Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Are You Sure There is Demand for What You Do?

I had a fun call today with a woman starting her own business. She wanted my advice on how to find customers. In order to understand her business, I asked my usual questions.
  • What do you do?

  • How do you do it?

  • Who is the audience for your service?

  • What makes it unique?
But my next question made her stand up and take note.
  • Have you validated that there is demand for what you do? In other words, have you determined that there are people who want to buy your stuff?

Now, not all services and products fill a pre-existing need. It is possible to create demand. For example, I didn't know I needed a Netbook until I saw the adorable one sitting on my boss's desk. :) I also didn't know I needed Linkedin until all of my contacts somehow landed in their database. But creating demand is hard to do, especially with little to no marketing budget. It's much easier to fill a pre-existing need or - as it were - address a point of pain.

Too many entrepreneurs become enamored of an idea for its own sake and forget to validate that there is indeed a market for what they sell. This holds true for nonprofits too but it takes a slightly different form. In our case, determining that there is demand for our programs means finding funders who are willing to subsidize our work.

Running a small business is hard. Running a nonprofit is harder. You have to create great programs and services. More important, you have to find someone who wants to BUY them. Before diving into a new endeavor, be sure to determine if there is an overlap between your passion and someone's wallet.



Saturday, October 24, 2009

Where's the Party At?

We're launching a new website at my company in a few months. If you're curious you can read this article. We've done the usual - hired a design firm to help us build and optimize the site. We're also working on new messaging, branding and positioning for our services. Here's the rub. We don't and won't ever have the marketing dollars necessary to get lots and lots of people hang out on our site. And, even if we did have a Procter and Gamble-sized budget, people don't hang out on corporate websites. It's not where the party's at.

Think about it. When was the last time you pulled up a specific organizational or corporate website? Did you go directly to Southwest.com to book a plane ticket? Did you go directly to Zappos.com to buy a new pair of shoes? And what about nonprofits? When was the last time you went directly to the home page of your favorite charity?

If you're like most people before you visit specific websites, you visit search engines like Google, Live or Bing to gather information. Or you visit "site aggregators" like Expedia or Wikipedia to get an overview of lots of different brands and collect information. From there you drill down to visit specific sites.

And, there's probably one additional way that you get the 411. You use social networking sites, like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin to shop, research, connect and learn.

Don't believe me? Check it out. According to Alexa.com, these are the top 13 sites on the Internet. Note: Your website is not on this list. :)
  1. Google google.com
    Enables users to search the Web, Usenet, and images. Features include PageRank, caching and translation of results, and an option to find similar pages. The company's focus is developing search technology.

  2. Facebook facebook.com
    A social utility that connects people, to keep up with friends, upload photos, share links and videos.

  3. Yahoo! yahoo.com
    Personalized content and search options. Chatrooms, free e-mail, clubs, and pager.

  4. YouTube youtube.com
    YouTube is a way to get your videos to the people who matter to you. Upload, tag and share your videos worldwide!

  5. Windows Live live.com
    Search engine from Microsoft.

  6. Wikipedia wikipedia.org
    An online collaborative encyclopedia.

  7. Blogger.com blogger.com
    Free, automated weblog publishing tool that sends updates to a site via FTP.

  8. Microsoft Network (MSN) msn.com
    Dialup access and content provider.

  9. Baidu.com baidu.com
    The leading Chinese language search engine, provides "simple and reliable" search experience, strong in Chinese language and multi-media content including MP3 music and movies, the first to offer WAP and PDA-based mobile search in China.

  10. Yahoo!カテゴリ yahoo.co.jp

  11. Myspace myspace.com
    Social Networking Site.

  12. Google India google.co.in
    Indian version of this popular search engine. Search the whole web or only webpages from India. Interfaces offered in English, Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi and Tamil.

  13. Twitter twitter.com
    Social networking and microblogging service utilising instant messaging, SMS or a web interface.

These are the sites where consumers, i.e. your current and prospective donors, members, advocates hang out. This is where the party's at. What this means for you. Find a way to hang out there too!

Now, this is a list of the most trafficked sites on the Web. And while it does give you a good overview of where you need to be, you should also determine which sites are the best hot spots for your unique audiences. You can do this via a survey of your members or via a social networking data append.

Before I go...I'm not saying that you shouldn't have a corporate website. (Although, many social networking utilities and site aggregators are enabling charities to use their websites as micro sites for their organizations.) You still need a home base on the Web to do business, i.e. collect information about your supporters and raise money. But it is also imperative that you develop and employ strategies to connect with your audiences where they already live online.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Are We Still Bowling Alone?

This photo is by MLHS.

Do average citizens really have the power to change the world? Can online technologies fuel real community?

These are two questions The Case Foundation is trying to answer with its second America’s Giving Challenge. The Challenge - a month-long contest to encourage as many people as possible to donate and spread the word about the issues that matter to them the most - is also a test of what happens when people come together online.

There are supporters and critics.

“Online organizing is the way of the future. It has the power to help us achieve unprecedented advances by enabling us to organize people and resources across space and time.”
“Online activism is slacktivism. Signing an online petition or making an online donation doesn’t really connect you to a cause. It’s face-to-face organizing that is essential to making lasting change.”

What would Robert Putnam say?

Ten years ago in his seminal book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Putnam noted,

“Our stock of social capital – the very fabric of our connections with each other, has plummeted, impoverishing our lives and communities.” He also warned that, “We were becoming increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures.”
But this was pre- Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Now look at us.

Obama for America raised $30 million online. And while the money raised online dwarfed the money raised from old-school tactics, it did help elect the first African-American President.

And in early 2009, 10,000 strangers in 202 cities participated in Twestival – a Twitter festival. The result? More than $250,000 raised in one day for charity: water, a nonprofit devoted to bringing safe drinking water to people in developing nations.

Like it or not, we are now witness to an explosion in online communities and technologies to share, connect and annoy. This online organizing raises interesting questions. Will online communities help to rebuild our faith and trust in each other? Better yet, will online communities help us to build the social and financial capital we need to change the world.

It's true, there may never be a better substitute for in-person organizing. Face-to-face meetings fulfill a basic human need for connection and will always be central to helping us come together to learn about and care for one other. But newer online tools may be just the complement we need to rebuild and galvanize our American spirit of advocacy, volunteerism and giving.

What do you think? Are we still bowling alone? Or, are new online communities and tools helping to create powerful new connections that can help us change the face of the human race?



Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Wall Street Journal Says Email No Longer Rules. I Disagree.

Monday's edition of The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article called "Why Email No Longer Rules." While it's an interesting overview of how tools like Twitter and Facebook are changing the landscape of 21st century communications, I disagree with their assertion that email is losing it's importance as a communications channel. On the contrary, especially when it comes to fundraising, email is increasing in importance.

Here's why. People read email!

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, "sending or reading email" (42%) and "using a search engine" (38%) are the top 2 activities that online adults engage in EVERY DAY! And those percentages have only increased overtime. In comparison, only 15% of online adults use a social networking site every day.

More important is the fact that most online giving is driven by email and donations to organizational websites, not by fundraising via social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. Specifically, Blackbaud estimates that $15 billion was given online in 2008.
"Online giving has continued to grow year-over-year even during the recession. Blackbaud analyzed the Giving USA data, along with other important metrics, and estimates that more than $15.42 billion was given online to US charities in 2008. This is a 44% increase over 2007's online giving estimates. Online giving accounted for just over 5% of total giving to charities in the US during 2008 and has been growing for many years now." - Steve MacClaughlin, Director, Internet Solutions
In addition, we know from the 2008 DonorCentric Internet Giving Benchmark Analysis by Target Analytics that email communication lifts direct mail response rates. Again, this is a quote from Blackbaud.
"Offline donors who have an email address on file, and who have no record of giving online, give far more per year and retain and reactivate at higher rates than those who do not have an email address on file. Providing an email address may indicate greater affinity towards an organization. In addition, donors who have email addresses on file may tend to be those who have had more opportunities to provide it to the organization, and who would therefore be those with greater giving loyalty or who receive more frequent communication from the organization."
Now, I can already here the naysayers. "Yes, but I"m overloaded with email. Many days I delete half of the emails in my inbox."

Well, that's true and it highlights the challenge for all of us. We must start sending compelling emails to the right donors at the right time, right now!

Here's how:

1. Build and clean your online list. Ask for email addresses at every turn. Collect them via direct mail, events and on the phone. Looking for a big lift in your online subscribers? Do an email append.

2. Buy a subscription to an Email Services Provider. Be sure to contract with a provider that has a solid reputation for getting your email into the inbox. Idealware has done a good overview of email vendors that work specifically with nonprofits.

3. Improve your copy writing skills and learn to write for the Web. Copyblogger is well-respected blog that offers great copy writing tips for online marketing. Subscribe today!

4. Create an editorial calendar and stick to it! Map out the key events in the life cycle of your cause and use these dates to direct your online and offline campaigns. But also be willing to let current events drive your appeals.

5. Learn from the best. There are many nonprofits, including Conservation International, Care, The Carter Center, Defenders of Wildlife and Sierra Club that run first rate email marketing programs. Study their appeals and emulate as you see fit.

Email marketing is a tough road to hoe but if you're goal is to raise money online you have to master this channel.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Raise Money for Your Favorite Cause You May Win $50,000

The Case Foundation, Causes and Parade launched America's Giving Challenge today!

This is a great contest especially for small nonprofits and I urge you to participate.

How it works:

1. Enter a cause or start a new cause.
2. Reach out to your friends, family members and colleagues.
3. Encourage them to donate. (Don't forget to make your own donation first!)

What you get:

The cause that receives the most unique daily donations in 30 days (October 7 - November 6) will win $50,000. The 2nd runner-up will receive $25,000. And $10,000 will be given to the charities that place 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th.

In addition, daily awards of $1,000 will be given to the cause that receives the most unique donations each day of the Challenge.

Here is what I LOVE about America's Giving Challenge.
  • Any person or organization can participate.
  • It levels the playing field for smaller charities because awards are based on donation volume vs. money raised.
  • It's really easy to see where you stand at any minute. Check out their cool leader board.
  • It's a great way for you to dip your toe into social networking and peer-to-peer fundraising to see if it works for you.
  • Matt Damon is their national spokesperson. :)
Questions? Learn more here and then go forth and fundraise!


FREE Chat on How to Market via Facebook

So you've done the research and you know that a majority of the your target audience is on Facebook. You've also done an audit of staff time and you know that engaging with folks on Facebook is the best and highest use of your time. Now you just need to know how to do it.

It's your lucky day!

The Chronicle of Philanthropy is hosting a live chat next Tuesday, October 13 at 12:00 on How to Use Facebook Causes with Sarah Koch, nonprofit coordinator at Facebook Causes.

Ask a question here!

"Facebook Causes, a tool created to let people develop their own charitable projects and campaigns on the popular social networking site Facebook, has become a useful tool for many nonprofit groups that want to raise money and reach out to potential supporters, especially young people, online. But fund raising isn't the only reason to use Causes. How might the tool be used to simply attract people to a nonprofit organization's Web site where they can find out how to volunteer, donate, or just learn more about a charity? How should nonprofit leaders use Causes to talk about their charity's mission? How does one get started using the Causes tool? What's the difference between a cause and a nonprofit profile?"


Friday, October 2, 2009

FREE Fall Fundraising Success Guide for You!

My friends at Network for Good have created a new guide to help you glide through year-end fundraising called 25 Steps to Fall & Holiday Fundraising Success.  You can download your FREE copy by signing up here.

I particularly like their suggestions in Step 10 for building your online list.  However, I would add another tactic - email append

An email append is the process of using a 3rd-party vendor (like my company) to add email addresses to your offline donor or member list.  Here's how it works.

1. You send us your donor file.
2. We match your postal file against our database.
3. When we find a match, we add the email address to your file.
4. We send your branded email from our servers and invite your constituents to engage with you online.
5. We flag the folks who opt-out.
6. We send the enhanced file back to you.

The entire process takes 2 - 3 weeks.

While email addresses gathered organically usually perform better than appended email addresses, the low cost of email appending is a great way to jumpstart your list.  And email is one of THE most cost-effective way to stay in touch with your donors all year long.

Want more information?  Contact me at jocelyn.harmon@emailforimpact.com


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Apply Today to Think With Seth Godin

Seth Godin is offering his time and talent to 40 nonprofit marketers, fundraisers and "change agents" for FREE on Oct 22 in NYC
"The goal is to help you think through ways you can use new marketing, storytelling, fundraising, permission, social media and more. It really is free, and nothing is going to be sold or pitched. The goal is simple: To help your organization to be more successful."
Don't know Seth Godin?  You should.  He's a great thinker on all things marketing. (He's written over 10 books on the subject.) And he writes a hugely popular and highly respected blog. 

Need help thinking about your fundraising strategy or how to build a real, live, viable community of people who care about your cause?  Act now!  Deadline to apply is Oct. 5.


Philanthropic Throw Down for Public Schools

The 2009 Donor's Choose Social Media Challenge officially starts today!  DonorsChoose.org is an online charity that makes it easy for anyone to help students in need.

If you care about public schools and have friends and family members who care about public schools too, consider creating a giving page.

This campaign is an excellent example of:

1. Connecting with influencers (like bloggers and Twitterers) to ask them to leverage their networks to raise money for you.  According to the DonorsChoose website, "last October, over 150 bloggers devoted their time (and various methods of persuasion) to help inspire their readers to give over $270,000 in classroom projects via the DonorsChoose.org Blogger Challenge, reaching over 65,000 public school students in need of essential learning materials."

2. Using technology to encourage peer to peer fundraising.  Also called distributed marketing/fundraising, peer to peer fundraising can be powerful. 

Thinking about empowering your supporters to support you?  Check out these tools you can use!


P.S.  I first learned about the 2009 Donor's Choose Social Media Challenge on Amy Sample Ward's Version of NPTech.