As we start a new year, marketing has never been more important for nonprofits. And when it comes to growing and expanding your audience, your nonprofit needs the right digital marketing strategy if wants to make progress.
Unfortunately, too many nonprofits struggle to maximize the impact of their marketing efforts c and often it's because those efforts are an incoherent, unfocused mess. An effective digital marketing strategy should accomplish some, if not all, of the following:
- reach new audiences that support your mission
- convert more website visitors and/or supporters into donors
- convince your existing donors to continue their support
- support other goals such as boosting registrations, securing recurring donations, and obtaining signatures for petitions
Perhaps most importantly, your digital marketing strategy should aim to "make your donor an action hero" (as fundraising consultant Claire Axelrad puts it) by centering his or her experience in your organization's broader work. Donor- and constituent-centric messaging can be extremely effective in motivating support and keeping audiences engaged with your mission. And the best way to ensure it does is to have a clear game plan at the start of the year and/or before each campaign is launched.
Ready to get started? Let's begin with a quick review of some of the marketing tools at your disposal and then look at hot they fit together.
Types of Marketing Vehicles and Platforms
Here's a quick overview of the different categories of digital marketing vehicles and tools at your nonprofit's disposal:
Your organization's website. Your organization's site is one of your most important marketing assets, so you need to make sure it's returning value each and every week. To be effective, a site needs to serve as an anchor or central hub for your marketing campaigns (more on this later), so if it could use a design refresh or update or is in need of back-end technology upgrades, now is the time to act. Before you do, check out our guide to nonprofit Web design projects to learn more about what you can expect from the process.
Email and direct marketing. Email continues to be one of the most effective ways to market your nonprofit to supporters, but too many organizations get it wrong. Generic email blasts to any and everyone simply aren't an effective way to engage supporters, let alone motivate them to give. Focus, instead, on building your email lists, segmenting them into groups, and creating automated email streams based on your campaign's specific goals. We also include direct mail in this category, as it can be extremely effective when backed up with good data and the right strategies.
Social tools. This category includes social media posts and platforms, peer-to-peer fundraising tools, and advocacy software. All can be great for growing your audience, especially when you port your messaging to mobile. Mobile advocacy tools, in particular, are a great way to supercharge your campaigns, meet supporters where they live, and provide them with new ways to take action to advance your mission.
Online marketing tools and techniques. This category includes things like online advertisements and search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. In terms of online advertising, your nonprofit's best bet is to check out Google AdWords, which the tech giant offers at no charge to eligible nonprofits. (For an overview of AdWords and the Google grants that nonprofits can use to underwrite them, click here.) SEO strategies require more back-end work on your site and site content, but when implemented properly they can significantly boost your organization's online visibility.
Although the categories above include the most important digital marketing tools and vehicles, you’ll get the biggest band for your buck by implementing two or more of them in combination. As we always tell clients, digital marketing works best — and the return on investment is greatest — when your tech and marketing actively support one another.
Tying Your Tools Together in a Multi-Channel Campaign
A multi-channel marketing campaign is a strategic marketing effort that pulls together a number of different vehicles and tools.
The idea is to use each vehicle or tool to target your audience in a different way, with the aim of driving all that traffic to a central hub where visitors are encouraged to complete a "target action" such as:
- making a donation
- signing up for a newsletter or other communications
- registering for an event
- creating a peer-to-peer fundraising page
The target action is the end-goal of any multi-channel campaign. Think of it this way: What concrete action do you want people to take after they've engaged with your marketing materials?
Without concrete goals and target actions, it's harder to focus your marketing efforts and keep your audiences engaged. Marketsmart's guide to engagement fundraising calls this unfocused, usually ineffective approach "spraying and praying." If you’re focusing on donor acquisition and cultivation, for instance, you definitely want to avoid this approach.
In other words, a multichannel marketing strategy is effective only if you keep your goals and target actions centered in your messaging. Let’s look at some of the steps in the process:
Sample Multichannel Marketing Campaign
For this example, imagine you represent an animal rescue organization in the Northeast. Your upcoming campaign is all about reaching new donors across the region, building your base of support to help fund ongoing operations, and expanding the audience for future campaigns. You want the campaign to be as engaging as possible, knowing that giving to your annual fund might not be as exciting for some donors.
First, set a specific goal — for example, secure x number of individual donations from new supporters during the campaign.
Setting a concrete KPI like the above gives you a stable reference point for evaluating the campaign’s progress once it's under way. You'll also want to map out a timeline for your campaign based on the parameters of your broader fundraising efforts.
Next, review your marketing toolkit and figure out what else you’ll need to do to set up a multichannel campaign in support of your goals:
- Website. Create a landing page featuring an embedded donation form that can serve as the central hub for the campaign. All your other vehicles and channels should direct traffic to this page, with the goal of converting new visitors into donors.
- Social media accounts. Post regular updates about the campaign to your social media channels, making sure to always include a link to the campaign landing page. Create a series of contests and viral challenges that encourage users to share your posts — this is how most of your new supporters will learn about you. Be sure to link your social media posts to the main campaign page, where your social media followers can learn more about your organization and make a donation.
- Email. With an integrated email solution, you can segment your supporters into different groups and customize marketing messages for each group. For instance, you might want to send one kind of message to lapsed donors and another to non-donor email subscribers, or create different messages to share a campaign update, promote a new blog post or video, or make a direct appeal for support.
- Digital ads. Use online ads to target the audiences most likely to be interested in your campaign. For our animal rescue organization, a local news site or pet store website might be a smart choice. Google offers advanced tools designed to make it easier to target different audience groups.
- Google AdWords. With your AdWords grant, you can craft an ad that will appear at the top of Google search pages for keywords likely to deliver potential supporters. Keywords like "pet rescue Massachusetts" or "Northeast animal shelter" might be good choices. And again, be sure to link your AdWords ad directly to your campaign landing page.
- Search engine optimization. For SEO, focus on creating and writing great content for your organization’s website that is targeted to specific keywords. An informative blog post about "New York animal cruelty laws," for example, would be of interest to readers likely to support your organization. Well-designed SEO strategies can go a long way to raise the visibility of your organization and drive more visitors to your site over the long run.
Don't forget to link your marketing channels so that they support one another. Ask your email subscribers to follow your organization on Instagram or Facebook, or create social media posts that encourage followers to click through to your website’s blog to learn more about a campaign or check out a video, then use that post to drive readers to your campaign's donation page.
No matter how you end up structuring your campaign, don’t forget that the key to success is to get potential supporters to engage with your content and complete a target action. Use your digital content to engage, excite, and connect with potential supporters, and then drive them to your donation page. With the right integrations, multiple marketing channels can also help you capture a ton of digital engagement data that you can use to inform future campaigns and projects!
The Importance of Tech Integrations
Integrating tools means creating a connection between different software applications that allows for the free flow of data. This is especially important when it comes to digital marketing, insofar as the kind of data generated by digital tools and channels makes it easier to track your results, measure audience engagement, and analyze performance over time.
In the example above, the animal rescue organization would want, at a minimum, to integrate its CRM or database with its donation page and email client. This will allow it to easily create segmented mailing lists and track engagement rates. An integrated donation tool also will automatically save all the transaction data generated by the donation page and, ideally, connect that information to an existing donor profile (if the donor has engaged with the organization in the past).
This kind of integration explains much of the appeal of a platform like Salesforce, where integrated apps allow data to flow between a central database and various donor engagement tools. (Check out Double the Donation's reviews for some examples of Salesforce apps for nonprofits.)
Again, the idea is that easy access to your engagement data enables you to make better decisions around how to engage your supporters. No more guessing (in theory, at least)!
Digital marketing has never been more important. Increasing your visibility online in 2020 is key to expanding your online footprint and building a solid foundation on which to grow. The "right" strategies, tools, and content will keep your existing supporters engaged with your mission — which is critical for long-term donor retention and organizational sustainability — and make it easier to attract new supporters and volunteers.
Alas, too many organizations take a rather haphazard approach to digital marketing and don't even realize what they may be missing out on. Don’t be that organization! Take some time this month to review your marketing efforts and, if you don’t already have one, determine what you need to develop a digital multichannel strategy. We think it'll be the smartest investment you ever make. Best of luck!
Carl Diesing is co-founder and managing director of DNL OmniMedia, where he works with nonprofits to strengthen their fundraising and build their capacity to drive social change