Tag Archives: nonprofit communications

The Missing Link in your Storytelling Strategy

It’s easy to find advice on how to write the perfect story. We’ve all read those blogs and we’ve attended those webinars. But the truth is, writing the story is just one piece of the puzzle.

Every story has a lifecycle. Collection, writing, editing, sharing. And this process takes an enormous amount of time.

What do you do after it’s written and shared? How do you make sure that you’re using the story effectively? Or that in a few years, you can revive it to do an update? How do you make sure you’re not retelling one or two stories over and over again?

If you’re asking any of those questions, you need a storytelling strategy.

This strategy (which hopefully fits in your communications plan) should make the most out of every story you produce. It makes sure you aren’t retelling the same, tired tales over and over, but it also ensures you aren’t producing one-hit wonders that you never use again.

The key aspect of this strategy is to have a place to keep your stories (And no, it’s not your blog or your website). It’s a place where all your stories are catalogued to easily copy and paste, tailor to different audiences, and even filter depending on demographic data pertinent to your clients.

It’s called a Digital Story Bank, and you need one. Using this spreadsheet, you’ll be able to save time and increase the efficacy of your stories.

This is a simple Excel document that allows you to collect all your stories in one place, customize each story depending on audience, and filter your stories based on crucial data. It’s fully customizable and doesn’t require any new software. Just a simple solution made by someone who’s worn all the hats. And you can download it for free.


Increase efficiency by saving long- and medium-length stories to reuse again and again


Make each story more effective by customizing it for three core audiences and goals


Use drop downs to help you filter stories based on crucial information on demographics, saving you valuable time when grantwriting

Visit my Free Digital Story Bank page to download it. While it won’t completely create your storytelling strategy, it will give you a place to start. If you need more help creating one, drop me a line. I’d be thrilled to help your best stories get to your most important stakeholders.


5 Hashtag #Mistakes Your Nonprofit May Be Making

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 3.17.01 PM.pngThe following is a guest blog I wrote for Williams Whittle. I hope you enjoy it!

Hashtags are so commonplace now, they’ve become a part of daily life (at least on the internet). They are a quick, easy way to join an existing conversation and amplify your message to even more people.

However, if you don’t use them strategically, they could be hurting you, rather than helping you. Here are some things your nonprofit could be doing wrong.

1- Not using hashtags

This is an easy one. Hashtags are a proven way to get more engagement on your posts—if you do them well. Tweets with hashtags get twice the engagement as tweets without hashtags. Tweets with hashtags are 55% more likely to get retweeted. And for Instagram, the numbers are even more striking: posts with 11+ hashtags get the most engagement. However, make sure you don’t overdo it, because you could be…

2- Using too may hashtags

A recent study found that using too may hashtags actually lowered engagement. On Facebook, by increasing the number of hashtags from 2 to 3, engagement dropped almost 25%. The general rule is the 2 is right number of hashtags for Facebook and Twitter, but you can use more on other networks such as Instagram, Vine, and Pinterest. And even if you’re using the right number of hashtags, you could be…

3- Not doing your research

Hashtags can feel like a shot in the dark. You’re picking from a wide field, and sometimes your choices can feel arbitrary. But by using tools such as Hastagify.me to find what hashtags are being used in your cause, and who the main influencers are, you can see who and where the existing conversations about your cause are happening. Because when your nonprofit is silent during big conversations, you’re the one that’s missing out. And one big missed opportunity is if you are…

4- Not jumping on conference hashtags

Conversations at conferences are not just happening in person. Many conferences take advantage of the rapt audience to increase their online engagement by using custom hashtags. By joining that conversation, you can build your audience with other like-minded professionals. The best network for this is Twitter, but when you arrive at the conference (or even just following the conversation from across the country), check what social networks and custom hashtags the host organization will be using. By owning this conversation, host organizations can amplify their following, but that’s because they are putting significant time, energy, and money into the conference. Your nonprofit, if not putting in that time, energy, and money could be making a mistake by…

5- Creating custom hashtags

Big brands line Coke and Nike have been creating custom hashtags to support their campaigns since the beginning of hashtags. They have been able to do that because their following is significant enough, and they are putting enough money behind the hashtag, to have it gain traction. However, if you have a limited budget and limited time, creating your own hashtags may be more effort than its worth. If you do want to create a custom hashtag, make sure it’s one that you are consistent with. Don’t throw too many out there and expect them all to go viral.

What else should nonprofits NOT be doing with hashtags? Tweet us at @ahcarney and  @williamswhittle to let us know what you think!

4 Easy Things You Can Do to Measure Your Nonprofit’s Communications

In PR, variables and exceptions go on forever. There’s no one answer to any question, and there really aren’t any blanket statements that help your nonprofit (except maybe don’t give your social media passwords to your intern).

So when a nonprofit wants to improve their communications, it takes some research. There are too many variables to just assume that X is better than Y for every nonprofit. Determining what works takes time, and often money.

But if you’re a small nonprofit, with little or no budget, how do you measure your communications? Well, here are a few free tips that may help.

ONE: Set up Google Analytics

Just do it. Set up the web tracking code and get going (in fact, Google has a whole program just to help nonprofits and they’ll even help you get analytics set up). Here’s a blog post that helps in figure out what you should be tracking on analytics. My suggestion? Just pick 2 key performance metrics (KPIs) to track for 6 months. Maybe it’s arrivals to your donation page, maybe it’s how people get to your site, maybe it’s an advocacy link, you decide. Just track it and see how your other communications are supporting that.

TWO: Start measuring social

I know, I know. It’s a pain. But trust me, it’s worth it. Here’s a handy social media tracking spreadsheet from Nonprofit Tech for Good that is an awesome start. My only suggestion is to add in some qualitative data as well. Save images of some of your best-performing posts or high-quality conversations. They will make your board report much more interesting, and give then real-life examples of how your work is helping the organization.

THREE: Try A/B testing your subject lines

When you’re about to send an e-mail, take your list and split it in half. Write one subject like for one group (“Are You an Alien?”) and another for the other group (“10 Reasons You’re Probably an Alien”). See which one performs better, and record it. I would recommend keeping a simple word document of all the good subject lines in one list and all the bad ones in another. After 20 or so e-mails, see what trends emerge.

FOUR: Sync fundraising and communications

Odds are good that even if you are looking at opens and clicks, you aren’t comparing that with how many donations came in from each action. So, sit down with your development person (or if you do both, talk to yourself loudly in a public space), find spikes in donations and determine where they came from. Did a certain e-mail message cause a spike in donations? Do you ever get visits to the donation page from Facebook? Twitter? Instagram?

Now, these are by no means an exhaustive list. But if you only have an hour a week to spend measuring, I promise it’s worth it. The data you glean from these four metrics will help you improve your organizations work and give you data to prove just how awesome you are at your job.

Any other tips for free or low-cost evaluation tools?

Happily Ever After: Why Nonprofits Should Commit to Communications

It has become common knowledge all nonprofits need to invest in communications. At the very minimum, they need to have a website and some messaging. Steps above that may include social media, traditional media relations, branding, e-mail marketing, and much more. But many of these investments are made as a big, one-time investment (i.e. “We need a new website” or “we need a social media strategy”). But the reality is that these investments mean nothing if not paired with ongoing funding.

Just like a realtor handing you the keys to your new house, your investment in communications doesn’t end when the site goes live or a strategy is handed to you by a consultant. For a house, you still need to clean the gutters, repaint the exterior, and pray that you don’t need to replace the roof anytime soon. And communications is no different.

One of the best examples of this is in a nonprofit’s website, partly because the rate of change in the web is so extraordinarily fast, but also because your nonprofit is also constantly creating new content, such as events, photos, donation appeals, etc. This content needs to be organized and shared. So even though your nonprofit is creating content, you need a way to organize it, turn it into stories, and communicate it creatively and concisely. And that takes commitment.

For example, if you are a nonprofit employee fighting for funds for your website, a commitment to communications means you need to include line items for maintenance and content creation. Your budget is only $10k? Then tell the person who is creating your site that $8k of that is for the website, and $1k is for maintenance for the next year. And then use the last $1k to make the copy and photos on your website as good as they can be.

One of my friends, Ernesto said it best:


Communications is not a one-time fee. Communications is a commitment by your organization to tell your story well, which requires long-term funding and support from the entire organization. Only when you make that commitment, can your nonprofit and its communications live happily ever after.