Winning the Internet

How to launch your organization online

After a great run, the Winning the Internet blog has been retired. However, you can still keep in touch with New Media Mentors here.






It’s spring, and it’s the season of new growth and renewal! Whether you’re a rather famous political leader running for President, or a future Executive Director launching a brand new organization, here’s some tips to make it a successful one.

The phase between “thinking about it” and launching is crucial. What you do now can give you the boost you need for a successful launch.

1. Your list is the heart muscle of your organization. So strengthen and build it as much as you can before you launch.

I’m talking about your list of donors, prospects, volunteers and supporters.

Even if you’re starting from scratch, you have a list: your friends, family, coworkers etc. Now is the time to be combing through stacks of business cards and inputting the info, getting your personal email address book, work email address book, and your cellphone contacts all synched. You’ll wind up using at least parts of this list for your announcement email (filter out the people who wouldn’t be interested), and also potentially for initial fundraising call time sessions to fund your organization.

If you’re not on LinkedIn, get on there and start building your professional network. It’s a great way to get current contact info from people you may have worked with years ago but lost touch with. (And, pssst, you can download your contacts’ email addresses via LinkedIn, which you cannot really do with Twitter or Facebook. Note that you can download name/email/company via LinkedIn but you cannot mass download phone #s and addresses – you’ll need to spend some time on LinkedIn copying that info down by hand, just like with Facebook.)

Reach out to other sympathetic non-profit organizations. Maybe they will be willing to give you a boost by emailing their list about your launch, or at least they can give you a social media assist.

If you’re resuscitating a former org, try to reactivate any old digital properties or lists that were around previously.

Now is also the time to get on Twitter and Facebook, if you are not yet already, and get active to build out your social media contacts. Read more ideas from our list building guide for campaigns and non-profits.

2. Claim your name online. Buy your domain names now. If you develop some momentum, squatters could grab your domain and refuse to give it back unless you pay expensive prices. Or your issue-based opponents could buy it, which is worse. So buy them now.

What domains should you get? Get combinations of your issues (possibly with misspellings, or just the different common phrasings in use), and be sure to purchase the trifecta of common urls: .com/net/org. Domains are cheap but not buying a domain can be costly. The last thing you want is to save $10 by not buying a similar .com, only to have your opponents put up an attack-site a few weeks later. Read more from our search engine optimization guide for political campaigns and non-profits.

Hopefully your organizational name is easy to spell. If it isn’t, be sure to buy misspellings. And perhaps use a simplified URL when you’re giving speeches.

For an organization, think about what combination of issues people will be searching on. Don’t forget about synonyms. Domains are relatively cheap, you can always redirect some of them to your main domain.

3. Get a professional logo. Get it done right, at the beginning, and it will help with branding and last you for years. Make sure to get high res and vector versions you can use for mail and print. It’s worth investing in the thing people will most associate with your organization, other than your name, as you develop your visual identity.

4. Get set up to accept online donations. Lots of options here from ActBlue to even PayPal that are free, or use a full CRM like NGP VAN, Salsa, BSD, NationBuilder. But you must have a way to process credit cards online when you launch, or you are leaving money on the table.

5. Get set up with mass email software. You need a way to email the hundreds (hopefully eventually thousands or tens of thousands) of people in your network about your organization. If you have no money, look at MailChimp — if you have some money, the CRMs under #4 above. They are systems built specifically for activist non-profits, something cobbled together built for private industry is just not going to work as well for your unique needs. Also the pricing is pretty affordable for non-profits too. Make sure whatever you use will track metrics like email opens and clicks, and donations too, so you can see how well your emails perform over time.

6. Have a simple splash page up on your website at a minimum when you launch. it should say a little bit about the organization, have a donate button (see #4), email sign up (see #5), and social media links at a minimum. Possibly also a volunteer signup, if you will be needing volunteers right away or need help to get your organization going.

That’s enough to get you started and you can work on a full website later, when your organization has money. When you’re ready for that, check out our guide to a successful website for campaigns and non-profits!

8. Get ready for launch day.

You want to be able to pull the trigger on all this stuff more or less simultaneously on launch day, with no dropped balls. So it will take some prep work beforehand.

You’ll need to have your social media accounts set up (make sure they’re private until launch day), have your website or splash page ready (but not public) and donation processing set up.

You should write your launch email and have it ready to send to your full list the day you kick off. (Note that perhaps your launch email should ask people to become fans on social media and/or spread the word about your organization on line, to help grow your base… or maybe the first email should ask for money, you can best judge your organization’s hierarchy of needs.)

You need to get your press release ready, and build your list of press contacts ahead of time so you have somebody to send it to.

Don’t forget outreach to appropriate national issue bloggers, state and local bloggers as relevant, and online personalities who care about your issue with large social media followings! UniteBlue.org can be a great way to find progressives on Twitter in your state.

Good luck! Having all the pieces together will mean a smooth launch, lots of money and supporters raised, and good press — NOT bad for the beginning of a new organization.

If you’ve got the budget, you could also drop a little bit of online advertising in support of your new organization: Google adwords for people searching for you (it will take awhile for it to show up at the top of organic search results, so AdWords can be very important at launch), and social media advertising to build up your social media support base quickly.

A version of this post was originally published on the PowerThru blog: Running for office or a new organization? How to successfully launch online.


About Laura Packard

I'm a partner at PowerThru Consulting. We're a new media consulting firm for progressive non-profits & political campaigns. We'll help you build a winning strategy online.