Whether you’re a liberty-minded activist, you run a non-profit organization, or you’re simply interested in getting more involved in constitutional advocacy on your own, finding the resources to get things going is sometimes the largest hurdle. Below, I’ve compiled a list of some of the most helpful do-it-yourself tools for everything from setting up a website, to marketing and public relations, to search engine optimization.
- Marketing & Promotion
- E-Mail Marketing Tools
- Press Release Distribution
- Website & Blog Programs
- Search Engine Optimization & Submission
- Stock Photos, Images and Music
- Broadband Media / Video
- Social Networking & Bookmarking
- Event Planning & Hosting
Marketing & Promotion
Sometimes the best solution is to make your own materials that are specific to your local group. Using some of the elements above or your own, you can use online tools to create your own materials without having to know a lick of design. It’s all point and click, and when you’re done, you order the prints and they arrive in a matter of days.
I cannot say enough about VistaPrint. I’ve used them time and time again for marketing brochures, business cards, flyers/handouts, invitations, stationery, postcards, signs, posters, car door magnets and more. Design it online yourself with their templates or upload your own design, place your order, they print it and ship it. Reasonably priced, super-fast, and still high quality.
For those who hadn’t thought about it yet, there are several sites to create T-shirts, bumper stickers, pins, etc. and print only the quantity you need (no minimums). You can also make your own design, upload it, and make it available in your own online store for others to purchase. This is a perfect alternative to those who have advocacy groups and need to distribute shirts to members or just want to sell shirts and promotional items to generate awareness and help raise funds for upkeep (be sure to see IRS rules if you plan to make money for your group). Rather than worry about collecting money and placing orders with a print shop and distributing the shirts….just set up your own group store in minutes and then send visitors to your store’s URL. It’s that simple. Below are a few that enable you to do this:
E-Mail Marketing Tools
One of the best tools I’ve used is ConstantContact. It’s free to send to lists of 100 emails at a time using the Free 60-day trial, but for larger lists the cost is really quite minimal. You can sign up online and get started right away and it’s very simple to use. I use it myself for email marketing campaigns, event announcements, and online polls/surveys. It has a library of graphics templates you can select and then add your text & other media to it. Also has an email list upload tool that allows you to import addresses, and it will automatically track what you send and show you what was opened, undeliverable, etc. Also includes the Opt-in/Opt-out in every message so recipients can remove themselves from lists, as is required by law.
Press Release Distribution
Especially for those of you conducting events or charity activities, distributing a press release can get you lots of much needed media traction. There are a few free and low-cost pay-per-release sites that enable you to submit a PR and the service then does all the distributing for you. The paid services will get you more publicity of course, but the free services are OK if you don’t want to spend the $$:
- PR Urgent (free + charge)
- The Open Press (free)
- PR Web and PR WebDirect (charge, middle/high-end)
- PR Newswire (charge, middle-end)
- PR Leap (charge, low-end)
Of course, you can also contact the media manually. Most newspapers especially, have an online submission form that enables you to submit your event announcement online, free of charge. To get you started, here is a directory of newspaper publications, television, and radio stations – listed by regions – to which you can submit your event information:
- Searchable database of national and local media
- Newspapers by State
- Television Stations by State
- Radio Stations by State
If you aren’t sure how to write a press release, Microsoft has some simple templates that may help. And PRWeb has an excellent how-to white paper on writing good press releases that the media will notice.
Website & Blog Programs
Even if you don’t plan to add content regularly, having a website for your group is like a business card. It lets others in your community know that you are there, and gives you a place from which to start. Below are a few easy do-it-yourself website services that make creating and maintaining your own website unbelievably easy.
- WordPress.com – a free service that provides hosting and website templates. All you need to do is point and click, select a design, add some content and publish your site. All at no cost!
- WordPress.org – this is the premium version of WordPress; if you are hosting your own site or you have a host already established, and if you want more flexibility, this is the version for you. Still extremely reasonable pricing and just as simple to use. The website you are currently viewing was built and maintained using WordPress.org.
- Web.com – Their Do-It-Yourself Website Design packages include everything you need to create a unique and successful Web presence, from $11.95/month.
- GoDaddy – purchase a domain name and website builder package for everything you need from GoDaddy.
- Ning – create your own social network; this is better for sites whose members plan to share information and collaborate online.
Whether you need inspiration to help you decide what to blog about, or you need content to supplement what you’re writing about at your website, here are some ideas for finding reusable content:
- GovTrack is an excellent resource for staying on top of all federal legislation. The site also has a variety of simple tools and plugins to add content automatically to your website – you can select from legislation that’s newly introduced, pending, has been changed, was voted upon, was passed or enacted, and more. You can even customize your own trackers for specific bills you’re watching.
- Blogs are a rich source of content, and many encourage the reuse of their content on other blogs and websites through the use of RSS feeds and widgets. Check out the Blogs & News page of this site for a list of popular sources. Those with RSS feeds/widgets are noted accordingly.
- If you’re looking for additional constitutionalist-leaning sources, Death by 1,000 Paper Cuts’ Top 100 Report ranks the most highly trafficked sites, prime for your picking.
Sometimes you need something with slightly different capabilities if you’re running a political or advocacy campaign. Below are a few recommendations for campaign-specific website-builders.
If you need a more robust, politically-focused website package for a higher cost, you can check out these services from Maelstrom Solutions:
“The ultimate tool for online donations, volunteer management, and event planning. This incredible system is now available for organizations that need to do online fund-raising, such as non-profits, political campaigns, and educational foundations. Prices start at for $40 a month.”
Creates professional campaign websites for political parties & elections at all levels of government. They work closely with your campaign to build a site that is creative, affordable, & professional. They can also provide everything from online donations, volunteer management, email, reporting (these are in the “Patriot” add-on), & unlimited free support. Complete political website package (with the add-on) is priced at a flat fee of $2,500.
Search Engine Optimization & Submission
If you have a blog or site and want to get traffic to it, use a search engine submission tool to get it optimized properly and submitted to all the major search engines. Here are some free or low-cost sites:
Be sure to optimize your site properly yourself first. Always add ALT tags to every image, structure the pages sensibly (4 or 5 key buckets, with sub-pages beneath those – too many buckets will decrease your search rankings ), include a site map if applicable, use inline content links, use META tags. Here are some more detailed pointers from a reliable source of mine.
Stock Photos, Images and Music
If you need some good, high quality royalty-free stock graphics, iStockPhoto is probably the best bargain. Don’t let the name mislead you – it has digital/illustrations too. Lots of choices, current designs that are trendy, good search mechanism, and easy pay-as-you pricing available. An average image will cost between $2 and $10, but you can buy credits and also get volume discounts. No worrying about copyrights when you purchase royalty-free items and use as indicated.
If you need stock music, for use in a video for example, quality music clips at low prices can be found at Premium Beat. There are many others, but the pricing and quality at PremiumBeat are a good combo.
Broadband Media / Video
Everyone of course knows of YouTube and how powerful a marketing tool it can be. If you need to make your own video and you have little background on it, the easiest tool that most everyone has readily available is Windows Movie Maker. It’s free and comes on nearly all Windows ready computers these days. You can download it from the Windows Movie Maker site, or if you prefer, download it from C-Net.
If you’re just looking for videos to reuse on your website, I encourage people to browse YouTube to find videos that suit the needs of your group’s learning and/or promotional needs. If you need a place to start, I have some videos favorited at my YouTube channel, LibertyChickTV. You can start there and take a look at which categories and tags are used in videos that you like, then search for other videos using those keywords.
Social Networking & Bookmarking
Of course, one of the most powerful and popular methods of getting viral marketing exposure is through the social networks. It’s one of the quickest ways to build traffic. The easiest thing to do it set up one site, then use the Widget that most provide to integrate the major social networks. If they don’ t have a widget, then simply cross-link your site to the other networks. Here are the majors:
Or you can look at a pretty comprehensive list posted on Wikipedia.
Event Planning & Hosting
If you are looking to host an event, sometimes all the details you need to think of can be overwhelming. People almost always underestimate what’s involved in hosting an event. So, for The 9/12 Project we created this “Event Hosting Guidebook“ (a work in progress) to help you figure out everything you need to know, from where to go to find speakers and entertainers, to selecting a venue, marketing the event, determining costs, what to plan for, and even all the equipment you may need. Even if you’re not a 9/12 Project group, much of the content still applies. It is a work in progress, so check back for updates as we continue to work on it.
If you are scheduling an event and need to send out invites, a useful online tool is EventBrite. The site allows you to create invitations, upload contact lists, email invites, and it keeps track of your RSVPs for you. If you are selling tickets for the event, or it requires registration, the site also accommodates these needs with simple tools.
If you have a need for conducting research, whether it be on legislation, on the financial disclosures of congress members, on philanthropic giving to grassroots groups or political campaign donations, I’ve prepared a comprehensive list of all the most useful research databases and references.