Friday, January 30, 2009

Utilizing Social Media in a Non Profit: The Anita Borg Institute Story

I asked the are nonprofits using technology in this "down" economy? Jerri Barrett, Director of Marketing for the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, answered with some amazing examples of how they are using social media to stay in touch with their members and drive organizational loyalty.

Utilizing Social Media in a Non Profit: The Anita Borg Institute Story

by Jerri Barrett

One of the new rules of non-profit communications is that you need to communicate in multiple ways so that you reach your constituency in their preferred method of receiving information. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, and Linked In are just some of the ways to reach out to build your communities of supporters.

The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology is the host for the online listserv Systers, the oldest online community for women in computing and after 21 years has over 3000 members. Other early social media activities included the launch of a blog, located on our website ( , and My Space pages being established to support our conference “The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.” We learned from these early efforts that our constituency was not using MySpace but that other Online Social Media groups were more promising. In 2008 we invested in the effort by hiring a dedicated Communities Manager.

A central lesson in the successful launch of online communities is tying their activities to one’s nonprofit mission. As opposed to strictly a marketing channel, online communities that become an integral part of delivering your organizations’ mission are poised to significantly increase not only your reach, but your impact.

Late 2007, we launched our LinkedIn for Good Anita Borg group. That group grew rapidly as 2008 progressed. After little more than a year, we now have over 1300 members in our LinkedIn Group. The group exists primarily for networking, though we do continuously communicate to the group about the Institute’s programs and activities. Part of the success can be attributed to the recognition of the critical need for networking in a recession economy for finding new positions. In addition to our core constituency of technical women, this group has attracted recruiters. This combination is a huge benefit to the participants who are seeking support during a job search. We exist to promote the recruitment, retention, and advancement of technical women, so the LinkedIn group has become another tool in our program arsenal.

For the Anita Borg Institute (ABI), 2008 was the year of Twitter. Our Community Manager actively tweets about all aspects of our activities. In addition, our events frequently have participants tweeting throughout. Creating a community of people tweeting is critical to raising the profile of your organization and its events, and keeping your constituency engaged with and inspired about your programs.

Blogging also achieved greater visibility in the organization in 2008. In addition to maintaining our Institute blog, we launched our CEO’s blog ( and a Fast Company blog ( We engaged more of our community in blogging to support our Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

Our Facebook presence has scaled tremendously in the past 18 months. We now host a primary Facebook page that is focused on all things related to the Institute. The content of the page is fed from our website so any new blog posts, articles or press releases on the main site are automatically updated on the Facebook page. The main ABI Facebook Page has 435 fans. In addition to the main page, event pages have also been created that event attendees can check for the most current information and updates about the events. Currently we have the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2009 page and the Women of Vision 2009 Pages in place. Each event page launched in late 2008 and the Grace Hopper page already has over 250 participants.

The Grace Hopper Celebration itself incorporates multiple kinds of social media. The Conference is the largest gathering of Women in Computing in the world and in 2008 attracted 1450 attendees from 22 countries. The attendees range from undergraduates to senior level technical women, so Social Media becomes critical to communicating across a wide ranging constituency. We recruit volunteers to post fresh content into our various groups. Photographers actively post their photos on Flickr; video bloggers post footage on YouTube and their Facebook pages, bloggers sit in sessions and blog, and tweets are flowing from all aspects of the event. We took blogging to a new level last year by having an official blog dedicated to the event and recruited presenters at the conference to preview their presentations and recruit audiences throughout the summer. The role of online communities has taken an increased importance in our annual conference. We estimate that over 40% of our Grace Hopper Celebration attendees were part of our Grace Hopper Facebook group; YouTube, the GHC Blog, and Twitter scored high in terms of participant’s views of which tools most enhanced their conference experience.

So what are our next steps in Social Media? We are currently finding ways to more actively engage people in the communities and call them to action to help support our mission of changing the culture of technology to achieve greater numbers of women in the technology pipeline. We are also constantly working to generate more value added content to each of the communities to keep them engaged in our mission. We work to add new content through both the efforts of our staff, guest bloggers, and guest writers from other non profits and technology companies. You can access all our communities through our website at

Jerri Barrett, Director of Marketing, Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology
Email : Web:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Developing a Legislative Strategic Plan

The 111th Congress is in a frenzy of activity as the new administration proposes new legislative priorities on many fronts. State legislatures are meeting or will be meeting over the next few months. State Net produces an excellent state legislature calendar. If your organization has not already done so, now is an excellent time to develop a Legislative Strategic Plan.

Most nonprofits diligently work on strategic planning, but most often that planning is limited to the business end of the nonprofit and not the policy end. A Legislative Strategic Plan helps you identify exactly what your legislative goals are in the short and long terms, and determine what it will take to help you reach those goals.

Unless you are a huge organization, like AARP or the National Education Association, it is best to limit your short term legislative goals. Mid to smaller nonprofits typically don’t have the resources and “person-power” to take on dozens of issues and certainly they don’t have the resources and person-power to do them all well. As with regular strategic planning, Legislative Strategic Planning begins with understanding your mission and brainstorming what policy goals will help the organization achieve that mission.

I like to develop a list of primary, secondary and tertiary issues. What are the two or three issues that are primary and critical to our members? What would be secondary or even tertiary? Clearly identifying your primary issues helps you plan how to use the resources you have (money, time, members) and keeps you from getting side-tracked by issues that you may have a stake in but are not critical. After figuring this out then you can better determine how you will spend your political capital.

Most of us are not islands; we work in coalition with other groups and organizations that have similar or sister missions. For instance, what would the cattle association have in common with the sheep herders’ association? Is it grazing or water rights? Legislation that protects open land while allowing structured use? Is it legislation that funds disease research and eradication? Conduct outreach to organizations that you think your nonprofit crosses paths with and find issue areas of agreement. Leveraging the power of your membership and the power of another organization’s membership is critical.

For the secondary and tertiary issues, I always loved finding things I could sign on to, whether it was another organization’s legislative strategy, letter to Congress or amicus briefs. Signing on not only put you in the game, it also increases your cache and visibility. It tells your members that you are doing “something” to be part of a public policy effort, but you are not spending your resources on issues that don’t rank at the top.

In your Legislative Strategic Plan it’s okay to dream. In a perfect world, what do we want? Is it an amendment of an existing law? Is it a completely new regulatory scheme or a completely new law? Are we going for a Constitutional Amendment? I did say dream. What would it take for us to realize that dream? More money, more members, more clout? The dream legislation can become part of your longer range goals.

How are we positioned to mobilize once we have our plan? In the olden days, we used to create phone banks, I still have an old chapter training manual that taught our chapters how to phone bank. Now it is so easy to pop off a message, provide links, even sample letters, etc. My favorite tool for mobilization is CapWiz by Capitol Advantage, but there are many of these tools out there that work equally well. Mobilization requires planning and judiciousness, you run the risk of wearing people out if you are constantly issuing a call to action. Think about how you are positioned. I had a conversation recently in which I was told the organization did not have the email addresses of its members. So now, they have to go collect those addresses of over 1,000 members before they can begin to send out instant alerts.

What will it take to familiarize the decision makers with our cause? Have we done a good job of educating legislators or do we need to make an effort? Have we identified and matched our members with legislators? What do we need to do to achieve that?

On a later post I will talk about visiting your legislators and decision makers. But for now, these are a few hints on developing a Legislative Strategic Plan, a very important process if you are in an organization that needs to advocate for itself or for a worthy cause.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Compare and Decide: How to use SEO 2.0 in Marketing

I have a love hate relationship with technology. I love all the things it can do, I hate being tethered to it through endless emails, facebooking, twittering, etc. However, today nonprofits must stay ahead of the curve and learn new terms, like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and social networking if they are going to grow their organizational capacity.

Nonprofit Conversation asked Juan Munoz, Executive Director of Open Global Marketing, to share a few tips on nonprofit use of SEO. He wrote "Compare and Decide: How to use SEO 2.0 in Marketing." This is just a peek at the iceberg and certainly compelling. We hope to have him back to share more of his insights. Bunnie.

Juan Munoz

Compare and Decide: How to use SEO 2.0 in Marketing
by Juan Munoz

When people talk about Marketing Strategies, many ad agencies and publicists are switching from the conventional traditional to the online jargon: SEO, PPC, PPA. Printing, radio ads and brochures are becoming out of date.

This article isn’t just about explaining SEO, but also exploring the new techniques to optimize Web sites for Non-profits.

The Difference between SEO and SEO 2.0

Three years ago, you built links, exchanged links, paid for links and manually added them to static directories to generate web traffic. Now, optimizing your content also includes getting links, blogging, writing pillar content, creating link bait and socializing.

Three years ago, you’d concentrate on creating sites or pages with many keywords related to your business. Today, that is wrong. In SEO 2.0 many spiders penalize the excessive us of the same keywords in one page. The next SEO 2.0 uses attention-grabbing post titles and limits the amount of keywords to two or three.

Three years ago, you’d compete with others to be on the first page Google’s search results. Now in SEO 2.0, you build a network and cooperate with peers – creating a neighborhood of web sites around you to generate a steady stream of traffic. This works perfectly for nonprofits who normally think that charities are all about getting money or grants and giving it all away.

Three years ago, you thought that exchanging one-to-one active links would give them value. Now, you can create links in your web site regardless whether you link back because it increases the relevance of your web site.

Three years ago, you’d likely say, “We’re not doing SEO. We can’t show our client list publicly, etc…” Now, transparency is the model. "Welcome our new client xyz. We are proud to work together with them, two-way communication, etc."

In the nonprofit world, you normally are used to keeping your donors or foundations very hidden because you do not want competitors to know where you get your grants. Now, more than ever, you can be proud and show your capacity to raise money with a very interesting list of donors in your website.

You can implement these strategies for the non-profit or for-profit world. Not matter what you do and how you do it, it is important to evolve and innovate by staying in tune with the new market-penetrating technology.

Remember, if you hit first, you will hit hard.

Juan Munoz
Executive Director
phone: 410-505-5551

Monday, January 19, 2009

Membership Renewal and Retention

The heart of many nonprofits is the membership. For some nonprofits, membership income can be one-third to one-half of all income. How then can nonprofits keep membership from slipping during these delicate times?

Attention must be paid to member renewal and retention. Typically organizations will see a twenty-percent decline in membership each year. Holding that number and trying to reduce it requires extra effort. There are some key things that can be done to ensure that your organization’s “churn” doesn’t get out of control.


Take a good long look at your organization. Why do people join? What’s in it for them? Start by asking some of your loyal members to give you the answers. Do they continue to renew because of altruistic reasons? Does the “mission” of the organization fulfill some need they have to be a part of it? Are there certain tangible benefits they derive from their membership, such as discounts on products or services or important networking connections they can’t get anywhere else? Does your organization provide legislative representation at the local, state or federal level? Perhaps you have training programs that are critical to certification or continuing education. Ask: why do people spend their money to belong to this organization?

Services and Programming

Next, look at the services you provide your membership. Particularly focus on what your members need from the organization. Conduct a survey of your members to find out which services they find invaluable and which services they rarely, if ever, use. Also ask your members what they need. I am particularly fond of Question Pro ( It’s easy to use and provides terrific analytics on the back-end. They also provide free access to nonprofits and a one-month survey is $15.00.

Are there some services or programs that have become stale? Are there new services or programs that should be introduced to keep up with members needs? Are your programs and services up-to-date with technology? Conversely, are your programs and services too technologically advanced for your membership? Are you giving away services that should be exclusive to the membership?


It never ceases to amaze me that many nonprofit executives and boards don’t communicate what they are accomplishing to their membership. Communication has to be a priority and it has to be ongoing all year long, not just at renewal time. Not communicating will cause your members to ask “What have they done for me lately?” or to assume that the “national” or “regional” office does nothing. Maybe your organization can’t afford to publish a printed newsletter or journal, but it certainly can afford to publish a newsletter or journal online and it certainly can afford to email a missive to the membership to say “Here’s what we’re doing!” I know of organizations that have excellent listservs used by the membership for peer-to-peer networking and never used by the organization itself to reach out to members!

Lack of regular communication screams to the members that you don’t care about them you only care about getting their money.

Once you’ve looked at these areas: motivation; services and programming; and communication; it’s time to look at your renewal strategy.

I am not a fan of annual dues collected all at once, like in January. They work for some organizations but for many they mean a sudden influx of money and delayed membership projections that cannot be addressed until the annual collection window has closed. In other words, if you only renew once a year in January, you won’t be able to calculate that your membership numbers are off until mid to late February. However, if you do anniversary renewals all year long you get a better sense of renewal rates and can adjust your campaign and your budget as you go.

Start three months in advance of the renewal. Send a personal letter (yes, you can mail merge) telling the member why it is they want to renew. Tell them about all the great things your organization has accomplished this year and why it’s exciting to be a part of such a great endeavor. Send that letter each month until the renewal date (be sure to modify it a bit each time). Once the renewal date has passed and they haven’t renewed, send out a new letter, re-capping how great the organization is and what member benefits they will be missing if they don’t renew. Do this for three months, each month.

If the member still has not renewed, send them a special package. Include a “gift” in that package; it can be as simple as your printed journal or 10% off the next conference or a magnet or calendar.

If the organization is small enough, have your board members divide up the non-renewed list and give each of those lapsed members a personal call. Or send your regions or chapters a list of those who did not renew (after a six month lapse) and have them personally contact those members. (A great incentive for regions or chapters is to give them 50% of the lapsed members renewal…half for your organization is better than none).

At some point in the future I’ll provide sample member renewal letters.

But for now, it is critical that membership renewal run like a well-oiled machine and that a lot of thought goes into why people become members and why they stay members.

Bunnie can be reached at

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More With Less

My friend, the CEO of a national nonprofit, was quite stressed. She was facing the prospect of layoffs and cutbacks given reduced membership renewals and a less than stellar annual conference. Dealing with the numbers wasn't really the stresser, it was managing a board that had increased expectations despite the reality of the organization's reduced capacity, that had my friend at her wit's end.

And there was the rub. How do you tell a group of well-meaning people that they might be out of their minds? Or do you tell them?

Now is the time for frank conversation. According to experts the economy isn't poised for a turn-around any time soon. And while we've heard plenty about the retail and housing sectors, the damage being suffered by nonprofits barely rates a peep on the nightly news.

Folks I know say their organization's revenues are down by 30% to 40%. And many nonprofits that rely heavily on conference income report staggering losses in registrations, resulting in the inability to meet room night and meal requirements and incurring the attendant hotel fines. Memberships are slow in coming, sponsorships and trade shows are weak. Yet, especially given the economy, the need for nonprofit services are greater not less.

I think the conversation starts with the Treasurer of the organization. A close relationship with your Treasurer is always a good idea, in lean times or in flush. Often times board members skim through the financial report and if there's money in the bank they are satisfied to move on to other more exciting topics, like legislative policy or who the keynote will be at the Miami gathering. It is the Treasurer who has a vested interest not only in how the organization is faring today but what the numbers will look like six months from now. No one wants to be the "Treasurer" who ran the organization into bankruptcy.

Express your concerns to the Treasurer. Provide projections for the next three, six and twelve months. Clearly lay out the financial obligations of the organization; the lease, the payroll, the equipment rental. Can you sustain the level of service you currently provide? And if not, what has to go? Is it possible to re-tool your services by cutting some and increasing others? Once the Treasurer has a crystal clear understanding of the financial challenges, ask him/her to communicate those challenges to the rest of the board.

And, let it be the Treasurer that tells the board "no." Nonprofit executives who constantly say "no" to the board usually don't last long. But a Treasurer saying "no" carries greater weight and gives the exec cover.

An added bonus is that you as the executive won't have to feel alone, you now have a partner to share the burden. You may not be able to do more with less but you certainly can move the organization toward sustainability in these rough times.

Bunnie can be reached at