August 20, 2009

Google Grants 101

Some of the most frequent questions I receive are about Google Grants – how to apply, what’s the process, what to do if approved, and how to increase their efficacy. Due to popular demand, I’ll be tackling these questions in a special series on Search Engine Marketing.  Today we’re going to start with the basics.  Soon we’ll get to some advanced tips for you SEM veterans out there.  Even if you are up and running on Google Grants, you may still want to read because there may be a few nuggets that could be helpful.

If you don’t yet have Google Grants, it's worth applying: you can receive up to $10K/month (or more) in free advertising (!).  And, your organization can apply for more than one grant for individual initiatives.

Here are some beginner’s tips to Google Grants:

Tip 1:  Know the rules

Google does not have a limited amount of grants to give out.  The selection process is not excessively stringent, but it does take approx 3-4 months.   To date they have approximately 4000 active grants -   To be eligible, you must be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Eligible organizations include (and are not limited to) Animal rescue & conservation, Arts, Disaster & relief services, Education, Environment, Health, Science & technology, Voluntarism & community outreach, Youth advocacy & programs.

The application is very straightforward.  You’ll need to explain how you expect the Grant will contribute to your organization, describe your target audience, and write a sample Google ad.   Ads need to be mission based.  If you’re selling a product for a charity for example, you must include this mission or cause in your ad copy.

Tip 2:  Use your grant wisely

If you are a lucky recipient, Google will initially grant you $10K/month.  Google sets a default daily spend of $330/day so that you don’t spend your entire grant at once – but this daily cap can be overridden.  The maximum amount that you can bid for each keyword is $1.00.  “Keywords” are the search terms people use when searching on Google.  By selecting targeted and relevant keywords & keywords phrases, you’ll find that many ‘cost’ under this amount. 

Tip 3:  Define your audience & goals – and become a keyword ninja! 

As with any SEM paid campaign, define your target audience and your campaign goals.  What do you want to accomplish?  Obtain an email address? Obtain a donation?
Initiate your keyword list by thinking of search terms from the audience’s perspective.  Use the free Google Adwords Keyword Tool to find related terms, synonyms, and search phrases.  Develop multiple keyword Ad Groups: set up each group of keyword phrases to display a different relevant Ad in Google search, and direct users to a relevant landing page.  For example, you’ll probably want to direct a person who searches for “Support Oregon Parks” to a donation page.  However, you may want to direct a person who searches for “Volunteer Oregon Conservation” to a volunteer page. These are examples of different “Ad Groups.”

Great – you’re on your way!  There’s no need to renew or extend your grant if you login once a month.  Don’t forget - you’ll need to always provide Google with valid contact person and be responsive to the Google Team’s emails.

Stay tuned for Google Grants 201 & 301!

Additional info:
If you don’t use them yet – then click here to get started:

Google Grant Program Details:

Google tools for Nonprofits portal:

August 12, 2009

Is it the end of the year already?


August is here and if you’re like most people you’re thinking about how to get as much fun as you can out the rest of summer—not about racing towards the end of shorts-weather, much less the end of the year.  Yet, savvy nonprofit fundraisers are already thinking about their end-of-year fundraising plans.  If you haven’t started, here are six things you should be doing now to help ensure you get the most from your end of year online fundraising.  And none of them require you to put on long pants!

Step up supporter acquisition efforts
Supporters who are added to your list this fall will be your donors this winter.  So step up your efforts to grow your email subscribers and increase the size of the other lists you’ll be using during your end of year promotions. 

Find out if an end of year campaign theme exists
Good will towards all?  New beginnings?  Peace and prosperity?  Cram ‘em in before tax season? The sooner you know what your theme is the sooner you can start pulling relevant content, generating ideas, and highlighting your organizations most pertinent accomplishments. 

Review Last Year’s Lessons
You can maximize your efforts for the upcoming end of year campaign by looking at what you did in previous years.  Determine what worked, and whether it would work again this year.  And consider what didn’t work, and why it didn’t work.

Get pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)
Start getting it done early!  Come up with ideas and write quick drafts, just to cut through the noise.  It’s not so terribly important that what you produce in September be earth shattering and fit to publish.  Just give your campaign a back bone to shape the body around.  Revisiting something you wrote this fall is going to be easier and produce better results than hammering away at a brilliant idea on December 30.

Plan Backwards
We all have the challenge of having too much to do and too little time to do it. Backward planning is a useful way to address this problem. Conveniently, we know the deadline:  December 31st.  Now you can assess what steps are needed to accomplish your goals by that date, and plot tasks along a timeline backwards at realistic intervals in order to determine what point you need to start your campaign.

Figure out what can you get ready now, whether you like your ideas or hate them.
The holiday season is not the time to begin making changes. If you want to create a holiday related donation page, redesign an email template, or tweak your homepage – the time is ripe to begin planning what it is going to look like, who’s going to create it, and how.  Your best ideas won’t get you much if you have to cut them off at the knees because the technical components don’t come together in time.

Now, with those ideas in mind, I’m off to enjoy a barbecue and what’s left of summer!

(I'd also like to give a special thanks to Luke Maffei for his contribution to this post)

July 15, 2009

Everything I Know About Social Media, I Learned From Mafia Wars


Social games provide extraordinary insight into how to be successful in social media.

People use social media for a variety of reasons, but can generally be grouped according to a few broad needs.

Nonprofits should work to fulfill needs of its members while advancing their own mission.

Mafia Wars  

Last month I decided it was time to take the plunge into social gaming after receiving an invite from my brother-in-law to join "his mafia" on the 9th most popular Facebook application, Mafia Wars. Personally, I'm not much of an online gamer.  In fact, this was my first multiplayer online gaming experience - an experiment to see what makes these games tick.  An experiment, yeah, that's it.  I'm joking somewhat, but these types of games are the real deal.  Three of the top ten most popular Facebook applications are multi-player games each with well over 10 million monthly users (people actually playing the game; not just signing up and leaving).  Many of you may roll your eyes (and so did I, by the way) but these games can truly teach nonprofits a thing or two about establishing vibrant online communities.  On to the experiment...

Within a week of adding the application, I was hooked.  Clearly my character wasn't going to move through the ranks and improve himself.  And, as it turns out, I was the guy to help my character reach its mafioso potential.  In less than three weeks, "Don Bush" owned numerous "properties," had reached "Hitman" status, grown his mafia to 16 friends (my friends), could fend off most attacks and opened up the ability to expand his mafia to Cuba.  That's right, don't act like you aren't impressed.  By the end of week four, I finally arrived at a point of obsession that I determined made me a wee bit uncomfortable (Is it possible that I complained to the application developers when my properties kept getting robbed despite me "paying" for property protection?  Um, yes.).  At the beginning of week five, I removed the application.  Ironically, this experience taught me a few interesting things about social media success.

What Makes You Tick?
Everyone has that thing that makes them tick.  That's what makes us each unique, right?  Yeah, well, some things makes us tick more than others...especially within the context of a game.  In my opinion, these games succeed by tapping into a few specific common human needs very very well (There are more needs, of course, and if you are interested you can read more here; registration is required though).

Social: The more friends you have playing, the more the game allows you to do.  Together with your friends, you can take on rival mafias, earn special rewards, and generally advance through the game faster.  In addition, other players can easily see how many "properties" you own, how many fights you've lost, your rank, and on and on.  The social aspect is so important, that the game actually limits "mafias" to 501 people.  How many of you have 501 friends on Facebook period?

Accomplishment:  Whether you've robbed the Fed, "bought" a beach front property, roughed up a boss, earned a badge for "earning" your first million, or advanced from Street Thug to Associate, Mafia Wars is replete with little and big ways to make you feel like you've accomplished something.

Power:   The number of properties you own, the rank you attain, the "attack" strength you develop, and the loot you collect all come together to establish a person's relative power in the game.  For each person, their reason for acquiring power may be quite different, whether they just want to "beat up" other players or be a major force to be reckoned with in the eyes of the community.

Rank:  Wouldn't you agree that being a "Boss" is better than being a "Street Thug?"  Who wouldn't, right?  

Altruism:  What?  In Mafia Wars?  That's right.  The user forums are a great place for mafia do-gooders.  Filled with Mafia Wars expert players, they are eager to help people understand the game and give developers suggestions on how to improve it.  And then they'll rob you.

I am not a psychologist, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that each player has a slightly different mix of these needs.  For me, I clearly had some sort of need for accomplishment and increasing my rank.  Beating up random players and inviting in my friends were less important.  For the guy who is grumpy that his mafia can only get as big as 501 people, the social and power needs are probably more important...or maybe he just likes beating up strangers.  In any case, the frightening beauty of these types of games is that whatever your personal cocktail of needs are, the game provides a way to meet them in a way that keeps you coming back for more.

Making Money
Gaming applications also have a somewhat less muddled revenue path than most social media revenue generating efforts.  Zynga, the company that created Mafia Wars along with many other Facebook applications, has generated over $1 million in revenue and operates in the black.  In the context of Mafia Wars, players can upgrade their characters more quickly if they literally pay to do so (not just using the game's fake money).  And, guess what, some players will open up their wallets, because it helps them meet their needs more quickly.  In addition, they can do it in small chunks as low as $1 to $5 if they want.  This get transfered into a virtual currency (i.e., $1 = 10 credits).  So a player may upgrade his player for 2 credits (not dollars) one day, but 17 credits the next week.  Hey, it's not really money, it's credits!!

Key Take-aways:  Mafia Wars and Your Nonprofit
The obvious next step is for each nonprofit to create their own Mafia Wars spin off.  Wait, no, that's not the right next step.  The correct takeaway is to examine how your Facebook (or MySpace) application or house social network (a social network that your nonprofit runs) taps into these human needs.  Obviously not all these needs are applicable to non-profits in the same way, but nonprofits will be well served by spending the time to strategize about how to address as many of these needs as possible.  Here are a few questions that you may want to ask:

  • What activities would be better if done with friends or others?
  • What are the small/simple and big ways we can give people a sense of accomplishment?  Taking an advocacy action is a big ask, what smaller things can they do in the meantime?  (And inviting friends to join doesn't cut it, sorry.)
  • What sort of reputation system can be established to truly encourage people to attain the next rank in the community?

For non-profits wondering about what this means for raising money, it's important to keep in mind that there are, in fact, other ways to make money using Facebook.  What nonprofits should focus on in this particular example is the organic way of making money through regular activity by game participants.  Obviously all nonprofits would prefer people to make a straight forward donation, but creative organizations may begin to find ways to raise money by helping people meet their personal needs.

If you are interested in checking out a Facebook game for yourself, but are scared of Mafia Wars and/or are philosophically opposed to the premise, I recommend checking out Farm Town.  I have not tried it personally, but the way "my good friend" describes it, all the same addictive elements apply. Good luck!

July 13, 2009

A Whole New Set of Webinars

We just announced a new batch of webinars covering social media as part of our ongoing webinar series.  This latest set is a mixture of the old & the new—and the basics & the advanced.  As usual, they are all totally FREE!

We are revisiting favorite webinar topics like Social Networking Strategy for Nonprofits and Twitter for Nonprofits.  These sessions will be great opportunities for newcomers to our webinars to get up to speed on the basics of social networking.  We'll tell you what kind of resources your organization will need to take advantage of social media and what you can expect.

We’ve also got two sessions on fundraising that delve into specific case studies.

Fundraising on Twitter: 140 Smiles Case Study is going to go into the challenges of raising money on the world's fastest growing social networking platform and detail one approach adopted by Operation Smile's 140 Smiles (#140smiles) campaign.

Event Fundraising on Facebook: Alliance for Lupus Research Case Study will cover Facebook applications and how building your own might help your organization's supporters raise money from their online networks on your behalf.

Finally, we've got two upcoming sessions that get down with the nitty-gritty of advanced social media.

Fish Where the Fish Are or Not: Facebook vs. House Networks is going to compare successful nonprofit Facebook communities to successful communities that nonprofits have created themselves, and it will lay out what you should consider when deciding between the two.

And Social Networking: What is Community Management & Moderation and Why Should I Care About It? will try to convince you that your organization really does need to be an active voice in your online community long after you've laid all the technical bricks down. Luckily, we'll also tell you a thing or two about how to go about doing that!

Check out the schedule here

July 07, 2009

New YouTube Feature May Be Missing Link For Non-Profits Using Video

Summary: "Call-to-Action Overlay" allows non-profits to link videos to their own websites.

This feature is free for nonprofits.

YouTube "Annotations" allow organizations to create video "hotspots" - linking viewers to other videos or providing them with additional information.


YouTube released a new feature widely last week that should make a huge difference for nonprofits big and small: "Call-to-Action Overlay."  This handy new feature allows nonprofits to add a semi-transparent box with call-to-action copy that links viewers off YouTube and lands them on your petition or donation page. The nonprofit Charity:Water has already used this medium effectively - notably raising over $10K in a single day.  As TechCrunch's Jason Kincaid points out, the video was placed on YouTube's home page, which undoubtedly played a role in its success.  To be honest, I'm actually a little surprised that it didn't raise more money given the exposure that it had, but I digress.

Okay, so your nonprofit may not make millions right off the bat, but for nonprofits with effective, viral videos, this could be the missing link that gets people to your site to donate or take action.  You should be aware of another footnote before you get too excited.  This feature is only available for members of YouTube's nonprofit partner program and people/organizations running pay campaigns to promote their videoes.   If your nonprofit hasn't already signed up for YouTube's nonprofit program and it posts videos on YouTube, now is the time!

In the meantime, there are other similar tools that you can use to increase the effectiveness of your videos.  YouTube supports "annotations," which allow you to highlight sections of the video or add in "notes."  You can then link the note or video section to other videos (on YouTube) for free. 

Happy videoing!

June 22, 2009

Are you ready for your next campaign?


Big campaigns that touch social media are transforming into ongoing programs.

Every organization needs a post-campaign supporter engagement plan.

Future campaigns will require coordination amongst more parts of your non-profit.


Last week I attended a special Facebook marketing breakfast sponsored by Inside Facebook.  The caliber of speakers was excellent and I learned a great deal, but the discussion that stuck with me more than the rest was on the evolving role of the marketing "campaign."  The panel concluded that the traditional media campaign as we know it is over...especially if it touches social media in any meaningful way.

That's a fairly bold statement to make.  To understand how they got there first we need to travel in our time machine back (which luckily I have) to a time without online social networks, newsfeeds, and 24x7x364 stimulation.  Yes, we're going back to the dark ages, so put on your chain mail and get your sword, it's time to visit 2002.  Here we can observe the marketing campaign in its natural environment.

Campaigns were fairly simple creatures back then (scale and scope aside).  They had straight forward goals.  Marketers would come up with a clever and interesting way to attract people to 1. increase brand awareness, 2. drive sales of a product.  For non-profits, the end goals were obviously a bit different but similarly simple, focusing on advocacy, fundraising, or both.  Campaigns were also predictable events.  The campaign had a specific beginning and end.  Once the campaign was over, it was over.  No more promotional t-shirts, videos, or micro-sites.  It was time to analyze the results (i.e., dollars raised, policy influenced, etc.) and prepare for the next campaign.  All-in-all, campaigns were clean, finite, predictable, and measurable. 

Oh the good old days.

Now let's jump back into our time machine and return to today.  I know, everything looks totally different, doesn't it.  Crazy.  The first thing you may notice is that today's campaigns are starting to look a bit more like programs than campaigns.  Wait, what?  But programs don't usually "end," you're probably thinking.  And you would be correct.  For any organization looking to establish a campaign-oriented Facebook page, application, Twitter account, MySpace page, or micro-site with special social features like discussion forums, the campaign will no longer end on the date of your choosing.  The reason is that your non-profit has now developed a community around your campaign.  If everything went as planned, the campaign has attracted thousands of supporters, who are now regularly taking action on your organization's behalf, responding to things you post, sharing your posts with their friends, and discussing your posts with other supporters.  This is something that your organization can't just "turn off."  If you did, the best you could hope for is that these great, active supporters just feel abandoned by you.  The worst case is really bad - grumpy supporters or spammers hijack your brand on ignored Facebook campaign pages and applications, turning supporters into detractors, and completely wasting an asset your organization spent an enormous amount of money to create.  Eek!

The truth is that this is a high class problem.  In other words, "woe-is-me-what-do-I-do-with-all-these-brand-evangelists?"  Cry me a river, right?  True, but sorting out what to do with this community is not a task that should be taken lightly.  Generally, an active user base is something every organization should want...if you are prepared to manage it.  Right now, most organizations are comfortable with regular email communications.  In fact, one of a campaigns goals is getting people on the email list so you can continue to cultivate the list.  What's different now is that your organization must continue to engage people where you acquired them (i.e., Campaign page on Facebook).  You shouldn't assume that they are all on your email house list and, if they are, assume that email is their preferred method of communication.  In fact, research has consistently shown that donors typically donate through the same medium.  So if you came in through direct mail, chances are that you'll donate again via direct mail rather than email or phone.  Non-profits should expect that social media donors will act in the same way and should not expect that they can simply turn all these social media donors into email donors. 

In addition, once you embrace the community, engagement means regular daily conversations...not email weekly or biweekly email communications about unrelated (or semi-related) programs or information.  However, with the right ongoing engagement, chances are that your organization will spend a lot less time trying to ramp up your next major fundraising, advocacy, or marketing campaign. 

So what's a non-profit to do?  Here are a few tips to get you started...

1.  Have a transition plan:  When the campaign ends, make sure there is a plan to keep the conversation going and the community alive.  Who's going to manage it? What will the goals of the community be?  What will the messaging be? How will the plan differ from community to community (i.e., Facebook vs. MySpace), etc.

2.  Break down those silos:  The rise of social media means an organization's online presence has about a zero percent chance of being limited to one organizational silo, whether it's fundraising, communications, or programs.  Set structures up to ensure that the right people are involved and feel comfortable in an environment with competing objectives.

3. Get comfortable on the social web:  If you don't already have a Facebook page, MySpace profile, applications, and Twitter account, now is the time.  Obviously you shouldn't set them up without concrete objectives and a plan, but as Jeremiah Owyang likes to say, "fish where the fish are."

May 19, 2009

What kind of wine is your non-profit bringing to the picnic?


Social media requires rethinking communication with supporters.

When approaching online communities, make sure your organization brings something to the table.


Photo Courtesy theparadignshifter
via Flickr

A couple days ago I chatted with a good friend of mine who has worked in politics for years.  As a political communications guy, he lives and operates in a world of spin and command and control messaging.  He had a new client and asked me about how to do "the social networking thing" (aka, setting up a Facebook page and Twitter account).  My first three questions were - who is your audience, why will they care, and what is it exactly you want to accomplish?  As per the usual, the first two questions didn't get answered, but the third was obvious - to spread the message about what his client was doing.  Ahh!  Of course.  The old "social-media-as-just-another-one-way-communications-vehicle" model.

My friend isn't alone in his old-media approach to social media.  Creating conversations and empowering supporters is difficult and requires most organizations to rethink their communication strategies.   Unfortunately, it's the social equivalent of being "that guy" at a dinner party who won't shut up about how great he is (thanks to Chris Brogan for the example).  When you step into a social medium, organizations must never forget the social aspect of what they are doing.  People who connect to your organization on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or your house social network aren't joining to get a repackaged newsletter.  They want to interact with your organization and with other supporters of your organization.

Chris Brogan also suggests approaching social media according to Yahoo's Conn Fishburn's principle:  "Bring Wine to the Picnic."

If you show up and try to market [at a picnic], people will be frustrated and will shut you out. Instead, if you bring something of value to people, they’ll be more likely to accept you.

So what kind of wine will you be bringing to the picnic?  Personally, I'm bringing baked beans because after talking to my friends, I realized that's what they need. ; )

May 12, 2009

09NTC Recap: Keynote Address by Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky (Here Comes Everybody) was the Monday keynote at the NTC conference.

Shirky started off with the concept from his book that "Group action just got easier." Many nonprofits are organizers of group action, and we've been thinking through the impacts of this shift as a sector.

As he continued, I asked myself now that the value of creating knowledge is changing, how is it impacting each nonprofit? What does it mean for the sector that we're all global publishers? He explained that the "absolute value of expertise has not changed, [but the] relative value has." It's still useful to have and to build expertise, but the roles of experts are shifting.

Then, telling the story of the museum whose worst fear was loss of control of it's content, Shirky laid out this zinger: "The loss of control you fear is already in the past." Wild applause erupted from NTC attendees, and the statement was widely repeated on Twitter. Apparently the sentiment resonated. I think NTC attendees were feeling frustration with organizational cultures slow to adapt to the shift we're experiencing.

Shirky walked us gently though a lesson in how to fail informatively. I liked his idea about trying multiple solutions simultaneously, but not too many at a time: "Don't let 100 flowers bloom. Let, like, 7 flowers bloom."

Holly Ross, the Executive Director of NTEN, did a wonderful job of grounding the conversation with questions. She asked why nonprofits are important at all, when group action is easier now. Shirky responded that our convening power is important, as is our staying power. Tools on the Internet are now good at short, sharp shots, but will these platforms exist next year? Will they be around for the next action the group needs to take together?

He advised that nonprofits strive to listen to the conversation about them by doing an Internet search for their organization. Disregard the content your organization created, and you will get to listen in on the real conversation and sentiment about your group.

Finally, Ross asked Shirky "Is Facebook forever?" His surprising response: "My guess is that the high water mark of Facebook's universality has passed." I see the beginnings of fractures to Facebook's dominance forming with Twitter and house social networks, so maybe Shirky is correct.

NTEN chose a great keynote speaker, and Ross made sure that Shirky shared useful and implementable knowledge with nonprofits, which made for a great NTC this year.

New Webinars: Social Networks for Nonprofits

Top 5 Secrets for Fundraising on Social Networks
TODAY Wednesday, 5/13 11:30am PST

Social networks have an alluring newness, and we now know the majority of nonprofits are using them to build communities online. Is your board asking why you're not on Facebook? Did you set up a Twitter account and tweet twice? Are you considering building your own house social network (on your web site)? Wondering how to integrate all of that with your fundraising goals?

Participants will gain up-to date benchmark information from the 2009 Nonprofit Social Network Survey, released on April 27, on who is using social networks, get a clear idea of what's involved in creating your own social network, and obtain several ideas for integrating fundraising into your organization's social networking plans. We'll feature several case studies of organizations using Facebook, house social networks, Twitter and other social media outlets to fundraise. Sign up now. This webinar has updated, actionable content from the Social Networks for Fundraisers webinars we offered in March and April.

Build a Big Brand Online Using Social Networks: Marketing & Communications Strategies
Wednesday, 5/20 11:30am PST

Nonprofit social networks are most often owned by the marketing and communications departments, according to the 2009 Nonprofit Social Network Survey. This survey also indicates that the biggest role for social networks at nonprofits is for marketing the organization.

Wondering how your organization can benefit from social networks? How you might meaningfully integrate social networks and social media into your communications and marketing plans? How you can assemble a large, active, social networking community?

Participants will gain up-to-date benchmark information, and we feature real-life examples from nonprofit case studies. Sign up now.

Social Networks for Health Nonprofits
Wednesday, 5/27 10:30am PST

This session is designed specifically for nonprofit health and healthcare organizations including community and private hospitals and their foundations, and voluntary health agencies.

Specifically designed for fundraising, marketing and communications professionals - Manager, Director, Vice President and C-Level roles - this webinar will help you understand how social networking and social media fit into your work at health sector nonprofits. Sign up now.

Twitter for Nonprofits
Wednesday, 6/3 10:30am PST

Twitter is the fastest growing social media platform in the world. The latest statistics indicate that more than 10 million people are using this service for communication, collaboration, marketing, customer service, advocacy, market research, and fundraising. Can't believe it? Join us for this real world look at Twitter and how it is revolutionizing online communications for commercial and nonprofit groups. Sign up now.

Using real-world case studies drawn from the nonprofit and commercial sectors, we'll answer the following questions:

  • What is Twitter and where did it come from?
  • How big is the Twitter base?
  • How does Twitter work?
  • What are nonprofits and commercial groups using Twitter for?
  • Is Twitter really valuable?
  • Does it really work for online community building, advocacy, and fundraising?
  • What's the future of Twitter?

May 07, 2009

You Don't Know "Chuck"


Your most vocal online supporters may not be representative of your supporter base

Always have a online community plan when it's time to make changes

Focus attention on desired community actions and providing the tools to empower your supporters


I know what you're thinking.  Will the NBC series Chuck make it another year?  Perhaps that wasn't on the top of your mind, but now you're probably wondering what Chuck has to do with non profits.  Hold that thought - I'll get to it in just a minute.

Back to Chuck's survival.  Thousands of twittering fans are clamoring for its return next season.  Unfortunately for these avid fans, they don't run NBC.  That hasn't stopped them from organizing online in support of the show and its sponsors - Subway in particular.  Yup, thousands of die hard fans are demonstrating their support by buying up six inch turkey and meatball Subway sandwiches.  Despite their efforts, the show still appears to be in jeopardy.  So what does it take to keep a show on the air?  Eyeballs.

NBC isn't approaching this decision without precedent.  Competing network CBS went through something similar when it canceled the show Jericho.  Fans rallied and sent over 40,000 lbs of nuts to CBS since they were, err, nuts for the show.  CBS agreed to put the show back on the air and sent a letter to its fans to thank them and, among other things, to let them know what to do to ensure the show stayed on the air.  This excerpt was taken from that letter (which the nut distributor Nuts Online posted on its website):

A loyal and passionate community has clearly formed around the show. But that community needs to grow. It needs to grow on the CBS Television Network, as well as on the many digital platforms where we make the show available.

We will count on you to rally around the show, to recruit new viewers with the same grass-roots energy, intensity and volume you have displayed in recent weeks.

Guess what didn't happen?  Growth.  Fans were able to organize for the show, but were not able to grow the fan base, which is what CBS needed to make the business case to keep the show.  Definitely a shame for the show's fans, but you can hardly blame CBS.  Moving forward to Chuck's current situation, it's hard to believe that NBC isn't making a similar calculation.

According to Josh Bernoff on AdAge and Groundswell there is an important lesson here:

Thousands of visible, loyal viewers does not equal millions of actual viewers. Objects in the groundswell may be smaller than they appear. People who congregate online are not a representative sample.

So what does this have to do with non-profits?  Here are a few lessons that I took from these experiences:

First, keep it in perspective.  Your most vocal supporters are extremely important and influential whether they are on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, a blog, or your own internal website, but they are only a small fraction of your overall base of supporters and/or service recipients.  Don't avoid making hard decisions or changes better for the community at large out of fear of alienating this group.

That said, have a plan.  Undoubtedly there will come a time when you may need to go against your most vocal online supporters.  If you don't have a community manager, get one!  They will keep you tapped into your online community and will know best how to navigate change.  Make sure s/he develops a solid plan for acknowledging, empowering, preparing, and communicating with your online supporters about the upcoming changes.  Your plan should be comprehensive and should encompass those channels (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, etc.) where discussions are happening about your organization, whether or not you are in control of it.  You've heard the pitfalls of not doing so (think Tropicana), but the benefits of a well thought out plan can lead to a stronger, more committed supporter base.

Lastly, online ruckus-making does not necessarily result in desired offline action.  Jericho fans were not able to recruit a sufficient number of new viewers.  For your non-profit, your metric may be petition signatures, community growth, or even service delivery.  Make sure your supporters have the tools they need to do what you want - simply asking them to take action may not be enough.