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. For this post I can offer you a downloadable design template I created for our Nonprofit Toolkit customers. Its a customizable social media post for #GivingTuesday. Happy Fundraising!


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.


What I Learned About PR From Being an Over-Involved Mother


It’s been a whirlwind summer.

As I have been telling everyone, my son graduated from college, was commissioned as a Naval Officer and got married all within 2 weeks this past June. On top of that, the girl he married is our designer Monica.

Monica started out as our intern and ended up as my daughter-in-law. I am a full service employer.

I may be biased, but c’mon, that’s a great story! So I pitched it to the weddings section of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Yes, I’m that mom. And it got picked up.

I tell you this because to be honest, PR is not my personal strength. Or I didn’t think it was.

I’ve written a ton of press releases following a formula. Some get placed and I cheer my success, most get lost. When we need PR for clients, I’m not the one to do it (don’t worry).

And now I know what I have been doing was all wrong. But when I submitted a pitch on behalf of my son I had no doubt the story would get printed.

How did I know? Here are three things I did differently:

  1. Familiarity. I am a sucker for the Love column and read it every week. I knew the style and the history of what the writer covers. I noted the author likes variety and diversity so I mentioned she had not covered a military wedding lately. That showed I knew her work and how their story would bring something new.
  2. Make it easy to imagine. I wrote the pitch in the same order as her column and tried to mimic the style. My goal was to have her imagine the piece written.
  3. Tell a story. I’m Gen X so I am wired to be formal and business-like, separating my personal and professional worlds. (It’s even hard for me to use this story as an example). But when I emailed the reporter, I was sharing my joy in these kids and it came through in a way I never capture in my business attempts at PR.

Based on what prize-winning writer and journalist Amy Vernon shared with me recently, I am on the right track. Amy wrote a great article that talks about building a relationship with reporters by being a resource and helping them find what they need.

Sound familiar? Relationships. Helping. Emotion. Speaking audience language.

Switching to a storytelling mindset changes everything.

In this case, it created a connection that got the reporter to call. In others its the thing that inspires a donation, nabs a volunteer or intrigues your next hire.

So now I am off to read the stack of publications and the blog feeds that have piled up and get to know the folks who cover the topics I care about.

How about you? Have you had a PR success? I’d love to know what’s working for you.

The Social Bowl – How Brands Shifted their Big Game ads to Social Media

During last year’s Super Bowl there was one ad that set the bar for advertising in 2014.

It was from Oreo. And it wasn’t their TV ad, but one clever quip on social media about the stadium’s power outage. This resulted in 10,000 reTweets in one hour plus a sizeable bite of free media coverage, in addition to their paid TV spot.


It worked because it was unexpected, witty, and hyper-relevant. A perfect example of Real Time Marketing – using social media to newsjack major national events as they happen.

This year advertisers jumped right on the social bandwagon, trying to recreate Oreo’s success with that one memorable comment. 50% of the Big Game’s TV commercials actively encouraged viewers to Tweet their brands during the game. And brands that didn’t have TV commercials piggy-backed on others to create their own social buzz. It’s clear that advertisers have stepped up their game in Big Game advertising.

Here are 8 of the top social moments from last night’s big event.


1. The Pre-Programmed Piggy-Back

Tide Laundry detergent Tweeted a series of video replies to some of the major TV commercials. It was a surprising and witty tactic the first time, as they responded to Chevrolet’s TV ‘cow’ commercial with a reminder of how messy beef can be. But after a while their clips were predictable and the gimmick ran thin. Tide tried to pre-schedule a social buzz according to TV, so lacked the true spontaneity that Real Time Marketing needs. Sorry Tide, you didn’t make any waves here.

2. Easy, Breezy, Commentary

Cover Girl did a good job of knowing their audience, being relevant and staying spontaneous. Their photos and videos weren’t as professional as Tide’s, which made their social campaign feel much more genuine. It really seemed like a group of ‘girls next door’ were watching the game, having fun and making it up as the game progressed. Not one for the guys – but it was cute,  fun and fit with Cover Girl’s image.

3. The “Wardrobe Malfunction”

Talking about having fun and making it up along the way: We’re not sure what JCPenney’s social media team was doing during the game and something tells us – neither were they. Luckily they managed to save themselves from what looked like an embarrassing error from a ‘happy’ social media staffer!

4. The Social Branding

Tide wasn’t the only one being social with other brands last night. It seemed like everyone was trying to piggy-back on other brands’ social capital.

Even Hillary Clinton got in on the act.

Local Philly cheesesteak purveyors and the Philadelphia tourist board made the most of an appearance in a targeted insurance ad.

But with all these brands engaging with each other, it was hard to find a brand engaging with actual customers.

5. Saucing the ‘Oreo’

The only brand that really achieved a true ‘Oreo’ moment was Heinz with this halftime graphic. Which is just as well, because their TV spot (only their second Super Bowl TV ad ever) wasn’t very memorable.

6. The Switch-Over

PBS made it clear that while it wasn’t trying to compete with the drama of the Big Game, it was aiming for second place in the ratings. So when the Big Game itself proved less than dramatic, PBS found an opportunity to promote its own headlines dramas, as even engaged with its viewers.

7. The Brazen Ad Buy

In their TV commercial esurance managed to provide viewers a very good reason to get on social media and start Tweeting. By purchasing the first ad space after the game esurance say they saved $1.5m – which they want to give to one lucky Tweeter. Their hashtag #esurancesave30 rocketed to the top of Twitter’s trending list within seconds (it’s still there), and their list of followers grew by over 100,000 people, all hoping to grab the single cash prize.

8. The Black-Out

And where was Oreo during the Big Game?

Surprisingly, they were offline.

And with a simple, inexpensive reminder of their social success from last year, they still ended up in the news.

This is maybe the biggest lesson in newsjacking with social content. Great content is memorable. It’s helpful to know when your content is most likely to reach its audience, and when it will just get lost with everything else.

What were your most memorable moments from this year’s Big Game?

Avoid Email Fatigue – How to Send Frequent Emails Without Burning Out your List

RaHuL Rodriguez email2 9162677329_61f9497ed6

I recently answered a question online about launching an email series for a blend of stewardship and direct asks. The questioner asked about the risks of over-saturating the donors versus the benefit of staying in front of the audience regularly.

I love when anyone has a plan to send more frequent communication and focus on actual stories. Its what donors want to hear about – the people and outcomes made possible through their participation. The key thing to focus on is the donor – the organization facilitated the donor’s goal rather than the donor funding the organization. Donors care about what happens because they gave, which is why a story plan is so terrific. Making it about the organization’s role as the leader instead of the conduit takes the focus off the donor. They want to know their involvement can and did make the difference.

Getting your Clicks

Everyone worries about email fatigue and over-saturating. With the right message to an engaged audience there are a surprisingly low amount of unsubscribes due to frequency. To start, include a really inviting emotional subject line. You can play around with this headline analyzer to test the emotional level you are hitting. Its fascinating.

Next I would make sure you have a great picture in your email and include a blurb that cuts off at a juicy point and makes them click-through to read the rest on your site. Short emails make it easier for mobile viewing and encourage readers to take action. This is the same methodology as putting a solicitation in an envelope to get donors to do something from the start.

Regarding how hard you can push direct donation, I would do a split test putting a donate button directly in the email on half and putting the donate button on the web page it links to on half to see if there is a difference.

As much as I love design, keep it simple and keep the key content near the top. The rates of mobile reading of email are rising. And people scan wherever they are. Check the stats on your website to see if your website has a lot of mobile visitors. Chances are your audiences read email on mobile if they visit websites on mobile. If your web visits are more than 25% from mobile, use a mobile optimized email template. And if your website isn’t yet responsive or mobile friendly, its time to start thinking about that too. In the meantime, send the complete story by email rather than linking to your website if you are concerned about mobile viewership.

In your email, give them at least 3 places to click. They can be a combination of buttons and web links, but don’t send them all over your website, make all the clicks go to the same web page with the full story and the donate button. Resist the urge to send them to your home page and link to all the other things you do in the beginning so you can really see how the plan works.


Re-Purposing Content

I’m all about doing something once and maximizing visibility.

Every quarter I’d send a round up with links to all the stories from the quarter. You can have a hard ask with this piece right in the email.

On your website, I would create a section for these stories. When your emails link to your site, at the bottom of each story, list other stories in the series to really build the connection to the people you serve. If you can’t do this on your current site, create a WordPress blog. Blog functionality is great at directing viewers to related stories. You can include an email sign-up to be added specifically to the mailing list for the series. So it basically functions as a targeted, evolving publication and turns the whole project into a piece of content that you create once and get a ton of re-use out of. My favorite.

Using the website as a content hub also lets you turn your stories into social posts with a link back to your website – where they can donate.



If you do expand beyond just email and incorporate your website, make sure you install Google Analytics and have your search or web person run reports on where people go after clicking on the page.

Make sure you are using an email tool that lets you track what people do – opens, click-throughs, and what they click on. I happen to really like how MailChimp provides that information but many fundraising programs incorporate email.


Lessons Learned

When people feel they are part of a community, they want to be involved. I bet you’ll be surprised at the positive response you get.

If you end up getting a lot of unsubcribes, be grateful that email is such a fast response tool. If people are upset about what you do or say enough to want off your list, they are probably not your most loyal fans. You want to watch the volume or you can risk falling out of favor with your email provider. And huge amounts of unsubscribes will tell you that you are hitting the wrong note.

However, nagging the fringes to give will not be as successful as building a content pipeline that the people who love you can’t wait to get. In MailChimp, for example, you can see the names of your most active readers. You can check those names against your donation list to let you know if you are hitting the sweet spot with the right folks. The others, let em go. A big, inactive list is expensive and useless.

Kick Off #GivingTuesday with a Social Graphic you can Customize


With the retail industry’s emphasis on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and recently, Small Business Saturday, Giving Tuesday was launched as an opportunity to promote giving back during the holiday season. Started in 2012 by the 92nd St Y in New York City, #GivingTuesday is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving — this year, that is December 3.

Nonprofits and schools have the opportunity to catch the wave of this national effort. More people who are aware of and value giving is a great thing and the #GivingTuesday website has lots of ideas for activities you can use to capture dollars from this effort.

To help  connect the movement to YOU we created a #GivingTuesday social graphic that you can customize easily and quickly.


Here’s what to do:

  1. Download the file. It’s a Microsoft Word document and should work in 2007-2013. If you have trouble, email me at beth [at] iriscreative.com.
  2. Add your logo at the top. A PNG or a JPG file work best. You can right-click on the placeholder image and select “Change Picture” or just delete and add your image. You may need to adjust the formatting to get it to appear in the correct space.
  3. Change the copy in the middle or just add your organization or school’s name.
  4. Add your donation link. I suggest being specific and sending people directly to the donation page rather than the home page. The link will not be clickable, so remember when you post the image, add a text update as well and repeat the link.
  5. Convert to an image. In Word this is a two-step process. Save as a PDF, then open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat or your image editor and just resave as a jpg.

For more resources:




Giving Tuesday Philadelphia LinkedIn Group



Good luck with the launch of your giving season!

Please let me know in the comments if this is helpful and what other tools you can use to make your communications easier.  I write occasional articles, create free tools and host in person and webinar events to help drive participation. Subscribe on the right to see what’s coming next.

And please click the share buttons below to help other nonprofits and schools grow donations on #GivingTuesday!

Did I Tweet That?

Beth Brodovsky Twitter Tunnel

I don’t know about you, but some days I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast much less if I posted something on social media. With the speed of some sites, your post is there and gone before you even get a chance to see it in your own profile. I just discovered Twitter Tunnel a great tool that archives Tweets. It found my tweets and tweets referring to me for the last 90 days. Why might you want to look at old tweets?

  • Positioning – looking at three months of tweets all together lets you see what message your are sending over time. Are you consistent? Do you keep to your core brand? Do they seem like they all came from the same organization or person?
  • Marketing – When promoting content, programs and events its easy to forget what you have done. Have I said that yet? How often? Being able to copy and old post and resend can save time.
  • Research – You can use other tools like SproutSocial to see your own tweet archives, but you can’t see anyone else’s from that long ago. If you need to find out about an organization or a person, learning what they talk about online can be very helpful. Just be careful how you use the information so it doesn’t seem creepy. Despite the information being public, it still can freak people out that you checked.
  • CYA– If you have someone tweeting on behalf of you or your organization, you should stay in touch with what they are posting. And if an HR or PR problem comes up related to what was written, it would be helpful to read it yourself.

There is always something new coming along in social media – but sometimes you need to keep an eye on what is old!


3 Ways to Newsjack Content

Uberflip_inforgraphic on digital news use

Source: Uberflip.com

My staff jokes that I don’t take vacation because, to me, vacation is any place where I am left alone with a wifi connection. Like many people I spend the bulk of my days in front of a digital device, and its rarely a TV. The latest trends in news consumption show digital media on the rise as a primary news source.

Over 50% of Americans own a tablet or smartphone and more than 60% of them use these devices to read news. All of this activity has created the ability to track what news is being discussed the most – called “trending stories.” As Brian Solis puts it, “news no longer breaks, it tweets.”

The most common use of the term and the activity revolves around trending stories, but that is not the only way to Newsjack. [Read more…]

3 Ways to Share Video on Facebook

Divers Academy Video ExampleAs the social media behemoth continues to change how they display and promote content, I wanted to share a few different options for posting video.

Video is fast becoming the darling of content marketing and social sharing. It is a great tool to use to capture content because it can be broken down into so many components. Its current the most shared media on Facebook and YouTube is the #2 search engine after Google, so collecting and sharing your stories through video is a valuable engagement practice.

In this example, I shot a simple interview with my iPhone. It was my first time and I hope you are impressed by my steady hands! As you can see, I held the iPhone vertically, which is a problem. YouTube’s native format is horizontal. We used Adobe After Effects to create a horizontal background with some stock footage and the client’s logo. I am sure you could do the same with many of the video editing tools out there. You could just as easily use a still photograph. Or you may want room to add your branding and do it on purpose.
[Read more…]

Better Writing = Stronger Connections with Donors and Members

ConjunctionitisI’ve been really trying to focus on my writing lately, both in frequency and in quality. As the world of marketing increasingly focuses on content, generating more media is important for all of us. But it needs to be valuable.

I think it’s easy to try to demonstrate expertise by using big words, long sentences and multiple adjectives because we feel we need to be both caring and compassionate. See there, that was a perfect example. I call it “conjunctionitis.” Sentences filled with “ands,” “becauses” and multiple commas are brutal for the average reader. Especially when reading on-screen.

And have you checked how many of your readers are coming from mobile? Do that. Because those screens are really small.
[Read more…]

Boston Magazine Cover Truly Shows the Heart of Boston

Boston Magazine Cover May 2013 Boston MarathonThe power of visual communication is not limited to online. Beautiful. Simple. Emotional. Authentic. Memorable. Boston Magazine’s May 2013 cover is a perfect example of connected content.

The cover of the issue shows a gorgeous image of a heart created from actual shoes worn by runners. This image has amazing visual impact on its own do to its flawless execution of color and photography. But they didn’t stop at a beautiful image.

Boston magazine actually created the image from real shoes worn at the marathon, which changes the image into almost a memorial of its own.
[Read more…]

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