Anxiety about staying up-to-date with all the different technology platforms, posting to social media every week, updating the website, writing the email newsletter… that’s enough to keep a busy nonprofit practitioner up at night.
There is a solution, and I’m going to spell it out for you.
I remain thoroughly convinced that nonprofit online marketing does not have to be an uphill battle, or a cause of overwhelm and stress.
After working with dozens of nonprofit clients in my business, and after having been a one-woman development/marketing/outreach/kitchen sink department, I know that there are four specific tasks required to experience “success” in online marketing.
When put in place, these four tasks can provide your nonprofit with the peace of mind that comes with having a system and a plan for your online marketing efforts – much better than throwing stuff up against the wall to see what sticks.
Peace of mind, focus, and clarity of purpose – doesn’t that sound refreshing? Let’s get started.
Step 1: Define what success looks like for you.
The first task required for online marketing success is – to know what success actually means!
Success to an all-volunteer, community-based nonprofit is much different than success to an international, billion-dollar university.
You simply cannot know the path until you know the destination.
So, I assume that since you are reading this post you know that online marketing is important.
But why is it important? What is the potential? What do you hope to achieve here?
I recommend defining one SMART goal for your online marketing efforts every 90 days. (SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.)
This way, you know where you are going, and can then begin to build the steps in the journey to get there.
For each 90 day online marketing plan that you create, you will have just one SMART goal to achieve.
This will ensure that you are laser-focused on the specific tasks required to accomplish this goal, creating clarity of purpose and confidence that you are not spinning your wheels on tasks that won’t get results.
I have also seen that 90 days is a short enough amount of time so you can switch gears in an emergency or a crisis, and it is a long enough time to really see the results of your efforts.
Let’s take a look at a tangible example.
If you are like most nonprofits, you are planning a push around November/December for year-end fundraising donations.
If that’s the case, a sample SMART goal is:
During our 4-week year-end fundraising campaign, we will double the number of donations made online, measured against the number made last year during this same time period.
Remember, you want your SMART goal to be achievable, but ambitious.
When setting a goal for your nonprofit, benchmark against previous totals from the same time period.
Note: I caution against comparing yourself to other organizations that may seem to be the same size or have comparable resources – you never know what’s going on behind the scenes.
Step 2: List out what exactly is needed to achieve success (as you define it).
Look again at your goal. For this example: To double the number of online donations made during this year’s year-end fundraising campaign.
Then make a list of the specific items that need to be in place to make this goal a reality.
For our example, to double the number of online donations made at year-end, a nonprofit will need:
- An engaged community of donors and donor prospects. You also need a way to reach these donors and donor prospects, ideally in the form of a mailing address and an email. I can’t give you exact numbers here because it depends on the size of your organization, the scope of your work, and the amount that you want to raise.
- Established trust and credibility, grown through frequent, relevant communications throughout the year (not just emailing people to ask for money or go to an event).
- A record of good work and impact, told ideally through visual testimonials and a variety of compelling stories. Storytelling videos tend to work best, as they grab attention and pique interest more than other static forms of content.
- Fans and followers on your social media communities – good to have, but not required. While having an updated donor and donor prospect contact list is MUCH more important than thousands of fans on social media, having a large, dynamic social media community will only be helpful when doing a year-end fundraising push online.
These assets do not get created overnight. Many nonprofit practitioners pour their blood, sweat, and tears for many years cultivating and growing their online communities.
That leads us into the next step.
Step 3: Know and love your tribe.
Let me start by staying that I do believe there is value in audience segmentation – carefully crafting separate messages to specific segments of your community, email list, mailing list, etc.
But if you are a small nonprofit with a tiny staff (if any), who has the time and the resources to do this?
In my opinion, it is best for a nonprofit to go all-in with the concept of cultivating a tribe that you know and love. (Seth Godin has a brilliant TED Talk on the subject of tribes – a must-watch).
By tribe, I mean the people invested in your outcomes – your donors, clients, volunteers, staff, and interested community members. Important note – I do NOT mean everyone with a pulse within a 50 mile radius.
Start thinking of your online marketing target audience as a tribe rather than a disparate group of unconnected individuals, and creating content for them will become easier.
When deciding content topics to create for your tribe, ask these two questions:
- What does my tribe actually value? (NOT what do we THINK they value/what do we wish they valued)
- What do they want to know more about as related to our nonprofit and our work? (NOT what do we want them to want to know more about)
If you need more information on what moves your tribe, surveys could be the answer. I also suggest reading the incredibly valuable book Ask by Ryan Levesque, as well as this blog post by James Wedmore about his specific process in implementing the Ask method.
Note: Just because these guys are online entrepreneurs does not mean that their methodology cannot be applied to nonprofits. It would be foolish to write off these revolutionary concepts for that reason.
Step 4: Create consistent – WEEKLY – content for your tribe.
Yes, I said it. Your nonprofit needs to be creating consistent weekly content for your tribe.
If you have not been consistently communicating with your tribe throughout the year, start doing so now.
Weekly content can be a blog, an email newsletter, or a short video on Facebook. It does NOT have to be all of these things!
Like Rich Brooks said, ““You can’t beat the Internet on volume, but you can beat it on quality, clarity, and perspective.”
Choose one platform or method to provide value and information weekly to your tribe, and stick with it for 90 days.
What are some of the reasons that I recommend this time-consuming, seemingly burdensome task?
- It establishes vital trust and credibility. You need to let people know that you are experienced and worthy stewards of their donations, and that you are pushing the needle on a cause that they care deeply about.
- You will get potential donors to know you, and ideally, form a connection. Weekly content can turn skeptics into believers. Content that answers questions and addresses objections authentically knocks down barriers to participation in and investment in your cause and your work.
- You will condition your donors and donor prospects to hear from you. “Oh, it’s an email from my favorite nonprofit, talking about something that I care about, and telling me something new/unique/interesting!” Once they get accustomed to opening your emails, or watching your Facebook videos, opening and responding to your year-end fundraising email will be much easier.
Some ideas for weekly content topics and channels:
- A heartfelt email sent each week from the desk of the ED, notes from the field
- A Facebook Live video featuring a different staff member or volunteer
- Stories pulled from my 5 stories list
- A blog post addressing a frequently asked question or common misconception about your organization, your work, or the people that you serve
- You can also repurpose this weekly content by posting it on your social media channels.
So there you have it – my four steps to creating a 90-day nonprofit online marketing plan, one that will give you clarity and confidence, without spending needless hours on social media.
Let me know what you think!
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