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Event Followup

Last weekend, I attended a fundraising gala for a local nonprofit. Like most galas, this was the organization’s largest event of the year. It’s an opportunity to bring in new donors, highlight current donors through sponsorship, and celebrate friends and supporters while raising awareness for the work that you do.  Most organizations put all of their energy into the planning and day of event activities. The real work, however, starts as soon as the event is over.

Thank everyone!

Say thank you both publicly and privately. Send hand-written thank you notes to as many guests and supporters as you can. Include a photo from the event. (This can also be accomplished electronically.) Call your VIPs and sponsors to thank them and ask for their honest impressions. Listen to their feedback. Determine how they can become more involved with your organization and followup with a note that includes information that is pertinent to them. Be grateful for the support you received from your community. Nurture every relationship, including your vendors. Be sure to let them know how their services contributed to the success of your event.

Share the results

Tell everyone about your success. Post photos and share behind the scenes tidbits through your social media outlets. Alert the press so that they can do a post event story. Success breeds success. People who hear how outstanding your event was this year are more likely to want to contribute to or participate in your future events.

Debrief ASAP

Meet with your staff and volunteers as soon as possible and go over the event in great detail. What worked? What didn’t? Where is there room for improvement? What do you want to remember for next time? Gather impressions, take notes and write a report. It will be invaluable the next time you start planning an event.

Look at the Numbers

Analyze your budget. Reconsider your assumptions. Where were you over/under budget? What are some costs you can reduce the next time around? Where do you think you should have invested more?

Build Your Constituency

Ideally, prior to your event, you will have identified people who have not been active with your organization in the past. Maybe they’re friends of a donor or guests of a sponsor. Capture their contact information and followup after the event with a card or letter that thanks them and asks them to become more involved with your organization. Try to find out what their interests are. Ask if they would be interested in volunteering, hosting a meet and greet, or coming by your organization for a tour. This way, they can self-select whether or not they want to become more involved. You’ll get far better results than if you were to just add them to your mailing list.

Recognize Your Volunteers

Bake some cookies, hang up a “We did it!” banner, and be sure to acknowledge everyone who helped to make your event possible. Keep notes in your database about volunteers who really outdid themselves. You’ll want to refer back to this when it comes time hand out volunteer of the year awards or to highlight a volunteer’s work in your newsletter.

Read three more tips for following up after an event.


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1000 words, But Are They The Right Ones?

A friend of mine posted to Facebook today asking for advice on engagement photos. She’s already hired the best photographer in town and she’s thinking through wardrobe options. All that’s left to do is find that perfect location that serves not only as a backdrop for their smiling faces, but conveys their sense of style, and complements their feelings of joy and excitement.

Nonprofits don’t give photography half this much consideration. They understand the need to flesh out their newsletters, brochures, and websites with images, but they often lack the real photos that convey emotion and create a personal connection with their work. Instead, they show a giant check being passed off from a major donor to a beaming executive director, a bunch of muckety-mucks in tuxedos standing around a table at a gala, or a group of uninterested kids surrounding a politician. While these photos convey facts, they are unlikely to move your audience. It’s like writing without adjectives. These photos say, “give us money and we will spend it.” Not the most convincing message for a nonprofit.

So what is a “real” photo? Check out the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Virginia. Their annual report shows kids and volunteers participating in their programs. It may not be the fanciest example out there, but their photos are bright and clear, some posed, some candid, all conveying what their organization does.

If you can’t hire a pro, your best alternative is sheer persistence: take a lot of photos all the time. Enlist your staff, your volunteers, even your program participants as photographers. As my friend Tracy says, “even a blind hog can find an acorn now and then.” It’s all a matter of being in the right place at the right time. And don’t just take photos at events and fundraisers—get out in the field. The Local Food Hub does a great job of this. Take photos of volunteers, donors, “a day in the life” of your staff or constituents, of the people and places you serve, and of projects as they’re being built or created (and not just when they’re completed). Your photos may not be professional, but it will be clear that they are originals.

Some nonprofits prefer to use stock photography instead of original images. They may be pretty, but there’s some risk in using slick photos of people and places that aren’t really associated with your organization. Take a look at the image header that Hospice of the Piedmont uses on their website. These smiling, happy people look a little too good. Sure enough, a quick search reveals that they were purchased from a stock photography site.

So what’s the big deal? There isn’t one, really. Hospice’s clientele probably doesn’t want their photos used for marketing purposes, and who can blame them? This is an organization that deals with extremely sensitive and personal issues. The stock photo of grandma with her nurse will surely suffice and convey the message that the organization wants. (I should point out that Hospice of the Piedmont helped my family manage my grandfather’s, as well as my husband’s grandmother’s, end of life and palliative care, for which we are forever grateful.)

The only problem appears to be grandma’s popularity. While she represents a patient receiving end of life care at Hospice of the Piedmont, she also represents a homebound senior who’s surviving on boxes of food from the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. If you must use stock photos, at the very least, make sure that they’re not already in use by nonprofits in your area.

Google Image Search can help with this. The search engine allows you to search by image and not just words. Copy the link to the image into Google and see where on the web that image or similar images are being used. Try to make the photos as relevant to your cause and community as you can and help maintain your credibility.

Flickr is a great alternative to stock photography websites. There’s a very active Charlottesville group. Check them out the next time you need photos. Many of them are released under a Creative Commons license. If you find that perfect photo and it’s not available under a Creative Commons license, go ahead and contact the photographer and ask for permission. One year, when I was working for an area non-profit, we needed an image for a holiday card, but kept coming up short. None of our in-house photos had any relation to the holidays. I did a local Flickr search, found a perfect snowy photo and contacted the photographer. He was thrilled for us to use it, as long as we credited him, which we were happy to do.

A photo gives you the chance to share your message visually, to show your mission in action. Hiring a professional ensures that you’ll get some good shots, but even if you can afford it, chances are that you’ll only use a professional for a special event, headshots, or a marketing campaign. Stock photography, especially of people, rarely works for a nonprofit with a local focus and is a poor substitute for original work. Creating a series of meaningful photographs is more than simply taking snap shots. Just as with words, thought, skill and a critical eye are fundamental in telling your story effectively.

Check out these tips for getting better photos on a budget.

See a list of free image and photo sites.

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Spring Cleaning Your Website

Spring has sprung in Charlottesville! If you didn’t get a jump on spring cleaning, there’s no avoiding it now. While you may be tempted to start by boxing up old files or dusting cobwebs out of corners, I suggest you start by cleaning up your most public interface: your website. Some of these suggestions may be obvious, but I know that many of you rely on volunteers or staff who are not web developers and have little, if any, website experience. Often, nonprofits’ websites are created by a professional firm and then managed and updated in house. Make sure that over time, your site hasn’t become cluttered or disorganized.

Put on a Different Hat

In your position, there are probably a few pages that you visit regularly and others that you never see. Ask a friend who is not affiliated with your organization to help. Come up with a few scenarios and consider how your site looks and feels to different constituents, such as:

  • A supporter looking to make a donation
  • A board member looking to contact a staff member
  • Someone needing assistance who is trying to figure out where to start
  • Someone who wants to volunteer
  • A local business that wants to provide support
  • A former volunteer who wants to know what’s going on at the organization

Check Your Links

Just last week, I visited a local nonprofit’s website to browse a directory of resources. None of the links worked because of a typo in all of the urls (there was an extra www.)  Take a couple of minutes and use a tool like Link Checker to make sure that all of your links are functioning.

Clean Up Your Sourcecode

Do you know what what HTML tags to use where, and what content to place within them? Doing this correctly can have a significant impact on how your website looks on the search results page when someone googles you. Confused? Google Grants offers some useful advice.

Supersize Support

Make sure the volunteer/support sections of your site are visible and easy to access. You don’t want anyone clicking around trying to figure out where to make a donation. A simple solution is to add a donate/donations tab to your navigation bar.

Update Your Content

Have someone take the time to read through your website. This is a great job for an intern or new volunteer. Is your content up to date and relevant? All too often I find staff listings, email addresses, and phone numbers that are incorrect or need to be updated.


What are your web traffic statistics? How are visitors finding your site? What are they clicking on? How long are they staying there? If you’re not hooked up to Google Analytics (or a similar monitoring tool), you could missing some very valuable information about how your website is functioning as a marketing tool.

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Google for Nonprofits

Yesterday, Google launched its new Google for Nonprofits program. This new program offers free applications and outreach tools. Check out some of their new offerings:

Only approved nonprofits can participate in this new program, so if you’re interested apply here.

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