2 min Read
February 2, 2012

Engaging your supporters with online actions

Big Duck

It’s a maxim that nonprofit professionals have heard more and more in recent years: “Thou shalt not treat your supporters like ATMs.”

By this, communications experts typically mean that nonprofits should do more than just ask their supporters for money, and that when they DO ask for money, they should ask for it in a warmer, more personal way.

Sounds reasonable, right? But here’s what makes the maxim even more urgent: Recent studies indicate that nonprofit supporters who take an advocacy action are seven more times likely to give.

For the lucky nonprofits that have a robust advocacy network in place then, it’s a no-brainer that they engage their supporters with actions on a regular basis.

But what about nonprofits who don’t have the staff or time to run a comprehensive advocacy program? (And what about organizations who don’t have a legislative agenda?)

Worry not. With a little creativity, some elbow grease, and the (relatively low-cost) magic of online tools, you can use even the simplest and most low-tech actions to strengthen your supporters’ engagement with your organization.

Here is a range of possible online actions you might use to engage your supporters:

  1. Help them reach out to decision makers. Even if you don’t have a staff person on the hill, you can use simple tools like SignOn, The Petition Site, and Causes to allow your supporters to write their legislators. Is legislative advocacy not an option for you? Consider letter writing campaigns to CEOs or other corporate decision makers, or letter-to-the-editor campaigns to local newspapers. (Check out this great roundup of e-advocacy tools from Idealware for some more good ideas.)
  1. Give them opportunities to learn and spread knowledge. Don’t have a legislative agenda? Don’t worry. You have a mission, and helping people learn about your issue and why it matters is also a worthwhile action. Encourage people to test their knowledge or learn something new by launching a quiz or poll with simple tools like Survey Gizmo or Survey Monkey. Sound too involved? Consider asking your community to share important reports, news stories or photos related to your issue through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or even just a simple email forward.
  1. Ask them to offer their two cents. As a nonprofit, you make decisions every day–why not bring your community in on them with periodic voting or polls? Possibilities range from asking them to choose the art you’ll feature in a publication (my favorite example is Easter Seals’ vote on the next year’s children’s art calendar), to asking them what issues they most want to see your nonprofit tackle in the upcoming year (Working America’s priorities vote is a good example). Either way, you’ll be giving your community a voice in your story.
  1. Encourage them to use their own creativity. While simple, easy-to-complete actions will probably get the most people engaged, you might also offer the occasional action that asks supporters to share a bit more. Consider a photo contest like Ocean Conservancy’s Marine Wildlife and Seascape contest, or story-sharing campaigns like NTEN’s recent member appreciation month. You’ll not only give supporters an opportunity to use their own creativity, you’ll also gather some great images and stories to share with the rest of your community.

…And those few ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. What easy or creative ways have you been engaging your supporters these days? We’d love to hear your thoughts–please share them in the comments!