Should we launch a blog?” That’s what forward-thinking nonprofits everywhere are asking.
There’s a short answer to that question. (Hint: It’s yes.) But there are some complicating factors you need to think through.
That’s why we’ve taken a bloggish approach to the question and came up with five main reasons it would be a great idea to blog, tempered by the nagging comments that expose the problems within each reason.
You, your donors and your blog: Be transformed.
What would it be like if every time you wrote to your donors, they wrote back? Instead of grandstanding for attention, you’d be learning about them all the time. You’d adjust what you say and how you say it. In other words, you’d have a conversation with them.
That’s what a blog is. It’s something real and genuine. Information and value flow in both directions. When you blog, you quickly develop a mental picture of your audience — one that’s pretty accurate, because you’re hearing from them, not just their complaints, but all the richness of their thoughts.
The old way of getting to know your donors is to try something and see how they respond. Then you attempt to interpret their motives for that response so you have meaningful and repeatable strategies.
Or, worse yet, you talk to them in artificial situations such as focus groups or surveys, and hope what you learn has some connection to reality. (It often doesn’t.)
There’s a better way. That’s what makes a blog so powerful. The rules change. It’s a conversation, not a publication. That means things like:
- Typos are not a calamity. Let ’em be. Keep the conversation going.
- Controversy is not a problem. It’s good when there’s something worth arguing about.
- Even mistakes are acceptable — as long as you own up to them and apologize.
Here are the things you should avoid on a blog:
- Not being genuine.
- Being boring.
- Talking down to your audience (or trying to “educate” them).
- Sounding like a committee.
You can’t do these things on a blog. You just can’t.And the blog approach can transform the way your organization thinks and talks. Just the thing you need to meet the marketing challenges of the coming years.
Comment: You might want to add a warning to all this optimism: If you have a hard time defining and understanding your audience (as many nonprofits do), your blog is going to suck. Your audience is not you. Their knowledge, assumptions and connection to your cause are different from yours. Don’t miss that vital point on your blog!
Comment: Speaking of audience, you’re talking as if donors and prospective donors are the only audience. There are others, like staff, clients, vendors and peer nonprofits. A blog might be a useful tool with any of them.
Blogging: Your training for the future.
Blogs signal a fundamental shift of power between marketers and their markets.
A cool, new remark-worthy product can spread through the blogosphere, taking a business from zero to 60 in just days. In the same way, bad service, shoddy products, scandal or dishonesty can be called out in the blog world, and word can spread even faster and farther.
Would you know how to handle either one of these situations if it happened to your nonprofit?
Chances are, blogs (or something like them) eventually will become a mainstream source of information and marketing, consumed by nearly everyone. And blogs are just one form of social-networking tool. There are photo-sharing sites like Flickr, video-sharing sites like YouTube, wikis (user-built information sites) like Wikipedia — even virtual online worlds like Second Life. The expertise you gain from operating a good blog will position you to do well in these other places, any of which could quickly go mainstream.
Start now, and you’ll be an old hand by the time that happens. Experience is the most valuable resource you can have, and now is the time to get it. So start blogging.
Comment: You’re asking nonprofits to make a very serious time commitment! It takes time to write a good blog. Lots of it. First, you need to write well, and that takes time. Second, if you want regular readers, you need to post frequently. Daily, if not more often. And any blogger worth her salt is also following related blogs and taking part in the wider conversation. All that will take somewhere between 10 and 20 hours a week! Who has that kind of time?
Comment: Amen to that! Running a blog would be a great thing to do, but very hard for anyone saddled with nonprofit economics to justify. An hour spent producing direct-mail fundraising is going to yield much more revenue than an hour spent blogging.
Start a blog now! It will connect you to your donors. A lot of nonprofits are obsessed with telling their story. Their reasoning: If we can distill our wonderfulness and uniqueness into a quick narrative, donors will flock to our cause!
Trouble is, it doesn’t work that way. If you want to get donors excited, tell their story. Not yours.
Obvious? Not if you live in the hermetically sealed chamber of one-way marketing, where you try to figure out donors without actually holding conversations with them. If you’re ready to break out of that chamber and really learn something about your donors, launch a blog.
When you start blogging, two things will happen:
- You’ll get instant feedback from donors about anything you say. Sometimes that feedback is in the form of silence and lack of blog traffic. That tells you you aren’t interesting enough. But the more interesting feedback comes from donors actually talking back — in comments on your blog, and in other blogs.
- You’ll discover what donors care about, what they aspire to, what they believe, what they’re skeptical about, and how they express themselves. It’ll become clearer than ever how you can align yourself with their dreams.
With a blog, donors stop being inscrutable mysteries. They become fellow human beings. Sources not only of donations, but of ideas, inspiration and powerful word-of-mouth support.
So launch a blog. You won’t regret it.
Comment: That’s all fine, but not very many of your donors will read your blog. Forget the hype about blogs. Hardly anybody’s reading them! Only around one in five Americans has ever knowingly visited one. And blog use among donor-aged (55+) people is lower yet. The donors just aren’t there!
How not to sound like an idiot to your donors.
You sound like a complete idiot. I’m not saying that to hurt your feelings. Assuming you don’t have a blog, I can almost guarantee it. Most advertising, direct marketing — and fundraising — uses a tone you’d never use with your friends. If you did, they’d laugh in your face — or slap you!
Think about it. Your messages are likely sprinkled with:
- Phony superlatives, like “leading,” “best,” “most important.”
- Meaningless, high-flown claims, like “cutting-edge” and “pioneering.” Even if true, they don’t communicate anything.
- Self-aggrandizement. Look-at-me copy that talks at donors, not about them.
- Unnaturally long and complex sentences that abandon all pretense of human speech.
And if that’s not bad enough, maybe your communications are littered with bastardizations like ™ and ®. And legal disclaimers. And weasel-language that simultaneously discloses and hides the fact that the stories you’re telling aren’t real and the money you’re raising isn’t going where the donor really wants it to go.
It all adds up to a tone of voice that no human would ever use in person — yet nonprofits use all the time.
You can’t write that way in a blog. Nobody would read it. Those who did would openly mock it. With a blog, you have to write like a human.
And when you learn that, you can apply it to all your communications. You’ll learn a whole new way of approaching people: the non-idiot approach.
That’s the good thing about a blog — and why you should launch one.
Comment: Let’s get real. Do you know how hard it is to write like a human? We’ve been trained since first grade to sound phony when we write! Even if you have someone who can write well, is your organization willing to let it happen? Not if you require an approval process. And if lawyers have to vet your blog posts, forget it. Your blog will suck. Don’t even bother!
I’m so excited about nonprofit blogging, I could burst.
The decision to blog is not easy or obvious. There are pitfalls galore. But the positive change it can bring is astounding.
* Blogs can mean an end of brandmeisters with their irrelevant and dictatorial brand guideline books. The day is coming when all our energy will go into communicating with and serving donors — not our self-expression.
* Blogs will put bogus research methods (like focus groups) out of business. We won’t have to ask donors phony questions in unnatural settings. We’ll know what they think.
* Blogs will help put an end to churn-and-burn fundraising. It’s going to be all about finding and holding on to donors who really care about our causes — not just flipping gifts through a caging facility.
* And that means the end, finally, of organizations that get away with the ethical bare minimum, secure in the knowledge that donors don’t really know or care what’s going on. Donors are not going to give to organizations they don’t know and trust.
Jeff Brooks is creative director at full-service fundraising consultancy Merkle/Domain and keeper of the fundraising blog Donor Power Blog.