Nonprofits do their best work championing a cause and raising money through storytelling, but the way they do that has changed dramatically in the past five years.
Whereas printed, glossy annual reports sent to a select few used to be the nonprofit’s main storytelling forum, now digital tools are more effective for advocating and supporting the mission and for raising money. That modern advocacy includes using videos, drip marketing campaigns and social media, in addition to providing those annual reports, only those also usually exist exclusively on websites, sometimes even employing interactive data.
Digital marketing campaigns allow higher velocity, but the virality amplifies the potential beyond the traditional audience, which is crucial given that most nonprofits run lean and are resource starved. Organizations with revenues under $2 million typically don’t have dedicated technology or marketing resources, for example.
But those organizations do have someone responsible for fundraising, and usually that person also manages the organization’s web presence, email marketing, social media and online fundraising tools in addition to the more traditional avenues of fundraising, like approaching major donors, crafting direct mail campaigns and organizing events.
Here are some of the digital tools that assist resource-constrained nonprofits in accomplishing more with its marketing and fundraising efforts.
A web presence is obviously a staple ingredient in digital marketing and storytelling. With easy-to-use website building and content management tools like Squarespace and WordPress, many small nonprofits can look relatively sophisticated without the heavy lifting. There are hundreds of affordable (or free) tools like these for almost any aspect of maintaining a web presence.
But having a website is really the price of entry for digital marketing. Building an effective website fosters credibility. At the very least, it allows people to understand the organization’s mission and provides a setting for online donations. The best nonprofit sites go beyond the basics to establish a positive brand image, highlight success and encourage action and community support. These nonprofit sites do an exceptional job with these three elements:
1. Establish a Positive Brand Image – Michelson Found Animals
The Michelson Found Animals site uses powerful, but playful imagery and colors to appeal to its animal-loving supporters. The nonprofit makes its goal clear with a concise mission statement front and center on the site.
2. Highlight Successes – Tides
Tides uses a video on its homepage to call attention to the impactful work it’s doing and highlights metrics and stories to demonstrate the effectiveness of its efforts.
3. Encourage Action & Community Support – Sierra Club
The Sierra Club website uses automatic location recognition to highlight events and causes closest to its visitors and includes several call-to-action opportunities without being overly aggressive. On top of that, the homepage highlights various missions with associated percentage of goal completion trackers—an effective way for constituents to understand the impact of their support immediately.
With tools to capture video available at the (literal, sometimes) fingertips of nearly every person, more nonprofits are using this technology to tell its story. Sites like YouTube and Vimeo make it easier to share this content than ever before.
According to the 2018 Global NGO Technology Report conducted by Nonprofit Tech for Good, 57% of nonprofits have a YouTube channel and 32% of organizations view video as a very effective tool for communication and fundraising. In fact, a study conducted by Think with Google discovered that 57% of people who watch nonprofit videos go on to donate.
One of the most famous examples of a campaign that increased awareness and raised money is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which brought in $115 million in the summer of 2014 when it became a viral phenomenon. This effort not only leveraged video to tell the mission’s story, it also encouraged others to spread the message by creating their own video content. In other words, a massive community helped spread the word and raised money in the process.
Social media tools are key elements in driving community interest and engagement, and they can also be used, along with other tools, to listen—to listen to donor sentiment, giving trends and to measure what’s working and what’s not.
Nonprofits are using online communities like Instagram, HootSuite, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to boost content, like videos, and promote sharing across a wide network of potential donors. These social media platforms help build presence, engage constituents and raise money. In fact, 25% of donors indicated that social media is the communication tool that most often inspires them to give.
Social media also provides an opportunity to listen to audiences. At its most basic level, social listening refers to reviewing messages and responding to followers when they interact directly with organizations through social media sites. There are also several social listening tools that, when employed consistently, can provide a platform to hear directly or indirectly from donors and measure what’s been, or is likely to be most effective.
Built-in tracking tools on social sites like mentions and hashtags are used to monitor conversations about, or related to an organization. In addition to tracking direct links, tools like Twilert can monitor Twitter conversations about organizations that did not include an official mention or tag. Leveraging both techniques paints a more complete picture of an organization’s reputation on social media.
Blackbaud Attentive.ly is a tool that allows nonprofits to see how many social connections are associated to each email address in its contact list and monitor activity. This helps identify an organization’s most influential supporters.
In addition to social media monitoring, Google Alerts can track searches on an organization’s brand name and related keywords or phrases. This information can be used to monitor trends in a sector and understand the priorities of constituents.
The insights gained from these and other listening tools should be used to recognize what’s most important to audiences and to tailor outreach campaigns based on what will resonate most, form relationships with the most influential supporters and identify predictors that make people more likely to donate or attend an event.
61% of donors indicated they preferred donating online with a credit or debit card over a traditional check. Indeed, online giving grew 23% in 2017. Digital marketing provides an opportunity for nonprofits to broaden its network beyond just a local donor base, which is why the relationship between digital marketing and digital fundraising is so crucial. As more donors discover the organization, it’s critical to have a forum for digital donations.
There are a variety of free and inexpensive online resources available to aid in nonprofit fundraising efforts. These tools fall into two main categories: donation functionality integrated into a nonprofit’s site; and crowdfunding sites.
Tools like Network for Good offer add-on solutions that can be seamlessly embedded into an existing nonprofit site to allow for digital donations. You’ll often see this technology power a “Donate Now” button.
Tools like Fundly fall into the second category. These sites allow organizations to set up campaigns, separate from those on its own website, to generate donations from a larger support base. Fundraising pages can be customized and shared through social media, email or linked to from an organization’s main site. With online giving growing in popularity, it’s important to consider these online tools to make contributions as easy as possible.
Once the first four tools are in place, organizations can run far more productive email marketing campaigns. Effective campaigns include a clear call to action that can take many forms, from sending a recipient to an organization’s site to learn more, watching a video, encouraging them to join in the conversation on social media or contributing by donating or performing volunteer work. In each case, a solid foundation of digital tools—from web presence to online fundraising tools—is critical.
A successful email campaign can have an immense impact on nonprofits. Email represented 28% of all online donations in 2017. And each email counts: for every 1,000 fundraising emails delivered, nonprofits raised $42.
Email marketing tools provide organizations with an easy platform to generate and track these email campaigns. The built-in analytics track successful and unsuccessful campaigns and build insights for future improvements. Consider things like optimal days of the week or time of day to send, use of images versus videos, different layouts, how to phrase the call to action and target audience to improve campaign performance. Many offerings allow for A/B testing of these factors.
There are many resources available for nonprofits looking to implement better digital practices. Everyaction publishes a report on the 25 Best Nonprofit Campaigns. NTEN provides insight on how technology supports a nonprofit’s mission. And Firefly offers digital expertise through its consulting services. Use these tools to study which nonprofits are successfully doing what you want to accomplish.
Begin with a great website and expand into more sophisticated online tools to strengthen storytelling and lay a solid foundation for successful digital marketing and fundraising campaigns.