Archives for May 2009

Strategic Web Communication Principle #2 of 5 Part 1

Develop your email fundraising and communication tools.

Despite negative press about spamming and phishing, email is still the most prevalent method of communicating with people online. It can become your chief method for delivering your messages, to both old friends and new. And email fundraising is one of the most proven ways to monetize your email marketing assets.

The key to building a permission-based opt-in email list is to figure out what you can provide in exchange for names and email addresses. Once you have your strategy devised, you’ll begin to establish a list that nurtures your current relationships while developing new ones. Some examples of potential incentives that people might sign up for include daily devotionals, weekly sermons, topical e-newsletters, special premiums, prayer, discount coupons, downloads, welcome kits, and so on.

Usually in email fundraising, your primary e-newsletter can be the vehicle for getting this process started. The goal is to build your email list by providing a way for people to begin interacting with you while you minister to them. The e-newsletter can be your core ingredient, to be complemented by other ideas that enhance the offer. In either case, this whole process must be incentive based. People need some kind of compelling reason for reading your e-newsletter, whether it’s unique content or discount coupons for your products.

Here are some examples of ministry newsletters:

Hungry Souls

Inside Scoop: If you send your e-newsletter via email, publish it online also. Many people can’t read email on their systems, but if you provide a quick link they can click to reach your site, they can read your newsletter there.

Something worth mentioning here: It’s important to never send emails to people who haven’t opted in. If you do, you’ll most likely be identified as a spammer-and may even lose your ability to email at all. You need to post your privacy policy on your website and stick to it. Avoid selling or renting your list to others, no matter how great the offer.
(Quick aside: Instead of sharing your lists, consider taking advertisers in your e-newsletters.)

Practical Tip #1: Develop an incentive-based email offer page.
Identify what you’re already doing that can become an e-newsletter opportunity. The key is a good landing page-a page that people click to from the email. The landing page should repeat the offer, go into more detail, and convince people to do whatever it is you’re asking. It should answer the visitor’s question: What’s in it for me?

Salem provides an excellent example of getting people to sign up for newsletters:

Look at all the e-newsletters to which you could opt in — they’re currently offering 67 different newsletters! Each time someone opts in to one of them, Salem collects an email address, which they then use to provide online ministry that enhances their existing relationships while establishing new ones. In addition, they can communicate with these e-newsletter names on additional matters.

Here’s other examples of good landing page with an incentive-based offer from the Presidential Prayer Team:
Jewish Voice:
Villages at Country Club:

The Presidential Prayer Team wants people to join their prayer team for free. This landing page conveys all the benefits of being a member, including prayers that can be used immediately. Once people become members, then PPT emails them a newsletter every week, complete with content to help in praying. PPT also sends regular online fundraising appeals. But their first step was to figure out why people would want to become members and then making the case to convince them to join.

If you have a sales-based or online email fundraising newsletter, at the very least you need to offer discount coupons, or free gifts. Research shows that discount offers are the #1 reason why many women sign up for e-newsletters. This could be a very effective non profit marketing tool for your organization.

If you need help in this area, contact Pathmaker and we can assist you in getting your incentive-based email offer page setup.

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Strategic Web Communication Principle #1 of 5

Find your ministry niche that can be transferred online.

As non profit fund raising professionals, Pathmaker Marketing often starts by asking our clients, “What is unique about your ministry or non profit organization that separates you from the rest?” Isolate that area of differentiation and then determine the ways you might convey that uniqueness online. One idea for accomplishing this objective is to think about the ways you already provide ministry:

* Do you have a radio show? Then place your radio broadcasts online in MP3 format.
* Do you preach sermons? Then have your messages converted into MP3 format and upload them online for people to hear 24/7.
* Do you have a television ministry? Then convert your TV programs into QuickTime or Windows Media file formats for online viewing. You can even upload your shows to YouTube or other online video portals.
* Do you have a drama ministry you can videotape? Then do the same.
* Are you a prolific writer? Then consider:
* Publishing your books online as e-books or using print-on-demand processing.
* Developing white papers on subjects of expertise for you.
* Creating an online library replete with articles on various topics of relevance to your audience.
* Starting a blog.

The key here is to isolate what ministries or services you provide offline, particularly those that are especially unique, and then determine if you can provide or enhance them through non profit marketing online. Here are some examples of the way this has worked in real life.

Here is a great example of transferring an offline service online. In this example, the business owner used to provide personal piano lessons. However, he was limited in the number of lessons he could give weekly-until he wrestled with the question, “How can I give piano lessons online to expand my business?” Once he resolved that question, he began experiencing a growth spurt in his business. Now he currently reaches more students and provides more lessons by marketing online, than he ever could have through private lessons.

Here is a different example. offers a service to ministries with radio programs. Through their site, you can publish your radio program online, and then link to it from your website. By doing it this way, you eliminate some of the technical challenges of publishing audio on your own site, and you also partner with numerous other broadcasting ministries that help drive traffic to the site. This is a good example of finding a niche in the non profit marketing arena.

Here is an example of a children’s ministry that enhanced its services online. Focus on the Family does a children’s radio program called Adventures in Odyssey, and one of the characters, Mr. Whit, owns an inn. As a play on words, the official website of Adventures in Odyssey is Whit’s End. When Focus on the Family placed Whit’s End online, instead of just the radio programs, they took it a step further by adding games, podcasts, and other interactive features that make the site of interest to children and their parents. Because the program airs on a regular schedule, people are constantly coming back to the site to interact with Whit’s End. I’s also a good example of non profit marketing.

In this case, the church involved is based in Edmund, Oklahoma, and has been recognized as one of the most innovative churches in America. Their website,, is worth a review for many reasons. But one of the niftiest things I liked was the innovative way they have provided for people to confess their secrets online in anonymity at This is a great example of finding a niche in non profit marketing and transferring that ministry online.

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Five Principles of Strategic Website Communication

In my next series of blog entries, I’m going to give you five principles that will propel your ministry forward in the area of strategic online communications and non profit marketing. In the last series, we learned how good non profit website website design will save you numerous headaches while enhancing your ministry and expanding its outreach. This next series of posts assumes that we’re starting with a well-designed website, and extends the subject further to how to implement the process of good website communication and non profit marketing.

In a nutshell, my key lesson for today is this: a strategic online communication plan will strengthen existing donor relationships while building new ones to enhance your ministry and expand its outreach. To repeat: A strategic non profit marketing plan will strengthen existing donor relationships while building new ones to enhance your ministry and expand its outreach.

What this means is that your website can perform double duty in the arena of online communication. First, it can strengthen the relationships you already have within your ministry – members, parishioners, clients, customers, etc. Second, your website can also be an extraordinary non profit marketing tool for finding and developing new donor relationships. I call that prospecting. In my experience with ministries, though, I have found that most organizations are short-sighted in this very important area.  

Let’s think of prospecting in terms of a highway billboard. For the most part, billboards just sit there, conveying a message and hoping people notice them. A billboard provides information, but it has no relationship with you. It definitely doesn’t know the names of the people who travel by it on the highway everyday. A billboard is similar to a website that isn’t working hard to achieve your online communication objectives. It may look nice — even convey a nifty message – but it fails to be “hard-working” if it doesn’t develop relationships with online visitors.  

Many good-looking websites are launched and even adequately promoted. If you’re fortunate, yours might be seen by thousands of people passing by on the Internet. But if the site doesn’t capture their attention and engage them in dialogue, most of those surfers will move on to other sites, without any strategic, long-term value to you.

It’s also similar to a church. Why would any pastor be content to know that thousands of people drive by your church every Sunday? Wouldn’t we rather have them inside our church, experiencing worship, hearing the Word, and enjoying fellowship with others?

Don’t misunderstand me—your website needs to both look good and convey a solid message. But it also must be designed to interact with your site visitors and develop a pattern of communicating with them. This is how you will be able to use the web to expand your outreach     and enlarge your ministry.

I hope this introduction has gotten you excited about developing your website to proactively engage visitors in relationships that will translate into ministry growth. In my next post, we’ll begin with the first of the five principles of strategic Web communication and non profit marketing.

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Good Non Profit Website Design Principle #5 of 5

Have you ever had friends who never seem to change, never seem to rise above themselves, grow, or improve? Mere maintenance doesn’t take very much effort—and after a while, it’s not very interesting. Quality improvements and dynamic enhancements will always out-trump maintaining the status quo, and nowhere is that more evident than online.

Principle #5: Fine-tune your Web image to overcome the mistake of just maintaining the status quo.
I mentioned earlier that you should regularly change your website. You should update your site frequently—weekly or even daily is ideal—but no less than monthly. Also, you should consider a new non profit design annually.  You need to remember that the Internet is a dynamic place, and make sure your site is constantly changing as well.

Practical Tip: Consider updating your website design with articles, blogs, communities, and other ways for your constituents to interact with you.
Just maintaining the status quo will give you the headache of lost potential constituents. People will lose interest if your site is always the same and if there’s no way for them to provide input. Also, don’t just add updates for the sake of updates—that’s another headache. Remember your strategy and objectives and put all site additions through a litmus test: do they help achieve your objectives or fit squarely into the strategy?

Conclusion: When my wife, Carmel, and I were struggling to overcome migraine headaches, we eventually discovered a specialist who got us the help that we needed to deal with them. Likewise, you need experts to help you overcome and avoid non profit website design headaches. I hope that with these five principles, you now have some specific handles on how to avoid website design headaches and instead enhance your existing ministry while extending your outreach.

Quiz: Five Principles of Good Non Profit Website Design

Now that we’ve finished going through the five principles and various tips on how to apply them, here’s a short quiz to see what you remember:

1.  Identify three of the five principles of good non profit website design:
     a.  Avoid conflicting voices
     b.  Fine-tune your image
     c.  Resolve the essentials
     d.  Develop an attractive appearance
     e.  Avoid problems that occur

2.  What is the optimal number of strategic objectives for a strong website?
     a.  One primary objective
     b.  As many as your webmaster can handle
     c.  One objective for each department in the organization
     d.  Three to four objectives

3.  What is the best choice for your domain name?
     a.  A catchy acronym
     b.  Your company or brand name
     c.  A .net address

4.  Which of the following non profit design tips result in good-looking sites?
     a.  Stick to two or three color choices
     b.  Choose fonts such as Ariel, Verdana, Times New Roman, or Geneva
     c.  Develop a clean home page design followed by two to three sub-pages that flow from it
     d.  Plan for growth
     e.  Stay relevant
     f.  All of the above

5.  Which of the following will help you build your email fundraising list?
     a.  An incentive-based opt-in landing page to sign up for an e-newsletter
     b.  Placing critical information at the bottom of the page so it is easy to find
     c.  A form above the fold that asks for a lengthy amount of personal detail
     d.  Giving your visitor plenty of choices so that they’ll chose something
     e.  Both A and C

If you’re still feeling overwhelmed by website headaches, remember that we’re here to help. Pathmaker Marketing has the experience and knowledge not only to help you get rid of those pesky headaches, but to use your Web presence to maximize your outreach to potential visitors. Contact me with any questions or needs at this email address.

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Good Non Profit Website Design Principle #4 of 5 (Part 2)

A couple more tips and some examples of Principle #4: Develop a hard-working site to avoid the problems of a non profit design that’s all looks and no brains.

Practical Tip #3: Have your critical info appear above the fold so readers don’t have to scroll down to find it.  This is a key feature of good non profit website design.

Practical Tip #4: Have a good database for holding names and critical information about visitors – typically called “the back end.” One of the most important and overlooked aspects of generating leads is having a way for people to tell others about your site, so: Add “tell a friend” functionality to improve your non profit marketing.

If the object of your site is to sell products, is your eCommerce easy to use and fully functional? Make sure all products have a photo and one sentence description. Make sure you have a good shopping cart system, with a straightforward checkout process (no nine-step checkout routines) and test it often to ensure that nothing has broken down, so you lower your shopping cart abandonment rates.

If your site is designed to generate memberships, does it accomplish that purpose well? It’s similar to name generation in terms of convincing people to fill out a form, but if you want people to become members, your site also needs to have a feeling of community. Even though it would be nice if Christians will automatically want to interact with you because of your wonderful outreach, they won’t. They need to know what’s in it for them, and visiting your site has to be easy and fun if you want them to come back.

Practical Tip #5: Install a Prayer Wall onto your site that members can update the wall with prayer requests for general issues or items specific to your ministry. Let the content be uploaded automatically, but monitor it in case you need to remove anything inappropriate.
Prayer Walls can be great non profit marketing and ministry tools.

Good examples of a Prayer Wall:
Presidential Prayer Team
Gregory Dickow Ministries
National Prayer Campaign

If you need help to pull this off contact Pathmaker for more details.

Here are some examples of hard-working websites:
Presidential Prayer Team
(Good effort at offering member benefits in exchange for name and email data. Thank You page offers a Welcome Kit in exchange for full address, phone)
Grand Canyon University
(Gets leads by convincing you to sign up and providing the means all on one screen)
(Excellent job of using the right images and simple text to get people to use a form and register)
The Villages at Country Club
(Real Estate site design to generate visitor leads into the showroom)

Pathmaker Marketing can help ensure that your web site is working as hard as possible. Contact us anytime for an evaluation of your non profit website design, email fundraising, or non profit marketing.

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23 Best Practice Tips for Successful Email Fundraising #20-23

20.  Call to Action Buttons, especially in emails, should be graphics rather than text.
Since buttons include text like “Click Here,” and those words could get your email flagged as spam, it’s best to put action words into graphics. Make your call to action buttons nice, easy-to-read graphics.

21.   Include CAN-SPAM requirements in your email fundraising.
CAN-SPAM requires: 1) a company name and physical mailing address at the bottom of your email 2) a permanent unsubscribe option (variations abound here, but we like to use “Update your Email Preferences” rather than “Unsubscribe.” Make sure this link takes people into a two-step process, whereby first they go to a landing page to update their email fundraising preferences. On that page they can permanently unsubscribe. If you go to a one-step process many people may click the unsubscribe option unaware that this will forever remove them from future email from you.

22.  Lighten up the border around your emails.
Borders around emails looks really nice. The only problem with them is that there is often important words put in the area outside the email, where your border will be. If you use a dark background, the text won’t be legible. You might be thinking that you could just use a lighter font. Not so fast! Not all email clients include the border. If you use light text, but the email client strips the border out, then your reader still won’t be able to see the required text. In other words, if you use borders see how they impact your CAN-SPAM copy, preview copy, and so forth, before you get too enamored with how it looks.

23.   Use Absolute links in all your email fundraising efforts.
Absolute work in every environment, whereas relative links will only work in the environment where you originate them. Save yourself unanticipated hassles, and ensure your email fundraising efforts can be seen in any environment by using absolute links.

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Non Profit Website Design Musts

Whether you currently have a website or not, it might be time for you to begin to think through some important non profit website design rules. Here are a few that can help.

Design – it isn’t about you. 
Your non profit website design should cater to what your visitors like, not you. Here are some things to avoid.

  • Blinking or scrolling text, animated GIF’s and auto-loading sound do more than distract your visitors … they cause people quickly to click away from your site. If you’re slyly looking at a non profit website from a small cubicle next to your boss, do you want sound blaring what you’re up to? Neither does anyone else. As for blinking text and banners, they’re just plain annoying and scream, “I don’t really care what you like … this is fun for me to design!”
  • Pop ups are so annoying that most browsers block them. Many people click away from non profit websites because they thought internal links weren’t working when the only problem was that their browsers were blocking pop-ups of your on profit’s vital information.
  • Large file sizes in images. They make non profit website pages load slowly, and people will only stick around for about three seconds to let photos load. Re-size large images to the exact size specified in the design, and optimize them for the web to get file size down. Also, avoid using background images, since that makes it difficult to read in addition to making your non profit website load slowly.
  • Long lines of text that go on forever. Lines of text should be no more than 600 pixels wide. Break it up with optimized images, bold text and sub-heads.
  • Small text. If you have to squint to read a non profit website, you’ll lose visitors. Make the text at least 10 to 12 points large (that’s Size 2 or 3 in HTML). Many people who give to non profits are older, and they simply can’t read anything smaller.
  • Avoid all caps. They’re difficult to read, and today words in all caps are considered yelling. Do you want a non profit website yelling at you?

Ease of use – make it easy to find your content. Put as much time into thinking about how to organize your site as you did thinking about your non profit website design. Visitors need to be able to see easily what your non profit has to offer, get to it and navigate to other portions of the site without getting lost, confused or annoyed. If you make people click too many times to get to your non profit’s unbelievably great offer, you’ll lose them before they ever see it. Be sure to put a link back to your non profit’s home page on every page, along with main site navigation that is easy to find and more understandable than cute.

Copywriting – less is best. Writing tight, succinct copy for your non profit website can be a challenge. If you can’t do it, hire someone else who can. You need to say everything that needs to be said in no more than a couple of screens of text at a time. In these days of busy schedules and information overload, people won’t read more. To keep your copy interesting, use active voice, and write to about the sixth to eight grade level.  (The contrasting point would be to write extensive copy about any subject that you are attempting to establish your credibility as an expert).

Interactivity – involve your visitors. Games involve people quite well, but for non profit website design, your form of interactivity might be to get users to give you information about themselves. Offer them something for free (such as a newsletter or a white paper) in exchange for their contact information. People often will get scared off if you ask for too much (it’s kind of like offering a marriage proposal with the first handshake).  You can try asking for the first name and email address in exchange for downloading something they would find useful (such as a free message from your non profit’s CEO). On the thank you page, you could ask them for more information in exchange for receiving something free in the mail (such as your CEO’s new book).

Technology – use it to facilitate meaningful conversation. Capture email addresses. Learn people’s likes and interests by the way they browse your site and the appeals to which they respond. Offer online polls to get opinions (and learn what visitors like and what interests them). Offer a way for your non profit website visitors to forward your information to a friend (often called viral marketing). Include a calendar of your non profit’s upcoming events. Allow visitors to submit testimonials or prayers. But don’t use technology in your non profit website design just because you like the bells and whistles. That’s quick way to spend a lot of money for no return. Make sure all of the technology you use on your non profit website contributes to your brand.

Content – make it useful. There’s no use in making a website look good if the content turns people off and causes them to click away. Good content is something that your target audience wants or needs. In Non Profit Marketing 101, we learned that we must find a problem and solve it. That is what your website content needs to do. Your non profit has a niche, and the content needs to appeal to people to want to give to a non profit in that niche. Don’t use content that you think is useful – make sure your readers think it’s useful.

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23 Best Practice Tips for Successful Email Fundraising #16-19

16.  Test, test, test.
Some studies show that vertical banner graphics outpull horizontal banner graphics in online fund raising. But the only way to truly know is to test everything. Test headlines, test body copy, test graphics, test calls to action.  Testing is the only way you can confirm or disprove your theories about what should work in email fundraising and what shouldn’t. Once you start testing you may be surprised with the results.

17.  Eliminate all CSS from your email fundraising code.
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) code is great for web pages but it doesn’t work in non profit email fundraising. Many email clients will strip it out, like gmail, yahoo and hotmail, plus some macmail systems.  You’ll read advice about using “inline” CSS in email to get around the problem, but truthfully, that’s just for people who are willing  to concede that their emails won’t render properly in various email accounts.  Stick with coding your emails up in plain, old-fashioned HTML 101. Then test the rendering of your code across multiple email clients, fix up any issues, then test again. Once you have templates that are golden you can reuse your proven code by simply swapping out graphics and copy blocks for the next email fundraising effort.

18.  Optimize your graphic sizes and pixel widths.
You’ll get better response to your non profit emails if people stick around long enough to read them. You need to make sure your jpg or gif graphics are fully optimized for the web to improve load times. One software we use to do this is the Advance JPEG Compressor 2008. Also, shoot for pixel widths of 600-650 for emails and pixel widths of 900 on landing pages to optimize presentation widths. Design Horizontal buttons starting at 375×80.

19.  Indent paragraphs.
While it is common practice to not indent paragraphs on the Internet, studies show that the eye prefers to see indented paragraphs. You want to make your emails and landing pages as eye-friendly as possible, so put a little effort into indenting your paragraphs.

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23 Best Practice Tips for Successful Email Fundraising #12-15

12.  Design harmonious headers and optimize your graphics.
Design attractive email fundraising headers and footers that are harmonious to your landing pages and web optimized. These are much more professional looking than plain text emails. But if the file sizes of your graphics are too large, your emails and landing pages will load too slowly, and you’ll lose people, so optimize your graphics.  Create harmony between your email graphics and your landing page graphics so there’s no confusion when click throughs begin to occur.

13.  Use fonts that are proven as easy to read.
Headlines and body copy are extremely important. Since you have a limited amount of time to capture your reader’s attention and move them to action, you don’t want to waste time making things hard for them to read. Only the first letter in each headline word should be capitalized (not all caps). Copy headlines should be designed in Times New Roman or Arial font because they are universally, the easiest to read. Body text should also be at least 12 point type and in Arial, which is the easiest to read, or Times Roman, which is next easiest.

14.  Create an eye path that leads you to a destination.
Use bold text, photos and graphics to break up the page into smaller, easy to read chunks that move people to read all the way to the bottom. It’s often the case that an “F” pattern is used to help envision a page layout:  the best real estate for email fundraising is upper left running across the page (hero shots and headlines, for example) and the worst real estate position is lower right.  Buttons should be action oriented (e.g., Click Here), and the text on them should be large enough for middle-age eyes (at least 12 point).

15.  Stay away from reverse text in your email fundraising.
Studies show that reverse text (white on a dark background) is much harder to read. You should avoid it if at all possible in body copy, on graphics, etc. Your online fund raising efforts are likely to suffer if you insist on using it.

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23 Best Practice Tips for Successful Email Fundraising #9-11

9.    Include a Web Preview link.
Some people’s inboxes may default to NOT display graphics in their email client. To address this issue, always include a hyperlinked line at the top that says something like: “Can’t see the graphics? Preview online.”  link this line to a published version of your email fund raising letter online.

10.   Your emails must link to well-crafted landing pages.
It is important to have your emails connect to landing pages that are well-crafted, namely:  1) they offer more information about your cause; 2) they have a carefully engineered checkout process. By providing more in depth information about your organization’s needs on the landing  pages, your readers will get answers to issues un-addressed in your email copy.  By designing checkout pages that contain minimal friction and mitigate against anxiety and tension about doing business online, you’ll reduce abandonment and increase giving.  For more details about reducing friction (time it takes to complete the process) and anxiety (concerns about providing sensitive information) search our blog for posts on the subject of Best Practices for Landing Page Optimization.

11.  Eliminate landing page navigation in your online fund raising.
The only navigation you want on your landing page are links to (1) your checkout page and (2) possibly, if you are offering a premium, a page that tells more about the premium. This keeps visitors focused on your email fundraising offer rather than allowing them to get sidetracked while browsing your site. If your higherups insist, you can provide back door methods to your home page by hyperlinking your header of footer graphics, for example. Make it covert though, not overt, or your online fund raising will suffer.

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