Your nonprofit – Online

UPDATE: Notes and links from the class added 6/8/05.

Tomorrow morning I will be leading a presentation called “Your Nonprofit: Online” at BlueCross BlueShield of NC’s Healthy Community Institute. After the session I will post any additional notes, thoughts and links here on this page.

Here’s a PDF (3.2 MB) of the presentation.

Jon Stahl wrote a great blog post last fall called Elements of a Good Online Communication Plan. I include versions of it in lots of my presentations. Here’s the whole thing:

In the past week or so I’ve read through a few “website plans” and “online communications plans” that have been put together for Northwest environmental groups and all in all, I’ve been pretty dissatisfied with them. None of them seem to deliver all of the elements that you’d need in order to go all the way from idea to execution. I’ve talked this over quite a bit with my colleagues Gideon and Drew over the past couple of days, and I’m going to try to get some of my thoughts down here.

  • Organizing goals — the purpose of advocacy communication is to inspire people to take specific actions that lead towards organizing goals. Therefore, a communications plan has to identify these goals at the outset — they will serve as a “north star” for the rest of the plan.

  • Audiences — a communications plan has to identify the target audiences for the communications. “The general public” is not a valid answer. Neither is “moms.” This is an area where we’re still really weak. Doing useful audience segmentation seems to be kind of a black art, and it doesn’t seem to come very intuitively to our organizations — we are much more comfortable describing people in geographic, occupational and demographic terms than we are at positioning them psychologically. We need to get much better at describing our audiences in terms of their attitudes towards our issues.

  • Desired outcomes — what are the attitude and behavior changes we’re trying to create?

  • Influences — our communications plans need to identify the “forces and sources” that influence the attitudes and behaviors of our target audiences. For example, who do key legislators listen to when deciding how to vote on conservation issues? How do suburban moms decide whether to buy organic vegetables or not? Our communications strategies need to focus on getting our messages into the channels that actually influence our target audiences.

  • Messages and framing — a good communications plan will talk about the good and bad language to use when talking about our issues to our target audiences. How do we create the linguistic structures that position our arguments as winners? Despite some recent good work on this by George Lakoff and crew at the Rockridge Institute, there still remains a great deal of work to be done on this important topic.

  • Content — what content do our target audiences need? What services do they desire? What will engage them in fighting for our issues? We need to learn to see our issues from our audiences’ points of view, and structure our information in ways that make sense to them, not according to our organizational chart.

  • Tactics — a good communications plan will contain specific ideas about effective communications tactics. Websites with features x, y. z. Press releases with specific elements. Specific advertising strategies, etc.

  • Projects — tactics will be bundled into discrete, manageable projects that are sequenced in a logical order.

  • Resources — projects will have estimates of the time and money needed to execute them — and to sustain them on an ongoing basis.

What else is missing here?

My presentation also lists what I think are qualities of a good nonprofit website:

  • Professional
  • Accessible
  • Educational
  • User-oriented
  • Up-to-date / current
  • Asks for support
  • Interactive & responsive

    and most importantly…

  • Mission-driven
  • Cheap

UPDATE after class 6/8/05:

A lot of great questions were asked during and after the class. Here are notes and links from our discussion:

  • How do we check the accessibility of our websites?
    Apparently Bobby was recently acquired by WebExact, which will run a free check-up of your page and report back on accessibility, among other things. (Then they will try to sell you something. 🙁 ) Here’s an unrelated collection of articles on web site accessibility.
  • What’s the best way to take donations online?
    It’s a cinch – the hard part is choosing which service to use. These were all recommended by participants in today’s class:
  • What are some good blogging tools?
    Here’s something I wrote a few months ago:

    Here’s a great introduction to blogs: Blogging 101. And here’s an in-depth definition from Wikipedia: Weblogs.

    Here is a brief summary of some of the leading blogging tools:

    pros: free, hosted on their server, easy to use, built-in templates
    cons: limited functions, address is, doesn’t handle comments well

    pros: hosted on their server, comments, image galleries (for extra $3/month), easy to use, built-in templates
    cons: costs $5/month, limited functions

    pros: free, better archiving, flexible design & structure, comment moderation, unlimited authors and guest writers, free plug-ins, open source (good politics)
    cons: host on your own server (or at for about $10/month)
    neutral: use your own wrapper (w/ some light programming)

    pros: limited free version, better archiving, flexible design & structure, comment moderation, free plug-ins
    cons: have to pay for support, host on your own server
    neutral: use your own wrapper (w/ some light programming)

  • What’s podcasting?
    John Edwards does it. Here’s an explanation, and here’s how it can be used for forces of good.
  • How can we find out more about the demographics of bloggers and people who read blogs?
    I recommend the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Also NC-based BlogAds does an annual national survey of readers of political blogs. For example:

    This survey shows that blog readers are older and more affluent than most optimistic guestimates: 61% of blog readers responding to the survey are over 30, and 75% make more than $45,000 a year.

    Moreover, blog readers are more cyber-active than I’d hoped: 54% of their news consumption is online. 21% are themselves bloggers and 46% describe themselves as opinion makers. And, in the last six months:

    * 50% have spent more than $50 online on books.
    * 47% have spent more than $500 online for plane tickets.
    * 50% have contributed more than $50 to a cause or candidate, and 5% have contributed more than $1000. (Only 25% of readers have contributed anything online in the last year.)

  • How do I find blogs to read?
    The best way is to look at a couple that you like (or at least know) and see who else they link to. Many blogs have a “blogroll” which is a list of links to other blogs that the author likes. Also, try looking at the “tags” on Technorati which allow bloggers to categorize their own posts.
  • Where can I find cheap web hosting?
    One participant recommended CharityAdvantage, which sets up and hosts nonprofit sites for $30/month. Personally, I use a company called DreamHost which only costs $10/month for hosting your web site and e-mail, but you have find someone else to do the design, development, or maintenance for you.
  • How can I get some referrals to good web designers?
    The best way is to ask your friends and colleagues at other organizations and to look at the credits for web sites that you like.
  • Check out Kathy Higgins’ personal blog of her sabbatical trip to New Zealand and Australia!

Whew! That was a fun class. What other questions or suggestion do you have?

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