Nonprofit fundraising and marketing is very different today than when I began. Yet not every nonprofit I encounter seems to have received the message.
That’s why I’m writing. Because the road to success has changed more in the past five years than the preceding 50.
It’s been called a “digital revolution,” a “disruptive” force and the “end of business as usual.”
“Outbound marketing” has been proclaimed dead, making way for “inbound marketing.”
The world is networked digitally in a way that was, until recently, unimaginable to most of us.
So… what does this mean for nonprofits? Especially for small to medium-sized nonprofits who don’t have staff with titles like “Online Fundraising Coordinator,” “Digital Communications Associate,” “Social Media Specialist” or “Digital Philanthropy Manager.”
How can you compete to raise awareness and support among your likely constituents?
You don’t have to do everything.
You just have to be smart about what you choose to do, and how you do it.
Don’t think for one minute that because you’re small you have to fall by the wayside. Au contraire, it’s time to stand tall and reach for the cloud(s)!
You do have to master three fundamentals however, or you’ll risk getting left behind. Because increasingly people communicate, get news, find information and conduct their financial transactions online.
If you’re not where likely constituents are, then they’ll cease to be likely for you. Because folks simply won’t find you.
Before the digital revolution, there was word of mouth. People gossiped around the infamous water cooler… recommended… critiqued… complained to the Better Business Bureau… and so forth.
Today, people review everything online. They share online. They communicate online. Word of mouth is online.
So online is where you nonprofit must be.
As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos says:
“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
If you’re not there actively, you’re still there passively. People will “google” you. So it behooves you to be in control of the conversation. Today’s prospective nonprofit consumer/supporter is already far down the road towards knowing a lot about you before you’re even aware they exist.
“There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.”
– The Cluetrain Manifesto
3 Content, Online and Social Media Venues for Every Nonprofit
These are all readily available mainstream media and very low risk.
You don’t need a huge marketing budget or a large paid staff to be successful.
- Understand the purpose of each tool
- Get started
- Build as you go.
All it takes is a (1) plan, (2) scheduling some time (it won’t happen if you just think about it) and (3) persistence.
1. Website and Blog
Your Website’s Purpose: To get people to give you their emails.
You can do lots of things through your own website and blog. It’s the content hub of all your fundraising and marketing. Everything you do should drive people to your site. Why? Because you can do what you cannot do easily anyplace else. You can collect folks’ email addresses.
Once you have someone’s email, you can control messaging to these readers. You do not have to wait for them to find you accidentally by searching on Google or through social media.
You own your email list and website. Once people sign up, you have permission to communicate with them. You do not own Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest or Instagram. These companies make changes all the time about how you access and share messages from their platforms. You are at their mercy.
How do you get folks to sign up? By offering them something of value. Just getting a newsletter won’t cut it in today’s marketplace where people already feel they are receiving too much email. So think of something useful or fun. It could be a “how to” list or video, whitepaper, reading list, recipes, inspiring quotes, free ticket or whatever else you can dream up.
ACTION TIP: Offer an email sign-up box not just on your home page, but on every page of your website. Moreover, during some times of the year, consider a pop-up lightbox offering a special (perhaps season-related) gift to folks who join your list. Set this to pop up the first time folks come to you – perhaps once each day during your big year-end campaign (i.e., 4-6 weeks).The best advice I’ve heard is if your visitor dismisses the popup, don’t show it to her again for at least a week. Conversion rates do go up when you use a light box because more people will see your call-to-action. Your goal should be to convert at least one percent of your visitors to subscribers.
ACTION TIP: Ask donors for email addresses on your mail appeal response devices, at event sign-ups and on committee and volunteer registration forms.
NOTE: You want your website to be user-friendly for your staff as well as your constituents. So if you are a small to medium-sized nonprofit make sure you’ve got a framework (e.g. WordPress) that’s easy for more than one staff person to update regularly. Also be sure it’s optimized for mobile. There are lots of templates available, so you shouldn’t need to create a separate site for mobile users.
ACTION TIP: Seriously consider a blog as an alternative to an e-newsletter. Read why I love them here.
Your Email’s Purpose: To get people to act on your behalf.
In general, you want to mix up your content. Use the 3:1 formula. For each ask for support, send at least three communications that don’t ask for money.
You can still ask for actions (e.g., Please retweet, Please sign this pledge, Please comment, Please post a photo, Please complete this survey). Vary your messages to deepen relationships.
There are three key ways to use email.
- Send regularly scheduled emailed newsletters or blog posts. Again, mix up the content. Here you may want the mix to be closer to 7:1. Monthly is a good frequency for most organizations.
- Send e-blasts when you need to draw particular attention to something. You can send real-time news related to your cause, publicity about your event, peeks into the life of your organization, or announcements about volunteer opportunities.
- Send planned fundraising emails. An e-appeal is different from an offline fundraising appeal. It is usually much shorter. It relies more on visuals. Whether people open it may depend on the subject line and preview pane. Moreover, the ask must jump out. Clear. Concise. To the point. What’s great about e-appeals is that folks can donate immediately.
ACTION TIP: Get yourself a good e-mail service provider so that building and segmenting lists, making gifts easy to download and sending emails is efficient, coordinated and semi-automatic.
3. Social Media
Your Social Media’s Purpose: To drive people to your website and get them to act on your behalf.
Get rid of the notion that social media is only necessary if you want to post cat videos and look cool. You’ll give up if you think you have to be on every network one of your board members suggests. Just because their teenager only uses Snapchat does not mean that’s the platform that will drive people to you and get them to answer your calls to action. Only pick a venue (or a few) that will drive an “action” that brings your organization value.
For example, you need social media to:
- Create awareness for your cause among likely prospects
- Get to know folks with similar values
- Connect with new prospects in meaningful ways
- Engage with those who share the values you enact
- Drive people to your website (because they click on a link that takes them there)
Remember: Once people come to your website, and sign up for your email list, you’ll own these contacts. This is huge, because it means you’ll be able to communicate with them on your schedule. Again, you do not own your social media profile or followers. The social media platform owners do. If they change how they serve up posts to the folks on your site, you may become less visible. If they think you’ve violated their terms of service, you may disappear entirely as they can disable your account. They make the rules. And this means relying on them means risking losing all your supporters.
So don’t put all your eggs in the social media basket. And certainly don’t make social media about fluffy stuff like sharing cat memes. Social media should be about real engagement. Not about counting likes and follows. Use it to build relationships with your followers and fans to take them from awareness… to interest… to involvement… to investment (the latter will happen mostly only after you’ve driven them to your website’s donation page).
Here are five ways to drive online action:
You can take it one channel at a time.
- Ask your followers to share your messages. Sharing helps to expand your online presence.
- Create compelling content. It will get folks to share without your even having to ask.
- Recruit social media ambassadors. Treat them like you’d treat any other committee. Give them a job description, materials they can use (e.g., prepared tweets, photos to share on Facebook, links to YouTube videos) and lots of cheerleading and support.
- Stay in touch with current supporters by sharing content regularly. Frequency keeps you top of mind with your donors and volunteers.
- Maintain a constant presence, and always ask for feedback (e.g. through surveys, comments, advocacy, quizzes, contests, free events).
Where to begin? Wherever your constituents hang out. Here are some demographics about some of the top social media options from the Pew Research Center. And here’s a breakdown of the top 10 social networks used by non-profits from a HubSpot survey of small-to-medium non-profits in the U.S.
Just remember that statistics do not tell the whole story. As is often said, your results may vary.
ACTION TIP: Familiarize yourself with all of the social networks. Then determine those favored by your audiences (you can do a quick online survey using the free versions of Survey Monkey or Google Docs) and figure out which features work best for your business objectives. Whoever you are, whatever you do, the odds are that your audiences use at least one of the top sites: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube or Instagram.
ACTION TIP: Develop a content marketing plan with a documented content calendar to share your content consistently (from your website, blog, and email) using social networks. Begin sharing, and track your progress. When you get engagement, do more of the same. When you don’t, try to figure out why it’s not working and adjust your strategy. Once you’ve found a winning formula, then you can expand to another network.
It’s just common sense to place your pitch where folks are must likely to see it.
Today’s consumers, of every generation, are online. It’s called “Generation C” – with the “C” standing for “connected” – and it knows no demographic boundaries.
I’m not suggesting you stop sending mail and email appeals. I’m simply suggesting an omni-channel strategy, with each message reinforcing the next. Fundraising success is all about being in the right place at the right time. Today, you simply have more opportunities to maximize your chances!
When it comes to social media, don’t bow to pressure to have a presence everywhere. Instead:
- Only use the platform(s) a majority of your constituents routinely use. There’s no point being active on social media where your donors, or prospective donors, don’t really hang out.
- Only use as many platforms as you can confidently handle. There’s no point setting up accounts you don’t have time to contribute to and actively manage. Having a half-baked presence is worse than no presence at all.
Wherever you locate your online content (website, blog, email or social media), make sure it’s relevant. That it takes into account the perspectives of your audiences. And that it pulls folks into a dialogue.
If you stick to the tips suggested above, you should be able to get actively social in a way that means something to both your supporters and to your bottom line.
To your success!
I Heartily Recommend Blogging
And even if you don’t blog, all the tips inside the Nonprofit Blogging That Drives Engagement Playbook will help you develop a super-duper content marketing plan that will drive awareness, engagement and investment for your nonprofit. Within the four companion volumes you’ll learn (1) how to get started with relevant content; (2) how to create a content editorial calendar; (3) how to promote your content, and (4) how to get people to take the actions you desire. By them as a “Bargain Bundle” or one at a time. As with all Clairification products, this comes with a 30-day, no-questions-asked, 100% money-back guarantee. You’ve nothing to lose and plenty to gain!
Once again, Claire, you have covered imuo THE key points of connecting with our audiences… applause! I am sending this to my clients and mentees… hope they will read and act!! Thanks!
Thanks Margie. I try. 🙂
Thank you Claire, wonderful article. I was wondering we could also use our social media platform to directly get email subscriptions. I know some mass email platforms, such as Mailchimp, now has integration that allows you to have signup done right through social media platforms! Would this be a better route (social media>signup) instead of a longer route through website (social media>website>signup)? I do see the advantage of directing people to the website, you can get more then just signup form your audience (any pros or cons would be appreciated).
Sunil, I would prefer to ask for emails on your website. If you take folks directly to a sign-up landing page, it’s not really a longer process. And once folks are on your site, it’s all about you and your brand. Plus you own your site and the relationships you cultivate there. You never know when a given social media site is going to change things up. I’ll be writing about this a bit more in my next article. 🙂