Your Organization is Not Important!

Another of my “must read” nonprofit bloggers is Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog, by Kivi Leroux Miller. Recently, she hosted the August Nonprofit Blog Carnival where the discussion was centered around the usefulness of hard copy and e-newsletters.

There were many good posts filled with different perspectives on how to improve newsletters as well as discussions about where they fit in with all of our other channels, especially social media.

In a related post, Six Ways Social Media Has Affected Nonprofit Newsletters, one of the comments asked in part: “Do we (meaning nonprofits) still need hard copy newsletters?”

It’s Not About You

My response: It’s not the nonprofit’s needs that are important. It’s the needs of those people you want engaging with you. Do your donors, volunteers, and clients want hard copy newsletters? If you’re a non-profit with a local audience with relatively low email usage, then the answer might be yes.

If you’re an NGO helping a third-world client base and you have Millennial and Gen X donors all over the first world, then you probably don’t need a hard-copy newsletter.

For some, if you properly segment your readers, you may find receptive audiences for each.

If You Write It, Will They Come?

It’s not what you need. It’s what your readers want. Survey your audience, ask them what their preferences are. (VolunteerMatch, one of the nonprofits featured in the nonprofit carnival did just that.)

You need to find out what kind of content they want to read (or scan). Ignore what you learned five, ten, or fifteen years ago at college and find out what they want to read now. Your professors never heard of user-generated content when you were in college. The question you want to ask is, “What kind of content must we produce that will compel our audience to read and then engage with us? For most of us, it will be stories by and about people who have helped our organizations make a difference (volunteers and donors) or who have been helped by our organizations (clients).

Think Like Them, Don’t Think Like Us

Our donors, volunteers, and clients are more important than our organizations. They are our organizations’ lifeblood. Their needs trump the needs of our organizations. Always endeavor to put yourself in their shoes and ask what they want or need. We must continually identify their needs, wants, and motivations and determine how and where they intertwine with our missions. That’s called “Outside-In Thinking,” and you can more about that in my post, When Recruiting Volunteers, Think “Outside-In.

Finding that common ground and building upon it helps us create stronger volunteer and donor bases which make it easier for us to reach our business goals and ultimately fulfill our missions.

Does Your Social Media Strategy Include Customer Loyalty?

I’m fond of telling people “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and I’m from somewhere past Pluto.”  Bear that in mind as I discuss a recent post from one of my favorite bloggers, Katya Andresen, who blogs at Katya’s Non-Profit Marketing Blog. Her post, “10 Simple Ideas For Things To Share On Social Media,” gives you just that. Simple ideas.

Those are good ideas, in and of themselves, but they’re very tactical in nature. From where I sit out here past Pluto, I believe a disclaimer needs to be put on the post stating that there’s more to effective social media use than just this list. It  looks to me like it could have been written 20 years ago about a hard copy newsletter.

Regardless of whether your organization is in the business or nonprofit sector, I believe you need a social media strategy designed to increase the loyalty of your customers, volunteers, or donors, not solely to promote your products or events. In order to execute a strategy focused on loyalty, I would have a mix of posts, both tactical and strategic, in nature. Most of Katya’s list would fall under tactical.

Posts that would be considered “strategic” would be those that are more global in scope. Most donors and volunteers, especially Millennials, want to know how their efforts make a difference when they support a nonprofit. They also want to know where the funds are being used. Even large nonprofits need additional marketing of their client programs. Therefore, in addition to posting about our fundraiser this weekend, I would be sure to complement it with other posts that tell the bigger story such as  posts (some with video and photos) that demonstrated how a volunteer made a difference and where the funds go. As William Sturtevant says in his masterful book about major gifts, The Artful Journey, “The more a donor knows about an organization, the more he or she gives to it.”

I would ask myself, “How will today’s posts help increase customer/volunteer/donor loyalty?” There might be a few that are purely designed to promote an event or program, but they would be a small part of the mix. Many of the posts I would publish would be attempts to start conversations, not just a 21st century version of a news release which I frequently see.

I would create a plan to solicit user-generated content from volunteers and those who benefited from the organization’s services. Donors and volunteers respond better when the post comes from people they can identify with, which is not necessarily an organization’s communications director.

I would attempt to use gamification to make supporters want to come back to our social media platforms over and over again where they could be exposed to these posts. I’d create a badge for bloggers to post on their blogs that, when clicked, would take them to our Web site.

I would also attempt to ensure that my posts provided content relevant to our supporters, not just our organization. And I would work hard to create and respond to conversations.

Katya’s list is good as far as it goes. But please don’t think that’s where it ends. There are already too many organizations out there who see social media as just another one-way conversation channel.

By the way, it’s cold out here past Pluto. Could someone send me a venti dark roast, no room, and a heavy coat?

Pumpkin Bread*, CRM, Systems Thinking, And The Customer Experience

In this post I’m going to attempt to discuss two of my passions, customer engagement and voluntarism. As they say when you get on the roller coaster,

“Please hold on to the bar!”

Recently one of my favorite CRMerati (people who blog about Customer or Constituent Relationship Management, abbreviated as “CRM“), Mitch Liebermann wrote a post, Who’s On First, which discussed the interplay between CRM and Customer Experience (CX).

(If your organization doesn’t use CRM, substitute your marketing strategy instead.)

Fortunately, this was not one of those posts arguing whether CRM is better or worse than Customer Experience. Rather, Mitch was discussing the interplay between CRM and CX.

Here’s most of the comment I left:

One simple example is that we may invite customers to attend an event. That means we have to properly segment, then effectively communicate with that segment to offer them something of value by attending that event. If the CRM strategy of inviting them to the event is successful, but their experience at the event is not, then we’ve damaged relationships with them. On the other hand, if we fail at effective communications, but offer a superlative experience, no one will show up to experience it. Both the CRM strategy and the CX must be successful. So while I see people talking about the distinctions between CRM, CX, and SCRM, I say, move over and let me mash them all together. I like to make pumpkin bread for my kids. Once I pull it out of the oven you can’t tell which part was the pumpkin, which part was the flour, and which part was the sugar. They’re all blended together in the right proportions.

Mitch’s reply shows that he believes that Customer Experience is more important than CRM. He went on to say that he thought the experience my kids had eating the pumpkin bread was more important  to them than them knowing the ingredients.

True enough! But here’s the thing. I’m a believer in Systems Thinking. That means that CRM and CX are components of the same system. Or that CRM is a component of the CX system. Either way, Systems Thinking states that an action in one component of a system can impact other components in that system. So, if the data I collect in my CRM software is inaccurate, it can lead me to make false conclusions when I create my communication strategies AND perhaps in how I design the experience I want to create for my customers or donors.

Back to the pumpkin bread, what if I accidentally use chili powder instead of cinnamon? They look sort of alike but there’s definitely a difference in taste. What’s that going to do to the experience? Or, what if I thought my family wanted pumpkin bread when they really wanted banana bread?

The customer or donor doesn’t care about the ingredients or about which segment she falls into. She only wants a positive experience. But sometimes decisions made in the CRM component can negatively impact the experience itself.

I strongly believe in the importance of Customer Experience as a business (or nonprofit) strategy. I also believe that CRM plays an important supporting role in delivering that experience.

You don’t have to have a CRM strategy to create a successful customer experience. But whatever strategy you use to identify, segment, and attract your customers or donors to your web site, store, or event, if flawed, can seriously damage or ruin that experience.

*Glenn’s Pumkin Bread Recipe

This recipe makes two loaves.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Spray 2 loaf pans with Pam or similar nonstick spray


3 cups sugar

1 cup applesauce

4 eggs

3.5 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1.5 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2/3 cup water

1 15 oz can pumpkin

  1. In an extra large mixing bowl mix sugar & applesauce. Add eggs, mix well, set aside.
  2. In another large bowl combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Alternately add flour mixture and water to sugar mixture and mix well using a mixer or by hand. Add in pumpkin. Avoid over mixing.
  3. Pour half of batter into each loaf pan.
  4. Bake for 55-65 minutes in a regular oven, NOT on convection. It’s done when you can stick a toothpick in the center and pull it out clean.  Cool for a few minutes before removing from pans.
  5. Enjoy.

Why I’m Not Boycotting Chick-Fil-A

I believe than in less than 50 years our grandchildren are going to look back at our opinions and view them with the same disdain we view the attitudes of segregationists back in the days of Jim Crow.

Given that, you might think I would support a boycott of Chick-Fil-A because of recent statements made by it’s CEO, Don T. Cathey, who clearly opposes same sex marriage.

This, of course, set off a firestorm in social and traditional media, with opponents calling for boycotts.

I disagree with Mr. Cathey. But I’m not changing my buying habits based upon the political or religious beliefs of any merchant I do business with.

First of all, I don’t plan on marching into every store in my favorite mall or shopping center and asking them about their opinion of anything. (I do reserve the right to refuse to do business with those merchants who support the Washington Redskins, dastardly rivals of my favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys.)

Seriously, what kind of world would we be in if we only did business with those who favor our political or religious views?

I eat at Chick-Fil-A several times a month always getting their Grilled Chicken Wrap. I appreciate their fast drive through lines, the cleanliness of their restaurants, and the fact that my local franchisee supports local schools and charities. For all I know, that franchisee does not share Mr. Cathey’s opinions.

At the same time, I’m not going to make it a point to go by there tomorrow and support Mike Huckabee’s idea of purchasing something there on Wednesday. Again, I don’t let politics interfere with my food.

While we agree overall, here’s a different take on tactics by LZ Granderson. Be sure and read all the way to the bottom. The last paragraph is a hoot, or should I say, it made me cackle.

Why You Should Talk To Your Top Customers or Donors

If you are a business do you know who your top ten customers are:

  • By sales volume?
  • By number of purchases?
  • By territory or store? (Does each territorial or store manager know this?)
  • By product?

If you are a nonprofit, you better know who your top ten donors are, but do you know who:

  • has made the most number of gifts over the last year, regardless of those gifts’ sizes?
  • Makes the largest gifts in each source?
  • has made more gifts in more sources?

What’s the average lifetime revenue of your top ten? How does that compare to your average customer or donor? If there’s a gap between your top ten and your average customer, do you have a plan to cultivate these customers or donors?

Most businesses have loyalty programs, but I’m not talking about those.

What sort of personal touch can you make? A phone call? A handwritten thank you? A single rose in a glass vase?

You don’t think you need to worry about that?

Then you’re sure there’s no danger of your best customers or donors leaving and going to your competition?

Don’t take anything for granted. Even now your competitors may be attempting to woo them away from you.

In sales, there’s a term called, ” Dominant Buying Motive.” What are their’s? Why do they buy from you? Or donate to you if you’re a nonprofit?

Arrange to meet them or at least talk to them over the phone. The purpose of this touch is to thank them for their ongoing support and to discover what it is they like about you and to get their input on how you could do things.

Oh, and if you walk away with some referrals, that’s alright, too.

The One True Metric

“I don’t know how many sales they made, but the open rate was up 13%.”

–Email marketer on a webinar about subject lines

About six or seven years ago, my nonprofit created a strategy where event participants could check a box on a registration form when they were interested in increasing their volunteer engagement with us. Once the forms were processed an email would go out to the participant inviting them to click through to a landing page where they could indicate one of four broad areas of interest. This would, in turn, open a ticket and trigger a process where our local offices would follow up to recruit the participant.

Every month we reviewed email metrics showing positive click through rates. But ultimately we canceled the strategy because we couldn’t prove that we had recruited a single volunteer.

The problem was that participants were either misunderstanding what the box on the form meant or they had been “in the moment” at the event and were no longer as interested once they were pinned down. The process itself was also cumbersome and the delay in time no doubt lost us volunteers.

Even those that were interested were hard to contact. The tickets were frequently closed with the comment, “Called three times with no response, then mailed invitation to volunteer orientation.”

We got caught up in the click-through rates and other email metrics. But the goal wasn’t to get high open rates. It was to recruit volunteers.

The number of volunteers recruited was the one true metric. Every other metric pales next to it. And by “volunteers recruited,” I don’t just mean those who sign up. They shouldn’t be counted until they have attended any orientation or training and cleared any background checks. Or, if they don’t need to attend an orientation, then they shouldn’t be counted until they accept a commitment to volunteer for a specific position or task.

Many of you are thinking, “Well, isn’t this the response rate?” In the business sector, usually. Their clicking through takes them to a cart where they purchase the product, or perhaps they download a white paper depending upon the call to action. But in the nonprofit sector, when volunteering is the call to action, the response rate doesn’t necessarily equal the number of people who wind up volunteering.

Now, if your campaign fails to achieve its goal (in this case, volunteer recruitment) then go back and analyze your email metrics. Perhaps your list contained too many uninterested people. Or your subject line didn’t offer value.Or, as in our case, your process might be too cumbersome.

It’s not the click through rate, it’s the number of people who show up to volunteer after they’ve cleared any other background checks or training criteria.

When Recruiting Volunteers, Think “Outside-In”

In the business sector “Outside-in Thinking” is the philosophy of thinking about a product from the customer’s point of view, not the organization selling it. Conversely, “Inside-Out Thinking,” puts the organization selling the product in the center of the thinking.

The same is true in the nonprofit sector. Our organizations use Inside-Out Thinking to recruit volunteers to work with our clients who use our services. We start with the skills our volunteers will need and recruit from there.

That model is crucial to recruiting volunteers and most likely accounts for the majority recruited. But I’m sure there have been times when you found yourself desperately needing volunteers and your usual inside-out method came up short.

That’s when you need to flip your paradigm and look at things from the prospective volunteer’s point of view. The question is no longer, “Where can we find volunteers that fit our needs,” rather, it’s “How can we attract people with those skill sets to our organization?”

Outside-In thinking means you zero in on groups that contain individuals (or organizations) who may volunteer for you. Then you redesign your volunteer positions to make them more attractive to your prospects. This is especially helpful when you want to increase the diversity of your volunteer base.


Let’s say you realize you need volunteers for a number of client-related and fund-raising positions. Your current recruiting processes still leave you with gaps. Looking at your volunteer demographics, you see you’re underrepresented among young professionals.


The outside-in question you want to ask is, “What would make young professionals volunteer for our organization?”

Some possible answers might be:

  • Networking opportunities, both social and professional
  • Acquire skills that could enhance their resumes
  • Satisfaction in knowing that they made a difference in your clients’ lives
  • Activities that are fun yet make a positive difference

Now you can redesign your volunteer positions to take the above into account. Getting them involved in fund-raisers organized by volunteer committees where they have a chance to network, acquire leadership skills and where the fund-raiser is, well, fun, are one possibility. On the other side of the coin, if you are recruiting them for one-on-one client contact, can you build in ways for them to network with each other and have fun doing it?


Where can you find young professionals. Well, they’re Millenials, so social media should be one of your communications channels. But don’t get caught in the trap of assuming all you have to do is put out the call on Facebook and you’ll get volunteers. Social media is a communication channel; you still need to craft a quality customer experience that will not only attract and keep them, but motivate them to tell their friends to volunteer. (And Millenials rely on their friends for a lot of recommendations, more so than Gen X and Boomers.)

Just because they’re in to social media doesn’t mean you should give up the old-fashioned methods. Reach out and contact organizations like the Jaycees, local churches, and other organizations that contain civic-minded young professionals. In larger cities there may be organizations of young professionals based upon ethnic backgrounds.

The important point here is to put yourself in their shoes and ask why your organization is one they would with which they would want to be engaged.

In volunteer recruitment, there’s a place for both inside-out thinking and outside-in. When you find yourself needing more volunteers, give outside-in thinking a try.