This past year was certainly an explosive one for digital marketing and online fundraising.
Many nonprofits upped their efforts on digital channels, and reaped the benefits. I worked with nonprofits on a diverse array of online campaigns designed to drive awareness, engagement, fundraising, and more.
What I found was that while the majority of nonprofits are able to do inspiring work, many of them continue to feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the sheer array of digital tools available and the lack of time to use them all effectively.
If you have worked with me, or heard me speak, you know that I believe that less is more. I know, and have seen, that even the smallest nonprofit can rock their online marketing.
Here are my top 5 pieces of advice for nonprofit communicators who want to cut through the clutter and grab attention in 2017.
1) Put your money where your mouth is and disavow the Cult of Free.
There is an insidious attitude that has infected many nonprofits, large and small, old and new. I call it the Cult of Free.
The Cult of Free is when nonprofits feel entitled to receive all things – labor, assets, land, knowledge – without putting any skin in the game. Yes, I said it – entitled.
Just because you do great work does not mean that you are entitled to anything – donations, volunteers, time, attention. Sadly, it just doesn’t.
The Cult of Free is insidious. It makes nonprofits of all sizes think that they can’t compete with large organizations, even if they are targeting completely different audiences with completely different messages.
Some organizations spend so much time and effort looking for free stuff that they lose entire days, or weeks, of serving clients! This idea is completely bananas to me.
Yes, resources are stretched. Time and money are most often cited as the reasons why nonprofits do not improve their websites, tell their stories on Facebook, or use email marketing software.
In 2017, nonprofits will have to make some serious and difficult decisions about where to allocate resources and staff time. You can say that you value communicating with donors, sharing your impact with them, and raising awareness with new groups. But does your budget show this?
What gets budgeted for gets done – especially in the nonprofit world! Even allocating $20 for a Facebook Ad to promote your annual fundraising gala, the one that you spend thousands of staff hours on, can have a big impact.
Put your money where your mouth is. If you say you want to try online fundraising this year, or crowdfunding, or social media marketing, put aside some money to explore new tools and get some help implementing them.
2) Stop blaming the technology.
To quote a very wise person, “Don’t hate the player – hate the game.”
And what’s the game in nonprofit marketing? Grabbing attention and piquing interest.
Yes, organic (unpaid) reach on social media channels is WAY down. Email opens and click-through rates are declining. The online playing field is crowded and noisy.
However, this does not mean you get to just throw up your hands and say “Damn you Zuckerberg!” and quit. The tools are not the problem. Many, many nonprofits and businesses and causes and individuals are using social media, email, blogging, and more to tell their stories, connect with customers and donors, and do business and raise money. Very successfully.
Stop saying that it’s Facebook’s fault, or Twitter’s, or the email, or your website. Get better tools if you need to. Get more training. Understand how best to use the tools and then kick butt at using them.
If you set up a telephone line in your office, but then never call any donors, you can’t blame the phone when the money doesn’t roll in.
3) Understand the landscape and just do you.
The online (and offline) landscape in which you are trying to market yourself is growing daily, and getting noisier and more crowded. You are not just competing with other nonprofits for people’s attention. You are competing with friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, celebrities, news, current events!
Within this landscape there are new tools cropping up all the time. Do not get seduced by shiny new object syndrome (unless one day all of your donors seem to be using it).
Find your tribe. Do YOU. Stay true to your voice and your message. Authenticity beats flashiness on social media every single time, in every format. Be authentic. Share your best stuff. Open up, be transparent, be accessible. Be funny!
Understand what it takes to compete in marketing in 2017. Then figure out a way to do it, bit by bit, slowly but surely. You do not have to do everything at once. You do not have to be on every channel. But you do have to try.
To quote digital marketing guru Rich Brooks: “You can’t beat the Internet on quantity or volume – but you can beat it on quality.”
4) Focus on keeping your existing donors.
What is the one way that you can keep your existing donors, year after year? Make them feel like their contributions make a difference!
This is not a trick question. Donors want to hear from you more than once or twice a year, when you ask them to open up their wallets. They want to know the faces behind the organization and the stories of lives changed.
Giving your donors the information that they want means taking the time to understand who they are, where they connect with you, and what messages resonate with them. What types of stories do they want to see, hear, read? What other things are they interested in, besides your cause and your nonprofit?
The best and most simple way to do this is to schedule two or three dedicated fundraising campaigns throughout the year. Those are times when you will be sending out appeals, calling donors on the phone, holding coffees and meetings, organizing fundraising events.
The rest of the year? Let donors know what all that money goes to! Think of the NPR radio fundraising model, which has worked so successfully for them. They have all hands on deck, appealing to their listeners via mail, email, and on the radio for about two weeks at a time. They set a goal and they tell us about it (constantly). Then, they get back to work for the rest of the year, until fundraising campaign time rolls around again.
Of course, you can still accept donations year-round. But make sure that you are regularly communicating with donors throughout the year in order to retain them. It is exponentially more expensive and difficult to find a new donor than to steward a current one!
5) Get out of your comfort zone.
Online marketing success requires grit, authenticity, and the willingness to take risks. There is a science to it, but a lot of it is experimentation, humor, and “edu-tainment” (education/entertainment).
Grabbing attention, especially on social media, means being provocative, interesting, and relevant. It means spending some time thinking about a creative content strategy for the New Year. It means not just throwing up stuff and hoping it will stick.
It means getting out of your comfort zone and trying new things, like Facebook Live or Instagram Live. Live streaming video is blowing up in popularity, and both platforms are pushing it. Don’t shoot the messenger here – and don’t hate the player (or the tools). Understand this is what is getting eyeballs and attention, and figure out a way to adapt it into your strategy.
Getting out of your comfort zone may mean incorporating video into your 2017 social media plan. Video in 2017, as it has been almost every single year since Facebook began, is the most popular form of content across all social media channels. It has been proven, demonstrated, written about, blogged about, and discussed heavily.
The conclusion – video will remain the most potent way to communicate with your online community in 2017. My advice: Find a way to get on board, or get left behind.
What pieces of advice do you have for nonprofits that want to rock their online marketing in 2017? Leave them in the comments!
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