Mobilize Donors Fast to Respond to Breaking News

©  Eugenio Marongiu - Fotolia
© Eugenio Marongiu – Fotolia
Nonprofits should always be ready to capitalize on “overnight sensations” — such as the social media storms that catapulted the Bard Prison Initiative’s surprise debate victory over the national-champion Harvard team and the University of Mississippi’s 2014 upset victory over the University of Alabama — to promote other programs that donors might want to know about too.

That’s what the Washington, D.C., based Humane buy propecia online hong kong Society of the United States (HSUS) did following the public outrage over the killing of Cecil the Lion by an American big-game hunter in Zimbabwe in early July, 2015. Within two days of the story’s breaking, the Humane Society’s social media, email, website, video, and photo advertising channels launched a coordinated effort to encourage people to sign a petition calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to place African lions under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. The initial Facebook post, for example, reached over 3.8 million people and was shared 34,000 times. “Trophy hunting is an issue that HSUS has been working on for a very long time,” explains Carie Lewis Carlson, director of social marketing at the Humane Society. “But until this tragic incident it was never brought to the forefront.”

The Humane Society seized the opportunity to build momentum for some of its other core issues as well. For example, it encouraged people to call on airlines and UPS to ban the transportation of hunting trophies; ultimately more than 40 airlines worldwide agreed to implement the ban. The Humane Society also alerted its supporters and social-media followers to legislation being considered in Congress that, among other things, would permit the importation of polar bears killed by hunters.

Carlson explains that the Humane Society was able to launch these campaigns quickly, while the killing of Cecil was still being widely discussed, because it already had the pieces in place for just such an occasion. “The best thing to do is to be prepared with a plan if something goes viral,” Carlson says. “You should always be developing campaigns, creative, and messaging that you think people will love and glom on to, though you never know what is going to resonate.”

The Humane Society’s plan broadly follows these lines:

  • A vice president instructs staff to drop what they’re doing and prepare a response to a breaking story.
  • Communications and program staff meet to hammer out the organization’s messaging.
  • The organization issues a press release and sends out an initial tweet.
  • An action alert or donation form is created and made available to supporters.
  • Staff prepare and roll out a formal marketing plan that includes assignments for all communications channels.
  • Strategies are shifted in response to daily reports.

“An opportunity can happen to anyone at any time,” says Carlson. “Nonprofits should be prepared with an outline of how to activate when an opportunity arises to insert their brand into breaking news, something that is going viral, or a trending topic.”

This post was adapted from “Expect the Unexpected,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Summer 2016 (reprinted with permission). You can read the whole article here.

Author: Paul Lagasse

Paul Lagasse provides expert-to-expert communications services to nonprofit, business, and government clients in the metro Baltimore-DC area. Specialties include science and medical writing, technical report editing, and content marketing.