Friday, April 29, 2011

Donating Online - How to Make It Work Best for Your Nonprofit

On April 30th (Tomorrow) I will be presenting at the Literacy Volunteers of NJ annual conference.  The presentation is geared for small organizations who are just getting started with accepting donations online.  The presentaion is on and can be viewed here:

Soon I will be presenting a longer workshop on this subject at the Volunteer Center of Bergen County.  For more information contact Tess Tomasi at (201) 489-9454 or email

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Branding for Nonprofits - Professionals Share Expertise at the Fist to Five Series

Some of my most popular blog articles have been about the Fist to Five series for Nonprofits sponsored by Sax Macy Fromm, an accounting firm in Clifton, NJ. Todd Polyniak, a principal, designs and chairs these forums. Yesterday, I attended one of the best yet. Branding for nonprofits was the topic and two experts discussed the branding makeover they did on two very different nonprofits. It was fascinating to learn about the process and the results. There is a lot of interest in nonprofit branding today and it is with due cause. In this day of information overload and internet clutter, it is easy for organizations to not be heard – or worse, not be heard correctly. Communicating who we are and doing it crisply, accurately and endearing passion of our mission is no small task. It is a job for professionals. And Todd interviewed two professionals about their branding work with two very different nonprofits.

Todd first interviewed Walt Guarino, President and Managing partner at SGW and opened with offering this as a definition of a brand: “A brand is a one of a kind promise about who you are, what you stand for, and what unique and meaningful benefits you deliver.” He asked Walt to comment on this as it applies to nonprofits. Walt’s remarks really resonated with my experience when he said, “Nonprofits have a lot of different things to say and when the name doesn’t connect, it takes effort to get people to understand what they are about. Branding triggers reactions and feelings when you see the brand so it is important to get it right.

Todd then referred to marketing guru, Seth Godin’s “Purple Cow” proposition – the purple cow being that which makes an organization remarkable (worth talking about, worth noticing, exceptional, new, interesting) and asked what methods Walt uses to help find “purple cow” in clients?

Walt discussed a specific example of an organization which is over 40 years old and has been home to developmentally disabled individuals during that time. Although the individuals they serve are now adults there are reasons they cannot change the name of their organization which includes the word children. They conducted interviews with a wide spectrum of constituents looking for the nuggets to capture the essence of the organization to use in their branding statement. Involving the participation of all constituents is an important part of the process - to capture the essence of the organization. “Caring haven” is the short phrase they decided on. They also developed a positioning theme: “More than a home to individuals who are developmentally disabled.” This statement invites us learn more about what the “more” is.

Next Todd interviewed David Kessler, founder of Starfish. His general remarks about branding were similar to Walt’s: “Brands are created not only by what it says, but also how people react and interact with it.” I think that when we try to develop our marketing messages from within we tend to stay to much “inside the box” and don’t think about how what we say will capture the attention and heart of those seeing the message. This came through loud and clear in both Walt and David’s examples.

Todd asked David to name the top blunders companies make in branding and David responded citing a briar patch you don’t want to wander into:

1) Brand is not clearly defined and even people within the organization give different opinions about what the brand is

2) Worse thing you can do is send a message with expectations and not meet those expectations

Next Todd brought out a rather wordy plain looking bottle of Dr. Bronner’s all in one soap that doesn’t advertise yet is able to fetch a premium price in stores such as Whole Foods and asked David to comment on why. David’s assessment was quick – It looks “authentic” – that’s the message that people are getting. And when Todd asked about how a nonprofit should go about developing and promoting their brand, David responded with:

1) The nonprofit has to clearly understand what they stand for and actively promote that.

2) Understand your primary purpose, core competencies and the competitive framework you are working in

A brand is an “idea that spreads and to spread it has to be simple, compelling and relevant.” Word of mouth advertising has always existed and today it includes social media and these characteristics are especially important with social media.  The potential today via social media  is greater than word of mouth advertizing has ever been.

David worked with a Newark, NJ based nonprofit which is expanding the types of programs it offers and would like to expand to have a national presence. David worked with them to develop a new name and logo/identity with the following goals:

• Not limiting
• Has stature
• Competes well nationally
• Works in all media – print, web
Coupled with a key line “transforming young lives through the arts and innovation"  the new name and logo captures what they are all about and has a clear, bold look.

The audience was awed by the potential impact the new organization names and positioning statements could make for these organizations. We felt the brands speak.

Here are some great online resources for nonprofits on the topic of branding.

Nancy Schwartz at Getting Attention - Search categories Branding and Taglines for great ideas on this subject. Nancy’s annual tagline contest and report are not to be missed and will inspire your branding ideas for sure.

Kivi Leroux Miller at the Nonprofit Marketing Guide always has great marketing and communications articles including on branding.
An excellent basic article at Guidestar is Nonprofit Branding: Unveiling the Essentials

Just published by Wiley/AFP:
Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding – by Jocelyne Daw and Carol Cone 

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Convio Online Marketing Benchmark Index– Highlights and My Two Cents

There are two new large scale study reports on Nonprofits and technology just released in March 2011 that have quite a bit of noteworthy information in them. I am again writing two companion pieces on this topic:
You can check out my report on The Third Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report published by NTEN, Common Knowledge, and Blackbaud at the Nonprofit Capacity Blog at
This article has highlights – along with my commentary - from the Convio Online Marketing Nonprofit Benchmark Index™ Study. The report uses data from nearly 600 nonprofit organizations that use the Convio Online Marketing platform.

I am often asked in my workshops about what are reasonable expectations for online engagement. This type of large scale study provides some reasonable benchmarks that can be used as goals. Keep in mind that all of these organizations are all at least somewhat established – many are at expert level. If you are just starting out you will need to work to reach these levels.

Here are some highlights:

Online is the fastest growing fundraising channel for nonprofits. In 2010, Convio’s clients raised more than $1.3 billion online, up 40 percent from 2009. Wow! Now that’s a big number!

Online giving is growing fastest for small organizations – 26% in 2010

Median donation size increased from $83.44 in 2009 to $91.94 in 2010

Website visit growth rate was only 2% and website registration rates declined. So don’t feel bad if your web traffic does not seem to be growing by leaps and bounds. The report speculates that some of this is due to emails and social media providing better communication and thereby having less traffic to websites to keep up to date. My opinion – we are all on web overload and trying to pare down anything that is not necessary.
The total number of email addresses grew by 22% in 2010. The number of email addresses on file has a direct impact on your organization’s ability to communicate, cultivate, and drive actions from constituents. However, the quality of your relationships and how email addresses were acquired are both important and a large email file alone will not guarantee your online success. Organizations that are growing their online results are proactive in collecting email addresses at events and at their facilities –with people they already have a good relationship with.

The open rate for email newsletters was 19% this year. Organizations need to continue to refine their subject lines, content, and use of segmentation to resonate with subscribers. There is a strong differentiation between those who do this well and those who don’t. The 3.06% click-through rate for email newsletters was down slightly from 2009 (3.3%) but remains almost double that of email fundraising appeals.

The Convio platform saw an increase of 19% in the number of online advocacy actions in 2010. There is a great disparity in the types of nonprofits using their email lists for advocacy. A big mystery to me is why 27% of animal welfare organizations are using online advocacy and only 2 ½% of human services organizatios did. Are animals worth spending more time advocating for than people? I do hope that more human services nonprofits will begin look past program delivery and to think about the power of advocacy. An interesting fact and nudge - 6.42 percent of online activists also supported the same organization financially online. Encouraging advocacy can be profitable on multiple fronts and I predict it will be a growth area for nonprofits using their online presence.

Convio concludes their report with this list of common attributes of organizations that have had the most success online:

• Success in driving traffic to their websites by optimizing search engine visibility, using paid search/advertising, offering compelling content, and promoting their site via other media including mail, DRTV and social media

• Effective content and incentives to convert website traffic into registered users who can then be cultivated into supporters

• Proven ability to build large email files via online registration programs, list uploads, and viral campaigns

• Effective email communication through compelling content, segmentation, and personalization to sustain interest in their programs

• Engaging online members through online advocacy and developing strategies to engage new audiences through social networking websites

• Timely delivery of critical/urgent fundraising or advocacy appeals which resonate with constituents

• Proactively test methods aimed at optimizing donation form conversion rates.

• Develop strategies for segmenting email audience and developing dynamic ask-strings that go beyond current Recency, Frequency, Monetary models.

• Engaging and converting offline members/donors through online communications

• A high response rate for online appeals, generated by having an effective case for supporting their organization, segmenting and personalizing their appeals, and testing elements of each email, such as the subject line, frequency, and delivery timing

To see the full detailed report with information by segments, click here