How a Holiday Became an Annual Movement, and What you can Learn From it


On Monday, January 16, countless people across the country are expected to observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in service to their communities.

But that wasn’t always the case.

So how did the holiday grow so rapidly into massive movement of civic engagement?

After a significant struggle, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday was signed into law in 1983 and first observed in 1986. Later, in 1994, Congress designated MLK Day as a national day of service, appointing the Corporation for National & Community Service, a federal agency, to lead the effort.

Soon more organized initiatives began popping up across the country to mobilize diverse volunteer efforts. Today the day is widely known as “a day on, not a day off” that its proponents dreamed it would be.

What can you learn from this impressive movement to help you effect change and inspire action within you own community?

Here are some of key elements we think contributed to the movement’s growth.


The date and its meaning were already on people’s minds.

The MLK Day of Service movement built upon an established foundation of shared ideals, a powerful history, and a date already printed on standard calendars.

Even before the federal holiday was established on the third Monday of January, many already celebrated Dr. King’s birthday on January 15th.

There’s a lot to be said about overcoming people’s inertia by organizing around something that’s already familiar.


There’s a clear connection between the holiday and the effort.

When Coretta Scott King testified before Congress to have the MLK federal holiday designated a day of humanitarian service, she quoted one of Dr. King’s famous statements:

“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.”

There is a clear and obvious link between Dr. King’s legacy and encouraging people to engage in community service that breaks down barriers and builds a land where people live in peace, dignity and equality.


People persevered.

Dedicated organizers across the country persevered year after year to grow the movement. (And before them, dedicated people persevered year after year to have the federal holiday recognized to begin with!)

The Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service, the nation’s largest MLK Day event, started with only 1,000 volunteers in 1996. Now, over 20 years later, that number has grown to 140,0000!

This was certainly not a one-and-done event.


The movement is bigger than any one organization or person.

A broad coalition has collaborated to make the MLK Day of Service a success.

While some organizations directly connect volunteers with a wide range of service opportunities, large-scale organizers like the Corporation for National & Community Service and the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service also provide resources and tools to help other groups get their own projects off the ground and spread the word.

By working together, organizations can reach a wider audience — and benefit from each other’s areas of expertise.



The MLK Day of Service offers a number of insights into mobilizing action and raising awareness to effect change. How can you put this to work by tweaking it for your own community?

One obvious way would be to organize your own MLK Day of Service effort, geared toward the issue your organization addresses that make the nation a more just place.

But can other holidays throughout the year be used to inspire action, too?


One successful example is the Giving Tuesday movement, an effort that encourages people to break out their wallets to do good while their credit cards are still warm from Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

For more tips on making the most of Giving Tuesday, check out the Cyber Tuesday episodes of our Driving Participation podcast, including Episode 28 – Starting a Movement and Building Momentum and Episode 83 – Evolving #GivingTuesday.

Remember that it’s easier to gain traction around a date that’s already well established. And there should be a clear link between the holiday and your effort — like candy and cavities, the connection between National Brush Day on November 1st and Halloween the day before.

You can listen to our conversation with Abigail Quesinberry’s about her work with the Ad Council to create National Brush Day here.

Our other favorites include the American Heart Association’s multiple efforts in February that ride the tide of Valentine’s Day, like National Wear Red Day. Another great one is the Laurel Hill Cemetery’s Grave Digger’s Ball, which ties into Halloween to raise funds for the National Historic Landmark.

(Of course, if establishing an entirely new holiday in its own right is part of your mission, don’t let us stop you. Someone had to push for the creation of the MLK federal holiday to begin with!)

Don’t be discouraged if your first year starts small. Look for other organizations that might make logical partners, and keep at it. Soon your audience will begin to remember you each year as the day approaches! Consistent work over time pays off — often better than a big splash at the outset does.

Finally, there’s never better spokespeople than your own supporters. Get them involved to move you forward.



For more information, check out the following Driving Participation Podcasts, including transcripts and links to the audio recordings on iTunes:

Episode 13 – Turning Online Events into a Party for your Cause

Episode 17 – The Real Reach of Social Media with Abigail Quesinberry

Episode 22 – Manufacturing Viral Campaigns

Episode 28 – Starting a Movement and Building Momentum

Episode 70 – Using #GivingTuesday as a Launchpad for Growing Your Audience

Episode 79 – A #GivingTuesday Resource Roundup from our Podcast Guests

Episode 83 – Evolving #GivingTuesday

Episode 87 – Mastering Online Social Fundraising Using Content Marketing


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Why Does Membership Matter

dianeward_wp“You want them to be active, to participate, to come, spend and enjoy. So that is where the calculations and profile comes in. It’s not department to department, but institutional wide, how is the membership permeating and where is it affecting.” — Diane Ward, Membership Matters

It sounds like a simple question, but there isn’t a simple answer: Why does membership matter? This week, Diane Ward, president of Membership Matters, joins in to share the ins and outs of membership programs, from data collection to evaluating who your members are. Within her work experience, she has learned how people “move in, move up and move out of membership programs.” Members vote with their feet and wallets, she says, so she takes a look at why it’s important to look beyond factors such as revenue and expense equations and focus on what members do for your organization. Members’ visitation and how they engage in one year usually foreshadows their retention in the next year. She and Beth discuss:

  • How Diane recommends dealing with the data attached to understanding memberships and how to focus on what’s most important
  • Why it’s important to evaluate what members do for your organization
  • The two most common measurements people use to evaluate their programs
  • How participation with an organization can serve as a barometer of how active people are
  • What do actions beyond paying membership dues show about about the organization?
  • How to use metrics and technology to build a user profile and how it can help you determine if memberships are working


Membership Matters website:

Email Diane:

Revisit Adrian Segar’s episode:


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What Worked in 2016


New Year always feels like a fresh start with a clean slate. It’s a great time to look both forward and back. Last year we did a show about looking forward and setting your marketing resolutions for the year ahead.

This year Beth invited our past guests to look back at what they did over the year that helped them grow. They have some great insights and suggestions for you that I think you’ll really enjoy.

In this session, learn what fifteen of our consultant and nonprofit guests did differently — and really worked.

Listen in and get inspired to set your own intentions for what’s next.


Highlights from the session:

Consultant Gail Bower paused to reflect on value, brand and messaging

Sarah Hemminger and Allison Buchalter, from Thread created an arc of community events that build thousands of new interactions, connections and press.

Rachel Hutchisson from Blackbaud kept things simple, true and completely core to what she believed on her path to her delivering her first TedX talk.

Steven Screen from the Better Fundraising Company encouraged clients to narrow their fundraising focus to one compelling part of their mission.

Consultant Meredith Low found a cool new tool to capture the ideas that come to her in a flash.

Carol Meerschaert, formerly of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, followed the COPE strategy—create once, publish everywhere.

Vanessa Chase Lockshin from the Storytelling Nonprofit put contingency plans in place so she wouldn’t be stressed out when things go awry.

Adrian Segar from Conferences that Work invented a new process for participation at conferences that had attendees engaged in conversation long
after the session ended.

Candi Summers from Bestwa put her effort into getting as much face time as possible with donors.

For Greg Koch of the Zoo Miami Foundation, taking one step backwards led to taking several steps forwards.

Claire Axelrod from Clairification encouraged her clients to pick up the phone and than donors right away.

Sandy Rees from Get Fully Funded saw a terrific response from donors when they made their newsletter more personable and conversational

John Lepp from Agents of Good shared a formula for personalizing direct mail using the Pareto Principle.

Elizabeth Weaver Engel wants listeners to start a formal program of regular audience conversations.

Jeff Miles looked at what he was doing that was missing the mark with his audience and learned to focus on who they really are to skyrocket donations.

Thanks to our guests for giving us all a boost into the new year and thank you for another year of listening.


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The Secret to Happy Email Subscribers


“When you market only to sell, you miss a critical opportunity to support, educate and bond with your community.”

There is a difference between over-communicating and over-asking, especially when it comes to email marketing and communication. That’s just one theme of this week’s episode. Join Beth as she discusses how to plan your communication strategy ahead for next year as 2016 draws to a close. Instead of worrying about sending too many emails, Beth shares the secret to switching the focus to something that will matter: a relationship with your subscribers. She explains how the year is full of peaks and valleys as far as communication. She shares six tips to fill those valleys so that downtime doesn’t become dead time. Hear about:

  • A step-by-step guide to planning a marketing calendar for next year
  • Tips on engaging your audience based on what you do
  • Mapping out the key dates you need to lead up to every season
  • What kind of content to share with your email subscribers during the “valleys”
  • Why you should sometimes be sharing personal content
  • What is conversion marketing?
  • A new monthly master class on marketing
  • And more!


Beth’s blog post on the secret to happy email subscribers

Interview with Anne Samilov on Amy Porterfield’s Online Marketing Made Easy podcast


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Creating a Warm Welcome to XPN


This summer we helped National Public Radio station, WXPN (XPN) build a better connection with new subscribers who attended their free Latin music festival.

The station has been adding Latin content to their broadcast lineup for some time and last year launched NUEVOFEST, an incredible free Latin music festival.

NUEVOFEST attracts many who are new to XPN. The station wanted a way to connect this new audience to XPN content and move them towards membership.

They have an excellent and regular e-news, but that content is broad and covers their whole audience. How can you help new audiences get to know you while giving them exactly what they want? Here’s how we did it…

The time in between someone signing up and receiving their first e-newsletter is a powerful time. They are never more engaged then right after they have had a positive experience.

For most organizations what happens in this time is — well, nothing. It’s a valley of silence. Depending on when they subscribed to your list, registered for or attended an event, the next communication could be days or weeks away. And with NUEVOFEST’s attendees, many of the people getting that first e-news wouldn’t connect the station to the event they attended.


But you can fix that with a welcome email series.

Before these readers started receiving WXPN’s regular e-news, invitations to other events or an ask to become a member, we built rapport with them over a shared interest. By creating a series of emails designed to show them how the station is the perfect place to support their love of Latin music, we created a bridge to move them into the community.

Over two weeks, the six-part series revisited the fun of the free Latin music festival. The next day we shared how to access the event photos, and teased about video to come in the next email. We then pointed people to Latin-focused content and events. Near the end of the series we introduced other XPN benefits and how membership supports this programming.

We set up emails to trigger on specific days using Journey Builder in XPN’s Salesforce platform. We built everything in advance and then left placeholders so we could include elements from the live event.

Including images and links that were only available after the event definitely made the process more hectic but it was worth it to give each email a personal feel.

The strategy could be summed up as: Give. Give. Give. Give. Give. Then ask. Spending time wooing the people new to your community will help them know they are welcome and valued.

The Secret to Happy Email Subscribers


While festive celebrations dominate our days as 2016 draws to a close, the new year will be here before we know it. Now’s the time to map out a communications strategy that will keep your audience engaged the whole year through!

But as you tackle your communications calendar, don’t fall into this all-too-common trap…


Valleys of Silence

We see a lot of organizations and companies that make the same fatal mistake. They’re so concerned about losing the subscribers they’ve worked so hard to get, they actually UNDER-communicate!

Here’s how it happens.

Most organizations find they spend a lot of time asking their subscribers to take action (ahem, that is, give them money) leading up to pinnacle dates through out the year, whether it’s an event, the final day of a membership drive, the conclusion of a fundraising campaign or the end of a big sale. We call this conversion marketing, and it’s a necessary part of your overall strategy if you’re going to stay afloat.

That’s why, if you look closely, you’ll likely find that your marketing calendar is full of peaks and valleys. And that’s totally normal. There should be active selling time as well as down time.

The danger is when down time becomes dead time.

Once that event’s over or that drive has ended, organizations tend to go on radio silence. Why? People tell us all the time — they’re afraid their readers will unsubscribe if they get too many emails.

But the problem isn’t over-communicating.

It’s over-asking.

In an interview with Anne Samilov on Amy Porterfield’s Online Marketing Made Easy podcast, Anne describes your relationship with your subscribers like a bank — if you keep making withdrawals without making any deposits, you’ll eventually hit zero.


The Solution: Relationship Building

Your subscribers joined your list because they want to hear from you. And people buy from people they know and like.

But when you market only to sell, you miss a critical opportunity to support, educate and bond with your community.

Instead, focus on balancing your conversion marketing with “relationship marketing,” which (you guessed it!) focuses on building a relationship with your subscribers.

You can do this by using your valleys to schedule content that’s fun, interesting, educational and personal — just because.

The key is to keep the heartbeat pulsing, even while at rest.

Here’s your step-by-step:

  1. Map out your peaks.
    These are the key dates you need to lead up to every season — the events, the campaigns, the drives, the seasonal sales.
  2. Chart your inclines.
    These are the communications you ramp up leading toward your peak. When you’re done, there should be some valleys when you’re not really sending much about those big annual goals. If there aren’t any valleys, go back and adjust your ramps to create the valleys.
  3. Fill in the valleys with relationship content.
    Your valleys are the place for your relationship content. Think about what you can share that would delight and amaze your community and keep them glad they’re involved.


Ideas for filling in the valleys

At a loss for ideas to fill in the valleys? Here are six of our favorites:

  1. Offer general gratitude.
    A thank you for buying a ticket, making a donation or completing a purchase DOESN’T COUNT — you should already be sending personal thank you’s for that anyway! In addition, say thank you at Thanksgiving. We love you on Valentine’s Day. Send a random expression of gratitude. And whenever you can, work a thank you into the ideas below.
  2. Demonstrate impact.
    Tell about the child who’s beating her disease because of your subscribers’ support. Invite a customer to talk about how he sees more beauty after taking one of your art classes. Describe the economic improvements in the village you source your product from.
  3. Share progress stories.
    Are you constructing a new building? Working to solve an issue? Trying to eradicate a disease? Share updates on the progress you’re making toward your goal.
  4. Educate your readers.
    Whether you organize conferences, sell a product or work toward the common good, you have first-hand, inside knowledge about some subject or issue. Share some of it! Organize yoga retreats? Describe your latest go-to pose and its benefits (with pictures of course!). Offer catering services? Give tips on pairing wines and cheeses for a great party.
  5. Engage your readers in advocacy.
    Are you an issue-oriented organization? Let people know when they can take action on something that matters to them or when important legislation is on the table.
  6. Reveal your process.
    Do you run a successful school? Explain one of your teachers’ effective teaching methods or walk through a typical day. Make exceptional chocolate? Tell your readers how (without revealing your recipe!). Produce stellar shows? Take people behind the scenes of a rehearsal or explain the way you go about selecting your next production.

Time to go get planning! And, as always, let us know if you want help getting this project off your plate!







The Power of Momentum


“To me, momentum is really catalytic and it just gives us this incredible opportunity to effect change in a good way.” — Dawn Owens, The Link of Cullman County

Everyone has to start somewhere. That’s what Dawn Owens learned when she moved down South to Cullman County, Alabama and started a nonprofit, the Link of Cullman County, after seeing a need for it in her new community. Through talking to one person who led her to another person who pointed her to another person, Dawn got the ball rolling for her organization and built the momentum needed to help it grow. Four years later, she joins Driving Participation to talk about how she got that momentum started and kept it sustained. She talks about a grant contest the Link entered and how she used Facebook Live to create interest and engagement around the project — even to those who had never had any interaction with the organization before. She and Beth explore:

  • How just one conversation can build the momentum you need to get started
  • The benefits of using Facebook Live
  • How she was able to pinpoint a need in her community and respond to it
  • How the Link was able to spread their message to a younger generation in an accessible way
  • Why it’s important to focus on using social media that will best suit your experience and your organization
  • Why it’s crucial that you’re willing to shift to what your audience’s needs are and not just model what you do based on other organization’s tactics


The Link of Cullman County website:

Like the Link on Facebook

Follow the Link on Twitter: @LinkingCullman

Follow Dawn on Twitter: @DawnMarieOwens

Follow the Link on Instagram: @LinkingCullman

Send Dawn an email:

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Embracing New Media — Even at 800 Years Old


“The challenge is just moving them from looking at new media as something we don’t do, quote unquote, to seeing it as a strategic solution to an existing problem.” — Bill Skowronski, Dominican Friars Central Province

How do you teach an 800-year-old organization to use social media? This week on Driving Participation, Bill Skowronski, director of marketing for the Central Dominican Friars and founder of Constellation, joins in to talk about how he has helped an old organization see the benefits of using new media — especially when some people involved have never used those tools before. For Bill, it comes down to strategy. Using storytelling methods and social media tools that work specifically for the organization, Bill has helped the Dominican Friars gain a larger following on social media and embrace tools they hadn’t used before. He and Beth talk about creating content that appeals to a very specific audience and thinking about the services you offer in terms of what the world needs from your organization. They discuss:

  • The difference between “earned media” and “owned media”
  • Understanding the strategic value of social media
  • How they created a weekly video series that gets people excited for Mass (!)
  • How to look at your efforts in terms of what your audience needs from you rather than what you want to give to them
  • Why it’s important to focus on the medium that best suits you and your organization in order to communicate most effectively
  • Why Bill advises to prioritize “outcomes over output”
  • How Pope Francis’s Twitter presence affected the Dominican Friars


Dominican Friars Central Province website:

Constellation website:

Follow Bill on Twitter: @BillSkowronski

Follow the Dominican Friars on Twitter: @OPDomCentral

Follow Constellation on Twitter: @SharingtheGood


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Developing Your Audience Focus


“We’re not just trying to throw things out to the community and see what response we get. What we’re trying to really do is dissect where people want to be involved with our organization and then have that bubble up to the top so that they see that in an engaging way.” — Jeff Miles, Keystone Opportunity Center

Jeff Miles has used his background in sales and marketing to find new approaches in fundraising as development and marketing director of the Keystone Opportunity Center. On Driving Participation, he joins Beth to talk about how he has been able to uncover Keystone’s core audience. For instance, by tracking who has given multiple donations of $125, he found that the majority of its givers tend to be women in their 40s to 60s. With that information, he has been able to share stories and statistics and create tailor-made campaigns that appeal directly to them. He shares tips on how you can sharpen your focus on the audience that will care the most. They discuss creating “gateway points” for the community to get involved and more. They explore:  

  • How past experience in sales — like selling hot tubs — gave Jeff experience and skills he could use in his nonprofit work
  • Why you will benefit tremendously if “your product or your organization connects well with mothers”
  • Why writing your newsletter as though you’re writing to a friend makes a difference
  • How to use specific examples to galvanize your audience to get involved
  • Why targeting a specific group is more effective than a “shotgun” approach where your message can get lost in the shuffle
  • Why local radio stations are a good source to learn more about demographics that could become supporters of your organization
  • How to get people “bubbling over with excitement” about your organization


Keystone’s website:

Email Jeff:

Information about AFP Greater Philadelphia’s Principles of Fundraising course


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Using Google Analytics to Learn About Your Audience


“When you have very little time for each of the parts of your job, you want to spend that time as smartly as you can and Google Analytics, the way I use it and the way I hope others use it, we’re focusing just on the most important parts. Just the places we’re going to get the best return and that for anyone who is busy is like, the magic key.” — Yesenia Sotelo, SmartCause Digital

Google Analytics. The very words used to give Yesenia Sotelo the same feeling as going to the gym: something you should do but you save it for another day because it seems too daunting. Now, she helps people learn how to understand it and, more importantly, how to use it in ways that are most helpful. She joins Beth on Driving Participation to talk about how to use Google Analytics to figure out things such as what pages are most successful, what emails are making a profit and how to judge the success of tools you likely use every day. She explains why using Google Analytics actually gives you more room to experiment and try new things as far as how you reach people — and then how to determine what worked or didn’t work. She and Beth discuss:

  • How is Google Analytics relevant to nonprofits in this busy world of today’s marketing?
  • The six terms Yesenia teaches everyone about Google Analytics
  • Why is it normal for a nonprofit to have an 80% bounce rate?
  • How has Google changed as far as limiting who sees your search history and how does that affect your analytics?
  • Yesenia’s advice about search engine optimization and what keywords you should really be using
  • How Google Analytics can help you understand the people on your email list


SmartCause Digital website

More about Google Analytics


Contact Yesenia:

Find her on Twitter: @SilverBell


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