Thu, April 16 2009

Five “Don’ts” of Nonprofit Website Design

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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I wanted to share this great set of tips from my colleague Rebecca Ruby Higman here at Network for Good (pictured).  Enjoy!


Your nonprofit’s website can be a powerful, strategic tool. Unlike the days of brochure-like static pages, home pages now have the potential to win over potential supporters and reaffirm the folks who already know you.

When you boil it down, websites do not just sit on a server-they are action-oriented. They persuade and (hopefully) convert. And for the latter-in terms of raising money online-your website has the most potential with two groups of donors: new donors and impulse givers.

When these newbies visit your website, what do they see? What’s their experience with your navigation and donation processes. According to recent research, nonprofits could be leaving as much as 10 percent of their online revenue on the table simply due to two website usability issues: content and design.

Read on for the five content and design flubs to avoid when you aim to convert browsers into donors:

A lack of call-to-action. The number one thing to avoid when asking for donations on your website is to forget to make the ask! (Yes, this is also on our list of “website do’s,” but it’s important enough to mention at least twice.) If you don’t ask for donations, website visitors might think you don’t need them. Yes, it’s almost laughable to us in the nonprofit world, but Web-savvy surfers assume that if something’s missing, it’s intentional.

Jargon breath. (No, this has nothing to do with the take-out you had for dinner last night.) “Jargon breath” refers to a tendency by communicators-particularly in the nonprofit sector-who rely on a particular vernacular of terms to try to educate others about their mission and programs (“services,” “accessible,” “at risk,” etc.). But, as Tom Ahern, an authority on effective donor communications,  so lovingly points out, “jargon just conjures confusion and blank mental screens.” Go over your website copy with a fine-toothed comb, and perhaps a friend who doesn’t work at your nonprofit, and flesh out what your organization really does. Show people and explain in real terms. (Learn more below “Related Articles” when you scroll down.)

Unintuitive navigation. This fix could be as simple as changing the text on your navigation’s buttons. Is your donate text hidden behind an “about us” button? Are you asking people to “join” you, but your home page doesn’t indicate that you’re a membership organization? It may be time to break out the “Grandma-intern-or-significant-other” test: Sit someone down in front of your website and watch them navigate around your site. Try to quiz them to find certain areas and probe them for feedback. Whether the person’s a Web designer or a teen who spends an hour on Facebook every day, you’ll be sure to glean some important info.

Inconsistency with the mother ship. Of the 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S., most are small, one-location shops with small budgets (but big hearts). However, if your nonprofit is part of a national or international network, you’ll want to avoid completely flying off the brand handle when you’re working on your local website. You may have great design resources and a quirky new take on your organization, but you want to make sure site visitors (i.e. potential supporters) easily make the connection between your site and the national one they may be familiar with already.

Confusing, third-party donation processing. Make it as easy as possible for supporters to donate to your cause. They’re trusting your organization with their hard-earned cash, as well as your website with their credit card. According to Network for Good’s own research, branded donation pages like Custom DonateNow bring in a higher average donations ($125) and improve the donor experience. (Improvement refers to shortening time to complete the transaction, lessening the number of clicks and giving the feeling that a supporters has not left the nonprofit’s website.)

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Thu, April 09 2009

I’m so smart, you should definitely read this post

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

This is my April Fundraising Success column.

How are you feeling about that headline?  What if I went on to say, “And I wrote a really good book about nonprofit marketing that you should definitely buy. It’s a work of staggering genius.”

More than likely, you’d feel more than a little skeptical. You might wonder, “Who the heck is this show-off?” You might even turn the page of this magazine, muttering under your breath, “What a shameless self promoter!”

Here’s my point: telling everyone you’re great isn’t so great.  That presents an interesting problem for fundraisers.  Our job is to convince people that we’re a great cause, but the way to do that isn’t as simple as telling people that we’re a great cause.

One of my all-time favorite social psychologists, Robert Cialdini of Influence fame, has put a lot of study into how to solve this conundrum.  One scientifically proven solution is to get someone else – preferably a true believer, but even a paid representative - to do the promotion for you.  He describes how well this works in his new book, Yes!

Cialdini describes a research experiment in which participants were asked to imagine themselves in the role of a senior editor for a book publisher.  They were told they were to review excerpts from a negotiation for a sizable book advance for a successful author.  One group of people read excerpts written by the author’s agent.  The other group read identical comments made by the author himself. 

So what happened?  If you guessed the former group rated better, you win.  A third party endorsement is very, very valuable.

Cialdini shares another neat trick his colleagues applied to a real estate firm.  The receptionist originally answered the phone and directed callers with phrases like, “Oh, you need to speak to Judy, she does rentals.”  She was recommended to change this to, “Oh, rentals, you need to speak to Judy, who has over 15 years’ experience renting properties in this neighborhood.”  I’d definitely feel better with the latter experience.

So what does this mean to you?  It means that your supporters, volunteers, program participants, neighbor – anyone – is going to be more persuasive than you in making a case that your organization is wonderful.  It means you should rethink how you approach everyone.  It means you need to think about new messengers.

This has never been more true than now.  People are more suspicious than ever of claims of superiority, unless they come from people they know.  The rise of social media is all about the trust and sense of community we feel within our circles of influence.

Have your champions flaunt your credentials.  Encourage them to trumpet your merits.  Thank them profusely when they toot your horn so you don’t have to do it yourself.  (The sound emanating from the horn is far lovelier when you’re not the one playing it.)

Test this approach in your next appeal.  Try it out in your thank you notes.  Have a volunteer hand-write a few, identifying themselves as a volunteer, and see the amazing response you get.

In the meantime, for more advice on being persuasive, buy a copy of Yes!, Dr. Cialdini’s new book.  It has a terrific list of 50 scientifically proven ways to be persuasive, including the one shared in this column.

To conclude, I have one question for you: Whose book will you buy?  Mine or his?  His, of course, because my promotion of his book is a lot more convincing than my own self-promoting pitch.  That’s why the blurbs on my book jacket are from other people. 

Just further proof of how much the messenger matters. To you.  And to your donors.

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Thu, April 09 2009

New report: Green is in, but trust in green claims is tenuous

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Cause-related marketing •

BBMG’s second annual Conscious Consumer Report is out.  The national study on purchasing behavior and social values is available here.  Below are highlights from the report, provided by BBMG.  They sound about right to me - there is a lot of skepticism about all marketing claims these days.  And this is further proof that Wal-Mart has done quite a job turning around national opinion thanks to some high-profile moves to be more socially responsible.

Consumers Like Green, but Are Skeptical of Corporate Claims. Nearly one in four U.S. consumers (23%) say they have “no way of knowing” if a product is green or actually does what it claims, signaling a lack of confidence in green marketing and revealing a widespread “green trust gap.” But consumers’ lack of trust does not mean lack of interest. The BBMG report finds that 77 percent of Americans agree that they “can make a positive difference by purchasing products from socially or environmentally responsible companies,” and they are actively seeking information to verify green claims. Consumers are most likely to turn to consumer reports (29%), certification seals or labels on products (28%) and the list of ingredients on products (27%) to determine if a product is green and does what it claims. Consumers are least likely to look to statements on product packaging (11%) and company advertising (5%), signaling deep skepticism of company-driven marketing.

Interest in Green Holds Despite Tough Economy. Nearly seven in ten Americans agree (67%) that “even in tough economic times, it is important to purchase products with social and environmental benefits,” and half (51%) say they are “willing to pay more” for them.

Price and Performance Still Paramount, But Green Gains Ground. Price (66% very important) and quality (64%) top consumers’ list of most important product attributes, followed by good for your health (55%) and made in the USA (49%). But green benefits have increased in importance since last year – including energy efficiency (47% very important in 2008, 41% in 2007), locally grown or made nearby (32% in 2008, 26% in 2007), all natural (31% in 2008, 24% in 2007), made from recycled materials (29% in 2008, 22% in 2007) and USDA organic (22% in 2008, 17% in 2007).

Wal-Mart Tops List of Most and Least Socially Responsible Companies. When asked unaided which companies come to mind as the most socially or environmentally responsible companies, 7 percent of Americans named Wal-Mart, followed by Johnson & Johnson (6%), Procter & Gamble (4%), GE (4%) and Whole Foods (3%). Wal-Mart also topped the list of the least responsible companies (9%), along with Exxon Mobile (9%), GM (3%) and Ford (3%), Shell (2%) and McDonald’s (2%). Interestingly, 41% of Americans could not name a single company that they consider the most socially and environmentally responsible.

Consumers Reward, Punish and Influence Based on Corporate Practices. Seven in ten consumers (71%) agree that they “avoid purchasing from companies whose practices they disagree with”; and approximately half tell others to shop (55%) or drop (48%) products based on a company’s social and environmental practices.

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Mon, April 06 2009

Guest post: telling stories with moving pictures

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Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Katya’s commentary: A while back I met Mark Horvath virtually (via this blog and my book, as I recall).  Mark, it turns out, was once the person directly responsible for the worldwide distribution of Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Married with Children, 21 Jump Street, plus many other syndicated shows.  He also had some rough times and was once homeless.  Today, he has drawn on all of his extraordinary background by dedicating his time and energy to filming the stories of homeless people in LA at Invisible People.  And, lucky for me, he offers this guest post.  Be sure to check out Invisible People when you can.  Here’s what Mark has to say about video for nonprofits - and nonprofit marketing.  Take it away, Mark.  If you want to reach Mark, he’s at Twitter.

Telling Stories with Moving Pictures
by Mark Horvath

There is no denying the power of moving pictures to tell a story. In fact, you have probably taken in one or more forms of video media already today. Sure, I may be biased, but videos are the most powerful way to transmit emotion. If you can transmit emotion while telling a good story you will no doubt increase response.

When I started in commercial television in the early 1990s, I managed logistics for a large syndicator. Although I had also spent time producing music videos and working on a feature film, I really knew nothing about the production end of media. However, this changed pretty quickly when I became the executive producer of a weekly tv show for the Los Angeles Dream Center. As far as religious broadcasts go, this show was very different. Rather than a simple “talking head” the show consisted of three independent “testimony” segments. Not only did this require a great deal of production and editing, but it had to be completed each week by an all-volunteer staff with a budget of zero.

The best advice I can give you is what was given to me back then. Someone suggested that I start watching news magazine style shows and take notes. 60 Minutes, 20/20, Dateline, even Behind the Music on VH1. They were the professionals at video storytelling, so the TV set literally became my teacher. I also watched lots of infomercials because they are the very best example of long-form response marketing. Local news gives a good example of how to tell a story fast and how to effectively use b-roll when you don’t have lots of time to edit. Everything you need to know about video production is already right in front of you. And best of all, it’s FREE!

That said, I’d like to offer a few tips to help you get more results from short-form media.  Long-form is a little different, and since many non-profits are trying to figure out how to produce a video for their webpage or fundraising event we’ll just focus on short-form. Some “pros” who went to school for media may argue with these. But in the last five years, my video productions have broken response records and literally raised millions of dollars for cause campaigns.

So without further ado, here are my tips for getting more results from short-form media:

Content! Content! Content!: There has always been a battle over content vs. quality. Many old-school shooters just want to make pretty pictures and put the story second. Yes, by all means necessary, work hard to get the very best quality (especially since quality transmits credibility). But remember: the most watched video of our time is Rodney King, which was shot on VHS.  Compelling content is by far the most important ingredient of a successful story.

Work backwards: What result do you want produced from the video? Do you want people to call, write, stand up, talk, yell, give money – what action do you want taken after they view this video? Figure out what the call to action is and then produce your video backwards knowing the desired end result.

Know and target your audience: This should not even have to be started, it’s so obvious. But producing video for a kid is a lot different than producing video for old folks. Like attracts like. If you are trying to reach women, do stories featuring women. ‘Nuff said.

Produce for delivery: The graphic treatment on a video that will be seen on a computer directly in front of the viewer is different than a treatment used on for a viewer who is 300 yards away at an outdoor event.

Short means short:  One of the greatest challenges of producing video is cutting out content. But it’s absolutely necessary, otherwise your finished product ends up too long and boring. Between 3 and 5 minutes is a good rule for both online and live events.

Sound bites, not voiceover:  Of course, there are times when you just have to add a voiceover. But there will be more emotion in the story if you interview the person and let them tell their own story. This will also save costs. I once heard Larry King say he usually never reads his guest’s book and does not prepare. He simply is interested, which helps him ask the right questions.

Here are a few of my Larry King-inspired tips for conducting good interviews:

Never give questions in advance:  I have found people speak from their heart best the first time. Give them questions in advance you’ll get rehearsed emotionless answers.

Be a good listener: You never know what new topic is going to be brought up in an interview. Don’t be afraid to explore. Be flexible. You may even get a better story than your original.

Take notes: I don’t write down my questions in advance. As the person speaks I write down things that come to my head that I may want to ask later.

Acknowledge and affirm the person:  Mirror the emotions you want returned.

Never put words in their mouth. Put them in your question: Integrity is extremely important when producing nonprofit videos. I never ask a person to say “something.” But I will paraphrase what I would like them to say in the question I ask.

Ask them to repeat your question when answering:  I’m not in the video, so if I ask, “How did you get to the shelter?”, and they respond “By bus”, the story is missing. I start off each interview by asking them to repeat my question each time so I’ll get,  “I came to the shelter by bus.”

Have fun:  Be friendly and relaxed. Cameras make people nervous and you may be discussing a touchy subject. Help the interviewee feel comfortable.

Location is important only if it has meaning: I would much rather see the emotion on a person’s face then a wide shot revealing some cool location.  You can always cut in images (called “b-roll”) to help tell the story. Again, this is not your normal school of thought. Shoot a medium close up and use lots of b-roll. It will save you time, money and will be far more effective! There are times when the location may cause an emotional response for the person being interviewed.  If that’s the case, GO THERE!

Overshoot – ALWAYS:  a good editor/producer will eat b-roll. Always shoot more than what is needed especially if you are on location.  Chances are you may never be back, so it is better to have and not need then need and not have. Shoot lots of dumb stuff. Watch Survivor and you’ll often see a lizard crawling up a tree used as an edit point. Be creative. Video tape is cheap, so use it!

Have fun: Working at Burger King sucks. You are producing video that might just change the world. Have some fun while doing it.

Make it happen:  The concept had been in me for a long time. But I couldn’t make it happen until I figured out how to get the past not having professional video gear and editing equipment. I only had $45, a low-end camera and a laptop.  I’m so glad I didn’t allow not having the right gear stop me. Today, MySpace’s Impact Channel is featuring one of the videos. That is amazing since it is not what the “media industry” would classify as a quality production. It’s just a kid talking about being homeless into a $500 camera. Several thousand people will watch that video today alone simply because I didn’t follow the rules and I made something happen.

The last rule, there are no rules! Take a risk, do it different and make something remarkable!

Eddie from invisible people on Vimeo.

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Fri, April 03 2009

Friday roundup: Social media gem, green nonprofit prize, direct mail tips

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1. HOW DO TO A BETTER JOB WITH SOCIAL MEDIA: Chris Brogan has a great post on how to avoid being “that guy” (the awful, blurting, annoying one we’ve all met at a party) in the world of social media.  He has an excellent list of how to build relationships with folks online.

2. HOW TO GET YOUR GREEN NONPROFIT SOME RECOGNITION AND ICE CREAM:  You could even win a prize in the GreatNonprofits 2009 Green Choice Awards.  For Earth Day, GreatNonprofits is holding a contest to identify the best environmental nonprofits out there, as rated by their volunteers, donors, and other partners. Nonprofits who win will receive national media coverage, and anyone writing a review is entered to win prizes such as earth-friendly wines from Fetzer, a stay at Joie De Vivre hotels, Whole Foods certificates, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, a subscription to Stanford Social Innovation Review and more!  More here.

3. FIND OUT WHY YOUR DIRECT MAIL GETS THROWN OUT: Via this video from Pitney Bowes.

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