How to Get Everyone in your Organization on the Same Page

5099718716_2f066cebc7_zWhat would happen if you got your staff or board together and asked them to give a short description of what your organization does? Would you get 20 different answers?

Now take a look at some of your communication materials – fundraising letters, thank you letters, website etc. Are your messages consistent in all your materials?

Inconsistent messages are fairly common among nonprofits, but don’t worry, it’s something you can fix.

Create a message platform

Putting together a set of clear, consistent messages, also known as a message platform, is a good project for you to do this summer.

Now whenever you create a fundraising letter or content for your website, you can draw material from this set of messages.

Having a consistent set of messages is essential when you have more than one person writing for your organization and as new staff or volunteers come on board. All your materials need continuity and a single voice.

Everyone in your organization – staff, board, volunteers – is a message ambassador, and needs to be involved. Although, that doesn’t mean they should be involved in every step of the process.  Your best bet is to have a small group – marketing staff and board members with marketing experience – put together the message platform.

You may want to get some initial input from staff and board. Ask everyone a few key questions, such as:

  • Who is your target audience? You may need to cater different messages to different audiences.
  • What is important to them?

As you create your positioning statement and talking points, ask:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • How do you do it?
  • Why is it important?
  • What makes your organization unique?
  • How are you making a difference for the people you serve and in the community?
  • What do you want to achieve?

Keep it simple

This may sound obvious, but your goal is to make sure your reader understands your messages. Your messages should be clear and specific.  Sometimes they’ll include a call to action. Write in a conversational style and steer clear of jargon. Create a Jargon-Free Zone  Most people respond better to a human interest story than a lot of statistics.

Your messages should not say something like – We make a difference for at-risk students. Instead, say Our volunteer tutors help students boost their reading and math skills so they’ll have a better chance of getting into college.

Use language your donors will understand

Have someone outside your organization, a friend or family member, look at your messages. Something that’s clear to you may be confusing to others.

Stay consistent with a style guide

Continuing on the theme of consistency, I strongly recommend putting together a style guide. Create a Style Guide for Your Organization

Get everyone on the same page

When you’ve finished putting together your message platform, introduce it to the rest of your organization.  Check in periodically to make sure everyone stays on the same page.

Here is some more information to help to you create a message platform.

Putting nonprofit key messages to work

Getting to Aha! The Nonprofit Marketer’s Top Challenge

Photo by David Dugdale – http://www.learningvideo.com

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How You Can Print and Mail Without Breaking Your Budget

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In my last post I wrote about Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on Direct Mail Some nonprofit organizations try to save money by cutting back on printing and mailing, but that could be a mistake if your donors prefer to hear from you by mail.

Printing and mailing also takes more time, which is challenging, especially if you have a small staff.

What can you do?  Here are some suggestions.

Be smart

First, figure out what you should print and mail.  I recommend mailing at least four pieces a year.  Otherwise you’ll miss reaching donors who don’t or rarely use electronic channels.

In addition, be smart about what you send and who you send it to. If your fundraising letter isn’t generating the revenue you want, you might need to improve the content. You may also be sending it to a weak audience.

Clean up your lists before your next mailing,  Check for duplicate and returned addresses.  Segment your lists, too.  For example, only send your print newsletter to donors or take out lapsed donors and send them a targeted appeal.

Here’s an extreme example of a direct mail fail. Comcast Direct Mail Fail

Increase your printing and mailing budget

Can you budget more for printing and mailing?  This is often not as much of a priority as it should be.

If you can’t increase your current budget, find additional sources of unrestricted funding to cover these costs.

DIY

With a good color printer and the right software, you can produce materials in house. Be sure they look professional.

Find a sponsor

You could get a print shop to do your invitations or annual report pro bono.  It’s good publicity for them.

You often get sponsors for an event. Have a sponsor cover the cost of the invitations, as well.

Put a donation envelope in your print newsletter

You might recoup the cost of the mailing, as well as raise additional revenue.  Here’s what fundraising expert Tom Ahern recommends for your print newsletter. The Domain Formula for donor newsletters

Less is more

Your donors are busy and won’t have time to read long pieces. Shorter is better, both to capture your donor’s attention and to save on printing and mailing costs.  Stick to four pages max.

Use discounted mailing options

You may be eligible for special nonprofit rates. Special Prices for Nonprofit Mailers You could use standard or bulk mail for items that aren’t as time sensitive, such as newsletters or annual reports. Factor in how long it will take to mail, so your summer newsletter doesn’t arrive in October.  Only use first class mail for appeal letters and thank you letters.

Recruit volunteers and other staff to help with mailings

Just make sure they do quality work and don’t slap on crooked mailing labels or write illegible thank you notes.

It’s possible to print and mail without breaking your budget.  It does take some planning and prioritizing, but it should pay off if it allows you to connect with more donors.

Photo by Chris Potter at www.stockmonkeys.com

Get Noticed in an Instant With a Visual Story

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When we think of stories, we often think of a written story. But stories come in many forms and people process information in different ways.  Some people respond better to visual stimuli.  In our information packed world, a visual story can be great way to connect.

Tell a story in an instant with a photo

Your donors are busy and may not have time read a story, but you can capture their attention in an instant with a great photo. A photo of your executive director receiving an award is not very compelling. Use photos of your programs in action.

In my last post, I highlighted a couple of stories from the Pet Partners newsletter. Now while this newsletter included some good stories, it was 14 pages, including front and back cover.  I wouldn’t recommend a newsletter that long, because most donors won’t read it.

This newsletter included a section called Pet Partners Teams at Work, which consisted of short stories and photos of people with their therapy animals. Here busy donors can get a quick glance of the impact of their gift without having to read the whole newsletter, and again most people won’t.

A great new trend is postcard annual reports, which are filled with photos and a small amount of text. Postcard Annual Report

If you use social media, you need to communicate several times a week.  As your donors scroll through endless amounts of posts on Facebook or Twitter, an engaging photo can pop out and get noticed.

Use photos everywhere – appeal letters, thank you letters/cards, newsletters, annual reports, website, and social media. Create a photo bank to help you with this. It’s fine to use the same photos in different channels. It can help with your brand identity. Be sure to use high-quality pictures.  Hire a professional photographer or find one to work pro bono.

Work with your program staff to get photos. Confidentiality issues may come up and you’ll need to get permission to take pictures of kids.  It’s okay to use stock photos. Just be sure to give proper credit.

The Top 10 Ways Nonprofits Can Use Visuals

6 Tips for Better Photographs

Highlight your work with a video

Create a video to show your program in action, share an interview, give a behind the scenes look your at organization, or my favorite – thanking your donors. Make your videos short and high quality.  If you’re interviewing someone, be sure that person is good on camera.

You can use videos on your website, in an email message, on social media, and at an event.

FIVE TIPS FOR CREATING A COMPELLING NONPROFIT VIDEO

The Unexpected Results Of Producing Video Stories

Bring statistics to life with infographics

Statistics are boring, and very few donors are going to read a lot of text.  But you may have some compelling statistics or want to highlight accomplishments in your annual report.

Why not share these in an infographic instead of the usual laundry list of statistics and accomplishments?   Here some examples. A Great Nonprofit Annual Report in a Fabulous Infographic

Brochures are becoming a relic of the past, but what if you want an informational print piece to give to potential donors or volunteers?  An oversize infographic postcard could be the way to go.

The Infographic Cheatsheet for Nonprofits

4 Steps to Making an Infographic for Your Nonprofit

Keep sharing engaging stories of all kinds with your donors.

Photo by Sam Javenrouh

Stay Connected Throughout the Year by Using a Communications Calendar

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Donor retention continues to lag. One reason is people feel they only hear from the nonprofits they support when the organizations are asking for money.

You need to communicate with your donors throughout the year.  If you’re feeling stressed about how you’re going to pull this off, then you need a communications calendar (also known as an editorial calendar).

I like the term communications calendar because it emphasizes the importance of communicating with your donors and other supporters all year round.

This is not just a job for your marketing department. All departments need to work together.  Figure out what information you need to share and when to share it.  You want a consistent stream of information – not three emails in one day and nothing for three weeks.

As you put together your communications calendar, think about how you will use different channels and which audience(s) should receive your messages. You may only send direct mail a few times a year, but send an e-newsletter once a month and communicate by social media several times a week. You’ll often use a number of different channels when you send out a fundraising appeal or promote an event.

Start big by looking at the entire year and then break it down by months and weeks.  You’ll keep adding to your communications calendar throughout the year.

Keep all your communication audience-centered and emphasize how you are making a difference for the people you serve and in the community.

Here are some categories you can use in your communications calendar. Some items will be time sensitive and others won’t be.

Events
Does your organization hold any events? Besides your events, are there other events in your community that would be of interest to your supporters? This is a great thing to share on social media.

Legislation
Advocacy alerts are a wonderful way to engage with your supporters. Be on the lookout for any federal or state legislation that’s relevant to your organization. Encourage people to contact their legislators about an issue or a bill. Then report back to them with any updates, and thank them for getting involved.

Time of year
Is there something going on during a particular month that is pertinent to your organization? Perhaps it’s homelessness awareness month or your organization was founded in March 1985.

Thanksgiving, the holidays, and winter can be a difficult time for some people. How can you weave that into your mission?

News stories
You won’t be able to predict news stories in advance. However, if there’s a hot item in the news right now that’s relevant to the work you do, that could be something to share.

Fundraising and recruitment

Be sure to add your fundraising appeals to your communications calendar. You want to highlight these and not inundate your donors with a lot of other information at that time.

If your organization has specific times it needs to recruit volunteers, add that to your calendar, as well.

Thank your donors
Figure out different ways to let your donors know how much you appreciate them. Do this at least once a month.

Ongoing content
If you’re making a difference, you have stories to tell. Share a story at least once a month. Client success stories are best. You could also profile a board member, volunteer, donor, or staff member.  Be sure to highlight what drew them to your organization.

Keep it up
As you hear about other relevant information, add it to your calendar, so you can stay connected with your supporters throughout the year.

Here is more information to help you create a communications/editorial calendar.

Take Charge of Your Communications with LightBox Collaborative’s 2015 Editorial Calendar

Editorial Calendars – Resources for You

Does Your Website Need a Tune Up?

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker
Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

When was the last time you took a good, hard look at your website?  As summer winds down, and we start getting ready for year-end fundraising, you want to make sure your website is up-to-date, easy to read and navigate,welcoming, and audience-centered.

How does your website fare?  Use the checklist below to find out.

Home page

Your home page is often the first place a newcomer will visit. Make it an entryway to the rest of your website.

  • Is it free of clutter and easy to navigate and read?
  • Does it include an engaging photo and a small amount of text, such as a tagline or position statement?
  • If you are highlighting something such as an event, is the information up-to-date, and is it the most newsworthy item you can feature?
  • Does it include a Donate Now button that’s prominent without being tacky?
  • Does it include a newsletter sign up box and social media icons?
  • Is the navigation bar easy to use?
  • Does it include a search feature?

Donation page
More people donate online now.  Get your donation page in shape for your year-end appeal.

  • Is it easy to use?
  • Does it include a strong call to action with the same messages as all your other fundraising appeals?
  • Does it show how the donation will be used and what different amounts will fund?
  • Does it include an option for recurring gifts?
  • Does it have an engaging photo?
  • After someone donates, does it take the person to a thank you landing page and generate a thank you email?

The rest of your pages
Now take some time to look at the rest of your web pages.

  • Are they easy to read/scan and navigate?
  • Do all your pages have a consistent look?
  • Is the content well written in a conversational style (no jargon) and free of grammatical errors and typos?
  • Are your pages audience-centered? Remember, some visitors know you well and others don’t. A person visiting your volunteer page may not know much about your organization, so you will need to include a compelling description of what you do.
  • Do your pages contain a clear call to action? For example, your volunteer page should make someone want to volunteer.
  • Does each page have one or two photos related to its subject matter? Going back to your volunteer page, you could include a photo of volunteers interacting with clients.
  • Is all the content up-to-date?
  • Do all your links work?
  • Do all your pages include a Donate Now button, navigation bar, social media icons, a newsletter sign up box, and a search feature, so your visitors don’t have to go back to the home page?
  • Are you using analytics to see how often people visit your pages? If you have pages that aren’t generating a lot of interest, assess why that’s happening. You may need to make the page more enticing or take it down.
  • Do you periodically survey your supporters to get feedback about your website?
  • Is your website mobile and tablet friendly? Use responsive design to make it easy to read on any device.  Is Your Website Optimized for Mobile Devices?
  • Is there other content you should include (or take out)?

After you’ve made any necessary changes, have someone who isn’t as familiar with your organization (maybe a friend or family member) look at your website to see if the content is clear and that it’s easy to navigate.

Remember, your goal is to have a website that’s welcoming and audience-centered for everyone from first-time visitors to long-time supporters.

Read on for more information on creating a great website.

Nonprofit Website 101

If Google were a nonprofit, what would its website look like?

The Top 10 Elements Of An Effective Nonprofit Website

Is it Time for a Message Makeover?

What would happen if you got your staff or board together and asked them to give a short description of what your organization does? Would you get a variety of different answers?

Now take a look at some of your communication materials – fundraising letters, thank you letters, website etc. Are your messages consistent in all your materials? Are they written in clear, conversational language or are they filled with mind-numbing jargon?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, then it’s time for a message makeover.

Create a message platform
Putting together a set of clear, consistent messages, also known as a message platform, is a good project for you to take on this summer.

Now whenever you create a fundraising letter or content for your website, you can draw material from this set of messages.

Having a consistent set of messages is essential when you have more than one person writing for your organization and as new staff or volunteers come on board. All your materials need continuity and a single voice.

Everyone in your organization – staff, board, volunteers – is a message ambassador, and needs to be involved. Although, that doesn’t mean they should be involved in every step of the process.


You may want to get some initial input from staff and board. Ask everyone a few key questions, such as:

  • Who is your target audience? You may need to cater different messages to different audiences.
  • What is important to them?

As you create your positioning statement and talking points, ask:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • How do you do it?
  • Why is it important?
  • What makes your organization unique?
  • How are you making a difference for the people you serve and in the community?
  • What do you want to achieve?

Keep it simple
This may sound obvious, but your goal is to make sure your reader understands your message. Your messages should be clear, specific, and include a call to action. Again, they need to be conversational, so avoid using jargon. Most people respond better to a human interest story than a lot of statistics.

Your messages should not say something like – We make a difference for at-risk students. Instead, say Our volunteer tutors help students boost their reading and math skills so they’ll have a better chance to get into college.

Use language your donors will understand
Have someone outside your organization, a friend or family member, look at your messages. Something that’s clear to you may be confusing to others. What Does That Mean?

Stay consistent with a style guide
Continuing on the theme of consistency, I strongly recommend putting together a style guide. Create a Style Guide for Your Organization

Get everyone on board
A small group – marketing staff and board members with marketing experience – should put together the message platform and then introduce it to everyone else.

Resources
Here is some more information help to you create a message platform.

The 4 Cornerstones of Your Nonprofit Message Platform  

Build Your Message Team

Getting to Aha! The Nonprofit Marketer’s Top Challenge

Take some time this summer to make sure that your messages and materials are clear and consistent.


Before and After Kitchen Photo by Patrick via Flickr

Freshen Things Up With Some Spring Cleaning

Spring is here, although winter doesn’t seem to want to go away quite yet. 

Spring is a time for new beginnings. It’s a time to clean up what’s old and make room for something new and better.

Many of you may take on spring cleaning projects in your home. Here are a few spring cleaning projects you can do that will benefit your nonprofit organization.


Clean up your mailing lists
Did you have an influx of address changes, returned mail, and bounced emails after you sent out your year-end appeal? Now is a good time to clean up and update both your print and email mailing lists.

Update and improve your donor database
Your donor database is an important tool and you need it to be up-to-date and filled with accurate information about your donors.

Your database is not just a place to keep addresses and gift amounts.  Use it to its full potential.  Are you using that all wrong? Segment your donors, and record any personal information such as conversations you had with a donor and their areas of interest. 
Don’t cut corners when it comes to data entry and having a good database. Having High Standards is Important, Especially When It Comes to Data Entry.

Be ready for your next mailing
Even though it’s tedious, have someone who is familiar with your donors (your development director?) go through your mailing lists and database to see if you need to make any additions, changes, and deletions.

This is crucial if you are planning a spring appeal or event.

Update your website
Has it been awhile since your updated your website? Even with the popularity of social media, people will go to your website for information, whether they are first-time visitors or long-time supporters. 
Your website must be up-to-date and user-friendly.  Use this checklist to help you create an effective and engaging website. A Website Checklist
Out with the old – In with the new
Now is a good time to look at your 2014 fundraising and marketing plans to figure out what’s working and what isn’t.  If you never created these plans, then one of your first priorities should be to do that.  Don’t go through 2014 without having any plans.
Perhaps you aren’t connecting with people on Google+ or that online auction you’ve had for years takes too much time for the amount of money you raise. 
You may be reluctant to let go of something, but just as if you were going through your closet at home, sometimes you need to get rid of your old, favorite sweater.  Spring Clean Your Fundraising Program…by Throwing Things Out! 
You may want to try something new this spring, but don’t just jump into the latest craze.  You’ll need to decide what makes sense for your organization.
Also, focus on what you can do better.  Instead of trying a new type of social media, work on starting conversations and building relationships on Facebook and Twitter.

Take some time to make the updates and changes you need. What types of spring cleaning projects do you plan to work on?

Photo by Liz Lawley via Flickr