3 Free Ways to Build Your Nonprofit’s Audience

This week I attended AWeber’s first (and I hope annual) Ascend Summit. It was a digital marketing conference clearly designed for people who are as dorkily into new media marketing as I am.

I spend so much of my time at nonprofit and education communications conferences I was quite surprised at the message that permeated this high tech, business focused event: “Give first to attract an audience”. And while that sure sounds like familiar nonprofit lingo, it’s actually the opposite of what you’re used to.

AWeber is an email marketing company and, aside from a welcome, in two days only one current staff member ever stepped on the stage. They turned the entire event over to experts in industry to share big ideas and stocked a room down the hall with computers and staff to answer as many detailed questions as we wanted. They didn’t make the conference about promoting themselves, it was about giving us the inspiration and education we wanted. Exactly how I recommend nonprofits communicate – as a facilitator of what the donor wants.

I gained lots of new ideas I’ll be bringing into client projects over the next few months. Here are my top three:

1. Don’t Throw Away that Adwords Gift Card

Do you ever get those $100 gift cards from Google to try Adwords? I do and I always tossed them thinking it was too little to have any impact. Anne Holland from Which Test Won has the perfect use for it: push traffic to a specific blog post on your site.Google gift card

When planning a blog post, choose one to three key phrases you would like to rank for in Google. Write a solid, long form, informative post of 2000-3000 words. Contrary to popular belief, statistics prove that people do read long posts when they are looking for information. Then use the free gift card money to buy advertising for those keywords to boost its exposure.

It would work especially well if you timed your spending to something popular in the news like a holiday, a media event like the Oscars or a key issue in your field. Your small spend will go further when boosted by the increased search volume.

And if you wish you could do more Google advertising, listen to Stephanie Cockrel from the Driving Participation podcast episode 23 talk about how to win and make the most of Google Grants.

2. Give Something Away with Every Blog Post to Build your List

Tim Paige from LeadPages gave a presentation about turning “Taking Pages” into “Giving Pages.”

In the nonprofit world, we think of a giving page as synonymous with a donation page – a place where people do something for you. Tim talks about giving pages as places you can give something to your viewer without asking them for anything more than their email address.

The point is to have a something valuable to the reader that that interests them enough to give you their email address. Building your email list is one of the most vital marketing activities you can do. And visitors are getting more protective of their inboxes every day. We need to do more than have a box on the bottom of the website that says “sign up for our newsettter”. If you want to grow your donor base, have control of communications and reduce mailing costs, put your energy here.

If you write frequently, “every blog post” may be a tall order. I know I’m not there yet. Focus on the posts that you are using to drive traffic to your site (as in Tip #1) rather than the posts you are writing to share with your current email subscribers. They are already on your list.

3. Making Email Mobile Friendly

Many email systems use responsive design to shift the email design to a format readable on a small screen. Does yours?Slide1

Justine Jordan of Litmus shared how even in the right template, you may be doing things that make it impossible for users to take action on your emails.

No matter how big screens get, those dang text links are hard to hit. Justine reminded people to put lots of space around links and to create what she called “bullet proof buttons”. Instead of using an image to create your button graphic, put the text in a box and give it a color. This ensures it loads even if the reader has images turned off in their email client. You know, sometimes its the little things that make a huge difference.

My favorite tip was about something that even I tend to ignore – the pre-header. It’s that little line of text at the top of an email that says something like “Use this area to offer a short preview of your email’s content.” But do we? No. I have to say even I delete it most of the time. Justine showed that that line appears right after the subject line on mobile devices, giving you another chance to invite opens.

I spend time every month in the for profit media world. While its good to know the language, needs and rhythms of nonprofit marketing, its important to remember that there is a lot that can be learned and adapted from corporate, entertainment, publishing and other kinds of marketing. Translating and adapting these techniques is my favorite part of the job.