Content for Fun and Nonprofit

Working for a nonprofit organization is challenging, but the rewards are plentiful. While other marketing communications professionals fuss about how to spin the story of a downturn in the stock price, nonprofit communicators can talk about the ways their organizations benefit those in need. Be honest. Which would you rather write about: a shareholders’ meeting or a once-troubled young woman holding the diploma no one thought she’d ever earn? Hmm. Not really a hard decision.

The problem is “nonprofit” often means non-Web-site savvy, and when it comes to developing effective content and e-strategies, mind share can be extremely now. Of course there are amazing exceptions. Since September 11, 2001, the American Red Cross’s Web initiatives have raised over $67 million online, especially in conjunction with Web partners such as Amazon.com, AOL, and Yahoo

Many nonprofits still have woeful donor pages. A fascinating little site for the South Carolina Railroad Museum provides only an address and phone number for making a gift. Now, I don’t mean to pick on smaller organizations, but this particular organization could transform into “the little Web site that could” in no time. An interactive donor mechanism could do the trick.

Kathy Bushkin, chief communications officer and senior vice president of AOL, places nonprofits about three years behind e-commerce. In other words, many of these organizations are still pondering whether their sites should be interactive, how much traffic it will create, and if repeat visitors will result.

Having spent the start of my career writing heart-wrenching fundraising copy for the back of donor envelopes, e-philanthropy sounds like a no-brainer. When compared to direct mail, a donor needs to take fewer steps, and those steps are made easier and cheaper. For example, the biggest steps — writing a check, sealing an envelope, and the nearly impossible feat of finding a stamp — are all but eliminated. There’s no more sitting in front of the TV or radio, hoping they’ll rattle off the address for sending donations one more time.

If you’re a nonprofit, getting decent site content isn’t difficult. Here are some tips:

  • Appeal. First, consider the words of Tom Riley, director of research for Philanthropy magazine. “Americans are incredibly generous, but most of that giving went to groups that people knew very well, like their schools and churches or through some sort of personal contact or connection,” he says. “That’s the real challenge for Internet giving.” Given this advice, put yourself in the place of a potential donor who chances upon your organization after a simple Web search. How can you touch the mind (the facts about your organization) and the heart (the clincher for inputting that credit card number)? You’ll have to look focused and organized up front. The American Diabetes Association does a decent job of presenting itself as both an educational resource and a charity. Although its site has lots of good information for diabetics, it also makes a sensitive pitch right up front for donations to help find a cure.
  • Recognize. E-philanthropy allows you to personally thank and acknowledge individual donors in powerful ways. Confirm the donation as soon as possible. Let the donor know what her money will be used for. Keeping up the relationship through targeted (non-aggressive) emails significantly increases the chance of a repeat donation.
  • Mix media. Even if you’re wildly successful on the Net, remember many donors feel more comfortable getting to know you offline. Don’t ignore the sustaining power of offline fundraising. Years ago, nonprofits attempted virtual 10K runs and virtual balls but found the appeal limited. Giving is a human gesture. For many, even the best online efforts need to be supplemented with real, live human contact.
  • Fight fraud. Last September, a dark side of the Red Cross’s unprecedented donor response was fraudulent sites popping up almost immediately. Concerned people who wanted to help found themselves giving money to these scoundrel sites and fraudulent emailers). All charities must assure donors you are who you say you are. Post the URL of your site in newsletters and other communication. Warn contributors to check the URL name before making donations.

Don’t be surprised if your e-philanthropy efforts take time. But with the right content and strategies, results will become apparent. And, if you’re lucky enough to work for a nonprofit, you’ll continue to enjoy that extra benefit — the personal satisfaction that comes from using your talents for an organization that clearly makes a difference.

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