Thanks to Microsoft Citizenship Asia Pacific, I’ve had the great honor to present a series of online fundraising and social media trainings to over three hundred non-governmental organizations (NGOs) throughout Asia Pacific over the last three years. The experience has made me acutely aware that access to information about trends in nonprofit technology, online fundraising, and social media often does not reach small NGOs – especially those in rural areas. Many lack access to information about how create their own websites, publish an email newsletter, accept online donations, and use social media effectively. It’s not for lack of desire or technical capability, but simply due to a block in information flow. Many small NGOs are also unaware of the services and resources offered to the NGO community by TechSoup Global, SANGONeT, NASSCOM Foundation, Meedan, and FrontlineSMS.
Thus, over the next three weeks I am going to blog a series of fundraising and social media best practices specifically tailored for small NGOs with the hope that I can use my experience and my social networks to be of service. Of course, being based in the U.S., my recommendations are highly affected by my location, my work experience, and limited to those tools and resources that I am well familiar with, but I hope your NGO finds the information useful.
Next week Nonprofit Tech for Good will feature five social media best practices specifically tailored for NGOs in developing countries (subscribe to the e-newsletter in the upper right to receive a copy via email).
1) Launch a new website that is mobile-optimized.
Before each training I review the Web presence for each NGO in attendance. The well-funded NGOs have often a website that is just as good and sometimes better than many nonprofits and charities based in developed countries. However, many small NGOs have websites that haven’t been updated in years and are often not created using a Content Management System (CMS) which makes it very difficult for them to update and edit their own websites. To effectively raise money online, NGOs need a website that makes a good first impression.
Tools such as Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace enable small NGOs to launch modern, well-designed websites that are mobile compatible and easy to update. The website templates include social media integration and fees are as little as a $8US a month for a website absent of advertising and some templates are offered in multiple languages. NGOs can also use WordPress.org as a CMS for your website and download a free or low-cost theme to design a mobile-optimized website. To do so, you’ll need a web hosting service such as BlueHost.com. If that’s too complicated, then your NGO could set up a free blog on WordPress.com which offers numerous, easy-to-install mobile-optimized templates. If you decide to go with WordPress.com, you should purchase a .org website URL and have it forward to your WordPress.com blog. However, .ngo and .ong will be available soon. All that said, globally smartphones now outsell feature phones so in the near future the majority of your website traffic will occur on a mobile device, thus launching a new website that is mobile compatible is important and fortunately not that difficult or financially challenging provided your NGO is willing to invest the time to create a new website and has access to a credit card as most of these services only accept credit cards as the method of purchase.
Finally, if during the set up process of your website you discover that you need custom graphics or a new logo, but you do not have the financial resources to hire a designer or the graphic design knowledge to create them yourself, you could contact a university in your area to find a student majoring in graphic design and offer to promote their work in exchange for volunteering their services. Or, you could post the volunteer position on your website, blog, or Facebook Page and share it on volunteer boards in your country or on Idealist.org, CraigstList, or in LinkedIn Groups.
2) Launch an e-newsletter.
For over a decade e-newsletters have been the driving force behind online donations in developed countries and this would likely be true also for small NGOs if they invested the time and financial resources into publishing an e-newsletter at least twice monthly. Web-based email communication services such as iContact, Constant Contact, or MailChimp make it very simple to launch an e-newsletter and fees start at $15US monthly for email lists of 500 subscribers or less. For some small NGOs this can be financially challenging, but it is an investment well-made (especially if your goal is to acquire donors in developed countries). If funds are limited, ask a major donor if they would sponsor your e-newsletter for a year in exchange for occasionally promoting their business or service in your e-newsletter.
Many NGOs do send e-newsletters, but via BCC. It’s important to be aware that e-newsletters that are sent BCC often trigger spam controls and are blocked by email servers. Also, email communication services offer reporting metrics, such as who opened your email and what links they visited, and eliminate the need to manually manage your email list as your subscribers are stored in an online database and unsubscribes are automatic. To help build your email list, all three of services offer the ability to add e-newsletter opt-in forms to your website. Ensure that the opt-in is prominently featured on your home page and in a sidebar on every page of your website and blog.
3) Accept donations online.
Accepting online donations can be difficult for many NGOs. Regulations vary widely from country to country and NGOs in some countries can’t accept online payments at all due to a limited online banking infrastructure or sanctions based on perceived terrorists threats. That said, if it is possible for your nonprofit to set up an account to receive credit card payments on PayPal (view list of countries), then no matter how tedious or time-consuming the sign-up process may be, accepting online donations is a huge step forward for your NGO. There’s also Ammado.com which enables NGOS in many countries to accept online donations in 76 currencies.
Once your nonprofit has been set up to accept online donations, then add a “Donate Now” button to your home page and every page of your website and blog. You should also create a “Donate” page that details how donors can donate online, wire funds, mail funds, or send you mobile money. Also, your e-newsletter design should always include a “Donate Now” button and during times of crisis your NGO should send urgent email fundraising appeals to your e-newsletter list in addition to your bi-monthly e-newsletter.
Alternatively, if your NGO has a long-term, close working relationship with a large nonprofit in a developed nation, start a discussion about partnering with them so you can accept online donations through their website. In the United States this is called fiscal sponsorship. It’s not easy to secure, but a possibility for some NGOs that have been in operation for multiple years and have a proven track record of success. For more information, listen to this podcast about fiscal sponsorship hosted by the Foundation Center. You can also explore the possibility of having one of your projects listed on GlobalGiving
4) Study and mimic large NGOs.
Small NGOs can learn a lot by studying the online fundraising and social media campaigns of large NGOs. Analyze their websites and donation pages, subscribe to their e-newsletters, and follow them on social media. To get you started, below are ten NGOs highly recommended for their Web and social presence (see also Top 100 NGOs) :
Acumen Fund :: acumen.org
AMREF :: amref.org
Brac :: brac.net
CARE International :: care-international.org
Greenpeace International :: greenpeace.org
Oxfam International :: oxfam.org
Plan International :: plan-international.org
Transparency International :: transparency.org
UNICEF :: unicef.org
World Wildlife Fund :: wwf.org
5) Create a Facebook Page.
Many small NGOs have not yet created a Facebook Page and doing so should be your first step in launching a presence on social media. To create a Facebook Page, first create a personal Facebook account and then visit facebook.com/createapage > Company, Organization, or Institution > Select the “Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)” category and then set up your page. To easily create a Facebook cover image, go to PicMonkey.com > Create a collage > FB Cover. For best practices on how to manage your page, please see all posts about Facebook. Finally, to make it easier to promote your page in print materials and online, be sure to reserve your Facebook username at facebook.com/username.
Reminder: Next week Nonprofit Tech for Good will feature five social media best practices specifically tailored for small NGOs in developing countries (subscribe to the e-newsletter in the upper right to receive a copy via email).