Kivi Leroux Miller is a successful consultant, trainer and blogger on nonprofit communications. She leads weekly webinars from her website. She also is the author of The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause. The interview was conducted by Don Akchin, a principal of Nonprofit Marketing 360 and a frequent contributor to the MKCREATIVE blog.
MKC: What was your goal when you started the blogging?
KIVI: My goal from the beginning has really been to help the small nonprofit organizations that don’t have the money to hire staff or to hire big consulting firms, but because of the Internet – especially – can do some very powerful things with just a little bit of time and a little bit of creativity. The blog is just a really easy way to get that kind of content out there. On the business side, it’s been phenomenal for my search engine optimization. I say I owe 90% of the traffic to the blog.
MKC: You mentioned that you were focused on the small shop. Have you been there, or is there some other reason you prefer that group?
KIVI: I’ve definitely been there. That’s where I have my nonprofit experience as a staff member, and I’ve been on multiple boards of small organizations, volunteered a lot, and consulted with a lot of those small groups. I have so much more fun with the smaller organizations. They need more help, but they can also be more nimble in some ways and actually do the things we talk about. I like being able to talk to the person who’s not only going to decide but also is the one I will actually work with to make things happen.
MKC: What is it that keeps your clients awake at night? What are the big issues they have?
KIVI: I think the biggest, that I hear over and over, is just having so many options before them for communication, and not having (a) enough experience to know which choices to make and which to leave aside, and (b) enough time to feel like they can do any of it very well. This has always been true, but it’s really true now with social media. People feel like they’re supposed to be everywhere, and they don’t know how to do it. They know that Facebook and Twitter are not the same thing, but they don’t really and truly understand enough about the differences to come up with a strategy for how to use those tools. They’re doing all this stuff, and they’re not sure why.
Most nonprofit staff believe in what they’re doing. They’re not getting paid well enough to do it just for the sake of doing it. They want to do a good job, and it’s hard to do a good job if you don’t know what are the right things to do and you don’t have the skills to do them correctly.
MKC: What advice do you give small nonprofits about investing in social media?
KIVI: First I tell them to go play with it on a personal level so you get comfortable with the tool before you start to do it at work. Then, when you do it at work, have some simple goals in mind. What are you trying to do? Are you trying to get more people to volunteer for your organization? Are you more interested in them understanding your cause? What is it that you really want more people to do? I try to get people to focus on that call to action, because so many times people want to talk about, ‘Well, we just want to do outreach, we just want to raise awareness,’ and I find that frustrating and useless for many organizations. So I say, ‘Okay, when people are aware and educated, then what? What do you want people to do? Certainly not sit on their couch feeling educated.’ By getting them to home in on a call to action, then they can start to build more of a strategy.
Plenty of research shows that education is not enough to motivate behavior change. We are all very well educated about the health effects of lots of things we do in our lives that are not particularly healthy for us, and yet we’re still drinking too much, not sleeping enough, not exercising enough. It’s not a lack of education; it’s a lack of motivation. So education is great, it’s a first step, but it’s not enough for what most nonprofits are on the earth to do, which is, typically, change behavior in some way.
MKC: That sounds like advice that would work for the traditional media as well.
KIVI: Absolutely. Social media is not that different as a communications channel when you’re talking about strategy and audience and message. There certainly are a lot of things that are different about it tactically and how you use it and what you say, but your goals really aren’t that different.
MKC: How about your own business and social media? How have you found those tools to work for you?
KIVI: I consider blogging to be a form of social media. Blogging is very much a key part of our strategy. We do auto-posts of the blog to Twitter and Facebook, an approach that I know some people don’t subscribe to, but I’ve looked at the data and it works for us. A lot of the content we put on Facebook and Twitter is related to the blog. I try to follow some of the other big voices in the field and share information from them. I try to use Facebook primarily as a place to answer questions, especially after webinars.
MKC: How did your book come about? Had you always wanted to do a book?
KIVI: I had. I guess that’s the writer in me. But I didn’t know that I would, and I sort of used the blog as my own private testing ground to see if I could write about enough stuff and write about it consistently enough. I think I’d been blogging for at least two years when I met Katya Andresen for the first time. She and I had connected online a little bit, and she came to North Carolina to speak at a conference, and so we met over coffee. She published what I thought was the first easy-to-read . I said I really am thinking about writing a book, I don’t know, and she just sort of gave me the kick in the pants right there. She said, you should really do it and you should do it now, and I’m going to introduce you to people at Jossey-Bass/Wiley and I’ll introduce you to my agent. She kind of made it happen. She opened the doors for me and I walked through them and that was it.
MKC: How do you manage this empire? You’re publishing, you’re training, you’re consulting, you’re doing webinars, you’re doing workshops. Are you doing a couple of other things now at the same time we’re having this conversation?
KIVI: (laughing) I am not, believe it or not. You have my 110% focus.
MKC: But does it seem like you’re doing a tremendous amount, or is that my imagination?
KIVI: No, I’m doing a tremendous amount. It probably seems like a lot more than it is. I’ve gotten pretty good at taking some of my own advice about repurposing content and really thinking about content from start to finish in terms of how you use it, how you put it out there and how you repurpose it. Well over half of the webinar series are technically repeats, although I usually spend at least half an hour updating each deck. I’ve got a good system in place. The first two years were brutal because I was creating so much original content, and every webinar was a new one. But I have something like 40 or 50 different webinar decks at this point, so I don’t start from scratch too much anymore.
MKC: Are you the only person in the business, or do you have a fleet of assistants?
KIVI: I have one assistant, my sister Kristina, who works 20 hours a week. Kristina does all the customer service, so when people have trouble – they can’t get their credit card to work, they can’t find their login for the webinar, they’ve lost their link for the e-book, which are daily occurrences – she does all of that now. There are parts of the system that I don’t even know how to do anymore, because I taught her how to do them a year ago and I let it go out of my brain. That’s been wonderful! And then she also helps with some of the marketing too. I could not do this without her any longer.
MKC: Do you have any other general advice for nonprofits?
KIVI: I’m really encouraging people to experiment right now. I think more than any other time in recent history, it’s okay to just try something now. And if it flops, you learn from it and move on, and you don’t do that again or you do it differently. If you need an excuse, you can blame it on the economy, you can blame it on your just learning social media. But just trying something new and different is going to be the best way to cut through all the clutter and really stand out.
Guest blogger Don Akchin writes frequently about marketing and philanthropy at donakchin.com.
This interview series is produced with the generous support of the Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Zone.