Brandraising: Blogging for Dollars
Earlier this year, I participated on a panel about blogging for nonprofits at the Ad Council. The room was full of nonprofit people trying to understand what blogging is, if their organizations should be doing it and how it's done. To prepare for the talk, the Big Duck staff and I reviewed dozens of sites hoping to find out how organizations use blogging to enhance their programs, advocacy and fundraising communications. We reached out to nonprofits via Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and, oh yeah, conversation. We looked at who is blogging in organizations of all sizes, how the blogs relate to their primary Web sites, who is commenting, and who is doing something fresh or unexpected.
Our scan of the nonprofit blogosphere revealed that:
● Most nonprofits that blog write in a fairly dry, often jargony way.
● The blogger often is the executive director or CEO.
● Comments on these blogs often are from other professionals who work in the field.
● The content is almost entirely about programs or advocacy; few organizations seem to consider the blog a fundraising opportunity, too.
The good news is this channel is wide open and ready for fresh approaches. One great example of nonprofit blogging innovation is Cool Green Science: The Conservation Blog of the Nature Conservancy (blog.nature.org), which takes a team approach to blogging. Instead of one person having all the fun, the organization serves up content from scientists and experts who write about timely conservation issues. There's a lot of substance, and many voices participate in a vibrant community. (One caveat: Multiple bloggers means someone to manage and coordinate them, too, which is, perhaps, a downside of this approach.)
The Nature Conservancy benefits from the Cool Green Science blog in several ways: first, by creating a place that's mission-relevant and multidimensional, and by not having to produce all of this content in-house. As much as I like this site, particularly the thought-leadership position it helps Nature Conservancy convey, there's no obvious fundraising here. Cool Green Science fans can follow the blog on Twitter, fan the Nature Conservancy on Facebook, subscribe to the e-news … but if I want to make a donation, I have to visit the organization's primary Web site, nature.org, which seems like a lost opportunity. (But can we take a moment to note that great URL — nature.org? Is your organization's URL as clear, simple and mission-connected as that?)
Lots of love here
During our search for compelling blogs, Holly Ross, executive director of the Nonprofit Technology Network, pointed out what turned out to be the most interesting discovery, Cross Blog (redcrosspdx.blogspot.com). The Cross Blog is produced by the American Red Cross Oregon Trail Chapter and bills itself as "Disaster Proof, Fire Safe and Updated Daily." There's a lot to love about this blog — and many lessons for nonprofits of all sizes.
But before we dive in to why the Cross Blog is so fabulous, there are a few things I should point out. First, this isn't the Red Cross' primary blog. In fact, the American Red Cross also does a nice job with its primary blog site (redcrosschat.org), which includes posts created by, for or about the American Red Cross. As a fundraiser, I particularly love the big, red "donate now" button that's easy to spot, and how easy it is to access information in whatever way I prefer (by issue, by media type, etc.).
Now, back to the Cross Blog. It's hard to imagine that you could make topics like disaster relief or blood donations funny, but these wacky Oregonians can. The entry "Get Your Doughnut Fix, Boost Your Blood Sugar" starts with the local doughnut emporium and somehow inspires you to go and give blood. Or "Trapped Under Rubble? There's An App For That …" grabs your attention with humor in the headline, then delivers useful information along the way.
But the best part is the fundraising. On a regular basis, the Cross Blog features donors and fundraisers who support the Red Cross. My favorite is a super-cute kid named Claire Abraham (Jan. 26), who donated $35 from her piggy bank to the Red Cross, earmarked for kids in Haiti. The entry features a photo of Claire tricked out in her Red Cross helmet with a big smile (the Red Cross really knows how to reinforce its brand, but that's a topic for another day). The Cross Blog's fundraising message: Every donor is important; every gift counts.
How often do fundraisers wish there was a way to make every donor feel important? To celebrate the grassroots advocate alongside the major donor? From a fundraising point of view, the beauty of blogging is that you can do both. Best of all, you don't have to be the big guys to do it. In fact, telling local stories through your local blog might be even more powerful, because it's personal.
Sarah Durham is founder and principal at Big Duck (bigducknyc.com). Reach her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @BigDuckSarah.
Sarah Durham is president of Big Duck, a New York City-based branding, marketing and fundraising firm for nonprofits. She serves on the boards of the National Brain Tumor Society and the New York Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).