Medium for Nonprofits – Three Questions to Consider

Medium for Nonprofits – Three Questions to Consider

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been asked by a few nonprofits about publishing on Medium. If you’re thinking about utilizing this platform, these questions and answers may help.

What is Medium?

Medium is an online platform and network that allows individual users, organizations, or companies to write and publish articles. Medium has a helpful synopsis of their platform and the benefits. It is built as a place for writers to easily create content and publish in a simple and visual editor. There is a network component as readers often leave comments or respond with a post. The company itself has a homepage that highlights content that is pertinent, interesting, and engaging.

Why should you use it?

It is a good fit for organizations that are looking to increase the number of written publications but haven’t yet started an internal blog. If volunteers or individuals on your team have an interest in writing content for your organization, Medium is a great way to begin that process.

If you have the ability to publish blog posts on your website, you may also want to consider using Medium. The network component of the platform can help you reach new audience members. Additionally, it may be easier for your readers to view content on Medium. If your blog isn’t visually appealing – especially for mobile and tablet users – you should consider trying Medium.

What types of things should you post?

Anything that you would write in a blog post. A story from an individual that your organization supported, an organizational opinion on a current event/topic, a letter from a board member, or highlights from a recent event. Try different styles and take advantage of the helpful analytics that let users know how many people are reading the whole post.

Below are a few articles from recent weeks that I’ve found interesting – including one published on Medium.

  1. Ross Jackson kicks off an ongoing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Project in NPQ with a post about diversity in the nonprofit theater world.
  2. The always brilliant Yesenia Sotelo of SmartCause Digital shares the 10 stats you should be tracking on your website.  
  3. David Cohen of Adweek explains the latest Facebook news feed algorithm changes.
  4. Does your organization work with a YouTube creator? YouTube is rolling out donation cards for US creators.
  5. “C is for Convertible Debt! That’s good enough for me.” Sarah Kessler of Fast Company details Sesame Street’s partnership with venture capital firms.
  6. Finally, Alison Leiby shares a post on Medium about the response to a joke she made about women’s rights. It include this funny and sad quote, “If you want a tour of how hateful and negative humanity can be about women, just scroll through the replies to my original joke. It’s kind of like the It’s A Small World ride, but instead of different countries you just see different expressions of misogyny.”
Data and Narrative – Why the Balance is Important

Data and Narrative – Why the Balance is Important

While meeting with During a recent discussion about mission-driven and fundraising communication, someone mentioned, “You can’t share a narrative without stats and you can’t share stats without the narrative.” This sentiment is a nice reminder to start off the year. Nonprofits must strike a balance when communicating the quantifiable effect of their work and sharing the stories of success. Most readers will recognize that this is true, but may not stop to consider why this is important. For fundraising-related communication both of these aspects appeal to different individuals.

Some donors are most inspired when they feel the human connection and hear the first-hand experience of those that are benefitting from a program or organization. For this group, the data is nice, but doesn’t mean as much as a real story that shares experience and perspective.

Others approach giving from with a “Spock-like” viewpoint. The human emotion isn’t important; they want to ensure that their contribution is having a statistically relevant influence on the society around them. To them the human stories are nice, but aren’t the reason to give – as one individual’s experience is less pertinent than the broader reach and effects.

These two examples are endpoints. Most supporters are somewhere between them when assessing motivation for giving. Balancing narrative and data ensures that you’re reaching all of your audience and addresses other important factors. Sharing data that is definable and relevant to your work builds transparency and trust. Sharing stories reinforces to your audience that you’re invested and connected to the experience of those benefitting from your work.

As you work on communication in the New Year remember why this balance is critical. Below are a few links from the last week that may be helpful for you.

  1. It’s resolution time! Ashley Thompson of NPEngage shares five resolutions for fundraising.
  2. Twitter received a mixed response when a rumor was published that they’re considering changing the character limit from 140 to 10,000. Ash Read of Buffer shares thoughts and reflections.
  3. Jimmy Daly of Vero explains why your newsletter may not be working and provides advice on making it better.
  4. REJOICE. Internet Explorer 8, 9, and 10 will likely be killed next week. Owen Williams of The Next Web has the details.
  5. Forbes published their 30 under 30 of social entrepreneurs. It’s a great read if you want to be inspired and hopeful (or feel old).
  6. Your long read of the week – Will Oremus of Slate explains how Facebook builds their algorithm.


Six Lessons from #GivingTuesday Emails

Six Lessons from #GivingTuesday Emails

As you may imagine, I received a lot of #GivingTuesday emails. This year, I reviewed them all to highlight some things that I liked and recommendations on what to avoid. For email messages that I’m highlighting, I’ve included their name. For email messages that had some challenges, I’m omitting their name.


Time is not always on your side

One organization sent an email that was focused on the time left in the campaign. It included the text, “Only 5 hours left on #GivingTuesday. We can do this!  As of 7pm, our awesome supporters have raised nearly $5,000!”

This email does a good job of using time to build a sense of urgency. The challenge is the email arrived at 5:15pm. It was written with a central time zone audience in mind. Using the time left in a campaign isn’t recommended because it’s very challenging to control. You have to segment for time zone. If your data on audience location isn’t strong, you’ll send emails with the incorrect time to many recipients.

Sending emails with a reference to a specific time, also assumes that the emails will be delivered when they’re supposed to. #GivingTuesday and December 31 are very busy days for email delivery systems – Constant Contact, Convio/Blackbaud, Vertical Response, etc. While these companies prepare for the increase in volume, there can be issues. On December 31, 2014, Convio had systemwide delays that slowed down delivery of messages. I received an email from a national organization urging me to donate with just “six hours left in 2014”. Unfortunately, it was delivered at 4:30am on January 1.


Show your personality

If your email is coming from an individual (Executive Director, Board Member, volunteer), you should try and convey their personality in the message. The best example of that this year was a message from Serena Clayton at the California School-Based Health Alliance.


GT Image 2 - CSHA

This email made me laugh because it was personal and self-aware. Stating, ‘I know you’re getting a lot of messages today, but this is why you should support us’ was a personal and thoughtful choice.


Email length

One of the first messages I received was one of the messages with the most issues. The email was 470 words and did not have any images or much to break up the text. The email clocked in at 470 words, which was far too long. On a day like #GivingTuesday, your message shouldn’t be this lengthy as you’ll struggle to hold the reader’s attention.


Use matches creatively

An email from KQED shared:

GT Image 1 - KQED

This was an interesting approach and likely an A/B test. It can be difficult to find an appropriate way to share fundraising success with your audience. Sharing that you’ve already reached a goal, may make a potential donor think, “They’re doing just fine. I guess, I should donate elsewhere.” This email attempts to use the match to build a sense of urgency, while also making the reader feel like they’re one of many supporters. It’s possible that KQED used this section to do an A/B test for their audience. Would people be more willing to give if they thought they were part of something larger? Does knowing that you’re not the only supporter make you more willing to donate?


Read through your call to action and read it again

No one is perfect and when you’re rushing through an email, it’s easy to make mistakes. I certainly have. But, your call-to-action needs to be focused and perfect. One nonprofit sent an email with the following:

We hope that <Name of org> is chosen as your favorite nonprofit organization for #GivingTuesday today and you make a contribution for wilderness.

That isn’t a clear message and was the focus of their message. It was the emboldened link for recipients to click on to donate.


Don’t forget to link

Finally, the biggest issue that I saw this year was missed opportunities to link to appropriate content in email messages. One organization included text, in multiple emails they sent, that said, “Remember, donating isn’t the only way you can help us today—start your own fundraising page, re-share our messages on Facebook and Twitter…” They didn’t link to their Facebook or Twitter page in the text and those links were buried in the footer of the email. While focused the call-to-action and links on donating makes sense, if you’re sharing other ways to help – make it easy to get those pages.

Another organization discussed the importance of three key initiatives and why it was important to support them. But, the only links included in the email was to and to two organizations they’re partnering with. This may seem obvious, but when you’re asking for donor support – you have to provide links to your donate page. You should include multiple donation links in your message.


We hope this email review is helpful as you prepare future messages. If you’re looking for additional helpful information, we enjoyed the these links from the week:

  1. Let the 2016 previews begin! Jared Lindzon at Fast Company six ways that our workplaces will continue to change and evolve in the year ahead.
  2. Shana Masterson of Blackbaud shares information about the The Cash, Sweat & Tears Award, presented by the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum, which honors the passion of your P2P volunteers and fundraisers.
  3. Burned out with all of your year-end writing? Two helpful articles were written this week. Sara Wolfson of M+R uses the smash musical Hamilton to provide year-end writing tips. Mary Cahalane provides advice on writing thank you letters when you’re feeling stuck.
  4. Finally, to end on a #GivingTuesday note, Joe Garecht of The Fundraising Authority explained why he thinks your nonprofit should avoid #GivingTuesday like the plague. The post is thought-provoking and written to be contrarian. I recommend the comment section where industry titans, John Haydon, Amy Sample Ward, and Beth Kanter wrote thoughtful responses that Garecht responded to.
Testing for Relevant Language

Testing for Relevant Language

Over the last week, we’ve been working on an extensive survey project. There are two versions of the survey that are segmented for different audiences. One segment is teenagers. During the testing of the survey, we asked a group of teens to independently review the survey. Their feedback was nearly identical.

In several areas of the survey, language was used that matches the word choices the organization uses in their publications. These are common words and phrases within their field. The teens shared that these are not words or phrases that they use to describe these concepts and identities. To them, the words were outdated, unnecessary, and confusing.

Some specific language is used internally within every nonprofit organization, and it may not always match external expectations or usage. When drafting key outbound communication pieces, it may be a good time to take a step back and ask yourself a few questions. Are we using internal language too often? Is this the language that our audience uses? Do we need to define any of these terms for this audience?

Imposing your internal language on your external audience will hurt the effectiveness of an email campaign or survey. If you have time and volunteers available, ask them for feedback on the what language is relevant to them. This extra step can help you get the results you need.

Below are a few links from the last week that I found relevant:

  1. Susan Raab of NPQ discusses the ongoing crowdfunding platforms wars.
  2. Facebook’s carousel ads are 10 times better than its regular ads. Garett Sloane of Digiday has the details.
  3. How are you counting your media hits? Aaron Eske from M+R shares a new and better way to track this.
  4. Keith Steele provides an interesting read on how drones can assist in habitat monitoring.
Four Tips to Freshen Your Content Creation

Four Tips to Freshen Your Content Creation

Investing the time in creating content can be difficult when work gets busy. Small and mid-sized nonprofit organizations face can additionally be challenged because multiple people are often share the responsibility of writing content.

If your content creation is in a rut, these four steps will help you get back on track.

Assume deadlines will be missed

If you are managing a team of employees that are helping to create content, there is only one safe assumption. There will be missed deadlines. Plan for it – have extra content scheduled or evergreen content available. Even with the best planning, deadlines, staff departures, and unplanned outages will impact your communication schedule.

Write every day

Writing every day will help you focus on what you need or should be writing. While you may not think you have time to write every day, even just 10 minutes helps. Building that habit will ensure you stay fresh. Even writing half of a blog post or a new fundraising appeal will help you build good writing habits.


I’ll be the first to admit – this is one of the biggest challenges that I have. When I commit the time to reading – either books or interesting things on the internet – I’m more fresh and creative. It’s hard to not focus on your to do list and carve out the time for yourself. That time helps rejuvenate you creatively. Many content creators have shared the impact and importance that reading has on their of writing.

By Inspired by Curated Content

How many times have you read an article related to your work and thought, “That’s really interesting!” or “That’s really idiotic!”? Either way, save that article. Come back to and write a reflection piece. Can you praise the author and the piece? Did you think of something relevant to your own work that relates to the piece? Was it absolute garbage and could use a polite but strongly worded response? Allow yourself the space to be inspired by your peers.

If you’re looking for additional inspiration this week, enjoy these articles!

  1. Thinking about crowdsourcing? Tricia Mirchandani of CauseVox has five questions to consider first. My favorite – “Do you have a crowd?”
  2. Taylor Shanklin of NPEngage discusses the importance of mobile and shares four tips to o help your organization become more mobile-friendly.
  3. Worried about your Google Analytics? Shaun McKenna of Conversioner explains how to avoid data pollution.
  4. There has been an incredible amount of coverage and discussion of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The Chronicle of Philanthropy compiled a list of seven nonprofit stories.
Why Nonprofits Should Listen to Reddit

Why Nonprofits Should Listen to Reddit

Reddit can be a complicated place. One minute you’re watching a gif of a cat, the next moment you’ve strolled into an unpleasant subreddit or offensive comment thread. Even searching for an image to use for this blog post caused me to view a few images that I did not want to see. This week, Lauren Girardin of Nonprofit MarCommunity provided a handy outline (with many amusing gifs) on how your nonprofit can utilize Reddit.

Girardin shares a number of valuable and helpful hints on engaging in Reddit. One of the most important is:

Listen and you’ll learn more about your audience and what they think about your organization, your cause, and the world. Monitor Reddit for mentions of your nonprofit, check for links to your website, and listen to Reddit conversations about your cause by following related subreddits and keywords.

People who post on Reddit will be honest about your nonprofit. I often search the names of a few of our clients on Reddit to see what is being discussed. The anonymity of the platform creates a space and community in which people are straightforward in their criticism and genuine in their praise. When searching and reading, you’ll understand why Girardin’s first rule is imperative – you must have a thick skin. The anonymity that allows for openness also creates a space in which a vocal fraction of users can say things that are inappropriate or hurtful.

The opportunity to listen and view a community that is discussing your nonprofit or field can be invaluable to thinking about how you shape your communication. It is important to avoid responding emotionally in Reddit (or any other online space) but taking a step back and evaluating what is causing concern or strife. Are people critical of a certain aspect of your work? Do you think other people share these concerns? How can you address the issue in future communication?

Use Reddit as an opportunity to listen, learn, and engage with a community and it will help your manage your own audience more effectively.

Below are four recent links that I enjoyed:

  1. Who can keep up with Facebook News Feed updates? Sarah Matista of Social Media Today did and created a handy infographic.
  2. WhichTestWon measured whether a pop-up helped or hurt the re-opt in rate (number of visitors opting back in to accept the offer), after initially opting out of an email. Interesting data that nonprofits could use.
  3. Jay Ruderman of NPQ shares why philanthropist should be active on Twitter.
  4. Already thinking about #GivingTuesday? Check out the interview that Liz Ragland of Network for Good conducted with Zosia Sztykowski, Executive Director of Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS)
Communicating with a Four Year Old

Communicating with a Four Year Old

How would you describe what you do to a four year old? That was the question posed in a recent Medium post by Dean Vipond. Invited to talk to an elementary school classroom, what he thought was a presentation to older students, with a greater understanding of what design is, quickly had him returning to the simplest forms of what he does and why he does it.

This effort to break down a potentially complicated description and explanation down to its simplest parts is a crucial exercise for any communicator. In the social sector in particular, there can be a tendency to lose sight of the value of simplicity.

Simplicity doesn’t mean dumbing down, as we have discussed previously in our admiration for Made to Stick – simplicity means getting to the basic elements of why and how. For Dean, this mean describing design as “making something easy to use, or easy to understand,” and that “colours, letters and pictures…help people understand things.” It is a surprisingly profound and accessible way to describe the importance of design, and was done so in a way that is definitely not dumbed down.

For your organization, how can you break down what you do more simply? How could you effectively communicate what you do to a four year old?


  1. Are you still emailing your newsletter as a pdf? It’s time to stop doing that. Marlene Oliveira explains why you should stop.
  2. Taylor Maxwell of M+R shares your daily social media exercises.
  3. What should an event manager be focusing on? Meghan Gauen expounds on her experience and why the focus should be donor engagement and retention.
  4. Your long-form read of the week should be an article on growing nonprofit debt written by NPQ’s Woods Bowman.
Just Stop

Just Stop

How many times have you started an email or conversation with the following:

I just wanted to say…

I just wanted to ask…

This is just my opinion…

Just, as a word, has a few definitions, including an expression of fairness, a description of immediacy, and a capture of exactitude. But those definitions don’t work within the examples provided – what is going on here? How has this word morphed over time, and what are the implications in using it in this fashion?

As described in a recent blog post for Women 2.0, “just” has become synonymous for subordination. A quick way to show respect, but at the same time, weaken your message. And, more often than not, it is women who are using “just” in this fashion – damaging their delivery of opinions or questions.

From a nonprofit communications perspective, the potential harm of “just” is real. From fundraising emails, to relationship management, to volunteer recruitment, to board meetings, how many times have you used “just” when you didn’t need to? How could you have made your message stronger? What could have been a way to position yourself from a place of authority and strength, rather than of deference?

Our thoughts on “just” are just the beginning to our contributions this week – check the links below for more highlights.

  1. Nancy Schwartz of Network for Good shares why there should only be one call-to-action in emails.
  2. Looking for a donor relations data and insight – check out Lynne Wester of the Donor Relations Guru blog that highlights data from a recent donor relations survey whitepaper.
  3. Alex Daniels of the Chronicle of Philanthropy discusses why six major foundations called on their peers to share the racial and gender make-up of their boards and staff.
  4. On the technical side – an interesting read from Jason Tashea at that highlights companies that have open-sourced their technology.
  5. For your long read of the week, we recommend “The Surprising Alchemy of Passion and Science”, the transcript of a speech given by Lissette Rodriguez of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation at the Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence’s tenth annual conference.
Three Ways to Retain Top Volunteers and Supporters

Three Ways to Retain Top Volunteers and Supporters

I reconnected with a friend recently. During our communication, I asked about a fundraising volunteer project that I had worked with her on previously. She shared that she was still supporting it and over the years she had raised over $30,000. And then added, But it somehow never seems to be enough (as in, I’m only as good as the latest amount I donated and / or raised)”

This is something that a lot of nonprofits struggle with. How do you convey a sense of urgency to donate/fundraise while respecting the incredible and generous donations/fundraising efforts previously made? This week Caryn Stein of Network for Good shared five ways to recruit passionate volunteers. The list is a great starting point. There are follow-up questions to consider. How do you keep your passionate volunteers engaged? How do you avoid donor fatigue and burnout? How do you highlight an organizational need while respecting previous contributions? Below are three options that may help your organization respect your supporters and ensure that they don’t feel like you’re asking too much or too often.

Segment emails by giving history

Any fundraising appeal should be segmented by giving history. The language and call-to-action needed to retain a gift is different than the message used to move someone up the ladder of engagement to become a first-time donor. Your segmentation doesn’t need to be so finite that you mention the previous donation amount and date – it simply has to acknowledge what their previous support enabled your organization to do and what a contribution during this funding cycle will be used for.

Assign an actual relationship manager

Allocating time for relationship management isn’t easy for many nonprofits. There often isn’t enough time and staff to focus on mid-level supporters. This is a lost opportunity. Too often nonprofits use email blasts to manage their engaged constituents instead of developing a one-to-one relationship. Not every relationship manager needs to have major gift experience and know how to ‘make an ask’. Every employee can have some part in ensuring that quality relationships are formed and sustained. Listening to the supporter and building trust will help continue engagement. Assign relationship managers to supporters and give them the tools needed to preserve those relationships.

Build a long-term plan

As you cultivate a relationship with a supporter, you get an understanding of why they support your cause. As part of this conversation, it’s important to listen to what their interests are. How can they continue to build engagement and find new challenges? Someone who fundraises for your organization isn’t always going to want a new challenge to be just be raising more money. At some point they might like to be more involved with the planning of an event, joining your board of directors, or engaged in a different way. Building a plan and fitting that into your organization’s strategy and communication will help ensure that the individual sticks with you.

These suggestions will help you sustain and grow your relationship with passionate volunteers. And these links will help you keep up to date on news from the week.

  1. Miranda Paquet of Constant Contact shares tips on how to get more engagement from your email list.
  2. Your millennial giving trend link of the week – Mark Hrywna of the NonProfit Times discusses a recent study that states millennial donations and volunteering are influenced by their peer group.
  3. David Cohen of Adweek reviews data on how Facebook users spend their time.
  4. If you’re looking for some inspiration John Rampton of Inc. highlights eight companies that are having a positive impact on their community and the world.
The Struggle to Collaborate

The Struggle to Collaborate

There are a lot of nonprofits doing the exact same thing. Not literally – clearly each nonprofit has their own methodology, belief system, and implementation. But many social organizations are attempting to serve the same populations and solve the same problems, while not working with those other organizations doing the same.

Wendy Woods, Global Head of the Boston Consulting Group’s Social Impact Practice, spoke to the power of collective cooperation during a 2013 TED Talk. She highlighted two organizations fighting malnutrition in the same region, but turning potential patients away because those patients didn’t fit the criteria of who they serve. These organizations were in the same region, serving the same cause & population, but were ineffectively solving the problem. The solution? Working together.

So many nonprofits are wary of giving up their “secret sauce” – that program, practice, or tool that sets them apart from others in the space. This perceived competitive advantage, that their system of change is the most effective, has the potential to hinder the efficacy of the overall endeavor – whether that is helping the most people or solving a key problem. What the “secret sauce” does is create an environment for that nonprofit to continue to exist, but not to achieve larger goals.

And communicating this advantage ultimately comes down to why your method is better and how much more effective you are because of your practices and people. In fundraising and outreach communication, what nonprofits end up selling are outcomes and activities created by their methodology and work. But these outcomes aren’t enough when you consider the potential to serve more people. By giving up the notion of working independently on this effort, and instead collaborate with others who are tackling the same issue and population, you have the opportunity to more effectively help those in need.

But giving up the “secret sauce” is no easy task. As a nonprofit leader, you have to balance the needs of so many stakeholders, including a board of directors, staff, volunteers, funders, not to mention the people you are directly serving through your mission. Your competitive advantage helps those internal to your organization, but at what cost to those externally?

Inefficiencies abound in the nonprofit space, and a lack of collaboration is just the beginning. But in thinking and considering the big picture of your work, including the opportunities that exist to step outside of your organization’s needs and existence, you can realign your work with your mission. And isn’t that what we’re all here for?

  1. M+R announced the M+R Toolshed with some tools to help you analyze your data.
  2. Megan O’Neil of the Chronicle of Philanthropy highlights data that shows declines in #GivingTuesday income growth
  3. Need tips on a good hashtag for a crowdfunding campaign? Kat Kuehl of CauseVox shares some great tips.
  4. Shana Masterson of NPEngage discusses the challenges and optimism with DIY fundraising. A great quote from the article, “The success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, the widespread availability of the internet, and the increasingly social nature of the population have created a perfect storm of both hope and unrealistic expectations.”