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What Nonprofit Leaders Need to Understand About Digital Marketing

Marketing the sale or trade of goods and services is as old as civilization. But digital marketing - the strategic use of technology to amplify your message and inspire action - is a fairly new and evolving concept. Just 20 years ago, there were only 23 registered blog sites on the internet. Compare that to the now 150-million-and-counting blogs in existence, and it’s clear that digital marketing is anything but static.

As a nonprofit leader, your goal is clear - market your cause and enlist supporters. How to go about that is often much less clear. That’s why we’ve compiled a short menu of helpful strategies you can apply today:


Make your call-to-action match your reader’s intent.

One of the most commonly used calls-to-action is “Donate.” But oftentimes, a donation means something more personal to the reader such as a symbolic gesture to “feed children in need” or “protect families from future hurricanes.” By mirroring your reader’s intent in your call-to-action, you demonstrate that their efforts can make a meaningful difference. But don’t take our word for it; In a study performed by research firm NextAfter for CaringBridge, an organization that helps friends and family stay in contact while one of them is having a health challenge, they observed a 19.7% increase in traffic when they changed the copy on the call-to-action button. Originally, the button said “Ways to Help,” but by changing it to “Help [person’s name],” there was a sizeable increase in engagement. Why? Because the copy matched the reader’s intent: to help their friend or family member.


Distribute strategically or watch great content fall flat. 

When it comes to marketing, one size (and one style) does not fit all distribution channels. Buzzfeed VP of Strategy, Jonathan Perelman, says it best in his presentation, Content is King, Distribution is Queen: “Create great content, but that is not enough. Understand how and where it will travel across the social web, and you’ll understand the consumer.”

Let’s put this concept into context. Imagine that you’ve just hired a skilled videographer to film a video for your organization’s year-end fundraising campaign. The video turned out great and you ask the fundraising coordinator to publish it on YouTube. After watching a how-to video, they complete the task, and you send the link in an email to your members with an ask for them to donate. You know the video is impactful and moving, and you think it’s highly likely people will come across the video on YouTube and share it with friends. Your goal is not only to raise funds, but also attract new members. So you continue checking the video’s view tracker in anticipation of it going viral. When the number of viewers doesn’t surpass double digits three weeks later, you don’t know where you went wrong. Let us help you out here - you forgot to follow an orchestrated distribution strategy. A strategy encompasses understanding the channels available to you, knowing your target audience/s, planning a content calendar, and adjusting content to fit the appropriate channel. 


Equip your organization with the right tools. 

Every year, technology advances, and the best news is that much of it is available for free. If you want to scale your organization and reach a wider audience, don’t be afraid to try new tools and use technology to assist your cause. Not sure where to start?

Here are a few suggested steps:

  1. Define your marketing goals
  2. Evaluate where your organization could use some assistance
  3. Research what technologies are out there
  4. Determine which will help you reach your goals
  5. Implement and start experimenting*

*We recommend reading the next insider tip before you complete step 5.


Before you invest, ensure you can evaluate success. 

We often get asked if it’s a good idea to invest in paid digital, whether social, display, search engine marketing, etc. The challenge is, unless you have someone on your team who can ensure you are spending your dollars wisely and strategically, you may not get the results you are hoping for. Speaking of results, how will you measure them? After all, you don’t want to be left guessing when it comes to paid marketing. Tossing $100 behind a boosted Facebook post without a clearly defined goal or audience is a lazy investment. 

As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of free resources available but if you don’t have the time or savvy to digest digital marketing tactics, find someone who can. Bottom line - ensure you can measure and evaluate what success looks like before you invest.


Remember, less isn’t always more.

We’re often told to keep content simple and concise, but that guidance isn’t always applicable when it comes to nonprofit campaigning. Adding an extra sentence explaining why a donation makes a difference on a form, for example, can increase conversions by 28 percent. Likewise, an email that includes a personal message from you or another leader, in addition to a value proposition and ask, is much more likely to be read. The outcome is the same when it comes to Facebook advertising. In one study, doubling the content length in a paid advertisement on the social site resulted in a 42 percent increase in conversion rate.

But before you get typing, make sure every word supports your organization’s story and isn’t just filler content. When it comes to effective copywriting, you’ll want to invest both time and resources, which brings us to our final point…


Hire a talented runner if you expect to win the marathon.

Marketing is a slow and steady endurance race. Everything from website branding to paid Facebook advertisements to thank you emails count as marketing. Simply put, how you show up online is all part of the story you’re telling that will either draw or repel a prospective supporter. With such a broad-reaching strategy needed, don’t let someone who doesn’t understand marketing run the race for your organization. Hire an expert who has trained and won past marathons to bring your campaign across the finish line.