Tag Archives: strategy

Powerful and Practical: Nonprofit Social Media Success on Twitter

POWERFUL-AND-PRACTICAL-Nonprofit-Success-on-TwitterNonprofits 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 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.

For Twitter, visuals are great and should be included, but are not completely necessary. Just a simple tweet with a fact, quote, or even observation can get the same amount of engagement as a tweet with a great visual.

In early 2017, the most retweeted tweet of all time was a photo that Ellen DeGeneres posted from the Oscars, with about 10 other radically famous people). What surpassed her?

A high-schooler who wanted free chicken nuggets for a year.

Now, that is viral content, which no one should expect their nonprofit to produce. A steady stream of relevant and engaging content is far more important than viral content. Some of my most valuable content for my clients has come from the following:

• Reports (data, stories, etc.)
• News
• Local events
• Competing local organizations (seriously!)
• National organizations with a similar focus
• Local celebrities
• Local reporters

When should you post?

This is the ongoing debate, and you’ll never get a final answer. My general rule of thumb is to tweet earlier in the morning (before noon), which is backed up by this Buffer study. But honestly, it’s not as important as when you tweet as how often you tweet.

The biggest thing about Twitter is consistency. You want to make sure that you’re tweeting at least 2 times a day, and hopefully far more than that. Twitter, unlike Facebook, doesn’t ding you for posting too much, which means you have much more freedom to post when/how much you want.

The bottom line: Twitter is about volume, not length. If you find a local news story you think is interesting, pull out quotes, facts, or insights and break it into 4-5 tweets to share over two days. You’ll get multiple bites out of the apple, and will be sharing solid content with your followers.

Other quick tips for boosting engagement:

Don’t link your social accounts
It can be tempting to link your social media accounts, auto-posting a Facebook post to Twitter, or vice versa. But I urge you to not do it! Every social post should be written in a slightly different way, depending on the channel. Twitter posts, of course, have a limit (though that limit has now been doubled to 280 characters, as of September), which should always be respected, to avoid horrible-looking links at the end of your post.

The one exception, however, is Instagram. Ever since Facebook bought Instagram, they work quite nicely together. If your organization has an Instagram account, feel free to auto-post your Instagram photos to Facebook (or Twitter).

Remember links!

Twitter is all about links. Make sure that most (if not all) of your tweets have a link giving people a chance to visit your website, or the original piece of content. And since tweets can be longer now, you have more space to include a hashtag and a link, which doesn’t limit your content too much.

Get verified

Getting verified on social media seems like a headache, but is actually a fairly easy way to stand out among other accounts. It adds that little checkmark on your profile and lets people know that you’re legitimate. Buffer also has a great step-by-step guide for how to get verified.

This is a post I wrote for Williams Whittle, a PR firm in DC that specializes in nonprofits and associations. 


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.

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.




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.

Why Millennials Are Not your Target Audience

Every organization is looking to reach more people. Companies are looking for more clients, nonprofits are looking for donors, and millennials (people aged 18-33) seem like a great target group. But there’s one problem. Just like all 60 year-olds are not the same, neither are 30 year-olds.

Millennials are not an audience.

There are about 92 million Millennials in the country. That’s much larger than Generation X or even Baby Boomers. And that generation, according to the White House, the largest and most diverse generation in country. Just take a look at the racial and ethnic breakdown of millennials from the report.

Screen shot 2015-09-08 at 11.53.44 AM

According to Pew Research Center, millennials are now the largest segment of the U.S. labor force. Just take a look at Pew’s breakdown of Millennials in comparison to other generations. Or, take a look at the variation in their religious affiliation.

So, what is your ideal audience? High school educated? College educated? Working a full-time job? Living in an urban area? All of these factors make a big difference when you’re creating messages and strategies that speak to your target audience. It can mean the difference between finding your audience at a community center, a high-end shopping mall, or a Twitter chat.

Of course, there are things that many Millennials have in common. Many grew up with technology, many are politically liberal, and many are unmarried. And those can be helpful for frames when you decide to target that generation. But those factors do not make a homogenous audience for your organization to target.

So, when you are building your marketing and communications plan, still consider Milliennials as an audience. After all, they’re young, many have disposable income, and they are one of the largest demographics in the U.S. now. Just remember that they are not a homogenous group: they are diverse just like every other age group.