Tag Archives: communications

Powerful and Practical Social Media: Facebook for Nonprofits

Nonprofits are always struggling with getting noticed. One of the best ways to get noticed is through social media, but it’s also one of the hardest. So how do you get through the noise? Our Powerful and Practical Social Media series helps you break through to get your message heard!

What’s your purpose (on social)?

Social media gets a lot of attention from marketers, but it should only be one channel within your larger communication strategy. Consider the Hub and Spoke model where your website is the hub with all your content, and your spokes share out the information and draw people in to your website, where they can take further action. Social media is just one of your spokes, and each channel is slightly different.

Given that, consider how your “social media spoke” best supports the whole wheel. What audience is best for you to target on social media? What content do you have that’s the best fit for social? What tone fits that audience, your content, and your brand? Once you define those three things, your social media has a strategy. Next, it’s about how each channel can be optimized for that particular audience.

What do you post?

Your content is the next piece of the puzzle. Once you have your social media goals laid out, it’s about determining what content will inspire your audience to help you achieve that goal.

In terms of what types of content to post for the best engagement, think about (and write down) your typical follower. What are they interested in? What do they want to learn about or improve upon? Use that as a guide for your content.

In general, Facebook is all about visuals. Links are great, but make sure that they have a great image (or a video) attached to them. The best content on Facebook will be useful, relevant, and visually appealing. Much of this content can start on your blog, where most of your content should live.

One of my most successful Facebook posts was for one of my clients, Art with Heart. Art with Heart creates therapeutic workbooks for children and teens to help them work through trauma and grief. Given that, much of their Facebook presence was about creativity and healing. At the beginning of the year, I wrote a blog post about self-care projects to kick off 2016, and our Facebook audience loved it.

It easily became one of our most popular posts, getting shared widely and getting lots of good engagement. It also drew many new followers to us, growing our audience and potential donor base. And that was because it was useful, relevant, and it had a great image up top.

The most important aspect of your post is obviously the content. And a recent Hubspot study found that for pages with a smaller following, “with less than 10,000 followers that post more than 60 times a month receive 60% fewer clicks per post than those companies that post 5 or fewer times a month.”

When should you post? 

The most important thing to know about Facebook is that the odds are definitely NOT in your favor in terms of getting noticed. Facebook makes more money the more time people spend on Facebook, and people generally log into Facebook to see posts from their friends and family, not the pages they follow. Given that, Facebook wants to limit page content as much as possible. So, as a page, you are automatically at a disadvantage.

Every social media blog will tell you there are certain times of day that will beat the Facebook algorithm that knocks down your content. You’ll see suggestions for 4-6AM or 2-3PM or weekends, and the hard truth is that no one really knows. The best time for your content is dictated by your followers, not the algorithm. So you want to know the best time for them, which you won’t be able to know without – you guessed it – A/B testing!

The good news is that it’s free. The bad news is that it’s time consuming.

The best way to do it is to spend one month posting at one time of day on the weekdays, and another on the weekends. Once you’ve set that standard, change the times.

The important thing is to only test one variable at a time. It’s best to use time that’s far away from a major event or giving day, if possible. If it’s not possible, do your best to correct for that traffic that could skew your numbers.

Other quick tips for boosting engagement:

Pin to top

Have a post with high engagement? Pin it to the top of your page so people see an engaging post as soon as they visit your page.

Invite people who like your posts to like your Facebook page

When you have a post with high engagement, you can see who liked it, and invite them to like your page as well, so they see your future posts. It is probably one of the most effective, yet underused, features on Facebook.

Get verified

Getting your Facebook page verified is an easy and useful step to help your engagement. It’s easy to do with a phone number or letter, though some nonprofits are required to send in their articles of incorporation.

Schedule natively

The Facebook algorithm will give preferential treatment to posts that were scheduled natively on Facebook, as opposed to a third-party client, such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. So if you are scheduling posts for later, make sure you do it on Facebook itself, as opposed to using a third-party client.

When it comes to social media, it can seem daunting for some organizations. But with these smart tips, you’ll start to see Facebook help build successes for your nonprofit.

This is a post I wrote for Williams Whittle.


Should your Nonprofit Be on Instagram?

Nonprofit-instagramInstagram has become an effective outlet for many nonprofits, including UN Foundation, To Write Love on Her Arms, and the ASPCA. But many nonprofits have struggled with the platform, finding little success in their hard work.

As a nonprofit, you have limited time and resources. So, I encourage you to ask yourself: is Instagram a good fit for my organization’s needs? Ask yourself these three questions to determine whether or not it’s the right decision for your organization.

Is your audience on Instagram?

Before you decide to spend time on a communications channel, you should always first consider which audience you are trying to reach. So, first do some research on who is on the platform, and if your target markets are there.

Here is some information to get you started. In 2015, Pew Research Center did a report on Instagram demographics, and found some useful information for nonprofit marketers:

  • 31 percent of women and 24 percent of men regularly use Instagram to like, share, and post.
  • Among teenagers ages 13 to 17 years-old, 23 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys use Instagram.
  • 55 percent of all online 18- to 29-year olds in the U.S. are using Instagram, as opposed to only four percent of adults over 65 years of age.
  • 32 percent of online adults who live in urban areas are using Instagram. A little further out in the suburbs, you can find 28 percent of users, and way out in the country, a mere 18 percent of Instagram users.
  • Instagram has 500 million users, 300 million of whom use the social channel every day, but only 20% of Instagram users are located in the United States, constituting about 89.4 million users.

To sum up all that information, Instagram tends to be young and urban. And while many donors are older, what is your organization doing to cultivate the next generation of donors? Instagram may be a good way to start engaging them now to develop that pipeline.

Does your organization have great visual content?


from CDN-Webimages

We all know cats rule the internet. There are lots of reasons for this, not the least of which is that people love seeing pictures of them. And if all nonprofits were cat-focused, the sector would be dominating the Insta-sphere.

But as we know, lots of nonprofits don’t naturally create awesome visual content. When I worked for a capacity building organization, I quickly found out that I could only post so many pictures of meetings and trainings before my content got stale. And the same will go for many association, advocacy, grantmaking, training, and health-focused nonprofits.

If you’re in this category, right off the bat you know that you’re going to spend extra time coming up with visual content. You’re going to need to be creating images with statistics, quotes, or even putting together a photo shoot to get high-quality pictures to save for later. It’s not going to be easy, but you will get the hang of it. Don’t forget that content can definitely be useful down the road and you can also use it on your other platforms.

Now, if your nonprofit is a zoo, museum, or animal shelter, then you will probably not need to worry about content. As long as you have access to take the photos, you will have lots of content at your finger tips, ready to post.

Do you have the time for Instagram?

Even if your nonprofit has high-quality, daily content that you can share, you’re still going to need to dedicate some significant time to your Instagram channel.

Depending on how easy it is for you to generate good content, I would budget 3-5 hours per week. Once you get the hang of it, you could whittle that number down, but start with that as an estimate.

To make it as effective as possible, you’re going to need to do the following:

  • Create and edit images
  • Post at least once per day
  • Use 5-10 hashtags per post
  • Test the best time to post
  • Engage on other pages every day

Each of these steps is essential to an effective Instagram presence. Do you have the time for all of it? If not, maybe doubling down on an existing channel is a better use of your time.

I hope this has helped you determine whether or not your organization should start an Instagram account! Have other ideas? Share them on Twitter @williamswhittle or @ahcarney.

This blog post originally appeared on Williams Whittle’s website.

What To Do When Your Giving Day Goes Wrong

Man stepping in gumOn May 3rd, nonprofit staff members across the country cried out in frustration as their giving day platforms shut down during Give Local America, a single day of giving across 54 communities. The failure came after weeks (or months) of nonprofits communicating with their donors to build momentum for this fundraising blitz. And on the day, around 10am EST, it all crashed.

The software platform behind the donation processing, Kimbia, was ultimately the one responsible for the crash, and while they have posted a detailed description of what actually caused the malfunction, it did little to assuage the frustration of nonprofits.

As someone who was with nonprofit staff during two problem-ridden giving days (at both Seattle’s GiveBIG and a Washington, D.C.’s 2013 Do More 24), I can safely say that a failing giving day is more or less a worst-case scenario. You have been imploring everyone on your e-mails lists and social channels for weeks, and now the donors who are actively trying to support you are frustrated. So what do you do?

Here are a few tips to guide you through the mayhem.

Step 0-6. Communicate frequently and truthfully on social media and your website

Throughout the process, at every step, communicate with your donors in a public way. You want them to know you are working on it and feel their pain. However, notice that I specifically do not mention e-mail here. Donors in your community are getting one billion e-mails during this day, so save your e-mails for big announcements to encourage donations, as opposed to “We hear you and we’re working on it!” announcements.

Step 1. Communicate with your giving day host.

All giving days are hosted by a local organization. It’s usually your community foundation, but it could be a nonprofit association or a United Way. Get in touch with them and see what’s happening. They may not have an answer (technical slow-downs often take time to diagnose), but there’s a chance they do. It’s at least worth a phone call.

In addition, sometimes the host will honor donations made through your own website/giving platform if theirs is malfunctioning. See if this is an option, which gives you an immediate solution for donors. But if they say they won’t honor those donations for the giving day, then you’ll need another solution.

Aside: The 2016 Give Local America glitches were caused by the software, so the hosts could not fix the platform itself. Despite this, one foundation stepped up to solve the problem. They provided volunteers around the city to collect checks, a phone bank (at their own expense), and a way for folks to donate through their own website. This was the Bozeman Area Community Foundation, and I swear I get teary-eyed just thinking about it. I donated to them that day, to a community I have never been to. Dear Bozeman: I love you. Sorry if that’s weird.

Step 2. Come up with a solution for eager donors to qualify for giving day donations.

For GiveBIG, donations through their platform qualify for matching donations and other prizes. Our solution to still get our donations to qualify as GiveBIG contributions was to have our donors call us so we could take their credit card and donation info to enter in when the system was up and running again. However, our goals were small (under $10k) and this is probably not a viable solution if you’re going to get hundreds of donor calls.

But come up with some solution that you can:

Step 3. Come up with deadline to change your call to action (i.e. Devise Plan B)

Both times I have been involved in a failing giving day, they platform was not up and running until late at night or the next day (because the deadline was extended). If we had decided “By noon, we will direct everyone to our website for donations, regardless of the giving day match,” we would have been able to harness that energy we had spent so much time building.

Step 4. Before that deadline, devise a new, sexy incentive.

Woodland Park Zoo (yes, I am a member, and no, they have never accepted my baby animal names) did this expertly well. At 1:30, they announced an anonymous donor would match all donations, up to $10,000, made on their website.

Zoo announces giving day match of 10,000

Many donors give during giving days because their donation gets stretched. By offering to stretch donations themselves, the Zoo was able to incentivize donors who were waiting for the platform to get back up and running.

Try reaching out to board members or other donors you are close to, and see if they would be willing to help in this last-minute, 911 way. It’s a good fit for some donors, but not for everyone, so be careful when you ask! Another option is to reach out to some businesses to get coupons, discount codes, or some other incentive to get people to donate.

Step 5. E-mail all the people with your new call to action and incentive.

If you reach your deadline and the site is not up and running, it’s time to enact Plan B. You have the new call to action, and you have the sexy, new incentive. However! It is vital you come up with a snappy subject line. Do NOT waste this moment to write another “Give today to support kids/puppies/seahorse scientists” e-mail. It will get deleted. Full stop. Hell, you could write, “This e-mail sucks,” and get better opens than you would get with that nonsense.

….Don’t use that either, though. Trust me, I have a master’s degree in this stuff.

Instead, write a subject line that’s interesting and off beat. And for the love of all that is holy, do not use any of the following words: give, donate, support, or help.

Step 6. You’re still doing Step 0-6, right?

Because you should be.

And that’s it! Now, these steps may not guarantee you the best results possible, but it will focus your energies and prevent you from completely losing your mind (perhaps). And it will make sure that during the whole day, even if things aren’t going as planned, you are able to achieve some goals.

Good luck out there, folks!

Image credit: gratisography.com

How to Create a Nonprofit Communications Plan from Scratch (Part 2)


This month, YNPN Seattle is posting blogs about “starting from scratch.” They’ll be giving you tips and advice on how to build things from the ground up—without burning out.

My installment in is focused on creating an attainable, effective, and measurable communications plan.

So last week, I shared some tips for sketching out the main goals and audiences for your nonprofit’s communications plan. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you take a look to get prepared for this second post: creating a plan for implementation.

The first thing is to get your document prepared. I prefer a Word document, but you can use Excel if that’s easier for you. Many people, all smarter than I am, have created templates for you to use, so feel free to start off with this one, this one, or find another that works for you.

Step 6: Write down all the major events that your nonprofit cares about.

Elections, awareness days, events, galas, holidays…it all counts. This may take some checking around to see what awareness days are important and who is officially hosting them, but due diligence at this stage pays off big time.

Step 7: Cross check your major events/days with those of your main audience.

The folks you discovered in Step 2? Write down that days/holidays/events their care about. Even if they’re not a perfect fit for your organization, write it down. This is a brainstorming phase, so just make sure it’s on the calendar.

Step 8: Highlight two to three “Action Days”

These are days where you need people to take that action in Step 1. Do they need to vote? RSVP for an event? Volunteer? Make sure you know when you need those people to move their arms and legs to do that thing.

Step 9: Plan out your message in advance of those days.

Take advantage of the events in Step 6 and 7, and use the information you gathered in Step 3 to figure out how and when you will be sharing those messages. Will you be doing a social media campaign? A paper mailing? A billboard? Once you know the best ways to share your message, just time them out in advance of that action day.

Step 10: Plan your content.

These three words are jam-packed with the most work. By doing this, you plan when you need to get your blogs, op-eds, mailings, copy-editing, web edits…you name it. Content is king, but it’s also difficult to produce. So try to space it out so you don’t get slammed one month before a major event.

Step 11: Implement the plan…and fix it as you go.

As you go, you’ll find things that don’t work. Maybe a wrong assumption you made at the beginning of the plan, or a message that just isn’t working for your audience. Instead of repeating it over and over, try something else. Save a space on your document to write down what didn’t work, and review it at the end of the year.

Take a look at a few simple things you can do to evaluate your nonprofit communications as well.

And that’s the way to start off a basic nonprofit communications plan. Want to do something more complex? Talk to a consultant 🙂

Good luck!

How to Create a Nonprofit Communications Plan from Scratch (Part 1)

cookie_dough_ingredients_0This month, YNPN Seattle is posting blogs about “starting from scratch.” They’ll be giving you tips and advice on how to build things from the ground up—without burning out.

My installment in is focused on creating an attainable, effective, and measurable communications plan.

If you’re anything like me, starting from scratch is terrifying. You’re watching the cursor flash on a blank screen or holding a pen to a notepad devoid of notes, and the only thing you can think about is how many other things you could be doing.

Well, I get it. It’s tough. But the beginning of the year is a great time to take stock of the next 12 months, catalog the opportunities in front of you, and make a plan to have a great (or at least effective) 2016.

Step 1: Write down one big thing your nonprofit wants to achieve this year.

And no, it’s not “make a viral video.” Do you want to move legislation? Get more volunteers? Raise awareness* about a cause? Raise money for a new project?** Get more people to vote in an election? Think of that one thing (you may need to talk to program staff or leadership to figure out what that is) and write it at the top of your document. All of your activities should support that goal.

Step 2: Write down the people you’ll need to reach to get there.

And no, it’s not “the public.” Whom will you need to move their arms or legs to get that goal done? Is it middle school students? Graduate students? Senior citizens in your neighborhood? Teachers? People recovering from addiction? Think of 2-3 groups and write them down.

Step 3: Write down how you reach them.

And no, it’s not “social media.” First of all, are these people even on social media? What associations (if any) do they belong to? Are they in a specific geographic community? What websites do they visit? Whom are they already listening to? Likely, there will be many answers to this question. If there’s too many, first brainstorm all the ways to reach that audience, and then pick the top three you think are a good fit.

Step 4: Come up with your message.

If you had one thing to say to them to get them take that action in Step 1, what would it be? What are their self-interests and how do those intersect with those of your nonprofit? If possible, try out your message on a few people first to see if it works.

Step 5: Plan how you’re sharing your message.

So you know whom you’re reaching, where you’re reaching them, and what you’re saying. Now it just comes to making a plan to share the message to the right people at the right time. How do you do that?

Well, you start by tuning in next week!

* A goal for awareness for a small nonprofit is incredibly difficult to measure. Make sure that whatever your goal is, you have a way at the end of the year to measure your progress. So if your goal is to “Raise awareness of the health risks of snowmobiling,” consider changing it to “Ensure all Washington state snowmobile rentals include written warning labels.” That way, even a general awareness campaign helps you get there, but at the end of the year, you know if you succeeded or not.

**It can be a fundraising goal, but make sure you have a purpose to it. “Raise $10k” isn’t a good communications goal. “Raise $10k to revamp one of our classrooms” gives you content as well as a measurable goal.




The Easy Elevator Pitch for your Nonprofit (Part 1)

There is one question that can strike fear into a nonprofit employee’s heart.

“Oh and what does your nonprofit do?”

We all know, of course, what we do. But everyone’s answer may be a little different.  And there is nothing worse than hearing a board member or volunteer’s response and immediately thinking, “Where did THAT come from?”

But how do you fix it? Well, usually it’s to hire a consultant or a firm to do some research (since all nonprofits are different) and come up with a messaging platform. But not all nonprofits have the time or resources to do that. So, here’s an easy (and free!) way to develop a concise, simple elevator pitch that can be used throughout your organization to describe what you do.

The point of this is to make the listener understand the gist of what you do, not every single aspect of your organization. So, when you start writing, think of an audience of 4th graders.

And here is the equation:

Why- What is the problem your organization is trying to solve? (i.e. the need)
What- What do you do to solve the problem?  (i.e. your solution)
How- How do you implement your solution? (i.e. your programs)
Results- What has your organization accomplished? (i.e. proof points)

Let me give you an example: Brewery-to-Home Inc.

Why- Research has found that people are very unproductive when there is no craft beer in their refrigerators.
What- Since everyone’s busy, brewery-to-home delivery is the best way to ensure they never run out of delicious craft beer.
How- Our organization runs a delivery service that provides these people with their beer every week, so they never run out.
Results- We’ve served about 100,000 pints of beer right to peoples’ homes, keeping them happy and productive since 2005.

So, let’s say you’ve done the hard work to write it out. You’ve sat down with your boss and it’s been approved by everyone and you’re ready to go. Now what do you do?

Well, you stay tuned for Part 2.

See you next week!

The Misconception about Nonprofit Communications

There is one thing I hear about my job that bothers me more than anything. And the strange thing is, it’s usually meant as a compliment. Some people look at my work highlighting nonprofits, and they tend to say the same thing: “It’s so great that you’re out there giving a voice to the voiceless.”

I usually respond by furrowing my brow and shaking my head.http://myaudiencematters.com/

It generally becomes clear to me that they do not have experience working with a client who is having trouble, and if they do they are looking at it the wrong way. The people who are characterized as “voiceless” could be those experiencing homelessness, struggling with mental illness, or even stopping by a food bank to get a week’s worth of food. But I would never characterize them as voiceless. Nonprofit clients are struggling, to be sure, and they are in need of support, but they have their own voices. They do not need someone else to create their story. They know their story. They spend every minute of every day living it.

What they need is an audience.

As nonprofit communicators, we do not speak for them. We do not invent their plight. We do not embellish or exaggerate their hardships. We find their stories and we point big arrows in their direction. We draw eyes and ears to it and say, “You need to hear this! This is important!”

We may repackage, we may polish and refine, but I have never seen my job as creating someone else’s voice. The people our region’s nonprofits serve are strong, resilient people who have gone through an immense amount of struggle. My job, as a nonprofit communicator, is to underscore the importance their story carries and use it to help make change in our communities.

You see, we do not create a voice for the voiceless. We repackage these stories, amplify them and spread them to create the highest amount of impact possible.

So if you’re a nonprofit communicator, the next time someone tells you that it is so great you are giving a voice to the voiceless, I urge you to correct them. Let them know you do not give a voice to the voiceless. Tell them that you provide an audience to those who are already speaking.