Beth Kanter, a thought leader in the world of nonprofit blogging, recently shared some useful criteria to help nonprofits decide whether to blog or not. While I agree with most of them, I think that two (yes, if you want to enable many voices; no, if things must be vetted by a central authority) could, if interpreted narrowly, inhibit some nonprofits from blogging.
There is at least one model that doesn't meet all of her criteria, but would, I think, be a great approach for many nonprofits. It's a “business-lunch blog” -- a simple, general blog that chronicles events and ideas in the life of the nonprofit organization. I call it that because the tone and topics are similar to that of a conversation you might have with one of your stakeholders -– a donor, client, staff member, board member -- over lunch. I also think the metaphor helps overcome popular misconceptions about blogs, e.g., that they are only suited to heavy political discussions or chronicles of the antics of your cats.
I’ve found that these misconceptions lead some nonprofit leaders to believe that blogging will require them to publish in-depth commentary on their nonprofit’s issue every day, to divulge personal habits, to engage endlessly in Web conversations, or to let their "freak flag fly." While all of these have their place, these options are for “some of the bloggers some of the time.” None are ever required when publishing a business-lunch blog.
While a business-lunch blog could certainly involve many contributors, it can just as easily and effectively be authored by -- gasp -- a central authority, even -- gasp again -- PR and marketing people, as the case seems to be with this excellent example of a business-lunch blog from the Air Conditioning Contractors of America. (The gasps are not poking fun at Beth, just at some of the dogma I’ve heard about nonprofit and business blogging.)
Even if only one person posts to the blog on behalf of the whole organization, I think it’s best, and more in keeping with the more personal nature of blogging, if the poster’s name is published with each entry. (I recommend this especially if there’s a chance that more than one person will post to the blog in the future.) Note, however, that the posts on this well regarded blog of the humanitarian organization Interplast are not identified with a particular author -- proof that a blog can be great even if it doesn’t follow every rule ever published about blogging.
The frequency of posts will depend on the particular nonprofit, but I tend to think that posting weekly, and probably no more than two to three times a week, would be appropriate for a business-lunch blog.
Allowing comments is highly desirable, but not always critical. While I wish that Terry Axelrod allowed for comments in her Raising More Money blog, as someone interested in learning more about her acclaimed fundraising model, I nonetheless benefit from her posts.
o The article in today's Name of Local Newspaper (links to paper) about casualties in the Iraq war underlines the importance of our new initiative (links to info on initiative) to provide comprehensive services to vets who are disabled…
o Name of Person (links to bio) on our staff just won the Name of Award (links to info on award) for environmental advocacy. Name has been instrumental in our Blue Lakes campaign (links to info on campaign)…
o We've just put up the registration page (links to page) for our annual benefit -- the band this year is Betsy Redhead and the Boneshakers and the tickets are only $75.00. As the federal government continues to slash funding of supportive services to people who are homeless, the Name of Event is essential to our ability to….(links to info on mission or important programs) …
o The mayor announced yesterday that she would not support the restaurant smoking ban (links to announcement by Mayor). Please help us persuade her that this is not in the best interest of the citizens of Whoville by sending a letter (links to model letter)…
o Name of CEO was interviewed today for a Channel 10 story (links to TV station story summary) about local theater groups. An important fact that the TV news report omitted was that...
Some benefits of the business-lunch blog approach:
o Stakeholders and potential supporters are engaged in a way that is more intimate and immediate than that of traditional newsletters, especially if comments are allowed. (Note, printed newsletters will remain important and effective vehicles for many nonprofits, even for those that blog.)
o A business-lunch blog is an efficient way to share information that you want all key stakeholders to know. The staff, board, and major donors of nonprofits I’ve worked with recently all had access to email. If this is true for your nonprofit, encourage these major stakeholders to subscribe to RSS or email feeds of your blog.
o If you plan to post frequently on a number of topics that will not interest all stakeholders equally, consider a blogging platform that allows you to categorize posts and RSS feeds. This allows readers to select which topics they wish to read.
o If it suits your organization, your blog may grow to include more than one contributor. Contributors may even go on to publish their own "spin off" blogs, all of which could be aggregated for the user.
While particularly suited to small nonprofits, a business-lunch blog may be a good solution for organizations of all kinds -- private, nonprofit, public -- and of all sizes. For some, it will be a starting point; for others, it will be all they ever need.
There are, of course, other good starter models, at least one of which I plan to discuss in the future, but I believe this approach is one that many nonprofits would do well to adopt and one that more nonprofit-tech evangelists would do well to promote.
Thoughts? I welcome them in the "comments" section below.