direct Mail Isn't Dying -- But Sometimes I Wish It Would.

Starting with the belief that direct mail is "inauthentic," the post goes on to throw out some strong accusations about the way direct mail is, including:

  • Direct mail fundraisers spend much more time thinking about the color or size of the envelope than they do the content.
  • A huge proportion of direct mail includes mailing labels or other crap to make you feel guilty.
  • It's a little bit cheesy and dishonest.
  • The patois of direct mail is loaded with hyperbole and stilted language.

Every one of these is true. Sometimes.

Not always.

There's amazing, empowering, authentic stuff happening in snail-mail every day. Millions of pieces of it. And it's working. It's working a lot better than the crappy stuff.

It's a near-fatal error in your thinking when your starting point is direct mail is crappy and I wish it would go away. Think that way, and you'll make dumb decisions right and left.

If you want to make smart decisions, you must be medium-agnostic and look at facts, not your opinions, about the media. Like these ...


  • Direct mail response rates have been slowly and steadily dropping for several years now. Until last year, a general increase in average gift more than made up for the lower volume, leading to net growth every year. In 2008, many mailers got hit be dropping response and average gift.
  • Email fundraising has been growing by double digits every year for several years.
  • Still, direct-mail revenue dwarfs online revenue, and it will for years to come.


  • Direct mail by nature is cheesy.
  • Online marketing by nature is noble.

For sure, the facts tell us things are changing. And we'd better get on board with that change.

There are no facts telling us that any medium should be rejected or embraced because of its moral standards or its style.

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Social media means listen, not just talking

I know you're all excited about what you might do with Facebook and other social media. But hold your horses. We need to get a few things straight about doing well in those worlds. Here are some good tips from Social Times, at Why You Need To Stop Talking And Start Listening:

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Remember that a man's Name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  3. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  4. Talk in the terms of the other man's interest.
  5. Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely.

Funny thing, this may be good advice for how to behave in social media, but it's how you should behave everywhere else too. Including real life.

Give it a try.

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Jeff drinks the Twitter Kool-Aid

I like you, I really do. But I don't care that you're sitting in traffic right now. Or that you wish it were Friday. Or even how many followers you now have. And if you're a normal person, you don't care about those things regarding me.

Until recently, that's what I thought Twitter was all about: Lots and lots of crazy-boring little-bird trivia. And face it: that is what much of the Twitterverse contains.

But lately I've seen some cool stuff on Twitter: Cool ideas. Useful conversations. Developing networks of like-minded people.

So I've joined the party. You can follow me at twitter.com/jeffbrooks.

I plan to focus mainly on fundraising issues, much as I do here on the blog. Occasionally going outside of those lines when it seems worth doing.

So I hope to see you there.

Meanwhile, here's a good tutorial on using Twitter for nonprofit purposes from M+R Strategic Services: Nonprofit Organizing in 140 Characters or Less (PDF).

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What the web changes about fundraising

Fundraising as we've known it seeks to give someone an idea they may not have had before, and motivate them to action. Web fundraising is more about being there for those who decide they want to join forces with us.

That's different. Real different. We used to go find them. Now they come find us. We hope.

The New Thinking blog examines that difference in the marketing arena at Web turns marketing and communications on its head. Here's the point:

To succeed on the Web we need to change our mentality from seeing ourselves as a master to seeing ourselves as an apprentice. The customer is the master and we need to learn about what they need to do right now, and help them do that. The web customer is purposeful, directed, action-oriented. They are on a journey and we need first and foremost to help them get to their destination.

That's why we see online fundraising go through the roof during large-scale media-hyped disasters, like Hurricane Katrina. Those events push large numbers of people into the I need to do something state of mind.

What do you do the rest of the time -- when events are pushing people toward you?

Be relevant. To the right people.

Find the people who care about your cause. It's not everybody. It's a select few.

Then have something worthwhile to say to them frequently. Worthwhile in their eyes, not just yours.

If you can do that, you will successfully make the leap from the old way to the new. In fact, you'll probably do a lot better than you used to.

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Some steps to a better enewsletter

Good stuff from the Network for Good Learning Center: What Good Nonprofit E-Newsletters Look Like. Here:

  • Make the words easy to read.
  • Use a custom (not generic) template.
  • Give text top billing.
  • Stick with basic fonts.
  • Give your campaign the five-second test. (Email it to yourself. When it arrives, open it for five seconds, then close it. Ask yourself: What was this email about?)

That last one will help you overcome one of the toughest problems nonprofit enewsletters have: They're about everything, so they're about nothing.

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Not ready to blog -- or do anything else

If your organization is intrigued with the idea of launching a blog, look at this reality check at the smArts & Culture blog: 8 signs you're not ready for an arts blog. The eight signs are:

  1. You haven't figured out how to make any of your other communications more about your patron and less about you.
  2. You define your online audience as "everybody."
  3. You haven't yet realized that the conversation is already out of your hands -- people are already talking candidly with each other about your cultural institution.
  4. You don't think you need a plan.
  5. You throw around terms like "conversation" and "engagement" without defining clear goals for your blog.
  6. You have to go through so many layers of approval for each post that the material is stale before it ever hits the blogosphere.
  7. You get hives when you even think about talking about comments with your boss.
  8. You don't have someone assigned to be your arts blogger -- everyone will want to pitch in, right?

It's worth noting that if your organization struggles with these issues, you aren't ready for any kind of public communication, from TV to direct mail. Everything you do is going to be inauthentic, dull, and just plain sucky. A blog is the least of your worries.

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How to create a failing e-newsletter

Here's a great way to create an e-newsletter that nobody will read or respond to: Think of it as the July e-newsletter.

The moment you designate an e-newsletter by the time when it's to be sent out, you are off on the wrong foot. Instead, you should designate it by an event or action: Hurricane newsletter, opening night newsletter, food shortage newsletter.

Then, with that set, give your recipients a handful of actions related to the topic. Like find out more. Give to that fund. Buy something. Sign a petition, play a game.

That's a newsletter that will sing -- as in motivate action.

I'm not saying a time-based subject line is what causes failure. It might be -- I've seen them crash, and I've seen them work. This is something you really should test.

But before you get to the test, you need to have compelling content. Which you will have trouble bringing together if your starting place is Well, another month has rolled around. What shall we put in the newsletter?

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What's wrong with your e-newsletter?

It might be an overgeneralization, but the large majority of nonprofit e-newsletters are a waste of electrons.

Limp, incoherent, uninspired, ill-targeted to their audience.

The Nonprofit Marketing Guide has some notions what the problem might be if your e-newsletter isn't doing its job: Does Your E-Newsletter Need a Makeover? Look for these signs:

  • You hate writing it.
  • You know it's too long, but ... you just can't figure out how to make it shorter.
  • You transitioned from a print version to an email version in a hurry.
  • You use the same subject line over and over.
  • The newsletter rarely links back to your website.

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They joy of boring fundraising

Here's a challenging thought from the New Thinking blog: Great websites are boring to manage.

Meaning websites that really do their job aren't about breathtakingly beautiful design or jaw-dropping concept. They're all about ...

... the boring stuff like removing old content and making sure that every page has a unique title tag. Day-to-day web management is about rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty with the nitty gritty stuff. But remember: You get paid to be bored.

I agree. Until that last sentence. If you're bored, you aren't going to do a good job for very long.

It's true that the "nitty gritty stuff" is what makes a website worthwhile. And that stuff isn't likely to make your heart soar, like poetry or fine art.

But if you're in the fundraising, get used to it. And find a way to experience joy in getting it right.

Same with direct mail. You aren't likely to do well with lofty, philosophical sentiments or stunning avant-garde design. But if you zero in on clarity, focus, being appropriately cheap, and slavishly loyal to postal regulations -- you'll do well.

And you can really enjoy yourself too.

I've met a lot of fundraisers on a life-long quest to create fundraising materials that they personally like. They are among the most misguided and miserable people I've encountered.

We aren't in fundraising to entertain ourselves. We're here to help great things happen. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Thanks to Nonprofit Online News for the tip.

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How social media is changing nonprofits

Posted by guest blogger Andrew Rogers

Jeff has written a few posts displaying a justifiable skepticism about the merits of social media tools like Facebook and Twitter for nonprofit fundraising and donor-communication. Over on the social-media news site Mashable, however, Beth Kanter suggests "4 Ways Social Media is Changing the Non-Profit World," namely:

  1. Deepening relationships and engagement.
  2. Individuals and small groups are self-organizing around non-profit causes.
  3. Facilitating collaboration and crowd-sourcing.
  4. Social change behind the firewall.

I think the first is the most broadly relevant to donor-powered fundraisers. Charities and businesses (and for that matter, individuals) who seem to find the most value in social-media tools like Twitter are those who approach them as ways to meet and engage with their friends, peers, constituents, and supporters. Seeing them primarily as advertising billboards or if-we-could-just-figure-it-out fundraising channels, on the other hand, can lead to frustration, boredom, or "I just don't see the point."

I just did a quick Twitter search for some current and former clients of mine -- not as Twitterers themselves, but in other people's conversations. My unsurprising results? Every single one of them, even the smallest, was being talked about by someone. Each one of those "tweets" is a chance to "deepen relationships and engagements" with someone who cares enough about you to mention you to others. I think that's worth a look.

Andrew Rogers is an associate creative director at Merkle. He tweets.

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More users give up on Twitter than stay with it

If you blog about Twitter, your post starts popping up all over Twitter. It's one big self-referential echo-chamber.

The other funny thing about Twitter is the retention rate, as reported in Adweek: Twitter's Audience Has a 'No Return' Policy. Here's the point:

Over 60 percent of people who sign up to use the popular ... micro-blogging platform do not return to using it the following month.... In other words, Twitter currently has just a 40 percent retention rate, up from 30 percent in previous months -- indicating an "I don't get it factor" among new users....

(In fact, Joseph Jaffe called Twitter "a giant Ponzi Scheme.)"

I bring it up because the phenomenal growth rate of Twitter has fueled a kind of hysteria that everyone must get on board or be left behind. Maybe. But don't count on it.

Twitter has its uses. And maybe it -- or something like it -- will continue to matter to a lot of people for a long time. But we don't know that yet.

If I were a nonprofit, I'd dabble in Twitter. Learn what's going on. See if my constituents are there.

But if you want to motivate action and raise funds, go back a generation or more: email, search-engine marketing, postal mail, broadcast and print media ... it's easy to call those things dead, but each one of them is still much bigger and more advanced than Twitter. If I had to place a bet on which will go away first -- Twitter or postal mail -- I'd bet that the post will outlast. And continue to outperform for the foreseeable future.

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Survey: Folks not too satisfied with nonprofit websites

How good are nonprofit websites? Not so great, it would seem. Survey research from ForeSee Results, Trends in Constituent Satisfaction with Nonprofit Websites (PDF, registration required), puts the average nonprofit website satisfaction score of 73 (out of 100).

This is survey research, so it tells what people say, not necessarily what they really do, but it's interesting nonetheless. And hardly surprising.

According to the study, website satisfaction has a strong correlation to the behaviors we want. Satisfied users are:

  • 49% more likely to donate.
  • 38% more likely to volunteer.
  • 57% more likely to have a favorable overall impression of the organization.
  • 65% more likely to recommend the site to others.
  • 55% more likely to return to the site.

Did that get your attention? The study says what needs the most improvement are website functionality and expression of the organizations' image. Get cracking.

Thanks to Katya's Nonprofit Marketing Blog for the tip.

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Not feeling so good about the Facebook gold rush

Facebook and Twitter are both abuzz with this scandalous article in the Washington Post: To Nonprofits Seeking Cash, Facebook App Isn't So Green. Honestly, you'd think the Post had claimed everyone's mother was a lousy cook.

Here's the bad news, according to the Post:

  • The majority of nonprofits using the Facebook Causes app have received no donations through the site.
  • Only a small fraction of them have brought in even $1,000.
  • Fewer than 50 of the 179,000 fundraisers on Causes have raised $10,000.
  • Only two nonprofits -- the Nature Conservancy and Students for a Free Tibet -- have raised more than $100,000.

And that's not all. The mean-spirited Post further twisted the dagger by pointing out that while more than 25 million of Facebook's 200 million members have signed on as supporters of at least one cause, only 185,000 have ever given through Causes. That's 0.74%, which might sound okay if you're thinking in a direct mail context, but this is cumulative: all giving to all causes across all time. Woops. Not so hot, as in approaching absolute zero.

Are you catching the pattern here? The report also noted that the Nature Conservancy -- the top fundraiser on Causes -- has brought in $198,000. Impressive? Maybe. But for a large and effective direct mailer like the Conservancy, it might not be so much. They probably get that much every couple of days in the mail.

I don't think all this means you should totally ignore Facebook, though I'd hardly blame you if you did take away that lesson.

The real lesson is be realistic.

There's a gold rush mentality in some nonprofit quarters about social media. Get moving! Get involved! We are obligated to invest! The real cry should be something more like, There's a trace amount of gold in them thar hills!

Facebook is not your get-rich-quick scheme. It's an interesting place to learn how to navigate this strange new world. Maybe it's a good place to get out the word. But for fundraising? Don't hold your breath.

Dissent here, here, and here.

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Need more web donations? Start here

In the Network for Good Learning Center: How to Ask for Donations on Your Website. They are:

  1. Make it painfully easy to find the "donate" option.
  2. Show where the moolah goes.
  3. Explain the how of your mission (not just the what).
  4. Appeal to donors' ideals and values.
  5. Show your connection to or presence in the local community.
  6. Don't forget to ask.

Take a look for the details.

What's the common thread here? Maybe it's: If you want to raise funds on your website, raise funds on your website.

The reason so many nonprofit websites have a hidden, tiny, or otherwise obfuscated "donate" option, why they don't really address the issues of giving -- they want to raise funds without seeming to raise funds.

Sorry. If you want a website that doesn't raise funds, go ahead. There are plenty of other things you can do online. But if you need online revenue to accomplish your mission, then make sure you do what it takes to raise online revenue.

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Twitter better for birds than for nonprofits?

My condolences if you've spent any of your life in a meeting that was about whether your organization should have a Twitter account.

I have yet to see a nonprofit use Twitter in a way that's even close to justifying the small amount of time they're putting into it. Part of the problem may be the way they're approaching it. There's some insight into that from the What's Next Blog, Top 10 Reasons Your Company Should Not Tweet.

Here are some of the reasons not to Tweet:

  • Every Tweet has to be approved by legal.
  • You are not going to respond when people direct tweets at you.
  • You think paying for followers might be a good idea.
  • You think all that matters on Twitter is getting a lot of people to follow you. Quality trumps quantity.
  • You want to protect your updates. conversation.
  • You think you can market to people with whom you have no relationship

If any of these are true for you, don't tweet!

That's also true of blogging or any other social media. If your organization isn't able to culturally adjust to the fast moving, conversation-driven, authentic ethos of social media, you are going to be boring and foolish, an utter waste of everyone's time.

(If you know of a nonprofit that's making effective use of Twitter, I'd love to hear about it.)

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Do premiums work online?

Here's something worth knowing: according to recent testing by M+R, offering premiums can boost online donor acquisition: The Power of the Premium: Convincing Prospective Donors to Give (PDF).

Believe it or not:

When we looked at the net dollars raised per email recipient after taking into account the cost of producing the premium and getting it to donors, three of the four nonprofits netted more with the premium.... On average, the net dollars raised per recipient was 51% greater when a premium was offered.

It may seem counterintuitive that such an old direct mail warhorse would have life online, but this just points out that people are people, regardless of the medium you use to reach them.

Note that not just any old premium works, and it's quite likely that premiums won't work for every organization. Test it for yourself. But it's worth a test.

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The immeasurable is measurable online

Your fundraising touches donors in ways other than motivating them to give. It can create a host of other conditions, some good, some bad. It might inspire them or annoy them. It might raise their awareness of your cause to a new level. It might harden their resolve to ignore you.

In direct mail, we can't measure or even directly see these non-response impacts. But in email, we can capture and measure a lot more -- and get a clearer picture of what's happening in donors' minds. You don't have to throw up your hands and call it all unmeasurable.

The ExactTarget blog, at Email as Branding, notes things we should be measuring online so we can gauge the impact of our emails on our donors:

  1. Readership & engagement (time on pages, interactions on website)
  2. Churn (not just unsubscribes but also decline of engagement)
  3. Delayed conversions (with long-term expiration and no conversion variable overwriting)
  4. Short-term cross-channel measurement
  5. User behavioral changes (increased engagement, cross-channel interactions, etc.)

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Online fundraising continues to rise

The online revolution is coming to fundraising. But it's not here. That's what you can learn from a new study from Target Analytics: donorCentrics Internet Giving Benchmarking Analysis (PDF).

Some of the findings:

  • Online giving continues to grow ... even in the absence of major disasters.
  • Even with this growth, online giving is still dwarfed by direct mail giving.
  • Online donors have slightly lower retention rates overall than traditional donors.
  • Higher acquisition giving levels and higher revenue per donor in subsequent years may mask issues with cultivation and retention of online donors.
  • Online giving is not a strong renewal channel ... large numbers of online donors migrate away from online giving and to other channels, primarily direct mail.
  • Donors to direct mail ... rarely give online.
  • When mail donors do give online, they tend to give higher average gifts.... Online donors downgrade when they switch to offline, primarily direct mail giving.
  • Having an email address on file makes a positive difference in the giving behavior of offline donors.

There's also a similar study from Convio that's well worth reading.

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E-newletters don't work, says expert

If you have an e-newsletter, pay attention to this article in Third Sector Online, a UK publication for charities: Charity email newsletters 'a waste of time', says Obama strategist.

It quotes Thomas Gensemer of Blue State Digital, the company behind the Obama campaign's jaw-dropping online fundraising last year. Gensemer says:

Newsletters don't get read, yet they take more effort to prepare than a 250-word email. Email is still a killer application, but only when used properly.

He prefers instead "short, personalised emails to supporters giving clear instructions for participation."

He's right. In my experience, enewsletters don't really work. They get far lower response rates than most other email impacts to donors and supporters. They also get lower open and click-through rates. They aren't good at motivating response. They also aren't good and sharing information.

E-newsletters simply don't function the way print newsletters do. (Print newsletters, by the way, still work very, very well for most organizations.) As far as I'm concerned, repeatedly sending out messages that get no response (or even opened) makes you a junkmailer. You deserve whatever scorn or badmouthing your donors and prospects dish out.

So trash that e-newsletter. Instead, have every email you send out have just one clear call to action. Nothing more.

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Kiva lets any old weirdo shape their message

npgeek alert: We're going to talk today about an API, which stands for Application Programmers Interface, which means someone is giving power to other people.

In this case, it's Kiva, which has launched Build.Kiva, as reported at Bryan Miller's Giving in a Digital World: Kiva launches open-source API. Fortunately, Bryan is just geeky enough to translate this for us. Here's the point:

By enabling any developer in the world to build tools that directly integrate with Kiva they stand to achieve a breadth and speed of functional evolution and audience reach far beyond anything they could hope for alone.

Kiva is giving people a window on their data, which will let them create fun, quirky, individualistic ways to raise funds for Kiva.

Now think about that: It's entirely possible that folks might set up applications called Stupid Blow-Hards for Kiva or Terrorists for Kiva or Wall Street Bankers for Kiva (okay, that last one is just ridiculous). But whoever and however they use Kiva's API, they're going to give it their own spin.

Kiva fundraising can appear in contexts that Kiva may not like. Or people might express the Kiva fundraising offer in ways that make the people at Kiva very uncomfortable.

Don't think they didn't think of this.

But they went ahead and did it anyway, which means they get it.

You see, Kiva never had control over they way people talk about them in first place. Neither do you.

People are going to talk about you -- if they talk about you at all -- in their own ways. You can try to clamp down with exclusive, restrictive brand standards. But that doesn't give you any actual control. The only impact it can have is to make sure you're so uninteresting, nobody talks about you.

Which may keep your brand intact, but really doesn't do you any good in any other way.

So take a cue from Kiva. Open the doors. Let everyone in. You have nothing to lose but your obscurity.

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Social networks: hold your horses

In the middle of the social media gold rush, a reality check over at The Agitator: Social Nets - A Fundraising Distraction?

Looking at some research from Pew Internet on the rise of social network sites (you know: Facebook, MySpace, and other services where people hang out and chatter), we find some interesting facts about who's actually taking part. These are how many by age group who have accounts on social media sites:

  • 65% of online teens
  • 75% of people online 18-24
  • 57% of people online 25-34
  • 30% of people online 35-44
  • 19% of people online 45-54
  • 10% of people online 55-64
  • 7% of people online 65 and older

I'll bet I can guess where most of your donors fall.

And note that the percentages are of those who are online to begin with, not of the whole population. Further, just having a profile on a site doesn't mean you actually participate.

As The Agitator puts it:

... in terms of straight out fundraising, the usage numbers just aren't there today, especially when looked at in the context of how most folks actually use the sites. In 2009, I can think of many things I'd do to shore up my fundraising results before turning to experimenting with social net sites.

It's going to be a while before Facebook (or whatever the 2.0 version of it is) becomes a meaningful part of the fundraising world. Keep your eyes open, because it could happen suddenly. But it's not where the money is. Not yet.

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Best blogs for fundraisers

By my most recent count, there are 106 fundraising blogs out there. My definition of "fundraising blogs" is deliberately broad -- these are blogs that are touch on fundraising in some way, at some time.

That's a lot of talk about fundraising. More than a normal person can (or probably should) read. But I do. And here, in my opinion, are the best for fundraisers who want to improve, grow, and innovate.

Fundraising blogs most likely to help you be a better fundraiser

Not-particularly-about-fundraising blogs most likely to help you be a better fundraiser

Blogs most likely make you laugh, which may not help you be a better fundraiser, but it's worth something

Well, they make me laugh, anyway.

Finally, if you really want fundraising blog overload, here's my entire list at Bloglines: www.bloglines.com/public/JeffBrooks. I intend to follow all fundraising blogs, so if you know of any I haven't found yet -- or any other blogs you recommend to me or other fundraisers -- tell us about them in the comments.

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More blasted email fundraising resolutions

Happy Chinese New Year. You can add some more resolutions, right?


Try these from ClickZ: Ten Resolutions to Make 2009 a Better E-mail Year:

  1. I Will Listen to Feedback
  2. I Will Give My Subscribers More Control Over What They Receive
  3. I Will Monitor More Than Open/Click-Through Rates/Revenue
  4. I Will Practice More Segmentation for Increased Relevance
  5. I Will Practice Good List Hygiene and Trim Inactives
  6. I Will Pay Attention to the ISPs
  7. I Will Work to Send Great Content
  8. I Will Make it Easy for Recipients to Know Who I Am
  9. I Will Be More Careful About Whose E-mail Efforts I Emulate
  10. I Will Banish the Word "Blast" From my Vocabulary

I especially like that last one: Why do we use the word "blast" to describe something we hope will be a meaningful part of a relationship?

How does this sound: I'm going to blast a thank-you note to Grandma.

Email marketing is pretty technical. You're screwed if you don't have the technical part down. But it's also about relationships. Resolve to remember that.

Thanks to BeRelevant for the tip.

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Try the Air Force approach to social media

I can guarantee you this: A lot more people hate the US Air Force than hate your nonprofit organization. For that matter, a lot more people love the Air Force. And that means people say all kinds of things about the Air Force in blogs and other social media places.

And the Air Force is doing something about it. With no air strikes involved, as far as I know. They could teach the rest of us a little about how to equip your people to engage with social media in constructive ways.

Read about it at the Web Ink Now blog: The US Air Force: Armed with social media.

The Air Force doesn't just have its own blog, it intends to equip all 330,000 of its people to be part of the Air Force conversation wherever that conversation is happening.

And here's the cool part. Rather than just throw their people into the fray, they have a methodical (downright military) flowchart that guides responses to anything from a scurrilous rant to a reasonable question.

If there's any conversation about you or your work out there -- or if you want there to be -- you could use this flowchart:


You can download this flow chart here at a readable size (PDF).

Thanks to The WOMMA Word blog for the tip.

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Don't miss out on the power of a unique landing page

Here's a common but easy-to-avoid mistake a lot of nonprofits make: Sending donors to your homepage when you want them to make a gift (or take any other specific action.

An article at Performance Insider, Unique URLs Vs. Homepage URLs: The Best Method For Lead-Gen?

You spent a lot of time and money to make that homepage really, really cool. Of course you want everyone to see it, experience it as a brand-friendly "front door" into your organization. But doing that will cost you, in two ways:

By sending responses to your homepage URL, you will be virtually blind to the actual response of the dollars spent. Even worse, your homepage will need to perform multiple tasks -- provide the general information for the casual visitor AND instantly allow traffic driven by lead marketing dollars to complete the task without distractions.

Double whammy! You lose a bunch of transactions, and you can't measure the effectiveness of your marketing.

Resist the temptation to over-control the user experience. If someone clicks through from an email (or anywhere else), they were probably motivated by a specific call to action. That should be the one thing going on at the page they reach.

Thanks to Miriam at Generation Y Give for the tip.

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Hints for powerful subject lines

If you're communicating with donors by email, you should be putting a lot of energy into crafting great subject lines. More than any other single factor, subject lines determine the success or failure of e-fundraising. So here's some help from iMedia Connection: How to craft irresistible subject lines. Good advice includes:

  • Give a sense of urgency.
  • Consider current spam trends -- the filters can knock you out of contention if you aren't careful, and the words they're looking for are ever-changing.
  • Limit subject lines to 30 or 40 characters
  • Hackneyed old cliches like "tips," "tricks" or "secrets" can really work magic for you.

Thanks to BeRelevant for the tip.

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Paint pictures with words to get emails opened

There's a good article at MarketingSherpa on doing email right: 12 Top Email Copywriting Tips to Raise Funds.

Among the 12 excellent tips, one especially caught my eye: Create a Word Picture. Rather than label your email with facts about its contents, say something that people can imagine. It gives these examples for word-picture subject lines.

  • Use "Turtle Toxins" instead of "We need your help to protect turtles from pollution."
  • Say "Manatee Mayday" instead of "Manatees in Trouble: Help Needed Now."
  • Write "Click to Save Cows" instead of "Please help save cows from the abuses of factory farming."

Good advice for online marketing. In fact, good advice for any medium. Spend some extra time moving your discussion from the theoretical and abstract to concrete and visual.

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Subject lines that work

One tough thing about raising funds is getting people to open your message. You're in the inbox next to dozens, even hundreds, of other messages, many of them brazen spam. And all you have to get opened is a few words. No color, no images, no typography -- just pure text. And very little of that. (If you've played your cards right, your name in the "from" line also helps.)

Here are some good principles for subject lines from Constant Contact: How to Get More Opens and Clicks.

1. Opposites Attract!
Put your advertising dollars to work for you!
Advertising NEVER Works. (If you disagree, click here)

2. The Cliffhanger
Put your advertising dollars to work for you!
Advertising NEVER works, unless...

3. Interest by Association
Jane Smith book signing, Wednesday at noon
From Oprah to our store: Jane Smith book signing, Wed. at 12

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"Donation Dashboard" helps donors find charities

This is pretty cool: the Donation Dashboard, a site created by the Berkeley Center for New Media. It's meant to help you decide where you should direct your charitable giving.

It works like this: You are offered a series of descriptions of nonprofit organizations. You rate them on a sliding scale of your interest. Then it returns a pie chart of how you should divide up your charitable giving.

The logic is, "If you like organization X, you might also like organization Y." In my case, I got a few "what the heck?" recommendations, but as I understand it, the relationships between X and Y should improve as more people make ratings.

You can check out my portfolio here. I rated a lot more than the 15 that they start you with. The organizations that rose through the clutter are mainly ones I already give to. Not surprising, I guess.

I have two criticisms of this dashboard:

  • Why organizations? Most people give to causes, finding organizations that match up with the causes they care about, not the other way around. In fact, in many cases, the small amount of information you get about an organization hardly tells you what the cause really is.
  • Focus on efficiency rating. Each organization's "efficiency rating" is prominently displayed. That's unfortunate, because it has the appearance of being a meaningful quantifiable indicator of some kind of quality. Which it isn't. They should either remove it, de-emphasize it, or give a richer menu of information that gives a better picture of an organization.

When it actually links to an online giving mechanism, it'll really be slick.

But really, this is pretty spiffy, and is well on the way to give donors more power than ever. It will be up to us to work with tools like these in the coming years.

Other posts about the Donation Dashboard are at Prospecting and Tactical Philanthropy.

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How much email is too much? It depends

We often live in mortal fear of overmailing our donors, especially email, which we can send without the cost limitations of postal mail. Surely, there's a point where you're sending so much email you become an annoying spammer. The DMA (UK) Email Marketing Blog looks at this questions at Maximising ROI without overmailing.

The post points out that there's not one "right" frequency of mailing for the entire file. Every email file has different groups that behave very differently from each other:

  • 1 - 5% of the list open, click and buy almost every time they receive a message.
  • 40 - 60% of the list will interact with the offer mailing once or twice a year.
  • 35 - 55% of the people on the list will not have opened or clicked, let alone bought off an email you sent in over a year.

This insight -- that your file is not one monolithic group, all experiencing your messages in the same way -- frees you to be more relevant to more people: For the first group, you can probably send even more. For the second group, you're likely about right. For the third group, you're almost surely sending too much already.

And you'll know if you're getting it right because you're testing.

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Don't bother blogging

Yesterday, we asked if your CEO should blog for your organization. Today, let's take it a step further: Should you have a blog at all?

B.L. Ochman's What's Next Blog gives us 10 Reasons Your Company Shouldn't Blog:

  • Most blogs ... are boring.
  • A blog has to have a personal voice.
  • You need original content.
  • Blogging takes time -- lots of it.
  • You need to read constantly to be a good blogger.
  • A blog is not a substitute for a marketing campaign.
  • A blog is not a substitute for advertising.
  • A blog is not a quick fix -- the results come in the long term, the same way they do with PR.
  • Blogs are not cheap.
  • You need to drive traffic to a blog.

The point isn't that having a blog is a dumb thing. It's that doing it right takes real commitment. Before you dive in, make sure you're committed, willing to do (and spend) what it takes. Or you'll be talking in an empty room.

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Don't make your CEO write your blog

Who's going to write your organization's blog? Your CEO?

Not such a good idea, says Katya's Non-Profit Marketing Blog, at Should you make your CEO blog? The point:

It takes a huge amount of energy and time to blog. You have to be really enthusiastic about the medium, or it's really not going to work.

Any CEO's time and energy are at a premium. A blog would have to be awfully good and reach a whole lot of the right people to justify the amount of time it would consume.

(For example, this blog takes about eight hours a week to maintain. That's a meaningful time commitment, but it's worthwhile to my organization, Merkle. But I doubt it would be worth that much of our CEO's time. He has a lot of other fish to fry.)

Beyond the question of time, you have to ask if your CEO actually wants to do it. And keep doing it. Blogging is a long slog. If you don't enjoy the journey itself, the destination probably isn't worth the trouble.

I'm sure there are nonprofit CEOs out there who do (or should) write great blogs that really engage people and forward their organization's mission. But I'm with Katya: It's not likely to work.

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Mobile giving: What's it worth?

To hear some people talk, you might think "mobile giving" -- where donors use their mobile phone to text a certain word to a certain number, which triggers a small donation to a cause to be charged to the cell-phone bill -- is the future of fundraising.

There's a good how-to on mobile giving at About.com's Nonprofit Charitable Orgs blog: Mobile Giving - How to Make it Work for Your Nonprofit. It gives this example:

Recently, Alicia Keys ... asked concert goers to pull out their cell phones and text the word "ALIVE" .... More than 8,000 people did so right at the concerts, raising more than $40,000 to fight AIDS.

Raising $40,000 from 8,000 people sounds pretty cool. But it's unambitious. You should be able to net more than $1 million from that many donors -- if you're smart and patient (willing to wait a few years).

Real fundraising is about building relationships with donors. The real pay-off comes when the relationships are most developed.

Mobile fundraising specifically avoids relationships; you walk away with some impressive cash from a very attractive investment -- but you have no idea who gave it to you. There's no next step.

I wouldn't completely ignore it. Mobile fundraising may be a good and cost-effective way to raise funds from young people, who are unlikely to stick with you anyway. It's just revenue you wouldn't get otherwise, even though it has no future. The cost of getting the money is low -- usually just 5¢ on the dollar, plus whatever it costs to get out the word in the first place.

And better yet, I've read that they're talking about a monthly giving option for mobile donors. And who knows what next generation devices and services might offer that allow connection and relationship-building.

Keep your eyes on it.

More about Mobile giving at GenerationYGive: Mobileization: Is it keeping you up at night? and Mobileization: Part II.

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How to avoid creating a boring blog

What is it about nonprofit blogs? So many of them are so incredibly boring. It' not like they're about boring things -- the problem is something else.

The Reuters AlertNet Blog noted this among the blogs of international relief organization in DEBATE: Are aid agencies ready for the blogosphere? Some of the problems:

Open and frank discussion is rare. Many blogs read more like press releases, crammed with acronyms and technical aid-speak. Others are just plain boring, or so thoroughly vetted by head office that all the juice has been squeezed dry.

I can hardly think of a more exciting venue than international relief. But they're right. Most of the blogs don't live up to their potential.

I'll go out on a limb and guess that the main problem is too much head-office involvement in making the blogs "brand compliant." Just a hunch.

The AlertNet post also includes material about an event that was held for relief bloggers, including this helpful report (PDF).

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Don't go out without your briefs

The number-one reason for lame, ill-conceived websites, I'm pretty sure, is lack of planning and poor alignment of goals. Lyris HQ would probably agree with me, and recommends Creative Briefs: Your Map to Message Success. A written brief helps you:

  1. Align the goals.
  2. Define the audience.
  3. Decide which features and benefits to promote.
  4. Choose a clear call to action.

The benefit of planning ahead and putting it in writing is huge. You will do better work if you approach it this way. And you'll save time, money, and frustration. I promise you it's true.

And that's just for online projects. It's always true.

The article above is a long and detailed, but if you aren't starting every job you do with a brief, it's worth learning how.

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Somebody else owns your homepage

All that work getting your nonprofit's homepage just right? It may be beside the point, according to Web Strategy by Jeremiah: Your Corporate Homepage is Really Google.com.

Why? Because nearly everyone who visits your site gets their via a search engine (mostly likely Google) -- and there's a very good chance they never see your beautiful homepage. So, says Jeremiah:

... be cognizant that your homepage isn't the website you own and manage, but actually Google Results. While you can shape that first few entries with search marketing techniques, but note that a influential blog can cause havoc or be a positive endorsement.

That doesn't mean ignore your homepage. It means pay attention to how you show up in Google searches. Do people seeking you or your cause find a sensible, non-confusing entrance?

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Maybe this is what's wrong with your enewsletter

If you're unhappy with the performance of your email newsletter, you might want to read this post at Denise Cox's Email Matters Blog: Why do people like (and don’t like) email newsletters? Here are the reasons people don't like them. See if these things are familiar:

  • No useful content - nothing useful. No special offers. No new information.
  • Hard to read - maybe it's one big image that's blocked and appears to be an empty email. Maybe the design and layout of the text makes it hard to read and decipher.
  • Ignores permission - comes too frequently (or feels like it does) - or more frequently than promised.
  • Each newsletter gives the same feeling you would get if you walked into a shop and five sales people descended on you immediately to ask you if you are going to make a purchase. The newsletter is all sales, no information. All pressure, no enjoyment.

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Avoid these email mistakes

From the Getting Email Delivered blog, The Top 5 Mistakes Email Senders Make in Scheduling Their Mailings:

  1. Sending email too frequently
  2. Not sending email frequently enough
  3. Not sending email consistently
  4. Sending an email just for the sake of sending an email
  5. Not paying attention to the day and time that you send your email

Check out the post. You might be surprised at some of the details.

Thanks to BeRelevant for the tip.

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Help online readers read

Good article in Slate on the way people read online: Lazy Eyes: How we read online. It's different. People don't really read; they skim. And if we want them to pay attention to what we write, the author says, "... it's not [the reader] who has to change. It's me, the writer."

Here are some of the things you can do to make online copy more readable:

  • Bulleted lists
  • Occasional use of bold to prevent skimming
  • Short sentence fragments
  • Explanatory subheads
  • Fonts designed for screen reading; e.g., Verdana, Trebuchet, Georgia.
  • One idea per paragraph
  • Half the word count of "conventional writing"

And avoid:
  • Puns
  • Long lines of text

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Nonprofit blogging how-to

Most blogs run by nonprofits are so boring that even a critique of them would be too boring to read.

Clearly, we need some help with blogging.

Here's some, from Britt Bravo at NetSquared: Nonprofit Blogging Burning Questions and Answers.

It's a long list of what it takes to blog right. If you're thinking about launching a blog (and you probably should be), read this post.

For example, Britt says the person who should write the blog is the person most excited to do it ...

... but please, no interns. The interns can be contributing bloggers, but they shouldn't be the lead blogger. I've seen way to many nonprofit blogs with tons of posts between June-August, and then the intern leaves and it's a ghost town.

This could save you some trouble.

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What is this blog all about?

If you're serious about raising money from donors, you need to get serious about donors. More than ever before, donors are insisting that you share power with them, not treating them like passive ATMs. This blog is about the ways you can do that -- and the rewards that await you and your donors when you do.

About the Blogger

DonorPower Blog is penned by Merkle's Power Blogging Team, led by Greg Fox, our senior vice president of strategy. Working with Greg is a police line-up of guest "artists", fundraising pros all, who like to pose as blogatorialists when the sun goes down. You can reach this blog, and any of our regular contributors, at
donorpowerblog [at] merkleinc [dot] com. See this blog's policies.

A great partner for the nonprofit that wants to get donor-powered and grow revenue like crazy!
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