NGOs & Nonprofits, Tips

4 tips for better online actions

I’ve worked on a number of campaigns for NGOs and non-profits in the past and had the opportunity to look at what factors contribute to a successful campaign.

Over time I’ve developed a couple of criteria that I use to evaluate campaign ideas and communications methods. And in true web style, I’ve got a simple acronym to help remember them – PAMI: Personal, Actionable, Measurable and Integrated.


I feel a little bit like I’m channeling Anita Roddick here in saying this, but the research that I’ve read backs it up. For someone to take up a cause, they have to take it personally – that is, they need to have a personal connection to the issue. In essence, this is about answering the question “Why should I care?”.

The key to “making it personal” is to understand your audience. Not everyone is going to care about your cause – no matter how worthy it is or passionate you are about it. So understanding and focusing on the motivations of your audience is critical.

A target of “the general public” isn’t sufficient for this purpose; a much tighter definition of your audience is required.

Here we can take a leaf out of the marketer’s handbook and look to demographics for targeting. Alternatively it might be a geographic region (esp. useful if your cause is localised). A focus on the issues and interests of your audience is another possibility. Or, preferably, a combination of all three.

And remember, as we’ve discussed before, making the global local is easier than the local global. It’s much harder to engage a national audience to protect a local area unless you can make the connection between that area and their personal lives.


Once you’ve engaged a person on the issue – it’s then time for action. Providing a variety of actions for different folks who are at different phases along the participation journey is really powerful. But if your resources are limited, focus on easy actions – especially ones that can be fulfilled there and then, online.

Creatively executed online petitions (like Amnesty International Australia’s Message In A Bottle campaign – unfortunately no longer available to link to) are probably most effective. Make it easy for people to spread the word and tell their friends.

And be sure to ask permission to contact participants again in future about this and future actions – building a “permission asset” in the words of marketing guru Seth Godin. But do this appropriately and make sure you provide an easy way for participants to opt-out (and that you have the systems in place to ensure you can honour that).

Also consider how to appropriately ask for more information about your participants – this will keep your fundraisers happy :). By “appropriate” I mean: don’t ask unless the participant is getting value from divulging the information. One of the nice things about petitions is that you can ask for post code fairly easily, as it is relevant to the action’s ask.

If your resources can stretch to support other actions, all the better. Amnesty International USA’s Tear it down is a great example. At it’s heart it is a visual petition, but once you have signed up they provide plenty of ideas and methods for more passionate participants to spread the word and get involved in the campaign.

This is probably not the appropriate time to make a fundraising ask as you are likely to be at the beginning of your relationship with the participant, and you need to foster and develop that relationship over time. Consider how you will develop the relationship over time (and your organisation’s capacity to do so) and include that as part of your campaign plan, but resist the temptation too ask to early in their participation journey.

One last word of caution about petitions – participants may be reluctant to add their details if there’s no clear outcome to the petition. Make sure that you have clear PR and advocacy outcomes for your petition – a presentation to parliament, MPs or corporate CEO (depending on your target); a public stunt/event etc. And make this outcome clear on your petition – otherwise you may be suspected of just harvesting names for marketing purposes.


This point can actually be broken down into two sub-parts:

  1. Providing visibility to the participant as to how their involvement has helped
  2. Providing visibility to your organisation how the action is performing.

Visibility to the participant

When a participant engages with your campaign, part of the reward is knowing that their action, even small, is making a difference. I like to call this “the amplification effect” – demonstrating how their individual action is amplified through collective action.

Look for creative ways to do this. Both of the Amnesty campaigns I mentioned above demonstrate this principle very effectively, and in very different ways – and both use the effect to encourage your participants to spread the word and thus grow the campaign.

And remember to use inclusive language – thank the participants for their help; tell them what they have achieved by participating in the campaign – it’s not about you, it’s about them. Show them you truly appreciate their effort, however small.

Visibility to your organisation

Use the free Google Analytics (GA) statistics package to measure activity on the site. Be sure to take the extra time to set up goals within GA for your campaign to track your conversion rates. Measure how many people make it to the action page, and how many people go on to complete the action.

Tweak your action – the copy, perhaps the layout of your forms – to see how small changes influence conversion rate (do this methodically and over time – don’t make changes every day unless your volume is significant and try to limit to one or two changes at a time so you can get visibility of which tweaks are working and which aren’t).

And lastly measure your overall traffic, referring sites etc. to evaluate how your marketing efforts are going. If you are planning to use print materials, consider using unique URLs for each component of your print campaign to evaluate which medium and creative is working best.


Lastly, consider how your action complements your other online and offline campaign activity. The most effective campaigns I’ve seen have strong online and offline components.

And make sure you have a longer-term plan for how you will continue to engage participants once they’ve signed up and given you permission to contact them. Contact them shortly after they’ve signed up (< 1 month) and then regularly after that initial contact to let them know how the campaign is progressing.

This regular and timely contact is critical – not doing so dramatically increases the risk of your campaign emails being treated as spam by your participants, but also risks alienating the participant: “Well I signed up to do more but I haven’t heard from them. Mayby I’ll go somewhere else to participate.”

As I mentioned earlier, if you integrate these communications with a longer-term fundraising conversion strategy, you may also use certain opportunities to make a direct ask, or at least to progress them along the participation journey towards become a donor.


The PAMI approach has evolved over time, and I suspect/expect it will continue to evolve. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments of this post.