A free resource for nonprofit
organizations, NGOs, civil society organizations,
public sector organizations, and other mission-based agencies
Jayne Cravens, www.coyotecommunications.com
Outreach Via the Internet for
(It's a lot more than just getting a
World Wide Web site
or a FaceBook profile)
Engaging in effective online outreach is way more than just
putting up a Web site or creating a profile on
FaceBook or other online social networking site.
Effective online marketing involves:
- thinking about each of the specific communities or audiences you
want to reach
- planning and acting strategically and dynamically
- using a variety of online tools frequently and regularly
- involving all staff in online strategies and activities
(not just one department, not just the IT staff, not just the
marketing staff, etc.)
- measuring outcomes (not just outputs), and
- being ready to make changes and continually evolve your approach
For online outreach to be effective, new and current audiences have to be
continually cultivated and nurtured, and efforts have to be fully
supported by all
staff, from top to bottom (or the other way
around), just as with all of your offline interactions (direct mail, phone
support, onsite presentations, meetings, etc.). You have to revisit your
online activities frequently to determine what
impact they are having
, and be ready to adjust accordingly.
Online outreach and online service delivery should accurately
reflect your agency's mission and culture. Whatever impression you
want people to have of your organization offline, via face-to-face and
traditional forms of outreach, promotions and interactions, is the same
impression you should strive for online.
Also, it's not only what you say online, but how you say it: replying
to people promptly, providing complete information, responding
to criticism without defensiveness, etc. The
Internet is about connecting humans, not machines! Treat it as
Finaly, online outreach is not the domain of just one person; whomever
undertakes activities relating to communications, donor relations,
volunteers and clients/customers should have a role in online
communications. Your web master or other technical
staff should follow the lead of program staff (including the volunteer
manager) and marketing staff when it comes to online activities,
not the other way around.
What does effective online outreach look like? At minimum, it
- the organization has a detailed web
site, or the program or project has a dedicated web site or
section of the organization's web site, with complete, up-to-date
- staff use email to quickly communicate one-to-one and one-to-many
(to volunteers, members of the press, attendees to last night's
special event, clients, members, partners, etc.)
- staff use third-party online databases to post notices, such as the
volunteer manager posting to VolunteerMatch
to recruit volunteers
- the organization has an update that people can subscribe
to receive as an email or subscribe
via RSS (or both -- know what your audience wants!)
- the organization has an official blog
(more than one staff member can have a blog) and posts regularly to
- staff post event information to the event function on LinkedIn,
the event functions on their professional profiles on online
social networking sites like Facebook, to Idealist
and to Craigslist.
- staff members use the status update functions on their professional
profiles on online social networking sites
like Facebook and Twitter to announce or remind about events,
activities or services
- volunteers, members of the press, clients, members, partners, event
attendees, etc. are asked to link to the organization's profile on on
online social networking sites like Facebook,
and to recommend the profile and events to their own online social
- volunteers, members of the press, clients, members, partners, etc.
are asked to forward announcements about events, activities or
services to their own networks via email, their own blogs, their own
Twitter accounts, etc.
- staff post information about the organization to online
communities, web-based bulletin boards, etc., such as those
found on YahooGroups, GoogleGroups
and LinkedIn that are not
operated by the organization (as opposed to just the online boards and
sites the organization is in charge of)
- staff and volunteers comment as representatives of your
organization on blogs by other
organizations or individuals
That's not a huge amount of work - really, it's not. Engaging in those
minimum activities requires a different mindset. Even if you are a solo
communications person at your organization - you're a one-person marketing
department - you should be able to manage all of those minimum activities.
At a more advanced level, effective online outreach means:
Of course, an organization must be very well-staffed and very
well-financed, and have lots
of time in order to engage in all
of the online activities that are possible to undertake. Of course, not
every activity is appropriate for every organization. But even just doing
the minimal activities suggested above requires commitment, time, money
and expertise -- even if you find a volunteer with the time and expertise
to do all of these activities, you need to provide supervision and support
for this person.
Before your mission-based organization engages in online outreach:
Once your organization is engaging in online outreach:
- Review the information you want to provide. Why is it important?
Why should anyone care? Do you have complete information,
- Think about your audience and what you want them to do as a result
of the message. Is your audience current or potential clients? donors?
volunteers? people from a particular demographic? Think strategically
about the audience you are trying to reach. Different activities and
different messages can be oriented to different audiences.
- Remember that messages of desperation usually don't work
("Donate or we close our doors!"); messages that imply results or
opportunity work better ("We built 20 homes this summer; with more
donations, we could build even more!").
- Determine the commitment your staff will have to make to
acquire the needed skills to contribute and maintain accurate,
timely information about your organization online, AND determine the support
your organization will make to that staff to ensure quality
maintenance and development of all online activities. An
organization needs trained staff and resources to engage in effective
outreach, online or off. Don't be afraid to say so in your funding
proposals, to your board, to donors, etc.
Draft a document that outlines what it would take to bring staff
skills up-to-speed regarding online responsibilities, to recruit
volunteers to support your online activities, and the costs
associated with additional training and volunteer involvement. Also
detail in this document why this strategy would be important to the
mission of your organization (and those it serves). Then make sure
potential donors and your board of directors are aware of these
costs and needs. Don't just say to donors and your board, "If we had
more money, we could do such-and-such"; be able to say exactly what
more money would pay for.
- Overlap is a good thing. Someone might hear or see a message more
than once, and that's okay -- so long as the message is worthwhile
("Our annual event is this weekend!") and not mostly noise ("Check out
our new annual report!"). Every message cannot be special and,
therefore, every message may not warrant being sent out via every
online channel available.
- Make sure all staff have the opportunity, at any time, to
comment on online materials, and encourage all staff, from the
receptionist to the Executive Director, to be familiar with online
activities, so that they can explain its contents to those who ask,
and can think about how they might want to use online technologies as
part of their own staff roles. More on this can be found in Maintaining
a Web Site and Web Policies
- I have web site content
suggestions elsewhere on my web site.
- It is imperative that your agency maintains a commitment to posting
accurate, timely information online, whatever the forum. If people who
visit your Web site or online profile or blog
and find that the information never changes or that it is inaccurate
(outdated information, broken links, etc.), they will stop accessing
it. If you post information to online discussion groups that is
incomplete or inaccurate, you can adversely
affect public perception of your organization.
- It is imperative that your organization respond quickly to emails,
phone calls or any communications. For instance, if you ask for
volunteers and then don't reply to people quickly, you are creating
bad PR: people may share their frustrations
regarding your organization's lack of response to everyone on their
FaceBook network, via their own blogs, etc.
- Posts to online social networks like
Facebook or Twitter may feel casual and informal and impromptu, but
those doing the sending must be taking their messages very seriously.
They must be thinking carefully before they post a message or comment
anywhere online on behalf of your organization. What's online is
PUBLIC, and can be forwarded or picked up by the press. It's also
FOREVER. Remind staff and volunteers of this frequently.
- Identify your organization in your emails, as well as posts to
other organizations' fora. Your organization's name, main email
address and web address should be at the bottom of every message you
send or post online. Consider also including your organization's city
and state or country of location. Messages get forwarded, and you want
to make sure no one gets confused about where an event is happening or
a service is offered.
- Post to the appropriate online discussion groups. Don't
post your information in just any online forum you come across. You
can find an Internet discussion group for just about any subject or
geographic area. For advice on how to find such groups, and how to
learn to participate in online groups, see this resource, The
dynamics of online culture & community.
- When you ask a person for his or her phone number, you should be
asking for an email address as well. HOWEVER, make it clear that you
will not sell, trade or give their email address to any other
Consider setting up an email
distribution list that users can join, or unjoin, on their own
(making it also available via RSS is
- Make sure the tone of online messages is informative and
mission-based to the organization -- few capital letters, few
- NEVER send unsolicited email attachments. EVER. You send them
only by request or with permission. PERIOD. Not everyone has
broadband, and no one should have to wait for their emails because
they are waiting for your attachment, which they did NOT ask for, to
download. Also, attachments can carry viruses.
- Include information about your online activities in your printed
materials. Don't include just the web address: note in your paper
newsletter, for instance, new updates to your YouTube
channel. Promote your interactive
online activities through press releases as well.
- Make sure that whomever answers your phone knows how to say the Web
address, knows when and how to refer callers to it, and is familiar
with its content. And make sure anyone who has contact with the public
(this includes your Executive Director!) also knows how to say the Web
address (NOT -- "We have a Web site, but I've never seen it, and I
don't know what the address is." It makes your organization look
really unprofessional), as well as what information is on it.
- Have links on your web site to all your other online activities:
your email newsletter, your blogs,
your online communities (on YahooGroups,
GoogleGroups, etc.), your
organization's profiles on online social networking sites like
Facebook and MySpace, your YouTube
channel, etc. Few people will choose to subscribe to every online
avenue, because the information will probably be largely the same
across all these different channels; your goal is to give people a
variety of choices to receive regular updates about your organization
or project. Your web site should be the anchor for all your
- All staff should "Walk the
Talk" Re: Your organization's online activities. Staff members
need to know about all of your organization's online activities, no
matter what their jobs are, and they need to provide leadership in
using your organization's online tools (they need to be reading your
organization's online discussion group every day, for instance).
- Direct staff to include a summary of their online activities, and the
results of such, in any internal updates they provide. Include
an evaluation of these activities during employee performance reviews.
This is a key way to integrate online
activities into staff's overall responsibilities. It's also a
way to document who is doing what, in case of volunteer or paid staff
- Track the responses (emails, phone calls, in-person inqueries) that
result from your online activities (just as you should track responses
to your advertising). It will help you plan more strategically for
future posts and online activities. Evaluate
online activities to ensure such is leading to offline action
and tangible benefits (donations, more volunteers, volunteers serving
longer, new clients, etc.).
- Track your online profile. For instance, go to Google
or any other online directory system and search for your
organization's name, the name of your organization's executive
director, your web address, or key phrases, such as:
- the word "contact" and the name of your organization
- the word "volunteer" and the name of your organization, or, a
phrase relating to your mission
- the word "donate" and a phrase relating to your mission
Doing these kind of searches can help you to see how easy it is
for someone looking to volunteer with, donate to or contact an
organization with a particular focus to be able to find you online.
It also will give you an idea of how many web sites are linked to
your organization's site, and what the media and other publications
may have said about the head of your organization. You may find criticism
or praise from a volunteer, donor, or client about your organization
that you will want to address.
For more on the the minimum
of what your organization should be
doing in terms of online outreach, and in what directions your online
activities should be heading, see Stages of
Maturity in Nonprofit Orgs Using Online Services
See more resources re: Outreach &
Engagement, With and Without Technology
- Daily, Mandatory, Minimal Tasks for
Nonprofits on Facebook & Twitter
There are a lot of nonprofits using Facebook and Twitter just to post
to press releases. And if that's how your nonprofit, NGO or government
agency is using social media, then your organization is missing out on
most of the benefits you could gain from such. Facebook, Twitter and
other social media are all about engagement. Social media is NOT
one-way communication; you want people and organizations to read your
information, but you also want them to respond to it. And they want
YOU to respond to what THEY are saying. I broke these must-do tasks
down into the most simple, basic list as possible - these tasks take
minutes, not hours, a day.
- For Schools: You Should Be Using Social
Media. Here's How
There are a lot of web sites saying what the benefits are for schools
to use social media. But there's few that give specifics on what a
public school should be sharing via Facebook, Twitter, etc. This
advice talks not only about exactly what your school should be posting
to social media, but the consequences of not doing so, as well how to
handle tough questions and criticism. It also links to legal
- For Local City & County
Governments: You Should Be Using Social Media. Here's How
To not be using social media to deliver information and
to engage means you are denying critical information to much of your
community and promoting an image of secrecy and lack of
transparency. In fact, the lack of use of social media can be seen
as your city council or county government trying to hide something,
and even lead to rumors that are much harder to dispel than they
would have been to prevent. This advice talks not only about exactly
what your school should be posting to social media, but also how to
handle tough questions and criticism.
Potential Power for Social Good – with REAL examples.
- Getting More Viewers for Your Organization's
Videos are a great way to represent your organization's work, to show
you make a difference, to promote a message or action that relates to
your mission, etc. But just uploading a video isn't enough to attract
an audience. This new page on my site offers specific steps that will
get more views for your organization's videos on YouTube. Note that
many of these tasks would be great for an online volunteer to
undertake, with guidance from an appropriate staff member.
- How Not-for-Profit and Public Sector Agencies
REALLY Use Online Technologies
This provides real-life examples of what agencies are using the
Internet for, and links to other resources offering even more advice
and examples. Includes information about online solicitations and fund-raising.
- Using Third Party Web Sites
Like VolunteerMatch to Recruit Volunteers
There are lots and lots of web sites out there to help your
organization recruit volunteers. You don't have to use them all, but
you do need to make sure you use them correctly in order to
get the maximum response to your posts.
- Basic Press Outreach for Mission-Based
Like fund-raising, press relations is an ongoing cultivation process.
Your agency strategy for press coverage needs to go beyond trying to
land one big story -- you want the press to know that you are THE
agency to contact whenever they are doing a story on a subject that
relates to your mission. These are basic, low-cost/no cost things you
can do to generate positive attention from the media.
- What are good blog topics for
The word "blog" is short for "web log", and means keeping a journal or
diary online. Blogging is NOT a new concept -- people have been doing
it long before it had a snazzy media label. The appeal of blogging for
an online audience is that it's more personal and less formal than
other information on a web site. Readers who want to connect with an
organization on a more personal level, or who are more intensely
interested in an organization than the perhaps general public as a
whole, love blogs. Blogs can come from your Executive Director, other
staff members, volunteers, and even those you serve. Content options
are many, and this list reviews some
of your options
- For Nonprofits Considering Their Own
Podcasts: Why It's Worth Exploring, and Content Considerations
(includes my own podcast)
- Nonprofit Organizations and Online Social
Networking (OSN): Advice and Commentary
- How to handle online criticism of your
- How folklore, rumors and
urban myths interfere with development and aid/relief efforts
and how to prevent or address such.
- THE CLUETRAIN MANIFESTO
"We appreciate your efforts in spreading this important sedition." A
project from 1999 that is still completely relevant today (and shows
why the Internet has ALWAYS been "online social networking" and
there's nothing at all really all that new about sites like FaceBook).
It's a challenge to companies to quit thinking that they can control
the Internet and online culture and shape it to fit their outdated PR
and marketing dreams, and to quit fearing its "open" nature and,
instead, realize that this open system can actually be a good thing in
the quest to meet customer needs and move products and messages.
Drucker Foundation SELF-ASSESSMENT TOOL for Nonprofit
It is built around five questions:
What is our mission?
This Self-Assessment tool is not free -- but those five questions are!
Who is our customer?
What does the customer value?
What are our results?
What is our plan?
consulting services & my
workshops & presentations
credentials & expertise
My book: The
Last Virtual Volunteering
me or see
Community Outreach, With & Without Tech
Free Resources: On
Community Engagement, Volunteering & Volunteerism
Free Resources: Technology
Tips for Non-Techies
Free Resources: Web
Development, Maintenance, Marketing for non-Web designers
Free Resources: For
people & groups that want to volunteer
to or from my web site
Coyote Helps Foundation
Jayne's Amazon Wishlist
on social media (follow me, like me, put me in a circle,
subscribe to my newsletter)
Disclaimer: No guarantee of accuracy or suitability is made by the
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