Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Non Profit Online Marketing

Since I run a successful online service firm, I'm often consulted by friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends...well, you get the idea.... about how to help non profits enter and use the online world.

Fortunately, I like to help. So please keep those questions coming. First, I'll quote an article by Victoria Linssen of the Non Profit Times:

Most nonprofits are still communicating at, rather than with, donors. They create Web sites with no ability for donors to add content, comments, or suggestions.

Here's a brief summary of the steps a non-profit should make to take advantage of the new media.

1. Get a website built. Then improve it. Then improve it again. Do not let budget or technical issues get in your way. Today, your web presence is more important than of those printed newsletters or brochures. So budget your time and money accordingly. Hire and rate your team accordingly. Sure, you hire people who are great writers, but do you check on their online skills? Here's the good news. You can find a local agency that will do it gratis. But, think about maintenance issues, how much exposure you are giving them, and discuss the issue with agency up front. This article is too brief to really touch on design and refinement issues but take the point of view that the website is supposed to do something (attract visitors, educate visitors, solicit volunteers, produce new volunteers, produce new members, solicit contributions etc) and measure it's effectiveness at those tasks.

2. Inventory the skills of your board, chief donors, volunteers, docents, and staff. You might find that you have some real expertise in online marketing. Find out who has skills in MySpace or Facebook. Many nonprofits are using these to build communities. Maybe you have people with experience with blogs and forums from their hobbies. Or skills in digital graphics. Build a working group of people interested in building an online presence.

3. Start publishing an online newsletter. Find a vendor or technology to send it out professionally. You can re-use much of the content from your usual print newsletters to start but you'll find, given the economics of a newsletter, that it's cheaper to send them out and people prefer short ones. So many nonprofits switch from a quarterly print newsletter to a monthly or twice monthly email newsletter. Write the newsletter soliciting feedback and comments and always acknowledge each comment that you get (give an email address for easy feedback). By the way, you should use an outside agency to send out your emails once you get a list bigger than a hundred. It is more complicated than you would think to manage such a list well. I hooked up a non profit that I'm involved with (Feeding Broward) with a local email firm that provides the service for free. I use Aweber for my business and others that I see are mailermailer.com

4. Add a blog or forum to your website. Put the newsletter articles on the blog. Invite people to comment. Maybe use the blog as the newsletter (look at how this is done on Vocabulary is Fun) where the blog articles are the newsletter.. You might take our Blog Writing Course to get the blog off to the right start. Or, you can start a forum and have people discuss the issues that your charity is supposed to address. If you are a homeless shelter, why not invite people to discuss the issues on your forum? Heck, why not invite some of your clients to post their stories on the forum? If you are a women's art museum, why not invite every group that visits to give their comments online? At the same time, you could ask them to forward your info to any contacts that they have that might be interested....

5. Get some free online traffic. Google has a great grant program which gives non profits free traffic. You basically pick which search terms you would like your advertisements to appear next to and google gives you a grant to have your advertisement posted for free.

6. Be active online. Daily. Join and maintain your listing in all the non-profit clearinghouses online such as the Charity Navigator, Charity.com, and CharityGuide (to name a few). And network online leaving your name and link as part of it. For instance, if you are a non-profit reading this article, you might leave a comment about how it helped you or what else could be mentioned. You could mention how your 401c3 is using the virtual world. I, and others, might notice your signature and go see what your charity is about. And zoheee, you solicited a new visitor to your site learning about your mission and potentially, getting involved. You can also comment in appropriate forums. Many newspapers and magazines now publish articles online and when they are in area of expertise, comment.

This is a start. This is version 1.1 of this article. I intend to polish and extend it. By the way, there is a great article up on the BlogWritingCourse's blog looking at blogs and non-profits.

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