May 3, 2012

Marketing Directors, Get Online!

A really long time ago, you would bring your talent as a skilled communicator and creative thinker to a job as a Marketing or Communications Director. You didn’t need to know how to type, spell, or use anything but a phone with a flashing button because you had a secretary.

A short time ago, you would bring your talent as a skilled communicator and creative thinker to your job, as well as your knowledge of Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, and maybe a little Excel. It was important to have some basic skills that would allow you to communicate via memos and presentations, and keep your lists and projects in order. Being a fast typist was important, too, since email was storming in and secretaries were disappearing.

Today, It is still very important to bring your talent as a skilled communicator and creative thinker, but your online presence is now paramount. Your online presence is all there is. It is where your staff, donors and volunteers congregate, organize and live. If you can’t quickly edit your website, use online software like Constant Contact or Vertical Response for email marketing, make a change to your Facebook page or send out a quick Tweet, it’s time to get on board. If you are resisting, stop. That direct line of communication with your public and your staff cannot be left solely to a 24-year-old intern.

The constant change can be exhausting and the learning curve can be steep, and it doesn't look like our doting secretaries are coming back, but think about the time you save no longer standing vigil at a fax machine.

March 15, 2012

Working (with) your Board of Directors

Being an Executive Director or Marketing Director of a nonprofit comes is a challenge. One of the biggest comes down to your board of directors: Is your board for you or against you?

In well-run organizations, the board lets you do your job. They represent a broad range of volunteers across the community with expertise in different areas. They check their egos at the door and focus on raising money and awareness for your organization. They trust you to communicate with the public, organize events, create marketing materials, write, give interviews and run your staff. After all, they probably approved hiring you in the first place. 

In poorly-run organizations, the board gets involved in every little thing. The color of the annual report, the placement of links on your home page, the grammar of an article you are writing for a publication. Rather than looking for diversity, they hire their friends as board members. They hired you, now they are watching your every move.

How do you feel about your board? Do they support you or provide a headwind against your progress? If you feel wind in your face occasionally, that’s probably a good thing. If you go through each day fighting a hurricane, it’s time to take action. Sometimes, the situation is not as dire as you may feel, and a few actions will help get them on your side: 

Gossip: Find one board member who seems objective. Talk to her about how helpful Boardmember X was when you were trying to resolve an issue, or how Boardmember Y’s connections proved invaluable at your last fundraising event. Once board members hear that you have been spreading a good word about them, they will stop impeding your progress. Sometimes you have to dig deep to find good feedback.

Push back: Take risks, object, stand firm on what you believe. You will make no progress appeasing the board and you’ll make yourself frustrated if not crazy. Be willing to risk your job if you think you're right. Your integrity and your organization are too important to do the wrong thing.

Be objective: When listening to comments from the board, stand in their shoes and respond objectively. Your gut may be churning at their ineptitude or obvious lack of awareness, but they come at this from a unique perspective. You can always deflect their comments by soliciting a response from the rest of the board, rather than coming up with one yourself. If you remain objective, you may find a tiny gem in their advice.

Finally, keep your cool. Remember that your organization provides an important service to the public and, ultimately, it’s the public you serve.

February 2, 2012

Five ways to get more volunteers online

Nonprofits understand that their websites need to make it simple for visitors to donate money. It’s not a great sign if a website visitor has to dig for a way to donate. However, many nonprofit websites miss the opportunity to attract volunteers. To many organizations, volunteers are just as important as donors; they eventually become donors, and they attract like-minded volunteers to your organization. Here are five ways to get more of them to sign up:
  1. Show volunteers what’s in it for them.
    Use past volunteer stories to help future volunteers see themselves working with your organization. Highlight two or three different types of volunteers: one fundraiser, one event coordinator, and one translator, for example. Each volunteer describes what they gain from volunteering. It’s not about what your organization gains, rather how the volunteer meets new friends or professional contacts, learns a new skill or improves speaking a foreign language.

  2. Provide the option to sign up for an actual event online.
    Momentum is everything. If a potential volunteer has to submit a form or contact you first, they may lose the drive to volunteer. If they can sign up on the spot for a specific event, they have made a commitment and are more likely to follow through.

  3. Be specific about what opportunities are available.
    Avoid using a general form to capture volunteer requests (for example, one that includes a name, email address and a generic “contact me for volunteer opportunities” check box). Instead, list specific tasks and events requiring volunteers. Separate 1-day events from ongoing volunteer opportunities. Often, a potential volunteer just wants to do something for an hour, maybe with a friend. The volunteer may be more interested in a longer-term opportunity after some exposure to your organization.

  4. Be friendly!
    If a volunteer connects with you via email, Facebook, Twitter or by phone, treat her as if she is calling to inform you of a million-dollar donation. You never know who is on the other end of the line. The volunteer may just be your next board member, executive director or the best friend of a niece of a very generous philanthropist.

  5. Offer Family Volunteer Opportunities.
    Brainstorm about ways you can offer volunteer opportunities for people with kids and create a “family volunteer” page on your site. Many parents of young children are looking to get out of the house and expose their kids to the benefits of volunteering (or they are simply looking for a change of scenery and some adult interaction). If you need 5,000 direct mail envelopes stuffed, find a teen-age volunteer to keep an eye on little kids in the corner of a room with toys while their parents work on the envelopes. If you organize outdoor volunteer opportunities, invite families and provide little shovels and gloves for little hands. Or leverage parents with older kids by providing a leader to guide the kids in some aspect of the volunteer event while the parents are involved in another.
The underlying message is to value volunteers enough to focus on their goals and desired outcomes rather than yours, no matter how much do-gooding your organization does.