Nonprofits love their emails newsletters and for good reason! Your email list holds your most committed supporters, and it feels so good to communicate with them!
But does your blog languish at the cost of putting out emails? Does your website feel stale and hasn’t been updated in two months?
Despite the benefits of a good email newsletter, too many nonprofits ignore their websites while pouring all their energy into newsletters. At best, some organizations post PDFs of their newsletters as “blog posts”, despite all the problems with PDFs on nonprofit websites. It doesn’t have to be this way!
If you blog first and share those posts in your newsletter, you get more engagement on your website while still producing a vibrant newsletter. It’s literally twice the results with the same effort.
(If you have WordPress, you have a blog)
You might not think of your website as having a blog or yourself as a blogger. But it does, and you are!
Your “blog” might be labeled “News” or “Announcements” or “Updates”, but whatever you call it, your WordPress website has a page devoted to showing all your Posts—capital “P” as opposed to “Pages”—in chronological order. That’s a blog!
Some people get turned off by the word “blog”, but don’t let that scare you away. For the purposes of this article at least, “blogging” is just regularly publishing new material to your site about news, events, your impact, media coverage, and whatever else is new and exciting at your organization. If you have the capacity for an email newsletter, you have the capacity to blog.
Infographic: Power your newsletter with blog posts
Now that you’re sure you have a blog, here’s the magic formula:
Post engaging and bite-size articles to your blog.
For each newsletter, pick your best posts (even 2 or 3 is enough!) and link to them in your newsletter.
Add a custom welcome message or something else exclusive to the newsletter. You want to make sure your newsletter subscribers still feel special.
Executed correctly, this format is engaging and primarily assembled with writing you already have!
The Benefits of Blogging First
If you’re not sold yet, making this change comes with all the benefits you get from following blogging best practices.
Your website is more up-to-date and vibrant with new information.
While many email newsletters are just digital versions of a formerly printed product, blogging is the publication medium of the web. That means it’s more user-friendly, engaging, and future-proof! Plus, doing it this way is simply a best practice among nonprofit professionals.
While it might take a few months to get used to this new workflow, this formula only requires a bit more effort than you already put into your newsletter while powering your blog, social media, and newsletter all at once! That’s a huge win and will surely expand your reach and quality of your communications.
Ever wondered why you should blog? Are you stuck and lacking motivation to write? This post will get you inspired and excited about the possibilities of blogging to support your organization.
One of the newer pages on Nonprofit WP is “Blogging Best Practices.” There is a ton of great info on that page, including tips for blogging frequently, ideas for blog posts, and best practices for crafting the perfect post. But the crown jewel of the page is this diagram showing how you can use your blog to turn passive followers into engaged supporters.
Blog + Social Media = Engagement
Take a look, and then we’ll break it down…
It’s a tricky little diagram but here’s what’s going on. Start in the middle column:
First, publish interesting content about your nonprofit to your website’s blog.
Next, share links to your blog posts on social media. Make sure those posts have good “Meta Descriptions” and “Featured Images” so they generate nice looking link previews!
Instead of reading what’s on your Facebook page or in a Tweet, users visit your site to read your blog post. Make sure it’s worth their time.
Once on your website, users can reach important calls to action like the donate page or a volunteer signup form.
See what you did there? Instead of a user passively reading your email newsletter or watching something on Facebook, they can act on their interest in your cause and become an even bigger supporter of your organization!
So here’s that successful recipe for engagement through blogging one more time:
Post to your blog.
Share your posts on social media.
Drive traffic back to your website.
Use calls to action to generate deeper engagement.
The best calls to action in a blog post are timely, relevant, and not too pushy.
If you ask for donations in every post, the request loses impact. Urging people to contact their senator at the end of a new staff member profile probably doesn’t make much sense either. Provide a single clear call to action at the end of your blog posts and make sure it relates closely to the content above it. Committed visitors who have actually read (or browsed) the blog post will be much more likely to click the link and support your nonprofit!
Educate Your Visitors (and Google)
Similar to call to action links, make sure you’re cross-linking from your posts to relevant web pages. Mention a program with it’s own page? Link to it! Discussing an important policy proposal? Link to your position paper. Mentioning a staff person? Link to their bio.
While these links may not drive engagement in the moment, they allow users to learn more about your organization and follow their interests through your site. A website visitor may need repeated exposures before taking a big step up in activity with you, so be patient and keep them interested.
As a bonus, linking from blog posts to other relevant information on your site helps search engines better understand who you are and what you do. In the future, this means people interested in your cause are more likely to find your nonprofit in search results!
Owning Your Content
WordPress lets you “own your content”, because it lives in a database on a hosting plan you have access to. It’s also easy—relatively speaking—to export that data into a new system should the need arise.
Tons of nonprofits post to Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram that only lives on those sites. By posting first to your blog, you know that if a social media site loses active users or reduces access to your followers—cough-FACE-hack-BOOK-wheeze-#%$@!—you still have the information safely stored on your website.
Blogs are powerful communication tools for reporting on your work and sharing your impact with your most committed followers. When fully optimized, a blog can become an engagement tool itself, bringing your social users closer to your organization where they can help you make the world a better place!
Do you ever pull up a website and wonder if it’s WordPress? Even if it is WordPress, it can be hard to know exactly how a site’s assembled. So let’s take a look at how Nonprofit WP itself was written and built!
It includes a free Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate to enable HTTPS for security and HTTP/2 for speed. Finally, with PHP7 enabled and the SG Optimizer plugin for enabling custom caching, the site loads really fast.
For additional security and speed, the site runs on Sucuri’s security firewall which actively protects against and monitors for hacking attempts.
Everything about this site derives from the content. When I was first planning Nonprofit WP, I thought about the audience I wanted to target: nonprofit’s using WordPress. More specifically, I wrote for people trying to make a DIY WordPress site.
I then thought about my experiences with that audience and the type of information they needed to know. That list turned into an outline for the site. Over an intense month or so, I devoted lots of time to writing the first pages of the site and revising each one multiple times. When I felt like I had enough information composed to help my target audience—even though there are pages I’ve added since—I launched the site.
Importantly, as I wrote, I sought a consistent style and focused on writing each page for someone that is at a specific step in the website-building process. Following best practices for writing for the web, pages are long but well-organized and use highly-readable formatting. That linear style helped determine the design…
I chose Twenty Fifteen primarily for it’s navigation menu that runs down the left side of the page on large screens. While “old fashioned” in a way, the linear organization and available space reads like a table of contents, perfect for such a content-heavy site!
To give the theme a bit of interest, the site theme was customized using a “child theme.” A few custom colors plus some fancy CSS to allow for an icon with each menu item is just about all that gives this site it’s approachable and user-friendly design.
This site uses quite a few plugins for features big and small. They’re divided below based on a few broad categories of need with short descriptions for each.
There are quite a few plugins I use to make it easier to write, display, and manage my content.
Admin Columns helps me adjust the display of the All Pages and All Posts pages with some useful additional information.
The new year is a great time to evaluate the state of your website and figure out how to make it better. But we all know that plenty of resolutions don’t get the followup they need. So instead of a New Year’s website resolution, pick one or two of these tasks and get started right now!
Since the goal is to get you moving forward on a concrete task, you don’t even need to read this whole post! Just pick the task that sounds the most interesting or useful and get to work!
Do a Content Audit
A content audit is the process of reviewing your entire site and assessing each piece of content individually to make sure it still serves your site visitors. It’s common to combine a content audit with a website redesign, but I think they work better separately. More-frequent content audits mean future website redesigns go more smoothly and your website will be consistently higher-quality for your visitors!
Whether it’s in a custom spreadsheet you set up or with a plugin like Content Audit, this is one of the best tasks you can do on your site.
Here’s how to do it:
Go through your site’s Pages one by one.
For each page, mark or list it as a meaningful status you can act on. I like to use the statuses Good, Minor Revisions, Major Revisions, Archive, and Merge with…. Then I’ll make a short note for each page about what should change.
If more than one person writes content for the site, also assign the Page to the person who will work on any revisions.
Once you’ve gone through the entire site, you will have learned a lot about the state of your site. Schedule the time to work on these pages throughout January and finish before February.
Similarly, if you’ve managed to audit your whole site but aren’t sure where to start, let the site visitor stats determine which small part of the revision process to start on. Improving one high-traffic page is much more valuable that improving multiple low-traffic ones.
Clean Up Your Plugins & Themes
This one’s a little bit faster than the content audit.
While there’s no such thing as too many plugins, you never want to have plugins or themes that you’re not using installed on your site. These can slow down your site, clutter the admin, leave open a security hole, or force you to make unnecessary updates.
First, go to the Plugins page of the admin, and review each one. Do you know what it’s used for? Do you still need it? You may need to do a bit of research and contact your web developer or other staff, but figure out which plugins you don’t need and remove them from the site.
Once done, you’ll get a good reminder of how your site works and you’ll probably get some ideas for future projects (see below!).
[Fun fact: I just did this for NonprofitWP.org. With a bit of work to tweak a few things with my theme, I removed three plugins!]
For themes, you really only need the theme your site is using. Delete all other themes from the Appearance > Themes screen in the admin. That’s it! 🙂
EXCEPTION: Child Themes
If your site is built using a “child theme”, then you’ll need two themes on your site, the active child theme and it’s parent theme. You can tell if you have a child theme by opening up your active theme details in Appearance > Themes and then looking for this:
If you see that notice, delete all themes except the active [child] theme and its parent theme.
Streamline Your Forms
Do you want more people to fill in forms on your site? Do you want to get better information from them? Streamlining your forms will probably lead to both outcomes over time!
Review your 5 most recent submissions and ask yourself these questions:
What questions don’t receive enough or accurate information?
Do certain optional fields get consistently skipped?
Most important: Can I tell someone how I use every piece of information I collect?
Once you’re more familiar with the reality of your form submissions, do the following for the form:
Make as few fields required as possible. These are the fields you couldn’t do without. An easy example: The email field for an email newsletter form. It won’t work without it!
Remove as many optional fields as possible. For example: Do you really need that person’s ZIP code?
Remove as many options from checkboxes, radio buttons, and select menus as possible.
Clarify each field name and, if needed, description. If you’re not getting good data, you’re probably mis-labeling your field or not being specific enough. Consider providing an example answer or sentence starter for free-form questions.
Rearrange form fields to increase commitment to finishing. For example: If working on a donation form, have people select their donation amount first. This builds momentum and gets questions that require active thinking out of the way earlier, letting users finish a form more or less on autopilot.
A streamlined form will be less-confusing for visitors and faster to fill out. That will increase the likelihood of people filling out your form and of you getting good data when they do!
Even if you didn’t use a consultant to build your site, it’s good to know who you’ll turn to when—not if—you face a website emergency or project outside your own technical abilities. A few phone calls, a visit to a meetup, or a strategic referral from a colleague is usually all it takes.
Once you’ve found someone willing to work with you, find a way to bring them on board with a small project. Maybe that’s signing up for their annual maintenance plan, doing a small project together (see below!), or having them performing a site audit with strategic recommendations for future improvements.
When your donation form or email newsletter signup form isn’t working, you don’t want to panic and working with the first person you can find. (“Well our Development Director’s nephew is great with an iPad!”)
Even if you have a consultant already, you need to make sure they’ll make time to help you when you need it most. Take a moment to get back in touch and thank them for their support.
Put in a bit of time and money now, and you will feel immense relief at the moment you need it most!
Do a Small Project
Too often, website work is an all-or-nothing endeavor for organizations. You get your budget together, you sink a huge amount of effort into planning, and then you make one big push to get the new site live.
But if your site is a year old or more, I bet there’s a pain point you’ve identified or a “Phase II” project that’s yet to happen. If we’re being honest, there was probably something not quite right immediately after launch too.
Take some time to think about one incremental improvement to your site that will make it better. A smart project here and there can extend the life of your site and make it more useful to your visitors.
With the year starting, plan now for a great new addition to your site and figure out what it will take—time-, budget-, and planning-wise—to get it up and running.
Make a Blogging Content Calendar for the Year
Content calendars are a great may to make sure your blog stays updated all year. They’re usually built around major events, donation drives, programmatic campaigns, and unscheduled important news as it arises. (If you don’t have many obvious events, maybe you work in some blogging seasons too!)
There are lots of great templates out there, or you can get fancy and use a plugin like Edit Flow to manage it right in your WordPress dashboard. Find a good format for you—I think it’s hard to beat a good spreadsheet!—and get to planning!
Start by making a list of key events and dates you’ll need to post on and leading up to.
Then make a list of less time-sensitive topics you can blog about to fill in the gaps. One easy idea: Do a fun social media roundup with the best posts about your cause from you and your supporters!
Finally, get these all down into a spreadsheet with due dates, staff writing assignments, and any other notes you’ll need to start writing immediately when a blog post deadline looms.
Now you’re ready to blog up a storm in 2017! 📝🌩☺
Content calendars help you think ahead leading to better-written posts and an easier time getting usable web content from your colleagues!
Remember Why You Picked WordPress. Incremental Changes to Your Website Are Good!
The whole point of using WordPress is to allow you and fellow staff members or volunteers to easily update your website. If you’ve already done the work to get a site up, take full advantage of that flexibility and control! This month, focus on a single task like the ones suggested here and just get it done. You should feel good about giving your visitors a better experience and simultaneously supporting your organization’s work more.
I always tell my clients that websites are never done. They’re more like a garden that needs tending. So put your digital green thumb to use, and make your site even better to support your organization and achieve your mission!
Work fluctuates, commitments change, and sometimes – people need a break from time to time. Instead, consider a different strategy – publishing in seasons.
The idea of a blogging season is pretty simple: let your blog’s content fluctuate with alternating periods of posting and not posting. This isn’t any different from what many TV shows and podcasts have done for years.
To be clear: The idea isn’t an excuse to not write on your blog. Rather, the idea is to make blogging more sustainable, interesting, and fun!
Blogging Seasons Help Sustain Blogs
You don’t want your organization’s last blog post to be from September 2012, but it’s hard to publish every month or every week. This is where the idea of “seasons” can help. When deciding how to use them, take advantage of their flexibility and align them with your organization:
There are two factors about a season – the length of the season, and the publishing frequency during the season. The off-season time is equally important, as it helps set your audience expectations. If you publish your blog content in seasons, you can also plan for downtime during the gaps. The gaps between seasons becomes valuable time. The gaps provide you with time to focus on other priorities, while giving you time to plan your content for the next season.
There are then lots of examples of how you could do this:
Post weekly for 10 weeks and then take 2 off.
Post monthly for 5 months then take 1 off.
Post twice-weekly for a 8 weeks, then take 4 weeks off.
Since these seasons are time-driven, use a calendar to plan out topics, authoring responsibilities, and reminders to publish. These so-called “editorial calendars” are a crucial tool for any organization that expects to maintain a blog on their website regardless of whether it posts in seasons or not.
Ideas for Blogging Seasons
Blogging seasons for nonprofits can vary and adapt as necessary. Here are some ideas:
Use blogging seasons to build toward important events for your nonprofit. If you participate in an annual giving day, post a month’s worth of posts in the lead-up to the day highlighting ways the money gets used.
Focus on natural seasons that align with your constituents’ lives. For education nonprofits, the school year, spring break, and summer break all offer natural divisions of time that could align with a blog.
Key off important news in the world. An environmental organization might schedule a blog season following the passage of an important bill or a high-profile environmental disaster.
Do something silly or unexpected. It’s important for writers and audiences to not always be so serious! Post the funniest stories from your organization’s work or compare each program or project you do to a movie or Harry Potter character. Get creative in a way your audience will appreciate!
Align with your organization’s internal needs and work. If you do annual staff evaluations, have staff publicly share their proudest moment from the year and something they hope to improve next year. If you’re in a strategic planning year, a season could focus on alternate visions of your organization 10, 20, or 50 years in the future!
Encourage more creativity and diversity among post content and types
Spin-off easy-to-write content like round-ups, reflections, and blogging season introductions
Make it easier for lots of staff members to contribute website content given the focus on a tightly defined topic
Improve coordination between your blog and social media
Give audiences something refreshing and future content to look forward to
All of the above should help keep visitors engaged and produce valuable (and probably search engine-friendly!) content for your website.
A Simple Idea. What Will You Do With It?
Hopefully the gears of your mind are spinning and you’re excited by the possibilities Andrew’s idea presents! Posting in seasons to your blog can make it easier to maintain in the long term and keep things fresh for everyone involved.
Got a great idea for a blogging season for your organization? Share what you do and what some seasons might be for your nonprofit!
or: How I Learned to Stop Using Embed Codes and Love Embedding Videos, Tweets, and More!
It can be hard to continually write good content for a website or blog. One effective-yet-underutilized type of content is curated social media posts.
You might have seen these on other websites before. They’ll be a series of well-chosen tweets, Facebook posts, and other social content used to tell a story or present different viewpoints on an issue. These can be your posts, other peoples’, or a combination of the two. Done well, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
These “social timelines” are often built with Storify. Storify allows site owners to embed stories on blogs, but here’s a huge secret: in most cases, you don’t need Storify to make a social timeline on your WordPress blog!
WordPress has an amazing feature that lets you embed lots of social media sites directly in the WordPress editor simply by pasting the social post’s URL onto its own line. So if you post this in the WordPress editor:
You’ll get this:
I’ll wait for you to finish watching 😊…
What Sites Can I Embed with WordPress?
There are a few sites that sadly aren’t embeddable right now like Pinterest and LinkedIn, but most sites you’d want to embed are supported. I bet there are even a few sites you didn’t know you wanted to embed until just now!
Twitter (Including Timelines and Moments)
WordPress!Yup. Any recent WordPress site should be embeddable!
Happy Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD)! Did you know that the actions you take on your website can impact whether and how everyone can easily use your website—or even use it at all!
“The purpose of GAAD is to get people talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) accessibility and users with different disabilities.”
How can you make sure your site is more accessible for people using it? Here’s a list of some things you can do today!
1. Use Alt Text
Every time you upload an image to your WordPress Media Library, fill out the “Alt Text” field. This helps people with vision impairment or browsers that can’t or don’t load images, know what the images on your site are. WebAIM has a great article that goes in-depth on using alt text.
And Don’t Put Text In Images
If you do have text in images (like in a slideshow), you must include that text in the “Alt Text” field. Whenever possible, avoid text in images at all and make it real text that you type into WordPress. This makes your site more accessible and better for search engines!
2. Use Headings
This article has already used two headings (“1. Use Alt Text”) and (“2. Use Headings”). These help all people quickly understand the structure of your page and find the information they’re looking for.
To make headings in WordPress, look for the menu on the left in the second row of buttons in your text editor. Use “Heading 2” for your main page sections and “Heading 3” for subsections of those main sections.
3. Avoid Autoplay & Animated GIFs
Autoplaying videos and sliders makes pages distracting for everyone and impossible to use for people who struggle with focusing. Give people full control to only have things move and play sound on a page when they want them to.
Animated GIFs are also usually on “autoplay.” I love and recommend the WP GIF Player plugin to allow people to play animated GIFs rather than having them always on and looping.
4. Provide Transcripts
If you’ve got audio or video files on your site, do everything you can to provide transcripts and/or closed-captioning. This is one of the most clear-cut cases where not having a transcript means some of your users—those who are hearing impaired—are excluded from accessing a part of your site.
Accessibility Makes the Web Better For Everyone!
A transcript lets a deaf person access a podcast, but it also lets anyone search the transcript, read along with the podcast for comprehension, or read the transcript because the speakers don’t work on their laptop.
Autoplaying things mean some people can’t read anything on your site since the video is too distracting, but nearly everyone has lower comprehension of what they read if there are flashy, scrolly, blinky, moving things on the screen.
Web accessibility is a huge field with lots of techniques and considerations to think through, but you should always be working toward making your site more accessible, even if you only start with a few baby steps.
Take 10 minutes today to write some alt text, turn off autoplay, or write a transcript for your short promo video! The web will be a better place for your efforts!
Bonus: See a Screen Reader in Action
Ever wonder how someone with no vision can use a computer? Here are two great, short videos showing how one person uses his laptop and phone!
Just like you spring clean your house, every nonprofit website needs some attention every now and then to keep your site healthy. Given that it’s almost May, it’s time to get to it!
Plugins & Themes
If you’re a website administrator, head on over to Plugins > Installed Plugins and Appearance > Themes in your WordPress admin.
Read through the description of each plugin and make sure you still need it. Delete plugins that you don’t use and are deactivated, and see if you can deactivate any plugins you don’t need anymore.
For themes, delete all themes except the one you’re using. I used to leave one backup theme, but I don’t even do that anymore.
Why prune your plugins and themes? There are a few reasons:
Some security issues in plugins and themes can still be used even if the plugin or theme is not active!
While hosting space is cheap (usually “unlimited”), there’s no need to store extra files you won’t need and can easily download again. Worse yet, that extra code can bloat your backup files (see below!)
Fewer themes & plugins means fewer updates to manage!
You should know what powers your site and always aim to keep your site lean and efficient. Using fewer plugins might speed up your site, reduce clutter in your admin, and provide one less source for a potential problem in the future.
Check Your Backups
Assuming you have automated backups—you do have automated backups, right?—go to where they are stored and make sure that they are current and working as expected. If you have the technical ability, try to actually restore one on a test site to ensure these backups actually work! You get bonus points for saving a copy to your local hard drive as a backup-backup-backup.
Test Your Forms
Where I live in Seattle, GiveBig is coming up soon. No matter what, imagine your donation form hasn’t been working for who knows how long and you don’t know how many donations you’ve lost. That would be terrible! Try making a quick test donation on your site to ensure it works. (Feeling panicky? This post isn’t going anywhere.)
This is also always a good reminder to you of what your site visitors go through when trying to make a donation. Could it be better? Make sure you get automated receipts and thank you messages!
Besides your donation form, test your contact form, newsletter signup form and any other forms to make sure they work and create any notification emails you expect. If those forms are connected to other services or databases like MailChimp or Salesforce, make sure your test submissions accurately import into those as well.
Audit Your Content
A website is never “done.” If you haven’t reviewed your site in a while, it’s likely that something is out of date. Is your Staff page showing all current members with accurate emails? Has one of your programs shifted focus? Have you accomplished something major and not shared it with your website visitors yet?
Click through your site, edit what’s out of date, and make a list of what you need to add or significantly revise. Remember though that just because something isn’t current doesn’t mean you should delete it.
I guarantee that an hour of reviewing your site will make it better! That’s something to take pride in! So close this window, log in to your website, and get clicking!