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Start With Passion: How pilotED is Changing Education in Chicago

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Start With Passion: How pilotED is Changing Education in Chicago

by Kate Vandeveld

We write a lot about social entrepreneurs, people who change the world through revenue-generating business models. But as we well know, there are many who find the nonprofit model to be a better fit for their cause. Here are some of the factors to take into consideration when deciding which option is best for your organization or business.

Non-profits are critical in the world of social impact, and their leaders, like social entrepreneurs, are often passionate, driven individuals who see problems and want to find sustainable ways to fix them.

We recently had a chance to connect with Ben DuCharme, co-founder of Chicago-based non-profit pilotED that is working to provide critical support to at-risk middle school students who want to pursue higher education, but lack the necessary resources and guidance to do so.

Here’s what he has to say about his work and his experience developing and growing a non-profit:

 

Tell us a little bit about your career path, and what led you to start pilotED.

As a senior science major at University of Wisconsin-Madison I found myself disillusioned with the career paths that lay in front of me. Like many other students, I had partially planned on attending medical school, but fell out of love with the idea of working 24-hour shifts in a hospital. I turned instead toward my other potential career path: teaching. Along with other recent college graduates, I joined Teach For America-Chicago, which gave me the opportunity to dive into urban education. Although naive and consistently humbled by my lack of experience, I also quickly came to realize that many of my students, juniors and seniors at Eric Solorio Academy High School, had made their way through years of school with poor skills and worse academic habits. By the time they reached graduation, it was too late to undo years of inconsistent effort, apathy, and poor results. Their trajectory had been set a long time ago.

The idea for pilotED sprung from this realization. Jacob Allen, Marie Dandie, and myself recognized the lack of concerted effort to get at-risk students on track for college graduation early in their educational careers. While there are many great organizations operating in the high school or after school space, there was nothing available to middle school students who hoped to do great things with their lives, but lacked the support to do so. pilotED fills that void by taking cohorts of twenty "C" average 6th graders, and leading them through a four-year curriculum focused on identity and academic growth. Our program culminates in the 9th grade year, once students have established themselves as successful high-schoolers on track for high school, and college, graduation.

How pilotED is Changing Education in Chicago -- via WhyWhisper Collective

What is your role within the organization, and how did you determine your team structure?

My official title is Executive Vice President; however, I focus my time and effort on pilotED's metrics and teacher training. As a young non-profit, the establishment of strong and consistent data is essential to our growth. At first, myself and the two other co-founders made most decisions together. However, that team structure was unwieldy at best, so early on the three of us sat down to map out responsibilities. Although that sounds quite simple, in reality, the release of responsibility can be a difficult step, especially when you are used to having some control over all aspects of the organization. Our team's strong relationship allowed us to see each other's strengths, weaknesses, and passions, which led to a well-reasoned division of roles.

 

What would you say have been the most difficult aspects of developing and sustaining a non-profit?

For a growing non-profit, momentum is key. In order to build momentum, you need to maximize potential opportunities. Whether it is an official pitch or an informal conversation with a key stakeholder, how you present yourself and your non-profit makes all the difference. Each of these opportunities might be the only chance you get to secure a donor or an advocate who wants to open their network to you. As an organization, we found that our passion for our mission and vision quickly developed momentum in the Chicago education community, but sustaining it now that we are a known commodity is our new challenge.

 

What has been the most rewarding part of the experience so far?

As an educational non-profit, I have seen two distinct areas of reward. The first, and the most rewarding, is seeing our young 6th graders excel. Watching young adults learn and grow together and support each other to become better students and people has been quite the experience. Seeing the pride on their faces when they strut around in their pilotED t-shirts is something else.

The other area of reward has been the positive feedback we have received from the Chicago education community. When pilotED was just an idea, we believed that it was absolutely necessary and had the potential to revolutionize students’ lives. But we weren't sure that others would agree with the same level of excitement. Over the past two years we have been rewarded by receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback from other education professionals. Whether in the boardroom or the classroom, people actively reach out to support us, which proves both how generous the Chicago community can be and that our work is valuable. 

How pilotED is Changing Education in Chicago -- via WhyWhisper Collective

How do you envision pilotED growing over the next few years?

During our first few years, pilotED will double in size each academic year. In five years we will be in three cities with similar populations of urban students where the need for pilotED is high. We have already been approached by individuals in other cities about expanding; however, our priority is establishing consistent success before we scale at a rapid pace.

 

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting their own non-profit?

When you build a non-profit from scratch, the founders have to believe wholeheartedly in their mission and vision. Everything that happens to that organization over the first few months and years is tied to your belief in and passion for your work. We started pilotED while the three co-founders were full-time teachers. It would have been easy to want to forgo more meetings after a long day of work. But it didn't feel like work. What we were doing each night was so important that we walked away from our meetings refreshed and reenergized. I could not imagine getting an organization off of the ground without a similar level of passion.

So if you are starting a non-profit, I urge you to ask yourself how strongly you believe in the idea and the pragmatic reality of what it will be. If both excite you, then go for it. We need more leaders like you.

 

We’re inspired by the pilotED team’s drive to make a difference in a way that is impactful and sustainable, and look forward to seeing it grow.  Check out the impact that they’re already making here, and then get updates by following them on Twitter and Facebook.  And if you’re interested in supporting their mission, you can make a donation here, or even sponsor a student.

Know of a non-profit leader that is making an impact in an area that’s important to you? Connect with us – we’d love to spread the word. Here’s how you can do it:

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Solving Big Problems: Standbuy Supports the Cancer Community

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Solving Big Problems: Standbuy Supports the Cancer Community

by Kate Vandeveld

Lately, we’ve been focusing on telling the brave and inspiring stories of passionate social entrepreneurs. 

This week, we spoke with WhyWhisper client, Sashka Rothchild, founder and CEO of Standbuy. Standbuy is an online crowdfunding platform for those who have been diagnosed with cancer. In setting up a profile, those who are battling cancer can connect with friends, family, and others who understand what they’re going through. Having successfully funded cancer treatments, egg preservation, and more, this amazing tool is providing hope, support, and financial options to those who are currently facing a diagnosis.

Here’s what Sashka had to say about her journey as a social entrepreneur: 

Why did you decide to start Standbuy?

I decided to start Standbuy because I couldn’t really find anything else I wanted to do where I could spend as many hours doing it, and still feel passionate. After my mom died when I was in high school, I tried a variety of other things, and I just couldn’t let go of wanting to work in a way that helped people who were going through the things that I had.  Coupled with the fact that we’re in a major healthcare crisis – it just seemed like the right opportunity to try and make something to get people support faster.

Why did you choose the for-profit social enterprise model for your business?

I definitely think there is value in non-profits; there are problems that need to be solved that cannot be solved with for-profit business models. But what I see as problematic about non-profits, is that they work at a different speed, since they have to spend 80% of their time fundraising to try to cover the cost of their admins and programs.

I wanted to be able to do kind of the opposite; I wanted to work on making Standbuy more helpful, and adding more tools and features, to give people better support and enable them to tell their stories in an easier way.  By having a business model that that allows us to be sustainable and scalable, I can do that. I don’t have to spend my days worrying about how we’re going to cover our overhead for the year.

What would you say have been the most difficult aspects of building a social enterprise?

I don’t know where to start! There are so many. There is difficulty in building anything – either a business or a non-profit. And if it’s something that you care about, there is this extra added pressure of really wanting to make sure that you’re doing it right.

For me, because I’ve never built a website before – that was a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I needed to ramp up, so I could feel confident and comfortable making quick decisions about how we would develop, or how we would structure the company. But I think it was also helpful because I wasn’t constrained by past experience, or thinking that it has to go a certain way.

One of the hardest parts is finding the right people to work with, choosing who to hire and how to hire, even if it’s an intern. I think it can be hard as a social enterprise because you do have a double bottom line; you need to think about your people and your mission in conjunction with your profits, and I think that you can get caught in a little bit of a limbo situation. You try and read articles on Fast Company or Inc or HBR, and they’re all insightful and informative, but they’re geared toward people that are just operating with a single bottom line: a goal of making as much money as possible.

And then if you kind of flip to the other side and look for guidance on the non-profit side, you’re even more lost because there’s just no real structure about how to do things. Finding the best way to explain your place in the middle – I think can be hard – whether it’s to freelancers, or partners, or anyone you’re working with.

Sashka

What has been the most rewarding part of your experience as a social entrepreneur?

There’s been so much. When you’re starting a business, you work on it all the time. And I happened to have started a business right when I got pregnant. So the entire time I’ve been working on Standbuy, I was either tired, or nauseous, or nursing, or away from my son. And to be able to work so hard on something and then be able to look at him and say, “Yes, I might be working while I’m nursing, but it’s because people need help right now.” That’s really rewarding and unfortunately uncommon for mothers. 

We’ve seen a lot of different success stories in many different areas with Standbuy. I have frustrations pretty much all day, but it’s peppered with notes from people that are so incredibly grateful, and beautiful, and appreciative.

When I see someone raising $3,000 in a couple days so that they can get help, that’s pretty amazing. So…I’m pretty lucky.

How do you envision Standbuy growing over the next 5 years?

I’ve said before that it will be incredibly disappointing if there is still a need for Standbuy in five years. I really hope that as a country, we can get our shit together enough that when people get sick, they don’t need to fundraise on their own. I hope that insurance companies, healthcare organizations, hospitals, and doctors can all work together to get people the help that they need without people going bankrupt.

That being said, I also think there’s a lot of room for Standbuy to grow and expand without necessarily losing focus on the cancer community: by taking our stance on simplistic and easy-to-use design, and translating it into helping larger organizations tell their stories in a clear and beautiful way while raising money to do the work that they do. There are a lot of people who are doing a lot of good work in the world; and if you’re a non-profit, you have especially limited bandwidth, so I would love to be able to offer our solutions to more people.

It would be incredibly depressing if this was still the status quo in five years.

Standbuy

Is there anything that you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started Standbuy?

(Laughs) About a thousand things…

I wish I had known that you can really only go as fast as you can go. Someone who I look up to, a woman named Cindy Gallop once told me that there’s no such thing as “should” when you’re building a business. It’s not about how fast you can go, or these pretend masochistic goals you set for yourself. It’s just about putting one foot in front of the other, and continuing.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t do things as fast as you thought you should’ve, because it’s your business, and you can do whatever you want. It’s not anyone else’s project, and it’s not anyone else’s timeline. And I wish I would have remembered that or thought about that more in the beginning.

It’s also hard to try and remember that you do generally know what’s best. Your instincts are generally right. Getting help and input from people is imperative, but you started your own thing for a reason, and you should trust your gut a little more. Otherwise, what’s the point? You might as well be working for someone else.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting their own social enterprise?

Be sure that you’re solving a real problem. I think that it’s become weirdly popular to want to launch a start-up. And I think that’s awesome, but you have to be scratching an itch, you have to be solving a problem. And nothing matters unless you’re being helpful.

One of the ways that I try to make decisions for Standbuy is just to try to think – is this helpful? Then great, let’s do it. If it’s not, if it’s for some other reason, who cares? What’s the point? I think there are a lot of people doing great stuff, and unless you think you are really addressing a problem, there are people who need help doing the variety of things that are already out there.

Conversely, don’t be afraid. It’s kind of scary if you’ve never launched a company or a business, and particularly if you’re a woman, because with start-ups and social enterprises are incredibly male-dominated industries, especially when it comes to funding. You just kind of have to say fuck it, and go do it.

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We’re inspired – what about you? 

Standbuy is in the middle of fundraising campaign that will allow them to keep their doors open, as well as roll out new features to make fundraising for cancer much more efficient. If you want to help Standbuy support the cancer community, pitch in, or spread the word on Facebook and Twitter with #StandbuyEachother. If you want to know more about the campaign, watch this video.

Are you inspired by a social entrepreneur who you think the world should know about? Tell us about them in the comments below, or make an introduction via email, Facebook or Twitter.

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5 Tips for Marketing to a Global Audience

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5 Tips for Marketing to a Global Audience

by Kate Vandeveld

These days, it’s not uncommon for organizations and businesses to market their products and services globally, rather than focusing on a specific region. Email and social media allow us to bridge cultural and geographic divides, engaging with people all over the world who might be interested in our products, services, and ideas.

As you expand your global reach, it’s crucial to develop your marketing strategy with local market audiences in mind. Here’s how to best engage your target audience when working on a global scale:

 

1. Conduct Cultural Research

When you’re looking to expand into new geographical regions, it’s important that you get to know your audience. Having a basic understanding of a culture and its norms can make a huge difference in your audience’s perception of you and your brand, while helping you to avoid coming off as being ethnocentric or detached. For example, Procter & Gamble once released a TV commercial in Japan that had been popular in Europe. In the commercial, a man walked into the bathroom when a woman was in the bathtub, and touched her on the shoulder. In Japan, this action was perceived as being extremely chauvinistic and ill-mannered, and the commercial was off-putting to most.  With a little research, P&G could have easily avoided this cultural blunder.

The better you understand cultural norms, the more effective you can be in localizing your brand’s message. You can gather this information by reading about it, or, even better, by conducting market research of your target audience. And of course, the best possible way to ensure that you understand the cultural norms of a geographic region is to recruit a team member from the target region, or place someone from your team on the ground. Working directly with someone who has a deeper understanding of cultural norms is the best way to avoid making generalizations and truly appeal to a particular group of people.

 

2. Build Relationships with Local Influencers

When marketing to a new region, do not underestimate the importance of connecting with local influencers. These individuals can help you foster a sense of trust between you and the local audience, help you engage with those who will be excited about your products and services, and provide you with helpful information for tailoring your message.

Look for people and organizations that are talking about your industry, and that have a relatively large following on various platforms – a blog, Facebook, or Twitter, for example. If you’re able to engage these influencers and get them interested in what you’re doing, they can act as invaluable brand ambassadors to your target audience.

 

3. Tailor Your Content & Pay Attention to Language

When expanding globally, take the time to tailor your messaging to your new target markets. Detached messaging from an irrelevant third party will do nothing to build your credibility in new communities, so it’s essential that your content sounds like it is actually coming from the market you’re targeting. This means finding out what features are most relevant to your new audience, being aware of local and regional events and holidays, and using the knowledge you’ve gained from your cultural research to localize your message.

Once you’ve determined the type of content that you want to include in your marketing strategy, you’ll need to consider the language you use to convey it. If you’re targeting a market that largely speaks a different language, you will of course need to consider translation. If you’re able, opt for professional translation in order to avoid mistakes that will decrease your credibility. If you’re targeting a market that speaks the same language, be careful about idioms and colloquialisms – certain words and phrases are only used in certain areas, and you need to be aware of them when crafting your messaging.  For example, the phrase “pulling someone’s leg” is an American idiom that would likely confuse a British audience.

 

4. Develop a Global-Friendly Website & Consider SEO

Your website can be accessed by almost anyone with an Internet connection almost anywhere in the world, and may act as the first point of contact between you and new members of your audience. To make sure that your website best represents your brand, there are a few key ways that you can optimize your website for the global market. To make your website global-friendly, you’ll want to reduce the use of text in images, as it cannot be translated, and make sure that the rest of your text can be machine-translated. If you’re selling a product, double check that your shopping cart is internationally-friendly. And if you’re designing your website from scratch, you may even want to consider the connotations of different colors. For example, in the United States, green often represents eco-friendliness, whereas elsewhere it signals greed. In China, green can even indicate infidelity!

As you’re adapting your website, don’t forget to consider search engine optimization. Once you’ve figured out which aspects of your product or service appeal to a particular market, you’ll need to optimize your website for specific keywords and phrases. You should also consider preferred search engines, as they may vary according to region. Google isn’t the dominant search engine everywhere; in Russia, for example, it’s Yandex

 

5. Stay Up-to-Date on Global Trends & Events

Once you’ve launched your marketing strategy, don’t forget to stay current when it comes to global trends. Even the most perfectly crafted content can quickly become irrelevant in light of new global developments. Think of your strategy as a work in progress, and be ready to make adjustments as events occur and new trends develop.

There are many aspects of your marketing strategy that you’ll need to consider to most effectively engage global audiences, but taking these steps will be well worth it when you’re able to bridge cultural barriers and connect with people across geographic divides.

Do you have any more tips for global marketing? Tell us in the comments below, or reach out via Facebook or Twitter

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Effective Email Marketing For Your Cause

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Effective Email Marketing For Your Cause

by Shanley Knox

When setting out to create an effective email marketing campaign, there are many questions you may be asking...

  • What magic subject line will get your subscribers to open your email?
  • How do you get them to click your links? 
  • What is just the right length to get your readers to actually digest your content?
  • How do you get them to share, to buy, or to donate? 

Email marketing presents a significant opportunity for companies and causes to connect directly with an audience that has already exhibited interest. That being said, in order to see a monetary return on your audience's interest, you need to ensure you provide ongoing value. 

Below, our team provides four tried-and-true strategies. Have a tip of your own to add? Comment below or reach out via Facebook and Twitter - we'd love to hear from you!

1. Make a Clear Connection 

Your readers should always be able to tell exactly why you’re emailing them. For example, if their last donation contributed to a fundraising goal, craft a message that ensures they walk away feeling accomplished and part of a community. If you're currently seeking funding, clearly outline the project and the various ways they can help.


2. Give Social Proof

Social proof is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when people assume the actions of others are correct; and subsequently, follow in their footsteps. How do you accomplish this through email marketing? Show how your followers have previously taken part in your cause. This can be done via group photos, social shares, or creative examples of support, such as charity: water’s collage below.

If the purpose of your email is fundraising, personalize your financial ask... How many people have opted in to helping you reach your goal thus far? How much have they donated? How far are you from your goal? What is this dollar amount accomplishing? All of these factors help your readers to feel that your goal is realistic, and encourages them to take action.  Below is an example of how the American Heart Organization employed this strategy to effectively raise money for cardiovascular disease.


3. Personalize 

In this case study, emails with personalized subjects average 26% higher open rates and over 130% higher CTRs than emails without personalized subject lines. Unfortunately, the study also showed that personalized subject lines received increased negative attention if the emails were off target, or recipients did not recognize the sender. We've seen similar results with our clients.  Some tips to ensure you’re positively capitalizing on personalization: 

- Target your messaging to specific groups of followers, rather than sending out one large email across your master list. A/B testing via MailChimp is a great way to better understand (and effectively target your content to) your audience.

- For first time emails to new subscribers or donors, make sure to send an introductory email welcoming them to your cause and letting them know that they are important to you. 


4. Make Donations Easy 

Finding your donation button should be seamless for your email readers. Make sure that it is aesthetically in line with the rest of your email, and placed just prominently enough, but not so obvious that it appears you are begging for help.

Also, after your followers click through, it’s important to make the actual donation process an easy one. Not sure where to start? Here’s a list of 5 of the best tools available for accepting donations online.

Don't forget, we love to learn. Have strategies or tips to add? Comment below or reach out via Facebook and Twitter.

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For further reading:

  • Here are helpful step-by-step instructions on how to personalize your emails across several prominent email campaign platforms.
  • And, before you send, triple check to ensure you’ve stayed far away from these five email sins.

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No Selfies With Cute Babies: On Finding the Way to Responsible Voluntourism

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No Selfies With Cute Babies: On Finding the Way to Responsible Voluntourism

by Shanley Knox, featuring interview with Kate Otto

Have you ever seen those beautiful photos of volunteers with small, African children wrapped in their arms? At first glance, these photos represent selfless individuals making a difference. But, could there be a deeper issue at stake?

Hashtags like #InstagrammingAfrica #MedicalBrigades, #GlobalHealth, and the nostalgic #TakeMeBack are growing in popularity as students and young professionals experience life changing trips to Africa and beyond. But, research is showing that these trips are not always beneficial to local populations.

In her recent piece, “#InstagrammingAfrica: The Narcissism of Global Voluntourism,” Lauren Kascak writes that, “Volunteerism is ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit. In fact, medical volunteerism often breaks down existing local health systems.”

As organizations work to improve the impact of “Voluntourism,” we, at WhyWhisper, took a look into the digital side of sharing these experiences. 

We asked Kate Otto, a World Bank consultant and the founder of Everyday Ambassador, to weigh in with her tips on impactful digital documentation surrounding your volunteer experience. 

Below, her tips for helping, instead of hurting, through your social sharing:

WWCo: How can we do better in digitally sharing our overseas experience?

Kate: The golden rule of sharing your experience overseas on public, digital media: imagine that everything you're posting to your Facebook, Twitter, and blog will be read and observed by everyone who you talk about in those posts (even if you know they don't have accounts on these platforms, or access to Internet). Would they be hurt, insulted, belittled, or disempowered by your comments or photographs? Would they probably think you're misunderstanding them? Then don't post it.

Have the consent of anyone who you're posting a picture of to post it to the world. Basically, even though the people you're working with are different from you on many levels, treat them the way you would like to be treated.

 WWCo: Can posting a certain projection of Africa and other destinations in the Global South be harmful?

 Kate:

1. There’s nothing wrong with taking and posting photos of yourself and the people who you're working and living with abroad; this can be an act that solidifies friendships and documents moments of joy and gratitude in the same way we would do in our 'home' environments. The problem isn't with your action, it's with your approach. There's everything wrong with taking and posting photos of yourself and the people who you're living and working with abroad, if in doing so you present yourself as "saving" or "helping" others, or in any way being "above", "smarter than", "more advanced' than "them".

2. Avoid us/them narratives at all costs. We are we. We are all people. We give and take in our relationships (and if you think you're the only one giving, you're probably not in a relationship), and we are gracious and kind and respectful in our relationships. By doing anything other than treating each other as equals, we are perpetuating systems of oppression. So be cool.

WWCo: What is the way forward toward documenting and sharing our experiences in a more positive way?

 Kate:

1. Honestly, document less and live more. Enjoy your experience without having to document every moment of it. 

2. Question yourself always: are you documenting for yourself, or for others? If it's for others, why? Be honest with yourself about whether you're taking and posting that photo to craft your "image" for others, or because you genuinely want to share a specific, meaningful moment with friends/family who are happy to share in your joys, whether they're your new friends abroad or your 'home' friends.

3. The absolute key part of travel and volunteering/voluntourism is about building meaningful relationships, and it's your responsibility to decide how (over)documenting your experiences will diminish or enhance your capacity for deep, lasting human connection.

To dig a bit deeper on this topic:

For effective ways of writing about your service/voluntourism experiences, check out EA's #WednesdayWisdom blog series 

For a weekly roundup of hot media on the topic of being authentic in a technology-saturated world, check out EA's #WeeklyPassport blog series

Looking for concrete tips about managing your voluntourism experience? Check out EA's recent webinar "No Selfies w/ Cute Babies! And Other Tips for Your Summer Abroad"

Pre-order Kate's book "Everyday Ambassador" to get a deeper analysis of these topics, pub date Jan 2015

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How Successful Nonprofits Secure Corporate Sponsors

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How Successful Nonprofits Secure Corporate Sponsors

by Shanley Knox & Alexandra Ostrow

When it comes to finding corporate sponsors, trends are shifting. Where it once used to be enough to sell companies on supporting a good cause, today, organizations that are successful are structuring sponsorships as a business deal. What does this mean? Success ultimately relies on a perceived return on investment.

Ready to transition from handout to handshake? Here's how to go about it:

Find the Low Hanging Fruit
Your existing network is your best tool for discovering potential partnerships. Once you've identified companies and/or verticals that you feel match well with your organization's goals, check LinkedIn to see who from your network is connected to your targets. The platform makes it easy to request an introduction. Also, put out the word to your everyday contacts. Board members, employees, volunteers, fans on social media -- they're all potential leads to the person (or people) you want to meet. Lastly, when networking, start to expand upon the base of people with whom you regularly interact. Building new relationships can help you gain entry to new potential targets. 

Know Your Competition
Are there other organizations similar to you that are securing corporate sponsorships? Learn more about them. What are their core values? Their key relationships? Marketing tactics? How long do they spend going after donors? How do they target them? Your competition will often provide your best source of market research.

Understand Your Audience
Your potential sponsors are gearing their marketing and advertising efforts towards identified target audiences. To demonstrate relevance, arm yourself with key demographic data about your fan base, donors, and volunteers. Where do they live? What do they do for a living? What do they like to buy? How old are they? By illustrating the opportunity your organization provides to put sponsors in front of their target, you prove that your event provides value beyond your social good. 

Do Your Homework
When approaching a prospective sponsor, make sure you've done your research on them. Where have they donated in the past? What does their CEO stand for? Where does it seem that they're investing their marketing dollars? What philanthropic activities are their competitors taking part in? The more you know, the better equipped you will be to offer them a package of value.

Show the Right Perspective
During your first conversation, make sure to inquire about their current company goals... are they looking for greater brand awareness? Hoping to engage their employees? Looking for a tax write-off? Wishing to reward their board members? Using the insights you gain, you can create a custom sponsorship package that aligns with their overarching goals. As a result, they will walk away with an understanding that sponsorship is a sound investment.

Have tips of your own to add? Tell us in the comments below, or contact us via Facebook, Twitter or Email

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5 Steps to Selling your Cause on Social Media

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5 Steps to Selling your Cause on Social Media

by Shanley Knox

If there is a single key to mastering the art of social media, it lies in building relationships. Whether you are looking to drive donations, draw volunteers, or promote awareness of a social issue, it's critical that your followers and fans feel personally involved in your organizational success.

The secret to beginning this process? Effective, personal engagement with people in your online network.  Here are five steps to guide you in your efforts:

1. Start By Getting Personal

In sales, it is often said that if someone feels that they can relate to you, they are much more likely to purchase. The same is true of causes. Does a follower share a similar love of your favorite book? Are they tweeting about a movie you just saw? Reach out to let them know how you felt about it. Take it a step further... if they tweet about their passion for a cause that relatees to your organization, reach out with a comment about why you care. It may seem like a small gesture to you, but facilitating this personal connection lets your followers (and potential followers) know you’re listening, and will ultimately help to create buy-in.

2. Cultivate a Relationship

Now that you've initiated contact, refrain from immediately selling your cause. Instead, let them know you value their perspective. If they are posting relevant content, retweet it. Answer their questions. Like their photos. Ask about their day. There’s no need to rush. They’ll be more likely to buy or donate once they feel that they can trust you.

Meanwhile, take some time to learn about who you're engaging with. If done properly, this process will produce valuable research for your organization...
     - What type of people follow you and/or respond to your outreach? 
     - What events or hobbies are they interested in?
     - Where do they live? 
     - How old are they?
     - What drives them to speak up? 

3. Address Their Pain Points

When it comes time to directly pitch your organization, think back to your research. Is there some way they personally relate to your cause? Use it to spark the conversation. Are they looking for ways to get involved, but have limited time to give? Present them with volunteer opportunities that require minimal commitment. Do they wonder where donations dollars go? Show them with pictures and stories. Knowing these pain points helps you to send them relevant information (in 140 characters, no less). It will make all the difference.

4. Close the Deal

When it comes time to close the deal, don’t be shy. Many donors or potential volunteers are interested in causes, but forget to follow through, or procrastinate until later (don’t we all?). Don't be afraid to ask for what you want. Sending a friendly reminder such as, “Did you get the link I sent?” or “I’d love to have an offline conversation about our organization, if you’re interested!” will help to put pressure on them to respond, without pushing them to an uncomfortable point.

5. Follow Up

Didn’t get them the first time? Don’t be frustrated. Studies have shown that making a sale can take seven to eleven points of contact. By following up, you can help prospective donors to recognize their value to your organization. By asking for something specific, e.g. “Five minutes of your time?” or, “Think you can join us in volunteering on Saturday?”, you provide them with the opportunity to deliver. 

Beyond all else, be sure to continue using your social channels to engage with your prospects. Show them you care beyond their potential as a donor. It's all about building trust through authentic means of engagement. 

Have tips to add? Tell us in the comments below, or contact us via Facebook, Twitter or Email

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How to Run an Online Campaign with User Generated Content

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How to Run an Online Campaign with User Generated Content

by Shanley Knox

When it comes to running a successful online campaign, the key is no longer just in offering great content to your users. Instead, it's important to create a campaign that convinces your followers to generate the content themselves.

So, just how do you do that?

Set Measurable Goals

Before beginning your campaign, it's important to explore your purpose. Do you want to increase your reach? Educate others? Generate sales leads? Your goal should be clearly defined, so as to inform your strategy and content.  

Make it Worthwhile

Once you’ve laid out your campaign goals, it's important to ensure that you're offering fans value in exchange for providing you with content. In order to identify what makes them tick, you need to do some research. Do your fans want visibility across your platforms? Recognition for a donation? An opportunity or a prize? Once you pinpoint exactly what it is that they’re looking for, you can craft your campaign content around it.

Develop Toolkits to Support Your Fans

What do you want your campaign partners, stakeholders, and fans to do? Do you want them to share your logo, tweet a certain link, or post photos that incorporate your product? Make sure you create a comprehensive list, as this will help to ensure your campaign goals are met by the content your fans are generating. To set yourself up for success, make downloadable toolkits readily accessible, including sample tweets, shareable logos, photos, testimonials, and more.

Create Campaign Ambassadors

Campaign ambassadors are online users who spread the word on your behalf through their social accounts and personal networks. Often, your existing fans and supporters make the best campaign ambassadors. Request participation via email, and routinely follow up with specific tasks that maintain campaign momentum.

Another way to generate campaign ambassadors is to put up a registration page on your website.


Invite Fans to Collaborate

Host a Twitter chat, feature guest bloggers, invite guest pinners to your Pinterest boards. By inviting fans to collaborate with you, you're helping to create buy-in between you and your fans, while also incorporating new thoughts and/or aesthetics, and driving visibility amongst fan networks.


Engage

Don’t forget to monitor your campaign daily, and engage with your fans throughout. Like their posts, comment on their entries, share their content.... let them know you appreciate their involvement. 

Have you hosted a successful campaign focused on user generated content? Tell us in the comments below, or contact us via Facebook, Twitter or Email

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8 Steps to a Powerful Nonprofit Case Study

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8 Steps to a Powerful Nonprofit Case Study

by Shanley Knox & Alexandra Ostrow

Time and time again, it's been said that individual stories are the single most powerful tool for increasing nonprofit donations. These stories, when coupled with key facts and statistics, make for a very powerful case study. 

It is therefore important to take note of one of the key difficulties encountered when including an individual's life in a case study: publishing personal stories can have ramifications on safety, reputation, confidence levels, and so much more. While you want to demonstrate your impact, you also want to handle a life with the utmost caution and respect. 

Below, we outline a step-by-step process for building a powerful, results-driven case study, while maintaining respect, and also being mindful of safety:

  1. The End Result
    It might sound counter-intuitive, but you need to begin at the end. What does “success” look like for your organization? What are you able to prove? What are donors looking for? Make sure you're being specific about what you’re measuring. 
     
  2. The Person Behind the Story
    Based on the impact you plan to illustrate, identify the person or people whose story would be best to tell. Make sure to think through the personal elements that donors will relate to most, as these will need to be incorporated. 
     
  3. The Written Elements of His or Her Story
    Create a list of questions you would like this person to answer that will help illustrate "The Before", as well as "The After."  
     
  4. The Process
    Where were funds spent? Who was brought in to help? Why were these specific measures taken? Provide clear, concise descriptions of the factors that led to success. 
     
  5. Rich Media Assets
    Think through what assets will best illustrate the story. Get creative... Photos? A video interview? An infographic? You should be prepared to illustrate "The Before", "The Process", and "The After".
     
  6. Consent
    Create a signed release/express permission form that explains exactly what information and assets will be shared. Find creative ways to shield personal details and/or identities for those who could be hurt or embarrassed were their identities or personal details to be revealed. If it's necessary, change their name, and use a small disclaimer such as, “I'll call her Joanne…,” or “John, a pseudonym...” Make sure you've secured explicit written permission before publishing stories or photographs, and when in doubt, don't hesitate to consult a lawyer.
     
  7. Assemble the Pieces
    Because your case study involves a personal story, it can be difficult to isolate the most important information to include. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself incorporating emotional, yet irrelevant, information, which subsequently detracts from key points. When pulling together your case study, make sure that you're still focusing on a single area, for which you're able to measure the results. 
     
  8. Distribute
    Once you’re finished (and you've circulated your case study for feedback), be sure to:
    • Incorporate into fundraising presentations
    • Include in grant proposals
    • Post to your website
    • Send out via e-newsletter
    • Share through your social channels

Don't forget to integrate Calls-to-Action. Readers/viewers have many pieces of content competing for their attention. If they've taken an interest in your case study, you want to convert their interest by telling them what to do next... Donate? Sign up? Contact us? Don't miss your opportunity.  

Is there something we missed? Or, do you have a particularly compelling case study to share? As always, our team would love to hear from you! Post in the comments below, or contact us via Facebook, Twitter or Email

———

For further reading: 

  • Click here to hear from other organizations on protecting confidentiality
  • Click here to read Lizbeth Paulat's, "How Not to Be a Jerk While Visiting Africa," a piece about photographing children
  • Click here to hear from FamCare on how to best use case studies for fundraising

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Developing a Nonprofit Strategy to Drive Donations

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Developing a Nonprofit Strategy to Drive Donations

by Shanley Knox

At WhyWhisper, we see a common thread among the nonprofit organizations we work with. While driving awareness and consideration is a critical need for nonprofits, the main concern is whether this awareness will drive back to donations. 

That’s always the crux of the social media issue, isn’t it? Organizations want to see direct return on investment in order to feel that their time, energy, and budget is directly growing their capacity for positive impact.

While there is no magic formula for increasing donations, there are elements of social strategy that have been directly tied to increasing donor consideration. Below, we detail out some of our team's favorites:

Get Personal:
It’s been said that your best customer is the customer you already have. The same is true for donors. Every time a donor contributes, you have a direct opportunity to convince them to do it again — not to mention convincing their social followers to do the same. One powerful way to amplify this opportunity is by tweeting links to your donation landing page and letting individual donors know how their contribution has made a difference.

charity:water, a New York-based nonprofit committed to providing clean drinking water across the globe, takes this strategy to the next level by sending donors letters about how their donations have been used, with a link to encourage them to share the difference they’ve made via social media.

Tell a Story:

While Twitter is a powerful platform for sending short bits of information to donors, Facebook is the most effective way to tell a social story.

The more specific a story can be, the more emotionally moving it is for donors to see and relate to. This is evidenced by the success of Make A Wish Foundation's Facebook page , which features pictures, names, ages, and stories of the children whose wishes have been granted through donors' contributions. On these posts, fans regularly share their own stories, illustrating the lasting bond built by the organization. 

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Make a Game of it:

Blood donation shortages have been an issue for years. Red Cross Singapores response? Make a game out of it. 

In a recent effort to encourage blood donation, the organization created an iOS and Android application that uses social recognition, sharing, and donation push alerts to encourage donors to be actively involved in solving the organizations long-term donation shortage. 

Still not sure you want to get in on the fun? Here are 10 more examples of gamification playing a critical role in generating engagement and donations for social causes around the world.

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Include Digital Advertising: 

Digital advertising - and video advertisement in particular - is extremely successful when it comes to driving donations. According to a July 2013 Google study, 76% of donors research online less than one week after viewing an ad. Additionally, 57% of people make a donation after viewing a video online.

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Go Mobile:

Last, but certainly not least, it’s vital for nonprofits to include mobile optimization in their social strategy, as over 1/3 of people contact nonprofits via mobile devices and 25% complete their donations via their phones.  Additionally, 1 in 4 people find nonprofits of which they were not previously aware, via mobile searches and 40% compare reviews of causes they are interested in on their mobile devices.

Thinking of taking it a step further, and launching a mobile campaign? Here’s a great how-to guide to get you started.

Do you have a favorite social strategy element that you use to increase donations? Be sure to share with us below, or via Facebook and Twitter.

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What My Travels Taught Me About Social Change

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What My Travels Taught Me About Social Change

by Alexandra Ostrow

Last month, my newlywed husband, Ron, and I set off on a three-week adventure to Thailand. With three days in Bangkok, five days by the Ping River in Chiang Mai, and close to two weeks on the beaches of Khao Lak, Koh Lanta, and Railay, we had a chance to experience different climates, ecosystems, accommodations, food, and nightlife. We visited historical temples, bathed elephants, swam in crystal clear blue seas, and walked the colorful streets of crowded night bazaars. And all the while, I couldn't help but take note of the numerous models for impact. 

Now that we're back in New York, I routinely find myself thinking about the organizations that we encountered, and the many ways that their marketing, operations, and infrastructure applies to my client work.

Here are a few examples:

Bangkok

During our first two nights in Thailand, we stayed at The Metropolitan by Como, a luxury boutique hotel with sleek, contemporary designs, an in-house Michelin-starred restaurant, and a beautiful and serene spa. At first glance, there were no readily apparent ties to any philanthropic initiatives.

Later in the trip, I took a better look at the welcome card that they had left for us. On the back, there was a small, but distinct message about their foundation's work in Peru. It struck me as odd that a Thai hotel - even one that's a member of a global boutique operation - would be messaging their work in Peru. Upon further research, I learned that The Como Foundation supports nonprofit organizations working to improve the lives of women and girls in 19 countries worldwide through education, skill development, and income generation. Now, this made a bit more sense.

What to remember:

  • When running a philanthropic arm of a larger corporate entity, it's critical to craft messaging that resonates with the customer. If someone is traveling to Thailand, odds are they will be more interested in what's going on in Thailand than what's going on in Peru. If unable to resonate on a geographical level, approach it from a different angle. Approximately 51% of the world's population is female. Since their mission is directly tied to empowering girls, why not make this the focus of their materials?
     
  • To ensure the ongoing success of any nonprofit initiative, one must ensure continued visibility and interest. The Metropolitan has numerous opportunities to make customers aware of their philanthropic activities. For example, when someone makes a reservation, they could alert them that a portion of the fees are donated to their foundation. When they check in at the front desk, they could provide a card or brochure with instructions on learning more. When they visit their spa, they could feature items produced by the girls the foundation supports, and information on the training they had received. On-site art auctions, Twitter responses to Foursquare check-ins, even including a direct call-to-action on the welcome card -- any of this would have greatly helped to increase the odds that their customers would support their efforts. The lesson? Look for every point of contact with a prospect, and include relevant stories and information. Did I mention that this benefits the corporation as well? In a recent study, 60% of American consumers said that buying goods from socially responsible companies is important to them.

Chiang Mai
In traveling to the northern Province of Chiang Mai, both Ron and I were beyond excited to feed and bathe the elephants. We had extensively researched our options, as we knew from others that there were numerous companies exploiting animals for purposes of tourism. That being said, we never could have imagined the incredible sanctuary we would step into upon visiting The Elephant Nature Park.

Throughout the day, we received quite an education . We  learned of the abuse and traumas faced by the elephants of Thailand, and the ways in which we could affect change. We saw a baby elephant mischievously trying to allude his mom so as to play with the children in our group. We came to understand the importance of adhering to a strict snacking schedule, so as to ensure the elephants still knew to seek their own food sources throughout the day.

The elephants roamed freely amidst dogs, cats, and visitors (note that safety measures were in place), and volunteers ranged from their late teens to their early eighties. Some were clearing elephant dung. Others were carrying countless baskets of bananas, watermelons, and pumpkins. All had paid a fee to take part in these activities. To date, the organization has rescued over 35 elephants from the trekking, logging, and tourism industries, as well as over 400 dogs and cats, and their success is in large part due to their volunteer populations.

What to remember:

  • By offering an experiential volunteer program where people pay for accommodations and hands-on interaction, organizations can build a sustainable financial model that perpetuates change for their communities, while simultaneously minimizing costs around full-time labor.
     
  • While facts and figures are undeniably important, people are much more likely to buy into the mission of an organization when they have an opportunity to see the impact of its work. A great way for an organization to bring its mission to life is through storytelling. Why did the founder first get involved? What is a typical day-in-the-life of a volunteer? How did one elephant's life change after being placed at the Elephant Nature Park? 

Koh Lanta
Just after arriving in Koh Lanta, a district in Krabi Province, Thailand, Ron and I were looking for a beachside cocktail when we stumbled across Time for Lime, a cooking school, restaurant, and bar, that also offers bungalow accommodations. As I read through their cocktail list and innovative tasting menu, something else caught my eye… all profits from Time for Lime go to Lanta Animal Welfare, a rescue committed to the sterilization and care of the island’s neglected animals.

If you know me (or follow me on Twitter and/or Instagram), you are likely aware of my love of animals. For years, I worked at a local NYC animal rescue, not to mention the Rottweiler, Shepherd-Lab mix, and 2 spunky cats living alongside my husband and me in our little East Village apartment. Needless to say, we spent many nights supporting their business and talking to their founder; and we also arranged a daytime motorcycle ride to visit the animal rescue in person.

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What to remember:

  • There are many ways to affect change in a community. By using a beachside business model that easily attracts tourists, Time for Lime was financially able to start and sustain a nonprofit animal rescue. They also increased the visibility of the animals who were up for adoption, and provided employment to locals from the area. Were this to be located in New York, they would likely be certified as a Benefit Corporation (or BCorp). 
     
  • Time for Lime is able to attract a more steady stream of business through partnerships with larger hotels who want to offer their patrons a unique cooking school experience. When running any social change initiative, it's important to build mutually beneficial relationships that ensure support from the larger community.

The organizations I encountered in my recent travels to Thailand helped to remind me of the endless models and opportunities for creating social change in a community. Are there other impactful initiatives you encountered in your travels? I would love to learn about them!

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How to Use Social Media for Nonprofit Fundraising and Engagement

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How to Use Social Media for Nonprofit Fundraising and Engagement

In 2012, the nonprofit charity: water raised $8 million through their online fundraising platform. They are, perhaps, one of the more telling examples of the power of digital platforms to grow nonprofit fundraising and engagement. By creating a strong digital story, targeted social content, and participating in regular engagement with fans and potential funders, nonprofit teams have more opportunity than ever before to promote their cause online. 

Here are several ways for your nonprofit to get started: 

Use a virtual help desk

Platforms such as Help Scout provide access to multiple team members, thereby allowing for prompt responses to donor emails. Features include: email integration that allows you to respond from your own inbox; the ability to leave private notes for your team; actionable reporting providing insight on response times and team performance; and real time monitoring that lets you know when someone has accessed or already responded to an email.  

Create advocates out of your donors

Your online platform should give members of your network the ability to engage with your cause and share it with their friends, family and networks. This type of relationship creates efficient opportunities for fan advocacy, and often occurs by giving fans the ability to create their own visual and written content to share with their networks. Here’s a helpful blog explaining several specific ways to encourage brand advocacy. 

Leverage social proof 

Many donors express that their chief concern is that their money is going to nonprofit overhead, rather than projects and individuals being served. One way to increase trust and comfortability is to leverage social proof. Social proof can be described as “informational social influence,” or the positive influence created when one person finds out that someone else they know or relate to is taking part in a campaign. As you provide ways for your donors to publicly share that they have donated to your cause, you will subsequently gain the trust of your donors networks. 

Identify brand evangelists

Is there a leader within your company that has a strong presence on social networks? Their wide reach can be used to elevate and tell the story of your cause. By posting their own unique story of passion for your nonprofit’s mission, perhaps with the history of how they arrived at their commitment, this individual (or several individuals!) can create a corresponding story that communicates the power of your mission and vision, while expanding your reach amongst their networks.

Use powerful storytelling 

Storytelling is perhaps the most effective way to utilize social media. Your organization should seek to tell one overarching story of your mission and cause. Within it, you can present the facets of several different ongoing stories, such as the individual success stories, the fans who donate and volunteer, and the connection between the two. The more personal you can make the story, the more powerful it will become. 

Are there other ways you have used digital media to grow your nonprofit reach? We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below! 

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Are You Effectively Supporting Your Nonprofit Event via Social Media?

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Are You Effectively Supporting Your Nonprofit Event via Social Media?

Social media has the power to sell tickets, reach new audiences, and generate conversation. That being said, it involves more than just sharing an update. Here are a few ways to effectively use your channels before, during, and after an event: 

Create a Twitter Hashtag
Creating a unique Twitter hashtag is a great way to get fans to recognize and take part in conversation that pertains specifically to your event. It also provides an efficient way to access an organized feed of all relevant visual and written content, alongside the users who posted it.

Provide Branded Activation
Many event planners are now using tech-savvy ID wristbands for general admission and/or VIP access to their events. These wristbands can be customized for admission, ticketing, social sharing, and more -- all through RFID technology that uses radio waves to automatically identify people and/or objects. If you’re not feeling that tech-savvy just yet, you can create your own version of a branded photo booth. By placing signs or logos in photo backdrops and decorations, you establish a way for attendees to inadvertently promote your brand throughout the night. 

Use an Amplifier
An amplifier is a tool that allows fans to tweet all together at the start of an event. Some examples include Thunderclap, JustCoz and Gaggleamp. Thunderclap, for example, creates an impact through "the power of people speaking together”. If enough people in your network sign up, it blasts out a Facebook Post or Tweet from all your supporters at the exact same time, thereby creating a wave of social media attention. 

Create a TwitterWall
A Twitter wall serves as an ongoing visual reminder for attendees to live tweet throughout your event. Twitterfall and Visible Tweets are excellent for this purpose. People feel validation when seeing their tweets projected live. Meanwhile, your nonprofit gains visibility amongst attendees' online audiences. We've even seen people take online conversations offline after recognizing another's avatar! 

After Story
Once your event is over, follow up with digital participants to ensure that you effectively convert them into fans and donors. One way to continue the conversation is to collect photos with the event hashtag and post them to Facebook and flickr. Additionally, you can use an app like storify to curate tweets, photos, videos, and resources to share with attendees and fans.

Have other ways you like to promote your events? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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