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Can You Thank People Too Much?

November 20th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

A few years ago, I served on the board of a large nonprofit organization. During one of the Development Committee meetings I attended, we reviewed the organization’s stewardship policies.

That’s when one of my board colleagues asked, “Does anyone else think we thank people too much?”

As the discussion moved forward, I mentioned that, from a practical perspective, I did not think it possible to overly thank folks. I added that, if it was possible to overly thank people, this particular organization was so far away from being in danger of doing so that there was really no point in further discussing the matter. Others agreed with me, and the conversation eventually moved on to other related matters.

Well, it’s finally happened. I found an organization that overly thanks people: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Don’t worry. This is not a political post. I won’t be commenting about the political content of a thank-you email I received recently from Kelly Ward, Executive Director of the DCCC. Instead, I’ll stay focused on the thank you nature of the communication.

By the way, during the last Presidential election, I signed up to receive emails from a number of political organizations and candidates as a way of learning a bit about how these groups use social media. So, please don’t make any assumptions one way or the other about my political orientation.

When I received Ms Ward’s email, it immediately caught my eye. The subject line read:

Michael, thanks!”

I like that the DCCC used my name in the subject line. And I liked that I was being thanked, though I couldn’t imagine why. While I could see the email was from Kelly Ward, I didn’t know her or who she represented. The combination of the personalized subject line that expressed thanks along with not knowing the sender made me open the email. Above all, I wanted to know what I was being thanked for.

Here’s what the email stated:

Michael –

We asked you to step up and, boy, did you ever!

House Republicans are home this month for August Recess, and activists like you have been holding their Republican Members of Congress accountable in some pretty amazing ways.

We put together a video of some of our favorite displays of activism — you should take a look at what YOU’VE helped accomplish this August:

[link provided to video]

We hope you’re inspired by the video to continue to hold Republicans accountable. Keep up the great work out there!


Kelly Ward

DCCC Executive Director

P.S. Here’s a sneak peek of one of our favorite highlights from the video: In Illinois, Rodney Davis was confronted by a group of concerned voters about ‘ducking’ questions on his ethics investigation. One activist even brought a LIVE duck!” [link provided to the video]”

Ok, here’s where it really gets interesting. While the DCCC wrote to thank me for my activism, specifically my actions to hold Republican members of Congress accountable, I never did what they were thanking me for. I never even donated money to the DCCC to help pay for the activism of others

As a result of the bizarre email from the DCCC, I’ve reached the conclusion that you can indeed over thank someone.

If you thank people for something they really did not do, you’re wrongly thanking them. Instead of showing appreciation, you’re being manipulative, gratuitous, lazy, or all of the above. Reserve your thank-you messages for expressions of real gratitude:

  • Thank people for giving their time.
  • Thank people for donating.
  • Thank people for demonstrating that they care.
  • Thank people for an inquiry.
  • Thank people for attending an event or program.
  • Thank people for referring others to the organization.

You get the idea. Just be sure you don’t behave like the DCCC. Don’t thank folks for what they have not done. If you do, you’ll only end up diluting the value of real expressions of appreciation.

For your donors, your organization should have a donor recognition policy that outlines how supporters at various levels will be thanked and recognized for their support. Just remember that some donors might not want the recognition you’re offering. For example, some donors may wish to give anonymously. In that case, thanking these people by name in your annual report would be inappropriate. Always remember to be donor centered.

To avoid the uncommon risk of over thanking people:

  • Do not thank folks for what they have not done.
  • Do not thank folks publicly if they want to remain anonymous.
  • Do not thank folks in ways they have told you they won’t appreciate.

When you do thank people, be personal, warm, and sincere.

August 30, 2013

Michael J. Rosen, CFRE

Fundraising Premiums: What’s Working and Why

November 19th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising, How Not For Profits, Marketing

Non-profits are using premiums and branded products in myriad ways.

Easter Seals of Southern Georgia has been producing an annual Christmas ornament for 20 years and sees about a $7.50 profit on each one. The organization has become adept not only at marketing its ornaments for optimum donor engagement, but also in choosing designs supporters want to buy.

The organization offers an array of services to people in more than 60 counties, and each year’s ornament design is chosen to reflect something that resonates with local residents. One year it was the home of a local veteran whose annual Christmas light displays had become a nostalgic part of the town’s celebration; another it was a diner where residents, their parents and their parents’ parents had their first dates; another was an image representing the charm of historic Georgia boulevards.

“We always try to choose something that is nostalgic to the area,” says Rosalyn Kirk, development coordinator at Easter Seals of Southern Georgia. “And something that, when it is hanging on their tree, reminds them that they have helped their community and helped us continue to provide services right in their own community.”

Kirk says a committee of select members chooses the design (often taking into consideration suggestions from the community) each year, then sends its ideas to its partner ChemArt, which turns the concept into reality.

Allison Houle, marketing manager at ChemArt, explains that organizations are best served by choosing their perfect designs first, then allowing their vendor partners to turn those into reality.

“Look at it as a fundraiser first and not as an ornament. Focus on designing something that will generate a lot of interest from your audience. That’s what makes Easter Seals so successful; they come up with an idea that will touch the people they are hoping will buy it,” she says. “To try to think of it off the bat as an ornament can be limiting. If someone comes to us with a concept, we can then go back and tell them how best to design it.”

Kirk says designing the ornament is only the first step in creating a successful fundraiser. Proper and provocative marketing is essential! Easter Seals of Southern Georgia has been producing holiday keepsake ornaments for 20 years, and it has learned a thing or two about promoting them.

The new design is announced each year at the beginning of November, and the organization is very careful about keeping it quiet until then. The secrecy helps build anticipation and keeps people chomping at the bit for the ornaments. Same is true with the local media. The organization has nurtured relationships with TV, radio and print outlets, and has partnered with them for coverage of the big reveal (as well as other Easter Seals events).

Easter Seals of Southern Georgia has been so successful in pinpointing and marketing those designs that resonate with its supporters that its annual ornaments have become a passion for many collectors. When that happens, your collectibles program has struck gold.

By Kimberly Seville and Margaret Battistelli Gardner

August 1, 2013


You can get the full story on Easter Seals of Southern Georgia’s super-successful holiday ornament program — plus more valuable tips — by downloading the free ChemArt whitepaper, “Utterly Engaging: Engaging Donors With an Annual Ornament Program.” — MBG

10 Tips to the Top of Google

November 18th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Marketing, Website

Top 10 Tips to the Top of Google

Ten years ago, creating a website and getting found in Google wasn’t hard to do. Choose a domain. Learn some basic HTML code. Do some keyword research. Create some title tags andmeta tags. Write about 250 words. And for the most part, you were done.

With Google’s more recent quest for quality, authenticity, authority, and usability, however, many of  the tips that could help get your site to the top of Google 10 years ago might not produce the same results today.

Here are 10 top tips on how to optimize your site for Google’s algorithm today and beyond.

1. Learn & Implement Marketing Basics

Start with a plan, not a prayer.

No matter how many buzzwords, new paradigms, disruptive technologies, or innovative inventions are introduced, search engine optimization (SEO) at its most fundamental is marketing. Marketing on the web, with efforts, outcomes, metrics that matter and competition for marketing dollars.

It doesn’t matter if it’s SEO for a mom and pop store, or a national online retailer. Attacking SEO without a plan is like trying to row a boat with no oars – you might eventually get somewhere, but it won’t be where or when you wanted to arrive.

When I hired my first employee at my agency in 2002, the first thing I did was have them read the excellent “Marketing for Dummies” book, that lays out some basic principles. (they have a greatmarketing cheat sheet for reference)

Answer (at least) these questions:

  • What is your expertise?
  • What is your differentiation?
  • Why should users care?
  • Which users (age, locations, interests etc.) should care?
  • What is the message and / or media that is going to connect with them?
  • Who is your likely competition?
  • Why should Google rank you higher than your competition?

Conduct research. Segment your audience. Set realistic goals for your SEO efforts, and then ensure tracking is in place to measure your efforts versus results.

Plan a strategy for your content, including; topics, timelines/editorial calendars, distribution (don’t forget PR), and schedules and frequency. The goal is to exist with a “sizzle”; a reason to rank and/or some expertise worthy of interaction.

2. How to Structure Your Site

Plan your site for topical expertise, organized in a well-siloed, easy to navigate structure.

Although the initial plan sounds like a lot (and it can be!) the goal isn’t to overwhelm and under-deliver on your marketing plan. There are, though, fundamentals in strategically building and/or organizing your site. Leveraging research into your audience, define the topics where you have expertise and/or differentiation (remember, this is marketing 101).

Research your keywords! Read this article on keyword research.

Structure your site around intent-based topics, ensuring content is siloed and distinct (cross-link to relevant and related topics only). Dividing up your site into relevant content topics gives both users and search engines an easy way to identify your expertise, and relevant topics to rank for.

Unless you’re, it’s difficult to be an expert at everything. Better to dominate a niche than try to be everything to everyone – at the beginning at least!

BONUS TIP: If you’re always fighting with designers developers and marketing managers over how SEO ruins usability, don’t despair! Demonstrating successes in SEO often quash the naysayers, so save some gray hair and first shoot for the “least imperfect” site feasible, and then work toward the perfection you desire once you’ve convinced your detractors of SEO value!

3.Build a Digital Footprint

It’s not just about search engines. Embrace traditional marketing, outreach, partnerships, social, guest blogging, inspired mentions, and good old-fashioned relationships.

Apart from SEO is dead (again) chat, the next most popular SEO discussions is always on what SEO should actually be called. “Inbound marketing”, “IMS”, “Search Science,” I’ve probably heard them all, but few terms capture the essence of what SEO should be doing.

With that in mind, I took it on myself to relabel SEO as SearchEverywhere Optimization because as SEO folks we are hoping to affect the visibility of our clients sites in many venues on the web, which then creates better visibility in the search results, and more search clicks organically.

With the Search Everywhere mantra, SEO practitioners can finally expand beyond just traditional SEO responsibilities and dabble or partner with PR, social, partnerships, sponsorships and other traditional offline opportunities that get people talking online about brands and their expertise. This includes great events like SES Conference, working with nonprofits and in-store promotions, all of which can fuel the content machine and distribute content and create connections organically: aDigital Footprint.

The goal of a Search Everywhere strategy isn’t to replace traditional marketing agencies, however. It’s about SEO professionals working with them to ensure that every marketing initiative considers the opportunity of creating share-worthy content that can be placed and amplified online via outreach, social and/or PR channels.

The Digital Footprint you create isn’t just for inbound marketing though. Google, as a massive “connections engine,” uses connected entities to assess the trust and authority of sites, companies, individuals, and brands (which really encapsulates all three), leading to the earning of greater topic visibility (i.e., relevant rankings/traffic).

NOTE: It’s not just about links, it’s about citations, connections, mentions and associations. Who you’re ‘seen’ with online matters!

4. Design for Multiple Screens

Create a user-friendly site design that works well and fast across all devices – especially mobile and tablet.

With so much focus on usability, the demise of the desktop browser dominance, and the prevalence of mobile devices, Google’s made it very clear that no mobile experience, no love from Google!

What’s often forgotten in the race to comply with a scary (for some) Google mandate, is that Google isn’t saying every site should be using the same technology, solutions or share the same usability elements. Google understands that some sites need to have a mobile version (this is a site that has it’s own URL structure – normally hosted on an m. sub-domain or within a mobile sub-directory or a main site) and some need a responsive website design (RWD) that adapts to the device used to access it.

NOTE: Responsive design isn’t a brand new idea, but having (almost) ubiquitous browser support is!

There are various resources that provide the hows and how tos, (even Google gives some good details) but the process must begin with a site review on different devices to see if:

  • Different screen sizes present obvious and usable interfaces
  • Mobile or tablet users see views customized to their devices
  • Interface changes based on platform or device are logical and maintain *some* consistency across platforms
  • From an SEO standpoint, best practices are followed so that Google / Bing recognized the difference between device specific sites (if different sites exist) and this mitigates potential duplicate content issues

The Search Agency (full disclosure that I work there!) recently published a Responsive Web Design whitepaper that goes in depth into the pros and cons of the technical aspect of RWD.

5. Conduct Keyword Query Research

Research keyword queries leveraging social, web stats, paid media and industry research to help understand user goals, purchasing cycles, and needs.

As noted in the keyword research article above, traditional keyword research needs to evolved to focus more on the Consumer Decision Journey and less on search volume.

What does this mean?

Search engines are interpreting each search through a lens of intent and context.

  • Intent: What does the user mean based on previous searches, their search behavior?
  • Context: Where are they? What device are they using?
  • Both:
    • Machine learning: What do I know about this and similar users who have searched for this term (e.g., click behavior, engagement signals)?
    • Connections: If I can identify this user, what information from his connections would help or influence click and / or search behavior?

SEO professionals must understand how these factors influence search results and present the most relevant content for each of the intents and contexts that a user in a specific mindset is experiencing.

For example, a user searching using the query “price of tea” might be looking for an online tea purveyor, spot price in the commodities markets, Starbucks price list, or, if they’re standing outside a Teavana store, a comparison of their prices. If you’re Teavana, you want to make sure that a “price of tea” pages is optimized around comparisons – mentioning advantages over Starbucks, value proposition of loose leaf tea, and details of how to purchase online (or in the local store), and not commodities!

At the same time search engines improve their abilities to understand search query intent based on behavior and context, users are becoming more sophisticated and expect answers to the search queries they enter.

Google and Bing are both trying serve up the best answers feasible, and to present a quick path-to-answer improved “direct answers” with those answer appearing within the search results themselves.

Keyword query research is a fundamental need for any SEO campaign. Thinking through the lens of a user query, as opposed to just focusing on keyword volume, can help drive more valuable organic traffic.

By connecting user intent to website content, SEO practitioners can enjoy – potentially – a higher level of relevant search engine traffic that both engages and converts more efficiently.

6. Write Just Enough Content

There are no “ideal lengths” of content, only enough to satisfy user intent and the context in which they’re querying.

I remember when everyone had their favorite best practice of word count. It was a time of keyword density and keywords meta tag stuffing. They were good days, but they had to come to an end (though some still live in that dismal past!).

Here’s the real truth about word counts:

Write just enough and not too much!

There really is no ideal length, but there isan ideal question: “Should this page exist?”

The answer should consider primarily:

  • The page’s uniqueness (based on other pages on the site).
  • Its uniqueness (based on other pages on the web).
  • Its value to users (does it answer a question they may have? FYI, analytics is your friend for engagement metrics!).
  • Its accessibility from a site’s homepage (via clicks).
  • The content’s ability to provide value with the correct media (image / video / text) so users are potentially inspired to share it!

Nowhere in these criteria does it mention the number of words, the ideal type of media, the density of keywords, or any of the other traditional optimization tactics.

Also, with Google’s launch of “long form” modules in the results page, the need not to count words, keywords, paragraphs, and characters is underscored!

7. Tag Your Content (Standard, Social, Schema)

Standard tags such a meta description, title, and header tags are still important for user engagement and core SEO optimization. New and necessary tags, OG for Facebook, Twitter Cards, and microdata formats are no-brainers.

In the late ’90s when I was getting my feet wet in online marketing, there were few techniques and far fewer websites, leading to an ease and confidence in getting almost anything to rank for almost anything. Tags we swore by were titles tags, meta description tag, H tags and, of course, the meta keywords tag. The tools of a trade with few tools.

Fast forward to today and there are many more tags, markup and necessities to enable better crawling, indexing and viability to rank. Through all this, the title tag has remained above most of the bickering, continuing to be the primary clickable link in the search results and (by all consensus) an important part of search engine ranking algorithms.

These “oldies but goodies” – with the exception of the black sheep keywords tag – are still important from a blocking and tackling standpoint, but alone won’t fundamentally rocket you to the top 10 of Google. These are the “Standards” which every SEO should understand, and also understand that Google may or may not decide to consider when presenting a result in the SERP.

Social tags are often overlooked, but Open Graph (OG) tags have gained importance (and will continue to) as Facebook’s Graph Search continues to build and improve to a usable state (sorry Facebook). Other social tags that look to materially help SEO from a visibility standpoint are theTwitter Cardsthat “gives users greater context and insight into the URLs shared on Twitter, which in turn allows Twitter to send more engaged traffic to your site or app.” (*love* social organic traffic!)

Schema Markup is probably the most exciting development over the past few years, and one gaining traction slowly, despite the protocols being backed by the major (and minor) search engines. At its core, schema markup allows search engines to better identify the structure of data, to facilitate more efficient crawling, indexing and presentation of search results. Google offers an excellent Schema Q&A – far more than even this article can contain – and the Schema website gives even more detail to assist in definitions and implementation.

8. Don’t Over-Optimize

Overdoing internal anchor text, linking, and excessive footer links. “Too much of a good thing” can end up being a bad thing. Keep it simple and user-focused, especially in-content anchor text links.

Unfortunately, a disproportionate number of SEO folk are also terrible online marketers, still living in the past. It doesn’t take much to see the efforts Google is putting into mitigating webspam, meaning many of the tactics we used to love and use are now obsolete.

It still pains my colleagues and I when we come upon a newly updated site that displays many SEO tactics that belong in the same era as Webkinz and High School Musical (the original movie), not least of which is over-optimization and massive challenges around internal linking.

Today’s optimization should be much more around creating a user-friendly experience, with internal linking and content that benefits users first and the most discerning of users, Google, second.

Footers with massive link counts aren’t always beneficial on every page if top or in-page navigation provides a better experience, and definitely spammy-looking keyword rich anchor text all over a page looks… well spammy.

9. Optimize the User Experience

Post-click engagement sends the signals that your site rocks, not only do users provide metrics through trackable usage, also through social signals – shares, likes and +1s

We used to look at site traffic, cheer when it went up and cry when it went down. We used to treat users as faceless entities that proved our worth as SEOs and when we boosted the key metric of “organic site visits” we expected our clients to bow down before us and call us geniuses.

The user was a metric to a means, rather than a real “metric that mattered” and for this SEOs suffered. They suffered because the rest of the marketing world scoffed and eventually asked us to justify our existance. our fees and the time it took to get nominal results.

And then “eureka” some savvy SEOs realized we weren’t all that difeferent from paid search, and display, and email marketing, we could leverage data to better understand the user and to ensure they did what we wanted them to do once they arrived at our sites, and we made sure we attracted not just more, but “more better” traffic.

And then we became user-cetric in our marketing approach. And so did Google.

Now… we need to look at what people do once they get to our site, and we need to optimize their experience, not just because Google demands a speedy site, user-friendly layouts, less ‘dead end’ 404s and onsite engagement, but because both Bing and Google say the users experience, their bounce back to the SERPs, their consistent times of engagement, and – for those trackable users – their behavior during a site session matter!

SEO doesn’t stop at the visit any longer, thinking beyond the click has become the norm, inspiring shares, mentions, interaction and satisfaction *is* a new (and welcome) paradigm of recent SEO strategies.

10. Keep Link Building Practices Natural

Create and seed great content in venues where it makes sense. If it is truly great, and you bolster its discoverability and visibility through social media mentions, you may just inspire links, and more importantly relevant traffic!

“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change.” – Heraclitus

Savvy SEO practitioners know change will come, the challenge is both in planning for when and for what!

With the recent changes to link strategies, e.g. links from guest blogs, widget links and press release linking, SEOs are going to have to adapt to less rich anchor text, user focused linking, and nofollows in many cases.

“Natural” link building doesn’t appear just a Google recommendation anymore, with the introduction of Penguin penalties and frequent manual reviews, Google the ‘link police’ is a 2013 reality.

Though the best advice often repeated by Google’s Matt Cutt’s is “create great content”, SEO still needs to rely on outreach to introduce brands to relevant websites in the hope of negotiating content placements, partnerships, sponsorships or story mentions to expand digital footprints and potential traffic sources.

In this sense, the question becomes “should I still include links as part of content distribution or partnerships” and the answer is probably “sure”, as long as links or anchor text traditionally designed to manipulate PageRank are nofollowed.

3 Bonus Tips

11. Build a Brand

Do this online and offline through associations, connections, citations, and engagement. And most of all… be special!

Since Google’s Vince update, Google’s preoccupation with brands has them flying higher in the SERP

What is an online brand?

An entity that inspires, creates or demonstrates an expertise in certain topics so that other trust entities quote them, link to them, discuss them, interact with them, and show trust in their topic expertise.

A brand online can even be “created” by Google itself, through the association created by results in the top three positions on Google’s paid and organic results.

12. Use Authorship to Build Your Personal Brand (Authority)

Claim and master Google+ through their relatively easy process and correct markup of your site.

Brands are not unique just to companies, just as expertise is not unique to a few industry figureheads.

Personal brands – individuals that demonstrate expertise, trust and interaction – are also favored by search engines, with Google especially looking at the web as a web of people, connected and interacting with brands (which could be other people) they trust.

The connections created between brands, their expert content, and their ‘trusters,’ is really key to both providing relevanttrusted results, and personalizing those results so that individuals see additional trust signals in the search results specific to them.

Authorship, Google’s content verification and content association methodology ensures that connections are recognized, organized and associated with authored articles, comments, opinions (+1s), and other content attributed to specific writers(s).

Why bother? Authorship manifests in author’s photos appearing alongside content results in the search results – improving click-through rates significantly!

13. Be Social

Claim your social profiles, connect on networks relevant to your audience, and remember no platform is, or should be, an island!

Your social footprint consists of a few components:

  • Claiming your relevant social profiles
  • Optimizing your profiles for your topic expertise / location expertise
  • Posting interesting content or relevant information, content and form factor for each platform / audience
  • Connecting with your optimal audience
  • Interacting with your audience
  • Amplifying interactions (ensuring no platform is an island)

Social interaction and amplification has progressively become more important for SEO given the ability to deploy or promote shareable content to both “connected” and “potential” audiences, empowering both groups to engage and generate trust and topic association signals, links, citations and mentions that search engines can recognize, catalog and leverage to improve both the personalization and relevance of results.

Recent patents and experience alludes to sentiment being a factor search engines are considering as additional indicators of trust and brand… ensuring positive mentions, reviews and interactions are available, crawlable and indexable may eventually be a key component of trust signals for ranking! Engage!

Final Thoughts

There’s probably another 50+ tips to get yourself to the top of the Google search results, but we’ll stop here. But don’t let that stop you commenting below if there’s some important tips that you feel are obviously missing.

Search Engine Watch

10 Tips For Your Nonprofit’s Hiring Process

November 17th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

The details of a nonprofit’s hiring process will vary from organization to organization but one aspect should always remain consistent: A well thought-out plan should be made to ensure the process goes as efficiently as possible.

While all businesses want to have efficient hiring procedures, it takes on a new meaning for nonprofits, which are often facing time and money constraints. Throw in the fact that organizations need employees who have an undeniable passion for the cause, it becomes even more critical that the hiring process is done efficiently so that the best candidates are selected for consideration.

In an online pamphlet posted by The Bridgespan Group’s Tom Friel, the former chairman and CEO of Heidrick & Struggles International, Inc., explained how his organization went about bringing on new employees. He shared the top 10 things he learned from his experiences:

  • Assess your existing team and talent against the mission.
  • Determine whether you can meet your needs by promoting  someone or changing job descriptions.
  • Create a realistic compensation and benefits package.
  • Agree on the qualifications your candidates must have.
  • Create a list of qualifications that would be “nice-to-have” but are not required.
  • Create a list of selling points and test it on someone objective from outside the organization. “There’s an old adage, sell the sizzle not the steak,” said Friel.
  • Establish a search strategy, budget, and timeline.
  • Determine who will interview candidates and to what end.
  • Remember that not everything goes according to plan, so stay flexible.
  • When the search is completed and the new candidate is announced, close out the process professionally. Reach out to the candidates who did not make the cut and thank them for their interest. It’s important not to burn bridges because it’s possible you will need their services in the future.
August 27, 2013

Optimize, Test, Repeat

November 16th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Marketing, Website

It’s the recipe for donation pages that acquire high-value donors.

Online fundraising isn’t just a “nice to have” addition to your organization’s fundraising activities. It’s a primary driver of overall fundraising success. Nonprofits now recruit more first-time and higher lifetime value donors through the Web, as well as social and mobile media, than through offline channels. And because it raises brand awareness, multiplies campaign response rates and develops a deeper donor relationship, online fundraising also inspires many offline gifts, including multimillion-dollar ones.

Since the cycle of recruiting these new high-value supporters and moving them up the donor pyramid to major gifts and bequests starts with an online donation, nonprofits have to be very effective at online fundraising. They must: 1) ensure a superior experience for the online donor; and 2) continue to optimize that experience through regular testing and analysis.

Too often nonprofits unwittingly interrupt the process of recruiting new online donors and securing those critical first gifts. The problem invariably stems from not having clear online fundraising goals. The results of fuzzy goals are confusing donor experiences and higher donor abandonment. Is your goal to get the most gifts at the highest amount, bring in the maximum number of new donors at any gift level in order to get their e-mail addresses for donor cultivation or verify the effectiveness of your communication program focused on increasing the lifetime value of your relationships? Or is your purpose something else entirely?

Whatever your goal is, make sure everything on your donation page — background information, value proposition, call to action, Web form questions, navigation, etc. — advances the goal and doesn’t complicate gift giving or create “friction.” Examples of friction include asking visitors to jump through unnecessary hoops in the donation process such as sharing their estate commitments, entering solicitor codes so you can properly attribute the gift in your database or following lengthy navigation with too many links. These types of tasks encourage your donors to click away and leave the page.

Friction in the donation process runs off people who could become significant lifetime supporters. To determine whether your organization is creating friction, see “Are You Turning Off Online Donors?” in Fundraising Success’ May issue.

Steps to follow
Once you establish clear goals and eliminate as much friction as possible, measure the donation page’s performance regularly. Without frequent measurement, you can’t determine what’s helping and hurting conversion. Measuring performance is easier than you may think, thanks to free tools that anyone can download and use. You don’t have to be a techie or analytics specialist. Just follow these steps.


First, integrate Google Analytics (or another analytics platform) with your e-commerce system. Here I focused on Google Analytics (basic service) because it is free and intended for marketers vs. webmasters and technologists. This service generates real-time statistics about a website’s audience, traffic sources, content and conversions. With Google Analytics you can determine if your visitors and donors originate from referral sites, direct hits to your site, search engines, e-mail campaigns, social-media networks or mobile devices, allowing you to clearly see what drives the most traffic.

Enable Google Analytics’s Ecommerce TrackingOpens in a new window to learn about visitors’ transactions through your site or app, including information about:

  • Revenue per donation
  • Conversion and abandonment rates
  • Average gift
  • Time of day
  • Message timing
  • Spikes in your program, popular giving days, etc.
  • A/B testing results

Be sure to implement the tracking code feature and use UTM codes (Google’s version of source codes) on all links in e-mails, banners, social media, etc., which is simple to do with Google URL BuilderOpens in a new window. This allows you to monitor the success of a particular campaign or other trackable activities.

Second, conduct A/B split testing of your donation page. Commonly used in Web development, marketing and traditional advertising, A/B testing evaluates the performance of two variations of the same content, based on a metric that defines success. The A/B test presents each version of your online giving experience in equal rotations. You then can determine which version is more successful and select that version for ongoing use. Set up your test(s) with Experiments in Google AnalyticsOpens in a new window. (Pro tip: Don’t forget to turn on Ecommerce if you want to track revenue for your experiment for each test, not just conversion.)

Third, validate your test results to a 95 percent level of confidence using a free, downloadable, basic validity toolOpens in a new window. A validity tool allows marketers and fundraisers to confirm that test results are mathematically reliable (not a coincidence) and/or to determine that the test is able to deliver a conclusive and repeatable result. These easy-to-use tools make setting up correct sample sizes and understanding the outcomes of testing much more straightforward. Use the results of the test to identify and understand elements to improve your donation process, and continue to build on those for an improved experience.

Faced with high attrition rates, rising acquisition costs and increased competition for the donor dollar, today’s nonprofits must do everything they can to recruit new, high-lifetime-value online supporters and benefit from the positive impact that this has on both online and offline giving. Establish a goal for your donation page, and make sure all aspects of it (content, navigation, etc.) support that goal. As much as possible, get rid of anything that creates friction and is likely to run off potential donors. With easy-to-use tools, continually measure the performance of the page and make adjustments to optimize donor engagement and giving.

BY Miriam Kagan

August 2013

6 Legal Tips for Green Ads

November 15th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Marketing

When it comes to how your products support the health of the planet, you want to create a social media buzz that stops your target market in their tracks. Of course you want to capitalize on “going green.”  Who doesn’t?

Treading into these waters calls for caution, especially now. The FTC’s Green Guides are the go-to resource for environmental marketing. In some states they have the force of law. As they were revised less than a year ago (for the first time since 1998), they have not been widely tested or interpreted.

Your competitors might challenge your ads before the National Advertising Division (NAD), which reviews truth and accuracy in national advertising, or NAD could bring a case against you on its own.

Here are eight tips to avoid green ads that make creative swoon….but make legal groan.

1. Remember the Golden Rule!

  • The truth and accuracy of your ad is judged by how the “reasonable consumer” perceives it.
  • When a specific term is regulated, the reasonable consumer is usually still the underlying basis for the applicable standard.
  • When a term is not regulated, the reasonable consumer is in charge.

2. Be Specific

  • Simply claiming your product is “eco-friendly” or “green” is over. General is out.
  • General claims are too vague to be meaningful to the reasonable consumer, so they’re likely deceptive.
  • Better to be specific about your product’s environmentally friendly attributes.

3. Don’t Be Coy

  • Trying to work around Tip Two can get you into the same measure of trouble.
  • A pic of your product surrounded by flowers, birds and honeybees (or similar scenes of environmental bliss) with the simple claim “Make a Change” is still no good.
  • You don’t get points for being oblique; implied claims are equally scrutinized.
  • Don’t overstate. Technically true claims can still be misleading. If the recycled content of your product has “jumped” from 2 percent to 3 percent, don’t say, “50% more recycled content than before!” The reasonable consumer would be decidedly unimpressed.
  • Beware of comparing your products to competitor’s products, even if you don’t name the competitor and/or just imply the comparison. Comparisons are possible but need a great deal of care to avoid deceiving our omnipresent (but not omniscient) reasonable consumer.

4. Qualify

  • You want to shout out that your new turtle litter boxes are green! They help manage that pesky waste in a way that’s better for the planet and are recyclable to boot!
  • Just make sure you qualify that general term “green,” which by itself would be a no-no, with clear and prominent language to clarify that your “green” claim refers only to the environmental benefits—from the product being recyclable (see Tip Six) and being the best way to manage turtle waste. (Whether the reasonable consumer would ever buy this product is questionable, but beyond the scope of this article.)
  • If you’re advertising online, use qualifications the right way with FTC’s “.com Disclosures” guidance, updated in March 2013 for the first time since 2000.

5. Know What the Green Guides Cover

  • Non-Toxic and “Free Of” claims; Biodegradable, Compostable, Recyclable, and Refillable claims; Made with renewable energy, renewable materials or recycled content claims; VOC-free, Ozone-safe or ozone-friendly, and Carbon offset claims; and using certifications and seals of approval.
  • Don’t memorize this list. Just know what it includes so you can review it and always review it. The regulation of these terms is not as straightforward as it may seem when actually applied to your dream marketing campaign. Get green marketing legal advice.
  • For example, to claim a product (or its packaging) is “recyclable,” recycling facilities should be available to at least 60 percent of consumers or communities where the item is sold. If not, apply Tip Four with a qualification such as, “This package may not be recyclable in your area.”

6. Support Your Claims With Reliable, Sound Science

  • List all express and implied claims.
  • For each claim, list all reasonable interpretations of the claim.
  • Support each reasonable interpretation with a sufficient quantity and quality of evidence, based on standards generally accepted in relevant scientific fields.

7. Know the Endorsement Rules

  • The FTC Endorsement GuidesOpens in a new window were also recently updated in December 2012 for the first time since 1980.
  • Who is endorsing the product? A scientist, with our without relevant expertise? A famous pop singer? A blogger? Someone on social media?
  • Is the endorser being paid? Depending on who the endorser is, you may have to disclose it so as not to tick off the reasonable consumer.
  • Is the endorser’s experience with your product the same as your customers’? If not see, Tip Four.

8. Consider Steering Clear of “All-Natural” Claims for Now

  • “All-natural” claims are attracting lawsuits all over the country.
  • Two cases settled recently for a combined total of over twelve million dollars where the products contained synthetic ingredients and GMOs.

There are of course numerous other issues with environmental-related claims, and we can’t cover them all in this article. These examples are intended as general information and not specific legal advice. Products and situations can be unique and we encourage marketing professionals to speak with an attorney to discuss their individual situations.

By Rebecca Boucher and Brian Dunkiel

August 28, 2013

Brian Dunkiel  and Rebecca Boucher  are attorneys at the Burlington, Vt.-based law firm Dunkiel, Saunders, Elliott, Raubvogel & Hand.Opens in a new window Reach them at

Families and Friends and Peers … Oh My!!!

November 14th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

The art of fundraising has evolved greatly over the years. This evolution is due to many changes — changes in the marketplace, changes in donors, introduction of new channels and much more. One such strategy is peer-to-peer fundraising, and no, I’m not talking about a run, walk or other event strategy. And the volunteers are not board members. This strategy has been around forever and has gone through a lot of shifts but continues to be a fantastic source of new donors, new volunteers and bottom-line revenue for organizations.

I had a chance to talk with Kimberly Haywood, who is vice president of direct-response fundraising for the March of DimesOpens in a new window. I also interviewed Ken Dawson, president of Eleventy Marketing GroupOpens in a new window and one of the industry’s top experts on this strategy. We talked about current programs, changes they have seen and where they think all of this is heading.

Below are their thoughts on the successes (and challenges) with this strategy, how it benefits organizations and the evolution that has occurred over the years.

Navigating off the Napkin: How long has March of Dimes used a targeted residential/peer-to-peer fundraising strategy?
Kim Haywood: 
Our roots actually go back to January 1950, when Mothers March started as a door-to-door grassroots canvas appeal to help raise funds in the fight against polio. Back then it was mothers (and fathers) marching to every house that had a porch light turned on in the neighborhood collecting donations dollar by dollar. In the early ’90s, March of Dimes started engaging professional telemarketers to really help expand the recruitment of our neighborhood volunteer base.

NON: How would you describe the evolution from “targeted residential” to “peer to peer”?
Ken Dawson:
 I believe that the primary driver in this change has been the relative strength of soliciting a close group of “peers” for fundraising as opposed to the heavily acquisition-based residential campaigns. Simply put, the ROI of soliciting pure prospects to become a volunteer and ask their neighbors to donate has dropped over time. This is because of several factors:

  • Economic downturn dramatically and instantly impacted return rates and giving rates.
  • The housing crisis decreased neighborhood stability. The length of residence was a strong indicator of likelihood to both volunteer and give, and was impacted by greater turnover and empty homes in neighborhoods.
  • Nonprofits were also adjusting their budgets and, in some cases, cutting other channels that were also affecting the names available for programs like this.

True peer to peer, where the participant has a true relationship with a possible donor, transcends proximity and most economic factors and has led to more stability in the returns and ROI.

KH: At MOD, we’re seeing it’s not just about the traditional neighborhood list we give every volunteer. Social fundraising, reaching beyond your neighbors into your social sphere has changed the traditional model.

NON: What is the perceived (or actual) value of the volunteers who raise money for MOD through this program? What is the value of the donors they bring into the organization?
 Our analysis has shown that 93 percent of our neighborhood volunteers have taken multiple actions with our organization, and as every marketer knows, constituents who engage in multiple programs have higher retention rates and overall value. The vast majority of them (79 percent) also make personal donations in addition to raising funds within the neighborhood. The donors generated from each campaign are warm prospects and fed into future direct-response campaigns. In 2012, more than 230,000 donors originally acquired through Mothers March gave more than $6.7 million to other direct-response initiatives but didn’t participate in Mothers March.

NON: Have you all considered it as an acquisition strategy for the organization, or are other goals involved?
 When we began, it wasn’t viewed as an acquisition effort at all — although I know many organizations did with regard to their campaigns. But really it is an acquisition strategy that for us has always made good, up-front revenue. The number of donors generated through each volunteer is significant. We recently did some analysis that showed since 2006, we acquired almost 360,000 Mothers March donors who have lifetime giving through last year of $11.3 million.

NON: How have metrics shifted over the last five years with this strategy? Is measuring success the same today as it was five years ago?
 We have seen large shifts in both the metrics and how these programs are valued within a nonprofit. Historically, these peer-to-peer programs were completely in a silo and measured for their unique ability to reactivate deeply lapsed audiences, acquire completely new donors, and at the same time, deliver significant gross and net income to the organization. As some programs came under pressure, those organizations have studied the lifetime value of the peer-to-peer acquired donors and have discovered that they have provided more overall value, and net, to the organization than DM-acquired donors. This has led to increased investment in some areas of these programs in order to bring in new names to the organization, and an increased focus on breaking down the silo walls and building cultivation strategies to embrace the new donors and cross-channel integrate.

KH: The core metrics have always remained the same, but we have new analytics that help measure the breadth and depth of the volunteer’s total performance, not only within the campaign but across our entire portfolio of direct-response initiatives. This helps us prove the value of the campaign and investment. Through analytics, we found that almost 100,000 Mothers March donors who came onto the file 15+ years ago gave $2.6 million last year. That’s a loyal, committed group of donors whose original entry point was Mothers March.

NON: For many years, telemarketing was the primary channel used to recruit and follow up with volunteers. How has the introduction of online engagement changed things for you all?
 For our Mothers March campaign, it’s still the primary channel, but we’re always testing and learning. Part of that is a concentrated focus on the collection of e-mail addresses, and a new focus in the future will be collection of mobile numbers.

KD: The telemarketing channel was the primary choice for participant recruitment and performed exponentially better than other offline channels for many years. Unfortunately, the universe is relatively finite and the demographic targets are older audiences. This flourished for many years until we reached a saturation point where we did start to see diminishing returns. I believe that the telemarketing channel will still be the primary driver for the more traditional participants. But the industry is also focused on grooming the millennials, who are comfortable with both using online tools and asking peers for support, to pick up the next generation of peer-to-peer growth through online.

NON: What advice do you have for an organization that is considering peer to peer as a new strategy?
I think it’s important that they understand programs such as Mothers March aren’t one dimensional. Investing in a P2P campaign is a way to accomplish many goals: revenue generation, new donor acquisition and multi-channel involvement. It’s definitely a way to bring new donors on the file. As mentioned above, almost 100,000 Mothers March donors who came onto the file 15+ years ago gave $2.6 million just last year. We have a lot of rich history surrounding our Mothers March campaign, so for smaller organizations without as much brand identity, I would say to have a more long term tolerance for success.

KD: Here are the items that are on my list for organizations thinking about this strategy.

  • The key is to think of this as a way to acquire and engage donors for future involvement with the brand. The long-term value of these constituents and their impact cannot be measured in silo.
  • Don’t expect a commitment to fulfill without a well-conceived touch strategy to keep them on track and motivated. Just because someone says “I will volunteer” on the phone or online doesn’t mean they won’t be distracted through everyday life. A successful P2P program has a well-thought-out and planned strategy to stay in touch with their volunteers through the process.
  • This program is unique, and the strategy is unique. Make sure you don’t repurpose other creative and messaging and expect it to resonate with prospective donors. This is a no-no with so many strategies.
  • It is imperative to understand you are running a complex marketing program that includes full integration of all channels. This applies not only to the recruitment of a volunteer but then also crafting a completely different campaign within that environment to solicit funds from the peer group. You are truly running a multilevel campaign within a campaign.

NON: What do you predict for the future of this strategy for fundraisers?
I wish we had a crystal ball! With all fundraising events that have a long history, there are always new challenges, but the priorities remain the same: maximizing volunteer donations, driving multichannel involvement and increasing overall lifetime value. We need to be smart about how we budget with this strategy (as with all strategies) and how we reach our volunteers. I do believe we will see even greater synergies with digital and mobile strategies in the future.

In summary
Since the days when March of Dimes volunteers literally went door to door, there are lots of changes that have occurred. And, with the rise of social media and online sharing over the past decade, it has become quicker, easier and more convenient for peers to share information about the causes they support. With stats like the ones provided above, this strategy is clearly still running strong as a way to bring more volunteers and donors into the organization.

As an industry, peer-to-peer strategies (excluding events) bring in nearly 4 million volunteers per year, accounting for nearly $75 million in revenue each year. What’s even better news? You don’t have to be a large organization to make it work with the options offered today in multichannel. Are you leveraging your constituents and their peers?

By Angie Moore | Posted on August 27, 2013

Dealing With the Devil’s Advocate

November 13th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising, Marketing

You don’t have to kill with kindness, but you might be able to get one on your side.

Design great Tom Kelley once called the devil’s advocate the single greatest threat to innovation because a devil’s advocate encourages idea wreckers to assume the most negative possible perspective. Once those dangerous floodgates burst open, they can quickly drown a new initiative in negativity.

It’s true. Your devil’s advocate will introduce a bump or two into the smooth path of your fundraising and marketing groupthink. There’s just no way to avoid it.

But don’t despair — I’d argue that those bumps can be hugely important, and I’m in good company here:

“Decisions … are made well only if based on conflicting views, the dialogue between different points of view, the choice between different judgments,” management guru Peter Drucker writes in “The Effective Executive

Foe to friend
There’s no way to escape the occasional devil’s advocate as you move fundraising and marketing agendas forward. Here’s the approach that works best when the horns of a devil’s advocate emerge on one of our client organizations’ teams:

1. Open your arms and your mind. Despite the pain of facing a devil’s advocate, the product of the mash-up frequently is better than the original idea. Be proactive: Look back on previous sparring for the useful takeaways, and keep that value add in mind — even when you feel like screaming in frustration.

“I include [the devil’s advocates] early in the idea stage because they help produce a robust result,” says nonprofit consultant Doug Watson. “They also become the greatest salesperson for the idea as they see the other sides better than those who are just hesitant.”

2. Acknowledge the downside of conformity. You want to move quickly and smoothly to implement your idea or program, but you’ve seen that rushing to approval or release ends up a complete disaster or, at the very least, generates diminished results. The squeaky wheel can be your most valuable advisor. Listen up!

3. Encourage debate. Dissent doesn’t always come when you want it, but your openness to other ideas shapes the environment as one that’s productive, rather than acrimonious.

4. Pick your battles. You’ll lose ugly and often when you go head to head on every pushback. Focus on the fights (aka discussions) that really matter.

5. Depersonalize the difference of opinion, maintaining focus on the project goal. Avoid personal pronouns.

6. Leave your fear at the door. Stay calm and confident. Devil’s advocates tend to pounce when they see weakness.

7. Mind the power of three. Ensure that it’s not just you and the devil’s advocate slugging it out. That’s the quickest path to an ugly standoff. An odd number of discussion participants eases decision making. Three (or five or …) is a balanced tripod, rather than a tug of war.

8. Embrace co-creation with a thank-you. You have it, whether you want it or not. Thank the devil’s advocate for testing the feasibility of your idea.

9. Have proof points ready — models from competitive and colleague organizations, stats, stories from peers in the field. Validation trumps opinion every time.

“A couple of years ago I was invited to be on a panel about social media at a managers’ retreat with our HR and IT folks, both of whom were very wary of what was a very new thing at the time,” says Bobbie Lewis, former director of communications at Lutheran Social Services of MichiganOpens in a new window. “The week before, I had attended a wonderful workshop focused on why organizations should allow employees access to social media on the job.

“I came to our retreat armed with objective, specific stats and stories (versus my colleagues’ vague worries) that opened their minds and built their confidence,” Lewis adds. “I blew them out of the water.”

10. Redirect: Ask the devil’s advocate for his alternative solution to the problem he voices. It’s far easier to punch holes in someone else’s idea than to come up with a good one of your own, but he might come up with something great while you’ve fulfilled your responsibility to listen.

11. Turn devil’s advocacy on its head. Assign someone to ask the tough questions in all major decision making.

Dissenters are frequently hated, squashed or ignored. So share the wealth. Rotate the role of taking an opposing point of view to a different team member each time you face a significant decision. But skip those individuals who aren’t likely to push back on groupthink.

Have fun with this — to depersonalize and add a laugh — by having the devil of the day wear a wacky hat.

Follow this 11-step path to turn your devil’s advocate into a productive partner.



August 2013

New England’s small colleges face difficult times ahead

November 12th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Education

New England’s rich mosaic of over 150 colleges and universities is potentially at risk. This region of the United States has been the world’s academic mecca for much of the past century. But there are early warning signs and concerns of possible upheaval. And the decade ahead will test whether higher learning in New England can successfully demonstrate its resilience and hegemony.

The over-optimistic hope is that ever-escalating costs of higher learning will finally abate, and that somehow the promise of online education will now transform how academic programs are priced and delivered. The over-pessimistic fear, however, is that we might then need far fewer institutions and faculty, that massive and chaotic consolidation could occur across the academic landscape, and that only a few mega-universities, fueled by large and impersonal online courses, will be left standing. The likelihood is something far less cataclysmic, but nonetheless disruptive. Current models for how schools price themselves and deliver their education are simply unsustainable and in serious need of repair.

Those smaller and potentially fragile colleges — each with its own unique mission and identity — focus on specific locales, professions, faiths, and arts. Some inculcate the liberal arts as a foundation for responsible adulthood. Others provide regional access and community presence as part of their public mission. The major universities garner the global attention — and have the deep pockets to experiment, invest and adapt. But the smaller schools play an often unappreciated but still vital role by strengthening student residential life and learning, scholarship, workforce development, and the overall quality of New England life.

Northeastern University’s Peter Stokes and I, with the sponsorship of the New England Journal of Higher Education, recently conducted a brief 10-question stress test of presidents of smaller colleges throughout New England.

A clear pattern emerged from these 35 presidents. While bullish on their own school’s prospects, they are far less confident for others:

• Two-thirds of the presidents surveyed said their board of trustees expected them to rapidly develop a strategy for online education. The presidents, though, know this cannot happen quickly or haphazardly.

• These presidents still agree with their trustees: 71 percent felt it necessary for their schools to consider significantly different models of education in order to compete successfully. One president wrote that colleges “must change their business model or die.”

• Most were not critical of peer institutions for jumping on the online bandwagon — they know digital learning is here to stay. Nor that seeking new revenue streams particularly from part-time adult learners would be contrary to the mission and values of these schools.

• The majority believed that many local peer institutions will be shuttered within five years. Almost half questioned whether the iconic New England college could remain an important fixture. Bluntly stated by one president: “If your institution does not have a well-defined market niche … be that market in or out of New England, it is toast.”

• But 86 percent were confident that their institution has the talent, agility, and quality to confront the challenges in the years ahead. The majority also believed they had the faculty flexibility and creativity to make this happen.

New England is characterized not only by its major brand-name schools, but also by its rich array of institutions serving multiple populations and purposes. Academic institutions are naïvely built to last centuries, but their ability to endure cannot be taken for granted. As economist Herbert Stein once said, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” This is sadly true for all institutions: their eventual demise is not a question of if, but when. The ability to prolong the longevity of smaller colleges will be severely tested in the coming years.

Their academic leaders will need to better articulate the value of this institutional diversity, and explore creative ways of facilitating interdependence among institutions and practical opportunities for collaboration, experimentation, alliances, resource-sharing, and outsourcing. They will need to inspire their people to build new educational and financial models. But the fate of these schools will not be in their hands alone. Their communities, boards, alumni, and supporters will need to demonstrate that these institutions are treasures worth preserving.

By Jay Halfond

Posted: 10/01/2013 1:59 pm

Jay A. Halfond is former dean of Boston University’s Metropolitan College, currently on sabbatical, serving as the Innovation Fellow for the University Professional and Continuing Education Association.

Achieve More With Your Phonathon

November 11th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Webinars and other Training


Go For It 07
Go For It 07

Stetson University

421 N. Woodland Blvd
DeLand, Florida 32723
Register at:

Or call 832-689-9393


We will cover:

- Phonathon Timeline
- When to Call & Who to Call
- Phonathon Budgets & Goals
- Segmenting
- Scripts and Appeals,
- Pre-Call Mailings
- Recruiting and Advertising!
- Data Integrity
- Data Cleaning
- Matching Gifts
- Voice Messages
- Retaining Callers
- Caller Education
- Caller Responsibilities
- Handling Objections
- Telephone Etiquette
- Caller Expectations
- Nightly Management
- Analyzing Reports
- Games & Activities
- Pledge Reminders
- Fulfillment Expectations
- and MORE!


Phonathon Workshop
Go For It 07

 January 9-10, 2014


Go For It 07

While at the conference, take advantage of
FREE 45 minute consulting sessions
to review your annual giving program
(limited availability, reserve your session by email)


Go For It 07
Go For It 07