When we started the “When You Work At A Nonprofit” Tumblr blog, an interesting thing happened. A prominent nonprofit publication asked us to write a post about it, on the topic of “how to create a blog that fills a community need.” They wanted us to discuss the process behind getting a blog started: how we chose a platform, how we determined the voice and content, tips for keeping an updated content schedule, and all those other “bloggity things” (in their words).
We couldn’t help but shake our heads.
Their request summed up the epidemic of overthinking things that, in our opinion, plagues the nonprofit sector. As an industry, nonprofits tend to overthink things — it’s a huge problem that stems from a deep aversion to risk and fear of failure. As a result, we try to help nonprofits overcome their fear of risk, and not overthink things.
We’re big advocates of just trying something and seeing where it goes. We didn’t create a strategy for it. There was no evaluation of tools. There was no discussion about voice. There’s no content schedule that we agree on. It’s very “Lean Startup” — we just decided to do it one day, and we did it in about an hour. We tweeted it out and it took off from there.
Here’s how other organizations, both for profit and non-profit alike, can do the same:
1. Use technology to run a small test.
Instead of investing hours of time or waiting months to “get things set up,” use new technologies that allow you to get set up quickly and with very little cost. There are tons of consumer technologies that are easy to set up, and you shouldn’t have to pay more than $20 per month for just about anything you want to do. Even at that price, the benefits of a small investment (i.e., $240 per year) far outweigh the cost.
How we did it:
We created our blog using the free blogging platform Tumblr, and used a free theme that was pre-installed. We found and uploaded free gifs, and posted them with some catchy, snarky text. Then we added a Google Analytics free tracking code to see if anyone actually came to the site. Next, our programmer added a small Facebook Like or Share plugin (Cost: $125). Then we added a newsletter signup form using Mailchimp’s free version, which lets people sign up for a weekly “best of” email. Finally we tweeted it out using the free Tweetdeck app, but you could just tweet the news using Twitter, which is free as well. Total time spent: 3 hours; Total cost: $125
2. Make everything measurable.
Build in mechanisms for tracking, so you can see the progress and success of your test. Google Analytics, an email sign-up form, social sharing: all of these are important tracking elements. Even if it’s not tied to donations, there’s tremendous value in building your email list, increasing your social following, and getting people into your organization’s ecosystem.
How we did it:
We created a separate Google Analytics account under our master account, specifically for “When You Work At A Nonprofit”, then added it to the blog. We also embedded a Mailchimp signup form into the site, so people can sign up to get the top posts emailed to them each week.