non-profit

Marketing Monday: Project Unbreakable

Domestic violence is a cause pretty close to my heart, for a mainly selfish reason.

I (at one point) thought I was too smart, too straight-forward, too butt-kicking to be in an abusive relationship. It was years ago since it happened but I still remember the yelling, the put downs, and one fateful night, a shove against a wall. He left the apartment and I felt small and powerless. I remember calling my parents (they were super calm and helpful). I hung up the phone and looked into the darkness, vowing to myself I’d never be there again and, if it were in my power, if I got out of this, I would do everything I could to keep even just one other person out of that situation.

I really appreciate all the work the internet has done, in particular in the last year, to really putting domestic violence, sexism, and harassment out in the open. Because let’s face it, no one starts by just walking up to a woman and hitting her or worse. There is an escalation… and an acceptance that turns into actions.

This video (where a woman is repeatedly harassed while walking in New York City) shows that it doesn’t matter what you wear, where you go, how much education you have, or anything else that we live in a society that treats women as objects: to be looked at, commented on, and even acted on at times.

And while it’s nice to wear purple and donate to charities that support anti-abuse programs, there is something really powerful about sharing your story and showing the world ‘this happened to me too.’ Not only the individual stories but the sheer number of people can produce change, in small and large ways.

This step can affect your friends and family… but most people don’t want to start a whole website about an abusive incident, several incidences, or a relationship. There is power in collecting these stories and sharing them with each other on a website and/or social media account already set aside for the purpose.

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Project Unbreakable has done just that. With their Tumblr blog, website, Twitter account, Instagram account, and Facebook page, they are accepting submissions of photos and sharing them with the world.

What I like is not only can the victims share what their abusers have said (as long or as short a quote as they want), they can also decide whether to show their faces or not.

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In our bite sized, social media world, the message is short and clear. Also women (mainly women are victims anyway), are getting supportive comments through the sharing of their story:

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As a visual share, we are able to connect with victims from identifying with their surroundings to identifying with a phrase, even if it is written in another language (the caption is usually translated into English).



The popularity of this group has allowed it not only to fundraise and grow for itself but has made it visible enough to partner with other websites like Buzzfeed to increase the general awareness of domestic violence.

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And whether submitting directly to Project Unbreakable itself or using the hashtag, people can take part in the message:

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No matter what cause is most dear to you, whether it’s animal rights, the rain forests, or anything else, we’d like to encourage you to not only get involved in the way of donating and volunteering with these organizations but follow them online and help them spread their message by contributing your part to the story. Use a hashtag or submit your idea to the organization itself. Yes you are just one voice but by connecting with others, you are creating powerful forces for good.

Why I Don’t Volunteer Web Work

About a year ago, I made a policy that I don’t do volunteer work related to my field. And I told people.

I will gladly get in a lobster suit for charity, I just won't do anything that involves a computer. (This isn't me, but I did offer to do it.)

I will gladly get in a lobster suit for charity, I just won’t do anything that involves a computer. (This isn’t me, but I did offer to do this. Just for the record.)

99% of people totally got it… and some even said it was a ‘great idea’.  About 1% don’t say anything (and secretly think I am a jerk I’m sure).

Note that the lack of volunteer work is in my field only. I will happily lug boxes for the food pantry. I will help clean my church during spring cleanup. My help just doesn’t come in the form of a website, blog, social media, or email newsletter.



There are a few solid reasons for that:

1) Less time at the computer. For someone who once had carpal tunnel and tendonitis in both arms, being at a computer 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week is enough for my body. More seems like asking for trouble.

2) Get to do/learn new stuff. Although I get to problem solve all day, it’s fun to solve a completely not-typical-for-me problem or learn to do something completely new. Sometimes this knowledge (like taking on credit card processing for the MDI Seafood Festival) ends up being helpful in my daily work, though sometimes it doesn’t. I’m fine with either.

3) Heads off bad leads. The other day at Rotary, one of the other members said to me, ‘This non-profit was asking me about you because they need a cheap website and I told them you don’t do volunteer work.’ I could have kissed her. If I am going to lose money on a project (and I’ve gone over why websites cost what they do and why social media marketing costs money), I don’t want to do it as part of the business.



4) It’s not fair. For awhile, my policy was to do three volunteer projects a year. If you hadn’t gotten to me in January, basically it was a no go. But ‘you helped so and so’ worked against me when I said no to a new volunteer project. So even though I helped three organizations FOR FREE, I was still being guilted. Now to give you an idea of the workload, there are more than 400+ non-profits on the island I live on. Just the island itself. Add to that my actual family and friends who don’t make a ton of money who I’d like to help and you see a workload I could never take on for a reduced rate, let alone for free. So I just charge everyone the same so no one can feel slighted.

5) People don’t value what they can get for free. I once volunteered for a very big website project for a non-profit that had ‘no money’. It took over 100 hours of my time and made the lives of all involved easier. I took phone calls nights and weekends. I came on site three times for staff training. Three years after, when they had a budget for a website redesign, did they come to me for a bid? Nope, they went straight to a competitor. I was mad, not because I didn’t get the project but because I wasn’t even considered for the job. My theory: when you get it for free, you don’t value it, even if it is awesome. Paying for something means thinking about what you want… and the time involved for someone else to do it. Both of these mean the person is happier with the end product, even if it is actually crappier.

6) I have a big enough portfolio. When someone tells me their project could ‘build my portfolio’, I have to smile. I’ve been doing this six years. I’ve helped build over 100 websites. I have worked with over 300 companies and non-profits with online marketing. (P.S. It’s kind of condescending to a professional to imply they need to build their portfolio, especially when you have not looked into their actual past work.) Every paid project I’ve ever done has helped build my portfolio, and will continue to do so. Volunteering is something I do for good, not to further my business.

So if you are looking for a cheap or free website, I suggest you go elsewhere… but if you have insulation you need sprayed in the crawlspace of your homeless shelter or want some bread baked for your cocktail party fundraiser for the local skate park, I’m actually pretty good at those things too.



How To Make A Good RFP

When larger organizations or businesses put a web design project (or other projects) out to bid, they often make an RFP (request for proposals) that they email to prospective candidates or post online somewhere. This includes basically a summary of what they are looking for. Then if someone is interested in bidding, they can write a proposal based on the criteria and submit it for consideration.

As someone who reads a lot of RFPs and occasionally consults people on how to write them, I thought now might be a good time for a blog post about them from a designer’s perspective (writing proposals/bids with them in mind). I use the example of website design but some of these can apply to any RFP.

Think ahead.

When you are in an industry where you do subcontract work, you have to line up work months ahead of when you’ll actually do it. Because you have to build in time for the projects you already have going on, the stuff you’ve promised people you will do, and any sporatic stuff that may come up for inactive clients. It’s a balancing act.

Just to give you an idea, I’m bidding on work I’ll do in July. So think of approaching your RFP process before your busy season, for your sanity and your designer’s sake.

Creating an RFP will make sure you are comparing apples to apples. 

I once lost a job for a restaurant website. I somehow got to see the winning bid afterward. It did not include putting their menu online, making a mobile friendly version of the site, and other (I thought) necessary items for the website that I had included in my more expensive proposal. Clearly the person making the decision had just went to the bottom of each bid sheet and looked at the final number.

Different web designers think different things are necessary. Different clients think different things are necessary. The only way to put everyone on the same page and fairly compare bids is to write an RFP including your requirements, your timeline, your budget, and anything else you want considered in your website design. Yes, it is worth taking the time to do because you will get what you want in the end. Because you’ll have asked for it.

Focus on what you want in terms of functionality. 

As my friend and virtual coworker Matt Baya would say, we have to bake the cake (put the content and functionality into a website) before we ice it (design it).

Now content on websites had been made relatively easy by content management systems like Joomla, Wordpress, and Drupal. I can probably show your board, staff, and you how to update content on your website in about an hour once it’s online. (But if you are doing a responsive site, your designer will need all the content going on the website up front.)

The ‘hard’ part of website development though is how the site will function. Do you need a bilingual website? A website that updates from a real estate data feed? A form that populates a spreadsheet? These functional things will take up a majority of your website designer’s time. If you want an interactive map, business directory, ad spaces with the ability for advertisers to log in and change those ads themselves… these are the things to put in your RFP to get a true quote.

Good, fast, or cheap, pick two. 

Speaking of this, make sure to communicate priority of each item. If you want a $4000 website with a ton of functionality done in four weeks, it’s not going to happen. I mean I want to marry a millionaire sushi chef who does supermodeling on the side and loves cleaning my house. (Just kidding, Derrick.) But you get my point right?

If you have a tight timeline and a limited budget, you’ll need to give up some functional requirements. If you have a limited budget and want a website ‘like the New York Times’ (I have actually heard this before), you’ll need to work on a longer timeline with someone who’s probably very busy with other projects.

In your RFP, let people know what your main concern is…. and don’t feel bad that it’s your budget. Just say so up front.

Everyone wants a ‘nice clean’ design, instead ask about design process and example work.


I would be shocked (well actually really amused)  if anyone told me they wanted an awful, cluttered design for their new website. Everyone wants a clean design that’s modern, like Apple’s website. (Three different clients have told me this exact example.)

But here’s a common thing I’ve seen. People will show me their brochures, business cards, sign, pictures of their store and then they’ll show me a website they like that looks *nothing* like their brand that they want me to make for them. This is where there has to be some meeting of the minds because your website should look like your brand. Maybe just in a more modern way then your 10 year old brochure can.

If it were me, I’d trust the firm you choose to come up with something for using any materials you have to give them, assuming you like other designs they did for people. Ask to see their portfolio and ask about their design process rather than specifying design in the RFP. If you like the firm’s past work and their process, you’ll end up with a design you like, trust me.

Asking for things like spec designs before you award the project is like trying to eek free work out of us, not cool.

If you seem high maintenance, we will stay away. 

There are little clues in your proposal that will make spending the four hours I’ll take to write it not worth the effort, mainly if it seems like you will be a giant pain in our butt.

I may write another blog post on this sometime but let’s just say if you are asking me to jump through a lot of hoops to get to a project, it makes me think you don’t want a partner to create an amazing website but instead someone who will kiss your butt. If we are going to have an open honest dialogue together and I am going to work really hard for you, this is not a healthy dynamic to start with. I promise not to be a drama queen if you can promise the same!

So to summarize, writing an RFP is totally worth it if you want a website to look like and work like you want with your main criteria met. It also makes sure that as you are comparing different design firms that you have more of a fair even basis to do so.

Marketing Monday: Your Ideas Please

I’ve had a tough sell recently and I thought I’d take it to the Breaking Even Blog readers.

A local small business counselor who sees a lot of people come through his office told me he is skeptical about social media/online marketing working for small businesses in rural Maine.

I highlight examples of businesses doing this well every week with the Marketing Monday feature on this blog. That said, I could use some small businesses, particularly in rural areas, using blogging, email newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, Youtube, and other online promotion techniques to communicate with customers and increase sales. Bonus points if the business is in Maine.

Please share your idea(s) below! Thanks for your help and ideas!

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Marketing Monday: Walking For Art and Immigrants

Every Monday, I talk about an individual, group, or business doing something neat marketing online. Have an internet marketing idea you’d like me to write about? Let me know!

You know you haven’t been your usual blogging self when you are only posting twice a week (three times if you include a regular guest post at another blog). I have been busy business-wise (more on that this Thursday) which means that all my creative energy has gone into ideas for other people and at the end of the day, I’m reduced to a heap of Peep-eating, reality show watching woman.

My friend Sarah A., as if my blog idea angel, sent me a great email idea this morning for Marketing Monday.

Matt Holt is “Walking for Art,” through-hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise awareness and funds (through trail sponsorships) for New Sense Studios, an art program for at-risk youth in Raleigh, NC that is completely volunteer-run. The Will Walk for Art website is http://walkingforart.wordpress.com/. + Read More

Marketing Monday: Unnamed Animal Shelter

Every Monday, a post about websites, web promotions, and how to do it well. Let me know if you have an idea!

I was going to write about something else entirely until the task of transporting 25 pounds of cuteness consumed my life.

To be clear, let’s take a look at what all this work has been for:

Corky the Corgi mix, whose life and name will forever be awesomer, if I could just get her within 250 miles of me.

*Sigh* Ok, that was helpful. And gives this whole situation perspective.

Regular readers may be aware that I had to put my dog down in January. She was 15 years old and I had watched her slow decline for almost an entire year. As someone who lives alone and works at home, I’ve missed the companionship of an animal. And while I am not expecting another Sadie (who was irreplaceable), I know my new dog will add a lot to my life… if only there wasn’t the slightest issue.

Corky the Corgi lives in Georgia. And I live in Maine. (Unrelated: Yes, I am changing her corny little name the second I get her.)

I have spent days investigating how I can get this animal to where I am, and would like to offer the folks who run animal shelters a few tips to help people adopt more animals, as I have been ridiculously patient throughout this process in a way that others might not be.

If you’re going to offer it, be ready to know what that entails, and how much it costs.

On the front page of the shelter’s website, they say transport is available to the northeast. The transporter I talked to (an affiliate of but not exactly connected to the shelter) could only get my dog to Rhode Island. Last I checked, there is still a lot of the northeast to go after RI.

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