What small non-profits can learn from The Gates Foundation

a blog post by Jill Freeman

Social media was buzzing last week with the arrival of the 2014 Gates Annual Letter .  Certainly an organization of this size has a sophisticated marketing strategy and team in place to help make any communication go viral, so that was no surprise. What did strike me was how an ‘annual letter’ could be so engaging, and how the tools and strategies they used are applicable to organizations of any size.

First, it had good writing without too much jargon. Second, it was interspersed with personal stories that convey the passion of the two individuals who happen to be running the foundation.  Third, readers could absorb the material in multiple ways: video, picture, graph and print.  And finally, trusted friends were enlisted to reinforce core ideas about the work and where the Gates Foundation’s strategy fits within the larger ecosystem. So don’t let their scale fool you. The basic elements that made the letter so compelling can be employed by organizations of any size.

Good writing still wins, so start here and enlist your colleagues to edit. Then think about your work and consider ways to use visual tools to bring your challenges, your success, your progress and daily grind to life – and share it!

Notice that in the first video, Bill Gates is sitting at a white desk in an empty office, holding a sketch book with two hand drawn graphs that he discusses for 90 seconds. Certainly we all can do this with the help of a smart phone, some decent lighting, and maybe a willing colleague itching to use their oration skills.  And now you have an interesting visual to share on the social media platform of your choice. (Rule of thumb to note is that on average, videos are shared 12 times more often than text and links).

And though all of the social media platforms can be overwhelming, they are here to stay and are becoming one of the most cost-effective ways to engage with your network.  Instagram’s growth is faster than Facebook’s was, and Pinterest sends more traffic to outside websites than Twitter, so get in the habit of using that photo/camera/video weekly, if not daily, and you’ll soon have some content to work with.  And if you have the capacity and budget to hire a pro like our own Erik Johnson, then give us a call and we’d be glad to help!

But until then, pick a platform or two to try, and then revisit the Gates Foundation letter to see how they used relatively simple techniques.  We can’t wait to see the results!