For small nonprofit that have to do in-house marketing and media strategies without experienced communications staff members, don’t worry. You can become your own “mini media mogul” without having to rely on expensive public relations or marketing firms to get your message out.
This is the second of a three-part series devoted to nonprofit marketing, based on Kivi Leroux Miller’s book, The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause. Now in its second edition, it’s become a staple reference book in my nonprofit management library, and you should consider getting it, too.
Make It Easy for People to Find and Connect with You
You want to be sure that you are in the places where people are going to look to find organizations like yours. If you’re an animal rescue group, you want to be plugged into the network of other animal-related groups in your geographic area (e.g., other NGOs, veterinarians, groomers, retail pet stores, etc.) – make sure that they know who you are, what you do, how to get in touch with you, how you complement their services for greater value-added impact, and the best way that they can refer people to you. For example, if you want people to call your hotline, give them a business card with that number in large, bold print. If you want them to visit your website, do the same for your URL on a card. Don’t try to include everything about you and your group – people shut down. One critical piece of information as a ‘take away piece’ is memorable– and therefore very effective.
Website: Suffice it to say, many nonprofits struggle with their website presence. For the purpose of this topic, make sure that the top three search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) know how to “find you”. The way to that is through poignant, tight text on your website that describes what you do and who you serve. You may find that the language you use to accomplish that is very different from that in your mission statement. So be sure that your website is chock-full of straight-forward, conversational language because that’s the language that people will be typing into their Google searches to find your organization.
Keep it Updated. If your content is outdated, particularly on the home page, people tend to second guess whether you’ve got your act together and consequently hesitate to take the next step to join your community. Take some steps to reign in control of your website and how it’s administered. If your website is so technical on the ‘back-end’ that you need an IT consultant to make even the most minor update, consider having your website re-designed and residing in a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress. It’ll be very easy to change in-house without having to wait for an ‘expert’ whom you have to pay big buck to make even the simplest of changes. I see this a lot – small nonprofits can’t afford to change their content regularly, so they wait and “save up” the time for when they have a block of changes, and only then call their IT consultant. Then, they have to wait until that person can carve time out of their busy schedule in order for the changes to be implemented. In the meantime, it’s now spring and you still have information about your annual Thanksgiving Day Fun Run on your homepage, an outdated newsletter, and occasional typos. It looks very unprofessional, and you have to ask the reasonable question of why anybody would want to donate to, volunteer with, or become a member of your community when you’re not projecting your “A-Game”.
If you’re thinking, “Well, that’s easy for you to say. We don’t have the funds to do a website overhaul.” Having been in your shoes before, I do know this reality and would highly suggest applying for a capacity-building grant for a complete website re-design, content re-write, and content management system (CMS) training. Also, make friends with those who have the technical skills to assist in the process. I’ve done it – you can, too – for much less time and hassle than you’d imagine. To that end, I can make a recommend – Yikes, Inc., based in Philadelphia, is a ‘small but mighty’ web design and development company that has a penchant for catapulting small nonprofits into the spotlight with their fabulous redesigns and ‘back-end’ training. Best of all . . . they have highly-skilled technical staff who can actually speak the language of normal people like us. You’ll get more than you expect, for a great price, from people who really care. Give Yikes, Inc. a try – you’ll love their work.
Facebook: Social media is another popular and pervasive online platform. By now, every organization should be on Facebook. Get your page established, post images, quotes, stories, etc. and start a dialog with your community so that people can find you and provide direct feedback.
Email: Email marketing is the best way to charge up your online fundraising; it’s direct and more personal. It’s easy for you to connect with your donors/members, and in turn, for them to share your message with their networks. The more people who spread the word about your organization, the more you grow! The most popular email marketing platform is Constant Contact. Personally, I use Vertical Response for my clients and really enjoy using the easy-to-use templates and surveys; the statistics and overall performance data are wonderful tools to track how well you’re reaching your target audience
Position Yourself as an Expert Source of Information for the Media
You want people to come to you for their information. Be a super-helpful resource within your community – both with the media and among key decision-makers – a “connector” in network parlance. As a connector, you provide helpful advice, keep apprised of the latest developments in your field and your community, and know other people to whom you can refer others for additional information. You also should to be publishing.
Wait . . . what?
Yes, you read that correctly. I’m not referring to books necessarily, but theme-based blogs and white papers that people can download from your website, as well as brochures and other communication pieces on behalf of your organization. Connectors are always looking for public speaking engagements within their community. If you can schedule a presentation with your local Rotary, Garden Club, Chamber of Commerce meeting, etc., it’s an excellent way to position yourself as an accessible, primary source of information and a an indispensable community resource. Go for it!
You don’t have to wait for media sources to come to you – and you absolutely shouldn’t. You can be your own do-it-yourself mini media mogul because the tools are so pervasive, inexpensive, and easy-to-use.. Consider yourself your own multimedia publishing company that “gets the message out there”. Forget about the long, quarterly print newsletter. There was a time when that approach was effective, but no more. In this age of frenetic activity and short-attention span, your goal is to communicate with your audience more frequently – in shorter, more digestible messages through different channels (blogs, postcards, short letters, social media, emails, etc).
The effect of this is that your audience feels as though you’re up-to-date on what’s going on, and doing things in a way that honors and respects their limited time and energy. It also lets your personality and organizational culture really shine through in ways that might not have been possible with that lengthy quarterly newsletter.
Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude
Recognize the essential role that your community plays in getting your important work done. No organization or executive director is an island, no matter how awesome it/she may be. You rely on your community to help you get your work done, so be sure to express your thanks and gratitude to your clients, partnerships, and the community at large.
Today’s conversation is all about establishing community and telling the stories of your organization and the people and communities whom you serve. Don’t make the conversation be all about you and/or your organization – let your donors, community, clients, and volunteers really shine. Make sure that you’re constantly expressing gratitude to those whose help you simply cannot do without.
For donors, they especially like to be thanked for their gifts and also to receive feedback on how their gift was used to make a difference for the causes about which they care deeply. Surprisingly, small nonprofit organizations aren’t doing a stellar job of thanking or demonstrating impact. So consider if you’re thanking your donors enough (or at all), in what ways, and whether you can do a better job at demonstrating how their gift made a difference. (Hint: One the most impactful and poignant ways of thanking a donor? Pick up the phone . . . you know, that clunky putty-colored thing on your desk.) You’ll really set yourself apart by treating your donors as partners and investors in your cause and reporting back to them about how their investment translated into action for change. It’s an easy but cunning strategy because most nonprofits do a lousy job at this – you’ll stand head-and-shoulders above your nonprofit peers.
Don’t be shy about including the ‘hard’ information about the money – tell your community about how their money is spent. In an age of increasing financial scrutiny and transparency, you’ll be a hero who inspires confidence in your donors and sound leadership.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Once you’re doing a great job of communicating with your community, the next step is to empower them to go out and be your advocates and evangelists to promote the work that you’re doing. In order for them to do that, you have to be relaxed about ‘volunteer talking points’ and allow people to talk about your awesome work in their own language, their own style, and from their own experiences. Make sure they’re educated about the major points of what your organization does and how it does it and what is unique and special about you, but don’t expect them to be “mini-me’s” – let them have fun with it. When you let go of control, they can relax and really let their passion and enthusiasm come through. That’s the hook – it’s not the data – their passion will be contagious.
Think about that – this allows you to tap into the networks of some of the biggest fans you have. You’re now multiplying your potential impact and messaging. Not everybody on your email list or Facebook ‘fan page’ falls into this category – you want to be selective about who the messenger is. One you’ve identified them, be sure to carve out some time to meet with them – make them feel special and cultivate them.