Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Do Believe the “Hype”: Broadcast Now on UStream--Tip #3

Continuing with our series on free social media tools, we move from on-the-go video capture and the Twitterverse to a hybrid of webcasts and live chat,

For each one of the media tools we suggest, we have included our rating of the tool in terms of: 1) Ease of Use; 2) Interactivity v. Passive Engagement; and 3) Return on Investment.

Many non-profits operate over a large geographic space and often feel that they do not get those desired one-on-one interactions that could lead to growing the number of organizational constituents, or equally important, growing their donor base. has a key piece of advice that non-profits should embrace: “Broadcast now.” is a live, interactive FREE broadcasting platform. Initially founded as a way for soldiers in Iraq to see and interact with their families, the platform has taken off, with over 17.4 million users a month and thousands of unique programs.

One non-profit I worked with used the technology to broadcast their summits to a larger audience. These broadcasts allowed young people from across the country to have their opinions heard and responded to, all from the comfort of their own homes. This is just one of many ways to use this powerful technology. could be used in a variety of contexts. It could be used to broadcast a membership meeting, to create an interactive town hall with chapters of your organization across the country, or for a monthly fireside chat with your Executive Director.

You do not need much to get going: a computer, a webcam, and an Internet connection. Your viewers can watch you present your programming and use the chat function of to interact with your team. Users can remain anonymous or they can create their own profiles over UStream.

When you create a profile, you are led through the steps of setting up your user profile for your organization. You can “dress up” your UStream page to reflect the branding of your organization as well as create channels for your separate programs if you decide to use it for more than one purpose.


Ease of Use

This is not the easiest of all tools to use. Although the set up process is fairly self-explanatory, it still requires one to connect the webcam or other camera properly, test out the sound, and make sure that the technical pieces are in working order. A few test-runs with UStream and some tinkering around should resolve most use issues.

Interactivity v. Passive Engagement

This tool is highly interactive. This gives your constituents a chance to not only see what your organization does and who they are, but it allows people to engage in conversations with you and get direct responses. It also allows the community of users who come on to watch your programming to chat with one another. Although a user could just sit back and watch the show, the tools are available to engage in the polling of your audience along with other fun tricks.

Return on Investment

This is worth your time if your organization has a need to connect your members or to expand your user base in the virtual space. It will take a little more human capital investment to learn the interface, but could be well worth it if you are able to convene your members in a meaningful online experience.

The Final Word

We advocate trying all these types of technologies at least once. Just like any tool, this may not suit every organization, but you will not know until you try. Since anyone can watch your broadcasts, it is also a way to attract new constituents to your organization.

Do Believe the "Hype": Tweeting v. Blasting -- Tip #2

Non-profit executives always have to be mindful of the bottom line. Budgets are tight these days, but the list of goals for the organization keep growing and the ideas keep coming. The name of the game is learning how to do more with less. If used wisely and creatively, social media tools can be a God-send for any non-profit staff.

Our second tool featured in this blog series, is like most social media, absolutely free. The only cost associated is the limited time you invest in putting 140 words together.

Twitter This and Twitter That

In the past few months, news reports have been filled chatter about Twitter. The newest social networking craze allows people, businesses, and organizations to post messages of 140 words or less online for the entire world to see. Recently, it seems Twitter has permeated every aspect of U.S. culture. Today, everyone tweets. Celebrities are tweeting, CEOs are tweeting, intellectuals are tweeting, and even members of Congress tweet incessantly.

If you are currently a tweeter, then you are probably familiar with the virtues of Twitter, and can likely imagine some of its' more practical applications. However, if the Twitterverse is new territory for you, you likely have a lot of questions. Above all, you are likely wondering how a site that limits you to 140 words or less could be useful. What could you possibly say in 140 words or less? Well, simply put, you can say a lot.

Why Tweet?

The beauty of Twitter is that it forces people to be as brief as possible. The user is only given enough room to communicate their message in a couple of sentences. This makes Twitter the perfect tool for getting out brief updates. Why write an entire email to communicate a thought as simple as a meeting reminder? Why not just tweet it out? This saves you both time and money.

Sites that send mass emails generally charge, limit the number of emails you are allowed to send, and have little formatting quirks that often take more time to fix then drafting the actual email. Tweeting gets simple thoughts out easily and in a matter of seconds. Instead of sending a meeting reminder with a fifth copy of the agenda, simply state:"Meeting Reminder: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 7:00pm at Statewide Office." No muss, no fuss.

Will My Tweets Fall on Deaf Ears?

Twitter is different from email because you are not sending messages to a person's inbox. While you can send direct messages to other Twitter users' profiles, you cannot send directed messages en mass. Rather, your message will be public for every Twitter user to see.

The best way to make sure your tweets are seen by the right people is to invite the constituents of your organization to follow you on Twitter. That way, your tweets will automatically show up on their profile. Even inviting people to follow you on Twitter is easy. Simply put a link to Twitter ( on your homepage with the title: "Follow Us!" People will know what to do from there.


Ease of Use

Twitter is one of the easiest social media tools to use. It's as easy as 1,2,3..

1. Start by creating a profile. The information asked for to make up this profile is minimal and it only takes a few minutes.

2.Next you simply type a short message in the window at the top of your profile.

3. Click "Update." Your tweet is then instantly sent.

Interactivity v. Passive Engagement

Twitter's interactivity rating is moderate. Your followers can respond to your tweets through direct messaging, but they too are limited to using 140 characters. The beauty of Twitter is that it is an economical tool. It's easy on your bank account and your time. It's a great way to disseminate bits of information quickly and cheaply, but not the best forum for engaging in complex dialogue. Always remember that Twitter is a specialized communications tool. It is most effective when used judiciously.

Return on Investment

Accessing and utilizing Twitter is free and easy. The site is free and the time commitment is low. Additionally, there is the potential to reach thousands of people. If used wisely, the return you get from Twitter can be very high.

The Final Word

Try it out. Our firm tweets and we love it. With zero financial commitment and a low time commitment, there are few reasons not to try it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Do Believe the "Hype": Free and Low Cost Media Tools to Get Exposure --Tip #1

Margo and I are focusing our blogging for the next month on strategies to help non-profits survive, and even flourish, during this time when everyone is preaching doom and gloom regarding the global economic outlook.

Everyone is looking for a bargain these days, and the best bargain is that which is free. This week, we are going to introduce several free and low cost social media tools that we have advised our clients to use. For each one of the media tools we suggest, we will include our rating of the tool in terms of: 1) Ease of Use; 2) Interactivity v. Passive Engagement; and 3) Return on Investment.

Our first in this series is the only tool that has a cost, besides human capital and time associated with it.

What is Flip? The Flip Video Camera

Flip Video Camcorders are small, handheld video cameras, equipped with a USB connection, that allow the user to tape up to sixty minutes of video footage. Flip Cams have been used for a variety of projects, including PBS' Video Your Vote campaign during the 2008 election.

Anatomy of a Flip Cam

A power button is located on the side of the camera. Everything you need to operate the camera is on the back console. An easy to identify arrow button lets you play recorded video. A button with a little trash can lets you get rid of those unsuccessful video attempts. Arrow keys on both sides of the red record button lets you advance through previously recorded videos.

In the middle of the back console lies the record button, which is large and red. The plus sign lets you zoom in; the minus sign lets you zoom out.

Once you are finished recording, you can release the USB arm from the side of the camera and connect it into the USB port on your computer, whether PC or Mac.


Ease of Use

Everything you need for the Flip Cam comes in the box you purchase the Flip Cam in. Uploading footage to a computer is simple (the USB port pops right out of the side of the camera), and you do not have to worry about losing cables for the camera. The Flip Cam is just like a regular video camera in that it can be connected to a tripod for still video projects.

The most important measure of ease of use is the ability of a variety of educational and age demographics to use the tool. This tool can be used with all age demographics, even by organizations that work primarily with those 65 and older. The tool simply needs to be powered on, by pressing one button, and there is a large red button on the back of the camera that must be pressed to record. The same button is pressed to stop recording like most cameras. From both a visual and tactile perspective, something that organizations must be aware of depending on their constituents or membership, it is non-exclusive.

Interactivity v. Passive Engagement

The tool is highly interactive for the user. It gives everyone a turn at being a videographer, a producer, or a citizen journalist. Since it is so easy to take the video clips off the camera, users can immediately see their projects come to life online or they can be watched together after a day of "production."

This tool is less interactive for the online viewer. While video is more likely to be engaging for some people versus just a written message, there are limited ways one can interact back with a video, unless you build a program or a project, for example, that includes a video-to-video response component. Another suggestion would be having online users make suggestions for future videos or provide the creative concepts for your video clips.

This is not a Read Write web tool, but could be used in conjunction with those types of online tools.

Return on Investment

For $129, your organization now has a way to create rich media content for a variety of different purposes. Your quarterly fundraising ask could now be accompanied by a video clip of the people your organization serves. Your fundraising "Thank Yous" could be several of your organization's beneficiaries stating how the donations have impacted their lives.

This also enhances your use of other platforms, like YouTube. By using YouTube with the Flip Cam, you can spread the message about your organization in an easily digestible manner. Additionally, you can easily update your video clips, embedding them within your website or blog. At Gagnier Margossian, we have advised several clients to incorporate video press releases within their outreach strategy.

The Final Word

Buy this tool. Our firm owns two, the Flip Ultra and a Mino HD Flip Cam. It fits in pockets or purses and allows us to collect great footage on the go.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Americana: The Salvation Army's Red Kettle

Found this piece this morning on the Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign and its' success in 2008.

"The amount raised represents a 10 percent year-over-year increase in donations to the campaign — the largest one-year jump since 1997. The boost was due in part to an increase in corporate partnerships and the use of tech-based fundraising approaches, including cashless red kettles that allowed donors to pay by credit or debit card and a text-messaging service that enabled cell phone users to contribute via their phone bills. In general, Internet giving grew by 28 percent last year, reaching a total of $10 million."

Take note that Internet donations grew by 28%. It would interesting to discover whether donors were: 1) repeat donors, in contrast to the Target Analytics study covered in the New York Times earlier this week; and 2) whether these donors went online after seeing the iconic red kettle somewhere, the physical interaction serving as the impetus for the online donation.

Another interesting point was that 26% percent of the campaign's donations were received in front of big-box discount retailers.

Friday, March 20, 2009

On Mergers and Acquisitions...Of Non-Profits

Right before an afternoon phone call, I pondered what the final post in our series this week on financial capacity and non-profits would be. Margo and I covered the problems, innovative ways to fundraise, and sustainable revenue sources within our blogs this week. Yet, once I was on my call, my former boss, a non-profit CEO, brought up what will be a growing trend in non-profits: consolidation.

Non-profits organizations that have a powerful impact and have been successful in the past can face the same fate as the host of for-profit organizations who are currently experiencing financial trouble. They may realize that staff needs to be cut, programs need to be scaled, or ultimately, that it is no longer possible to operate.

The old adage, "Strength in numbers," is applicable now more than ever. Instead of shutting your doors, these strategists advise that you consider two options: a merger or an acquisition. While navigating these legally may already seem to be an insurmountable obstacle (plug for Margo, Esq.), what may seem even worse is the perceived stigma that an organization feels comes along with such a decision.

Reality check. There are savvy ways to merge or be acquired. You could become a special project of a foundation. In youth politics, for example, you could join with a few other youth voter orgs. You could form a strategic, cross-issue alliance, like technology and humanity. You could even become the charitable arm of a for-profit. None of the above will cause you to lose face or admit defeat. They are smart moves.

What got us into this financial mess? No way am I going to answer that. That would take expertise I do not possess and would cause you to click away from the page. But part of the issue was ego, companies or individuals not admitting that certain financial decisions were not within their means.

Means are limited across the board, for everyone, and it is better to save some of the valuable work you perform and protect your organizational consumers (your "shareholders") than to feel that you are protecting your "street cred" or your "rep." Those things can be managed and much better preserved when you make strategic moves.

Consolidate now, and you could be the new powerhouse later. Youth voter orgs, who I know have been particularly affected in the post-2008 election era, 2010 and 2012 are around the corner. Join forces, you have the Millennials behind you.

Punchline: Don't give up.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Lots of non-profits solicit donations and grants as their primary revenue source. However, in today's tight economy, those revenue streams are starting to dry up. It is now time to think outside of the traditional fundraising box. Those non-profits that are going to survive the current slump are going to be those that are going to be creative about how they sustain themselves financially. One alternative financial strategy is to start offering services needed by the core demographic of people you serve at a reasonable price to cover operating costs. With state agencies having to pull back on the amount of services they can offer the public, non-profits have the opportunity to fill in some of the holes.

For example, there is currently a freeze on all travel funds for state employees. This means that field agents for some of these state agencies that used to provide essential continuing education opportunities for professionals such as social workers cannot provide these professional development opportunities this year. A nonprofit with a focus on social services advocacy and a knowledgeable staff can develop a partnership with their state's Department of Social Services to step in and provide the trainings needed in the field.


A partnership with a state agency in this case is essential. You will want to make sure that you and the regulatory entity that your audience will have to ultimately report to are on the same page in terms of interpreting regulations and requirements. You will also want to be able to offer professional development certificates or credits to your attendees. These certificates are a big draw, and you must get approval to offer them.

The Nuts and Bolts

Providing these services might seem a little daunting and expensive. Don't worry, with a well organized staff or team of dedicated volunteers, it is much easier then you think. Trainings for instance can be put together relatively quickly and at low cost.

For a training, you will need a topic, a presentation, a facility, and lunch. If you are lucky to have experts in your particular field on staff or as organizational members, picking a topic and putting together a presentation will be fairly easy. If you do not have these human resources at your disposal, you will need more lead time to do research or you can solicit experts in the field to present for your organization. You would be surprised how many people would be willing to give up a few hours to support a cause they are passionate about.

The next challenge is finding a facility. This is an area you can save on overhead cost if you are savvy and persistent. There are plenty of venues in your community that are willing to donate space to non-profits such as libraries and county offices. It might take a few calls, but chances are you will be able to find an inexpensive if not free venue in your area that will host about 100 people.

Next, set up the catering. It sounds like the last thing you would want to think about, but people are much more willing to pay for a workshop if lunch is being provided. Find somewhere inexpensive and reliable. You don't have to provide a three course meal. A simple boxed lunch and sodas will do. Your attendees will just want to feel taken care of and a little bit of lunch does just that.

Finally, set a price point. Remember, you will want to set the price a little higher than what it takes to put on the actual event since you will be paying for other operating costs with the money earned. However, be prudent when setting your price point. Remember, that as a non-profit, your mission is to serve the community. You will therefore want to make your services accessible to as many people as possible. Make sure your price point is reasonable.

Trainings are just one example of a service that organizations can offer in order to raise revenue. Consider how your organization serves your community and see if there are any service gaps you can meet. You might be surprised at the opportunities that present themselves.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Back to Basics

It’s true that running a modern non-profit organization is no small feat. Being an executive at a non-profit that is growing and thriving is complex and requires some real business savvy. Long gone are the days that an organization can fully fund itself through bake sales and crab feeds. Any organization that wants to be viable and make a real impact will need a sound revenue raising strategy. Whether it is providing a service for your constituency, bringing in grant money, attracting corporate donations, or a combination of the three, every non-profit will need a complex fiscal strategy to cover its daily operating costs.

However, in these difficult economic times, organizations need to get a little creative when trying to fundraise for specific projects. If need to raise just a few thousand dollars, using traditional fundraising methods maybe a good strategy. Time tested methods such as drawings, auctions, and special events are both fun and profitable.

Special Events

Special events such as gala dinners, conferences, crab feeds, and cocktail parties can be profitable if you keep your overhead low. It’s impossible to run these events completely for free, but getting food or entertainment either donated or at cost. People are always looking for ways to have a good time, supporting a good cause is often just a bonus.

An organization can easily attract corporate sponsors for a conference by making exhibit space available. If your conference is going to attract a vendor’s core market demographic, that vendor will gladly pay for the opportunity to reach out to their customer base on a one-on-one basis.

Drawings and Auctions

Drawings and auctions are another great way to fundraise small amounts to supplement your primary revenue stream. Drawings held at events of 100 people or more can be rather profitable for an organization. One large prize amidst an array of prizes of more modest value can be enough to attract hundreds of ticket purchases.

A couple of tricks to keep in mind for drawings, keep the ticket prices low but offer to sell them in bundles. For example, sell 1 ticket for $1.00, 7 tickets for $5.00, and 15 tickets for $10.00. Well priced bundles make the tickets more attractive. More tickets means more chances to win after all! Additionally, hold the drawings throughout your event. Seeing other people win will prompt someone to buy tickets of their own. Ticket sales can remain steady until the end of your event if you keep the momentum going with hourly drawings.

Auctions are also a great way to raise a few thousand dollars in one night. Auctions are most effective when held during an event that was either free or had a nominal entrance fee. A person who did not have to spend much at the door will spend more freely at the auction table.

Soliciting prizes for your auction is easy. First, take stock of all the entertainment venues and popular stores in your area. Next, simply write a letter asking those establishments for donations. You would be pleasantly surprised at the response you get. Especially in tough economic times, retailers are willing to give donations of products and services for things like auctions because it is excellent publicity for them.

A couple of tips for putting together an auction:

(1) Set your sites on hotel stays, wine tours, tickets for sporting events, wine baskets, and museum tickets. These items are the most attractive and draw high dollar bids.

(2) Bundle donations together donations to make more valuable prize packages. Be creative. Put together tickets for attractions in the same area for theme weekends. The more a prize package looks like a vacation or a complimentary night on the town, the more attractive it is.

Good Luck!

Remember, every organization needs a sustainable fundraising strategy that consists of bringing in large dollar amounts through either grants or corporate donations. However, giving your revenue stream a little boost can be fun, relatively easy, and profitable. Whatever you do, just be creative!