Here in Austin, I have been humbled by my community’s response to the central Texas wildfires. Individuals, small local businesses, and national corporations alike have clamored to offer their generous support to everyone affected by the fires.
This disaster, hitting so close to home, literally, has been an eye-opening experience for me as a fund raiser because many local nonprofits were unprepared for the outpouring of support that came from the community.
While this is a good problem to have, as far as problems go, there are few simple steps that every nonprofit can take RIGHT NOW to make sure they are ready to rise to the challenge when communities pour out their hearts in support of a common cause.
Start with a Simple Web Form
Create a simple form that can easily be placed on any website. Keep your form short and sweet. Ensuring it doesn’t take up too much web “real estate” will increase the number of websites willing to place it on their site. Keeping it simple also increase the likelihood of your form being prominently featured. Ideally, you want your form to be on the front page and “above the fold” to get as many impressions as possible.
Build your form using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) so it can easily blend into any site. Webmasters will be more likely to publish your form on their own sites since it will automatically take on their sites’ look and feel without any additional work.
Make sure your form can be easily distributed as snippets of code so even novice webmasters will easily be able to embed your form on their own sites. With the form still hosted by you, you will have complete control over the content and can change it at any time.
Control Your Message
During non-urgent times, use your rapid response form to highlight your latest accomplishment, share a video or picture, or even let people sign up for your newsletter. Use rich media like pictures and video to keep your form interesting even when it is not “activated.” In times of need, quickly update the message on your form to distribute important information to the community, collect urgently needed funds, or whatever call to action you need most.
Webmasters are usually most likely to let you ask for donations during times of disaster. However, that doesn’t mean webmasters like hosting donation forms on their sites all the time. To increase your forms’ popularity, use your rapid response form to distribute information most of the time and only ask for donations in times of dire need.
Build Your Network Before You Need It
Encourage embedded forms throughout your supporters network of websites—other nonprofits, corporate sponsors, individual bloggers—so that your forms are already in place and ready to go when the need arises. Start building this network right now, don’t wait!
Launch a campaign that targets those technically savvy supporters who are most likely to have a website on which to feature your rapid response form. Use Facebook and Twitter to point them to your rapid response form. Be sure your form has the snippet of code for them to embed on their site featured prominently. Ideally, the snippet should be right next to your share buttons for Facebook and Twitter, so all users have to do is copy and paste.
To increase the number of people who distribute your form, customize the content for each audience. For example, if your organization’s mission is animal wellness, create a form that features kittens for cat lovers and another with puppies for dog lovers. Targeting your content will widen your audience and increase the overall exposure for your rapid response form.
Ways to Use a Rapid Response Form
Obviously, you can use a rapid response form to ask for donations, but that is only the beginning. Your new form has all the potential power of a grassroots, distributed information network. Other ways you can use your form include:
- Political activism – encourage supporters to contact their representatives to speak out against potential funding cuts or other legislation
- Activate community action – Flash mob at 12:30 at City Hall!
- Information alerts – think news alerts; when something is happening right now that your supporters need to know about immediately
- Generate matching gifts – We need another $2000 by 5pm to qualify for that big match from the Mr. & Mrs. Rich Foundation!
Now that you know the basics of creating a rapid response campaign for your organization, how will you put it into practice? Share your ideas!
Want more examples?
I love this story from NTEN about a Marfa radio station’s Facebook page becoming a hub for community alerts and info. The key is to have your network in place BEFORE the emergency. Read these related articles and let me know what you think.