Month: February 2014

How often should your charity post on social media?


             If you are responsible for the social media posts for your charity- how do you determine how many posts per day do you do? On my personal social media sites I post a little more frequently than our staff post on our RMH social media sites. Jill who is responsible for our social media always says “only post awesome” –I on the other hand am a little more willing to post something that is a little less than awesome. How often you post on social media does depend a lot on which platform you are using. When considering Facebook Mansfield (2012) suggests;” Large national and international nonprofits with well-known and much loved brands have a different experience on Face Book from that of most small to medium sized nonprofits. They usually have lots of fresh content to share and their fans are much less likely to “unlike” their page if they overshare on Face Book. Small to medium sized nonprofits, should err on the side of caution. Less is more.” Mansfield recommends Facebook status updates of 1 to 2 a day or less.

          I would tend to agree with her recommendations followers, on twitter seem much more tolerant of frequent posts than Facebook followers. On twitter higher volume seems to be a key. The social media expert who manages the site for our Global charity has told me that she tries to target about 12 tweets a day. Personally I have found the most growth and interaction on my personal social media when I am able to average about 20 interactions a day. Now keep in mind I don’t necessarily want to send 20 tweets a day out about our organization. I want some of those interactions to be mentions and retweets of other peoples content. Mansfield (2012, p.97) reminds us that: “Retweet unto others as you would have them retweet unto you is the golden rule of twitter. The more your nonprofit promotes others through retweets and replies, the more your nonprofit will in turn get retweeted and mentioned.” She goes on to advise:” Strategically speaking one of your primary goals on twitter should be to earn retweets and mentions by others because this is the fastest way to grow your follower base (Mansfield, 2012, p.97).

              Twitter followers do have more tolerance for more volume –but a good portion of that volume can’t be about you or your organization. Think about any relationship –who wants a friend who only talks about themselves. On a personal level this is discipline that I struggle with. There are so many things about our organization that are cool that I want to push out there-but there does need to be balance. To be quite honest sometimes I am good at creating this balance, sometimes I am not. Kanter and Fine in their book The Networked Nonprofit, remind that:” The key ingredient for any relationship is good listening. Rather than just talking to, or worse at people on-line, organizations should first listen to what people are talking about ,what interests or concerns them and how they view the organization. Listening is a terrific way for organizations to orient themselves online.”

           So I suppose how frequently or infrequently you post is important, but how much you listen and engage your followers is equally important. When someone who works for another charity is starting off on developing their social media sites and they ask me the question how often do you post? I usually suggest that they experiment with their own volume to see what works best for their followers and their charity. For my own social media my personal targets are 1-3 instagram posts a day, twitter 12-20 interactions a day and Linked In and Facebook 1 to 2 posts a day. I don’t always hit those targets although some days I post at a higher volume. Anyway your charity should test and experiment with different levels of posting, and as Mansfield suggests that with some platforms such as Facebook “less is more.”



Kanter, B & Fine, A,H. (2010) The networked nonprofit: Connecting with social media to drive change.

           San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mansfield, H (2012) Social Media for Social Good: A how to guide for Nonprofits:  New York: McGraw




Your small charity doesn’t know how to use social media-follow the big dogs

           When we made our first foray into social media we started by setting up a twitter site. We weren’t really sure we knew what we were doing so we sent our communications coordinator Jill to some local workshops and had her participate in some webinars. Not that Jill was completely in the dark about social media she has a degree in Applied Communications – Public Relations, and had experience in Marketing and Communications. However we wanted to learn as much as we could about how to make this vehicle work for us.

          One of our early efforts to learn how to better use social media was to follow other Ronald McDonald Houses to see what they were tweeting about. More than this we really wanted to see what their followers were re-tweeting and “mentioning”. We were experimenting ourselves but wanted to see what was resonating with other House’s followers. Also we made sure to watch a few local charities who looked fairly social media savvy and some large international charities.

           There seems to be some logic in following other charities. Mansfield (2012) suggests following large nonprofits, she describes;” Large nonprofits usually have the resources to experiment, hire consultants, and get extensive training on what works and what doesn’t. Follow those with a mission and programs similar to yours and mimic their work. Nonprofits like Amnesty International, PETA, the American Cancer Society, the Sierra Club and the Susan G Komen for the Cure excel in on-line communications. Learn from them. Study their websites and blogs. Experience their online donation process. Subscribe to their e newsletters. Like them on Face Book. Follow them on twitter. Almost every action that these nonprofits take online is for good reason. They know what works and what doesn’t, they are constantly innovating and experimenting and they are usually one or two steps ahead of most other nonprofits.”

           As Mansfield points out large charities have resources to invest in research and consultants. If you are working for a small charity it is better to learn from their investment and have your own charity benefit from it.  She does however caution: “Don’t expect the same results from social media that the large nonprofits have. Their brands are well known and much loved. They usually have enormous e newsletter lists and multiple communications staff. (Mansfield, 2012, p. 53). 

          With this being said don’t let the fact that you don’t have a big e-blast list be an excuse either- build a bigger list yourself. If you are working for a small local charity your e newsletter list doesn’t have to have hundreds of thousands of contact to be beneficial. About 8 years ago when we were first investing in Constant Contact and our first fundraising database we had contact information for 400 people who had given us a donation in the previous twenty years. We had no email addresses for the majority of these contacts. Over the years we have been persistent in adding to our mail and email lists. Today we can email to over 17,000 contacts and mail to an additional 15,000 contacts. This is a good number of people but it is not hundreds of thousands. In reality we started experiencing benefits from building the lists after we had only added a few hundred names.  As for our social media, by the time we had about a 1000 followers on twitter we started to experience a significant increase in our ability to attract volunteers and in-kind donations. Attracting on-line donations and sponsorships took a little longer but social media is becoming a tool in our fundraising tool kit as well.



Mansfield, H (2012) Social Media for Social Good: A how to guide for Nonprofits:  New York: McGraw Hill

The best fundraisers start by accident


         Okay maybe they don’t start by accident but they are usually initiated by a motive other than raising money. Often they are started by someone with profound love for someone who has benefited from your organizations service or support. If you read the blog post below you know what a big fan of third party fundraisers I am:

         One of our mom’s, Sherri was in town a few weeks ago visiting us, and it made me think of a fundraiser she started a few years back. Only it didn’t really start as a fundraiser.  One night Sherri was shaving her daughter Leeza’s scalp as her hair had begun to unevenly fall out. Leeza was a six year old girl fighting cancer. There are many things about childhood cancer that really suck-but losing your hair seems to be nature’s version of adding insult to injury. Leeza was telling her mother how she was embarrassed and afraid to lose her hair, she asked Sherri if she would shave her head as well. Sherri –likely without a lot of second thought agreed. When mother and daughter arrived downstairs for breakfast at Ronald McDonald House the next morning the other mothers were moved by the story and before long 5 other mothers whose children were fighting cancer or other serious illness were on board to shave their heads as well. One of our donor walls in the Calgary has bricks to recognize donors who donate at least $5000. The mom’s quickly decided if we are going to do this we might as well raise some money for the House and they set their target of raising enough to have a brick on the donor wall. Go Bald or Go Home was born to raise money for RMH.  Our board secretary and longtime volunteer had just been diagnosed with cancer at the time. She was moved by the mothers stories and she and her son decided that they too would shave their head and raise funds for the House. In the end the six mothers and a few volunteers ended up raising over $22,000 over a few days. We do have a brick on our donor wall –Go Bald or Go Home.

Does Your Brand Convey your Charity’s Impact?


              Daw and her co-authors in their book on Nonprofit branding ( 2011,p.19) report that:” The world now boasts more than 2 million nonprofits fueled by a 35% increase in the number of organizations in United States and Canada in the past decade alone. In this complicated philanthropic marketplace, people are overwhelmed by a deluge of over complicated messages from a vast array of organizations –which are often difficult to distinguish.” This statement is itself is likely overwhelming to Executives running small local nonprofits. It will likely make them think how will they  ever utilize their brand to gain the support they need to keep their charity sustainable? These same authors do go on to point out that ( Daw,J.S et al p.20): “ A strong brand can be a nonprofit’ s most valuable asset. It can carry an organization through good times and bad as well as predispose people toward a personal and emotional connection to the group it represents. Because it is linked to reputation, a strong brand drives tremendous economic, social and political gains for its organization. In fact, in most cases, brand accounts for more than 50% of a nonprofit organizations market value.”

         Most of my CEO/Executive Director colleagues would say “Ronald McDonald House is a strong internationally recognized brand- why do you have to worry about your brand?” What many people don’t realize is that the RMHs are individually owned and operated by local boards and charities. We have a licensing agreement with the global charity not unlike McDonald’s franchisees.  In our local market we need to be very concerned about our brand for our own wealth fare but also for the reputation of all the other RMHs throughout the world.  Having a recognizable brand throughout the world is a great thing to be able to leverage off of, but this is not to say that that international brand cannot be better utilized as well. In his book The End of Fundraising Jason Saul (2011) talks about his work with both local Ronald McDonald House Chapters as well as the Global RMHC charity. He points out that the organizations typically have described things like how many families use the Houses or how many stay each night in the Houses but not the real impact of the Houses. In his book Saul talks about how the Southern California chapter began to change their brand to reflect the impact and the difference the House made for families.

            For our own Houses this approach has made a significant change in our ability to attract volunteer and new donors. At every fundraising event, in newsletters and on videos we have families tell their story of how the House has impacted them personally when their family was going through the worst time in their lives. We want our brand to reflect the difference we make for children and families – not just that we are an inexpensive place to stay when your child is sick.

            It is also interesting that being able to describe your impact to your other stakeholders beyond your users can have an effect on the support you receive. Saul describes;” But now that RMHC is in a position to demonstrate the economic value they create for hospitals, they can approach hospitals as impact buyers and generate significantly greater support.” In this example Saul is referring to research that having a Ronald McDonald House nearby the Hospital reduced length of stay and cost to the medical system. In the past some hospitals would donate land for chapters to build RMHs, armed with this information more hospitals started to become cash donors to their local RMH.  More recently the global charity has worked with researchers and found evidence that children heal faster when their family is able to be close to them and that there are positive treatment effects when the family stays at a Ronald McDonald House. Imagine the brand implications of being able to now demonstrate that your organization not only provides a place to stay, but it’s impact is that kids actually get better sooner and that the cost to the health system is less (I live in Canada where the government and the taxpayer pay for our healthcare system). Being able to convey this greater impact allows your brand to resonate more with potential donors and volunteers.

            A small local charity may or may not be able to enlist researchers to prove the impact of their organization. Regardless every charity can capitalize on enlisting users to describe the impact the organization has made for them personally. With the tools and technology available the stories can be captured on video and text and it is now easier and less costly to share these messages. A small charity should look for opportunities to shape their brand with messages of the impact; in our charity we always have families tell their story because their story is our story and no one tells it better than the family who has lived through it.



Daw,J.S, Cone,C, Merenda,D,M & Erhard.C (2011) Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding: Seven Principles to

          power extraordinary results: New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Saul, J (2011) The End of Fundraising: Raise more money by selling your impact: San Francisco;


Kentucky Man Sheds Shoes for Charity

Philanthropy Times

barefoot-in-snow Richard Hudgens of Louisville plans to go a full year without shoes to raise money for shoeless children in Africa.
Image: Shutterstock

In one of the harshest Southern winters in years, a Louisville man has decided to shed his shoes to raise money for shoeless children. Richard Hudgins is going barefoot for a full year. Shoeless since early December, he has nearly made it through a brutal Kentucky winter filled with snow, ice and single-digit temperatures.

Hudgins is aiming to raise $25,000 by the end of the year to take to Narok, Kenya, where children need uniforms and shoes to go to school. So far he’s raised almost $4,000. If Hudgins reaches his goal, it would supply shoes for more than 800 children, said Elijah Ombati, a missionary from Kenya who has struck up a friendship with the donor.

Ombati, who runs a Christian group called Nasha Ministries International, splits…

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Monthly Giving Program: Success but not overnight success.


           If you work for an international charity with a monthly giving program the numbers below are not going to astound you. They might make you chuckle a little, but they do provide an example of how a small charity can build this type of program. A little less than a decade ago our annual budget was a little over $300,000, this year it is closing in on $5 million annually. We operate a lot more programs and services than we did a decade ago. Nonetheless reading some of the figures below you will quickly have an idea that we did not see a monthly giving program as a quick fix to revenue generation. We considered it more of a slow slogging journey that would ultimately create some of the benefits I described in this post:


          We started our program in late 2005 when we signed up for a Canada Helps account. Canada Helps allowed us to accept on-line donations on our website and they had a monthly giving option for donors. The following calendar year we had one monthly donor sign up, ironically not on line-she sent us a bunch of postdated cheques. No matter our monthly donor program had launched. The graph below indicates the number of monthly donors per year involved in the program. With 54 donors last year- World Vision or Unicef will not be calling us for advice any time soon.  However you can see we stumbled along the first couple of years and then started to make some more impressive gains after 2010.Image


Even though our charity is not dealing with large numbers of gifts in this program there are definitely some benefits in terms of the volume of donations that will ultimately start to flow in and the resulting positive affect this can have for your monthly cash flow. The chart below is the actual number of gifts or donations received each year through the program.Image


The last two graphs represent the monthly and yearly revenues generated by this program. As you might guess at this point the revenue is not a game changer currently in our financial situation; however within the last two years you can definitely see the potential for the program to start growing in a much more geometric fashion.

         So what changed after 2010 you ask? Well a few things, first in some ways we just started to hit more critical mass in terms of donors in the program. As I mentioned in the last post these donors tend to stay with you a couple of years. So we don’t think of the program as an $11,347 a year program. We think the way McKinnon (1999) thinks- these donors are with you 5 to 10 years- so really the program is now worth $56,735 to $113,470 to us. There were two major drivers of the growth post 2010 partnering with companies and new software. Around 2010 we started to invest in the back end of our website to make it easier for donors to give on line. As we had some new on-line software and tools we were also much more likely to promote our monthly giving program on our website and in our newsletter. Our fundraising staff also started to talk to our corporate sponsors who had programs to match their employee giving. Some of these companies have their own foundation and provide receipts to their employees. A few of our partners did not have this capacity, so we offered to receipt the donations for their employees ourselves. All of a sudden we had a number of monthly donors, and their company was actually doing about half of the administration for us (the employer collects the donations for us and forwards us the proceeds as well as the donor contact information-then we do the receipting).

I don’t want to be too overly optimistic, but I think next year or the following year I might just be posting that the monthly giving program is a financial game-changer for us.ImageImage




McKinnon, H (1999) Hidden Gold: How monthly giving will build donor loyalty, boost your organizations  

          income, and increase financial stability: Chicago: Bonus Books Inc.

Nonprofit leadership by dying your hair pink?


          Kim Anthony is the CEO for Make A Wish Southern Alberta. Yesterday morning Kim and I got up early to have our hair dyed pink live on Breakfast television. We did it to launch the 2nd annual version of the Hair Massacure in Southern Alberta. You may have read about this event already in my post The event is quickly becoming my favorite event for a number of reasons. Firstly the event was created and sustained by one family whose daughter, Kali, fought cancer and won- that in itself is worthy of a cheer. The family has created a great deal of community support in Northern Alberta and as of last week has raised over $ 8 million dollars for children’s cancer research and for charities who support families whose children are fighting cancer. Reason number two to love this event is that we get to work with Make A Wish- we love these guys, and we love what they do for our kids. The southern Alberta proceeds are divided equally between the two charities. Some nonprofit leaders don’t want to work together with another charity as they have to split the proceeds. I kind of like it- I think it is really attractive to our donors to know they are benefiting two charities that they believe in at the same time

          Okay back to the pink hair thing – We dyed our hair pink and need to walk around like this for three weeks until on March 14th we will shave our heads bald. Kim is still toying with the idea of just cutting her hair really short- but I will be working the peer pressure.  During these three weeks the pink hair is to raise awareness for the event and the charities. Also during this time we will be doing our best to raise as much money in pledges as we can. The head shave is obvious; many of the children we work with lose their hair during their treatment. The head shave is to raise awareness for their situation as well as to create an experience for the participant that in a very small way creates some level of understanding of what our kids are going through.

          My wife thinks the head shave is no big deal it pales by comparison to what our kids really go through. She does think the pink hair is a big deal as she feels my hair is my best feature- she is of course a little biased.  A good part of a nonprofit leader’s job is talking about their charity and what they do. When you are almost fifty and you are walking around with neon pink hair you get yourself involved in a lot more conversations with people on the street than you might normally stop and introduce yourself to. I think a nonprofit leader always needs to be looking for ways to make their cause top of mind for supporters and potential supporters. I also think as a nonprofit leader you need to be willing to not take yourself too seriously from time to time.

If you want to support these two great organizations (you knew I had to ask)  –here is my pledge page:

Is Your Charity Missing out on Billions of on-line donations?

     Okay if you work for a small or medium sized charity –you are probably not missing out on billions, but it is quite likely that you could increase the amount of on-line gifts you do receive.  About a year and a half ago we invested in our website and on-line fundraising software to make it easier to donate through peer to peer pledge pages, share our appeals and content on donors social media pages and to make it easier for supporters to sign up for email updates and newsletters. This year we have budgeted and planned to improve our website so that it is even more mobile friendly and easier to donate from a mobile device. Today through my own email I received a link to an article on the Chronicle of Philanthropy that is a reminder of why this was a good idea.

          The article reports the findings of a study of 151 organizations (100 from The Chronicle’s Philanthropy 400) undertaken by Dunham and Company.  The very short version of the findings is that: “The groups take too long to ask for money and when they do they make it too hard to give on-line.”  The study identifies a few clues to a charity in how to make it easier for donors to give to your organization.  One of the findings was that “Sixty-Five percent of their websites required visitors to click through three pages or more to give on-line.”  Have you ever tried to purchase something on-line and had this type of experience? Chances are you might have given up and decided not to purchase or purchase elsewhere. If your on-line donations require this many “click thru’s “you might want to check out your organizations website analytics. For our own sites we monitor how long people are on our site and on average how many pages they view each month. We are continually trying to impact these numbers. If you are a small charity who has not invested a lot of brain power and perhaps some cash into your website –it is quite possible that the average visitor is not even looking at three pages on your site and if this is the case you can imagine what this is doing the probably of receiving more online donations.

           Brad Davies was the project director for the study and he is quoted as suggesting: “It is easy to assume nonprofits are missing out on several billion dollars by not making their –online giving experience as easy and dynamic as possible.”  The good news is that a charity can impact this probability of receiving on-line gifts. The authors also report;” They found that the 10 organizations that gave donors the best online-giving experience raised about 25% more money online on average than others.” (If you want to know who these top 10 were you can check the link below)



Flandez,R (2014) Most Charities Fail at Online Fundraising Basics, Says Study; Chronicle of Philanthropy    

           website as Retrieved from:



Canada trusts it’s Charitable Sector



          Having the trust of your community, your donors and your supporters is of critical importance to a charity and the charitable sector as whole.  The good news is in Canada we do have a lot of trust from the public in general. A research review published on the Nonprofit MarCommunity reports the level of trust Canadians have in the sector. Bob Wyatt (E.D for the Muttart Foundation) is quoted as saying: There’s some very good news in Talking about Charities. People trust us, they know that we improve the quality-of-life of the people we serve and they recognize the importance of charities to Canadians and those outside Canada who we serve.”

          It is interesting that the report also suggests that the nonprofit sector is one of the most trusted sectors in Canada. It goes on to state that 79% of Canadians have some or a lot of trust in charities. This is higher than the trust afforded to the federal government (45%), provincial governments (44%) local governments (57%) the media (53%) and major corporations (41%)

            Within the charitable sector itself there are varying levels of trust. Working for a children’s charity in the healthcare area, I was happy to read that hospitals and children’s charities were rate highest in the public’s level of trust (86% and 82%).  Having the public’s trust ensures that we have legislative, financial/ donor and volunteer support to carry out our mission. However the report does also provide some cautions which charities and the sector as a whole should attend to. The report indicates that a significant number of Canadians who:” don’t believe we spend money wisely” and that we don’t:” do a very good job telling them about ourselves.

            If you are a leader who volunteers or is employed by a charity or a MarComm professional you should be using every opportunity to tell your community and stakeholders how you are spending their money and what difference it is making. Specifically you should be talking about the impact of your program and services. Typically we talk about these things in our annual report, but charities should use every vehicle available to them. Social media, your website, letters of thanks to volunteers and donors are all tools to spread your message about how funds are being utilized and the impact you are having.

          Bob Wyatt summarizes:” We have to demonstrate that we continue to deserve their trust. And we have to point out to them that charities are probably more transparent and accountable than any other segment of our society. We can’t do this only as a group of individual agencies we have to do that of course, but we also have to start learning to speak as a sector. And we had better start learning to do that soon. “



NonProfit MarComm Community (2014) Perception and trust: can marketing communications help with   

          public trust in charities?: Non Profit MarComm Community; Your guide to marketing   

          communications for a cause website as retrieved from :