368 posts categorized "Communications/Marketing"

Marketing Tech for Nonprofits: A Refresher Course for 2020

January 20, 2020

SocialNetworkIconsTeaserAs we start a new year, marketing has never been more important for nonprofits. And when it comes to growing and expanding your audience, your nonprofit needs the right digital marketing strategy if wants to make progress.

Unfortunately, too many nonprofits struggle to maximize the impact of their marketing efforts c and often it's because those efforts are an incoherent, unfocused mess. An effective digital marketing strategy should accomplish some, if not all, of the following:

  • reach new audiences that support your mission
  • convert more website visitors and/or supporters into donors
  • convince your existing donors to continue their support
  • support other goals such as boosting registrations, securing recurring donations, and obtaining signatures for petitions

Perhaps most importantly, your digital marketing strategy should aim to "make your donor an action hero" (as fundraising consultant Claire Axelrad puts it) by centering his or her experience in your organization's broader work. Donor- and constituent-centric messaging can be extremely effective in motivating support and keeping audiences engaged with your mission. And the best way to ensure it does is to have a clear game plan at the start of the year and/or before each campaign is launched.

Ready to get started? Let's begin with a quick review of some of the marketing tools at your disposal and then look at hot they fit together.

Types of Marketing Vehicles and Platforms

Here's a quick overview of the different categories of digital marketing vehicles and tools at your nonprofit's disposal:

Your organization's website. Your organization's site is one of your most important marketing assets, so you need to make sure it's returning value each and every week. To be effective, a site needs to serve as an anchor or central hub for your marketing campaigns (more on this later), so if it could use a design refresh or update or is in need of back-end technology upgrades, now is the time to act. Before you do, check out our guide to nonprofit Web design projects to learn more about what you can expect from the process.

Email and direct marketing. Email continues to be one of the most effective ways to market your nonprofit to supporters, but too many organizations get it wrong. Generic email blasts to any and everyone simply aren't an effective way to engage supporters, let alone motivate them to give. Focus, instead, on building your email lists, segmenting them into groups, and creating automated email streams based on your campaign's specific goals. We also include direct mail in this category, as it can be extremely effective when backed up with good data and the right strategies.

Social tools. This category includes social media posts and platforms, peer-to-peer fundraising tools, and advocacy software. All can be great for growing your audience, especially when you port your messaging to mobile. Mobile advocacy tools, in particular, are a great way to supercharge your campaigns, meet supporters where they live, and provide them with new ways to take action to advance your mission.

Online marketing tools and techniques. This category includes things like online advertisements and search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. In terms of online advertising, your nonprofit's best bet is to check out Google AdWords, which the tech giant offers at no charge to eligible nonprofits. (For an overview of AdWords and the Google grants that nonprofits can use to underwrite them, click here.) SEO strategies require more back-end work on your site and site content, but when implemented properly they can significantly boost your organization's online visibility.

Although the categories above include the most important digital marketing tools and vehicles, you’ll get the biggest band for your buck by implementing two or more of them in combination. As we always tell clients, digital marketing works best — and the return on investment is greatest — when your tech and marketing actively support one another.

Tying Your Tools Together in a Multi-Channel Campaign

A multi-channel marketing campaign is a strategic marketing effort that pulls together a number of  different vehicles and tools.

The idea is to use each vehicle or tool to target your audience in a different way, with the aim of driving all that traffic to a central hub where visitors are encouraged to complete a "target action" such as:

  • making a donation
  • signing up for a newsletter or other communications
  • registering for an event
  • creating a peer-to-peer fundraising page

The target action is the end-goal of any multi-channel campaign. Think of it this way: What concrete action do you want people to take after they've engaged with your marketing materials? 

Without concrete goals and target actions, it's harder to focus your marketing efforts and keep your audiences engaged. Marketsmart's guide to engagement fundraising calls this unfocused, usually ineffective approach "spraying and praying." If you’re focusing on donor acquisition and cultivation, for instance, you definitely want to avoid this approach.

In other words, a multichannel marketing strategy is effective only if you keep your goals and target actions centered in your messaging. Let’s look at some of the steps in the process:

Sample Multichannel Marketing Campaign

For this example, imagine you represent an animal rescue organization in the Northeast. Your upcoming campaign is all about reaching new donors across the region, building your base of support to help fund ongoing operations, and expanding the audience for future campaigns. You want the campaign to be as engaging as possible, knowing that giving to your annual fund might not be as exciting for some donors.

First, set a specific goal — for example, secure x number of individual donations from new supporters during the campaign.

Setting a concrete KPI like the above gives you a stable reference point for evaluating the campaign’s progress once it's under way. You'll also want to map out a timeline for your campaign based on the parameters of your broader fundraising efforts.

Next, review your marketing toolkit and figure out what else you’ll need to do to set up a multichannel campaign in support of your goals:

  • Website. Create a landing page featuring an embedded donation form that can serve as the central hub for the campaign. All your other vehicles and channels should direct traffic to this page, with the goal of converting new visitors into donors.
  • Social media accounts. Post regular updates about the campaign to your social media channels, making sure to always include a link to the campaign landing page. Create a series of contests and viral challenges that encourage users to share your posts — this is how most of your new supporters will learn about you. Be sure to link your social media posts to the main campaign page, where your social media followers can learn more about your organization and make a donation.
  • Email. With an integrated email solution, you can segment your supporters into different groups and customize marketing messages for each group. For instance, you might want to send one kind of message to lapsed donors and another to non-donor email subscribers, or create different messages to share a campaign update, promote a new blog post or video, or make a direct appeal for support.
  • Digital ads. Use online ads to target the audiences most likely to be interested in your campaign. For our animal rescue organization, a local news site or pet store website might be a smart choice. Google offers advanced tools designed to make it easier to target different audience groups.
  • Google AdWords. With your AdWords grant, you can craft an ad that will appear at the top of Google search pages for keywords likely to deliver potential supporters. Keywords like "pet rescue Massachusetts" or "Northeast animal shelter" might be good choices. And again, be sure to link your AdWords ad directly to your campaign landing page.
  • Search engine optimization. For SEO, focus on creating and writing great content for your organization’s website that is targeted to specific keywords. An informative blog post about "New York animal cruelty laws," for example, would be of interest to readers likely to support your organization. Well-designed SEO strategies can go a long way to raise the visibility of your organization and drive more visitors to your site over the long run.

Don't forget to link your marketing channels so that they support one another. Ask your email subscribers to follow your organization on Instagram or Facebook, or create social media posts that encourage followers to click through to your website’s blog to learn more about a campaign or check out a video, then use that post to drive readers to your campaign's donation page.

No matter how you end up structuring your campaign, don’t forget that the key to success is to get potential supporters to engage with your content and complete a target action. Use your digital content to engage, excite, and connect with potential supporters, and then drive them to your donation page. With the right integrations, multiple marketing channels can also help you capture a ton of digital engagement data that you can use to inform future campaigns and projects!

The Importance of Tech Integrations

Integrating tools means creating a connection between different software applications that allows for the free flow of data. This is especially important when it comes to digital marketing, insofar as the kind of data generated by digital tools and channels makes it easier to track your results, measure audience engagement, and analyze performance over time.

In the example above, the animal rescue organization would want, at a minimum, to integrate its CRM or database with its donation page and email client. This will allow it to easily create segmented mailing lists and track engagement rates. An integrated donation tool also will automatically save all the transaction data generated by the donation page and, ideally, connect that information to an existing donor profile (if the donor has engaged with the organization in the past).

This kind of integration explains much of the appeal of a platform like Salesforce, where integrated apps allow data to flow between a central database and various donor engagement tools. (Check out Double the Donation's reviews for some examples of Salesforce apps for nonprofits.)

Again, the idea is that easy access to your engagement data enables you to make better decisions around how to engage your supporters. No more guessing (in theory, at least)!

Digital marketing has never been more important. Increasing your visibility online in 2020 is key to expanding your online footprint and building a solid foundation on which to grow. The "right" strategies, tools, and content will keep your existing supporters engaged with your mission — which is critical for long-term donor retention and organizational sustainability — and make it easier to attract new supporters and volunteers.

Alas, too many organizations take a rather haphazard approach to digital marketing and don't even realize what they may be missing out on. Don’t be that organization! Take some time this month to review your marketing efforts and, if you don’t already have one, determine what you need to develop a digital multichannel strategy. We think it'll be the smartest investment you ever make. Best of luck!

Headshot_carl_diesing_for_philantopicCarl Diesing is co-founder and managing director of DNL OmniMedia, where he works with nonprofits to strengthen their fundraising and build their capacity to drive social change.

How Philanthropy Can Benefit From Tapping Into Instagram Communities

January 13, 2020

Instagram_logoJudging from media coverage and online conversations, it's clear we're living in a time of heightened social consciousness ("wokeness"). Whether that sentiment is driven by genuine concern for the fate of the planet and the welfare of others or a simple desire to be part of a collective is unimportant: people being willing to live less selfishly is a good thing.

That said, changing attitudes and ways of seeing the world don't automatically translate into economic or cultural impact. If we hope to drive meaningful action and change the world, this emerging way of seeing things needs to be broadened, deepened, and communicated as widely as possible. And the key to all that is social media.

When you strike the right tone and activate the right influencers, social media can transform a disparate group of strangers into a unified force for good. And if you were asked to pick one social media platform to focus your organization's resources on, it would have to be Instagram. While the image-friendly platform doesn't have the broad reach of Facebook, it's a powerful platform in its own right and has been growing in popularity, especially among millennials and their younger siblings.

Intrigued? Here are some things to keep in mind as your organization starts to think about using  Instagram to bolster its social-change efforts:

Images drive emotion. Fundraising campaigns typically struggle to gain traction when they rely on text-based messaging alone: even the most persuasive prose can feel removed from matters of life and death, and while it's possible to read about and empathize with the plight of someone living in poverty, too often most of us simply read those appeals and put them aside before getting on with our business.

Knowing this is how most people respond to text-based appeals, charities have learned the value over the years of incorporating imagery into their appeals, whether still photos, videos, or both. If a picture is worth a thousand words, just one powerful photo of a person in need can spark the kind of emotional response from a potential supporter that ultimately leads to action.

Imagery can also be used to illustrate data points and key statistics in ways that make often lifeless material come alive. One of the classic techniques is to combine an affecting image with a dark overlay and an associated statistic rendered in bold text. When done well and shared on Instagram, such an image can easily go viral and spread to other social media platforms.

Community = donations. As persons of average means in an era of billionaire philanthropy, many of us feel disaffected and powerless. Yes, we might have the resources to help one person, but what can any of us do about the root causes of urgent social or environmental problems? It can be all too easy to throw up our hands and trust (or hope) that folks with the money to make a big difference will do so.

In recent years, however, we've seen crowdsourcing emerge as a an important fundraising tool — and a way to bring lots of geographically dispersed individuals together to change things for the better.

On Instagram, crowdsourcing campaigns should focus on the simple experience of supporting a cause and sharing it with others. The best way to do that is to use engagement-building posts designed to get your followers invested in watching the campaign grow as more people get involved. When someone on Instagram sees people they're following donating to and supporting a cause, it makes them want to jump on the bandwagon. Rare is the person who doesn't want to be known as and acknowledged for being compassionate, so take advantage of your followers' generosity and be sure to amplify their posts in support of your cause.

Live video can humanize your supporters. Thanks to Instagram Live (live streaming on the platform) and IGTV (an associated app that allows you to save hour-long videos to the platform), Instagram has become a useful tool for the production and distribution of live video, which  can go a long way in terms of communicating authenticity. After all, prerecorded videos with high production values and a lot of polish look great but often feel cold and soulless.

Presented in the right way, live video pushes social media users to see your donors and supporters as people like them. It favors unscripted testimonials over canned statements and formulaic pledges — spontaneity instead of contrivance.

It's also great for answering questions from a curious (and relatively young) follower base. Because there are so many outlets and options for charitable giving, people will always want to know one thing above all others: Why should I support your charity or cause instead of another? Hosting a live Q&A gives you an opportunity to tell people, face-to-face, why your organization or cause is deserving of their support and develop a personal connection to them at the same time.

For anyone with an important message to convey, social media in general, and Instagram in particular, is the place to be in 2020. With its tremendous reach, focus on strong visuals, and robust support for live video, Instagram is a fantastic tool for  creating engagement with your issue or cause and mobilizing supporters. If you're not using it, now is the time to get started!

Rodney_Laws_EPIO_for_PhilanTopicRodney Laws is an editor at Ecommerce Platforms, a website that evaluates ecommerce platforms and provides ecommerce business advice.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts in 2019

December 27, 2019

Happy-new-year-2020-red-text-background_1017-21971We're all living on Internet time these days, which is maybe why 2019 seemed to speed by in record time. Before we close the books on another year — and the decade of the teens — we thought it would be fun to look back at the most popular posts on the blog, as determined by your clicks, over the last twelve months. Included are oldies but goodies by Thaler Pekar, Nick Scott, Allison Shirk, and Gasby Brown; a couple of thirty-thousand-foot views of philanthropic giving by Larry McGill, Candid's vice president of knowledge services; new (in 2019) posts Jessica Johansen and NCRP's Aaron Dorfman; and a great review of Edgar Villanueva's Decolonizing Wealth by our colleague Grace Sato. From the team here at PND, best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year!

Interested in contributing to PND or PhilanTopic in 2010? We want to hear from you! Drop us a note at Mitch.Naufts@Candid.org.

Brand Awareness and Your Nonprofit

December 19, 2019

BRAND-AWARENESSIn 2018, Smithsonian Magazine called March for Our Lives, a student-led mass demonstration against gun violence that took place In Washington, D.C., "the most powerful American youth movement in decades." In 2019, March for Our Lives and the movement it catalyzed could not be found among the top five movements of interest to young Americans in a nationally representative sample of eighteen- to thirty-year-olds (Influencing Young America to Act 2019).

The lesson? Never assume others know about your cause or the work you are trying to promote.

Why is awareness important?

As I often tell organizations, the challenge for cause and movement leaders is not to get constituents to regurgitate a brand statement that reinforces work they're already engaged in; it's to connect a cause to the "zeitgeist" in a way that makes it impossible to forget.

Put another way, the fundamental challenge for any cause leader is to help people understand why it's critical they pay attention to your issue — and to keep them paying attention.

The importance of awareness

It's often the case that our messaging doesn't bring new people to our organization or cause but instead builds loyalty among those who already support it. To bring new supporters to the cause, on the other hand, awareness of the issue is imperative.

Needless to say, the fact that the people with whom we work or who support our cause tend to be passionate about our issue can give us a false sense of its importance to the public. In addition, most of us live in filter bubbles that limit our information consumption to items we completely (or mostly) agree with and/or that are relevant to our work. Which is why we're often surprised when others don’t exhibit the same level of awareness of our issue as we think they should.

It makes sense, therefore, that awareness campaigns are at the top of most organizations' communications wish lists — and why so many organizations get "false positives" when they attempt to measure awareness of their issue or cause.

Simple awareness isn't enough

Iowa Writers Workshop founder and mass communications scholar Wilbur Schramm popularized the idea that a message has no meaning beyond that given it by the sender and receiver. In other words, each person makes it personal to him or herself. The sender’s experience, biases, language, etc. influence the outgoing message, while the same happens on the receiving end. And without feedback from the recipient, the sender cannot be certain the message was received as intended.

The research we conducted for Influencing Young America to Act 2019 confirms that the most successful journey from awareness to action involves the personal. When a cause resonates with an individual in a way that is truly personal, he or she is more likely to take action.

Issue campaigns can (and frequently do) miss the mark, however. Organizations often push out information about their issue in terms that are broad and general: "Overdoses involving opioids killed more than 47,000 people in 2017, and 36 percent of those deaths involved prescription opioids."[1] While interesting from an industry or public-health perspective, this kind of approach tends not to be that effective because it doesn't give the person on the receiving end a reason to take action. To truly be effective, the message should echo the kind of bold messaging deployed by the Truth Initiative in its recent opioid campaign: "You can become addicted to opioids after just three days." The statement makes a direct connection to the receiver's personal behavior with a meaningful, informative fact-based claim: opioid overdoses may happen to other people, but you could become addicted to opioids before you know what hit you.

Informing vs. inspiring

Is there a difference between inspiring and informing donors? You bet.

You inform supporters when you:

  • Connect a message or fact to a personal choice they can make (e.g., changing one's own behavior).
  • Explain how their support (activism, personal behavior, giving, volunteerism) matters to those that are being affected and/or served.

You inspire/empower supporters when you:

  • Persuade them to put themselves in the shoes of a member of the target population and, in so doing, give them a reason to act.
  • Reinforce the "power" the individual has to act and affect change personally, for and with others.

When you first share a message, story, or campaign with the general public, be sure to convey the "relatability" of your issue. Over time, your job will be to move individuals who are interested in your issue along a continuum from familiarity with the issue, to familiarity with your organization, to deeper awareness of your cause and the actions they can take on a regular basis to support it. I'm not saying it will be easy, but the extra work required will pay off in the long run.

From all of us at Cause & Social Influence, we wish you Happy Holidays and a safe and peace-filled New Year!

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

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Notes

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/index.html

 

Bias and Language in Behavioral Sciences Research and Analysis

November 25, 2019

Funder_biasIn our previous post, we discussed the principles of ethical research and the importance of disclosing funding sources. Now let's explore how you can avoid funder bias and why you should use inclusive language in your research and analysis.

Guard Against Funder and Other Biases

Just as reporters should be committed to objective journalism, behavioral scientists have the professional and moral obligation to conduct fair, unbiased research and analysis.

In the health services industry, research findings can educate funders, practitioners, and potential patients of the effectiveness of a new treatment or prevention regime and/or used to develop more effective programs.

Unfortunately, sometimes companies and institutions fund research with the expectation that the scientists doing the research will "steer" the study toward results that put the funder in a positive light.

To avoid funder bias, researchers should only participate in research projects where there is no pressure on them to coerce participants, design tests to generate positive results, or alter their conclusions. They also need to eliminate their personal beliefs and values, perceptions, and emotions from the study, so as not to produce a biased outcome. As a researcher, you have a responsibility to be honest and objective and not give colleagues or the scientific community a reason to distrust your work.

Use Inclusive Language

Non-stigmatizing terminology that is applied with care and takes into account the diversity of your audience sends the message that you are eager to establish a fair and respectful atmosphere around the sharing and discussion of results.

Inclusive language also helps foster respectful relationships. It avoids prejudice and stereotypes. It doesn't exclude people based on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, socioeconomic status, or appearance. It doesn't imply judgment or assign value. Examples of inclusive language in behavioral health include using "substance use disorder" instead of "addiction" or "mental health patient" instead of "mentally ill person."

For all of these reasons, and others, inclusive language and an aversion to bias are absolutely essential if you want your  research and analysis to be taken seriously. If you haven't already, now is an excellent time to incorporate them into your research efforts.

(Ilustration credit: Tarbell)

Peter Gamache, PhD, and Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, are principals at Turnaround Life, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps others with grant writing, program development, capacity building, and evaluation.

New Report: What Influences Young Americans to Support Social Causes

October 25, 2019

Take-actionClimate change is the number-one issue of concern among young Americans. That's one of seven major findings in the new Influencing Young America to Act 2019 report my colleagues and I released earlier today.

The second report in the Cause and Social Influence initiative I lead examines how the oldest members of Generation Z and the youngest millennials ("young America"), those Americans between the ages of 18 and 30, are influenced by and influence others to take intentional action on social issues and analyzes how those actions coalesce to form a community of support for specific social movements.

Social Issues of Interest

In our research, we define a social issue as an existing situation recognized as being counter to a generally accepted social value that can be mitigated through people working together to deploy community resources to change the situation.

The top five issues of interest to the young America (and the percentage that selected them) are climate change (30 percent), civil rights/racial discrimination (25 percent), immigration (21 percent), healthcare reform (20 percent) and mental health/social services (16 percent).

Social Movements of Interest

In our research, we define a social movement as a group of people working together to support the interests of a community whose lives are affected by a specific issue; the group often is unable to address the issue and achieve a satisfactory resolution without the support of dedicated community activists and constituents.

The top five movements of interest to young America are #MeToo (26 percent), #BlackLivesMatter (26 percent), #AllLivesMatter (24 percent), #HumanRights (24 percent ) and #MedicareForAll (23 percent). (Note that although climate change was the number-one social issue, it did not appear among the top five movements.)

Moving Young America From Awareness to Action

For me, the most fascinating findings of the study relate to a young person's journey from awareness to action. How do causes capture individuals’ interest in the first place and then move them to take the first step — and all the steps thereafter — toward support of an issue or movement? And how do causes successfully motivate followers to recruit others to support the movement?

We found that when young Americans initially learn about an issue in which they have some interest, their feelings of empowerment dramatically affect whether they continue on the awareness-to-action journey or choose to stay on the sidelines.

The most successful journeys typically involve an issue that strike a personal chord with individuals. And once young Americans learn more about an issue, most will act.

What about those who don't? Do some choose inaction out of apathy — or is something else involved?

When young Americans decide not to take action on an issue they care about, the most popular reasons they cite for not doing so are "I don't know what to do," "It's not my place," and "I can't make a difference." On the surface, these all would appear to reflect a certain apathy.

But I would argue they reveal the opposite of apathy. Few respondents in our research said they didn't care. Young Americans want to act; they just don’t know of or believe that they're capable of meaningful action.

That is the very definition of lack of empowerment.

Much of what's in the report reflects a strong sense of empowerment in young Americans. Most young people do act, and most say their actions are not prompted by someone asking them to get involved. Rather, it’s because they feel compelled — and empowered — to get involved.

The following are recommendations for how causes and nonprofits can use the findings of the new report to build support for their issue.

Recommendation #1: Take concrete steps to ensure that young Americans feel empowered by your cause or issue. Whether you're the leader of a cause or movement, a social entrepreneur, or the person responsible for social responsibility at your place of work, it's up to you to spark and/or reinforce young Americans' feelings of empowerment. You do that by regularly letting them know how they are helping to change things and by sharing stories of real people who have been helped. You also want to be sure to encourage your supporters to share with others why they are so passionate about your issue. A feeling of empowerment should power every step of the awareness-to-action journey, so keep that feedback coming.

Recommendation #2: Ask young Americans to do something to show their support. Then ask them again. When we asked research participants whether and what had prompted them to take action, they either said no one had asked them to take action or a person/organization had explicitly asked them to take action.

Is your cause or organization content to simply to "raise awareness" of your issue? Sorry, but that’s not enough for young Americans in 2019. They want to take action. They want to be told what they can do that will make a difference. It's up to you to share with them concrete opportunities to do so at every step along the awareness-to-action journey. And don’t forget to follow up, at each step of that journey, with the results of their support.

Recommendation #3: Be a positive, credible part of the online conversation around your issue. Young Americans are listening to the news media online, which means you need to be there, too. They're also all-too aware of the "fake news" phenomenon, so it's up to you to keep abreast of the conversations happening online around your issue, to share accurate information in those conversations, and to do what you can to address incorrect and inaccurate information.

Young Americans tend to trust nonprofit organizations and social movements. It's up to you to reinforce and leverage that trust by always demonstrating authenticity and credibility. As you deepen your listening, think about how you can position yourself or your organization as a subject expert (blog posts and free resources on your website are a great start). Just remember that you're a participant — one of many — in the online conversations happening around your issue and not the primary spokesperson for the issue. Keep your focus on the issue itself — and on all the things young Americans are doing to drive real change.

Influencing Young America to Act 2019 has a lot more to say about all of this. You can download it here.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

Which Messages Will Get Out the Vote — A Generational Perspective

October 08, 2019

Vote_counts_830_0In a little over a year, America could see the unthinkable: the highest level of voter participation in living memory. And based on insights gleaned from recent research, voter messaging focused on issues and empowerment is likely to be key to the turnout.

Two factors are driving what could be a record turnout in 2020. First, while only about half of the U.S. voting-age population cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election, turnout in 2018 was the highest for a midterm election in nearly a century. Second, as the 2020 election cycle draws closer, we're seeing a continuing generational shift in the electorate. As noted by the Pew Research Center earlier this year, boomers and older cohorts accounted for 7 in 10 eligible voters in 2000, but in 2020 will account for fewer than 3 in 10.

For the many groups trying to get out the vote as a way to create change in society, the type of messaging they use in their campaigns can make a critical difference in who wins and who loses at the ballot box.

As most of you know, however, messaging is more art than science.

For example, which of these approaches is likely to prove most effective in getting people off their couches and into the voting booth in 2020?

"We want change!" (March For Our Lives/)

"You must speak to be heard." (HeadCount)

"We Make Change Happen" (Hip Hop Caucus)

"Skip the lines. Vote early!" (various)

It's hard to say, because the variables that figure into any person's decision to vote are so numerous and fluid. Some people are motivated by a particular issue or issues, others by a passion (or dislike) for a particular candidate. People's changing circumstances — marriage, divorce, having children, losing a job, relocating for a job, etc. — also play a role.

To learn more about what drives people to vote, I led a new research study with the Ad Council, in partnership with Democracy Works, designed to:

  • uncover Americans' attitudes toward and perceptions of voting;
  • explore messages and narratives that have influenced those perceptions and attitudes in the past;
  • understand reactions to specific message frames among boomers, Gen Xers, millennials, and members of Gen Z;
  • determine which message frames, for each generational cohort, are likely to be most effective in driving voter participation; and
  • identify the most compelling messages.

We recently published our findings in a report, Driving Voter Turnout in 2020: Research on Effective Messaging Strategies for Each Generation. And while our research was limited to the five frames within which most current messaging around voting falls — issue, empowerment, identity, companionship, and ease — we consistently found empowerment to be a critical driver of voting across all generations.

People who feel they have the power, the right, and/or the authority to do something are exponentially more likely to exercise that power/right/authority than people who do not feel empowered. (Note: this is just as true for giving and volunteering as it is for voting.)

Below is a brief summary of our findings, as well as some recommendations for empowering your supporters via your messaging.

Voting is valued. Members of all generational cohorts generally are excited to vote and view it as a civic duty. To reinforce this belief and attitude, consider a messaging campaign that encourages people to feel good about voting and reminds them that their vote gives them the power to affect issues they care about.

Generational differences come into play with second-tier messaging. Regardless of generation, the majority of respondents were most inspired by issue-focused messaging and found it to be the most appealing, believable, relevant, and inspiring frame. However, generations differ in their responses to second-tier messaging (i.e., messaging that reinforces the big campaign slogan/call to action). Which means you need to think about how to craft your communications based on the preferences of the generation that is being targeted.

Messages of empowerment and identity are the most effective (after issue). Our surveys showed that once you've hooked your audience with issue-related messaging, all generations respond best to messages of empowerment and identity (though Gen Z responded less favorably to identity-related messaging than other cohorts). For example, targeting members of younger cohorts with positive, inspirational messages (and images) helps them think about the bigger picture — and reminds them that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. On the other hand, older generations are more likely to respond to straightforward messaging and acknowledgements of their already established identities as members of the voting public.

Although the majority of Gen Zers have not yet voted, they are just as excited about and engaged in voting activities as older generations — if not more so. Members of Gen Z view messages that speak to issues and empowerment as appealing, relevant, shareable, believable, and inspirational. (Think about campaigns such as March For Our Lives, which highlights the power of the individual.) Gen Z cares deeply, passionately, and openly about issues. Its members take their role in our democratic society seriously and believe that every person and vote counts. To inspire them, craft messages based on issue and empowerment frames.

Voting is essential to a well-functioning democracy. Today, with the political divide in the country as wide as it has been in half a century and the 2020 election looming, communicators have the power — and responsibility — to use all the tools at their disposal to influence voters, of all ages, to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed right and make their voices heard at the polls.

We know that in order to influence how anyone views your issue, you first must influence how he or she views it in relation to themselves. The good news? You're starting with a significant advantage: today's younger generations already believe they can create change, whether or not institutions formally offer them the chance to do so.

Regardless of whether you're a marketer/communicator for a brand, a cause, or a candidate, your first and most important task is to empower your constituents to believe in that brand/cause/candidate. Help them feel like they're an important part of the social-change solution. And while you're at it, empower younger Americans to believe they hold the future in their hands.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

Ten Years of Millennial Research: What I'd Do Differently

August 16, 2019

MillennialsIt's finally here — the final Millennial Impact Report, the culmination of a decade of research conducted by the Case Foundation and research teams I led into cause behaviors of the generation born between 1980 and 2000.

Any project of that magnitude — we interviewed more than 150,000 millennials, held hours and hours of focus groups, compiled and analyzed reams of data, and wrote volumes of narrative — begs the question: Would we do it all over again?

Absolutely — albeit with some tweaks based on what we've learned.

When we launched the project in 2008 — and over most of the next ten years — making assumptions about millennials seemed to be a favorite pastime of many of the people we interviewed or spoke to. We heard that millennials were lazy and more entitled than any  generation before them. They believed they deserved big salaries right out of college, and when reality hit they moved into their parents' basement (still the most enduring cliché about young Americans in this age group).

Put it all together and you got the biggest assumption of all: there was no way millennials would want to get actively involved in causes.

When we set out to learn about millennials, it wasn't to prove (or disprove) our own assumptions; it was to better understand their real motivations and behaviors. So we designed the research process to be an ongoing journey of discovery. I wouldn't change a thing about that.

But in looking back at our journey, there are some things I wish we had explored further:

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Drive Commitment and Change With 'Moments'

July 18, 2019

Ripple-effectOrganizations are always on the lookout for strategies that can help them engage supporters or build their movements. When I interact with an organization or cause that is seeking to build a constituency, I like to ask two questions:

  1. What’s the next milestone you are working toward?
  2. What are you doing right now to increase your supporter base in advance of that milestone? 

A few definitions here will be helpful:

  • A milestone is an incremental achievement that leads to a "moment" within a movement. The milestone Is achieved by the community working together.
  • A moment is a one-time (or short-term) convergence of actions, informal or organized, that is fueled by cultural, political, and/or social events leading to a surge of individual participation and self-organizing by supporters.
  • An issue or cause is an existing state of affairs (societal, environmental, political) recognized by society as contrary to its values but that can be improved by people working together and taking advantage of community resources.

As a leader of a mission-driven organization, your work is to break new ground for your issue or cause. You’re the visionary always on the lookout for that movement-altering moment when public awareness, supporter engagement, and a broader narrative of progress come together to create progress.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (June 2018)

July 01, 2019

Is it us, or does chronological time seem to be accelerating? Before the first half of 2019 becomes a distant memory, take a few minutes to check out some of the most popular posts on the blog in June. And remember: You're not getting older, you're gaining wisdom.

Interested in contributing to PND or PhilanTopic? We'd love to hear from you. Drop us a note at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

5 Tips for Giving Great Design Feedback

June 19, 2019

Feedback2Receiving feedback and iterating on creative work is a huge part of what we do every day at Constructive. Whether we're conducting an internal review with our designers and art directors, or discussing work with clients, collaboration is crucial to improving our work.

That said, it's easy to go through the motions without thinking critically about how to optimize the delivery of feedback when deadlines are approaching, budgets are tight, and multiple projects are being juggled. In my role as a project manager, I've sat in countless meetings to review feedback and have seen teams (ours and our clients) use different tactics to deliver that feedback, with varying degrees of success. What I've learned from the experience is that the difference between good and bad feedback can have a real impact on the overall success of a project and, therefore, is worth paying attention to. In that spirit, I'd like to share a few tips on how you can give great design feedback.

How to Give Great Design Feedback

1. Ask questions. A successful design process is by definition collaborative, and asking thoughtful questions only serves to strengthen that process. By posing questions rather than sending the design team a list of specific changes it needs to make, a client can open up lines of communication, encourage further discussion, and ensure that assumptions (false or otherwise) aren't inadvertently baked into the cake. Ultimately, a design team looks to its clients for their expertise in their particular issue area, and often it will learn more about a client's (and the client's audiences') needs when the client questions its design choices and a healthy conversation ensues.

2. Communicate problems, not solutions. It can be tempting to review a design and propose solutions to things you don't think are working. A better approach is to communicate what the problem is and why the said design decision is problematic. For example, if you don't like the placement of a newsletter call-to-action and want to see it moved to another page, telling us why you think your website visitors are more likely to sign up for your newsletter when engaged with another content type (news updates vs. insights, for example) will give us more insight about your audience and help us offer a better solution. By describing the problem, you're equipping the design team with information needed to explore other solutions, rather than spoon-feeding the team a solution that might not be the best one.

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Giving Voice to Your Supporters

June 03, 2019

Giving_voiceIn their desire to give voice to the vulnerable and underserved in society, most cause-driven organizations fail to include their supporters in the equation. By failing to do so, they are denying others a golden opportunity to see themselves in the same light.

A few years ago, an agency for pregnant women/healthy newborns came to us for help with a fundraising campaign. The agency's volunteers visit pregnant women in their homes to teach them about prenatal care and how to take care of a newborn. The agency's typical supporter is someone who wants to give babies a healthy, safe start in life.

At the same time, the agency was committed to a program focused on fathers-to-be. Nowhere in the program materials was there recognition or an acknowledgment of how invested the agency's volunteers were in giving babies a healthy, safe start in life or, indeed, any mention of the volunteers who were lending their time and experience to reassure and help pregnant women who often have no one they can turn to for help.

Not surprisingly, the overall campaign was not as successful as it could have been. Potential supporters who might have seen themselves as "people who think every baby deserves a chance at a healthy beginning" instead heard "we are an organization that wants to help men be good fathers." Both sentiments are laudable, but only one truly resonated with the agency’s most important constituency.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 11-12, 2019)

May 12, 2019

0510_flooding_CNNA weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Communications/Marketing

There’s been an email marketing paradigm shift in the nonprofit sector, writes Caroline Fothergill on the npEngage site. Whereas the size of a list used to be all that mattered, "collectively [we've] come to realize the value of quality over quantity." Today, open and click rates are where it's at, and Fothergill shares some practical advice designed to help nonprofits improve their results in both areas.

Criminal Justice

"As a person who uses drugs," writes Louise Vincent on the Open Society Foundation's Voices blog, "I know that no one person is to blame. What is responsible for the hundreds of thousands of deaths from drug overdose is a broken drug policy, a system that prioritizes punishment over treatment, and a culture of prohibition that leads us to use drugs alone and in shame." 

Health

What does it take to build fair opportunities for health in rural communities? On the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health blog, Whitney Kimball Coe,  coordinator of the National Rural Assembly, a movement geared toward building better policy and greater opportunity across the country, shares some of the lessons she has learned in her work.

Book reading has been declining for decades, and language and communications experts are concerned. Markheim Heid, a health and lifestyle writer, takes a closer look at the research — and the implications for society.

Higher Education

It's time to shift the social contract of education away from short-term job training toward long-term development, writes David M. Perry, a former professor of history, on the Pacific Standard site. And free college has to be part of that shift.

In The Atlantic, Tom Nichols, author of the Death of Expertise, argues that the idea that students on college campuses should have "a say in the hiring and firing of faculty whose views they merely happen not to like...is a dangerous development — a triple threat to free speech, to the education of future citizens, and to the value of a college education." Readers of Nichols' article respond.

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Design Therapy for the Purpose-Driven Organization

May 08, 2019

Branding_Alpha Stock ImagesThe value of brand design for nonprofits or foundations — when done right — is not just in the outcome but in the process. Design is the act of (re)imagining how we see and communicate ideas. It's an opportunity to challenge assumptions, change minds, and test the status quo. Brand design, in particular, is rife with such opportunities and, of course, potential landmines. For organizations that are prepared to embark on the adventure, it can be transformative in unexpected ways. At its best, a brand redesign can reinforce and strengthen an organization's work, increase its engagement with internal and external audiences, and pave the way for real growth.

Clarity, Meet Beauty

Branding is the process of figuring out the clearest, truest manifestation of who you are as an organization through words, images, and graphics. A great brand elucidates the "who" (people and ethos) and the "why" (purpose) succinctly and clearly. And the process of getting to a great brand typically starts with a design firm gathering as much qualitative data as it can about your organization.

By data, I mean the perspectives of internal and external stakeholders; an operational values assessment; deep dives into strategic business goals, personality drivers, competitive landscape, and positioning; and audience identification. It's similar in these respects to how an organization would approach a strategic planning process.

All the insights are then distilled into a strategy that highlights key elements such as organizational personality, values, and market differentiation. This strategy guides the creation of new messaging, tagline, logo, website, and so on.

So, what's the big deal? It seems pretty straightforward.

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3 Ways to Educate Donors About Movement Building

March 26, 2019

DownloadAt your most recent meeting with donors, you probably discussed the impact of your programs and perhaps even asked for commitments for the upcoming fiscal year. Did you also talk to them about funding the movement itself to ensure its future viability and success?

Donors typically give for two reasons: 1) to leverage gifts from other donors; and/or 2) in response to short-term needs. In both cases, the impact of their gifts plays out across two dimensions: helping bring others to the cause, and helping the people or cause served by your organization.

So while it's common for nonprofits to pitch donors in terms of the tangible difference their gifts will make for intended beneficiaries or the cause, organizations also need to learn how to demonstrate to donors the value of supporting the broader movement itself.

How to build a movement

Over the years I've been involved in movement building, clients often have shared with me the names of donors they believe are open to taking a broader view of the movement. On occasion, clients even have asked me to speak with certain individuals to gauge their interest in funding movement-building activities and to share any thoughts I might have about the approach they should take in subsequent conversations with those donors.

Below, I share some of what I've learned from my interactions with donors in the belief it will give you something new you can use in your conversations with donors to educate them about the importance of movement building.

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  • "Let the watchwords of all our people be the old familiar watchwords of honesty, decency, fair-dealing, and commonsense...."

    — Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)

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