Using Hashtags on Social Media: The How, When, and Why

Today’s post comes from my friend, Jennifer Wilder. Jen is a social media marketing pro, and a constant source of information and inspiration. She’s the first person I turn to when I have questions, and she even set me up on Smarterqueue last year, so that most of social media is automated.

Using hashtags is something I frequently talk to people about when they’re working on their social media strategy. Too many cause-focused organizations seem to leave them off completely, but they can be a great tool for helping new people find you. Otherwise, those already in your tribe will be the only ones to see your post . . . and still only a percentage of them. (Thanks, algorithms!)

So, do yourself a favor and read up on why hashtags should be a part of your social media strategy. This post is #allthethings when it comes to using hashtags, so be sure to bookmark it for referencing again later!

 Using Hashtags on Social Media: The How, When, and Why

Are hashtags a part of your social media strategy? Do you even know what a hashtag is? Hashtags are a means of finding conversations in social media around desired topics. They are keywords preceded by the hash (#) or pound mark. Within social media platforms, hashtags are clickable, so that you can find all posts that include the hashtag on which you clicked. 

These small indicators within your social posts can start conversations, attract customers or donors, and change public sentiment. Are they powerful tools? When used strategically, you better believe it.

 

The Power of Hashtags

We’ve all seen that picture of someone holding up a coffee cup in front of a clear blue sky accompanied by hashtags like: #love #coffee or even #instagram. How effective do you think those hashtags are in helping someone get discovered on social media? Here’s a hint: not at all. But there are hashtags that could be used with that picture that would drive engagement and possibly attract customers or donors

When we think of hashtag strategy, we most commonly think of Twitter and Instagram. Recently, though, LinkedIn increased their promotion of hashtag use on their platform by allowing users to search and follow hashtags through a feature called “Your Communities.” In addition, you can pin hashtags so that posts within that topic appear first in your LinkedIn feed. When searching hashtags, there is also a new discover feature that shows how many people are following that hashtag, as well as various features to dive deeper into insights surrounding searched hashtags.  

Another platform that is now embracing and promoting hashtag use is Pinterest, where up to 20 hashtags are allowed per pin.

Though the capability for using hashtags exists on Facebook, they are not recommended unless you are posting from an event with only the event hashtag so that the event organizers can find you and possibly reuse your post—taking into consideration that you must change your privacy settings to public for those specific posts.

The space in your social media posts is precious, so let’s use that space to find customers and donors. Here’s what you need to know about hashtags to enhance your posts, as well as search out potential supporters.

 How to Find Hashtags for Your Business

  • Create a list of keywords (or common words) associated with your organization and mission—these are the things that you want to be known for. Some examples include nonprofit, social enterprise, modern slavery, homelessness, or social impact. It’s likely those keywords are already being used as hashtags, so give them a search on Twitter or Instagram. You’ll want to scroll through each hashtag to determine if the conversation around each keyword is a conversation you want to enter.

  • Hashtags should not include spaces or punctuation. If you wish, you can camel capitalize—capitalizing the first letter of each word—a hashtag for easier reading, like this: #ThisIsCamelCaps

  • As you search keywords as hashtags, look to see what other hashtags people are using. Perhaps some of the keywords they’re using would better resonate with your potential customers, or should also be used by your organization.

  • Search for other people or other organizations that are like yours, in your industry, or that are the type of organization you want to become. Read through their social posts to find hashtags not already on your list.

  • Once you have a large list of hashtags, you’ll want to know a little bit about each. Search each hashtag on the respective platform noting how many posts are using that hashtag, and noting the types of images that are most popular. You will also want to pay attention to context. Does the hashtag mean what you think it means on the Internet? It might not.

  • When using hashtags for Instagram, be sure to use a variety of counts. Meaning, use a few hashtags that have 250,000 to 350,000 posts; use a few that have 100,000 to 250,000; use a few that have 50,000 to 100,000, and a few that are less than 50,000.

  • Broad subject keywords with 350,000+ posts are not going to get you seen by potential customers or donors. With that number of posts on a hashtag, the posts are coming so fast that your post will constantly be pushed down the feed, getting very little eyeballs on it. That’s why it’s best to use a variety of post counts on each hashtag, not using those over about 350,000. An example would be #event, which is extremely general and won’t help you gain any traction.

  • If you have a storefront, or if you are serving a particular region of the country, then you want to be sure to include hashtags that are location specific.

  • If you want to work with or get noticed by particular brands or organizations, use their personal hashtags. Many times organizations create their own that they use often within their social media, which you can likely find by viewing their Twitter or Instagram accounts. Since hashtags can’t be owned or sponsored by any company, you are free to use their hashtags to get their attention, or to align yourself with their message. Use this tactic mindfully—hitting their hashtag too often with irrelevant content is off-putting. A popular example of this is #EndItMovement, which is used by not only the End It Movement itself, but partners and people who are trying to raise the awareness of modern-day slavery.

  • If you choose to use the maximum number of hashtags allowed on Instagram—which is 30!—sprinkle in a few hashtags that are funny, or that share additional funny commentary about the image you’re posting. Going back to the picture of the coffee cup that I referenced, you could add the hashtag, #NeedISayMore, to show off your brand’s personality.

  • Using all 30 hashtags on Instagram may seem excessive if this is a new process to you, but you’re already doing the work of posting, so why not use the opportunity to be seen by more people?

  • Once you have a list of hashtags you want to use, you can rotate through them with each post. If you prefer, you could create a different, or customized, batch of hashtags for each day of the week that you’re posting. Use the notes feature on your smartphone to keep track of your hashtag list. Then copy/paste into the first comment on Instagram.

 How to Use Hashtags in Your Social Media Posts 

On Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest, it’s more acceptable to use hashtags within the body of the post more so than it is on Instagram.

Just be sure to pay attention to hashtag limits on each platform.

  • For Instagram, 30 hashtags can be used for posts appearing in your feed.

  • For Twitter, there’s only a limit to how many characters you can tweet, which is now 280. However, a maximum of three hashtags is recommended, and can be used in the body of the copy or added to the end of the copy.

  • For Pinterest, 20 hashtags are allowed for each pin, though 10 is considered optimal. Frequent users of Pinterest use three to five per post.

  • For LinkedIn, there is no limit to the number of hashtags that can be used, but pay attention to relevance and aesthetic. You don’t want to make your reader weary with a large amount of hashtags. And please note: While editing articles is allowed on LinkedIn, editing or removing hashtags within a published article is not allowed.

    For Instagram Stories, there is a hashtag sticker that will accommodate one hashtag. Additional hashtags can be added as a text block. You can then reduce that text block down by pinching together your fingers until it is barely seen. Or you can color the block of hashtag copy as the same color as your background using the eyedropper tool in the bottom left while within the editing block of the hashtag copy. Or, you can reduce the hashtag block and hide it behind a block of copy that you do want people to read. This would be done so that the hashtags don’t distract from the photo, video, or other content you’re highlighting in the Story.

Additionally, it’s common practice on Instagram to add hashtags in the first comment. The reason many people do this is to keep their captions looking neat and tidy. Another option is to use one dot on a line for five lines in order to push the hashtags down, either far away from the caption if they add them there, or to push them down from being seen in the first comment.

This can make for a cleaner, neater post on Instagram. However, if you’re going to use the one-dot-per-line method of paragraph breaks on Instagram, you can create your post content in the notes feature on your smartphone, and then copy/paste to Instagram since there isn’t a paragraph break button on that platform, or hit the period key and then enter repeatedly to manually create breaks.

When using an event hashtag on Facebook, be sure your posts are set to “public” so that event organizers can view your posts and possibly reuse them on their brand’s social accounts.

 

How to Use Hashtags to Create Connections and Find Potential Customers and Donors

From your master list of hashtags, choose one to search and scroll through. As you find posts and images that interest you, leave a genuine comment on that post—preferably 8-10 words.

Be sure your comment adds value to the post. This means you shouldn’t just drop a heart emoji or say “Nice job!” It’s unlikely anyone will check out your account or interact much with you without any effort on your part. And for bonus points, ask a question in order to start a conversation.

Because Pinterest is a discovery/search engine (they do not consider themselves a social platform), engagement on pins is not weighted the same way as it is on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn. Meaning, it’s unlikely to produce a lot of results. Pinterest isn’t a place you go to in order to interact with people and have conversations.

Next, if you find a post within a hashtag search that is getting good engagement with many comments, dig deeper into who is leaving those comments. Click the username of the person or business leaving the comment, go to their account, find a picture within the last three or four posted to their account and leave them a genuine comment.

Likewise, you can go to the account of a similar organization to your own, find a recent post with good engagement (multiple comments), and click through to the accounts of people leaving comments on their post. Then, leave a genuine comment on one of their recent posts.

What you’re doing in all of these instances is connecting with people, nonprofits, and social enterprises who have liked something similar to your own business—so why wouldn’t they want to follow you too and eventually buy from you?

Helpful Tools

If you’re still struggling to come up with the right hashtags for your brand, or simply need more options, check out Hashtagify.me. This site allows you to type in a keyword search term, and give you related options that people are already using.

Additionally, if you’re looking to add some oomph to your Instagram strategy, I recommend PeopleMap, which lets you track influencers, create lists, evaluate campaign engagement, and more.

Finally, posting on Instagram can definitely eat away at the time in your day. If that’s an issue for you, consider trying out a social media scheduler like Hootsuite, Later, Planoly, Smarterqueue, or any number of other options.



For what some may think of as a throw-away or a random portion of a social media post, the hashtag can be quite powerful when content creators take the time to be intentional and strategic.  

Now that you have this power, what good are you going to do with it?

Jennifer Wilder is one smart cookie. If you like this post, you might like one of the previous guest posts she’s written for Signify:


 Jennifer Wilder

Jennifer Wilder is a social media professional who helps brands reach customers through online conversations. Over the last decade, she has worked with LifeWay Christian Resources, Leading The Way, The reThink Group/Orange, and The John Maxwell Company. Jen and her husband Nathan live in Kennesaw, Georgia, with their soon-to-be-Instagram-famous Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Copper.

Jennifer is available for freelance social media consulting and voiceover work.


PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

 These small indicators within your social posts can start conversations, attract customers or donors, and change public sentiment. Are they powerful tools? When used strategically, you better believe it.

 Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


5 Essentials You Should Be Communicating to Your Donors


Today’s guest post comes from Amy Crowell, a fundraising pro if there ever was one! Her company, Next Stage Advisors, helps nonprofits through event consulting, board development, grant writing, and more.

Amy and I go way back to the days of when I was at a hospitality PR firm and she was at a little ol’ org called Share Our Strength. Yep, that one. During her time there, she raised more than $3 million dollars for their No Kid Hungry campaign, so she definitely knows her stuff.

Below, she’s boiled down donor communications to a few, main points that you should be aware of. If you’re strapped for time and resources when it comes to talking to your donors, make sure you at least cover these five bases.

PS: These same ideas work for social enterprises, too!

 5 Essentials You Should Be Communicating to Your Donors

Nonprofits, no matter their mission or size, are always on the lookout for more donors. But some organizations aren't event sure how to start the process of engaging new people into their mission, never mind actually turning them into donors.

Donors come in all shapes and sizes. Your donor may be someone who writes a small or large check, but they could also be a volunteer, committee member, special event attendee, board member, or a donor of products or services that your organization needs.

No matter what type of donor you are talking to, nonprofits need to consistently communicate with donors, while at the same time targeting the specific message that prompted the donor to initially become engaged. Keeping everyone informed may very well graduate them from one level of supporter to another. Use these “5 Essential Tips” to expand your reach and add additional people to your potential donor pipeline.


Essential 1: Who or What You Help

This is a no brainer, right? Of course you are going to tell your potential donors who or what you help. However, it’s more than that. Yes, donors need to be told specifically who you are helping, but they should also be informed of the numerical statistics for the problem in your community you are helping.

Specific and detailed information about the problem you are working towards solving will show that your nonprofit is one that needs to be supported. For example, if a local organization tells you that the teen pregnancy in your state was triple the national average and then explained how they were helping to solve that problem, a donor would be much more likely to support them than if they were merely told that they help cut the teen pregnancy rate.

Tell your donors the specifics, such as:

  • How many people in your community deal with the issue that your nonprofit is trying to solve? Is it increasing or decreasing? How quickly?

  • What progress have you made so far?

  • What innovative methods are you using to fulfill your mission (especially if they are more successful compared to similar organizations in your community)?

  • When you accomplish things that work toward your mission, what changes?

  • How is your community a better place because of your organization, its mission, and successes?

Essential 2: Real Stories About How Your Organization Has Made a Difference

Showing your passion can go a long way to creating a new donor. Most donors give to an organization because they feel an emotional connection. Help potential donors feel this connection by telling them true stories about the work you are doing. Share success stories about people you have served.

Do you have video testimonies from parents or principals that have firsthand knowledge of how your program changed a child? Stories about how your organization extended the life someone, allowing them to attend a major life event of their child or grandchild? Examples of how someone you helped felt less stigma about a problem they had, which helped them to build their self-esteem and have a more “normal” life? Or perhaps you can take them on a tour of your facility to show your organization at work.

If you are looking for new donors, you should have a set of emotionally-driven stories that demonstrate your work in action and the benefits to those you serve.


Essential 3: Why Your Organization is Different

Many organizations look similar on paper—potentially serving the same type of person, geographical area, or otherwise. It’s important to differentiate yourself from others that may appear similar. Why would I give my money to you when XYZ nonprofit down the road does the same thing?

Donors want to know what your organization does that makes you different and worth investing in. Do you tackle the same problem in a new way? Does your program go a step further in that it follows people for six months after they leave, ensuring they continue their path to success? Are you the only organization serving X in this zip code? Do you address something that other similar organizations don’t? Perhaps your organization has more of a “teach a person to fish” versus a “give them a fish” philosophy? Tell your donors!

Essential 4: What Their Donation Can Accomplish

Whatever donors are giving—time, money, services, or products—they want to know how it is helping your nonprfoti fulfill its mission. Even though every organization needs non-restricted funds to pay for expenses like rent, utilities, and supplies, most donors would prefer that their donation be connected more directly to the mission they are supporting.

This is where equivalencies come in. Being able to tell donors that $1 connects a child to 10 healthy meals, $500 pays for a month of diapers for a previously homeless child, or something similar, goes a long way to help visualize what a donation can accomplish and how it helps those you serve.

These equivalencies can be used in multiple places, including online donations, special events (ex: live or silent auction, fund the need campaigns), or challenge/matching grants. Being able to show specifically what dollars can provide is important and will bring more donors to the check writing stage.


Essential 5: Share Your Organizational Goals

No different than deciding which mutual fund you want to invest your retirement savings in, donors want to see long-term goals and a healthy organization working toward them. They want to see an ROI on their investment, such as increased growth towards the overall mission.

Share with donors where you want your nonprofit to be and when. Do you want to reach 85% of your target market by the year 2020? Increase the hours you are open by 10% this year? Hire a new staff member?

Talk about both short- and long-term goals so that donors feel like they are part of your progress and that their money is actually an investment not only in your organization, but to the people or problem you are trying to help. Communicating a high-level vision and what it takes financially to get there will make donors more invested overall, potentially moving them from a one-time donor to a reoccurring one.

These “5 Essentials” can go a long way towards building a pipeline of supporters that can help you not only have increased donations, but also fill other important roles your nonprofit needs such as board members, volunteers, special event attendees, and more.

Be sure each essential is documented so you can share them with all the key stakeholders in your organization—especially staff and board members. Once you have them, you’ll likely find that not only are they helpful when speaking to supporters, they can also be used in other communications such as your website, newsletter, grant applications, and more.

Don’t have all five in place? Add the missing pieces to your priority list to increase success in the future.


 Amy Crowell, Next Stage Advantage

Amy Crowell, founder of Next Stage Advisors, has more than two decades of experience in nonprofit management, fundraising, event management, and strategic and financial planning. She has overseen numerous nonprofit fundraisers, including grassroots campaigns, events of all sizes, and national multimillion-dollar corporate-sponsored programs.

Amy helps nonprofits meet and beat their fundraising goals via event consulting, board development, grant writing, and more.

Connect with Amy on LinkedIn.



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

 Use these “5 Essential Tips” to expand your nonprofit’s reach and add additional people to your potential donor pipeline.

 Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


Ask the Experts: Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Each month, I invite guest contributors to speak about timely, relevant, and sought-after topics that are important for cause-focused organizations like yours to be aware of as you grow. For September, Lauren Dawson will be talking about diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Lauren is a former intern from a previous job, and we recently reconnected because I was researching diversity and inclusion for a client project. I came across this awesome report from LinkedIn, and after digging a little deeper, realized that Lauren actually works in that department for the business networking giant.

So, I thought this could be a fantastic topic to address here on the blog as hiring and culture are always on the minds of small business owners. As expected, Lauren has some excellent information and advice for your nonprofit or social enterprise!

 Ask the Experts: Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Q: What are the latest trends for diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

A. Some may actually say that diversity and inclusion is the trend of the year, and I’m hoping the attention will continue until it's obsolete. In the era of social media justice, campaigns like #blacklivesmatter and #metoo are the norm, and we're seeing that shift for diversity and inclusion as well.

Customers, employees, and other stakeholders are flexing in powerful ways to influence company decision-making. Where diversity and inclusion may have been restricted to messages of tolerance and team trainings before, it has now expanded to include products, customers, policy work, and more. As a result, employee resource groups are evolving their advocacy to align with business strategy and, by extension, receiving more opportunities to develop and be recognized for their leadership skills.

The latest trend in the tech world as it pertains to diversity and inclusion is the idea of belonging along with the emphasis on inclusion. Because of the laser focus on workforce representation of under-represented groups in tech, some companies had invested in their hiring activities with little movement in the overall representation numbers.

Now, in addition to hiring, investments are being made to increase retention by influencing how people make each other feel and help each other grow in the workplace: inclusion and belonging. With that being said, representation matters and the focus on representation metrics has been a powerful tool to motivate action and attract attention to this important issue.

Q. What's the biggest mistake you see people making in regards to diversity and Inclusion?

A. I think it’s a big mistake to create separate processes and responsibilities for “diversity activities." For example, the diversity team should not be responsible for “diversity hiring,” in my opinion. It should be responsible for designing and implementing strategies to enable the talent acquisition teams and hiring managers to get more diverse candidates in the hiring process and make them more successful.

In general, diversity and inclusion teams should be responsible for folding diversity, inclusion, and belonging into existing activities rather than creating new ones. In some cases, it is necessary to temporarily create a new role or process to manage the change or to pilot a new idea. However, the long-term goal should always be to empower, educate, and equip all employees and teams to infuse diversity, inclusion, and belonging into all business activities.

 

Q. What's your best piece of advice for people interested in diversity and inclusion?

A. In general, my best piece of advice is for people to embrace what they don’t know and proactively seek differing opinions and viewpoints.

Many studies over the years have proven that diverse teams win. In fact, McKinsey’s Why Diversity Matters 2018 report asserts that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have higher financial returns than their respective industry medians.

I believe it’s a competitive advantage, especially considering the increasing demographic changes and global mobility of people and commerce. Every individual can more authentically and sustainably develop their own capacity for teamwork when they align with the principles of diversity, inclusion, and belonging. For people leading these initiatives, patience is key because sustained change takes time to build, and fast change can often be counterproductive given the complexity of what we’re trying to do.

 

Q. What's one thing readers can do this week to improve their own efforts?

A. Lean in to your own ability to build relationships with people who are different from you, inside and outside of the office. Start a conversation with a colleague that you’re not as comfortable connecting with by asking them what inspired them to work at the organization.

Not only does this help create deeper connections and working relationships, but it also helps you develop cross-cultural competency. Learn more about this approach to connection on Charles Vogl’s website.

 

Q. Do you have any resources to share that might be helpful for people wanting to learn more about diversity and inclusion?

A. I recommend subscribing to Fortune’s RaceAhead newsletter for business and societal news related to diversity.


 Lauren Dawson, LinkedIn

Lauren Dawson is an HR Specialist on the Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging team at LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network. She loves karaoke and brunch, and when she’s not in San Francisco, you can usually find her with friends and family in her hometown of Atlanta, GA.

Connect with Lauren on LinkedIn



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

  Hiring and culture are always on the minds of small business owners, and few topics are bigger these days than diversity and inclusion. So, I asked Lauren Dawson of LinkedIn to provide some insights on the trends and best practices for nonprofits and social enterprises.

 Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


5 Reasons Why Giving Back is Good For Business

Quick note: During the summer, we'll only be publishing one blog post per month as we focus on some new activities and allow you some down time without falling behind on content.

Call it Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), cause marketing, philanthropy, a social impact program, corporate citizenship, or simply giving back—doing good is good for business. From entrepreneurs to corporate giants, it's becoming more clear than ever that giving back is the new black.

But why?

Sure, it's a fine idea to say that incorporating philanthropy and giving strategies into your business is a positive decision. And for decades, many business leaders only thought that cause marketing was a nice PR strategy without a lot of substantive results. But times are a changin', my friend! In fact, I'll give you five reasons why this kind of goodwill is actually a shrewd business move.

 5 Reasons Why Giving Back is Good For Business

I get it: The first rule of business is that you have to make money. No surprise there. But what If I told you that you could indeed make money and have a positive impact? Interested?

 

Attract and Retain Customers

According to a 2017 study by Cone Communications, nearly nine-in-10 (88%) Americans say they would buy products from a company leading with purpose.

^^^ I suggest you reread that fact. Go ahead; I'll wait.

Wow—that is an enormous benefit to your bottom line! You want to increase sales? This is one surefire way to do it.

Just think about your own behaviors. I realize that this subject is right up my alley, and may seem like a no-brainer for someone like me. But I have plenty of friends and family members who aren't in this space.

To demonstrate, let's look at an example. I've sold plenty of Warby Parker glasses in my day—and I've never worked for the company. However, people around me have casually mentioned that they're in search of a new pair of glasses. I then ask them if they've heard of WP, and many times, the answer is no. I tell them that WP has an awesome one-for-one model where they donate a pair of glasses to someone in need with every pair sold. And their prices are extremely competitive with many retail brands.

Now my friend has a choice to make: They can go to any retail outlet and pick a pair of glasses off the shelf, or they can purchase from Warby Parker. For many people (about 88% as we noted), it's an easy choice to grab a stylish pair of WP's that will benefit them and someone else. And that's how it works. It's that easy.

Most of us want to believe that we have purchase power. We want to believe that our decisions do make a difference. And, guess what, they do.

Now, let's take into account another aspect of that example: word-of-mouth marketing. <-- This is the one marketing tactic to rule them all. It's better than any form of advertising. It's also the hardest to manufacture. 

That same study by Cone Communications also said that 78% of those surveyed with tell others about companies with a social impact program. Think about it: we all love to share both our positive and negative purchasing decisions. And it's incredibly persuasive. Just consider those Yelp and Amazon reviews you diligently read.

Finally, by partnering with a cause-focused organization, you automatically increase your reach, and in turn, increase sales. That nonprofit or social enterprise will be thrilled to work with you, and probably more than happy to share about the relationship with their own tribe whether there is a direct cost benefit or not.

Attract and Retain Talent

If you've gone through the hiring process for your company, you know that it takes time, effort, and money. And if you've gone through that process repeatedly, you know that it often takes more money to hire and train a new person than it does to retain an employee. This is another jam that being a good corporate citizen can get you out of.

A 2016 survey of Millennials and Gen Z by Deloitte found that an "overwhelming percentage of respondents feel that business success should be measured in terms of more than financial performance (83% and 80%, respectively). They realize profits are both necessary and a priority, but they believe that corporations should set out to achieve a broad balance of objectives that include:

  • Making a positive impact on society and the environment;
  • Creating innovative ideas, products and services;
  • Job creation, career development and improving people’s lives;
  • An emphasis on inclusion and diversity in the workplace."

And, in case you were wondering, according to the US Census, there are 83.1 million Millennials, accounting for one quarter of the country's population, and 61 million Gen Zers. That's a lot of potential employees!

But the important thing to remember here is that, no matter what generation we each fall into, everyone is searching for significance and meaning. And because we spend so much of our lives working, we want those hours to count. You may be in a great position to make that happen.

 

Build and Differentiate Your Brand

We've hit on this a little bit already, but I don't want to skim over the fact that having a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) element can help your brand achieve recognition and stand out. People may either remember your name better, or it may give them some aspect of your brand to search for. You become more memorable, and you'll automatically be associated with a positive image.

Speaking of, and I hope this doesn't happen to you, but there are times when crisis may strike. Your product or service may harm someone, you may make a bad financial decision, or your leadership may fail you. In these instances, one of two things could happen: either your reputation does not recover, or it just takes a hit. In that same survey above from Cone Communications, they found that 67% of people would be more willing to forgive a purpose-driven company if that company makes a misstep versus a traditional company. 

Increase Your Network

Even though I'm an introvert, I love growing my network. I think the more people I know doing good things, the better. I talk to people all the time that probably won't ever become clients, but I'm grateful to know they exist because it may serve a different purpose down the line.

There are so many instances when we tap into our networks:

  • Someone is hiring or needs a job
  • Someone is looking for a volunteer, or wants to volunteer
  • Someone can recommend a product or service

And there are so many more examples! Heck, it's been a very long time since I worked at hospitality public relations firm, but friends still come to me looking for restaurant recommendations.

This happens all the times in our lives, and more so when you're an entrepreneur or small business. We tend to keep our heads down and plow through the day, sometimes only coming up for air when a need arises. In that instance, it's good to know the people who can help you find an immediate solution to your problem or question.

 

Demonstrate Your Personal and Business Values

According to Nonprofits Source, 72% of all giving in 2017 came from individuals ($281 billion). So, if you're reading this, it's highly likely you donated to charity. And that's probably why you're interested in this subject in first place. You want to be more generous.

Corporate giving is just another way to express your personal and business values. And whether you're selling plumbing supplies, photography sessions, homemade cupcakes (Can we be friends?), or software, people want to know there is a living, breathing person behind that logo. Humanizing your brand is your greatest marketing tactic, not that I just want you to think about it that way. 

I know as a business owner (and human) there are things that make you happy and sad. And I'd love to know what that is. Your customers and would-be customers feel the same way.

Giving back through your business is also a great way to support your local economy, which in turns, ends up giving back to you as well. American Express released a survey stating 90% of consumers said that Small Business Saturday has had a positive impact on their community. Just imagine what could happen if we lived this way throughout the year! (And many of us do!)

But supporting your local economy also means bettering the lives of those around you. And when you help people live better lives, make more money, and increase their own profit margins, they'll be in a better position to purchase from you as well. It's the circle of (business) life.

Bonus: Benefits Come Tax Time

if you're just looking at the bottom line, then we can't ignore the fact that charitable giving offers a tax break. You actually get credit from the government for doing good. Yep, Uncle Sam tips his hat to you.

But I firmly believe that even if this is the primary reason you begin giving back, it won't stay that way for long. Generosity is infectious, and once you begin working with a cause and contributing toward solving an issue, you'll learn just what the Grinch did—your heart will only continue to grow.

Before we leave this section, I also want to make a quick note. If getting a tax break isn't important to you at this stage of business, or you have the ability to work with more than one organization, I suggest taking a look at social enterprises.

It's true that some nonprofits are social enterprises, but in my opinion, not all of them are. Many social enterprises are for-profit entities that are directly tied to a cause. I already gave you the example of Warby Parker above, but there are also companies like LSTNTOMS, Sevenly, Gifts For Good, To The Market, and literally thousands of others. And as an emerging business model, there are lots more small businesses like them who could use a volunteer, partner, or sponsor like you. 

For example, my friends here in Atlanta at Dr. Bombay's Underwater Tea Party and Dwell are both very small operations tackling very big issues. They would be delighted to hear from solopreneurs and small businesses looking to play in the social innovation space.

 

What about the little guys?

If you've read this far, you likely fall into one of two camps. The first one is that you are a believer, and just needed the right push to get you started. If this is you, go forth and do good! The second is that you agree with everything that I've said, but you're stuck at the HOW.

Sure, it's great for large companies to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies, but you're a solopreneur or small business. What can you do? Will you just have to wait until you "make it"?

The grass is always greener, right? It seems much easier if you're making millions of dollars or have hundreds of employees. However, that isn't always true. As a small business, you're more flexible and adaptable. And you're already in a great position for creativity and innovation.

The really good news is that already have enough to give, and you can get started now.

 

No money, no problem.

From volunteering to donating services and products (also called in-kind giving), there are literally hundreds of opportunities for you to give back without breaking the bank. In fact, it may not require any money at all.

However, I do want to interject here and say that being able to donate large sums of money isn't a prerequisite for giving either. Every dollar is appreciated, and if you ask any nonprofit or social enterprise leader, it really does make a difference. (BTW, I asked for you!)

 

Getting Started With Giving

If you're a solopreneur or small business, my best suggestion to begin incorporating philanthropy and giving strategies is to start small. Begin with one relationship and one act.

Make a list of what you have to give, what causes and issues you support, and then find someone working in that space. I recommend that small businesses work with small nonprofits or social enterprises. You'll find a lot of common ground, and also be able to see your impact more easily.

If you don't have an existing relationship with a nonprofit you'd like to work with, attend one of their events, jump on their email list, or take one of the staffers out for coffee. You'll quickly determine if this will be a great fit for both of you.

After that, take baby steps. You (and the organization) may be super exited to get this relationship started, but take the time to date before getting married. Neither of you wants to get in over your heads and leave promises unfulfilled. That will only make it harder for each of you to take this step a second time.

Instead, test the waters, refine, and keep moving forward. You know . . . kinda like running a business.

And if you need help getting your giving strategy off the ground, let me know. I love facilitating good!

Already involved in giving back with your business? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!



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 Call it  Corporate Social Responsibility  (CSR), cause marketing, philanthropy, a social impact program, corporate citizenship, or simply giving back—doing good is good for business. From one-woman and one-man shows to corporate giants, it's becoming more clear than ever that  giving back is the new black .

 Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


How to Make Your Next Event More Successful

Quick note: During the summer, we'll only be publishing one blog post per month as we focus on some new activities and allow you some down time without falling behind on content.

I don't know about you, but I love events. I love attending them, of course, but also working on them behind-the-scenes. When I was an event marketing director, I was able to help create a dynamic experience for almost 8,000 people. And with my nonprofit and social enterprise freelance clients, it's still a blast to see an event go from concept to completion, resulting in smiling faces, sales earned, and money raised.

A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of working with one of my favorite local organizations, Atlanta Dream Center, on their annual benefit dinner. I had been volunteering with them for three years at that point, and they were Signify's first, official client, so they'll always have a soft spot in my heart. Understandably, I was thrilled to be working with them on a professional level now, too.

At the end of the evening, we had quite a surprise—we had not only met the fundraising goal, but we had quadrupled the previous year's total! High fives all around!

However, I don't think it was an accident. After working on so many events over the years, both large and small, I believe there is a key factor we implemented during the event planning process that changed everything.

So, if you're looking for event planning tips, this one's a doozy! Here's how to make your next event more successful than your last. (Hint: It's probably not what you think.)

 How to Make Your Next Event More Successful

If you stumbled upon this post looking for the latest event planning tips and tricks, you might be a little disappointed. But, hang with me, I think you'll still learn a really valuable lesson, especially if you're a beginner to the event planning world.

You see, what I've found over and over again, across many contexts, is that while there are always shiny, new ideas to make your event look awesome, there is one element of event planning that should always get the spotlight.

It's the step that should never get skipped.

So, what is it? Strategy.

I truly believe taking a more strategic approach to planning the 2016 Atlanta Dream Center (ADC) annual benefit gala was key to its financial success.

Here's why.

A FOUNDATION FOR SUCCESS

When I first started as a contractor for the benefit dinner, I was mostly working alongside the development director, who had been in the position less than a year. So, we were both newbies to the event. And even though the dinner was entering its fourth year, I felt like the event was just trying to get off the ground. 

There was no established model to follow. The ADC staff had tried a few different formats, but hadn't really fallen in love with one yet. That gave us a lot of latitude without a tremendous amount of expectations, except for the fact that this was their largest fundraiser of the year. #NoPressure

There were a couple of things we immediately did to start off on the right foot. The first was to get organized. Those who had been in charge of the dinner previously were no longer with the nonprofit, so we had to conduct a treasure hunt for some of the assets because I really wanted to take a look at what had been done before to assess how effective it was, and ways to build on it.

Once we had them collected, my suggestion was that we move everything to Google Drive so all stakeholders would have instant access. This plan worked great, and allowed us to collaborate well. It also solved the problem of keeping everything in a central location should someone else leave in the future.

The other, main thing we did was set up regular planning and check-in meetings leading up to the event, which was about five months away. Some of those were just between the development director and I, and some involved all department heads for the organization that needed to have a say in aspects of the dinner. 

These two choices may seem small or inconsequential, but I promise you that they made a big difference in the tone and feel of the event right from the start. And everyone could feel it.

Never underestimate the power of being organized!

STRATEGY'S ROLE IN EVENT PLANNING

Now, we were ready to start the event planning process. And this is where strategy became the star player.

During one of our early meetings, the entire team was sitting around a table discussing the format, logistics, and what people liked and didn't like from previous years. I also started asking them more questions about who would be in the seats.

This proved to be a key moment because, not only should you ask this question every time you plan an event, but that year was a turning point for the organization. The goals for this dinner were bigger because costs had risen, of course, but they were also gaining a bigger reputation in the area.

Previously, it had been friends, family, and close partners who attended the event. That year, however, they wanted to target new individuals and corporations. Essentially, they were ready to broaden their reach.

So, we had to start looking at everything fresh for that year's dinner. What had worked in the past might not work for a new crowd.

We revamped the sponsorship package, added a lot of cold leads to the potential sponsor list, and changed the format of the event to be more forward-thinking and informative, rather than using "insider" language as they had done before.

This new group of attendees might not be familiar with the different ministries under ADC's umbrella, or know why the work is important, or understand how their donations can effect people and programs all over the state. It was a big opportunity, and we didn't want to miss it.

I also created::

  • Positioning language for the sponsorship package, instead of it just be a list of benefits.
  • A formal sponsorship letter that anyone on the staff could use as a framework to solicit donations.
  • Talking points so that anyone who spoke about the dinner to a potential sponsor or donor could stay "on message," relaying the most important aspects of why the event was being held.
  • The language for the website and email/print newsletters, so that everything was aligned and on point.
  • A marketing plan for them to see the event strategically from start to finish, even if I wasn't around.
  • A press release to get the word out about the event's success after it was over, which could bring more eyes to their work, resulting in even more new supporters, donors, or partners.

The ministry also began working on ways they could highlight their uniqueness, as well as how it relates to the overall mission of the organization. We needed to clearly communicate how everything worked together. And it turned out to be a very cool, experiential element of the evening that they improve each year.

From the initial conversation to the wrap-up meeting, my goal was to bring a new level of professionalism to the event, and a fresh pair of eyes.

Don't get me wrong, their staff is outstanding at what they do, and they are relational to the core. (And a whole lot of fun!) But, like many small nonprofits, they struggled with systems and processes. Strategy wasn't the foundation of the event. 

We made a huge amount of progress that year—and it showed. Yes, the final fundraising tally was fantastic, but those who had previously attended their benefit dinners also noted how different everything felt. They had a great time, and were looking forward to the next one. That's definitely what you want to hear!

The staff also said that it was the most relaxed they'd felt at the benefit dinner. Each person knew their role, and were able to connect with sponsors and donors throughout the evening rather than running around putting out fires and pitching in on last-minute logistics. 

One of the other things I suggested to the team was that we not only ask for donations at the end of the event, which was already part of the plan, but we give attendees other ways to stay engaged and build deeper relationships with ADC throughout the year. This was important both for the die-hard fans and the people who were new to the mission.

You don't want to have a great event and captive audience, and then just say you'll see them next year. You want to give them a clear next step, and make it easy to take.

Our answer was to have staffed tables and flyers available in the lobby while people waited in line for valet service. This move gave attendees options for getting more involved with whichever ministry struck a chord with them that night, as well as opportunities to further utilize their time, resources, and funds to support the nonprofit.

DETERMINING SUCCESS

It's absolutely true that sales and donations are important. Those things keep the doors open and the lights on. And it's equally true that people have planned events with far less strategy and still seen great results.

But planning a successful event can be seen so many different ways:

  • Hitting bigger sales and revenue goals
  • Increasing attendance
  • Not driving your staff insane
  • Letting you sleep easier at night
  • Allowing your tribe to take the right, next steps with your organization

That's why I think strategy is the key to making your next event more successful. It certainly worked for Atlanta Dream Center, and I think it will work for you too.

 

“‘Exceed expectations’ is an overused expression with few who can document occasions when they actually did exceed expectations. Kristi Porter is one who can point to the work she did with the Atlanta Dream Center and accurately state that she exceeded all of our expectations. You will be well pleased with the results achieved by bringing Kristi onto your team.” - Mark Northcutt, Atlanta Dream Center

 



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

 After working on so many  events  over the years, both large and small, I believe there is a key factor we implemented during the event planning process that changed everything.So, if you're looking for event planning tips, this one's a doozy! Here's how to make your next event more successful than your last. (Hint: It's probably not what you think.)

 Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.