Tag: online engagement

For members of the LGBTQ+ community, the current political climate has been turbulent. Now more than ever, the community has taken to the internet to make and encourage change in the world. Nonprofits play an essential role in supporting LGBTQ+ communities through advocacy and resources to effect social change. There is a huge opportunity for nonprofits to use their non-partisan positioning to support this community and others that are stigmatized through their content and interactions.

Here are six best practices for digital content and collecting feedback to make sure your spaces are more inclusive, especially when working with stigmatized audiences.

Digital Content

Make it a necessity to collaborate with members of the community you want to reach. Collaboration not only ensures that your organization has the support of the community, but it also means that your organization has verified knowledge about the community. Having this information can mean a lot for the comfort of your audiences, and makes it clear that you aren’t targeting this population for your own gains.

An excellent solution for this is to make sure that your organization is incredibly diverse. There has been plenty of research done that proves diversity makes a team smarter and stronger. It could also make it easier to connect with difficult-to-reach communities.

If you’re looking to reach a community that no one on your team is personally involved with, you should strive to connect with advocacy groups for that group. Be prepared to explain what you’re doing exactly and why you’re doing it. Make sure you want to reach this community for the right reasons. If anyone feels like you’re trying to tokenize a specific population, chances are they won’t want to help you. Being prepared and able to speak clearly about your goals will allow advocacy groups to vouch for you and your work.

Avoid stigmatizing language and labeling. You aren’t trying to ‘other’ any population. You’re working to bring everyone into the conversation and normalize their existence. Make sure that the language you’re using doesn’t have a negative history. While some LGBTQ+ people use the word ‘queer’ in their personal vernacular when speaking with others from the community, it’s understood that there is a significant and negative history around the word, so it’s a word to avoid when working with the LGBTQ+ population.

Avoid adding unnecessary descriptors. Sometimes, in an effort to be inclusive, organizations will call out groups that don’t need special attention. A website with medical information, for instance, might have a section labeled LGBTQ+ Health. While this doesn’t necessarily seem problematic, it adds an exclusionary tone and asserts that folx in the LGBTQ+ community have to worry about their health separately from everyone else. Creating these lines of separation between the health needs of audiences creates an assumption that LGBTQ+ folx have “other” health issues they need to worry about, which typically isn’t the case. All people have bodies and health concerns; there is no need to distinguish between healthcare and LGBTQ+ healthcare.

Content that is specific to LGBTQ+ folx in some way (i.e., hormone replacement therapy or gender-affirming surgeries) can have relevant metadata to make sure it appears in a search, rather than using explicit labeling that creates dividing lines between populations.

Recently, Apple announced its new menstrual cycle monitoring in its WatchOS update. Apple did a great job using inclusive language in its announcement. Without stating it outright, the company acknowledged that women aren’t the only people who experience menstrual cycles. Nowhere on its site does it say that this feature is for women; the language (“Gaining insight into your menstrual cycle,” for example) is incredibly inclusive. Apple mirrors this language across all of its content, and in doing so is continuing its inclusivity without making a big deal out of it. You don’t have to announce inclusivity for it to be noticed and impactful.

Find unbiased ways to address people. It’s important to neutralize how you talk about and to people. Instead of using gendered pronouns or phrases like “he” or “she” use a neutral pronoun like “they.” If you want to take it a step further, you can avoid pronouns altogether and use descriptive phrases, like “the participant,” “the external stakeholder,” or “the sales-clerk.” And then there’s the most neutral descriptor: to use someone’s name.

When addressing a group of people, it’s good practice to stay away from saying things like “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” or “you guys.” Take a page out New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s book and try saying, “Attention, everyone …” This neutralizes the language and truly addresses all people. In more casual settings, you can say things such as “friends,” “y’ all,” or “people” instead of “guys.” Use of this language is habitual, and shifting your mindset will take time, but people will recognize the effort and appreciate it. This practice of neutralizing language should be mirrored in your company culture and in your personal life. The phrases “practice what you preach” and “practice makes perfect” apply here.

Collecting Feedback

Be inclusive when collecting survey feedback to gain an accurate representation of your audience. If you want a true understanding of all your audiences and external stakeholders, you need to open up to genders that fall outside of cis-normative culture. Only using “Male,” “Female,” and “Other” will turn away potential participants who don’t feel welcomed into a survey based on the limited options. This common oversight means you aren’t getting an understanding of your entire audience. In surveys and screeners, offer the following options:

  1. Male
  2. Female
  3. Non-Binary/Third Gender
  4. Prefer Not to Answer
  5. Another Option We Haven’t Thought Of: ____________________(open this field to allow participants to include their own gender option. Thanks to Lynn Boyden for this suggestion.)

Most survey platforms don’t allow you to change the word “Other” to something more inclusive, so it’s incredibly important to make sure that field is open to allow participants to insert their desired gender option.

You can also allow participants to select their pronoun instead of gender, although that does assume that everyone knows what a pronoun is.

When collecting face-to-face feedback, make sure your participants feel comfortable with the moderator. People who belong to stigmatized audiences sometimes need additional assurance that they will be safe in new situations. When collecting face-to-face feedback, it is crucial to make sure that the participant doesn’t feel uncomfortable, as this could lead to biased or inaccurate responses. For example, trans people may not feel comfortable talking about transition-related topics with a cisgender person, no matter how much of an ally they claim or want to be. This type of mindset applies to any stigmatized, underserved, or difficult to reach population.

Another example would be women who have survived domestic violence. They may not feel comfortable talking to someone who resembles their abuser. You should gather this information in a screener beforehand to make sure that when it comes time to conduct feedback sessions, you are prepared to speak with them in the most empathetic way possible. Ask screener questions like, “Our researcher identifies as male; would you feel comfortable speaking about this sensitive topic with a male-presenting person?” or “Our researcher is cisgender, would you be comfortable discussing transition-related topics with a cisgender person?”

As for many stigmatized populations, the internet has historically been a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community. If we all make these small but impactful changes in our organizations, we can make sure that the digital world continues to feel safe and welcoming to everyone. With this knowledge, we hope that organizations everywhere can make these necessary and important changes in language and practice, which will, in turn, encourage these changes in the “real world.”

#GivingTuesday takes place on November 28th this year and wise nonprofits are already planning strategies to leverage this massive day of giving. This year, six key factors are conspiring to make this the perfect year for peer-to-peer fundraising (the act of your supporters asking their own community for donations on your behalf) to be a powerful addition for your nonprofit’s strategy.

Here’s why:

1. #GivingTuesday has significant brand recognition

In the short span since the idea was hatched in 2012, #GivingTuesday has become the de facto start to the end-of-year giving season. This reality is driven not just by the recognition of the day within the nonprofit community but within society more generally. With more and more folks familiar with the idea of #GivingTuesday, it’s easier for your supporters to seek donations from their friends and family as part of that day.

2. Nonprofits need to broaden their reach on #GivingTuesday

It’s one thing to preach to the choir on #GivingTuesday. It’s quite another to add members to that choir. Most nonprofits have effective end-of-year appeals that activate existing supporters with or without #GivingTuesday. What they are hungry for is a way to broaden their supporter base. Peer-to-peer fundraising strategies around #GivingTuesday fit nicely into that goal.

3. Donor fatigue this end-of-year season puts a premium on social proof

There was a deluge in donations at the end of 2016. Many were in response to the results of the presidential election and, as we approach one year past that election, donor fatigue during this upcoming end-of-year giving season will likely be high. Leveraging your supporters to advocate on your behalf will be a powerful form of social proof that can help overcome potential donor malaise.

4. Nonprofits are starting #GivingTuesday appeals earlier

As the profile of #GivingTuesday has risen, nonprofits have responded by creating and executing plans earlier and earlier in the year. No longer are they simply tweeting a couple of times with the #GivingTuesday hashtag on the day itself and calling it good. This advanced planning is perfectly in line with the requirements for mobilizing existing supporters, allowing for the time needed to recruit and inform ambassadors for your cause.

5. Increased options and decreased cost for peer-to-peer platforms

Once the province of just a couple of providers charging significant fees, peer-to-peer fundraising platforms have grown in number and shrunk in cost, making them more accessible to nonprofits of various sizes and budgets.

6. Integrations with peer-to-peer platforms are better

Peer-to-peer fundraising solutions are about leveraging and expanding relationships. As such, they cry out for tight integrations with constituent relationship management (CRM) solutions like Salesforce. As peer-to-peer options have multiplied, they have also matured and added integrations with CRMs that multiple the effect of your supporters’ efforts while minimizing paper-pushing on your end.

With a little strategic planning, you can leverage peer-to-peer fundraising to meet not only your #GivingTuesday goals, but to reach new supporters and increase your year-end giving overall.

This article was first published on Ford Foundation’s Equals Change blog and is reprinted here with permission.

Activists rely on the Internet as a tool and space to build movements. But increasingly, forces that we can’t see are shaping these spaces—like algorithms that govern what rises to the top of social media feeds, companies that constantly track us in order to tailor advertising, or political operatives looking to manipulate public opinion. The Internet is a crowded place, and often gamed in ways that put those advocating for greater openness and justice at risk.

As everyone from advertisers to political adversaries jockey for attention, they are increasingly using automated technologies and processes to raise their own voices or drown out others. In fact, 62 percent of all Internet traffic is made up of programs acting on their own to analyze information, find vulnerabilities, or spread messages. Up to 48 million of Twitter’s 320 million users are bots, or applications that perform automated tasks. Some bots post beautiful art from museum collections, while some spread abuse and misinformation instead. Automation itself isn’t cutting edge, but the prevalence and sophistication of how automated tools interact with users is.

Activists and NGOs, politicians, government agencies, and corporations rely on automated tools to carry out all kinds of tasks and operations: NGOs and activists use bots to automate civic engagementhelping citizens register to vote, contact their elected officials, and elevate marginalized voices and issues—to perform operational tasks like fundraising and developing messaging, and to promote transparency and accountability. But they’re far outshone by the private sector’s use of conversational chatbot interfaces—like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri—that use these technologies to make their platforms easier to use, gather data on customers, and increase profits.

Politicians, governments, and organizations sometimes use bots to provide public services, like this educational tool on pregnancy and newborn milestones. But they also use them to manipulate public opinion and disable activists. For example, in Mexico, Peñabots were used to support President Enrique Peña Nieto and silence protests against corruption and violence. Activists and journalists in Turkey, Russia, and Venezuela have faced similar efforts meant to marginalize dissenting opinions on social media. In the US, bot-assisted traffic was used to make stories and misinformation go viral by spreading millions of links to articles on conservative news sites like Breitbart News and InfoWars.

In other cases, bots can be grouped together to create botnets that are used to launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks to bring down activist websites and other online communications systems. eQualit.ie, a nonprofit tech organization that protects independent media and human rights organizations from these attacks, documented over 400 recorded DDoS attacks aimed at social justice groups in 2016.

There is a huge opportunity for organizations and activists to use automation in constructive ways that further social justice causes, but doing so is not without risk. What follows is a set of questions aimed at helping advocates better understand the challenges and risks that bots and automated activism present.

Do you rely heavily on social media for your communications, outreach, and engagement work?

If social media is a big part of your organization’s strategy, be vigilant about how automated accounts might disrupt your outreach. At the same time, with the increased presence of bot-generated traffic online, be aware that it will be more and more difficult to tell the difference between engagements with actual constituents, versus bot-generated engagement aimed at confusing or deterring your message and activism.

Is your organization at risk of being targeted due to the nature of your organizing and communications work?

Develop internal policies on how to respond to negative and inflammatory comments online and vigilantly guard your organization’s website and communications. Develop a contingency plan for what to do if your website is hit with a big rush of traffic meant to take it down. Report any attacks to nonprofit tech partners such as eQualit.ie that can track botnet attacks and provide digital security planning recommendations.

What should bots for social justice look like?

There are many ways that bots can promote social justice and lift the voices and work of minorities. To take one example, in situations where releasing critical information to the public might endanger an activist’s life, a bot could be used to release that information instead. Bots could elevate the stories and narratives of groups often marginalized from mainstream public discourse.

As automated activism expands and deepens, we need to identify the broader ethical and legal frameworks to guide how automation is integrated into social justice. This means asking questions like: Where do we draw the line between governments’ and politicians’ strategic communications and propaganda? How can we balance the need for security, privacy, freedom of speech, user protections, and preferences in automated online spaces?

How might innovations in automated activism coexist with traditional forms of organizing, messaging, and movement building?

The Internet has already been found to contribute to “slacktivism,” or half-hearted attempts at engagement. If we continue to automate more aspects of our political and civic engagement, we will need more research to determine how automated technology can increase civic engagement, support traditional forms of offline political engagement, and achieve political and social outcomes—rather than commoditizing that work and making some forms of engagement less impactful.

Before building the next call-to-action bot, it’s important for technologists to understand what political organizers need to effectively do their work. Social justice advocates and activists should work with well-intentioned technologists and become key partners in identifying and understanding how technology can be useful to building and sustaining movements.

While automation can be used to lower the costs of collective action for social justice activists and organizations, it can also increase risk. It is relatively easy for bots to tear down organizations’ and activists’ discourse, in contrast to the challenges organizations face in defending themselves against those automated attacks. As long as bots continue to participate—at growing rates—in our public sphere without regulation or transparency, they will pose enormous threats to democracy. Every person’s voice—including those expressed online—should count, but that is threatened when automation is used to impersonate a single individual while amplifying his or her voice by the thousands.

Looking critically at your organization’s online strategies will help mitigate and plan for risks. And remembering that automation cannot replace activism, but only complement it, will go a long way toward ensuring the effective use of automated tools as they continue to develop.

It took me three months into my social media dream job to realize why the word “online” was part of my job title. It was 2010, and I had finally found a job that had social media marketing at its heart, at a small AIDS nonprofit that planned to use Facebook, Twitter and dating apps to connect with people living with and at risk for HIV.

Even before my first day, I’d had a run-in with our horrible, outdated and very difficult website, but I knew there was a web developer on retainer and I figured it was his problem. Or maybe it was the Executive Director’s problem. Or perhaps the office administrator. I don’t suppose there was someone on the board who could help? A volunteer? Bueller?

As anyone who works in digital marketing or fundraising knows, your organization’s website is at the crux of how people relate to your organization and its work. When something is wrong, it hurts your ability to attract, engage, and convert the people you need to make your work a success. As it turned out, our website was my problem, and to solve it, we needed to build a working digital strategy.

What is a digital strategy?

For many nonprofits, technology adoption isn’t hard. We’re smart people, and we’re perfectly capable of finding the tools we need to help us perform particular tasks. But what often happens is that an organization will accrue a slew of tools, all of which maybe do what they should perfectly, but still aren’t getting the results that you need them to. Perhaps your content strategy is bringing scores of people to your website but you aren’t capturing them in your email list for fundraising campaigns, or you’re gaining lots of Instagram followers but none of them know about your online forum. A good digital strategy will knit your tools and aspirations together into a cohesive plan to meet your goals.

We’re here to help. NTEN is producing two conferences this fall—in New Mexico and Oregon—and both are designed to help you develop and refresh your digital strategy. The program includes case studies, workshops, panels, presentations, and tactical sessions, to help you formulate the best strategy for your organization, and show you how other nonprofits have done it.

That seems like a big task. Where do I even start?

I am a people person and NTEN relies on members to survive, so I like to start with personas. What are the groups of people that want to engage with your organization, how did they find you, what do they want to know, how do they want to engage, and what do you most want them to do? Plot their journey from an unconnected community member to engaged part of your inner circle, donor or member. What’s their ideal journey? What roadblocks are in the way right now? How can you clear them?

Identify the top handful of actions you really want your constituents to take—for example, donate, advocate, join or inform others—and consider the technologies they need to do that easily. Find data that can tell you how you successfully moved them to that action (or “converted” them, in marketing-speak). How many touch-points do you need? What’s the story to tell them, and where and how is it best told? Which are the channels that net you the most success, and why do you think that is?

Like me, when I finally realized the website monster was mine to tame, you will have a lot of questions. But it’s only through considering the (sometimes difficult) questions that you can build a digital strategy, pulling together your organization’s disparate parts and making them work better, for you and the communities you represent.

Best of luck! We hope to see you in the fall.

Kristin Johnson is a speaker at the 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference in March.

If you haven’t noticed, there’s been a slight uptick in people exhibiting activist-like behaviors in the last couple months. I can prove this based solely on my Facebook wall, where I have watched my political D.C. friends get out-activisted by old high school classmates and friends of my mother, who went from sharers of baby photos to vehement, pink-hat wearing radicals.

I have lifted my jaw off the ground multiple times, marveling at the Google spreadsheets being passed around each day with phone numbers and scripts for contacting Members of Congress. Suddenly, town halls are the new brunch, and wait—was that—were people chanting the number for the Capitol switchboard at that rally?

These new activists, hungry for knowledge, are not just sharing daily targets and talking points—they are also discussing the most effective ways to change votes and influence their legislators.

And in lots of ways, nonprofits are missing from the equation.

Sure, some orgs are seeing definite boosts in actions and donations, especially from their existing base of supporters, but this new wave of people are learning how to engage with decision makers via their friends and online networks, and not necessarily hopping on our email lists to be fed a steady diet of action alerts and online petitions.

Add to that, these newbies are spreading articles and tweetstorms that Members of Congress don’t necessarily read those nonprofit-inspired emails and petitions—or even trust that they were sent from real constituents.


Death of the Action Alert?

Online mass advocacy campaigns have never been perfect. The better we’ve gotten with edit-and-send email technology and name collection tools, the better the offices we’re targeting have gotten with receiving (or ignoring) them. Many recipients now have the technology to run them through computer algorithms to group similar text and topics and respond with the same form letter.

Nonprofit: “Yay! We got 10,000 people to submit our action!”
Congressional Staffer: “Yeah… We’re going to count that as one vote in favor…”

For many nonprofits, these tactics are the bread and butter of online advocacy. Sending petitions and form letters are a useful pulse check to an email list, and they still reign as one of the most cost-effective acquisition tools to bring on new names.

But when it comes to connecting a constituent and a decision maker, time and again, it’s the personal stories, in-person meetings, and jammed up phone lines that get noticed.

“I don’t care if those emails don’t get read—500 of those 10,000 actions came from people new to my list,” you may say. I get it—in the fight against constant email list attrition, new names are gold. People who engage with you as activists are more likely to become donors, who in turn, could help you fund other lobbying activities that may be more effective in turning a vote.

But as your advocacy team huddles late into the night trying to figure out how to get my mom’s friends signed up to your email list, you must think through how your organization can be of value to these new activists—and to all your veteran grassroots champions for that matter.

Will Nonprofits Be Able to Prove the Change They Make?

Before your organization presumes to step in between a person and their representative, reassess what you bring to the table.

  • What can your organization do to amplify those voices and make them 100 times more effective?
  • What can you do for someone that a viral Google Doc just can’t?
  • What part do you play best? Organizer? Travel Agent? Educator? Event Coordinator?

Revisit the last five times your nonprofit’s advocacy efforts had a direct impact on legislation or a policy decision: What votes have your supporters actually changed the outcome of?

Was your nonprofit was one of 15 other organizations to flood Senator So-and-So’s office with thousands of emails about an issue last year? That’s nice. Did they change their vote? Is their re-election at risk if they didn’t?

What did your organization do that was different from the 15 other groups? What got through?

Remaining a Part of the Equation

For the nonprofit community to continue being seen as relevant to new generations of activists, we must measure our reputations for effectiveness alongside our list sizes.

The nonprofits that get noticed will be the ones who find ways to aid and abet activists. They will be the ones who outline effective plans of attack that mesh online and offline tactics to surround a target.

They will be the nonprofits who can prove to people that joining their ranks is better than going it alone.

It’s a communications challenge as much as it is an organizing challenge, but it’s one that thoughtful nonprofits have the ability to crack.

The Wikimedia Foundation has cracked the puzzle on optimizing people power. Millions of volunteers contribute to Wikimedia as editors. But the foundation goes a step further and nurtures volunteer leaders to take on specialized projects that strengthen its community.

You might think that a technology-focused org like Wikimedia would see its platform as the channel for volunteer contributions. Not so. Wikimedia also invests in face-to-face, community-led initiatives. Volunteers participate in “idea labs” where they design and build tools the movement needs to connect more deeply with members. Volunteers also tackle community issues, like the gender gap in editors, or online harassment.

The organization empowers its volunteers with trust and responsibility. “As these are community issues, we expect that the best ideas will come from the community,” said Jaime Anstee, Senior Strategist, Manager, Learning & Evaluation, at Wikimedia.

Despite being a tech-focused nonprofit, Wikimedia doesn’t fall into a common NGO pattern of emphasizing online mobilizing over organizing. Author and academic Hahrie Han describes these two distinct ways of looking at building people power. In my interview with Han for Beyond the First Click: How Today’s Volunteers Build Power for Movements and NGOs, she explains the difference between the approaches:

Mobilizers essentially say, “wherever you want to come in on the engagement ladder, we will make it work for you.” They are creating opportunities for involvement that match with interests that people already have. With all the data and technology tools that we have, it’s easier than ever to search for and identify who those people might be.

In contrast, organizers want to engage supporters in a set of experiences that will try to transform their interests, motivations and skills so that they want to do more. This work is more transformational than what the mobilizers are doing.

In other words, mobilizers go broad while organizers go deep. Han’s research for her book How Organizations Develop Activists uncovered that the most effective orgs blend the two approaches. “The changes that mobilizers affect are fragile, because they’re missing the leadership core that helps to protect those wins from future threats.”

However, our research bore out that the typical non-profit in 2017 has a powerful bias toward mobilizing over organizing. Why? Because that’s where they’ve invested most heavily.

Many nonprofits have spent money and time on CRMs, petition platforms, social media, and other tech that can be effective tools in achieving large-scale mobilization. But these platforms are often not configured for organizing volunteers who are doing on-the-ground work and recruiting others to the cause. Inside any organization, financial investment signals importance, so staff often follow the money and the tech and, by doing so, reinforce the overemphasis on mobilizing in their work.

As executive director of Control Shift Labs, Nathan Woodhull often advises organizations on their technology mix. When it comes to tracking volunteer behavior he finds that most groups have misaligned incentives: “I don’t think most organizations have any idea. It’s a hard problem, and the tools that exist today are mostly focused on broadcasting to 500,000-plus people rather than recording one-to-one conversations.”

Woodhull suggests that activists can take lessons on high-level volunteer engagement from political parties. Becky Bond, senior advisor to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, confirmed this perspective in an interview about how Bernie organizers used technology: “The under-25 crowd understood the notion that Facebook doesn’t win elections, that posting to social media doesn’t move votes. What we needed to do was use social media to organize people to actually do the one-on-one voter contact that’s proven to have the biggest impact on moving voters to the polls. That work is going door-to-door, getting on the phone, and talking to voters live.”

Is your organization overemphasizing mobilization? One indicator of this is when you’ve got a gap between your supporters’ online actions and their offline ones. It’s a challenge to transition people from the web, but if you’re prioritizing mobilizing over organizing, your digital supporters may be falling into a black hole when they’re ready for more.

Julie is the co-author of Beyond the First Click: How Today’s Volunteers Build Power for Movements and NGOs. This article is adapted from the report.

A new year presents new opportunities to assess and grow your individual fundraising program. Do you know how your nonprofit compares to similar organizations? Where do you excel or where do you hope to grow?

Focusing on nonprofits with revenues under $2 million, the Individual Donor Benchmark Report is back again with fundraising data for small and mighty nonprofits.

Among the report’s findings are:

  • Organizations raise 34% of their revenue from individuals.
  • About half of individual donor revenue comes from donors giving less than $1,000.
  • One out of every five individual donor dollars is raised online.
  • Four out of ten board members are active in fundraising in a significant way,
  • Organizations are raising about 14% of their income from recurring donations.

The report also found that the average organization’s donor retention rate is 60%, meaning that 6 out of 10 donors give again—and 4 out of 10 donors don’t.

If your organization has a donor retention rate around 60%, you may be asking yourself two questions:

  1. How can we increase retention?
  2. How can we find more new donors to replace the donors we are losing each year?

Here are a few tips to help you think about how to answer those questions:

Increase Donor Retention

If you want to increase your retention rate, the best strategy is to view your individual donor fundraising program as a relationship development program. Your goal should be to build a relationship with your donors, where part, and only part, of that relationship is about their financial support for the organization. Here are a few ways to shift your focus to your relationship:

Consider your organization from a donor’s perspective.

Even when we are doing many things to communicate with and engage donors, sometimes there are holes in our plan. One way to find these holes is to walk through the experience that different types of donors have with your organization. What happens when a new donor makes a $25 gift? $2,500 gift? What happens when someone gives online? What is the experience for a $50 a year donor? You may find that with a little intentionality you could be doing a much more effective job of engaging your donors with your work.

Remember what you learned about your donor.

As a development director, I learned to listen carefully in major donor meetings and record what I’d learned after the meeting for future cultivation and solicitation. While this kind of attention is standard procedure for major donors, there’s an opportunity to use some of the same ideas with everyday donors. As your donors click on links in your emails, respond to direct mail solicitations, or attend events, they are giving you information about what they are interested in. If you are diligent, you can capture that information and begin to develop a picture of your donors. Organizations can also survey donors to gather information about their interests and use that information to tailor solicitations.

Thank donors seven times before you ask them again.

This advice has been around for a long time, but I still get surprised looks and big sighs when I share it. “Seven times?! How could we possibly do that?” First of all, it’s a guideline—but the real point is that you should not treat donors like ATMs, only coming to them when you need money. You should be in touch year round to share the results of their donations (and your work) and to thank them for their support. These thank yous don’t need to generate a lot of extra work. Think about content that you are already producing that could be re-purposed as a donor thank you: annual reports, updates for the board, or grant reports.

Find New Donors

You may be able to increase your retention rate, but you will likely also need to focus on finding new contacts and developing strategies to convert them to donors. One powerful framework for thinking about cultivating new donors is the cycle of engagement. The cycle includes the following components and questions:

  1. Opening the door to potential new donors. How do you find new potential donors? How do you collect contact information from potential donors? What have been the best ways for you to find new donors in the past?
  2. Thanking and tracking new contacts. How are you communicating with donors after they first meet your organization? Do you have a welcome series to introduce your organization? What information about them are you tracking in your database or other places?
  3. Engaging supporters. How can you help people experience your work? It may be by participating in programs, volunteering, or viewing a video about your efforts. How can you increase the opportunities for supporters to engage with your work?
  4. Thanking and tracking engaged supporters. How are you communicating with supporters after their engagement with your work? What engagement data points are you tracking?
  5. Asking for a donation. How can you tie your ask into the way you first met them and/or the way they have been engaged with your organization.
  6. Thanking and tracking donors. How do you thank a donor? What information about their gift do you need to record in your database? After this step, go back to #3 and repeat indefinitely!

The best way to ensure your organization is continuing to find new donors is to involve everyone (board, staff, and volunteers) in identifying, cultivating, and asking for support.  Even for those who have an aversion to fundraising, getting involved in opening the door, engaging, and thanking donors can be a fun way to help the organization grow its donor pool.

For more donor fundraising details and data, check out the full Individual Donor Benchmark Report

Something fundamental is changing about the way the web works. Hundreds of new top-level Internet address domains are popping up, bringing with them fresh opportunities for communicators.

You’ve probably already spotted new top-level domains (TLDs) in the wild. You may have even typed them into browsers. .Berlin, .club, or .fail may not have made much of an impression on you, but new top-level domains have implications for online marketing, campaigning, and organizing.

Since the dawn of the World Wide Web, top-level domains have been limited to .com, .org., .net, .int, .edu, .gov, .mil, and country codes. But that changed when ICANN, the body responsible for the Internet’s naming system, approved a radical expansion of TLDs. To date, 1,200 new ones have been approved and more than 25 million domains have been registered with new suffixes like .guru, .london, and .coffee.

This shift in how the Web parcels out real estate has created a new frontier complete with a land rush and ambitions to draw borders and claim virtual territories.

New branded domains like .google, .homedepot, and .canon are walled gardens that promise to give brands new prominence on the Internet. Others are verified domains, like .bank and .ngo, that are only granted to applicants who pass established eligibility standards. For instance, you can’t register a .bank domain unless you’re a registered financial institution. The majority of new TLDs, of course, are generic words being auctioned off to the highest bidder, like .nyc, which just sold RealEstate.nyc for $21,300.

Why Marketers and Campaigners Should Care about New TLDs

Aside from nerding out about the evolution of the Internet, new TLDs are fertile ground for marketing innovation. For starters, you’ve got a shot at campaign URLs you’ve always dreamt of but whose .org and .com versions were taken long ago. Securing short, pronounceable and meaningful keyword URLs can also deliver SEO and brand value.

As a strategic communications tool, TLDs help brand websites by conveying more about an organization than .com ever could. A .ngo, .shop, or .pizza domain primes web visitors and lends credibility before they reach your site. It affirms they’re headed in the right direction.

Hosting sites on verified TLDs—domains restricted to those who pass eligibility criteria—will, in theory, help brand your content as trusted and legitimate. In the lead up to the presidential election, the verified .vote domain promised to be the TLD “where honest and effective voter engagement begins.” Successes like RockThe.Vote and voter registration website Alabama.vote are early indicators that .vote is delivering on that promise.

There are indications that search engines may attribute greater authority to verified TLDs with good track records because they are nearly guaranteed to offer highly relevant content, a key component for search ranking.

TLDs as Organizing Tool

The ultimate potential for TLDs may be as an organizing tool. TLDs are essentially registries, and in contemporary culture, owning and operating a registry has real power.

In the real world, the US Green Building Council defined what green buildings look like by creating the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. By becoming a certifying body and registry, it became the tastemaker and arbiter for environmentally-responsible building. The same thing can happen on the web.

That’s the thinking behind .eco, a new TLD I’m working on. When .eco launches in early 2017, it will set the standard for who can identify themselves as environmentally responsible on the Internet.

When over 50 environmental orgs, including Greenpeace, WWF and NRDC, came together to support .eco, they set eligibility standards that will make .eco a powerful online authority on who gets to identify as an environmental actor. The first expression of the .eco community’s power is our domain granting program. We’re giving away hundreds of high-value domains to environmental orgs.

Imagine if the Carbon Disclosure Project and similar orgs went after the .CO2 domain? They could become the definitive registry of corporate emissions reporting and mandate best practices for CO2 disclosure and reporting. Stakeholders could be confident that when they visited Nike.CO2 or SanFrancisco.CO2, they would find trusted information.

While you’re rushing to nab your .eco, .ngo and .organic domains for upcoming campaigns, it’s worth considering how creating new TLDs could be part of your change-making strategy, too.


Photo credit: Dileepan Ramanan

Sitting beside my 11-week-old son’s hospital bed in the cardiac intensive care unit after his open heart surgery, listening to the doctors and nurses talk above me, I desperately wanted someone who understood. I was alone and frightened.

Consider the scariest time in your life, and think about the people who supported you through that. Most likely they are friends or family who were there for you, holding your hand, listening, understanding, and relating to you. But what if you were alone? With no one to really understand. Now, with the ever-changing landscape of technology this kind of support can happen virtually.

The ability to be everywhere (like bedside in intensive care with a scared mom) is important for the success of an organization whose core mission is to support and educate others. Yet, for organizations who serve patients and families it is vital to find a balance between cyber world and personal connection. Being anonymous is not appealing when you’re trying to build personal connections but, when the subject matter is personal experiences, medical journeys, and intensely private topics, users want to feel comfortable and safe.

Our job, as community managers, is to find that balance between safe and secure and personal connection and then create that. While designing a community for our members, I have continued to ask the questions: What makes you feel safe? What makes you want to engage? Different communities will expect different levels of safety or security, so first and foremost find out what your members need and want. So where is the balance I’ve found?

Establish Community Ambassadors

Providing a secure area that is staff moderated and safe is important. It is also important to build an expectation of trust within that community so that users are not only told they are safe, they feel safe when talking. Each community should have an established ambassador who can lead and moderate as a peer. This is an important part of providing a safe and open place to talk.

For example, a group of teenagers who are looking to connect with each other will feel more comfortable with a young adult as the ambassador/moderator versus an “outsider” who may be present. These outsiders tend to stifle conversation and reduce the bonds that can occur naturally. Any group who feels “watched” will certainly not be open and honest. Providing this peer support and guidance from the inside will also build trust in the safety of the community. Knowing that the community ambassadors are present and engaging is comforting to users.

Reduce Anonymity and Discourage Lurking

Another major trust factor to address is user profiles and user names. Some people may believe that it is “safer” to be anonymous, when it may not actually be. Would you feel more comforted from a grayed-out face with the name anon1234, or from a warm (real person) picture with the name GrandmaAnn?

Knowing who you are talking to can help to create a personal relationship and that builds trust. It is also much easier to cyber bully when you are hiding behind an anonymous profile. Somehow the idea that people “see” your face and know who you are deters some people from being mean. Trust leads to security and more openness from all parties.

The moderator of the community will be able to monitor each person’s contributions and the discussions. Reduction of lurkers is vital as well. Having the ability to hear from everyone in the community will give members a better sense of who is there and reading what they write.

Show Previews

The next challenge is to allow visitors to see portions of conversations so that they want to be involved and feel drawn to the conversations. A scared mom like me, or a patient, wouldn’t feel drawn to a community that they couldn’t, at the very least, see part of. Completely closing communities is not a great option. How can new users, who potentially need help, find you if they don’t see information that they relate to? Having the ability to show the community and the titles of the posts, along with a small amount of the post is a great way to draw people into the conversation.

To balance the security and openness that needs to be created, the ability to read the full posts, responses, and to engage should be closed to the public. You want to draw people into the conversation without providing the general public all of the information that your members may feel needs to be kept secure.


Providing online support in a meaningful and safe way can be difficult, but it is achievable with close monitoring, supervision, and technology. The ability to reach people when they need you, where they are, at any time, to offer that vital support is mission critical.


Photo source: jessicahtam

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you’re a hard-working and underappreciated communications manager. Hard to imagine, I know, but bear with me. Your content strategy is fantastic and every week, hundreds of people visit your website, engage with your content and. . . fail to sign up to your mailing list. You’re starting to wonder: Why don’t they want our emails? Is our content really that great? Is our subscription form broken? You brought them to your site and they engaged with your great blog but now you’ve lost them forever and it seems like such a waste.

What if I told you that you can track them, and with a few inexpensive tactics, you have a much better chance of converting them to subscribers? Welcome to the powerful, if a little creepy, world of social media retargeting.

Map the Matrix

Aerial photo of a city, with the city reflected in green on the right side =
Photo credit

First things first, you have to make it easy for your website visitors to do what you want them to. With help from your web analytics, plot the path people take once they get to your website: Maybe they come in through search or social media shares, find a piece of content, click on some related articles and then, hopefully, subscribe. These are your key pages, and it’s vital that you clear the path so that people can easily do what you want them to do. If your so-called conversion path is full of obstacles and friction points, no amount of great social media is going to convince them to stay on the sidewalk.

Take the Red Pill

Black and white photo of a hand holding 2 pills, one blue and one red
Photo credit

Now that you have a clear path, it’s time to develop a plan to capture the people who find themselves on it. This is where things get awesome. Do you remember that time last week that you found a really great pair of shoes while shopping online but decided not to buy them just yet? Then, this morning on Facebook, there was an ad for those exact same shoes! What may seem like an uncanny coincidence is thanks to a magical thing called a tracking pixel.

Named after a literal pixel (a 1x1px transparent image), pixels trigger a string of code called a cookie that helps servers identify you and your behavior. The page where you found those shoes had a pixel, and you’ve been identified as a potential buyer. Next time you visit a site that uses the same ad network, it recognizes your pixel and you become part of the audience for a set of ads tailored to your behavior.

Now, before you start feeling like you’re in George Orwell’s 1984, don’t freak out: It is not like you’re actually being tracked. It’s your browser that is holding on to that cookie information, not the site, and it’s your browser that tells the ad network where you have been. You can control what cookies to accept and how long they last by managing your browser’s security and privacy settings.

The process you employ by using these cookies is called retargeting, and it basically means you have a second chance at conversion for people who you know are interested in your offer. Once you cookie your website visitors, you create a highly qualified audience that you can target with ads across a wide range of other sites.

Note: Before placing third-party pixels on your site, make sure your privacy policy covers how you’ll use them. Your visitors’ use of ad blockers and browser security settings impact how well they work, and cookies do expire. But it’s a hugely powerful technology and therefore no surprise that for-profit organizations have been quick to pick it up. Was a third look at those shoes exactly what I needed to make me buy?

Down the Rabbit Hole

This technology has enormous potential for nonprofits. For example, you can pixel your fundraising landing page and retarget those who were interested enough to visit but who didn’t donate at that moment. Or you can find potential members who stalled out at your join page. Perhaps that Facebook ad was the gentle reminder they needed to come back and reconsider joining. If you mash these ads with smart landing pages, you can tailor your conversion messages to an array of behaviors (and thus, interests) for much more relevant calls to action and therefore greater success. And what’s more, in what is possibly the only upside to media consolidation, a handful of big ad companies own huge networks outside of social media that you can now access with just a few clicks, in order to find your targets. The ad you make for Facebook can also appear on the Huffington Post app.

There Is No Spoon

What excites me the most about this technology is the ways we aren’t even using it yet. Imagine using a pixel to track a reader’s content views, and then using that information to tailor a content site just for them. The site would become so much more valuable to them, and they would be much more likely to return, subscribe, and support the organization’s work. Or pairing this kind of tracking with a world-class CRM that could connect the dots based on someone’s behavior and trigger suggested ways to have that person become more involved. The power and applications seem as endless as the Matrix, and I, for one, am excited to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.