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Don’t just market – measure

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Question:

What are three quick and easy ways to track the impact of nonprofit marketing efforts?

Answer:

A recent survey of my blog and newsletter subscribers revealed the astounding fact that only 37% of nonprofits track the impact of their marketing and communications programs.

For the other 63%, who are basically throwing their money into a well, here are some strategies that any nonprofit, no matter how budget-strapped, no matter how time-strapped, can use to begin to track the results of their marketing efforts.

* Anecdotes

The easiest way is anecdotal feedback.

Ask people where they heard about you, what they heard that made them decide to register for your program or volunteer, and if they have any other ways to get the word out to people like them.

To make this work, you have to get everyone in your organization on board in the asking and start to build a culture where everyone sees themselves as spokespeople.

* Analytics

Take advantage of the analytic tools available to monitor your online communications.

These are built into 99 percent of the website, blog and e-newsletter software that most nonprofits use and are virtually free.

Ask your web manager if you already have these tools built in. If not, free services like Google Analytics are sometimes even more user-friendly.

For a website, you want to identify the most popular pages. That can tell you which programs and services are of greater interest and those pages could be where you want to capture more information on your readers.

Also check the referral log, which tells you which sites, search tools and search terms people used to get to your website.

Use that to build a list of the top 20 words or phrases readers use to get to your website, and be sure to include these in content, tags and metatext.

The referral log can also give you ideas of websites to partner with that might direct greater audiences to your site.

It’s also important to look at trends in visitors. Hits are not meaningful, but the number of unique users who visit and the time they spend on your site are.

Look for increasing trends over time; if they stay stable or decrease, that’s a problem – you’re not giving people what they need.

The other key analytic to look at is the path that a user takes through your site. This gives you a sense of how people find information on your site and how you may be able to organize your site so navigation is easier.

Email newsletters sent through an external service should all have built-in analytics. Look to see how many copies were successfully received, how many were opened and which links in the newsletter were most frequently clicked.

For blogs, free analytics services can tell you how many people subscribe (see Feedburner) and how you rank in the world of blogs (see Technorati).

Another free service, Branica, shows the number of unique visitors to your blog over the past ten days, as well as the top ten ways people have found your blog and the top 20 search terms they used to get there.

* Advisory boards

Engage people on your list periodically through some kind of survey. From that list, ask folks to volunteer to be part of an ongoing advisory board, which you will contact periodically with questions about services and marketing issues.

Advisory boards can be just as useful in developing a marketing campaign as in following up after. When starting a new program, ask your advisory board not only for suggestions in naming and selling the campaign, but how they reacted to certain approaches.

Remember: keep it fresh, and thank them!

The biggest challenge is that these three methods of tracking marketing and communications efforts are only the beginning. Beyond this, you need more budget for more tools.

But with the kind of information you get from these basic approaches, you should be able to show funders how effectively you can use your resources.  That can help you improve your budget to improve your tracking system.

Compiled by Elizabeth Floyd


Nancy E. Schwartz is president of New York-based Nancy Schwartz & Company, which designs and implements marketing and communications programs to help nonprofit and foundation clients nationwide to maximize their impact and profits. She is also the publisher of the Getting Attention blog and e-newsletter.

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