April 2011 Archives

April 29, 2011

Social Networking for Nonprofits: Don't Forget Niche Networks

Here's another useful tip I picked up at a recent seminar by Ted Hart, ACFRE: As your nonprofit starts connecting and creating dialogue with people though sites like Facebook and Twitter, think also about whether a more narrowly defined social networking site would be a good place to establish a presence.

wampire-waltz-226x300.jpgSome sites' themes offer promising matches with cause-related interests.

There are sites for people with disabilities, new moms, artists, a variety of ethnic groups, and so on.

I'm assuming you can skip the site called VampireFreaks (for "Goths and industrial subculture"), as well as those for knitters and Danish teens, but who knows?

For a detailed list of sites, including information on which have open membership policies, see the list provided on Wikipedia.
April 26, 2011

Uh Oh, Tax Exempt Doesn't Mean Fee Exempt

Do you have the unsettling feeling that your nonprofit is having to raise more and more money just to pay the bills? You're not alone.

A recent survey and report from Johns Hopkins' Center for Civil Society Studies found that, "Despite the belief that nonprofits are free of taxes, substantial proportions of [those surveyed] reported being subjected to one or another type of government tax or fee . . . ."

image012.jpgTypical fees included state or local government use or activity fees.

For example, a new Schenectady, New York fee will require all property owners (whether nonprofit or for-profit) to pay a "curb fee" based on how much of their property fronts the city's streets. This is supposed to help pay for road services. 

In some cases, nonprofits are actually being asked to make voluntary payments in lieu of taxes. Why? To offset their use of government services.

I guess I'd feel better about governments requiring nonprofits to pay their "fair share" if it weren't that government is already shifting so much of the burden of providing services to an increasingly needy public right over to the nonprofit sector!
April 21, 2011

Your Nonprofit Website: Does It Truly Welcome Volunteer Help?

Two fabulous seminars came to the Bay Area this week: One by Kivi Leroux Miller, an expert on nonprofit communications; and one by Ted Hart, ACFRE, an expert in online as well as traditional fundraising.

Athough the two presenters covered completely different topics ("Three Stories Every Nonprofit Should Be Telling," and "Social Networking and Online Fundraising Success," respectively), both had strong opinions on how nonprofits can improve their communication with prospective volunteers.

Ted Hart placed "Recruit and manage volunteers online" right on his list of "Online Basics" - the seven things that every nonprofit should make sure its website includes. (Without these seven, said Ted, "You have no business asking for money online.") But, Ted added, although recruiting and managing volunteers is an important bottom line issue, "Most charity websites don't even mention volunteers."

Uh oh.

Kivi, meanwhile, in invoking the power of good storytelling, says, "Anywhere you ask someone to do something, tell a story about someone else doing the same thing." That can apply to many calls to action in many formats, of course, but imagine how including a story on your website could help people who think they might be interested in getting involved with your group in some other way than making a donation -- but feel uncertain about what volunteering with your group would really be like.

Uncertainty can be a huge hurdle to overcome.

globequestion.gif

Just imagine the questions a volunteer who's never actually visited your organization, or met anyone there, might have: "Will they think I'm too young/old? Will the work be too hard/boring? Will the people in charge be friendly, or order me around like I'm at the bottom of the pecking order? Will I actually meet anyone I can talk to, or be stuck in a back room with a teenager completing the terms of his probation?"

Now imagine how implicitly welcoming it would be if your nonprofit website featured an article authored by, or profiling, a volunteer who has been with your organization for a while. Maybe that volunteer helped your nonprofit with some important achievements, loved the work so much that he or she moved up to more responsible work or spearheaded a project, or, I dunno, married a fellow volunteer. It's all good information for the prospect. Add photos, too.

Don't wait -- take a look at your website. Is there a "Get Involved" or similar tab well placed on your home page? Does that page make "Volunteer Opportunities" easy to find? And is there a dedicated page describing volunteer positions, which makes them sound appealing, and includes a story such as the one described above? If not, this little bit of effort could pay off in a lot of increased volunteer help.

April 13, 2011

Questions to Ask Before Your Nonprofit Hires a Web Designer

I posted earlier about the perils of hiring the wrong Web designer -- then came across some great advice from Susan Lee of Fluid Fusion on how to hire the right one. The advice was originally published in the June, 2009 issue of Nonprofit Business Advisor, but it's just as fresh two years later.

In brief, here's Susan's advice on what to ask potential Web designers (mushed in with a little advice of my own):

1) How many years of Web design experience do you have? (Five or more is best.)

2) Will you provide samples of websites you've recently designed? (Visit them, while imagining yourself in the shoes of a donor, potential funder, or member of the public looking for information. Then see how well you can navigate around and find what you want.)

3) How do you price your services? (This may be by the hour, or by project. If it's by the hour, also ask whether different tasks are billed at different rates.)

4) May I contact three of your references? (Don't skip this step! There's nothing like hearing from others that the designer was easy to work with and followed through by creating a site the nonprofit is still happy with -- or not.)

5) Can you draft a design agreement with an estimated scope of cost and turnaround time? (Don't get me started on the weaknesses of verbal agreements, or of not discussing what's expected in advance, in detail.)

6) Will you be available for follow-up questions or to discuss a page design? According to Lee, she's heard many stories from clients who'd hired designers who turned out to be unreachable!

roadblock.jpgBy the way, these are important questions to ask even if a volunteer has kindly offered to design your website.

Volunteer help can be a great way to save money in the short term, but unless the person is truly qualified, lead to long-term roadblocks in the workings of your website.

April 11, 2011

Telling the World What Your Nonprofit Does

Has anyone else noticed that NPR has started interspersing little self-marketing spots amidst its regular programming? Like this morning, I heard one describing what its foreign correspondents do when there's not much going on in their area -- no immediate conflict or other pressing news. "Trekking in Asia" is all I remember, but it was fun to reflect, for a moment, on what's going on behind the scenes in order to bring me NPR programming.

radio_microphone_medium.jpgSo what took NPR so long to use its airwaves for its own marketing purposes? The network has long been announcing taglines of its supporter foundations, as described in this 2009 article from L.A. Philanthropy Watch. Maybe NPR finally wised up and realized its own listeners could use some reminders of what it's all about, too.

And that's a lesson that a number of nonprofits could probably learn. Even your most devoted supporters may be a little vague on the details of what your group does. Some have a pretty good idea, but have ceased to be inspired by it. And then there are the new supporters, who are still getting a sense of your group's identity and personality.

So, finding ways to get your group's message across (most likely without the benefit of airwaves) can be crucial. To this day, I sometimes go to nonprofit websites where the home page doesn't even make clear what the group does, much less why or how. To this end, a "tagline" can be helpful.

For advice on developing a good one, see Nancy Schwartz's recent blog post: "How to Create a Tagline that Connects and Motivates."
April 4, 2011

Your Nonprofit's Website Design: How the Wrong Consultant Can Mess It Up

In case you haven't yet come across this article (which is rightfully making its way around the blogosphere), be sure to check out Kivi Leroux Miller's "How Web Developers Hurt Their Nonprofit Clients."

The article details how either inept or unscrupulous Web design consultants saddle nonprofits (and others, no doubt) with websites that only the consultants know how to -- or literally have authorization to -- update.

mad_fossil1_h.jpgYikes. Having a website that doesn't take much work to keep up might sound like a blessing now, but what happens when you've got a big event coming up and discover that you don't have the power to devote more than two sentences on your homepage to it? Or can't swap out your photos to feature a relevant one? The very website that looked so fresh on day one will soon look like an ancient fossil.  

Do your group a favor and make sure your website at least offers some flexibility, regardless of what you decide to do with it later.