2014 NTEN Conference Report

By ginaschmeling   /     Apr 11, 2014  /     Conference Report, Fundraising, Nonprofits, Social Media Series  /     1 Comment

Listening & Pull:  A synthesis of the social listening thread from the Nonprofit Technology Network Conference, March 13-15 Washington, DC.

The annual gathering of NTEN (#14NTC) brought the focus on donor experience to a fine point. For fundraisers, the message was clear. Listening is a vital development skill.

Social listening rarely evolves organically. For most of us, there’s a scramble just to get in the game. If your organization was an early adopter of social media there are solid ways to refine listening. The challenge is to keep our sea legs while preparing for what’s ahead.

Social fluency may seem overwhelming.

A quick, honest look at at your organization’s social, digital, and print should tell us something. Do you:

  • Invite response and conversation, beyond gifts and actions
  • Let constituents know what you offer, and where to find you (web, social, offline)
  • Give voice to different members of your community (board, staff, participants, donors)

If not, you are directing your messaging out. One-way blasting can be a pitfall. Worse, it can seriously hamstring future goals and fundraising.

Let’s agree. Social media is not a straight-up marketing tool. Social listening is not a luxury.

The amazing and wise Danielle Brigida (@starfocus) of National Wildlife Federation nailed it: “Social is not a check box. No more pushing!”

If you are listening, you will have pull.

Pull means a host of engagement data, or what constituents offer: donations, comments, posts, shares, stories, photos, sign ups, etc. If your crowd gives, you have pull for real.

Here are channel-by-channel ways to enhance social listening. Many from @AlecStern (Constant Contact) and his session, Grow Your Nonprofit with Social Media and Email, #14NTCctct, and Bridging the Gap Between Social Media and CRM, #14NTCSocialCRM with Danielle and two Heller Consulting teammates, Jenn Smith @jennlunalucy and @BryanGiese.


Ideally, your site is the starting point. It feeds your email list, brings in donations, ties in social media.

  • Easy Email list sign up. The best way to build your numbers.
  • Prominent Donate button. Attractive, fun, mission accurate.
  • Clear Social buttons. Not tacked on.
  • “Commonality” (Alec’s term) between web and emails in look and messaging.
  • Mobile is changing everything. Prepare for mobile optimization, or know that you will need to.

Email (Alec’s tips for Email genius)

Email for story-telling and engagement. Both? Yup!

  • New fun thing: Cliffhangers or installment emails.
  • Keep emails short, simple, easy to read on mobile.
  • Key action “above the fold,” instantly readable on mobile.
  • One action per email.
  • Include Social buttons.
  • Add Join Email list link to staff signatures.
  • Make Welcome or Thank you email fresh and personal. Change it, review it, own it.
  • Pro tip: Write subject line after composing email, and include your org’s name or acronym.


Social media is a gathering place. If nothing is being exchanged, it’s not working. I found Jenn Smith’s 5 rules re: Social Media incredibly useful, worth citing verbatim. (Thank you Jenn! I like her voice here.)

  1. You don’t have to be everywhere. Really, you don’t.
  2. Know where you can find your audience.
  3. Two-way engagement – it’s not just a stupid marketing term.
  4. Know what you are trying to answer or solve through you social media strategy.
  5. Think beyond growth.

Great orgs also:

  • Put social engagement data on par with donation data, measuring and analyzing. Even loaded into your CRM.  The result is a stronger profile of your people.
  • Review social media “voices.” No reposting the same info across platforms.
  • Ask – yes! – for posts and shares, MTs and QTs.
  • Pro tip for Facebook (from Alec): Video increases engagement 100%, a single photo 120%.  Wildly, photo albums bring a 180% uptick. Perhaps they tell a fuller story still with a quick look?

Legitimizing listening unlocks forward thinking. These are a few ways into that future. You don’t have to go it alone.

Please share what works for you. I would love to hear! If you are not an NTEN member, consider joining. Many cities have NTEN 501 Tech Clubs, where you will learn tons and have a ball. Connecting with the techies might even make the hard work seem like fun. The way it should. 

For more conference takeaways, check out Connected Cause’s Social Snapshot.

Related to this post

Andrea Learned (@andrealearned) who lives up to her name with every post, on why Social skills = Leadership skills.

Heather Mansfield on the mobile future for nonprofit social media.  It’s coming! Are we ready? (@nonprofitorgsMobile for Good.



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CASE STUDY: Healthy Schools, Healthy Campaign

By ginaschmeling   /     Mar 17, 2014  /     Case Study, Family, Fundraising, Nonprofits, Social Media Series  /     0 Comment

Heading south on Franklin last fall, that Chicago vibe found me.

I was meeting Healthy Schools Campaign staff for the first time. A series of personal and professional connections brought us together, but I only knew HSC online until then. I admit to some trepidation and how-will-this-go rumination. When VP of Policy & Communications, Mark Bishop, offered coffee in a real mug with warmed milk, I knew I was with my people.


Healthy Schools Campaign focuses on wellness in public schools: healthy food, fitness activities, green classrooms. Based in Chicago, they have programs around the country. They have improved school lunches for more than 350K children in the Chicago Public Schools. Notably, HSC works with parents, nurses, chefs and health experts to reach kids and families across the country.

My mother is an HSC board member, and I was long aware of their work in Chicago. Lucky for me, the dynamic Falona Joy of SNP Strategies made a professional introduction, coordinating my work directly with HSC.

My first pro bono match.

The mood was open and collaborative. I had prepared a web and social media audit to begin the discussions. Together, we examined the current paths for individual giving (direct mail, online, events). President & CEO Rochelle Davis, VP of Strategy & Development Claire Marcy, Mark Bishop and I formed an online Development team.  Board member Jen Le joined us when possible (thanks Jen!). I mention this group by name because it was vital, and a bit unusual, that many smart and different thinkers committed to working together.

We agreed to strengthen HSC’s digital voices, smooth out the online donation process, work with #GivingTuesday and find harmony between offline and online asks. The purpose was to unroll new practices and improve year-end giving.

Many internal pieces were already in place. HSC had a donor list that had been solicited (mail, telemarketing, email) but not consistently. Social presence was growing nicely on Twitter, and they had a website with loads of information. We decided to work on these elements together, with intention.

HSC has a signature public benefit – Cooking Up Change – each November in Chicago.  The timing of this “healthy lunch contest” for teen chefs from public high schools fit well for year-end campaigning.

What worked

Improved Appeal response. I am thrilled we were able to rewrite the year-end letter, mail to a list with uncertain loyalty and see a response rate of 5.79% with an average gift of $98.94 — an increase from a previous (estimated) return of <2.0% with an average gift of $120.00  Optimistically, I think we can sustain this high return as the list grows. (See below, HSC by the Numbers.)

Responsive live-Tweeting. Read here for the Tweet deets! Also an aggregate “reach” of 385K with 1.6M impressions for a single #CookingUpChange event (Chicago).  We do not have hard numbers for 2012, but across eight cities in the reach was 900,000. We are looking at an easy and cheap analytics tool. Our focus is on that engagement step, knowing that growth will have more meaning if we can increase mentions and RTs.

Web and social revisions. The online donor path was tricky – too many steps, complicated.  We converted to Network for Good (go Mark!) very quickly. Here’s the current giving page. We are still playing with the new form. Strong on Twitter, HSC decided to post more on Facebook and Instagram.

Integrated year-end calendar. We devised a weekly, channel by channel schedule for email, direct mail, HSC’s blog and stories for Facebook and Twitter. Almost like a marathon training plan. HSC stuck to this editorial schedule like champs. The email open rate averaged 27% across the first four (12/2 – 12/23).  There was more variance in the final push which averaged 20% (12/27 -1/3).  The last email was a pure thank you, the others included an ask. Online giving (in $s) was 77% higher than 2012. And 11% of the available list made a donation with a respectable $61.28 average gift.  Whew!

The numbers of HSC’s lists (mail and email) are small, but they appear engaged as the response rates indicate.

An open work culture. HSC was amenable to sharing numbers and campaign stats. There was no data phobia, and we were in agreement that there was scant history for deep analysis. That said, we were game for new choices and for measuring progress going forward.

What started

Talk and planning for a new website. A redesign is underway. I know HSC will get smarter, easier and enjoy a friendly and responsive web presence. This will help engagement and all communications.

Coordinated online and offline fundraising. We scheduled and reworked a series of email asks, updates and acknowledgements around the mailing, which dropped before Thanksgiving. All messaging surfed the different channels with unified purpose. Our team saw Appeal work organically — not as separate digital and mail asks.

What “failed”

I use quotes here, because failure is part of adaptation (Beth Kanter, Failure Bows). We did not have much fertilizer, but perhaps these count.

#GivingTuesday. Many plans. We spoke with the lovely, helpful 92Y staff, but did not fully launch on our end. #GT was too close to Cooking Up Change to divert focus. We didn’t give #GivingTuesday the same priority as the real-life fundraising evening. I take this one for not pushing harder. Next year!

Lingering separation between online and offline. We have not fully linked all the dots. Improved website content and functionality, and regular donation asks will help this. The philosophy shift is in place. The rest will evolve.

Concluding. A Start.

The real story was putting connective tissue on HSC’s digital and analog individual giving efforts from November ’13 to January ’14. This demanded a radical new mindset. And HSC was very open, willing.

HSC had some drift between areas, and is working diligently to tie them together. Bringing direct response long-view to online immediacy sparked a new view on fundraising. HSC is already inviting and inclusive. With continued integration of their programs, they are on course to see their numbers, communities and following grow dramatically. And deservedly.

HSC by the Numbers

Budget: $1.8M (2012)

Funding: Largely Organizations (Foundations, Corporate Sponsors, some Individuals)

Twitter: 17.8K following

FB: 2,882 likes

EM list: 220

MM list: 380-500

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Twitter and Real Life

By ginaschmeling   /     Nov 15, 2013  /     Fundraising, Nonprofits, Social Media Series  /     0 Comment

Twitter has a funky internal chemistry.  Sort of like drops in a petri dish.  You can steer a conversation, but the fun begins with a dash of chaos.

Last week in Chicago, we had a chance to experiment.

My partner-organization, Healthy Schools Campaign, kicked off their signature event, Cooking Up Change.  Kid chefs compete in nine cities to make healthy, delicious, affordable school lunches. All this creates a “season of change.”  Winners go to a final round in Washington, and winning dishes are added to public school menus. The kids get a voice at the table.

Kids. Food. Social Media. Good cause.  How amazing!  Here’s how it played on Twitter.

We had a Tweetdeck set with necessary, scheduled messages.  The scheduler gave us freedom to work the room in realtime, reporting on the teams, quoting the students.

Some of the kids were taking pics and we invited them to post with us.  Their shots are so great.  They were the absolute stars.

HSC staff fed Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook loads of content.  After much delicious tasting, the winners were announced.  A lot of emotion.

Event goers and HSC enthusiasts joined forces in the Twittersphere.  We did not have a Twitter wall, so relied on key Tweeters to spread the word.  It worked.  The simplicity of the story — the contest — read very well online.

There was excitement across channels, and for the first time with this event, we made an ask for support.  We’re pleased that HSC’s Twitter metrics were all way up from the previous year.  Now working to roll that into more online and individual giving.

At the end of the evening, I got into the warehouse elevator to leave.  Exhausted, happy, totally spent.  I looked up to see one of HSC’s most vibrant Twitter followers.  We met online a few months ago, and this was our first face to face.  Instantly recognizing each other, we yelled and hugged.  The perfect end to a fantastic night.

Twitter chemistry is potent.  Cutting through the clutter with flair and feeling makes it real.



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