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Technology Toolkit for Start-up Nonprofits: Part One

Lori Halley 25 March 2010 5 comments

brevity-wit-logoWild Apricot Blog is pleased to welcome a two-part guest post from media consultant Minal Bopaiah of Brevity & Wit, this week. Her “technology toolkit” and sample step-by-step plan are designed to help new nonprofit organizations get started with online marketing, outreach and fundraising — on a tight budget.

A Technology Toolkit for Start-up Nonprofits

So you’ve decided your nonprofit needs to take advantage of social networking tools and Web technology, but you have no idea how to go about evaluating what you need or how to best use them?

Good news — here’s a quick primer to walk you through the baby steps of planning your Web technology and making social networking tools work for you.

First, let’s review what tools you should have in your “Technology Toolkit”:

1. A unique Website that allows you to have e-mail access with your Website’s name as the handle:

Seems pretty obvious in this day and age that you need a Website to conduct online fundraising, but you’d be surprised how many mom-and-pop companies (not just nonprofits) I’ve seen that think mom@gmail.com is a suitable e-mail address for a business. The irony is that once you pay for domain hosting, you usually get a minimum of 50 free e-mail accounts, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a professional e-mail account. If you don’t, ask your Web coordinator to set that up STAT. Then choose whether you want to access your e-mail online through an application like RoundCube or Google Apps, or through a free e-mail manager like Thunderbird (a lot like Microsoft Office but without the price tag).

2. An e-newsletter and e-mail campaign manager:

I consider an e-newsletter a vital tool for any nonprofit, mainly because it allows you to brand yourself and develop word of mouth (maybe your recipient can’t make your upcoming event, but it’s easier for them to inform their friends if they can just forward on an e-mail instead of cutting and pasting the right URL — or worse, asking them to pass on a flyer!). It’s also critical to have an e-mail campaign manager, and I’ll talk about that a little further on. Here are some tips on how to maximize usage of that “subscribe” button on your Website:

  • Make sure it’s featured prominently on the homepage and then included on every page (maybe in a navigation column).
  • Let visitors type their e-mail address right into a box instead of asking them to click to go to another page to sign up — research has found the former method to be far more effective.
  • Set up your e-mail campaign manager to send an automatic welcome to new subscribers. This is especially important if you don’t send out daily e-newsletters — it lets readers know that their request was filled.

3. Donation management

If you can’t accept donation online, you’re missing out on a significant and growing piece of the money pie, and here’s why:

  • Foundation giving went down 9-13% in 2009. This means that it’s harder for nonprofits that weren’t already recipients to get foundation grants.
  • But online giving went up 50% in 2009
    The average charity raised 20% more online in 2009 than in 2008
    39% of visitors make a donation after visiting a charity Website
  • The average gift is $130
  • 20% of gifts are recurring

So set up that donation page. But remember, the donation button “doesn’t work” unless you work a strategic marketing and fundraising campaign (more on that later).

4. Google Analytics:

This is a free Google application that allows you to track the number of unique visitors, the number of time most people spend on a page, and other important and impressive stats if you ever want to get major donors or be able to speak intelligently about your work and measure progress. However, I suggest your stats person take a few tutorials on how to use this informative application effectively — it can be a little overwhelming for the beginner. Here are some helpful introductory articles:

5. A Blog:

I have mixed feelings about a blog for nonprofits. I think it’s a good idea for nonprofits whose mission is rather static (“We educated girls in India”) and it can provide donors and potential donors with a way to stay informed on what a nonprofit is doing. The key here is that CONTENT IS KING, and a blog is not an ongoing advertisement of your services — you need to provide your readers with useful and interesting information and UPDATE REGULARLY! That means at least twice a week, preferably three times.

Now, I’ve been consulting for a nonprofit news organization, and I actually discouraged them from establishing a blog, mainly because the staff was already producing original content for the Website at full capacity. But I am exploring ways for readers to comment on articles and for experts to give their opinions so that readers can feel engaged and voice their opinions on important issues.

Remember the cardinal rule of all social media: It’s social. It’s a conversation, not a sales pitch. So be ready to listen.

Therefore, a good alternative if you don’t have the staff or time for a blog, is to cultivate bloggers in your field. See who’s talking about the issues that interest your nonprofit and establish a relationship with them. They’re the coveted Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen Malcolm Gladwell discussed in The Tipping Point that you want on your side.

6. A Facebook page

Facebook is changing its format and rules for connection almost every few months, so it’s hard to give you a detailed plan. But my best suggestion is to create a Fan Page for your cause/nonprofit (this is opposed to the normal profile pages where people “friend” other people). It’s a great tool for disseminating information, fun facts, and inviting people to attend events. You can check out my company’s FB page here.

Facebook also connects with Causes.com, which allows people to “opt-in” to a cause they want to support. This is a good way to build an active community around an issue and get them to volunteer, spread the word, sign petitions, or donate. There’s a bit of a learning curve in getting to the fundraising part, so I suggest you create a Facebook Fan Page and join Causes early, and work on building a community before trying to leverage this tool into donor dollars.

7. A LinkedIn presence

This social networking site is similar to Facebook but is more professional, allowing you to connect with professionals in industries of interest. I strongly suggest joining a couple of LinkedIn groups — one group called Social Media for Nonprofits Organizations provided me with a plethora of links and resources that basically helped me create the social media plan I’ll be sharing in Part Two of this post!

Some people will advise you to join groups with like professionals (example: animal rights activists), and I suppose that’s a good idea if you’re looking to hire or if you just want to keep tabs on what everyone in the field is doing (although Twitter is better for the latter purpose). But maybe you don’t care what other animal rights activists are doing. Maybe what your company really needs is someone who can print some brochures on the cheap. In that case, LinkedIn groups such as Building Print, which promotes print media and links you to a number of print specialists in India, would be a good choice even though it has nothing to do with animal rights.

8. A Twitter presence:

140 characters to share news and make your case! You’d better know your branding concept inside out if you’re going to get on board with Twitter. More importantly, you’d better be a news junkie (in whatever your field of expertise) who likes to share information.

Recent data shows that only 10% of Americans are on Twitter, which may ask you why you should join. The reason is that these are the 10% of Americans who are news junkies and gossipmongers. Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s idea of the Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen? Well, now you know where to find them — on Twitter!

But please — don’t let the young, unpaid intern in your nonprofit be in charge of your Twitter account (or other social networking tools). What you put out becomes synonymous with your organization, so while a young intern can collate and maintain a site, a seasoned professional should be in charge of constructing your messages and overseeing the process.

This is a very good option, however, for nonprofit journalism — Twitter is being used as a personalized news feed by a lot of journalists, and the news organization I currently consult for gets a lot more hits on Twitter than Facebook because of that.

One alternative suggestion for low-staffed nonprofits is to create a personal twitter account like I have (@mbopaiah), which allows me to have a tailored news feed of what’s happening in the fields I’m interested in. Then, I can retweet what the nonprofits I’m working with are doing as well as industry news and simple things that delight me. It blurs the boundaries between personal and professional, so it’s a compromise best executed by either a consultant, who isn’t considered a representative of your organization, or the director of your nonprofit, who is and will know how to speak about your organization’s work.

9. Online video:

Filmmakers can tell you about the power of image in conveying a cause. No one does this better in my opinion than BringChange2Mind.org with their moving PSA (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUaXFlANojQ). And while less professional videos can be done on the cheap, given the time and technical expertise required, I would suggest utilizing this tool later on in a tiered social media plan (see the sample plan coming up in Part Two).

10. HootSuite

A one-stop site to manage all social networking tools! An absolute must-have if you have personal and professional accounts across multiple social networking platforms! This is my most recent techie crush. I usually just post from HootSuite (5 sites in one go!), and then go to the actual sites to read status updates from other people, mainly because I like to give what I’m reading my full attention and not get distracted. But less intense readers can follow all their friends’/followers’ status updates from one site. How convenient! It makes me want to start a “Convenience Award.”

There’s a basic 10-piece “Technology Toolkit” for nonprofits  — now, how do you start to put these tools to best use?

Read on: In A Technology Toolkit for Start-up Nonprofits: Part Two, Minal shares her picks for the top three must-have tech tools for start-up nonprofits, how to choose social media tools based on your mission and goals, and a step-by-step online marketing/fundraising plan that her company, Brevity & Wit, created recently for a nonprofit news agency.

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Thursday, 25 March 2010 at 2:00 PM


  • Paul Cheney said:

    Thursday, 25 March 2010 at 7:51 AM

    Great post!

    I would argue that a blog could be a little more central in the toolkit. I realize it's very hard for cash and time strapped NPO's to throw their effort into making content king. That's certainly necessary for a blog to work right.

    But it's also necessary for any of the other social networks you mention. Content will always be king no matter where you put your energy: Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, you name it.

    Why not put that energy and time into a platform that you own?

    Here's a Copyblogger post that kind of drives home the point: http://www.copyblogger.com/are-you-someones-user-generated-content/

  • Steve Mortimer said:

    Saturday, 27 March 2010 at 11:48 AM

    Thanks so very much for synthesizing all the information and making it available to us all! Great job, and extremely useful. Thank you! Steve

  • Nicole Harrison said:

    Sunday, 28 March 2010 at 11:38 AM

    I agree with Steve about the blog. I think nonprofits need to address social media not just as adding a marketing technique, but more as a shift in the way things are done. We are in a new economy and social media is leading the way. Instead of just adding social media to the list of things that nonprofits already do, they need to address a fundamental organizational shift. Identify what is working and what is not and figure out what tasks to drop to make social media and other techniques possible. Back to the blog, this is such a central way to drive people to your website and involve them more deeply in what you do. I do not think it should be overlooked.

    Also, I agree with the intern statement. Do not let your interns manage your messaging. You would not let them stand in front of a news camera and deliver your message at a press conference, so don't do it for social media tools.

    Finally, the most important thing to remember is that even thought social media tools are free, human capital is not free. Invest in social media in the same way you invest in any other tool Invest in a well thought out plan, use a professional to help you think through your approach. Be thoughtful about entering the space and whatever you do, do not think it is free. It is not.

  • Minal Bopaiah said:

    Monday, 29 March 2010 at 6:43 AM

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments!

    I appreciate the lively discussion about the role blogs should play in a nonprofit's identity, and I think Paul and Nicole have fair points. Blogging can definitely be central to an organization's social media strategy, and I think this blog by Wild Apricot is doing a good job in demonstrating how to use a blog well.

    My resistance to blogs probably comes from my journalistic background, where I was taught to never consider a blog a reliable source, even if they are fonts of information. In the example I gave, I had nixed the idea for a blog for a nonprofit organization dedicated to producing original news stories. If your Website is meant to be a portal for disseminating content, a blog seems a little redundant. And while content is also king in platforms like Facebook and Twitter, 140-character blasts with news updates are easier to manage that writing three more weekly articles for a blog.

    However, this is not always the best option for everyone, and like I said, Wild Apricot's blog is their most valuable social networking platform in my opinion and drives a lot of traffic to their site. But to give you some inside info, the moderator of this blog e-mailed me today with a gentle reminder to respond to these lovely comments--that's what's required to have a thriving and dynamic blog--someone to constantly monitor not only content but comments.

    I should also point out that my own business, Brevity & Wit, does not have a blog because I can't imagine writing and editing after spending the day writing and editing content for all my clients. But by guest blogging here, I was able to share my expertise and attract some new clients without the hassle of monitoring a blog or thinking of new things to write about almost daily.

    So to recap, blogs are a good idea for nonprofits with fixed services or a mission that doesn't require changing the Website content much and are also well-staffed and have tons of information to share, like Wild Apricot. Blogs are probably a poor choice for nonprofits with constant changes to their Website content and low staff resources. Or in my personal case, a bad idea for a solopreneur who spends her days writing and editing for her clients, in which case, guest blogging has been a much more cost-effective measure. Does that make more sense?

  • Kelli King-Jackson said:

    Monday, 29 March 2010 at 2:42 PM

    This is great info that all nonprofits, especially smaller ones, should employ.  Thanks for sharing such important info.

Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.

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