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How to write a year-end fundraising email that actually works

I’ve written tons of emails in the last few years, and my favourite email appeals always go out at the end of the year. It’s the perfect time to connect with your supporters, reflect on the past, and ask them to invest in the year that will come.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve helped different organizations with their year-end fundraising appeals. I wanted to share a few best practices you can use to build better relationships and increase donations.

The Ask
The most important part of your holiday appeal is the donation ask. There should only be one ask, and it should be clear what you want people to do. Clarity provides donors with confidence and, in my experience, results in more donations.

As the ask is the primary reason for the email, it should be featured prominently throughout the email. When I was writing holiday appeals, I always made sure that the ask was a bold link after a first short paragraph. I would also circle back to the ask in the last paragraph and even throw another mention into the P.S.

People like people
Your holiday appeal emails should always come from a human. People like receiving emails from people – not from organizations. When writing your year-end emails, think about the person in your organization your supporters would prefer to hear from - it’s likely your ED, a program lead, or the board chair. People love to give money to humans when humans ask for money.

Subject lines
Your subject line is the most important sentence in your entire email. It is the one that will determine (in combination with the name of the sender) whether your email will be opened or relegated to the virtual dust bin of history. You can spend hours and hours of organizational time crafting the perfect email, but if you just quickly scribble the first subject line that springs to mind, all of this effort will be for naught...so, get creative – your supporters are waiting.

Here’s a sample template for a successful year-end email:

Para 1 - A compelling intro (3 lines/sentences max)
ASK - Include direct link to donate page
Para 2 - Expand on compelling message in first paragraph  (3-5 sentences max)
Para 3 - Case study/example/social proof that gives people the feels (3-5 sentences)
Para 4 - Why support is important + ask link again (3 sentences)
PS - Yep, ask again :)

Wishing you the best of luck in your final push of 2014! 

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Faith Driven Consumer's fast growing community

FDC.jpgHow Faith Driven Consumer grew from a small group of supporters to a national movement.

When Chris Stone set out to create a new kind of digital community in the summer of 2013, he had big goals. “There are more than 41 million consumers in the U.S. whose faith informs their daily decisions in the marketplace. We wanted to leverage the latest technology to provide real-time, relevant information and empower our community to make their voices heard,” said Stone. And while Chris and his team at Faith Driven Consumer were focused and ready, they needed to figure out an integrated way to make it all happen.  

After comparing a variety of software solutions, it seemed nothing could handle the scale and engagement they needed for this project. “But, then we found NationBuilder and it was the obvious choice," said Stone. 

Using NationBuilder for everything from their website to their database and communications, Faith Driven Consumer began rallying their supporters. They created campaigns to give voice to people of faith and used surveys to better understand their community. And with communication tools like texting, email and phone lists, it was easy for supporters to start engaging with the fast-growing community.

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In less than a year, the Faith Driven Consumer team has turned a small group of supporters into a national movement of empowered consumer activists. “Tens of thousands have even volunteered to help out,” said Stone. “Now, it’s a vibrant, rapidly growing digital movement that’s demonstrating real influence in the retail and entertainment marketplaces.”

Faith Driven Consumer and its community have weighed in on a wide range of nationally prominent topics from Duck Dynasty to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Hobby Lobby, to major Hollywood blockbusters like NOAH and EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS. They have been featured in thousands of news outlets including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, Fox News ChannelCNN, Variety, The Drudge Report, The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, US News and World Report, The Blaze, AdWeek, The Christian Post, The Daily Caller, ABC News, The Chicago Tribune and many more.

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Improvements to page preview tools

Creating a website is hard. Getting it right is even harder. Is the font right? Is the alignment off? We understand how difficult it can be and want to make it easy for you to preview and see recent site changes. In that spirit, here are two changes rolling out today that will help you get your NationBuilder pages and sites looking clean and polished.

New page preview

We want to give you an idea of exactly how your page will look on your website, so we're rolling out a new, full-page, preview feature. You can use the toolbar at the top to select the theme, page, and login status you'd like to preview.

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If something doesn't look quite right, click the "Edit page template" link to make changes. It will redirect you right back to your template in the control panel.  You'll also see a similar tool in the theme preview section, with a link to edit your theme selection or custom theme files.

New page statuses

Sometimes when you create a page you don't want it to be available on your public site right away. Now we have a new page status—'hidden'—for just that purpose. Hidden pages will not be visible on your site at alleven from a direct link. They'll only be available in the preview tool for control panel users with specific edit permissions for those pages. To eliminate confusion, we've renamed the 'draft' status to 'unlisted'those pages will still be available through direct links, but will not be listed on your website.

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Galvanize your political party

When Barack Obama's campaign set out to build the best digital and data operations in the history of politics, they changed the game forever. Despite the heralded success of their effort, their work was incomplete. Data created by online interactions and social networks couldn't be distributed to the field level of the campaign. And the "plumbing" of their system couldn't be used by anyone else.

NationBuilder solved those problems. When we released NationBuilder Match in Feb 2013, the game changed again for political infrastructure builders at all levels. It became possible to have a completely integrated data and communications system: voter data, social media interactions, donation info, volunteer records, full CRM, and full website tools all in one place. Organizers at all levels could know everything about their supporters, turnout, and persuasion universes in one place.

Since then NationBuilder has expanded into 98 countries and become the dominant political party top-to-bottom organizing tool. Entire political parties in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia have adopted the platform. Test cases for state caucuses in US battlegrounds have shown simply having NationBuilder to result in a 5 point bounce for candidates. And local parties finally have a product they can afford and use easily.

We believe that online and data tools should bring political leaders closer to the electorate. The beauty of advanced technology lies, ironically, in technology's ability to build more and deeper in-person relationships for a political organizer. Here's our roadmap for building a political infrastructure that is rich in leadership and community bonds. That's how democracy works best.

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Building political infrastructure for 2016

will_conway.jpgCombine ever-changing targets with overstressed and under-appreciated volunteers, and I think we can all agree the last six weeks of a campaign are mayhem.

This rings true especially for coordinated campaigns. Political action committees, caucuses and state and local parties manage the expectations of local leaders, allocate resources and ensure each candidate is getting exactly what they need to succeed.

The rest right after election is a crucial window to think about more than what could have been. It’s a time to use the data that came in during the whirlwind of the last election cycle to build the infrastructure for the future of your organization. What follows is an outline for state and county parties, PACs, and caucuses looking to use NationBuilder to build a long-term, lasting infrastructure – both in the field and online – to endure through 2016 and beyond.

1.     Figure out square one

Your campaigns left you with all sorts of valuable information that can be incredibly helpful for building the foundation of a strong political infrastructure. Now is the time to start compiling what you have.

A lot of really interesting things happen during the campaign that, until recently, would have been lost in 2014 – but not anymore. NationBuilder’s Twitter bio keyword searches and tagging Facebook posts changes everything. Now, you can keep track of the posts your supporters like and share on Facebook, and the things your followers are telling you on Twitter. Did a person like a candidate’s posts about education? Did he mention in his Twitter bio that he’s a teacher? If so, we are just one direct message away from a new issue-driven leader. 

You collect a ton of information outside of social media, too. Those lists of emails, donors, and volunteers should be imported into your nation immediately. And I hope you were using our new scannable walksheets during GOTV, because your volunteers collected great information that wasn’t utilized during the mad scramble of October. Survey responses and petition signatures are a valuable starting place in rebuilding, especially in districts where candidates lost close races. New integrations with data vendors can allow you to instantly layer in outside data and analytics, providing for even more precise messaging.

2.     Ask local leaders to lead

Done right, a well-run coordinated campaign gives local leaders the resources of a massive statewide campaign, and offers the central establishment real-time insight and individual relationships that can only be fostered locally. But coordinated efforts – frequently headed by state parties and leadership PACs – tend to struggle with the balance between local leadership and centralized power.

NationBuilder’s new tag sharing can help strike the right balance. Local leadership – whether in the form of state representatives and senators or town parties – can build their own nations, grow their own relationships, and create their own communities. Then, they can choose to share specific information with central leadership. The opposite is also true: state party or PAC leadership can maintain an engaged group of active donors, volunteers and supporters, and share only information they want with local leaders when necessary. The technology is now capable of supporting the political reality, as opposed to forcing an all-or-none proposition. 

Most importantly, the political off-season is a time to get everyone on the same page. The leaders and supporters you identified in the first section of this article are perfect prospects for trainings on best practices in using NationBuilder, establishing strategy, and crafting messaging. Create regional events and blast email invitations for training sessions to potential leaders in each community. This way, everyone knows their role and knows exactly what to do in the heat of campaign season next cycle. 

3.     Meet people where they are

You have compiled your resources and identified and trained your leaders. Now, it’s time to start rebuilding the movement. Not only does NationBuilder allow you to keep track of your data and identify the issues people care about, but it also helps you learn how people want to interact. 

Until recently, there were just three ways to talk to people: in person, by phone and by mail. Technology has given us plenty more, and NationBuilder has allowed us to organize all of our engagement and feedback in one system. We can now craft content for websites, email, text, and direct message on social media, in addition to traditional communication. More importantly, we can keep track of how everyone responded in all those different manners.

The crucial next step is thinking creatively about how your people responded to your interactions and meeting them where they are. Do you have a universe of people who live in apartments and don’t have landlines? Append their email addresses or directly Tweet or Facebook message them. Do you know people who weren’t home when you knocked on their door during GOTV? Send them a “sorry I missed you” email and ask them to fill out a survey. The beauty of NationBuilder is that the entire infrastructure becomes fluid, intuitive and interactive. The time no longer spent merging lists and querying spreadsheets can now be focused on strategy, creativity and messaging.

It’s all golden, but make sure you are identifying what worked in 2014, what didn’t, and what you can do to fix it. The political infrastructure of 2016 starts with the seeds of 2014 – leadership starts now.

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How to live tweet an event

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As the NationBuilder Evangelist, I attend a conference almost every weekend. In addition to having the world's largest lanyard collection, I've learned a few things about the best ways to use social media to build community. While there's no substitute for face-to-face interactions, live tweeting an event is perhaps the next best thing.  

Why you should live tweet events:

  • You'll begin to build your reputation as a thought leader.
  • You'll get noticed by the people you want to meet AND the people you didn’t even know you wanted to meet.
  • It's a chance to improve your ability to both listen and write tweetable speeches. 
  • You'll have the eternal thanks of the event organizers. This can lead to speaker introductions and invites to speak next year.
  • It gives you something to do with your hands.
  • You'll gain twitter followers, increase your Klout score, and look fancy to your friends.
  • Your tweets lend legitimacy to the event, which then lends legitimacy to you because you are at this super legit event (yes this is a bit circular and also the way social proof works).
  • It's a chance for you to demonstrate your ability to use and be a leader in social media to your supporters and potential supporters.
  • Live tweeting is a shibboleth to other social media savvy people. This will often get you in the door as “one of them” faster than a snazzy business card, or cold email.

Before the event:

  1. Find the event hashtag and tweet about the event before it starts (event social media people will LOVE you and retweet you tons).
  2. Find as many speaker Twitter handles as possible and follow them (you can unfollow them later if you don’t enjoy them, but it’s much easier to find them when searching during their speech if you already follow them). This is worth doing ahead of time because many folks have Twitter handles that are hard to find. 
  3. Make sure your phone, iPad, or computer is charged. Bring an external battery or scope out a seat near an outlet. The external battery I have has room for two phones to charge simultaneously. There's basically no faster way to endear yourself to people at conferences than to make it easy for them to charge their phones. If you don't have an external battery, a small power strip to share means no one will ever be bummed you're hogging the outlet. Lunch and coffee breaks are great times to charge your phone as well because those are the times you'll want to focus on talking to the people around you, not staring at your phone. 
  4. Add speakers and attendees to your database before you go to the event. This will make it easier for you to log contacts, follow up with folks, and build lasting relationships with people you tweet with at the conference.

At the event:

  1. Don’t write negative tweets. Asking critical questions is one thing – being snarky and mean is another. While you might get retweets for snark, it’s generally not good practice to troll. In my opinion, if you don’t have anything nice and constructive to say, maybe it's time to take a break from tweeting.
  2. Give as good as you get. Alternate between posting and boosting the posts of others. Favorite, follow, and retweet liberally (but don't be disingenuous). Engage in dialog with people when you can. Ask questions of other folks, especially if they are also heavy tweeters.
  3. Follow the hashtag so it's easy to find everyone using it. 
  4. Pictures and video tend to be retweeted more. If you can grab a shot of the speaker, or the conference brochure, or your name badge, people will be more likely to see it and star or retweet it. 


  5. While a speaker is talking, be ready to quote them before they say something salient. Open a new tweet. Put in the event hashtag and the speaker’s Twitter handle. Then put your cursor at the beginning and get ready to type. As you practice live tweeting, you’ll be able to hear as someone starts a sentence that will be really tweetable, so you can capture it as they speak. When you have a good quote, post it and then immediately open up a blank tweet and get ready for your next one. 

In between tweets, search for the hashtag (make sure to look at all tweets and not just top tweets) and retweet and star folks. 
  6. Follow users who are giving you a lot of love and/or who are valuable potential supporters. 

As people follow you and retweet you, thank them publicly and use the event hashtag. This shows that you notice and care about people who want to engage with you and makes it a lot easier to build that small interaction into a deeper relationship.

    Hey @SallytheGiraffe, thanks for the follow and all the retweets! #giraffecon2014

  7. Ask people who seem awesome on Twitter to have lunch or coffee or meet in the hallways between talks. I've met amazing people because we had so much fun retweeting each other during a conference that we just had to be friends.
  8. The best tweets are super short. Even shorter than 140 characters. Don’t try to cram every thought in. Focus on memorability, not length.
  9. Be a real human being. Include your personality and not pre-packaged messaging. Gush on the speakers in your tweets if you're a huge fan. Use clever hashtags if that's your thing. Try to connect what people are saying to your organization only when it’s appropriate and won’t make you look like a corporate drone. It’s better to not mention your organization in your tweets and be seen as a thought leader than to shove in the brand and delegitimize everything you say.

    This: 
    "Creating community is the next big thing in business."  - @BobTheBuilder This is why I love my job. #BusinessCon2014

    Not this:
    Love hearing @BobTheBuilder talk about business at #BusinessCon2014. Speaking of business, did you know @NationBuilder is a business? And we work with businesses? And we can spell business? #NationBuilder4Eva."

After the event: 



  1. Add everyone who interacted with you on Twitter to your database, or if they are already there, log your contacts.
  2. Follow up with everyone who retweeted, starred, or followed you. Thank them, and set up phone calls and emails to get to know them better. Something like this: 

    "Thanks for all the retweets at #KansasCon last week @AbeLincoln! Would love to hear more about your work on states vs. federal rights. What’s the best way to connect?"

  3. Tweet a thank you to the organizers and volunteers for their hard work and include the event hashtag.

---

Happy tweeting, everyone! If you've got questions or want to catch up at a conference I'm attending, tweet me at @justlikeharmony and we'll make sure to connect. 

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Using text blasts to increase your end of year donations

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Inspired by the use of text blasts in the BC municipal election campaigns, I started to think about ways that nonprofit organizations could incorporate this tactic into their holiday fundraising appeals.

I have to admit, before I began training at NationBuilder I didn’t have much knowledge or experience with text blasts. I knew the technology existed in the NationBuilder toolkit, but never used it when I was organizing at Pivot Legal Society. During the successful David Eby campaign, we sent text blasts for the GOTV effort – and we won over the Premier of the province by 1000 votes. But, despite our success, I hadn’t thought about the myriad of ways different organizations could use text blasts to achieve their goals.   

It wasn’t until I went to a presentation by NationBuilder partner, Mobile Commons, that I finally understood the power of text blasts for NPOs. First of all, the open rates on text messages are somewhere in the range of 90%! Compare that with the best stats from email and we’re talking about a 55 - 75% increase – that alone is enough evidence for me. Text blasts also boast a 6% click rate (on average) compared to a 2% rate for email click rates (on a good day). If you’re doing text based advocacy, the response rate is 5X higher through text than email. Check out this blog post by the folks at Mobile Commons for more details.

After my epiphany of sorts, I started thinking, how can NPOs use text blasts to drive donations? Aha! What about the sacred cow of all non-profit fundraising? The holiday appeal. Text campaigns work best when there is a sense of urgency (GOTV is a great example), and the December 31st deadline for holiday giving provides that urgency.

I previously worked at a non-profit for 10 years, and each year we used email, phone calls, and direct mail to maximize our presence during the holidays. We would inevitably send an email on December 30th or 31st reminding our supporters to donate before ringing in the New Year. Surely that same methodology can be used with text blasting to help nonprofits increase end of year donations.  

Here is what your nonprofit can do this year (it’s not too late):

Build up your holiday appeal, whatever that looks like for your organization. IMHO, it should definitely include multiple ways to connect with your strongest supporters - emails, calls, and letters. As part of the appeal, include text blasts with specific asks to your strongest supporters.

Create a filter in your Nation to identify your textable supporters who have not yet donated. In the last days of December, send those supporters at warm text from a well known broadcaster (Executive Director or campaign lead) reminding them to donate before the end of the year. Make sure your the donation page is responsive and looks great on mobile devices.  

Part of me wishes I was still the ED of a non-profit, so that I could test the returns of adding text blasts to a holiday appeal. Let me know how it works for you.

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New feature: Track relationships and organizations

Community is about relationships – relationships between family members, colleagues, individuals and organizations. We’ve had many requests to better represent all of this inter-connectedness within your nation, so now you can! All the details are in the Relationships HOWTO.

Also, you can now create organization profiles in the same way you create people profiles. In fact, the functionality is nearly identical. Organizations can be tagged, you can send them email, they can sign in to your public website, make endorsements, donations, etc.

My favorite part of these two new features is when they come together. If a person has a relationship to an organization (like an employee), when you log a contact, you can now simultaneously log that contact on the organization’s profile as well. I’m often having a conversation with several people, but they are all part of one organization -- being able to see all of that in one place is super helpful. I’ll be using that a lot. :)

We are always adding and tweaking things, so please let us know your feedback. If there are additional types of relationships you would like to track, that’s something we’re particularly interested in learning about.

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NationBuilder in Canada - BC Municipal Election Results

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NationBuilder has been working with folks in Canada for years, but we’re excited to finally have a presence on the ground. While our official Vancouver launch party is not until January, it felt like things really took off last weekend, as nearly 40 candidates using NationBuilder crossed the finish line in the BC Municipal elections. There is no better inspiration to hit the ground running in Canada (and in person!) than to see so many of our customers earn the big W.

In this campaign, candidates from across the political spectrum used NationBuilder to engage people throughout BC. And this election was particularly significant – up 10% from 2011, voter turnout was the highest it had been in ten years. When I went to vote at Coal Harbour Community Centre the line was impressive, and it was exciting to see so many people engaged.

Several folks using NationBuilder won in some of the largest and hotly contested mayoral races including Vancouver, Victoria, New Westminster, and North Vancouver. These successful campaigns (and the many others across the Province) were the result of blood, sweat, and tears of all the people involved. We are so excited to be on the ground in BC to continue working with candidates and campaign teams to connect, build relationships, and build political engagement across the Province and Western Canada.    

Congratulations to everyone who ran and deepened our Canadian democracy! We look forward to continue working with you.   

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Going digital with your union local

union-book.pngDigital organizing technology has transformed what’s possible for your union local. You can build and maintain better relationships with your community and your members, and get rid of those dusty filing cabinets at the same time. Learn how to get started by reading our new HOWTO: Eight steps to digitize your union local.

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First time candidates: run your campaign like a pro

The world of campaigning can be a daunting one for first time candidates. As a former first-timer myself, I understand how much there is to keep track of, and how hard it is to stay focused on your campaign goals. That's why I put together this guide for first time candidates using NationBuilder. By following a few basic steps, you can set up a lasting infrastructure that will make sure you build real connections with your community so that you can exceed your campaign goals.

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Setting up email for your nation

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Photo by Seth Anderson, Creative Commons license

Can I be honest? It's hard for me to remember what it was like to be brand new to NationBuilder. I was a customer in 2011. I think I have a rhythm now for explaining how to use new features. But seeing the gaps in what I wrote two years ago? That can be difficult.

Luckily, I was able to observe Henry training new organizers and talk about custom domain quandaries with Dana. Which led me to revise the HOWTOs on setting up email for your nation

Here's the thing: your broadcaster's email address can be used to send email blasts. It can also be used to receive replies to those blast emails and initiate one-to-one correspondence. By receiving incoming email for your broadcaster, you unlock an entirely new way of communicating via email.

I'm sounding hyperbolic, yeah? Stay with me. Traditionally one-to-one email happens between two inboxes. When you leave your job, or stop volunteering for an organization, all of the relationships you've built through email are lost. Maybe your successor has access to your old email address, but she's probably too busy picking up the pieces to really do anything with it. 

Now imagine if instead of confining the email to inboxes, it was stored on profiles within a database accessible to everyone building your organization. Your ED and development director won't trip over each other connecting with major donors because they can see every email, tweet, and logged contact in one place. Prospective volunteers won't vanish when your volunteer manager leaves. Transparency really does strengthen community. Ever wonder how we're able to keep on top of your support questions? All of our customer support relies on receiving email in our nation and logging info on our phone calls and face-to-face meetings with you. 

I hope these revised HOWTOs will help you strengthen your community.

How to connect an email address to a broadcaster

Benefits of receiving email in your nation

How to send and view one-to-one email

 

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Tips on using browser shortcuts with NationBuilder

browser_tip.pngWhen you're building that thing you were meant to build, every keystroke counts. Luckily, NationBuilder and your browser can work together beautifully to make sure you're able to focus on getting work done, rather than searching for that settings page for an eighth time. Here are some tips about how to use browser shortcuts with NationBuilder.

Now go crush it!

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The intricacies of processing donations

Using NationBuilder, you can create personal fundraising pages, accept one-time donations, allow people to make installment payments, and even give the same amount on a monthly basis. Do you know how those donations are processed? If you're like me, you haven't spent a lot of time thinking about that question. 

Our 20 new FAQs on managing donations are a unique resource into how payment processing works. Developer Rafia Qutab wrote them based on the commonly misunderstood aspects of managing one-time donations and recurring subscriptions. If you are your nation's finance manager, I highly recommend reading all of them. You can find them in the "managing donations" and "managing monthly donations" categories in our finances overview

To whet your appetite, I think understanding how a donation is processed and what receipts are created for donations are particularly useful. 

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Helping O2 build a social movement using ‘Obama style’ digital organising

Today's guest post was written by Sam Lockwood of the UK based studio and NationBuilder architect, Brand Response. It was originally published on their company blog. 

How do you build a movement empowering your employees to tackle youth unemployment, close the digital skills gap and save the planet?

Brand Response has been working with Telefónica UK (O2) and their partners the National Youth Agency (NYA) to launch a new platform called MyThinkBig.co.uk.

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Created with NationBuilder, MyThinkBig.co.uk enables over 11,000 interested UK employees to find opportunities to get more involved in Think Big.

With 300 million customers and 300,000 employees worldwide, Telefónica is well placed to act as an engine for economic, technological and social progress wherever it operates. The Think Big blueprint is Telefónica's sustainability strategy for people and planet.

It’s an incredible initiative that has already helped tackle important issues across the UK like youth employability, the digital skills shortage and climate change.

From small micro-volunteering tasks like recycling initiatives and reviewing CVs, to more involved activities like mentoring or skills sharing - MyThinkBig.co.uk enables O2, Telefónica and Capita employees to share their talents with the wider community.

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