Friday, November 27, 2009

Guerilla Tactics for Membership Renewal

by Bunnie Riedel, host of Nonprofit Conversation

When I was younger and had no money, I would buy things on “lay-away.” You’d put a little down and then make payments but not get the product until it was paid in full. I got my first set of dishes that way, a little bit at a time. For the last twenty years, lay-away hasn’t existed but now with the economy in a slump, lay-away is back at some of the large stores.

In thinking about membership, so many organizations have lost members and are trying desperately to get them back. However, I have also seen a rigidity among nonprofits when it comes to membership dues and structure. Some nonprofits aren’t really understanding that doing business as usual will only continue to cause their membership numbers and dollars to fall. In normal circumstances, even when the economy is fabulous, nonprofit membership churn (or turnover) is roughly 20%-25%. In shaky times that number goes up by quite a bit.

Here are some ideas I’ve been noodling on lately:

Assess your current membership demographics. Where have you lost members? Are there certain types of people that are not renewing? Is there a way to bring them back by tailoring membership to their needs? For instance, let’s pretend that your organization is the National Tennis Enthusiasts Association (NTEA--a completely fictional association). Do you really know who your members are? Have you done demographic surveys of your membership?

Let’s pretend you have done those demographic surveys and you find the following:

20% of your members are under eighteen.
25% of your members are nineteen to thirty-five.
25% of your members are thirty-six to fifty.
30% of your members are over fifty.

Approximately 40% of your members are female and 60% of your members are male.

75% of your members live in suburban communities and 25% of your members live in urban areas.

Now cross-reference: How many of your under eighteen year old members are female or male and how many live in suburban communities vs. urban areas.

And, what percentage of those sub-groups have you lost?

You see that you’ve lost 30% of your under eighteen year old female urban area members. What can you do to appeal to them? Could you create an online community directed at them, with the latest news about young urban female tennis champions? Secure discounts on equipment and clothing? Offer “buddy” membership where two can join for the price of one? Host a “Young Miss” event in their city? Have a tennis camp scholarship contest for members only?

Now you also see that you’ve lost 40% of your suburban male over fifty members. What strategies can you think of to reclaim that demographic? It certainly won’t be the same as you would use for the under eighteen year old urban females. The point is: if you lump all your members together in one big group without taking into consideration their unique qualities, you will continue to lose membership or at least be challenged to maintain members.

Assess your membership dues structure. What is the cost of membership? Has it remained constant over the last few years or gone up? I know of an organization that recently raised its membership dues, and I think that’s insane, given the economy. Now is the time to look at your membership dues and think about putting them “on-sale.”

But we’ll lose even more money!

I don’t believe you will. People are looking for bargains and looking to cut back on their expenses. You will gain more members if you discount your membership dues. Also, think how you can market the discount.

“We know that the economy is slow and we decided to lower our membership dues to make it easier for you. We don’t want you to miss having your member benefits.”

If you took 30% off your membership dues tomorrow what would that look like? How can you market that to members you’ve lost? Is there a “volume potential” for your organization?

For seriously lapsed members (say a year or more) think about providing them membership at half-price.

Find value-added partnerships. I just received notice from an association telling me that I can now buy at a significant discount at an office supply store because I am a member. What products do your members use all the time? Perhaps they need a discount on liability or theft insurance. Perhaps they need certain types of equipment. Maybe they need discounts on airfare. Once again, conduct a short survey. Ask your members what they need and then find a supplier or retail partner that will give them substantial discounts just because they belong to your association.

If I see that over the course of a year my membership will save me $300 through discounts, and that $300 more than pays the cost of my membership, then I have a strong incentive to become or remain a member.

Provide a payment plan. Just like lay-away, except your members get their product up front. My heating and cooling maintenance providers just sent me a notice saying we can pay for the service in “3 easy payments.” Could you offer your members “3 easy payments?” This could certainly affect your cash flow and how you budget, but isn’t that better than not getting the membership?

I heard an organization advertise that you can join them by making monthly payments. So instead of it costing $120 per year, it now costs $10 a month. That makes it much easier to swallow. Of course the best way to do this is to set it up as an automatic withdrawal from their bank account. That’s the way my gym does it.

Make sure you are providing value. If you are losing members right and left, maybe it’s time to think about your organization’s “value.” Not only are people spending less but they are also demanding high value in the things they buy. What is your value? How are you competing with other nonprofits of similar size or mission? Why should anyone join your organization? You can’t ask for membership dollars and then not deliver a product. If people don’t see any advantage in sending you money, they will stop sending you money.

I hope that this has given some of you food for thought. And I hope that all of you achieve and succeed in your membership goals!!!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Connection Generation: A Review by Bob Crawshaw

I liked this review by Bob Crawshaw's because Iggy Pintado's book and his categorization of how people behave when it comes to technology is informative for Nonprofits. I think we always have to be considering where our membership or constituents are in regard to technology. That can be somewhat easier said than done. Take for instance the case of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology; it's probably a good bet that their membership leans more toward being Active or Super Connectors, and that fact drives how the Anita Borg Institute develops their programming. However, let's say your target constituents are low-income or rural (without access to solid broadband), you are going to have to employ more low tech strategies to reach them and that will impact your programming. It might be worthwhile to conduct an online (or mail in the case of the low tech constituents) survey to find out what your members or constituents technology capabilities may be and what their attitudes are toward technology.

I recently conducted a mail survey for a rural county and we discovered what we had suspected, that a majority of households have only dial-up and beyond simple email cannot download any photos, videos or rich text. This poses quite a challenge to Nonprofits trying to serve that area. On a final note, isn't that little kid and his t-shirt just adorable? Bunnie

Connection Generation: A Review by Bob Crawshaw, Maine Street Marketing

I have just finished reading the recently published book Connection Generation.

Iggy Pintado, a former IBM and Telstra heavyweight, looks at how Australians are taking to new communication technologies and their impact on our personal and professional lives. The book is a clear, simple read and valuable for those after fresh insights into how people are using social media.Pintado starts by identifying a number of "connector profiles". These are drawn from his own extensive marketing experience plus personal research he undertook for the book. He claims Australians - and this probably applies to those elsewhere - fall into one of five categories when it comes to using new media:

Basic Connectors are people with low levels of technological take-up. They can be any age but are united by their disdain or fear of technology. They need to be thoroughly convinced that new communication platforms can improve things and it often takes a tech-minded family member or friend to guide and encourage them to venture into online media.

Passive Connectors have a basic understanding of the new technologies but choose not to make it a priority in their lives. When it comes to online action they observe rather than participate. This is hardly surprising because many people in this category have traditionally consumed passive media such as print, radio and television. In marketing terminology they could be classed as the "late adopters" in the digital era.

Selective Connectors understand new communications technologies and use it to share experiences and maintain their family, friendship and business networks. However they stop short of expanding the range of their connections which limits their ability to take advantage of business and other online opportunities.

Active Connectors appreciate and use the new technologies to develop and maintain contacts, assertively share their thoughts and routinely use platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Linked-in for commercial and personal benefit. They are the marketing equivalent of "early adopters", people willing to try new things and take on fresh thoughts.

And finally there are the Super Connectors. These folks are digitally light years ahead of the rest of us and on the bleeding edge of technology. For them an online life is as fundamental as using running water or electricity.

These categories may define groups but they do not necessarily limit people. It is possible for individuals to move from one group to another as their circumstances and interests change.

Perhaps Basic Connectors are the most digitally vulnerable because the trend is for Australians to increasingly go online to connect their lives and that sea change is unlikely to reverse anytime soon. And what exciting times we live in when initiatives such as the Australian Government's National Broadband Program, the schools laptop program and first stirrings about Government2.0 have the potential to transform us into Australia's first connection generation.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Charity Accountability Standards: How Do You Measure a “Good” Charity?

My husband will not give money to a Nonprofit until he has looked them up on Charity Navigator. Ken Berger, President of Charity Navigator gives us a glimpse into how charities are not measuring their outcomes. I was a bit shocked at the numbers (even if they are hypothetical), but even in my own experience, I would be willing to lay money on those numbers being fairly accurate. This piece is a good lead-in to a blog I am working on about "horror stories" in the Nonprofit sector. Stop right now and ask yourself "How do we measure outcomes?" If you don't have an answer, it might be time to start creating a system. Bunnie

Charity Accountability Standards: How Do You Measure a “Good” Charity?

by Ken Berger, President and Chief Executive Officer of Charity Navigator

We have surveyed hundreds of charities across all causes to determine what data is compiled in this area of outcome measurement. We also intend to use the information to help us in developing our system. If there are some universally agreed upon outcome measures in a particular category of charities, it could help inform us on good standards. We assumed that most charities have SOME system of evaluating their outcomes. We were wrong. So far, only about 10% of the charities we have polled were able to provide us with information in this area. Furthermore it is likely that, of those that measure their outcome, a much smaller subset can prove from the data that they have truly meaningful outcomes.

We recently met with a colleague who funds organizations who can provide him with evidence of effective outcomes. He is getting similar results. The scary reality, he suspects, is that most charities (the overwhelming majority) have not even taken their first step down the outcome road. A couple of other experts with whom we have bounced this around have corroborated our findings.

We know that day-to-day survival mode is often the overriding focus and concern for most charities. In the current economic climate that reality has only intensified for most charities. So the lack of focus on outcome measurement is not likely to change any time soon, unless there are outside forces that demand it and resources that facilitate the process. We continue to assume that the larger agencies may be compiling this information, but may be reluctant to make it public. Even if this is true, only 4% of all charities have annual revenues in excess of $10 million. So our suspicion remains that the vast majority of charities are doing very little or nothing in the area of outcome measurement.

We think that the experts, foundations and charity advocacy groups are going to need to educate government policy makers and the general public about the significant importance of publicly available outcome measurement information before this situation will change. All grants, whether from government, foundations or corporations, should include a percentage to fund outcome measurement.

Why is this so important? We believe that an outcome driven culture is vitally important for a charity to be at its best and to be trusted. With all of the scandals and lack of confidence in charities, objective data will become more and more important in the public's perception of a charity's ongoing legitimacy. In such a climate, it's scary news that most charities probably are not measuring and documenting their outcomes.


Note: This is entirely hypothetical from discussions with experts and anecdotal information

2% **** Excellent
9% *** Good
23% ** Needs Improvement
36% * - Poor
30% 0-Star Exceptionally Poor

Nonetheless, we are going to continue down this road and implement an outcome measurement system once we are confident it contains the right elements. We will also be a voice for the importance of outcome measurement to whoever will listen! However, I now anticipate that whenever we begin to evaluate charities on outcomes (probably no time soon), most will not do well, if for no other reason than that they are not documenting what they are doing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Encore Opportunity Awards

Over the last twenty years, so much of our thinking has changed in regard to "older" workers. Maybe because Baby Boomers make up such a substantial portion of the population in the United States. Maybe because people are living and staying creative longer. Debra Caruso tells us how one effort seeks to honor those who are providing opportunities to older people. The Encore Opportunity Awards, by Civic Ventures and MetLife Foundation, found eight Nonprofit and public sector organizations that are maximizing their use of older workers. Is the Nonprofit sector leading the way in this regard? Bunnie

The Encore Opportunity Awards

by Debra Caruso, DJC Communications

Civic Ventures and MetLife Foundation announced the winners of the 2009 Encore Opportunity Awards, eight nonprofit and public sector organizations tapping encore talent to serve the common good. The organizations were noted for making it easier for experienced workers to transition into encore careers - paid jobs that offer meaning and the chance to effect social concerns.

"Many nonprofit and public sector organizations are hiring and retaining people over 50 to meet community needs - and doing so in an exemplary fashion," said Phyllis N. Segal, vice president of Civic Ventures, a think tank on boomers, work and social purpose.

From all over the U.S. , the award winners are engaging people over 50 in creative ways to protect public safety, build low-income housing, teach job skills, preserve the environment, even save dying Native American languages.

"This year's Encore winners are innovative, adaptable and smart. They recognize the need to take advantage of the talent of older American possess," said Dennis White, CEO and president of MetLife Foundation. "Their practices are models for others to follow."

The 2009 winners:

· Alliance of Early Childhood Professionals (Minneapolis)- This nonprofit created a youth development program that pays "elders"- Native Americans over 50 who know the Dakota or Ojibwe languages - to work with children from two to five years old. The language immersion experience is aimed at passing along native languages and culture.

(Pictured right: Alexandria Mason, left, and Maya Stand-Acero, learn the Ojibwe language from Lillian Rice, 77, while removing husks from wild rice at Four Directions Family Center in Minneapolis.)

· Civitan Foundation Inc. (Phoenix)- This organization designed its Caring Connections program to engage encore workers as direct caregivers for its programs serving those of all ages with disabilities. In its first eight months, the project trained 50 older Americans and placed 20 in caregiver roles with clients.

· Executive Service Corps of Chicago (Chicago)- To fill the leadership transition challenges experienced by many nonprofits, the Executive Service Corps recruits, trains and places retired nonprofit executives in interim director positions in Chicago-area nonprofits.

· Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department (Lawrenceville, Ga.)- This public safety agency recruits and employs encore workers to fill jobs at all levels. One quarter of the department's civilian and sworn work force is over 50 and previously held jobs government, retail and business.

· Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter Florida Inc. (Eustis, Fla.)- To provide homes to people living in substandard and overcrowded conditions, this Habitat for Humanity affiliate enlists a multigenerational work force. Half its staff is over 50.

· National Center for Appropriate Technology (Butte, Mont.)- This organization helps people nationally - with offices in Montana, Arkansas, California, Iowa, Louisiana and Pennsylvania - use environmentally sound, energy-efficient methods in farming. More than 40% of its employees are 50-plus, thanks to a recruitment strategy that seeks their skills and experience and a retention strategy offering flexible schedules.

· Orleans Technical Institute a division of JEVS Human Services (Philadelphia)- This technical training school employs retirees from the building trades as instructors to provide training and individualized support to an "at-risk" student population. More than half of the school's employees are 50-plus, including full- and part-time instructors, support staff, recruiters and counselors.

· Umbrella of the Capital District (Schenectady, N.Y.)- To help older adults and persons with disabilities live independently in their own homes, this nonprofit intentionally recruits 50-plus workers with the appropriate technical skills. More than 130 "handypeople" are paid an hourly stipend for light carpentry, lawn and garden maintenance, house cleaning and transportation to appointments.

In 2007, MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures first honored nonprofit and public sector employers with what was then called the BreakThrough Awards. The inaugural winners similarly exhibited successful strategies for finding, hiring and maximizing workers over 50.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Freebie Corner!

The best things in life are free. And if your budget looks like a lot of nonprofit organizations’ budgets, free is absolutely essential.

Recently I was contacted by two people regarding some terrific freebies. The first is Blackbaud’s Conference for Nonprofits being held in Charleston, South Carolina, November 16-18. Registration is now closed as the conference is sold out, however, some sessions are going to be streamed live from the conference.

All you have to do is go to to stream the following sessions:

Monday, November 16
8:30 – 9:15 a.m. ET, General Session with Blackbaud CEO Marc Chardon
9:30 – 10:45 a.m. ET, Skill Building: Ethics Under Fire, presented by Jay Love, Joy Simpson, and Paul Clolery
3:45 – 5:00 p.m. ET, The Tough Questions We Aren’t Asking Ourselves, presented by Holly Ross

Tuesday, November 17
9:00 – 10:30 a.m. ET, Keynote Session, featuring Derreck Kayongo
11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. ET, Future-Proof: Making Viable Plans in Uncertain Times, presented by Dean Feener
3:45 – 5:00 p.m. ET, DIY (Do It Yourself): Is Your Fundraising Strategy in Need of Makeover? Presented by Richard McPherson

Wednesday, November 18
12:00 to 1:30 p.m. ET, Keynote Session, presented by Steve MacLaughlin
1:30 to 2:45 p.m. ET, Google Analytics® and Search Engine Optimization: Turning Information into Knowledge, presented by Bo Crader and Chris Tuttle
3:15 to 4:45 p.m. ET, Launching the Space Shuttle: Practical Advice to Ensure a Smooth Public Launch of Your Website, presented by Raheel Gauba

I know it’s not the same as “being there” but conference registration runs several hundred dollars and if you can hear some of the same workshops and thought innovators for free, then that’s a good deal.

The next freebie comes from Mark Buzan, at Action Strategies in Canada. Mark is hosting a free webinar called "Yes, Non-Profits CAN build an Energized Fan Base through Social Media" on November 24, 2009 at 1 p.m. Here’s how Mark described it:

Social Media can be an exciting or scary prospect for non-profits and association executives. Carrying on an effective strategy is a crucial requirement if an organization is to form a wide base of popularity for its cause and create a true online community. But with thousands of social networks available, how are you to know which ones will best advance your cause? If you are on the leading edge, you are on Facebook, and maybe even have experimented with YouTube. But is all of this giving you exposure? Are you actually being called by media? And how are you doing in your search engine rankings? There are many strategies required of an effective social media relations campaign. In undertaking your campaign, you need to consider the following - are you effectively:

Establishing the required "push" versus "pull" marketing tactics that will increase your online fan base
• Linking your current offline marketing techniques with effective online marketing techniques
• Determining who should speak for your organization on social media sites
• Developing an Anchor and Outpost strategy can significantly increase your exposure – and your search engine ranking
• Determining which PR sites you should join – and which you should not?
• Do you know how to use Social Bookmarking to leverage your efforts even further?

Social media is not a one-size fits all response. It requires thoughtful consideration. What strategies are you undertaking?

Mark’s a great guy, you won’t want to miss this one. You can register at

So this also gave me an idea…as I find free resources I will report them to you as a “Freebie Corner!” Cheers! Bunnie

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Case of 4,000 Twitter Followers Who Don't Care

Social media, social media, social media...blah, blah, blah. There is just the existence of social media (all quite fun and good) and then there's the true effectiveness of social media. Debra Askanase, a nonprofit social media consultant in Israel, takes the Twitter and Facebook craze to task by really examining the loyalty numbers on the back end of these applications. Just because someone is your "friend" or "follower" doesn't mean you have a relationship. This one is a good cautionary tale for business too! Bunnie

The Case of the 4,000 Twitter Followers Who Don't Care
by Debra Askanase, Community Organizer 2.0

This is the Case of the 4,000 Twitter Followers Who Don’t Care - and why 4,000 followers means nothing without engagement.

I recently took on a new client that wants to leverage its existing social media assets (Facebook Page/Fans, Twitter followers) to drive more visits to the website. This company has been building a social media presence for over a year, and is unhappy with the lack of website visits resulting from social media.

I was told that the Facebook Group was active with almost 500 fans, and that the Twitter account had over 4,000 followers. I was also briefed that, though there was not a lot of online fan feedback, the Twitter account included some committed followers. The highest priority for the client was to figure out why social media was not driving more people to the website – and come up with a better strategy.

I took on this challenge, and want to share a few observations about why social media isn’t working for this client:

Case Observation #1:

The most important number isn’t the number of followers, it’s the number of engaged followers.

4,000 Twitter followers seems like a lot. But how many really care about your organization? How many are willing to act on its behalf?

I evaluated “the 4,000 followers” on Twitter and “almost 500 fans” of the Facebook Page. I used Twerpscan, Twittalyzer, Twazzup, and Tweetmeme to analyze the Twitter asset, and discovered: almost 400 of their Twitter followers were pure spammers no one cared what the client was tweeting, and…most of the retweets were from twitter profiles related to the company the company did not engage in conversation online, and rarely thanked retweeters there was absolutely no Twitter strategy

What I discovered was that, of the 4,000+ followers, only three were truly interested enough in what the organization was tweeting. Three.

Twitter utilizes the concept of social media karma: give and give and then others will give back. This company didn’t offer help, advice, support or anything else personal. Obviously, Twitter did not drive people to the website – no one cared enough about the company to go there.

Of the 400+ Facebook fans, most didn’t care enough to “like” a Wall post. The ones that did comment or “like” a post were often friends of the CEO or employees. All the posted was to its Facebook Page was company stories or related news. Of the 400+ fans, only one was an (unrelated to the company) engaged fan! Facebook drove little traffic to the website, which again is not surprising.

Case Observation #2:

Be wary when the CEO or Executive Director isn’t using social media on behalf of the organization.

This CEO was absolutely unwilling to be personally involved in using social media for the company. This is indicative of a CEO that does not understand the basic principles of social media. It’s critical that everyone in the organization have some direct contact with social media. An Executive Director that isn’t directly responsible for some piece of the social media is missing important information by not connecting with stakeholders directly. Not every CEO has to be responsible, but he/she should be intimately involved with the social media activities, and understand the basic principles of social media.

This CEO was using social media to “drive numbers to the website,” which completely misunderstands the basic fundamentals of social media. They are:

Engage with people first, create relationships, then move them to act.

Case Observation #3:

Their social media sites offer no real value to fans and followers

The company hadn’t taken the time to figure out what people were interested in reading on their social sites. Since the organization was not actually creating individual relationships with its fans, then it had to offer compelling and relevant news and data. However, it wasn’t giving followers information that mattered to the followers. Not surprisingly, no one wanted to visit the website to find out more.

Case Observation #4:

You need a strategy for each and every social media platform.

Their overall social media strategy consisted of posting news and information. This is an appropriate strategy for social bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon and Digg, but not at all for social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, the company usually posted the same information on both Twitter and Facebook. Fans of both sites were not even receiving unique value or reward for following the company in two places.

It’s important to realize that no two communities are the same online. Each has its own rules, expectations, and needs. You need an engagement strategy for each one of these communities. The strategy should consider the qualities of each social media platform, the needs of followers, how to best engage, and what your organization can offer its followers in terms of both engagement and value.

It’s Elementary, My Dear Watson

Social media is a tool to help your company meet its goals. But it’s more than that: if you aren’t using these tools properly, then it doesn’t matter how many fans, followers, or linkedin connections you have. They won’t care enough to do anything for your organization or company.

This case illustrates that it’s not about the number of fans and followers. It’s about the engagement. Create a strategy that brings your organization engaged followers and real relationships.

4,000 followers means nothing without engagement. And it never will.
You can contact Debra at: debra at communityorganizer20 dot com