Feb 062015

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to show your donors how much you love and appreciate them!

This starts with understanding their needs.

Each one of our donors has a vision for how they’d like to see the world. Your donors give to you because they believe that your organization can make a difference in the cause they care about. You are their partner in changing the world and their gifts are an investment in that partnership.

One of our chief tasks is to help our donors feel connected to the changes we are making in the world, to feel that they ARE making a difference, to inspire them to give again so we can continue our important work. They need to be acknowledged and to feel appreciated – after all, without them, we’d be in tough shape!

How do we do this?

The quickest way to a donor’s heart is through a story.

Because at its core, philanthropy is a heart-centered activity.

And stories help us connect to one another through our heart space.

I know you have a million great stories you could tell!

Stories that focus on the Underdog, a Quest, the Journey, Comedy, Tragedy, or Rebirth. Stories about your clients’ challenges, triumphs and celebrations. We need to post success stories on our website, on our Facebook page, in our newsletter (and e-newsletter). We need to create case studies and collect testimonials. To sprinkle quotes in everything that goes out the door or over the internet.

You’d be surprised how many of your clients WANT to share their stories with you. After all, you helped them overcome a challenge and move to a better place in their lives. They want to share that triumph with others, let others in the same situation know that change is possible. It makes them feel good to give help and hope to others. For many clients, they feel it’s one way they can “repay” the agency for providing them with much-needed help. So don’t be shy about asking! We should, of course, ensure client confidentiality, but that’s easy enough to do with made up names and stock photos.

The other way you can inspire your donors is to interview your existing donors. Ask why they give. You will be amazed by some of the stories you hear! Like your clients, many of your donors are more than happy to share their story with you and it can serve as a major inspiration for others. Interviewing your donors will also help you get to know them better and deepen their connection to your organization (win-win!). Like client stories, sprinkle these liberally across your communications!

One quick way to share stories is to create a series of story postcards. These are easy and relatively inexpensive to create – most printers charge only $165 for 2,500 four-color postcards! Use a real or stock photo on the front, with a synopsis of the story on the back. End the story with a Call to Action – an invitation to read the full story on your website, a request for a financial or in-kind contribution, an invitation to volunteer. Send these out at strategic points throughout the year to reach out and engage with your stakeholders. We tried this with one client and the response was incredible!

Story-telling is a sure-fire way to connect more deeply with the people who truly care about the people who turn up at our agencies, looking for help. This Valentine’s Day, show your donors how much you love them by sending them a heart-warming, inspirational story about the difference they are helping to make in the world. It will inspire them to love ya right back!

 February 6, 2015  Posted by at 3:36 pm Communications and Social Media, Fundraising
Oct 172014

Many of you are gearing up for your fall appeal. For many agencies, the fall appeal is one of the key components in their fundraising program and a reliable source of income. 

But when was the last time you communicated with your donors? 

The donor cycle is inform, ask, inform, ask, inform…. But due to time constraints and pressure, many of us make the mistake of focusing solely on the ask. Without information about your programs and progress, however, donors are left to wonder if their gift was put to work as they intended, and if it made a difference.  

With 1.5m non-profits out there to choose from, your donors have plenty of giving options. Don’t give them cause to exercise them! 

One of the key ways to stay in touch with your donors is through newsletters. Yet, to be frank, many of the newsletters I’ve seen are pretty bad. Well, actually really bad. Why? Because most of us invest little time in the layout, look and content of our newsletter.  

Done right, newsletters can be one of the most effective cultivation, stewardship and fundraising tools in your toolbox!  

Here are some tips on creating a newsletter that will serve all three of these purposes: 

Keep the NEWS in newsletters. When you tune into your favorite news program, are they talking about things that happened several months ago? Not unless they’re connecting to something in the here and now… Yet many nonprofit newsletters are written in the past tense. 


While it’s important to share news of a recent grant, a large donation or photos from an event, unless these take place as you’re moving into production, Facebook, Twitter, and/or an e-news blast might be a more appropriate channel through which to broadcast this news.  


Your newsletter should focus on what’s NEW — things that are happening now, as well as things that are about to happen. Use your newsletter to educate your readers about the issue(s) your agency is facing and to share success stories. You want the content of your newsletter to be inspiring, informative and interesting, not a nighttime sleep aid! 


Keep DONORS at the heart of your stories. This doesn’t mean you have to write stories about your donors – although that’s an idea you might want to consider – or include long lists of donors in each edition. It means keeping your audience in mind as you write, thinking about what’s meaningful and important to the people who are supporting your cause (if you aren’t sure what that is, survey them – what a great excuse to reach out and touch them!).  


You know that saying, “It’s not all about you”? Well, when it comes to your supporters, it actually is all about them! To write in a more donor-centered way, change your tense — use the word “you” instead of “we.” Acknowledge the role that your donors have played in making things happen and thank them for their support. After all, you wouldn’t be able to operationalize your mission without their support! 


Pluck at their HEART STRINGS! Philanthropy is a heart-centered activity, and donors give in response to an emotional trigger. Use your newsletter as a means through which to share stories about the lives you’re changing, the impact you’re having, the difference you’re making – it keeps things on a human scale and strikes an emotional chord with your reader. Stories are the vehicles through which we connect to others, through our hearts, not our heads. Post your data in sidebars or boxes, rather than co-mingling with your stories. Graphs and infographics are a great way to draw attention to data that might otherwise appear dull and unnoteworthy. 


Design with PURPOSE. Make sure your front page is engaging and dynamic. Use color, catchy headlines, text boxes, pull quotes and photos to move your reader through the newsletter and make stories more “digestable.” Make sure you use a font type and size that are easy to read – as tempting as it is to use Arial Narrow or 9 point font to squeeze in more information, doing so is a huge turn-off to your readers. Use your prime real estate wisely – most readers skim the news, so place the most important stories on the front page and pack the most important information into the first two paragraphs of each story, continuing it on another page.  


Look at your PRODUCTION SCHEDULE. The purpose of a newsletter is to inform, inspire, acknowledge and thank your supporters. Since the ultimate goal of your newsletter is to retain donors and encourage them to increase their giving (in both frequency and amount), the newsletter production schedule needs to coincide with and support development activities. When reviewing the newsletter production schedule of an agency in CT, we realized we had to change it in order to better serve this purpose. Since instituting the new schedule – and creating complementary Facebook and e-news blast schedules — both event attendance and donations have increased.  


Don’t leave MONEY ON THE TABLE! Be sure to slip a remittance envelope in every edition of your newsletter or place a “donate here” button in a prominent place in your e-newsletter. Most donors are happy to give more than once per year and it can’t hurt to make a “soft ask” while you’ve got their attention. After all, your newsletter is going to be inspiring, informative and interesting – strike while the iron is hot! 

If you want to boost the return on your appeal, send out a newsletter a week or two before the letter lands in their mailboxes (or email in boxes). You may think you don’t have time to do it this year, but you do!  

Right now, we’re working with an agency that hasn’t sent out a newsletter since 2006. Yes, you read that right, it’s been 8 years since they had any kind of regular communication with their donors! Since we’re under a significant time constraints and there’s no money in the budget for this project, we’re creating a simple, one-page, four-color newsletter that focuses on all the positive changes that are being made at the agency. We plan to mail the newsletter only to the organization’s top donors as a means of containing cost – moving forward, we’ll distribute it to everyone. I’ll let you know how this impacts giving!

 October 17, 2014  Posted by at 3:22 pm Communications and Social Media
Aug 142014

Have you heard about – or seen – the Ice Bucket Challenge?  

It’s an ingenius strategy being used to raise awareness about ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Started by Pete Frates – who lives in Beverly, MA and has ALS – it entails people getting doused with buckets of ice water on video, posting that video to social media, then nominating others to do the same. Anyone who declines to participate is asked to make a donation to the ALS charity of their choice. 

The Ice Bucket Challenge has gone viral and attracted thousands of followers. And people don’t even have to leave their house to support the cause. It doesn’t get easier than that! 


This is Slacktivism at its best!  


What IS Slacktivism? 

As you might have guessed, it’s a combination of the words “slacker” and “activism.” Words, which by definition, are at odds with one another! According to Wikipedia, it’s a perjorative term used to describe “feel-good measures” that support a social issue or cause, but have little impact or meaning. 


Here at New Era, however, we have a different definition! We believe that employing easy, user-friendly strategies that involve little effort on the part of the participant is a great way to help busy people get involved with your cause and can lead to good things.  


In the span of a few weeks, the Ice Bucket Challenge is helping to raise awareness about ALS among thousands of people! While it’s hard to tell how many of these people will continue to engage – as fans, donors or volunteers – this strategy has certainly improved the visibility and awareness for the cause.  


We believe the key to a good Slacktivism strategy is consistency and follow-up. If you want convert Slacktivists to activists, you need to stay in touch with them on a regular basis – via email, social media and newsletters — and let them know about all the great work you’re doing, the difference you are making in the world, and specific ways they can help. With each communication, include a call to action. This might include asking them to sign and circulate a petition, sharing or tweeting the news item with others, volunteer, make a donation of money or goods, etc. 


What would it be like if you were able to make thousands of people aware of the great work you’re doing and get a portion of them to go to work on your behalf? We encourage you to start using Slacktivism strategies today and find out! 


 August 14, 2014  Posted by at 12:27 am Communications and Social Media
May 232014

Did you know that the average website visit lasts less than ONE MINUTE? 

Did you know that if people can’t readily grasp what you do within THREE SECONDS, they’ll leave your site?  

Never before have first impressions mattered more! 

The whole point of a website is to engage visitors – get them to stay, check things out. Designed correctly, our website is one of the most valuable tools for relationship building we have. You don’t want people coming to your site, only to “bounce” 3 seconds later. 

Here are some things you can do to make sure people stay: 

Use the space “above the fold” wisely. The space “above the fold” is the area of your website that people can see without scrolling down. Design this space well – make it colorful, interactive and engaging. What is it that you want to convey to your visitors in those 1st 3 seconds? 


Use the real estate is the upper left hand corner wisely. This is the first place your visitor’s eye lands. At the very least, you should place your logo and name in this area. But it might also be a great place to put your mission statement or a tagline. 


Rethink your navigation tabs – most sites have the “home” tab on the far left side, but this is a waste of valuable real estate. Since this is the 1st place people look, you want to place the most important information to the far left, followed by the next most important information. You might consider moving “programs/services” tab to the far left, followed by “how you can help.”  


Put your mission front and center and keep your mission statement short ‘n snappy. Remember, if they can’t immediately tell who you are and what you do, they’ll leave the site. 


You know the old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words?” Nowhere is this more true than on the homepage of your website! Putting up a slide show of photos with captions is a great way to get people to stick around. If your website can’t accommodate this, then you can always post a graphic of a camera or photo album and invite people to click on it to see you in action, using a flickr account to host the photos. The only challenge with using this approach is you need to make sure people can get back to your website! 


Be sure to put a “donate” button on each page of your site. You want to make the process of donating quick ‘n easy. The more someone has to hunt for information on how to support your organization, the less likely they are to do so. 


If you’re using social media, but sure to include social media icons on your site. And if you’re using a social media channel like Facebook or Twitter, be sure to post on a regular basis so people can keep up with what you’re doing. These tools can help you foster and deepen relationships with people who care about your cause.  


It is IMPERATIVE to update your website on a regular basis! I can’t tell you how many nonprofit websites still have pages that talk about last year’s walk-a-thon or special event. This leaves people with a bad impression of your organization – and that’s the last thing you want to do! 


Using these tips will help improve the “visitability” of your website and help donors, prospective donors and fans connect with you more deeply. The more deeply they are connected with you, the more they are willing to do!

 May 23, 2014  Posted by at 12:21 am Communications and Social Media
Apr 112014

Believe it or not, your nonprofit is like a mattress company.

I know – that sounds bizarre. But hear me out!

The last time you shopped for a mattress, did it REALLY matter how many coils it had? Or if each was individually wrapped? Or whether it had a pillow top or memory foam? Did it matter that the super comfy, yummy mattress you took home cost $150 more than the one that wasn’t?

Of course not. Because at the end of the day, what we REALLY want from our mattress is… A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP!

At our nonprofits, we may have a large inventory of mattresses (read: programs) to “sell.” But our clients, donors and other stakeholders really don’t care about the mattress. What they really care about is whether or not we’re offering the people who turn to us for help a good night’s sleep (for some of you, this may literally be the case!).

Yet we spend a LOT of time talking about the different types of mattresses we offer. In doing so, we’re missing out on a huge opportunity to truly connect with people in their heart space. What donors REALLY care about is the people you’re serving. What’s going on that’s driving them through your front door, looking for help? What are you doing about it? Not only for the people who are showing up, but on a larger, more systemic basis? Are people in better shape when they leave than when they came?

Of course people need to know that we have competent, caring staff, that our prorams are well run, that our board is paying attention, and that our resources are well-managed. But at the end of the day, our “mattress” is just the container in which powerful life-changing transformations take place. What is of primary interest to the people who support our agencies is the good night’s sleep.

So the next time you sit down to review a communication you’ve just drafted, remember to ask yourself: did I just try to sell another mattress, or did I manage to sell a good night’s sleep?

If you’re interested in having us help you craft “good night’s sleep” marketing messages, let us know!

Sweet dreams! 🙂

 April 11, 2014  Posted by at 12:18 am Communications and Social Media
Feb 062014

Hey everyone, it’s Christine! Today, I want to spend some time talking to you about how to overcome barriers to hopping on the social media train. Read on!

It’s no secret that social media has caused a revolution in our lives – personally, professionally, socially, and culturally. For any non-profit that wants to thrive, a social media presence is non-negotiable.

Why is social media a pivotal tool for today’s non-profit?

Let us count the ways:

1) Social media can be used to reach people of all ages – not just young people. Did you know that people over 50 are joining sites like Facebook at a greater rate than any other age group?

2) Social media and blogs now reach 80% of all active US internet users and 82% of the world’s internet users. In the month of October 2013 alone, people spent 6.7 billion hours on social networks. It seems like almost everyone is addicted to social media!

3) Yet, non-profits are lagging behind other organizations in their use of social media. More than half of non-profits spend less than four hours per week participating in social media. Only 7% of non-profits are “power users” who dedicate 20+ hours a week to social media maintenance.

Why are non-profits lagging behind? There are three key reasons. And things you can do to reverse the trend!

1) Many people working in the sector have been conditioned to think that technology is too expensive or difficult to use.

Let’s face it — we’ve been trained not to spend money. But the right investment of time and money can reap huge benefits and rewards – this is particularly true when it comes to social media!

Many people believe that new technology is too expensive to acquire. But a social media program costs very little – sometimes nothing! — to get up and running.

If your computers are old and slow, time to invest in an upgrade! There are funders out there who will support a technology upgrade (we just secured $17,500 for one client’s new technology) and the entire organization will benefit from increased efficiency!

Sometimes, it’s because we’re intimidated by technology. The reality is that managing social media is pretty straight forward and does not require a lot of technical skill or expertise. In fact, all it takes is a few hours with your favorite teenager or young adult!

If you think that your organization doesn’t have the time or money to invest in social media, it’s time to consider what NOT investing in social media is costing you.

So, now you’ve got new equipment and have set up some social media channels (ex: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.). Now what?!

You need to post a steady stream of content. Even if it’s just once a week, you need to have a regular presence on whichever channel(s) you choose! This can include quotes (from your clients, famous people, etc.), photos, videos, thoughts of the day, news alerts, event announcements, links to articles, etc. You have more to talk about than you might think!

2) You may not be certain which networks would have the most impact
You ask yourself, “Should we be on that Tweeting place, Facepage, or the Instathingy?” In all seriousness, there’s dozens of popular networks, and their relevance waxes and wanes. Five years ago, everyone was on MySpace. Today, people would laugh at you if you said that. Right now, Facebook has the “it factor.”

So, how do you know where to begin?

Here’s my rule:
There’s a group of social networks called the Big Four: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You start with Facebook and one other channel, whichever will best serve the needs of your organization, the kind of content you produce, and, most importantly, where your audience is most likely to be.

For a few months, work hard at building these two, then expand to whatever is missing. Are you on Facebook and Twitter but find that you can’t broadcast longer stories? Get a blog. On Facebook and LinkedIn but want to show off more photos? Time to try Pinterest or Instagram.

And, yes, people have successfully used just one channel to broadcast to their audience, but that’s rare.

3) You may not know how to begin creating a strategic social media strategy that will yield good results
It takes more to build a social media presence than joining a network, so it’s best to start slow. You’re only on two networks first, right? From there, it’s time to figure out what goals you want your social network to help you achieve. Do you want to get more donors? Raise awareness for your cause? Promote events? Use it as a platform for the public to get in touch with you? Once you know where you want to go, you can figure out how to get there.

Too many non-profits are missing out on huge opportunities by not utilizing social media to share the news about the great work they’re doing. It’s time to hop on the social media train and shout it out from the rooftops. People want to hear from you! Getting on board with social media is easier than you think. If you want help getting a social media program established, give us a call!

 February 6, 2014  Posted by at 12:08 am Communications and Social Media