Listening (to the right stuff)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Upwell, one of the most important and inspiring around these days.

Upwell works for the ocean. They do that with “Big Listening” (more on that later) to track the global conversation about oceans. They do it with minimum viable campaigns – lean tests of what works (and doesn’t) to change and direct the ocean conversations.

And they do it by sharing everything they learn with advocates, organizations, media, scientists and everyone else that cares about oceans (which should be each of you because, you know, the world’s surface is over 70% water and that gives oceans a big leg up on the global power chart).

Clyde listens

Tracking the global conversation about oceans (or climate change or voting rights or organic agriculture or anything you can imagine) has never been more important. The information each of us gets (or can easily find) is no longer controlled by a community (or national) newspaper or TV station and its editorial board.
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Off the trail, in the network

I came across a Gary Snyder essay called “Work in Place of Place” from a collection titled The Practice of the Wild. It brought to mind a community of practice, Web of Change, with which I’m engaged. More broadly, it speaks to the networked way in which change advocates operate.

Here are the opening and closing paragraphs. They stand on their own in a sense but the whole piece is worth a red.

Place is one kind of place. Another field is the work we do, our calling, our path in life. Membership in a place includes membership in a community. Membership in a work association — whether it’s a guild or a union or a mercantile order — is membership in a network. Networks cut across communities with their own kind of territoriality, analogous to the long migrations of geese and hawks.

Our skills and works are but tiny reflections of the wild world that is innately and loosely orderly. There is nothing like stepping away from the road and heading into a new part of the watershed. Not for the sake of newness, but for the sake of coming home to our whole terrain. “Off the trail” is another name for the Way, and sauntering off the trail is the practice of the wild. That is also where — paradoxically — we do our best work. But we need paths and trails and will always be maintaining them. You must first be on the path, before you can turn and walk into the wild.

(Well written) email matters

Email is dead montage

Maybe crap email is dead. The rest is doing fine.

In the past week, three organizations I run into a lot online and through work posted writing jobs. More specifically, email writing jobs (a list of them is below).

Writing in less than 140 character snippets, coming up with the pithiest text to put over a share image, and (at the other end of the spectrum) even longer form essays seem to be the skillsets du jour.

Yet email remains a workhorse — building and connecting supporter networks more directly than social media. In combination with social media channels, video, websites, online ads and everything else, email can be more valuable. Email goes directly to the inbox, it can introduce a topic or remind the reader of something posted on Facebook or sent through postal mail.

“But wait,” you might say, “I get way too much email” or, if you’re in the field, you’ll point out the single digit (and falling) open rates in most sectors of the email world. Both are valid points. There IS too much email and most of it is just plain BAD.
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Don’t be the coyote: Falling retention rates can be stopped

Recently, Blackbaud’s npENGAGE blog gathered tips on how nonprofits can do a better job keeping donors on board from some of the best fundraisers around.  Your mileage may vary but each insight offers a little piece of gold bound to help at least a little bit. I was struck, however, by the general message: “you need to do a better job engaging people, acknowledging them, and being genuine, loyal and transparent.”

Retention rates will fall as predictably as Wile E Coyote if you don't understand why people support you and focus on those likeliest to stick.

Retention rates will fall as predictably as Wile E Coyote if you don’t understand why people support you and focus on those likeliest to stick.

The message is true and the tactics presented are solid but it’s not enough. We we need to understand why people enter the organization, recognize that many aren’t going to stay, and build fundraising strategies with likely long-term donors in mind. Organizations also need to structure their acquisition and fundraising programs (online and otherwise) for strong collaboration between staff that handle acquisition and long-term retention.

Donor retention is headed downward with a sort of Wile E Coyote falling off a cliff predictability.  Blackbaud’s head science guy, Chuck Longfield, reports that new donor retention is around 27% these days. Retention keeps falling while the incentive to keep people on board grows — acquiring a new donor costs five, six, seven or times more than keeping an existing donor.
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Facebook Grants, Nonprofits and what’s really needed

Facebook GrantsEarlier this week Facebook announced that it had begun putting “Donate” buttons on pages run by US nonprofit organizations. The program rolled out on 19 nonprofit pages and other groups are invited to express interest in participating. Facebook is offering to funnel donations to nonprofits free of charge — 100% of donations made will go to the nonprofit.

This program is important for several reasons. Perhaps most importantly is that it begins (we hope) to standardize the Facebook donation experience which has to date been cobbled together through a combination of free and paid third party apps, forms embedded on page tabs (an interface Facebook removed), and any number of attempts to move potential donors off Facebook which has always been difficult.

A Donate Button? Yeah! Oh, wait. Meh.

The response to this news from the broader nonprofit community may be characterized as lukewarm at best. Why? Organizations won’t receive the names and contact information of donors. Nonprofits are tired of Facebook’s ever-changing algorithms, interfaces and rules. Organizations are also finding they have to pay to get their content in front of Facebook users that already Like and follow their page. Facebook makes it hard for organizations to reach their audience without paying. Nonprofits are not flush with communications and marketing resources. A pay to play environment shuts many if not most groups out of Facebook.
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Creating the most important organization in the world by caring for your members

Be good to your customers

Care about branding and marketing at your organization? Then care about your members. This tweet by Troy Theodore Wruck shares a quote from Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich should be pinned on the wall of nonprofit directors. This quote from co-founder @LeoWid is precisely why @buffer app is the most important social media tool in the [...]

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Twelve things learned from using social media in a community crisis

Lessons from Indian Gulch Wildfire

Earlier this year my partner in crime here at Bright+3 left Colorado for Washington, DC, to work as Policy Advisor on Energy and Environment for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Prior to moving to DC, Jacob served as a city council member and then mayor of Golden, Colorado. Like me, Jacob has always been intrigued [...]

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Behold the greatest threat yet to nonprofit organizations

Death Star poised to destroy nonprofit email

Nonprofit organizations face countless obstacles in their quest to protect the environment, improve education, tackle economic injustice, and otherwise help society. This is tough work, friends, and these days, as we gaze at computer screens or phones we are probably looking upon the most significant hurdle yet: Gmail’s tabbed inbox. That’s the story, anyway, from [...]

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Offline community is where the power happens

Occupy Monopoly

It was with great interest and some amusement that I read a piece by Andy Ellwood in Forbes titled (ironically, I think) Could Offline Communities be the Next Big Thing? After all, it was only a couple decades ago that the public consumption Internet was just getting rolling. Up until that time all “communities” were, [...]

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Annoying your list works except when it doesn’t

annoying-email-wonka

This goes in the category of things you probably shouldn’t adapt from the Obama campaign for your organization. A friend sent me an excerpt from Wednesday morning’s Politico Playbook. It amounted to an excerpt from Jonathan Alter’s book The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies (to be released on June 4th) that focused on the [...]

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