Category Archives: Communications & Marketing

The dark side of social media

A few weeks ago, a blogger who posted defamatory comments about a local landfill owner on the website of New Orleans’ Times-Picayune newspaper was revealed to be a Federal prosecutor. In December, three young Congressional aides decided to get drunk at the office every day and tweet about it, not as anonymously as they—or their boss, Representative Rick Larsen–might have hoped. Last winter a staffer at the Red Cross slipped up, accidentally alerting the organization’s Twitter followers that he was about to get “slizzerd” on expensive beer.

As nonprofits that raise money and rally support online, we’re generally focused on the benefits of social networks. But what about the risks? The cloak of online anonymity can easily be raised, and lines between business and pleasure accidentally crossed. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that law firms specializing in social media law are on the rise.

You can’t completely protect yourself from the dark side of social media, but you can minimize the chance that a disgruntled or careless employee will damage your nonprofit’s reputation. (Or worse, lead to a libel or harassment lawsuit.) A social media policy is a good place to start. What to think about if you don’t already have one?

1. Understand and communicate the importance of the policy. For example, employees should know that information posted in social media can be used as evidence in a court of law. Also, actions taken by employees can be held against an employer, on the clock or off. And you might also remind your staff that there’s really no such thing as “anonymous”—deleted data can almost always be recovered using cyber forensic tools.

2. Require that personal postings be carefully distinguished from those of your organization, such as by using a disclaimer that the views and opinions expressed do not represent those of your organization. Also require employees to conduct official business only through the organization’s social media accounts and ensure that the organization’s accounts should not be used for personal affairs. Although employees may share your organizational positions and agenda, they should avoid even the perception that they’re speaking on behalf of your organization in unofficial communication.

3. Make ownership of your social media accounts explicit. Cases are on the rise in which employees leave an organization and take valuable social media content and contacts with them, resulting in disputes over who “owns” this information. Avoid confusion by clarifying that Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and other online contacts generated through your organization’s work belong solely to your organization.

3. Make clear that what’s illegal in the real world is also illegal in the virtual world. Your policy should prohibit:

  • Mishandling of intellectual property (with regard to both protecting yours and infringing on others’.)
  • Discriminatory statements, racial slurs, and sexual innuendo that can lead to hostile work environment and harassment claims.
  • Political campaign activity attributed to your organization, which can endanger your 501(c)(3) status.
  • Improper disclosure of confidential or proprietary information. If an employee blogs or posts information about a donor or constituent, she shouldn’t reveal any personally identifiable information about that person without authorization.

4. Make sure your social media fundraising complies with charitable solicitations laws. Most states require registration for nonprofits that solicit funds within their jurisdiction. In some states, just having a “Donate Now” button can trigger the registration requirement, as can social media fundraising activities. If your fundraising targets people who live in other states, be aware you are subject to their requirements as well as those where your organization is located.

5. Do not impose a draconian, unrealistic social media policy. Many organizations have tried to impose all-out bans on social media to avoid the risks, and have found themselves on the losing side of a lawsuit. Your policy should govern the prudent use of social media, not prohibit employees from participating. It should provide guidance on what employees can and cannot do in social media, both in their role as employees and in their personal use, and fit the mission, culture, and needs of your organization.

Got questions about social media? Get May 2 on your calendar and register for our annual conference! We look forward to seeing you at Powerful Networks: Nonprofits, Social Media, & Community, with some of the country’s leading voices in the field.

Make way for mobile purchasing

Have you bought coffee on your mobile phone yet?

Mobile phone payment systems have been around for almost three years, and Starbucks was one of a few large retailers to pilot the technology.

Now PayPal has launched its mobile payment program Paypal Here, signaling that phone payments have gone mainstream. Not only will we be buying more lattes by phone, but more nonprofit goods and services, including workshop fees, concert tickets, and festival tee shirts.

Nonprofits have begun using mobile platforms so that supporters and customers can make payments on the go. The Girl Scouts tried out mobile payments for cookie sales this year, and the Salvation Army used the technology for holiday donations.  A handful of farmers’ markets are piloting mobile sales, and several savvy museums and concert halls now offer the option.

Mobile payment companies like Square and LevelUp have been around a few years, but Paypal Here is expected to take the technology to the masses. The Paypal Here app can be used to accept any credit card or debit card, as well as cash, checks, and, of course, Paypal. Merchants get a plastic dongle that attaches to the phone through the headphone jack and acts as a reader. They can also use the iPhone camera to read the credit card, and the system can generate electronic invoices.

PayPal Here will charge a flat 2.7% rate for swiped cards and PayPal transactions and 3.5% plus $.15 for key-in and scan-in card transactions. Sending electronic invoices and scanning checks will be free.

Both Square and LevelUp have been used by nonprofits for donations, auctions, and other events. LevelUp works like the Starbucks mobile payments system–after you sign up and input a credit card number, you get a unique code that can either be scanned by a smartphone or waved in front of a terminal. Square, which has a card reader like the forthcoming Paypal service, is the most popular option for nonprofits. With these services, geotracking confirms customers’ locations, so they don’t even have to even take out their phones.  Intuit GoPayment uses the same technology, and helped Girl Scout Troops in Ohio increase cookie sales by 13 percent.

Are you using mobile payments in your nonprofit? Let us know, we’d love to hear how it’s working for you.

Social media needs social strategies

“Successful social strategies (1) reduce costs or increase customers’ willingness to pay (2) by helping people establish or strengthen relationships (3) if they do free work on a company’s behalf.”

–Misiek Piskorski, Harvard Business       Review, November 2011

How would you feel if you were at a dinner party with friends and a stranger sat down next to you and asked, “Hey, can I sell you something?”

That’s how many companies use social media, says Harvard business professor Misiek Piskorski.

In his recent study of 60 for-profit businesses, Piskorski found that companies that performed poorly in online social realms “merely imported their digital strategies into  social environments by broadcasting commercial messages or seeking customer feedback.”

The problem, he says, is that people get involved with social media to connect with other people, not with organizations.

Piskorski’s study shows that companies that devised social strategies to help people build relationships are the ones that found significant returns from their investment in social media.  Returning to the dinner party analogy, these companies ask “May I introduce you to someone or help you develop better friendships?”

Nonprofits face similar social media challenges. We spend precious staff hours on building “friends” and “followers” but are we seeing a real return on the investment?

Nonprofits that use social media to create deeper engagement with their community can generate tremendous benefits. They recruit new allies, strengthen and mobilize support networks, spread information, and raise money.

The potential payoff from social media is the subject of our annual conference this year. We hope you’ll join us May 2 for Powerful Networks: Nonprofits, Social Media, & Community, an exciting day of expert information and practical training to help your organization further its mission with social media.

Piskorski’s work suggests there are four types of effective social strategies for companies:

*Reduce costs by helping people meet.
*Increase willingness to pay by helping people meet.
*Reduce costs by helping people strengthen relationships.
*Increase willingness to pay by helping people strengthen relationships.

Check out the HBR article to understand how companies like Zynga, Yelp, and American Express use these strategies to reap the benefits of social media. And join us at the annual conference to learn how nonprofits can choose social media goals that fit their missions, allocate resources to accomplish these goals, and define and understand their communities.

Nonprofit social media presence growing, social fundraising still slow

Large nonprofits tend to have more resources to dedicate to social media, but a growing number of small organizations say Facebook and other social platforms are key to engagement, marketing, and fundraising. According to a just-released survey of more than 11,000 U.S. nonprofits, almost half of all organizations now raise money via social networks.

Fundraising via Facebook is still small change, with about a third of respondents reporting they raised less than $1,000 in the last year using the tool. Yet a growing number of “Master Social Fundraisers” raised more than $100,000 last year using social networks. Key findings from the Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report, conducted by nonprofit technology organization NTEN, consulting firm Common Knowledge, and software provider Blackbaud, include:

-46% of nonprofits raised between $1 and $10,000 last year via social networks, up from 38% in 2009.

-Only 0.4% of organizations raised more than $100,000 via social networks, although this number doubled from the previous year.

-There is a strong connection between the size of an organization and the size of its social network. However, 30% of organizations that raised more than $100,000 via social networks are small organizations (those with budgets under $5 million.)

-Environmental, animal welfare, and international services organizations are said to be using social networks “most efficiently” in terms of ROI.

-Facebook is the most popular social network for nonprofits, with 89% of nonprofits using the platform.

-The average Facebook fan base for nonprofits is up 161% from 2010 to 6,376 members.

-The average Facebook following of organizations raising more than $100,000 per year via social networks is 100,000.

-30% of nonprofits that raised more than $100,000 last year via social networks dedicate at least two staff members to managing and fundraising through their social media presence, compared to two percent in the rest of the sector.

-On the staffing side, 86% of respondents commit some employee time to commercial social networks, with the majority (61%) allocating a quarter of a full-time employee equivalent (FTE), and nearly 15% dedicating at least three-quarters of an FTE.

-57% of nonprofits use Twitter.

-One in three nonprofits uses LinkedIn.

-Small numbers of nonprofits report using other platforms, particularly FourSquare (four percent.) Other social networks used include the Facebook spinoff Jumo, Vimeo (video sharing), Picasa (photo sharing), Yelp (local user reviews), Ning (build your own community), and Delicious (social bookmarking.) Respondents also reported using donor-empowered peer-to-peer giving sites such as, CrowdRise, FirstGiving, Razoo, and Causes.

-Nonprofits use traditional avenues, rather than social media, to promote their social media presence, with 78% reporting they use their websites to promote their social network communities, 62% using email, and 48% using events.

-Four out of five nonprofits say their social networking efforts are valuable to their growth and community engagement.

-Three-quarters of respondents say that engagement is the most important goal of their social media work.

-58% report measuring the soft benefits of their social networks, such as increased awareness, education, and supporter participation, while only nine percent measure hard ROI in the form of revenues received from donors, sponsors, and advertisers.

-Three out of four nonprofits prioritize the measurement of site visitor volume, which is also the most popular metric for evaluating the success of social networks.

-The roughly ten percent of nonprofits that don’t use social media say their reasons include a lack of strategy, staff, expertise, and concerns for privacy.

Can Twitter do more for you?

Twitter has just announced its new Twitter for Nonprofits program. The program combines existing services designed especially for nonprofits, pro-bono services awarded to approved nonprofits, and a new nonprofit analytics service into a single package aimed at getting more nonprofits “tweeting for good.”

First, just in case you don’t quite know what Twitter is: a tool for quickly communicating a short message to a group of people. Individuals and organizations use the Web or text messaging to “tweet” short messages and updates to inform and connect with others.

Nonprofits use Twitter to share information about issues and events, organize people and activities, and raise funds. It’s extremely easy to use, and offers the potential to reach a vast audience. Its format allows people to participate directly in conversations, which is why it’s such a useful tool for listening and engagement for nonprofits. Twitter has become one of the fastest growing platforms for nonprofit organizing and communications, not to mention raising millions of dollars. 

Here’s what the new program provides:

1. Promoted Campaigns for Good
Select numbers of registered nonprofit organizations receive pro-bono tweets and accounts. This program is booked solid with a 6-month waiting list right now, so organizations must apply early.
Paid: Registered nonprofits that do not receive acceptance into the pro-bono program can apply to receive 20% bonus on all ad buys.

2. Promoted Crisis Campaigns
Registered nonprofits that provide valuable resources in times of crisis (natural disaster, civil unrest) can apply to be considered for pro-bono promoted tweets and promoted accounts. Organizations are asked to apply early, and are slotted as the need arises.
Registered nonprofits that do not receive acceptance into the pro-bono program can apply to receive 20% bonus on all ad buys.

3. Hope140 Spotlights

Guest Blog Posts and tweet coverage: is Twitter’s website dedicated to “unique uses of Twitter in the world of social good.” Nonprofits may contribute a guest post for the blog at @Hope140 is a Twitter account dedicated to highlighting positive social uses of Twitter. Nonprofits can apply to have their issue or cause tweeted out @Hope140.

4. Pro-Bono Analytics
Twitter just announced a new service offering pro-bono access to the comprehensive analytics system typically reserved for paying advertisers. Nonprofits must apply and be selected for the pro-bono analytics service.

If you’re thinking of adding Twitter to your social media tools, or you want your organization to get more from its tweets, check out these resources on Twitter for nonprofits.

Intro to Twitter for Nonprofits and Social Enterprises, from Net2
Best Practices for Nonprofits on Twitter, from echoditto
10 Ways Your Nonprofit Can Use Twitter, from Netwits Think Tank
Microblogging and Nonprofits, from Coyote Communications
Extensive compilation of posts, opinions, and resources on Twitter from nonprofit social media guru Beth Kanter

How are your photos?

This week we’ve been glued to images of Hurricane Irene. The pictures–rubble and roads underwater in North Carolina, bridges swept away in Vermont, empty foundations in New York—tell the stories of devastation and loss better than any words.

Pictures help us empathize. When we see people next to a house lying on its side, a yard full of wreckage, we ask, “What if it was me?” Pictures motivate us to send money, people, goodwill.

We’ve all experienced the power of images, and not just after disasters. Photographs can affect us with hope, gratitude, anger, and fear. They create indelible memories, inspire our hearts and minds, change the world.

Is your nonprofit using photos as well as it can?

Most of us don’t give photography too much thought at work. When it comes time to redesign the website or publish another Annual Report, we dig through the files for the least blurry shots, pull a couple of our building, a fundraising event, a few clients in the waiting room.

National nonprofits with large marketing departments have stunning photos. But what if you’re not the World Wildlife Fund or the Susan G. Komen Foundation? You may not have professional photographers and designers on staff, but that doesn’t mean your organization can’t harness the power of pictures to convey what you do, and how, and for whom. This week we share some tips and reminders for using photography to tell your organization’s story. Got others? Let us know in the Comments section below.

1. Take a lot of pictures. Make sure at least a few people on staff have cameras. Inexpensive point-and-shoots are fine. Urge them to take pictures on a regular basis, not just when you have an upcoming publication.

2. Revisit the “About” section on your website. If it’s accurate, it’s a guide to what your pictures should convey.

3. Avoid generic shots that may as well be stock photos. How is your organization unique from the other 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S.?

4. You need different pictures for different purposes and audiences. Target your pictures for fundraising, client education, volunteer recruitment, marketing programs and events, etc.

5. Make your pictures have a message. What’s your call to action? Do you want people to drive less, eat better, invest in literacy, check out new artists?

6. Speaking of action, take action shots. They’re more descriptive, more interesting, and more engaging.

7. Faces are good, backs are usually not.

8. There are hundreds of books and websites on photography. Basic rules can go a long way—use natural light, avoid shadows, get close, no distracting backgrounds…

9. Photoshop is your friend. A little post-processing can make a world of difference. You don’t need sophisticated skills to be able to bump up the brightness or the contrast.

10. Attach your photos to stories, names, and places whenever possible. Context is compelling.

11. Get feedback on photos you’re thinking about using. But don’t ask people who already know and love your organization, because they won’t be objective.

12. If the photo habit doesn’t seem to work in your organization, consider hiring  a pro. Photography students and aspiring professionals may be more affordable, and they might welcome the chance to build their portfolios.

13. Keep your photos organized. Give them recognizable names, use a filing system, and copy the great ones you know you want to feature in a running folder.

14. Don’t save photos only for your website. Make them a part of your regular communications—training materials, event calendars, business cards, etc.

15. For a different perspective, consider sharing cameras with clients and community members. See Photovoices  for inspiration (and possible funding.)

Time to get with Google Docs?

Is your organization using Google Docs yet?

Writing grants, preparing presentations, sharing spreadsheets—Google Docs has become a standard tool for collaborative document development.  For nonprofits, it’s one of the easiest and most efficient ways to manage both internal projects and those with outside clients or partners. It can save time spent on meetings and making sense of multiple drafts and comments, and it can foster collaborative thinking and creativity.

The old way to share documents was to send them as email attachments. The documents “lived” on your computer. Every time you sent one, you were really sending a copy, not the original version. If you sent a draft of a proposal to three people for comment, there were four versions of the document. Likely the copies you sent spawned more copies, as the recipients then shared their drafts, and then created new ones to send back to you. The result—a sprawling, hard-to-keep-track-of family of related but different documents in different places.

Docs can vastly improve workflow by changing how you think about digital documents. In Docs, your documents don’t live on your computer, they live on the Internet. The software allows you to securely share any document created with people you choose, and lets people revise and contribute as needed. When you enter the e-mail addresses of those who are working on a project, they will be sent an e-mail stating that a document has been shared. You can specify whether each recipient gets read-write access or view-only access.

In Google Docs, documents can be saved to a user’s local computer in a variety of formats including Microsoft Office, HTML, and PDF. They’re saved to Google’s servers to prevent data loss, and a revision history is automatically kept. The service is supported by most major Web browsers. Documents can be tagged, classified, and archived for organizational purposes.

For those who are used to Word’s Track Changes function, Google Docs provides a similar feature. Changes and additions made by contributors are visible in real time, and you can see all the iterations separately or together. But unlike in Track Changes, all the changes are on a single copy of the document. Multiple contributors can work on a document at the same time, allowing them to avoid duplicating work and to stay on top of changes and additions. This way, groups avoid wasting time managing drafts—reviewing, changing, sending back, and comparing countless versions of the same file.

Google Docs is one of many cloud computing document-sharing services, and one of the only free ones (up to 1 G, more storage is available for small fees.) If you get the Google Cloud Connect plug-in for Microsoft Office, you can automatically store and synchronize Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, and Excel spreadsheets, with the Google Doc copy automatically updating each time the Office document is saved. (This way, Microsoft Office documents can be edited offline and synchronized later when online.)

There are now thousands of free templates to use in Google Docs, including those for infographics, meeting minutes, communications plans, event feedback survey, business plans, presentation checklists, timecards, business cards, fixed rate calculators, press releases, project timelines, and travel expenses.

And one more reason to start using Google Docs? It works with most mobile apps, including Android, iPhone and iPad.  Mobile users can create, view, and edit, and create Google Docs documents, spreadsheets, and presentations wherever they are—a lifesaver when you’re working under a grant deadline or other tight schedule and need quick revisions and contributions.

LinkedIn for nonprofits

Many nonprofit professionals have joined LinkedIn for the usual reasons–we heard it was good for introductions, job searching, and researching colleagues.

But most of us don’t do more than fill out a brief profile and forget about it, until the next alert, the next request for an incoming “connection.”

A recent Best Practices Guide to LinkedIn for nonprofits describes services and features of interest and how it can be used as much more than a place to post our resumes.

For starters, did you know you can create a company page at no cost? More than 101,000 organizations have a LinkedIn page that they use to attract followers and communicate important and timely information about their work.

Once set up in the network, nonprofits can link to or start common interest groups. With the Groups feature, users host content, share resources, start discussions, and alert others to services, programs, and events. For example, the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network (NTEN) uses their Group to host content and agenda discussions related to its annual conference for presenters and attendees. When you start or join a LinkedIn Group, you can find news and discussions by topic, play an active role in discussions by commenting on content, and follow influential people and their group activity.

Another LinkedIn feature—the Skills page—can help nonprofits find and share information on professional expertise. For instance, nonprofits use the Skills page to find consultants or contractors with specific experience and knowledge. By searching for a skill, you can identify members with additional related skills, as well as Groups and discussion focused on those areas of expertise.

Active LinkedIn users are likely to use the Status feature to share information. With Status you can post articles, make announcements, recruit survey participants, market new programs, ask questions, etc. This is networking in the nonprofit sense–positioning your organization, building leadership in your network, engaging users in issues and causes.

The Best Practices Guide also describes numerous ways that nonprofits conduct hiring activities using the LinkedIn Jobs and Recruiter features. Jobs lets users post and circulate opportunities, and Recruiter enables users to put in parameters and run searches to find their own candidate lists. Many national organizations like Habitat for Humanity and the Sick Kids Foundation use the feature to recruit candidates, manage the application process, and coordinate internal hiring activities. Recruiter is also a handy tool for conducting Board searches.

The Career Page, a sub-feature of the Company Page, is another LinkedIn tool that many companies use for recruiting staff and volunteers. Members use the feature to develop targeted pages that can help candidates better understand the organization, its culture, recent direction, and career opportunities.

Check out the Best Practices Guide here. It’ll remind you  to revisit your own outdated or incomplete profile and inspire you to LinkIn your nonprofit.

Ten ways to build your nonprofit’s public speaking capacity

We pay a lot of attention to our nonprofits’ online voices these days, but are we neglecting an older and more essential form of communication?

Public speaking skills are overlooked as a core capacity in many organizations. All nonprofits need good in-person communicators, whether they present at national conferences, provide community talks, call on funders, or meet with partners and clients. Unfortunately we tend to think good public speakers are born that way, and hope we get lucky enough to hire or work with them.

Many books and classes teach the principles of effective public speaking, but there’s little guidance for nonprofit leaders who want to build it as a competency across their organization. Most of us are left on our own when we “have to speak” in public. And most of us wait until the last minute, whip out a quick Powerpoint, and suffer through.

But what if nonprofit leaders matched their nonprofits’ important work and impressive outcomes with a commitment to continuous learning and building of presentation skills? Below we suggest some ways to do this:

1. View public speaking as teamwork, even if it’s a solo job.
Assemble a group to brainstorm about stories and concepts that will interest people and presentation content and themes. Make sure that less-experienced staff works with senior staff as a learning experience. Likewise, senior staff can benefit by rehearsing in front of those who are newer to the topic and issues and may be more like a general audience.

2. Develop scripts.
Create scripts that describe your organization, its impact, key programs, and related issues. These can serve as templates and be adapted for specific audiences and events.  Develop boilerplate presentation aids, like Powerpoint slideshows, to accompany your scripts.

3. Rehearse.
Rehearse early and often. Set specific times for staff to present in front of colleagues, or bring in peers, Board members, or others to serve as mock audiences. Rehearsals should be “dress rehearsals” that simulate the event conditions, such as time, equipment, question and answer sessions, etc.

4. Use video.
Use a video recorder to tape and review presentations. Hearing and seeing yourself speak is a tremendous eye opener.  You’ll have a different perspective on what you sound like to others and your unique body language.

5. Learn PowerPoint.
There are rare people who can give a compelling presentation with no slideshow, but most of us need at least a few slides and most audiences expect them. Make sure everyone in your organization is comfortable with Powerpoint (including navigating forward and backward and clicking on hyperlinks.) There are many other software tools you can use as well, but Powerpoint is “spoken” across almost all venues and audiences. Invest the time to develop a slideshow that enhances, rather than overwhelms or distracts from, a presentation.

6. Buy good equipment and train people to use it smoothly.
How many presentations have you been to where the speaker spends five minutes or more trying to get the equipment working properly? You can’t always use your own remote or electronic pointer, but whenever possible use trusted equipment and make sure speakers are trained to use it.

7. Invest in training.
Look for public speaking workshops and courses. Skills like eye contact and body language, voice control, storytelling, and the “power close” can all be taught and practiced. They can be especially helpful for those who have been giving presentations for a long time and may have developed bad habits.

8. Hire a coach.
A coach can be well worth the investment to help staff become confident and effective public speakers. The one-on-one feedback can be immeasurably helpful at both the psychological level (e.g., confidence) and the physical (e.g., voice control.)

9. Join Toastmasters.
There are many Toastmasters clubs in the Mid-South. Members meet on a regular basis to present, listen, and evaluate each other’s presentations. These learn-by-doing workshops are a popular way for participants to hone their speaking and leadership skills in an encouraging atmosphere.  Nonprofit leaders can help their employees find a good fit and pay the membership dues.

10. Create opportunities to speak.
So many of us dread public speaking and only give presentations when asked. But if we invest in collaboration, training, coaching, and technology to build capacity, we’ll improve our skills and find it more enjoyable. The only way to get better is to practice. Look around your community for volunteer, business, religious, senior, and other types of groups that host or sponsor presenters or panels.  You never know what else they could lead to.

Are presentation skills a core capacity in your organization? Leave a comment–we’d love to know how you practice public speaking or help employees improve their skills. We’re interested in great books and videos or local classes and coaching resources for public speaking too.