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fundraising

How to Utilize Social Media to Actually Cultivate Donors (And Why You Need To Do It Right Now)

marketoonist community management

This article is part of a four-part series intended to help visitor-serving organizations understand and respond to emerging trends that will impact their financial and mission-related goals. Learn more about the series here. 

Conversations involving social media with many fundraisers often result in eye-rolling and a terse, “That’s not my job!” as those tasked with securing an organization’s contributed revenues deflect responsibility to the marketing/PR team. Here’s the thing though: Online engagement has evolved to the point where it is nearly impossible to optimize fundraising efforts and maximize donor retention without utilizing digital communications – and that includes social media.

All signs (consumer motivation data and social media behavioral trends) are pointing toward the need for organizations to look beyond “vanity metrics” like fan and follower count and focus on the quality and strength of varied relationships formed on social media platforms – particularly ones that drive the gate (if you’re a visitor-serving organization) or cultivate monetary support. Simply put: A fundamental shift is occurring in terms of how successful organizations view online fundraising and donor cultivation.

Here are three critical items for organizations to come to terms with that affect how your organization may optimize social media and online donor cultivation:

 

1) Once and for all: Realize that the quality of your fans and your ability to activate them in your interest is significantly more important than the quantity of your fans

Would you rather have 100,000 Facebook fans or 1,000 active donors and supporters? Chances are that your organization is hoping to utilize social media to get something done rather than utilizing social media for social media’s sake. It’s time that we call vanity metrics exactly what they are and break through the noise of social media metrics that misleadingly influences too many organizations. In many situations, it’s an organization’s very desire to utilize social media metrics and data that lead strategy execution astray. Let’s start actually thinking about what these metrics mean.

The problem with metrics like fan and follower count is that they actually mean very little for your organization – especially if the increased reach is falling on ambivalent ears. What matters is not how many people ‘like’ you online but who you are able to activate through engagement online.

The days of “one size fits all” outbound social media communications are officially over. Your organization’s fans and followers are not all of equal value to your nonprofit’s relevance and long-term solvency – and treating every “like” the same way means purposely sabotaging your ability to achieve organizational goals through social media. (1) Members/donors, (2) Influencers, and (3) Evangelists are three categories of fans that have particular payoff to your nonprofit. Intelligent, strategic organizations benefit by creating content that stimulates these particular stakeholders.

A mission-related post may get less general engagement, but your reputation increasingly has a direct correlation to the level of support your organization secures. Securing a content share from a member (thus allowing for personal promulgation of your brand from someone to whom your mission has meaning) is more important than a content share from somebody who just thinks you posted a pretty picture (but doesn’t feel a connection to your organization). The market is the arbiter of your organization’s success, and knowing what makes your high-value supporters and evangelists (not just your overall target market) tick is critical for building the most helpful community for your organization.

 

2) Make online personalization part of your engagement and donor cultivation strategy

Personalization is one of the biggest and most discussed (and arguably one of the smartest) conversations taking place for all organizations and businesses right now. Case-in-point: I’m honored to be a keynote speaker at MuseumNext, Europe’s conference on innovation in museums, in June of this year and personalization is so increasingly critical to organizational success that it is identified as one of the four, key themes of the whole conference. I think they hit the nail on the head: “Our audiences increasingly expect experiences which are tailored to them. How are museums moving beyond one size fits all to accommodate the different needs of individuals?”

Opportunities for personalization (which increases relevance, garnering attention and aiding in building affinity for brands) are being explored for onsite experiences – but this mindset also must be applied to online engagement. Specifically, potential donors/members, influencers, and evangelists increasingly require personalized communications in order to optimize chances for activation (i.e. behaving in your organization’s interest).

How can you utilize personalization to cultivate donors online? A key to online personalization is actively engaging select audience members instead of being passive – or just waiting for them to tweet you or write on your wall. For starters, know who your stakeholders actually are and how they behave online (this often starts with compiling a list of key stakeholders and their social media platforms). This isn’t rocket science: Make a private Twitter list and pay special attention to your key influencers’ tweets, be active, and wish them a happy birthday (for example)! Other ways to create these individual touch-points is through diligent social care, or “social CRM” (responding to individual comments and questions on social media platforms in a timely and thoughtful fashion) – a community management necessity that is too often overlooked.

“Yikes!” you’re thinking if you’re a leader in your organization, “this is going to require a lot more manpower!” Yes. Yes, it is…but the importance of digital touch-points will not disappear any time soon.

 

3) Most importantly: Stop treating online donor cultivation as a separate beast and understand that it is a cornerstone of a broader cultivation and retention strategy

I often get the feeling that executive leaders somehow believe that supporters who give or may be cultivated online must be aliens who exist only online …or that online donor cultivation may be somehow different than offline donor cultivation. Here’s news that should be refreshing and empowering to organizations that are a bit intimidated by digital platforms: It’s not.

As a reminder: A donor online is still a donor “in real life.” Their money is still money, and their support is still support. They have the same motivations as offline donors, expect the same treatment, and expect the same personalization and attention as those who choose to give via a different method. Simply put, they are human.

Cultivation should happen for individual donors both online and offline. Instead of conceptually carrying out varying initiatives online for “online donors” and offline for “offline donors,” organizations should realize that online donor cultivation is not separate but, instead, an integral aspect of a broader cultivation strategy.

In sum, instead of viewing “online giving” and cultivation as a donation conveyance channel, smart organizations are realizing that it is an increasingly important (and expected) component of a broader donor cultivation and retention strategy, and that it – like all other fundraising communication methods – is more about the people than the platform or giving method.

At the end of the day, fundraising and donor engagement initiatives will continue to evolve in the online space – just as more traditional engagement methods evolve. This evolution will necessitate more informed, personalized donor cultivation leveraging real-time platforms.

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, The Future, Words of Wisdom 3 Comments

Inequality: A Nonprofit Social Media Best Practice

stand out fish 1“All men are created equal.” No doubt you’ve heard that before, and no doubt I’d have a hard time finding a public-service motivated nonprofiteer who would disagree with that sentiment. I personally agree with it…except when it comes to social media. And if you’re a smart nonprofit organization, you may risk the efficacy of your entire marketing strategy if you don’t understand that inequality of social media followers should be a founding principle in your social media plans.

Simply put, your organization’s fans and followers are not all of equal value to your nonprofit’s relevance and long-term solvency – and treating every ‘like’ the same way means purposely sabotaging your ability to achieve organizational goals through social media. Some types of fans and followers are much, much more important than others in terms of increasing amplification, spurring visitation (if you’re a visitor-serving organization) and inspiring donations.

Like most matters of organizational strategy, social media is about “knowing where your bread is buttered.” Many nonprofit organizations misunderstand the distinct importance of unique online audiences or individuals, and instead, calibrate their efforts to the average “potential supporter.” Forcing striations of unique audiences to a “mean” misses opportunities for deeper, more meaningful engagement with higher-value individuals and wastes precious resources trying to attract folks that aren’t likely to engage with your organization beyond a status “like.”

As a reminder, many of the “rules” of real life (both social and business-related) generally apply to social media – perhaps foremost amongst these truisms being Pareto’s Principle (i.e. the “80-20” rule).  Applied to social media, Pareto holds that 80% of your engagement and support will come from but 20% of your audience. 

So what audience members should demand most of your social media attention? Pay special heed to these folks:

 

Members/donors

Sounds obvious, huh? Does it sound so obvious that the person running your social media channels has access to a list of members and donors right now? Probably not. (Quick! Email or print a list and run it over! It’s cool…. I’ll wait here.) If you’re like most visitor-serving nonprofits, membership and marketing/communications operate separately, and this separation often means that this critical (and very simple) little action item has been overlooked… along with several others.

In fact, this overlook is indicative of a necessary shift in how we think about the relationship between marketing and membership in the digital age. As I’ve mentioned before, membership increasingly needs the marketing department to function – not the other way around. However, your organization needs both departments to keep its doors open. Contemplating the role of social media in cultivating donors and members is a must for organizations. Knowing who these supporters are and where their interests lie provides the marketing folks with the information that they need to a) identify these individuals; b) pay special attention to their interactions on social sites; and c) utilize this information to inform content strategy to ensure that these high-value individuals remain actively engaged.

A goal of social media for many organizations is to inspire visitation and cultivate donors (and social media is pretty darn good for that). As a little hint: those who have already proven their affinity through membership or a donation are likely to be those who will support you again and potentially provide ongoing support. If you don’t know who they are and what they like (or you’re missing an opportunity to target specific content to these audiences), then you risk losing this valuable, precious market to a competitor (for-profit or nonprofit) who is paying better attention to their wants and needs.

 

Influencers

Influencers are bloggers or other content-creators with a high-perceived word of mouth value across a range of personal networks. This is the category in which the elusive and powerful “mommy bloggers” make their appearance for many organizations. If properly cultivated, content creators provide a trusted voice to share your mission messages.

Ample data support the importance of targeting Influencers as a key component of an organization’s social media strategy. For example, 29% of consumers trust blogs over other forms of digital marketing, and blogs are even more likely than Facebook to influence a purchase decision. Influencers aren’t just bloggers. They are also active on other social media platforms. But beware to judge the strength of an Influencer simply by their follower numbers. Influencers with smaller, more focused followings sometimes have more influence than those with a larger following.

A little bit of paying personal attention can go a long way in inspiring affinity.  On a personal note, I really like to run. Though my tribe on social media is generally nonprofit and/or marketing folks, Brooks (the running shoe company) pays special attention to me. They send me free running shoes and, in turn, I know that they want some link-love and positive word of mouth when I just can’t help but share a race-related update…and I’ll give it to them willingly. Why? Because they simply let me know that they are paying attention to me. They have mentioned this blog. They keep track of what I like. I feel like they know me. I have purchased far more of their gear as a result of these efforts than the cost of their investment, and just learning a bit about me could not have taken more than five minutes of their time. There’s both a lesson and an opportunity here for nonprofits.

Another personal example? My alma mater’s Twitter account sometimes converses with me and other alumni. Without being asked, I made an online donation last month simply because they occasionally remind me that they are paying attention to me and make me feel like part of a community.

Social media unleashes the same dopamine that is released when you physically interact with someone, and we get a physiological and psychological rush of this feel-good chemical when we share things on social media. Nonprofits may do well to capitalize on this phenomenon to build affinity among those Influencers who can amplify your messages and cultivate more/higher-level visitors and donors. The broad action items are rather simple: 1. Identify these people. 2. Uncover their personal points of connection to your organization. 3. Start a conversation. Good-case-scenario: you’ll have cultivated a potential supporter. Awesome-case-scenario: you’ll have cultivated a socially influential supporter.

 

Evangelists

Evangelists are folks who have a high level of affinity for your organization’s mission and brand. These people like you (they really like you, not just Facebook-like you) and pay close attention to your content. They think you’re cool, interesting, and just downright important. High-level Evangelists are often also members or donors – and they may be Influencers as well. Some Evangelists may be non-members who are likely to share your message or support your organization with a visit (if you’re a visitor-serving nonprofit), and are ripe and ready for another level of engagement – say, providing support by attending a special fundraising event.

There are varying levels of Evangelists, and this is a broad term that we use for “folks who like you and want to help you.” They do this in different ways: Some may provide financial support, but the most common method of support that I observe is via the re-amplification of your messages. At the risk of over-simplifying this audience, these are your Facebook “sharers” who promulgate your content to their networks.

To be clear, the vast majority of people who “like” you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter (or any other platform, for that matter) are NOT higher-level Evangelists. In fact, most of your audience on social media channels likely falls into a “low-to-mid-level Evangelist” category – occasionally engaging with your organization from time-to-time but without making the brand a clear part of their online identity. To be sure, these lower-level evangelists are important. Content should aim to spark a connection with them to bump them into higher-level categories. However, these folks are not nearly as important as those who speak out about you and consistently let their friends know that they “real-life-like” your organization. Organizations should focus on higher-level evangelists because they are your likely repeat visitors and have potential to lend real-life support – either through valuable word of mouth marketing or future financial contributions.

Among online audiences, real-life donors/supporters, Influencers, and Evangelists are the most important folks to target with your nonprofit PR strategy. The quality of your fans is far more important than the quantity of your fans on social media platforms. If your organization isn’t paying special attention to key audience members, then your social media strategy is likely leaving both money and mission-amplification on the table. And these are things that most organizations cannot afford not to lose.  Not all audiences are created equal.

 

*Image photo credit  belongs to nexlevelvision.com

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter!

 

 

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, Technology, Words of Wisdom 2 Comments

Two Critical Reasons To Target Your Fundraising & Nonprofit PR Strategy Toward Millennials (DATA)

It seems as if everyday I’m seeing another “best-in-class” organization announce a smart, new nonprofit PR strategy designed to better engage millennials. Millennials are the largest generation in human history, and represent the second-largest demographic in terms of buying power. Millennials also think and communicate very differently than their generational predecessors – and, accordingly, require different marketing and communication strategies.

There has never been a better time to have a public service mission because millennials are (relatively speaking) optimistic about their financial futures, and they consider themselves to be particularly generous. Data concerning millennial perceptions point toward two, informative reasons to target Gen Y with marketing and fundraising efforts:

 

1) Millennials are less worried about their families’ financial futures than are older generations, making them beneficial comparative targets for fundraising and marketing efforts.

Chalk it up to unique characteristics of Gen Y or the general optimism of youth, but millennials are not only less worried about the financial futures of their families than older individuals, but they are less worried than they were in 2008. Older individuals, however, are more worried. This suggests that there’s an opportunity to cultivate affinity with this demographic, as they may perceive themselves as being able to support your nonprofit in the future if they cannot support you right now.

While millennials certainly are feeling the effects of being the “screwed generation,” data suggests that we remain optimistic about our long-term futures…even more so than folks who could be considered “less screwed.” And, while millennials are spending more than they earn, they are still spending (and, thus, could be supporting nonprofit charitable causes if engaged adequately).

Regardless of whether members of this demographic have the money right now to make up your major donors (some do!), they believe that they will – and they are rather confident about it. Engage this demographic now so that the payoff will be there later. When they get the money (if they don’t have it already), make sure that your organization is top-of-mind and a quality relationship is already intact.

 

 2) Millennials consider themselves to be particularly generous compared to the self-perception of older individuals, presenting a potential opportunity for organizations to tap into Gen Y’s sense of self.

When IMPACTS pulled this data, the company CEO called me and asked, “On a scale of one-to-ten, how generous do you consider yourself to be?” I said eight. He burst out laughing and said, “and so do all of your buddies!”

Perhaps I should be embarrassed, but I’ll own up to the truth behind that finding! The self-perceived generosity of “my buddies” has been stable over the last few years – and it’s rather high! It is especially high compared to the dip in self-perceived generosity that older individuals have experienced.

This is good news for museums and nonprofit organizations because this data suggests that generosity is built into our own self-perception. We think of ourselves as “giving” people.  Conceptually, giving to nonprofit organizations fits nicely with our own personal brands. It’s our job as nonprofiteers to match up the desire to be generous with social missions. Marketing your nonprofit and targeting engagement initiatives toward members of Gen Y will pay off in the future (if it hasn’t already) – but engagement needs to start now. Increasingly, nonprofit organizations’ “bread is buttered” by this new, enormous demographic.

 

Given this (and other compelling) data, doesn’t it seem silly that any organization would continue to exclusively target their efforts toward individuals who are more financially “worried” and consider themselves to be less generous than those who make up a significantly larger, more optimistic generation?

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter!

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Generation Y, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Service Motivation, The Future Leave a comment

How Generation Y is Changing Museum and Nonprofit Membership Structures (DATA)

Looking for a copy of the address that I delivered at the Iowa Museum Association Conference last week? You can find it here.

Millennials (folks roughly between the ages of 18 and 33) are the largest generational segment of the U.S. population. This generation has different values and mindsets than those of the generations that preceded them – and they are far too large in number for museums and nonprofit organizations to ignore. Organizations that are not marketing to millennials are not only missing an opportunity to reach a new audience, but failing to engage the audience that will increasingly dictate their organization’s operations for the next 40 years (at least).

But it isn’t just marketing departments that have begun incorporating changes to appeal to Millennials. The changes must be incorporated into a larger community relations and nonprofit PR strategy. Because online engagement is increasingly critical for buy-in among all generations, it must be applied not only to marketing, but also to fundraising. Membership teams, in particular, will need to re-work their operations and offerings in order to sustain and grow their number of supporters. In fact, IMPACTS has already uncovered the need for museums to revise how they tell the story of membership benefits.

While conducting research on behalf of a prominent visitor serving organization (VSO) with a conservation-related mission, IMPACTS uncovered an interesting finding. We asked respondents a series of questions related to identifying what they consider to be the primary benefits of membership to the organization.  Once compiled, we found that sorting frequency of mention and strength of conviction information uncovered a telling divide between potential members above and below age 35.

Free admission was the pronounced, primary benefit of membership for both age groups. However, benefits two–through–five on the lists do not have any additional commonalities. Moreover, the type of benefits are very different.

Extant data indicate that members of Generation Y are public service motivated and appreciate a feeling of belonging and connectedness with one another and with a cause. This is consistent with the responses gathered from millennials in the data above. Instead of being interested in the more “transactional perks” of membership, this generation desires a feeling of connectedness with a broader social good.

Because members of Generation Y want different things from museum membership than generations before them, museums will need to adapt how they are selling memberships – or at least work to increase connectivity-to-a-cause vibes. Would a person considering membership to your organization feel that they are “making a positive impact” more than simply receiving “advance notice of upcoming activities?” Museums and visitor serving organizations must sell memberships by focusing more on their public services and social responsibilities than the traditional, more transactional benefits that motivated membership in the past.

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future 7 Comments

Barriers to Adopting Social Media: Creating Buy-In

(or, Why Your Organization Needs Social Media)

Last week, I identified buy-in as one of the four biggest barriers to change in inspiring institutions to embrace social strategies. And it makes sense that this is a barrier for change; why should an institution invest time and energy into social media if they aren’t aware of the benefits? The good news is that buy-in is a breakable barrier.

Buy-in is important on all levels when transitioning an organization to take on social strategies and online communications. The formula for change addresses important elements in tackling employee and colleague buy-in. However, for many marketing and communications directors with their pulse on social technology, the real obstacle is obtaining buy-in from the head-hanchos. That’s not always easy. In fact, some of the best ideas about social strategies are bound to come from employees working with visitors on the ground because it’s been found that, when it comes to large scale-change (like catching onto the social media revolution), the front-line folks see it first.

Here’s the bottom line: Social media contributes to both of your organization’s bottom lines. That is, (1) the economic needs of the institution, and (2) the social mission to inspire and educate.

 

1) Social media helps keep the lights on in a big way:

  1. Word of mouth marketing through social media and earned media are worth more than paid advertising efforts. Marketers may be familiar with the Bass Model. This model is based upon the coefficient of innovation (paid advertising and marketing) and the coefficient of imitation (word of mouth marketing, including social and earned media). According to the model, the initial sale of something depends on the number of people interested in the product (innovation). However, later sales are dependent upon the number of folks drawn to the product after seeing their friends and acquaintances use it (imitation). In the theory, innovation (q) has a value that is often less than 0.01, while imitation (p) has been found to have a value between 0.3 and 0.5. In other words, word of mouth marketing is over ten times more important than paid advertising in terms of driving sales. 
  2.  

  3. Social media contributes to your brand’s reputation, and reputation is a main driver of attendance. Studies have shown that online communities are increasingly important for brand management and are often more important than your website. You likely wouldn’t think of  taking down your website because it’s one of the best ways for potential visitors to learn about the organization. However, social media and online interactions are stealing this spotlight, and it’s worth investing time and money in these social endeavours. Moreover, social media enhances reputation because it increases the perceived value of a product.
  4.  

Social media increases your word-of-mouth reputation, garnering attention and inspiring visitation. Thus, social media increases attendance (and donations). It does this in two, important and related ways:

  • By creating connections that are unique to your institution. Social media provides the opportunity to create a personality for the organization and connect to individuals on a personal level. Because social media platforms are (should be!) always in seemingly-transparent dialogue with fans and followers, these potential visitors have constant sneak peeks into operations. Social media allows folks to feel like insiders who are personally connected to museum happenings. This makes your institution unique to individuals and not “just another visitor-serving organization.” Instead of just a place to see a generic X (say, an original manuscript). It makes that generic X meaningful, and your museum is the only place in which that particular entity exists.
  • By securing earned media. Earned media is a gold star in the world of word of mouth marketing. Earned media is media that your institution does not pay for. For instance, a mommy blogger writing a blog post about her terrific day at the museum is earned media. It is a high-propensity visitor sharing his/her experiences with their network, who are also likely to be the kind of high-propensity visitors that your organization is targeting. In the mommy blogger example, this free agent is spreading the museum’s message on her blog, and her blog is likely read by other mommy bloggers, increasing the odds of securing visitors. But not all earned media is organic and spread by visitors. Social media also helps put operations in front of members of the media who may contribute to earned media by writing or reporting about the organization. Here’s a related little tip: thank your free evangelists.

By these same processes, social media aids in building and igniting donor relationships. As every fundraiser knows, building personal connections to an organization is critical for securing donations, and social media helps do just that. On social platforms, dialogue with an organization continues long after visits take place. Social media provides an opportunity to engage potential donors and inspire ongoing connections. Once they’ve contributed, social media helps keep donors and members posted on an organization’s great works, ensuring them that funds are used wisely and that the organization is continuing to cultivate community involvement.

 

2) Achieving the organization’s mission of educating and inspiring communities

Social media doesn’t just help keep the lights on; it helps organizations fulfill their missions. Informal learning environments often have the mission of educating and inspiring communities. Social media helps by providing an opportunity to:

  • Educate- These YouTube videos are creating a one-of-a-kind connection with the institution (and the people working there) that will end up elevating reputation. In real-time, they are presenting engaging content in a fun and informational way.
  • Transcend location and taking the mission home- Traditionally, we think of museums and cultural centers as places that are exculsively “place-based.” However, with the development of social media and creative engagement, museums are more than just buildings full of objects… They are accessible everywhere. You can learn from an organization and be inspired through computers, mobile phones, ipads, and podcasts. With the focus taken off of location, audiences can integrate organizations easily into their everyday lives, keeping the institution “top-of-mind” and building brand trust and transparency.
  • Reach new audiences- Generation Y has terrific engagement potential, and this audiences is most easily accessed through social media. Moreover, they are accessed on a personal level through social media. To say that having a social strategy will put you ahead of the game with this demographic (and future generations), however, is a lie. Social media is critical for reaching folks of the future—and folks right now. And if you’re not doing it well (or trying to), then you’re already outta the game. As a side, social media doesn’t just appeal to Generation Y. Know a few folks who say that they aren’t involved with social media because of their older age? Studies show that they are lying; one in four Americans over the age of 65 have an account on a social media platform.

 

Social media is critical to a visitor-serving organization’s everyday operations, as well as its long-term goals. It will be increasingly harder to educate, inspire, fundraise, and even keep the lights on without embracing social media and related social strategies.

What would you add to this? What are other but-in inspiring reasons why innovative social media is an organizational necessity? Please share your input below.

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Generation Y, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future 2 Comments

The Key to Modern Day Marketing: Is Your Museum Utilizing Free Agents?

It’s no surprise that business practices, and especially marketing strategies, are evolving due to current changes in the way people operate and communicate. We didn’t have Facebook ten years ago- now organizations that are not cultivating online networks are doomed to fall behind in building brand loyalty and summoning the benefits of organizational transparency.

These changes, combined with the growing influence of Generation Y in the workplace, have created a new force to be recognized by your organization’s marketing and development departments: free agents.

Who and what are free agents? I’ll tap into The Networked Nonprofit for my favorite definition: Free agents are individuals working outside of organizations to organize, mobilize, raise funds, and communicate with constituents for a cause. They are generally comfortable with and adept at using social media. Bloggers are free agents, influential tweeters are free agents, and your tech-savvy and socially-connected nephew who believes in your organization is a free agent, too. They are social citizens dedicated to a cause. Though not all free agents are members of Generation Y, Millennials have grown up communicating and creating networks on the internet. They have a tribe to tap into when they want to spread an important message or highlight a cause. I’ve argued before that this is a good reason why museums and nonprofits should hire candidates with personal brands: they have a network. They can help you reach people.

Why your organization needs free agents. Free agents are connected individuals who care about your organization’s cause, and their network is likely to consist of similarly-minded people who are also likely to care about your cause. Free agents not only spread awareness of your organization, but they increase morale, and may even put together events or programs to benefit your organization. For instance, a free agent may have a party in which all proceeds go to a certain organization. Though they do not work for the museum or cultural nonprofit, free agents will champion your organizations message simply because they have a network and they believe in your cause.

  • A little example of a free agent in action. The American Association of Museums runs The Museum Assessment Program. It is a wildly affordable program for small and mid-size museums that helps strengthen operations, improve planning, and better serve communities through a process of self study and peer review. Applications are due by February 18, 2011. I do not work for AAM and nobody is paying me to let you all know about this seemingly-awesome resource (if you didn’t know about it already). I am writing about MAP because I support the program’s mission and I know that quite a few of you work for organizations that might benefit from MAP. I am playing the role of a light free agent for AAM because I, personally, think this program is really cool. But free agents can play more active roles as well. I might host a meet-up to discuss the benefits of MAP with museum professionals, or ask my blogger friends to spread the word, or run a marathon and raise funds for AAM to take another mid-sized museum into the program. It is not unusual for free agents to do these things.

How free agents work. Because free agents are internet-savvy folks who are independent of the organization, they are hard to control. In fact, an important part of utilizing free agents is understanding two key concepts:

  1. You cannot control free agents. It’s important to work with free agents, but treating free agents as if they work for you is a speedy way to lose a free agent. This is particularly bad news if the free agent you are working with has gone to great lengths to cultivate excitement around your museum or program. This also connects well to my second point.
  2. Free agents will come and go. Many free agents are members of Generation Y, and this generation is loyal to causes but feels skeptical about long-term loyalty to an organization. While free agents may come and go, remember to keep the door open in case they want to return to promote your organization.

Why free agents are good for your social media mentality. Certain thought leaders in the advertising field have argued that you don’t need a social media strategy (hint: It’s about values and people, not the tool). Working with free agents requires an openness and eagerness on the part of the institution. The fact that you cannot control or plan for free agents (aside from making yourself accessible) helps put museum professionals in a good place: focusing on community and values instead of trying to make rules about using social media. And “rules” have a way of fuzzing things up when it comes to brand transparency.

In sum, keep the door open for free agents. While nothing replaces face-to-face communication, it’s easy for professionals (especially members of older generations who are particularly unfamiliar with social media) to underestimate the value of online networks in helping an organization to reach marketing and fundraising goals. It may seem particularly strange to be encouraged to devote time and energy to cultivating young, sometimes still-unproven professionals. But try ignoring young professionals who are looking to support your organization, and you may find yourself slapping your forehead and (just for laughs) relating to this scene from Pretty Woman.

*Image based on photo from tremendousnews.com

Posted on by colleendilen in Blogging, Branding, Community Engagement, Generation Y, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Change, Social Media, Technology, The Future 2 Comments

Evolutionary Biology and Human Psychology: A Case For Museum Donor Walls

Visitors at the Virginia Holocaust Museum admire the museum's Donor Wall

There are a few activities that I consider “must-dos” whenever I visit a museum, but my boyfriend (a huge trooper who has accompanied me to over 50 museums in the last four years) only has one thing that he cares to do during a visit: Check out the donor wall. In Seattle, I thought it was just to see if Jeff Bezos had given away any money yet (and his company eventually did). But Ian checks everywhere. While standing in front of the donor wall at the first 45 or so museums with him, I thought something like, “Yes, yes. The donor wall lends credibility to the museum.” But when the Bill Gates Giving Pledge was announced in August of this year, it changed the way that I think about the donor wall.

A donor wall with recognizable names does lend credibility to a museum, but research may suggest that displaying these names has a psychological effect on visitors that could likely boost fundraising capabilities. The museum’s donor wall, like the Bill Gates Giving Pledge, appeals to our human psychology and is right in line with evolutionary biology. It could just be the right tool to gradually increase long-term giving and awareness of social change needs.
 
While it’s not likely to make or break a museum’s fundraising efforts, let’s generally acknowledge the rather intuitive reasons why having a donor wall is a good idea. To begin with, it’s a public ‘thank you’ to donors that builds their reputations as philanthropists in the community– and we like it when donors are happy. Also (as I mention above), the donor wall lends credibility to the museum. Potential donors can say, “Wow. Recognizable-Person-XYZ donated to this organization. That person must have done their research and determined that this institution is worthy of funds. This means that the institution is worthy of my funds as well.” I think both of these reasons for the donor wall (public thanks and credibility) are valid. Here’s why they work so well and have the potential to contribute to a larger increase in societal giving:
 
1) Human beings follow actions of high-influence individuals. Chimpanzees follow the lead of experienced, high-status chimps when it comes to solving a problem or adapting a new behavior, studies find.  What’s interesting is that human beings ‘ attraction to prestige is taken as a given; they are trying to learn more about the chimps. It’s safe to say that Bill Gates is a high-influence individual. And if human beings naturally take cues from high-influence individuals, then society is taking the cue from Bill Gates that those who are capable should give a majority of their wealth to charity. Much like buying the newest Prada bag or flying a private jet to Paris for a dinner reservation, Gates’s cue makes it possible to collect bets on how soon we’ll be saying, “I wish I could be on the donor wall because that’s where high-influence individuals get listed” (and not even in museum-goer circles)!  Many don’t need to give a majority of their wealth to get on the donor wall, but it doesn’t hurt to have a power-player sending social cues to make folks want to.

 

2) Celebrity role models are “influential teachers.” Here’s a bummer: A University of Leicester study has found that celebrities like Angelina Jolie serve as more influential role-models for youngsters than famous figures from history- or even their friends and parents. Moreover, evolutionary biologists say that worshipping celebrities helps us live more successful lives because it helps facilitate social understanding. There’s fundraising potential, then, in taking a cue from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and revving up museum and nonprofit’s celebrity alignment. Enlisting celebrities with “influential teacher” impact  to draw attention to famous role models from history and their great achievements in museums? That sounds like a pretty resourceful and mission-driven marketing strategy to me. Even if these celebrities are not coming to your museum, the fact that they are publicaly supporting museums may have long term benefit for these kinds of institutions.

 

3) Acts of kindness are contagious. Harvard and UC- San Diego have just proven that people who benefit from kindness really do ‘pay it forward.‘  When somebody directly experiences an act of kindness, they pass along the act to somebody who was not originally involved, which cascades into a cooperation that involves dozens in a social network. Understanding this may prove beneficial to museum fundraisers. Very basically, showing that you’ve secured several donations may influence others– but there could be a lesson here in demonstrating how those donations have helped others. Or, more specifically, how those folks on the donor wall have impacted the visitor’s own experience. This is especially important because personal relationships with issues increase donations. Museums do this by thanking donors for contributing to one item in the collection. Showing that the museum is involved in this kind of network, and aiming to fundraise based on this principle of ‘paying it forward’ may have long-term benefits.

 

4) We are evolving into a “Survival of the Kindest” mindset. An article in Science Daily indicates that human beings are evolving into a species that places a significant value on kindness. We are drawn to others who demonstrate kindness and giving, and we are similarly compelled to demonstrate kindness ourselves. Moreover, as evolution takes place, we’re likely to evolve into increasingly giving and collaborative beings. We’re even attracted to mates based on their levels of kindness. The point here? Perhaps, in a way, the donor wall belongs in museums because it may come to trace the evolution of giving and of ourselves.

 

The direct benefits of donor walls are hard to measure, and no, they probably shouldn’t be the primary focus of a museum’s fundraising plan (or arguably, even close to it). But these walls are generally easy to maintain and may be a silent sidekick, slowly converting visitors into donors over time. Evolutionary biology and human psychology studies lead us to believe that these walls might be up to something- and if that something helps spread the mission of museums and nonprofits, then it seems like a darn good thing to keep around and up-to-date.

 

*Photo from the Virginia Holocaust Museum.
Posted on by colleendilen in Exhibits, Museums, Nonprofits, Social Change, The Future 21 Comments

The Contrasting Mindsets of Nonprofit and For-Profit Marketers

There’s generally a big difference between the skill sets of for-profit and nonprofit marketers. Quite simply, for-profit marketers aim to encourage people to buy. Nonprofit marketers encourage people to give– and those two things are pretty darn different, and these tasks often require contrasting skills and mindsets.

For-profit marketing is much more tried-and-true than nonprofit marketing and for some obvious reasons. Below are the circumstantial truths for-profit markets often rely upon in order to ensure success (or at least the likelihood of it).

 

In for-profit marketing, more often than not:

1. There is a set price for goods and services as determined by the market. For-profit companies set prices of goods and services relative to the supply and demand for a good. In other words, companies set prices at an equilibrium point where they can get the most amount of money for a good without losing business because the price is too high. Nonprofit donations, while they often tend to be tied to the health of the overall economy, do not have this set price (or a set “ask”). We can say, “It costs $125 to buy a costly college textbook for an aged-out foster youth,” but nonprofit marketers and fundraisers actually hope that individual donors give more money than that. In short, there is no fixed price to end individual transactions– making the transaction a tad more difficult to market in a traditional sense. Therefore, nonprofit marketing is often limited, as they cannot say “give us $100 dollars, and we will give you tangible good X.” … which leads us to point #2 below. By contrast, the amount of money pursued by nonprofit marketers depends upon knowledge of individual donors/donor base rather than market value of a good.

 

2. The actual goods are tangible and/or measurable: “I will give you product X for amount Y.” Often a private company is directly promoting a specific product or service (“buy this shampoo”), while a nonprofit organization aims to promote awareness of a social cause and through that, the organization’s individual programs (“alleviate homelessness by giving to our organization”). Because nonprofit outcomes are not always measurable, it creates a problem with the “X in exchange for Y” mentality that for-profit marketers bank upon when attracting customers. For instance, what’s the set price for curing cancer? Making a donation to a nonprofit organization means making a contribution to solving a bigger problem. It’s not a measurable, quick-fix exchange with customer satisfaction guaranteed. In fact, sometimes the donor doesn’t even directly benefit from the service provided by the organization– and even more contrary to for-profit marketer-mentality– that’s often the point. I would argue, however, that both sectors have the same aim when generally promoting their brand- but the promotion of the actual goods/services is different because what is being “sold” often cannot be quantified.  Nonprofit marketers must promote programs (often with unmeasurable social outcomes) through awareness of social causes.

 

3. Goods are purchased by a consumer, and for the consumer’s use. For-profit marketers can rely on the sexy concept of direct ownership which is a thing with extreme value in a capitalistic society. Take a look at traditional messages behind for-profit marketing campaigns: If you drink Gatorade, you could become an Olympic athlete. If you buy a BMW, you’ll be suave and sophisticated. Buy Proactiv, and you’ll have flawless skin like Jessica Simpson. Not even Wal-Mart’s roll-back prices platform translates directly to nonprofit organizations that aren’t selling consumer goods. Nonprofit marketing is different. Nonprofits are often tasked with marketing programs that benefit people who are not the donor. Of course, many nonprofits offer great perks and publicity for big donors, but that doesn’t often directly compensate for small-scale donations. Even folks donating to their own community centers face a free-rider problem that for-profit marketers don’t need to deal with in their message. Namely, even if you donate to an organization you participate in, the benefit you receive is still diluted among other community center users (the money doesn’t come directly back to you– see point #2). The key to nonprofit marketing? Telling stories, tugging heart-strings, making people care about something. Nonprofit marketers must appeal to donors by promoting goods/services that benefit people other than the donor alone.

 

4. One-way transactions are frequent- and they work. This section offers what I believe is the biggest fundamental difference between nonprofit and for-profit marketing: though it’s often the aim, for-profit marketers do not need to build personal relationships– often because it’s for-profit companies that sell things we need to buy like food and shelter. In fact, consumers would no doubt find it annoying to be very personally courted by their television, toilet paper, and fabric softener companies by name (how creepy). No doubt companies would invest more in building personal relationships if they could (and indeed, many do), but it would/does take a tremendous amount of resources on the part of the company. Thus, companies must prioritize– and, due to sector differences, for-profits and nonprofits prioritize these relationships differently. Most companies don’t need personal, two-way relationships in order for people to buy their products, and they can rely almost exclusively on building a trusted brand to make products and the company feel personal. In other words, for-profit marketers focus on one-way transactions; they state a price, and consumers buy the product at that price with minimal actual company interaction. Nonprofit marketers must also build a trusted brand, but conversation and relationship building are key to securing donors.  This difference lies at the very core of nonprofit verses for-profit marketing mentalities. To state it dramatically: a for-profit marketer will come off more like a used-car salesman if she or she  does not fully understand the way that relationship-building in nonprofits  function. Nonprofit marketers must facilitate two-way interaction between the organization and potential donors.

 

5. User experience with the good/service fuels repeat customers. Because consumers purchase a good or service from a for-profit company for their own use, the buyer is in a position to recall their experience with the brand and decide if they want to purchase the item/service again. In nonprofit organizations, donors are similarly more likely to give again if their first experience was a positive one. Considering that for-profit goods are usually measurable, for the user’s own purpose, and delivered for a set fee, a private company customer is in a position to buy again based on their perception of the good and how it meets their individual needs. Nonprofits must rely on the customer’s positive relationship with the organization (because the donor doesn’t always receive a tangible good that they can judge). What does this mean for the difference in nonprofit and for-profit marketing mentalities? For-profit marketers focus on the good. Nonprofit marketers focus on the cause and the relationship. Nonprofit marketers must think ahead of a one-time transactions, speak to bigger issues, and  put quality and care into two-way communications. In nonprofit organizations, experience with the organization fuels repeat donors.

 

Despite these differences, many similarities obviously still stand. Marketers in both sectors are promoters and benefit from being savvy in traditional marketing skills and methods (partnership, buying ads, tracking web stats, advertising, guerilla marketing, etc). While both nonprofit and for-profit marketers are promoters with the goal of enticing buyers/donors to award funds to an organization or company, the bottom line of what is being promoted is different, and thus the mentality and specific aims of these marketers must be different.

Many nonprofit marketers must be skilled in balancing both nonprofit and for-profit angles of marketing. Museum marketers and those working in other nonprofits earning commercial income from revenue-producing activity must be knowledgeable in both marketing skill sets. They are promoting both a social cause, as well as an excludable, rival good (like tickets to a nonprofit theater performance or museum entrance). Having a nonprofit marketing mentality certainly does not necessitate a lack-of for-profit marketing savvy and vice-versa. However, hiring managers should note– for the sake of their organizations– that the mentalities fueling both sectors are different in regard to marketing. If a marketing position requires knowledge of both types of marketing, then hire someone who can summon the proper skills set at the proper times. Resourceful marketing, after all, requires a strategic plan-of-attack. How wasteful it may be for a (previously successful) marketer with a for-profit background to step into a nonprofit organization and spend funds simply buying up excessive Facebook ads (one-way methods) when they should be on social media or connecting with potential donors in a more personal way (two-way methods).

Here’s a (maybe crazy) idea: as for-profit companies continue to evolve toward nonprofit-like practices and relationship-building increases in value to private companies, it just may be the nonprofiteers who are sought after for high-power for-profit positions across sectors.

Photo credits to issnaf.org (base image) and Hugh Macleod

Posted on by colleendilen in Branding, Community Engagement, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofits, Public Management, Words of Wisdom 1 Comment

Lessons from Haiti: Mobile Giving in 2010

This post is a prompt by the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance to further increase awareness of the Haiti earthquake and its victims, and highlight take-aways for nonprofit organizations and their supporters.

A (made-up) business card with a call to action.

Since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti last week, American’s have been publicizing ways to give to those affected by the crisis– and we’ve raised well over 150 million dollars for the cause. 11 million dollars have come from a single donation method: texting. (and this is already outdated! Mashable was encouraging readers to donate in order to raise 20 million dollars by midnight last night through the Red Cross Text Message Campaign alone.)

Folks can donate $10 from their cell phone bill to Red Cross relief efforts by SMS texting “HAITI” to 90999, or donate $5 to Yele Haiti’s Earthquake relief efforts by SMS texting “YELE” to 501501. It’s the cool, new way to give. It’s easy and it adds up. Though this method of giving is not ideal for the Haiti crisis (as funds need to be delivered immediately and may be held up), the widespread popularity of this method of giving offers a new strategy for nonprofits’ to incorporate in their fundraising plans. There’s reason to believe that nonprofits who can work with organizations like the Mobile Giving Foundation to incorporate mobile giving will see, as evidenced through text-based giving to the Haiti crisis, an increase in donations and a new kind of donor. Here’s why:

 

It’s easy to give through text. The average American sends 14 text messages every day, and as a country, we send 4.1 billion text messages each day. Mobile phone use has continued to increase for years. In order to give, the donor doesn’t even need to get his or her credit card ready. He or she simply sends a text message and the donation is taken from the donor’s cell phone bill. The easier it is to do something, the more likely people are to do it. We all know how to text, so we all know how to give.

 

Mobile makes it cool to give. Cell phones are providing us with the newest and easiest ways to do everything. You can manage your bank account with your iphone or use it as a GPS. The ability to give via text message is another cool, new way for Americans to use a convenient tool that they already love. It combines technology and giving. There’s instant appeal.

 

Small donations add up. Donating $10 to Haiti via text message does not sound like a big donation– but American’s have collectively donated over 11 million via text (at the very least); that’s more than 1,100,000 people using their cell phones to donate to Haiti. Nonprofits could, over time, raise a lot of money for their cause. What if nonprofits add the call to action in their e-mail signature or on business cards? It’s an open door to easy giving that can lead to major funding.

 

Small donations build relationships. A downside to text-based donations is that it is one-way giving. Though it is up to the donor to follow-up and continue to build a relationship with the organization/make themselves known, the first step of the fundraising pyramid has taken place because the donor felt connected to the cause and contributed. Nonprofits should utilize text-based giving to strengthen their fundraising efforts– especially if they are active on Twitter, Facebook, or other types of social media where they have many fans, but are having troubles transforming them into donors.

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Lessons Learned, Nonprofits, Social Change, Social Media, Technology 6 Comments

Nonprofiteers: Personal Branding Will Make You Better At Your Job

Photo from brandyourselfmarketing.com

There are many benefits to personal branding and utilizing social media–of sharing your insights and telling your story for whatever reason, whether it be to market yourself as an ideal  job candidate,  to share your experiences, or even to snag a great date.

But nonprofit employees also know the importance of sharing insights and telling stories in nonprofit organizations. Desired outcomes of programs are not primarily monetary– and sometimes entirely intangible for that matter. Nonprofits often rely on personal stories to communicate their need, their potential, and their impact.

So why are nonprofits (known for being slow to pick up new technologies) dominating the social media scene in comparison to private companies? It’s because social media is about personal connections and telling stories… and well, that’s just our thing. Nonprofits like people who can get the story across with authenticity and honesty while making a connection– and a good personal brander can do just that. I have noticed that the young nonprofit millennial bloggers who have been most successful within the industry are sincere and passionate. They know that it’s important to brand themselves, and they are onto something: personal branding will help you be a better nonprofiteer.

  • If you can create connections through your blog, then you can help people connect to those in need.

Just as personal branding enthusiasts aim to display how they can contribute to an organization or corporation, nonprofits are similarly trying to demonstrate their ability to contribute to social change. Beth Kanter outlines four ways in which social media is changing the nonprofit world, and they all strengthen organizations’ ability to create connections.  There’s a shared drive in personal branding and nonprofit organizations: the desire to communicate your potential power to ignite positive change. In personal branding, you are sharing your own story, values, and goals– so that you can get hired. In nonprofit organizations, you need to be able to share the story of your organization, and their values and goals– so that they can get funding. Moreover, you’ll often have to share others’ stories to get your point across (the story of the needy family who was helped by the organization, or the story of the child whose life was saved because of your organization’s research). Making personal connections through storytelling is an important aspect in fundraising and communicating an organization’s impact. Those who are engaging in personal branding have an element of practice in telling stories and making connections. After all, these tips on how to write a story are equally relevant to personal branders and nonprofit employees, though they are written by fundraising123.org.

  • If you are active in social media and joining networks, then you can expose many people to a cause.

Did you know that 60% of folks who set up twitter accounts fail to return the next month? It is incredible when you consider that the site creates siginifcant networking, info-sharing, and message-speading opportunites. If you’re one of those 60% who didn’t return to your account, then you should think about coming back– because just the sheer act of being involved in social media will make you a better nonprofiteer. According to The Herald News, 89% of charitable and nonprofit organizations are using some form of social media, and 57% reported activity in blogging. Network-increasing capabilities aside, it’s beneficial to know about twitter and other social media sites so that you can help guide your nonprofit organization– espeically if you’re a member of Generation Y. Companies and organizations are looking to these folks to be social media savvy. If you’re not, then you’re wasting an opportunity. The greatest reason to be involved on these sites is oviously that they increase the size of your network, and expose you to a lot of great thought leaders. The more people that you can reach, the more connections you can make to social causes. Also, people can help you spread your personal brand or social cause. If they are inspired by it, they just might pass it along.

  • If you are authentic in your branding and communications, then you can retain supporters and summon potential donors

There is no doubt that it’s best to be an authentic blogger and personal brander.  Copyblogger brings up a great point that authenticity is becoming (if it isn’t already) a buzzword in personal branding, and that it takes a good story and authenticity to have impact. The take away is simple here: be real.  And I’ve found that many personal branding nonprofiteers are real; they display their struggles and concerns working within the industry. Allison Jones explores her  rendezvous with nonprofit burn-out, and  Elisa Ortiz candidly traces her roots in the nonprofit sector. The kind of authenticity and transparency displayed on these blogs serve well in making connections and building trust with readers. Similarly, trust and authenticity are also important in nonprofit organizations for a number of reasons. Many of the qualities that make a person a captivative blogger also make them good at connecting with other people– and that’s what nonprofits are about: making connections to inspire support for social change.

Posted on by colleendilen in Blogging, Generation Y, Lessons Learned, Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, Words of Wisdom 4 Comments