Three ways to stop wishing for a big campaign

In the movie Big, Tom Hanks plays 12 year old Josh Baskin who puts a coin in a magic wish machine at the amusement park arcade one summer night and asks to be big. Nothing happens after making the wish so he heads home and goes to bed.

Be big

You know the story. Josh wakes up the next morning and is, well, BIG (and played by Tom Hanks).

Sometimes, your campaigns go big. You probably didn’t plan for it (though you may have wished for it). The ride may be fun but it’s probably not what you expected.


Sometimes, things don’t turn out as you hoped. You didn’t raise much money. New people didn’t stick with you. The media didn’t respond as you hoped. The big suit doesn’t always fit right — you may walk away disappointed but a bit wiser.

Big. And not so fun.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the question “What does it mean for a to ‘go big’ if you’re a nonprofit?” What is a viral campaign? That’s because I’m organizing a session here in Denver with the folks from Tech4Good titled Going Viral: The Ups and Downs of Hitting it Big. The program is tomorrow so you’ve probably missed it.

We don’t have to find Zoltar and wish to be big but we do need to know what “big” is, tap into what helps make campaigns go big and be ready when it happens (even if it’s not as dramatic as in the movie or the ice bucket).

So… What IS Big?

When it’s really big you know it. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was big. Very big.

Google trends - ALS
A 12 month Google search trends chart tracking ALS and Obama searches. The ALS spike is reminiscent of the Super Bowl and other huge national events.

Continue reading “Three ways to stop wishing for a big campaign”

Do you create content, measure it and still have no idea if content matters?

You are not alone if you answered yes (or even maybe/I’m not sure) to the question in the headline above. There is a disconnect along the creation, measurement, impact and learning path when it comes to content.

We set up The Content Survey to help you better understand how to develop and measure content that drives social change. Here are some preliminary results (and check out the slides below, too).

Content Survey - Preliminary Results

Who Took the Content Survey

67 organizations participated in the survey. Of that group…

  • 30 are small groups with under 20 staff.
  • 9 are mid-sized organizations with 20 – 50 staff members.
  • 11 are large groups of 51 – 100 staff.
  • 17 are very large organizations with over 100 staff.

The leading ways in which individuals saw their organization achieving its mission were direct advocacy and education. Groups also use research, community organizing, policy making and community service to achieve their mission.

There’s no clear correlation between organization size and having a written content strategy. Twenty-three percent of small groups have a content strategy — same as large organizations.

Overall, only one in four groups report having a content strategy.

Does Content Strategy = More Powerful Content?

Continue reading “Do you create content, measure it and still have no idea if content matters?”

Take The Content Survey

Chances are, if you’re working in a nonprofit or campaign you’re spending a good chunk of time writing, editing, shooting photos and video, or maybe commenting on ad copy or Facebook post language. Maybe you’re putting together language for the next email newsletter, activist alert or infographic for that new report your research team put together.

The Content Survey
Click to take The Content Survey.

All that content we’re putting out in the world are the atoms of advocacy — they’re the bits and pieces that form the dots, build the networks and create change.

Take The Content Survey
from Bright+3 and Echo & Co.

But are we able to make sense of how all the blog posts, reports, emails, videos, infographics and (of course) clever animated gifs are advancing our work? That’s a question we’re continually wrestling with in our research and client work.

We wanted to dig a little deeper and last month released a small query for the community — The (mini) Content Survey. It was a (very) brief questionnaire to get a sense of how effective people felt their content was and how they assess that effectiveness. The most valuable information came as open-ended responses to the question “What’s the one thing you wish you knew about your content (but don’t)?”

Are we smart enough about psychology to have the right context when creating content?

And another:

The extent to which people are learning from content. It’s hard to measure the impact of “educational” content.

Most boiled down to how we know if content is motivating action:

What is the reader’s emotional reaction and what does that move them to do?

These are difficult metrics to gather and evaluate (but it can be done). The question is – do these metrics help (and do we have the resources to learn and act on them)?

Now we’re taking The Content Survey a step further. We teamed up with Echo & Co. to launch and analyze a more complete set of questions – though just 10 questions in all. Next month, we’ll begin reporting back on our findings to the community at NTC in Austin (and for anyone who asks and wants to learn more).

To be clear, we’re looking for feedback from anyone involved in the content creation process so if you’re a digital strategist, fundraiser, organizer or leader, please take a few minutes to take the survey here:

The Content Survey

We’d love it if you would take The Content Survey. Ten questions. Thanks!

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.
Continue reading “Listening (to the right stuff)”

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.
Continue reading “(Well written) email matters”

Creating the most important organization in the world by caring for your members

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.

At every nonprofit, a lot of money, thinking and time goes into serving the mission, the issue, the clients. And, usually, a lot goes into branding exercises, strategic plans, marketing materials, building social media followings and email lists. Perhaps much of those resources are focused on the wrong set of people.

Typically, not much goes into serving and supporting those members, fans, followers, or even donors. Many organizations with hundreds of thousands of members have just a few “member services” staff. They often don’t know their members and messages to them are rarely, if ever, intended to create conversation.

These are the people that already like you. Don’t just ask them for money. They’re not valuable to you. Your organization is valuable to them. Meet your mission and help the people, creatures or places you serve. Of course.

But focus more on valuing the people that already support you and you’ll be able to better serve your mission.

Twelve things learned from using social media in a community crisis

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.

Lessons from Indian Gulch WildfireLike me, Jacob has always been intrigued by the ability of digital communications to connect and support people in their community, personal and political endeavors. Jacob maintained an email newsletter and website for years while a candidate, councilman and mayor. During his council and mayoral campaigns, we tested what was (at the time) innovative integration of voter files, email lists, volunteer data and walking lists to help target his efforts.

As elected officials go, it seemed that Jacob knew how to make the most of email and social media in his job. That experience was tested in March, 2011, when the Indian Gulch wildfire started just west of Golden (in the foothills on the west side of Denver). The fire lasted a week and became the nation’s largest at that time. Hundreds of homes were threatened.

The City of Golden had an emergency operations plan and a process by which city and county, the Sheriff’s department and fire officials would update the media. But wildfires move fast in dry windy hills and the need to get information out to residents with homes in and around those hills is urgent. Social media, email and the web raise expectations about information availability and local leaders are pressured to supply accurate and rapid news.

A few weeks ago, Jacob and Bill Fisher, a Golden City Council member, released a brief, highly readable report analyzing the lessons learned about communications (particularly digital/online networks) from the Indian Gulch fire. The report digs into early observations shared on the site Emergency Management in 2011Continue reading “Twelve things learned from using social media in a community crisis”

Behold the greatest threat yet to nonprofit organizations

Nonprofit organizations face countless obstacles in their quest to protect the environment, improve education, tackle economic injustice, and otherwise help society.

Death Star poised to destroy nonprofit email
The Death Star – aka George Lucas’s early version of the Gmail tabbed inbox.

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 a few recent nonprofit messages and news stories.  Jeff Bezos’s new project, The Washington Post,  has a story titled Advocacy groups want out of Gmail’s ‘promotions’ ghetto. It includes a snippet from a New Organizing Institute (NOI) email containing one of the best (if overwrought) lines in email history:

Now some of you might love this new organization of your inbox, that’s great! But many important advocacy emails (like this one from your friends here at NOI), could get lost in the commotion of all these new tabs – silencing our voices like those of the poor souls on the planet Alderaan.

The email went on to let people know how they could get rid of the tabbed inbox or slide NOI email into the primary tab so that future messages would appear there.

Not to be outdone, the international advocacy campaign group Avaaz sent a message to subscribers titled “Huge threat to Avaaz.” Here’s a bit of that one:

Avaaz email informing subscribers about the threat from Gmail.
Opening of a recent Avaaz email about Gmail’s tabbed inbox.

There is some debate about the impact the tabbed inbox is actually having on email response. MailChimp crunched data from millions of messages sent through its system to Gmail addresses and concluded:

What bothers me in this case is that open rates stayed down for 3 consecutive weeks. From looking at a year and half’s worth of data, I can say that kind of behavior isn’t normal. I’m not willing to declare an emergency just yet. After all, I don’t even know what the adoption rate is on Gmail’s side. However, I would say this is an early indicator, and we’re definitely keeping our eye on it.

Not exactly a call to evacuate Alderaan in the face of massive Imperial threats but perhaps we should be concerned. It’s worth noting that MailChimp looked only at open rates, a high level metric that doesn’t correlate to conversions (though it can be useful in spotting trends over time with large amounts of data).

ReturnPath has also taken a look at Gmail data using inbox placement and read rates. They found that already engaged subscribers are reading messages more often but read rates are down in general.

So,  what to do about tabbed inboxes?!

The tabbed inbox is simply Gmail’s next step in a long progression towards trying to give people what they want (or what Google thinks they want). They know that most “mass” email is ignored and have been shifting towards engagement based ways of inbox placement and advance management for years.

I don’t begrudge any organization from making an effort to get its messages out of the promotions ghetto and into the Primary tab. It’s definitely worth testing, at least.

But the people that are going to take this step are likely those that were already engaged with your messages anyway. In some sense, raising alarm about messages not being in the Primary tab misses the point. If people want to read your emails (and care about your issue and what you have to say) they aren’t going to suddenly stop because your messages are in a tab two inches to the right.

Better to emphasize action, engagement, and value to the reader in every single message. The tabbed inbox is not the biggest threat to your work.

Note: We would love to talk to any organization that has tested and crunched Gmail data in the past couple months. It would be great for others to know what’s working, what’s not and if there has been a measurable impact on actions taken and donations given. 

Email & Online Fundraising

Email remains the killer app of the Internet age. A healthy email list is the lifeblood of many organizations precisely because – if you build a permission-based list – you are delivering your message to readers that want to hear from you. We have been building email advocacy, fundraising, and marketing campaigns for nearly 20 years and we can help your campaign use it to get more people involved, raise more money, and win.  Continue reading “Email & Online Fundraising”