Interview by George Williams, Communications Specialist, Planned Legacy
About Nancy Schwartz
As President of Nancy Schwartz & Company in the New York metro area, Nancy is a nationally-recognized expert in Web strategy and marketing to the non-profit and public sectors. She shares her expertise by serving as an adjunct professor at the New School University, a trainer at the Support Center for Nonprofit Management and as a frequent conference speaker.
Nancy holds an MBA from NYU and also serves on the advisory board of the New School's Nonprofit Management Hub (an online resource for non-profit managers). She is a also a member of New York Women in Communications and New York Technical Assistance Providers Network (NYTAP). For more information please visit Nancy Schwartz & Company online or e-mail Nancy directly at [email protected].
Planned Legacy: Can you give our readers a short version of what a blog is?
Nancy Schwartz: Good question, because many folks don't know. Blog is an abbreviation for "web log," and blogs are Web sites that take the form of online journals, updated frequently with running commentary on one or many topics. A blog is the absolute easiest way to provide regularly updated information to your audiences.
Because the blog creation process is simpler than Web site creation or print design and production, blogs enable non-profits to easily publish a stream of constantly-updated, linked content. By streamlining and simplifying the Web page creation process, blogs have enabled users to easily transform information into a stream of constantly updated, interlinked "microcontent." Most importantly, the blogger typically offers readers links to interesting information alongside their own commentary about the posts and the link.
Planned Legacy: What are some of the benefits a blog can provide for a non-profit organization?
Nancy Schwartz: There are many benefits a blog can provide but mainly a blog:
- Expands organizational reach
- Raises visibility
- Drives Web site traffic
Planned Legacy: What are the primary uses for a blog?
Nancy Schwartz: As I see it, there are two main categories of use:
- The potential to open new channels for documentation and knowledge-sharing, especially for for non-profits that have been constrained by the time and costs of other web technologies.
- To enliven your group's Web presence and engage clients, supporters and strangers alike in your work
And, in addition, blogs:
- Provide a more immediate form of communication than your e-news, even if it's weekly
- Offer the opportunity to bring up ideas and links in a less formal context
- Get to readers. Over 65 percent of e-mail isn't opened (filtered out, not seen, etc.)
- Build stronger relationship with every person in this group: your donors, allies, members, volunteers, past supporters and prospects. When you do so, you build loyalty, ensure you stay top-of-mind.
- Promote your Web site. Along with your e-newsletter, your blog is probably the most perfect vehicle to drive traffic to your website. News, etc. Within your posts you can link to relevant website content, and in one click your reader is sitting exactly where you want them within your Web site, eager for more information. What could be easier?
- Open up a two-way dialogue
- Save money, and time. Blogs are cheap and easy to produce
Planned Legacy: Could a non-profit use a blog to increase donations and/or volunteer participation?
Nancy Schwartz: Yes indeed for donors and current volunteers, less useful for prospective volunteers.
1) For donors, a blog is a great, quick way to get information out on what the organization is doing, sometimes in the voices of the participants themselves.
2) A blog oriented to a non-profit's volunteers is a great tool to keep folks motivated. Several of the volunteers (one or two from each program, if multiple programs) could blog.
It would be more challenging to use a blog to motivate folks to volunteer, simply because prospective volunteers are not as motivated to go beyond the "About Us" pages of a Web site when making a decision on where to volunteer. One great application that might serve to motivate new volunteers is relief organizations showing their efforts as they happen via a blog, bloggers being the relief workers/volunteers who also feature photographs.
Planned Legacy: How does a non-profit organization determine whether a blog is right for them or not?
Nancy Schwartz: Remember that a blog should be looked at as one of multiple communications channels for every non-profit. A blog is right for almost every type of organization. So let me answer by outlining when a blog isn't the best choice:
- When a non-profit doesn't want to accept comments on its' blog posts. Interaction via comments is an inherent feature of blogs and to disable that is suspect
- When a non-profit isn't able to blog at least two-three times weekly
- When a non-profit isn't comfortable with an informal, personal voice
Planned Legacy: What important questions should a non-profit should answer before setting up a blog?
Nancy Schwartz: Here are the top 5 question I would ask:
- Do you fit into any of the three categories I mentioned above? If so, scrap it.
- Are you willing to dedicate the resources (mostly time) it takes to create and maintain a blog?
- How will the blog interface and fit in with your other communications strategies?
- Is the blog going to be an organizational blog or focused on a particular target audience, program or campaign?
- What do you hope to achieve with the blog that in turn helps your organization achieve its communications goals (and also, its organizational goals)?
Planned Legacy: What are some of the key points to consider when developing a blogging strategy?
Nancy Schwartz: There are quite a number of points to consider including:
- Goals and objectives
- Target audiences
- Blog name, tone and look and feel
- Blog team
- Editorial policy
- Frequency of posting
- Page format
- Content types for posts
- Blog service (software)
- Workplan and assignments
- Set up RSS Feeds and Feedburner to push posts to regular readers
Planned Legacy: Can you have a non-profit blog without a Web site or is it best to have both?
Nancy Schwartz: If there is no organizational website and budget restrictions are severe, a non-profit can get a simple Web site up quickly and inexpensively using blog software. However, the tools do work best in tandem.
Planned Legacy: What type of content would a non-profit organization post in a blog and how often?
Nancy Schwartz: It would depen on what the blog goals are, and how the target audiences are defined. Different types of content include:
- Organizational news
- News from the field in which the nonprofit works
- Leadership or expert perspectives on activities in the field
- Useful resources
- Updates from a non-profit conference
- Updates from conferences in related fields of interest
- Posts from guest bloggers
Planned Legacy: Do you have any copywriting tips for would-be non-profit bloggers?
Nancy Schwartz: Write blog posts as you write for Web site readers who are impatient, scan rather than read, and usually decide whether to stay on your Web page or move elsewhere in less than 10 seconds. Posts, paragraphs and sentences should be succinct, brief and written simply. No blog post should be more than 250 words except for unusual circumstances.
Planned Legacy: Is there a difference between for-profit and non-profit blogging software?
Nancy Schwartz: Only in that many of the software tools offer special discounts for non-profits.
Planned Legacy: What blogging software would you recommend for a non-profit blog?
Nancy Schwartz: For a starter site, I'd recommend hosted software. For non-profits that get very elaborate down the line, and need more features, I'd recommend evaluating a shift to installed software (which lives in your non-profit organization). Here are my favorites in each category:
Planned Legacy: What are the important steps you must take when setting up a blog?
Nancy Schwartz: Have a plan before you start, research the right blog software approach, and make sure you have the resources to maintain and promote the blog on an ongoing basis.
Planned Legacy: How much does a blog cost in time and money and how does a non-profit justify this?
Nancy Schwartz: A blog costs very little, less than $1,000 a year for the software. More in human resources. I spend about three hours a week (and I have a very clear strategy) scanning content in my field of non-profit communications and writing posts. That's the minimum you can count on.
It's actually not that much time for the instantaneous publishing you get via a blog. It's worth the trade off, especially because many organizations' Web sites are dififficult to update (and are frequently done so by folks outside the organization).
Planned Legacy: Once you have your blog set up, how do you get people to visit?
Nancy Schwartz: Ensure that you know who tou are targeting and write to those audiences' needs and interests. More on promotion two questions below.
Planned Legacy: How does the relationship between blogs and search engines work? How can you get your blog into the search engines?
Nancy Schwartz: Right now search engines love blogs. Including keywords and phrases related to your organization and topic, within your posts, will help get your blog indexed by the search engines for those keywords and phrases.
Planned Legacy: Are there any other methods you would recommend to promote a non-profit blog?
Nancy Schwartz: Many, including…media releases via PRweb, link placement on colleague organization Web sites, including your blog URL on all stationery and collateral, and making announcements via the blog, are all good strategies.
Most important are these three:
- Selecting keywords and phrases that your target audiences are likely to search on for content. Embed these in your blog posts, headlines, and the topical categories you set up for your posts.
- Make sure you let Technorati (a blog search engine) know (via what's called a "ping" every time you make a new post. http://technorati.com/
- Submit your blog to this directory, the Nonprofit Blog Exchange http://nonprofitblogexchange.blogspot.com/
Planned Legacy: Can visitors contribute feedback to a blog and if so, is this a good idea for non-profits?
Nancy Schwartz: Yes, in the comments field. I think it's a great way to facilitate dialogue. So often non-profits (and foundations) have taken the role of dissemination information. The blog is much more interactive. (See my answer above on when a non-profit shouldn't have a blog).
Planned Legacy: Is there any way to measure the impact of a blog?
Nancy Schwartz: Not really at this point. Most blogging software provides stats on the number of visitors. Beyond that, if you use a good web analytics program, you can track which users are driven to a Web page from the blog. Other tracking measurements range from the number of comments on posts to the number of folks who get your RSS feed.
Nothing at this point is as useful as anecdotal input from regular readers. Surveying readers (via a blog post pointing to an online survey) is a great way to get it.
Planned Legacy: What are some things to make sure to avoid when setting up a non-profit blog?
Nancy Schwartz: Don't write in a print style (long sentences and paragraphs, multi-syllabic words). Shape your content to the way readers digest online content and to your audiences' needs. And keep track of changes in those needs over time.
Planned Legacy: Do you have some examples of non-profit blogs you could share with us?
Nancy Schwartz: Here are a few of my favorites:
- The NominationWatch campaign blog, produced by the National Women's Law Center (NWLC). www.nominationwatch.org
- The Parent Partners, Partnership for A Drug Free America blog, features posts from parents who tell their kids' stories.http://drugfree.typepad.com/
- Coro, a leadership development program, has launched a blog that enables its 11,000 alumni and friends to share observations, analysis, and opinions regarding public affairs.
Planned Legacy: Do you have any example case studies of unique non-profit blogging success stories?
Nancy Schwartz: Yes, I wrote a full case study on NominationWatch.org. The NWLC wanted to make itself known to the general public, especially those carefully watching the Supreme Court nomination process. It's been known as a source for reports for legal scholars and professionals. You can get more details at www.nancyschwartz.com/start_nonprofit_blog.html
Planned Legacy: Are there any online resources, tools, downloads or seminars for non-profit bloggers you would like to recommend?
Nancy Schwartz: There's not too much out there specifically targeted to non-profit bloggers. I cover non-profit blogging very frequently in Getting Attention!, my own blog and e-newsletter. You can read more details at www.GettingAttention.org. In addition, I have an article archive where there are some useful articles on non-profit blogging at:www.nancyschwartz.com/articles.html
Planned Legacy: Do you currently offer consulting or seminars for non-profits that would like to set up a blog?
Nancy Schwartz: Sure do. I offer an in-person Demystifying Blogging training session and I am planning a tele-seminar. Subscribe to the Getting Attention! E-newsletter and you'll be the first to hear about how to sign up.
I've helped several non-profits get their blogs up and running, and find it to be one of my favorite project types. Bring em on!
Nancy Schwartz & Company offers a talented virtual team of communications planners, writers, designers, and Web developers. Led by marketing and communications expert Nancy Schwartz, their people are as varied as they are skilled, and the expertise of the team you work with will mirror the exact parameters of your project.
Based in the New York metro area, Nancy Schwartz & Company provides services nationwide to a wide range of corporate and non-profit organizations. They have been consulting since 1995 and integrating Internet strategies into their work since the very beginning.
Nancy Schwartz & Company offers decades of collective expertise working with organizations including the Association of Small Foundations, Clearwater, the Ford Foundation, Elsevier Science Publishing, Lucent Technologies, National Urban League, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
With experience as both staff employees and as consultants, their team offers both insiders' expertise and outsiders' perspective to your project.
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