Tag Archives: communications

Share Your Little Black Book

Nonprofits frequently go about their work as if they’re the only organization doing what they do. It’s pretty unlikely that your organization’s work is radically different from that of organizations in the same sector. You’re bound to have something in common, whether it’s goals, constituents, or funders.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Find other nonprofits who are successfully doing what you’re doing and emulate them. Customize programs, policies, campaigns, and events to fit your own organization. Don’t be afraid to collaborate. Share resources. Nonprofits work with slim assets, and the more you share with one another, the more you’ll benefit those you serve.

The ASPCA does a great job of sharing tools and resources with animal protection and rescue groups. Their materials are not limited to member organizations. They make their information available to the public so that it can educate and inspire others working in the field. For example, they provide a “Little Black Book of Adoption Promotions.” Rescue groups across the country are constantly coming up with marketing ideas to promote the adoption of animals. Instead of keeping these ideas to themselves, they collaborate because they share the same goal of finding animals homes, whether they are in the same community or not.

Speaking of the ASPCA, this month is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. This is Copper, an adorable boxer-mix puppy that we are fostering for the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA. He’s about twelve weeks old. He’s calm, curious, and eager to please. He’s already learned his name, how to walk on a leash, and to sit on command. He sleeps through the night and is happy to nap or hang out in his crate. If you or someone you know is interested in adopting Copper, please contact me.


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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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Hanging out at the GAB

Last week, I went to Richmond to visit the General Assembly. (Although it made for a long day, I was able to time my visit so that I could also tour the incredible Richmond SPCA and stop by the Sorensen Alumni Reception.) If you’ve never been, I urge you to go, and see for yourself how a bill becomes law. Visit your delegate or senator, sit in on a committee meeting or watch a session from the gallery. Warning: If you’re new to politics, your first visit may be a frustrating experience. Bills move quickly and often die before they reach the floor. Rarely does anyone pay attention in committee. Points of privilege seem to take forever. Legislators carry on while their fellow “gentlemen” text and check Facebook. Bring along a buddy and it’s the perfect backdrop for MST3K. For political geeks like me, it’s fascinating place to hang out. For nonprofits, it’s a very important place: they need to be involved in the political process, but so often are not.

Be a known quantity

At the very least, your senator and delegate should know that your organization exists. Do not wait until the General Assembly is in session to make your organization known. Meet with your representatives at their home office. Invite them to visit your organization to learn more about what you do. Add them to your mailing list. Send them invitations to your events. If you do visit the General Assembly Building, stop by their office and say hello. (It’s a good reminder that they’re in Richmond working for you.) It’s important for elected officials to know your role in the community so that they can help you, and it’s important for you to be a resource that they can turn to information.

Consider Lobbying

Make sure your nonprofit understands the difference between advocacy and lobbying. The IRS has restrictions for 501(c)(3) organizations. Know where the lines are before you cross them. The Center for Nonprofit Management offers an excellent overview of IRS rules regarding lobbying and advocacy by nonprofits.

You are entitled to lobby and advocate for the causes and constituents you represent. Nonprofits should get involved in the political process as it affects government funding for their programs and policies that impact their ability to carry out their mission.

Start by tracking and monitoring legislation. (As I’ve mentioned, Richmond Sunlight is the best tool for doing this.) Nonprofits have first-hand experience and expertise in their field that can play a key role in shaping public policy. For example, the Virginia Organizing Project (VOP), is on the ground in communities across the Commonwealth fighting predatory lending. Who better to rally the troops or help educate legislators than those who are dealing with this on a daily basis?

Visit the General Assembly on an “awareness day” for your cause or designate a “lobby day” for your members to meet with legislators. (Today is Lobby Day for the Charlottesville Chapter of VOP.) For those of you who’ve never participated in something like this, Richmond Sunlight offers a video with tips on how to advocate at the General Assembly.

Even if your nonprofit does not lobby for policy change, it is essential that you communicate to federal, state and local leaders the ways in which your nonprofit serves people in your community.

For more information on lobbying and advocacy, visit:

Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest

Colorado Nonprofit Association Lobbying Toolkit

Minnesota Council of Nonprofits – The Law and Nonprofit Advocacy

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Communications Trends Report Released

Take a look at the 2011 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report Conducted by Nonprofit Marketing Guide. I hope your organization isn’t one of the 49% of nonprofits who said they have no formal marketing or communications plan for 2011. Yowza.

Some highlights from the report:

The survey listed 14 communications tools and asked respondents to select up to three that were “most important,” “somewhat important,” and “least important.” When the “very important” and “somewhat important” rankings were combined, it became obvious that online marketing tools dominate, trumping more traditional forms of nonprofit communications.”

The highest ranked communications tools:

Website – 96% of participants identified their website as being a very or somewhat important tool

Email marketing – 94% identified this as being a very or somewhat important tool and 75% said they’ll email supporters at least monthly

Facebook – 79% ranked this as a very or somewhat important tool

In-person events – 67%

Print marketing – 67%

Media relations/PR – 57%

This report is based on a survey of 780 small to medium-sized nonprofits in North America in December 2010.

Download the entire report.

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GA Now In Session

It’s that special time of year when lots of my friends and colleagues go trudging off to Richmond to lobby, advocate, and legislate. Perhaps, you’re one of those diligent organizations that’s been working with your delegate to amend a law or create a new piece of legislation that will help protect your constituency. Those of us in the nonprofit community should keep a watchful eye, even if we don’t have our own legislative agendas. Do you know what bills are being proposed that might effect your organization?

There’s no better way to keep up with the General Assembly that by using Richmond Sunlight. You need Richmond Sunlight. (Disclaimer: My husband, Waldo Jaquith, is its creator and voluntarily maintains it.) This nonpartisan website aggregates information about the General Assembly, including legislators’ bios, contributions, blogs and tweets; committee meeting schedules; and most important, the bills themselves. Bills are tagged with keywords making it easy to find proposals that align with your interests. (You can even play along at home by tagging bills yourself.) Using the Photosynthesis tool, you can track the bills that matter to you. You can also take notes on the bills, and those notes appear on the page below every bill, so that everybody can share in that insight.

Equality Virginia is a good example of a nonprofit making the most of Richmond Sunlight. On the front page of their site, they invite supporters to follow the bills that they are tracking in the General Assembly with a link to their Photosynthesis account. They are tracking 15 bills, and they provide descriptive notes on all of them stating whether or not they support them. Their portfolio is also public, so that anyone visiting Richmond Sunlight can choose to view the bills that they’re tracking.

For nonprofits, Richmond Sunlight is an invaluable tool. Use it to educate yourselves, your supporters, your proponents, your legislators, and the general public. Sign up for an account at Richmond Sunlight and start tracking any bills you want.

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Creating an Editorial Calendar

It’s winter and it’s cold. It’s easy to procrastinate while snuggled in with a cup of cocoa. It’s only January, after all.

Yes, and January is when you get organized and start planning!

Don’t wait around until it’s time for your next newsletter to go out only to realize that you have no idea what to write. Start planning now! The best way to do this is with an editorial calendar. An editorial calendar enables you to schedule your website updates, blogs, and Facebook posts, and to manage their content. Choose a time frame that’s comfortable and attainable—quarterly, monthly or weekly. Create a spreadsheet that includes what the content will be, when it will be published, and where. Then start filling it out. What content can be written ahead of time and what is TBD (such as a success story or donor recognition)? Who else will you rely on for content—staff, board members, clients, experts? What content will you post on YouTube vs. your blog or Twitter? Things will always pop up unexpectedly, giving you more to write about, but it’s better to have a plan for some content now than to be desperately searching later.

An editorial calendar can also help you tie your organization’s work to what’s happening in the world—be it a cause-specific campaign, a bill before the General Assembly, or an upcoming holiday. And by holidays, I don’t just mean Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Be creative with unofficial holidays, special months, and awareness campaigns. (Extra points to whoever works “Talk Like a Pirate Day” into their next campaign.)

The Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA does a great job of this. Throughout the year, they make the most of unconventional events like Elvis’s birthday, football bowl games, and March madness. With a little creativity, they raise publicity and promote their cause in fun ways that make their audience feel more connected.

Read more about designing, creating and using an editorial calendar.

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