Charitable nonprofits in the digital era, like other organizations, need to promote online to be successful. This includes acquiring new donors, planning charitable fundraising events to keep donors engaged, and more. However, marketing a nonprofit organization might be different from marketing a for-profit company. Nonprofits require digital marketing to boost awareness, donations, and participation rather than aiming to grow revenue.
Note: This is a multipart series. Read Part Two: Nonprofit Email Campaign Playbook on how to choose the right nonprofit email platform and examples of excellent charity email templates you should copy.
Digital marketing, with its variety of channels and technologies, is essential to a nonprofit’s success. You can utilize digital marketing to broaden your good influence in the real world if you know where to get the materials you need and how to use them well.
Nonprofits must be active today as they have historically been in traditional media. Charities have always been great at in-person events; expressing their drive for causes they support is considered easier in person than through digital media. However, the world has moved online, and charities need to level up their online marketing game to forward their cause. Marketing a charity, however, isn’t the same as a for-profit business. The objectives are acquiring new donors, hosting online fundraising events to keep donors engaged, and growing their audience. Nonprofits require digital marketing to boost awareness, donations, and participation rather than aiming to increase revenue.
Digital marketing, with its variety of channels and technologies and the advent of micro-giving through more accessible subscription mechanisms, has become essential to a nonprofit’s success. This multi-part series will share the most comprehensive free nonprofit marketing playbook. Online donations increased by over 21% in 2020 compared to 2019 and more than 32% over the preceding three years. Source.
Why charities have challenges with marketing themselves
The marketing part of running a nonprofit is often challenging, even if you are an experienced marketing professional. Understanding your obstacles is the first step to nonprofit digital marketing success, no matter which channel you favor, so that you can overcome challenges like:
- Limited budgets: It can be challenging for nonprofit organizations to set aside a percentage of their budget for marketing since they frequently devote as much of their resources as they can to the causes they support.
- Inexperienced marketing personnel: Charitable organizations, even the largest ones, are often staffed by volunteers or a small team of multitaskers. Even if volunteer staffing isn’t how the marketing department is constructed, charities often find it harder to attract the best talent as they fall short of the kind of compensation businesses can offer.
- Targetted outreach isn’t straightforward: Reaching your audience as a charity might be challenging, primarily because of the above two difficulties. Additionally, a nonprofit’s target audience isn’t often a specific demographic with particular interests doesn’t help. This extremely narrow target market makes it more challenging to generate leads of interested people.
- Inefficient audience engagement and retention: It’s a tight rope balancing act between acquiring donors and keeping them engaged. It is even harder to acquire potential donors, keep them motivated towards your cause and turn them into lifelong patrons. Unlike products and services, donations come from an active conscience, which demands constant communication, conviction, and inspiration. In other words, charities need to be highly vocal and active in marketing.
An independent survey by Blackbaud shows that “Small staff, transitions in staff” and ”Donor cultivation, acquisition, retention, communications” are two of the biggest challenges faced by nonprofit organizations.
These challenges do not mean that successful marketing for charitable nonprofits is impossible. It only means that a well-thought-out strategy, sound choice of marketing channels, and an acute desire to succeed are needed.
How to create a marketing strategy for a nonprofit or charity
Like other business or for-profit organizations, you need first develop a digital marketing strategy for your charity organization. It’s a crucial component of any nonprofit’s growth. A sound marketing strategy that works around your limitations and organizational constraints will enable you to effectively utilize your resources, including your personnel, cash, time, and energy.
But to develop a sound strategy, it is essential to understand the fundamental processes behind digital marketing first. Modern digital marketing splits into crucial areas you must address in your plan.
1. Establish your digital marketing objectives.
Setting goals is the first stage in every marketing strategy. What is your ultimate end goal? It’s easy enough to say “more donations,” but it helps if you break that down to more specific and tangible metrics. Like “30% growth in donors year over year”. Create SMART objectives, which are precise, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound, instead of vague or unrealistic.
It becomes easier to maintain consistency in your marketing and give direction to your efforts if you regularly compare your results to your objectives. Then, you can change your goals as necessary to better accurately represent what is achievable and the tactics that work best for you. Although clear objectives are vital, you can’t be sure which tactics or expectations will work best unless you put them into practice.
2. Identify your audience and their core values
Marketing for anything aims to identify, engage and connect with a target market. Knowing your audience and becoming knowledgeable about what’s important to them, their everyday needs wants, and pain points are fundamental to your success in crafting messages that resonate with your audience. The more you know about your audience, the better you will speak their language. There are many ways you can
- Analyze your current audience – understand their demographic layout, interests, and professional details.
- Conduct a poll – ask them two to three most important things you want to know.
- Test your hypotheses – create a few questions around why they support you so you can better understand how to craft your messages.
3. Streamline your message
After you have set your marketing objectives and understand your target audience, it’s time to craft your message. Find the words and tone that most accurately describe your objectives as a nonprofit charity and why your patrons should support you. Utilize what you learned from your audience discovery exercise about what makes donors want to support your organization. Whatever your message, it must be memorable, compelling, and clear to your audience.
Make sure to make your core message flexible, just like your objectives, to remain pertinent to your mission as it evolves. Your organizational messaging must align with its activities and be consistent across all activity levels.
4. Have a clear content creation and distribution strategy
The next step is to produce a content creation and distribution strategy consistent with your message and what your audience finds compelling. Categorize your content needs into several buckets, such as:
- Education: Where you educate people about your cause and explain why it is a material thing to support.
- Convince: Where you showcase why you are the right charitable foundation for your audience to support.
- Nurture: Where you keep your future donor base engaged and motivated towards supporting you by constantly sharing your organization’s voice.
- Retain: Where you keep your current donor base informed and convince them that their support, monetary or otherwise, is being put to the best use possible.
Once you create stellar content for your organization, you still need to distribute them – which is another way of saying that you need your audience to find the content you are creating. Distribution can include both organic and paid forms like email as an organic channel and social media advertising as a paid channel. How to distribute your content deserves its own guide, and we’ll create one for you soon.
5. Monitor, assess, and improve your marketing
Finally, you need to constantly monitor your success metrics, assess whether or not you are moving towards your marketing goals, and evolve your strategies and tactics based on your learnings. To determine if your plan is effective or not, you must have a clear understanding of how your efforts are doing. You might need to change your action plan if your outcomes don’t meet your expectations.
Define high-level objectives (such as donation targets and the number of donors) and granular performance metrics that you monitor daily, such as traffic to your website, email subscribers, open rates, click rates, and donation conversion rates.
Nonprofit Email programs and why it works so well
Email messages have clear benefits over other digital channels and offline tactics for charity organizations wanting to grow their supporters and donors. Unlike nearly all other marketing channels, email relies on building one-one connections, something crucial for charitable organizations. Here are more reasons why email for nonprofits is a must:
Email programs are economical.
ROI or Return on Investment is the primary driver behind the choice of any marketing channel for any industry. However, ROI becomes even more critical for nonprofits where spending efficiency is paramount. The ROI of email is unbeatable. In the context of charities, organizations can raise an average of $78 for every 1,000 emails sent for fundraising.
It’s both personal and effective at scale.
Email is the only channel that allows you to be highly personal and reach audiences at a remarkable scale. Through effective personalization, you can tailor an email to appeal selectively to specific audience segments and personalize nearly every element of your message and yet reach millions of readers simultaneously.
Email programs enables multitouch nurturing.
Most marketing channels like social media and paid ads are single-touch. While you can create complex multitouch experiences, such setups cost money and introduce the need for implementing intricate data handling tools. On the other hand, email comes with multitouch marketing out of the box. The inbox is the original nurturing power tool.
Email opens the window towards maintaining a personal dialogue and developing relationships with individuals who are interested in your cause. By implementing drip campaigns and email automation, you can effectively take someone from being a causal supporter of your mission to a pledged donor and ultimately become a champion and ambassador.
Charity and Nonprofit email campaign playbook and key strategies
Now that we have established why email is an excellent channel for charities, let’s get into the key strategies.
1. Responsibly grow your subscriber base
Collecting emails is about placement and timing. Make sure you have email subscription forms in strategic places on your website. This includes your footer, enabling exit-intent popups and in-line forms on your content pages.
Consider partnering with other nonprofits or for-profit businesses aligned with your mission to create lead-generating campaigns like webinars or co-producing content.
Never compromise the quality of your list over its size. Remember that an email list is only as valuable as its engagement rate. A disengaged subscriber base won’t convert into donors, but it will do a great job of hurting your reputation as a quality email sender in the eyes of inbox providers like Gmail and Yahoo!.
2. Enrich your email subscriber data
Get more information about your email subscribers by combining data from different platforms and tools you already use. For example, connect your website analytics tools such as Google Analytics with your email platform so you know where your subscribers came from, and integrate with your donor management platform or your CRM to enrich prospect data.
Why is creating data pipelining so important? Because the more you know about your donors, the more relevant you can be with your messages to them, which will boost engagement and assist in donor conversions.
3. Personalize your communications
With a well-connected information pipeline between your website and your email database and combining all other data regarding your email subscribers, your next objective is to be as personal in your messaging as possible.
4. Personalize your email content:
Use information about your subscriber to customize your email content. Addressing by the first name is obvious but go beyond that. Personalize content based on where they are from, share locally relevant content, and wish them on their birthdays or donor anniversaries. Share contextually relevant updates on what they are supporting you.
5. Be aware of your donor journey:
Not all emails will be relevant to all your subscribers. For example, a change in your donation acceptance policy does not apply to new subscribers who are only getting warmed up to you. At the same time, a generic newsletter on why your mission is a worthy cause may not be as beneficial to a long-term supporter. This brings us to our next point.
6. Segment your subscriber list:
Segment your subscriber list into different groups based on what’s most beneficial to you. For example, common segments could be:
- What kind of patrons they are – new subscribers, existing donors
- Renewals – monthly segments of donors where their yearly pledge renewal is approaching.
- Donation frequency – yearly versus monthly donors
- By donation amounts – bucketed by how much donations they give you.
Create segments for each distinct group that will allow you to craft relevant emails to them and keep them engaged.
7. Automate your email workflow:
Email automation saves you time by removing repeat steps for each campaign and enables you to send highly personalized emails at scale. Customizing each email for, say, 100,000 subscribers manually would not only take weeks or months, it would also be highly error-prone and not timely. Here are just a few examples of email automations you should set up for your charity:
- Welcome and thank you emails: Automate the welcome message you send to a new subscriber by setting up subscription form autoresponders. Similarly, integrate with your payment processing solution so you can send an automated thank you email every time someone donates.
- Donation reminders: Set up automated reminders for upcoming donations a day and a week prior.
- New subscriber drip campaign: Set up a series of emails that gradually onboard new subscribers. Share your story, wins, and mission over a set period so your new patrons can get to know your organization.
It is straightforward to set up different subscriber paths and automate email journies for different donor base segments once you’ve determined how you want to communicate with each segment.
8. Tell compelling stories
No matter the industry, storytelling helps you connect with your audience and strengthen your brand. Sharing your organization’s wins and challenges will make your audience feel a part of your community and allow them to participate in your journey towards your mission. While “storytelling” has become a buzzword, at its core, good storytelling is all about genuine sharing of your organization’s everyday battles.
Storytelling awakens empathy. Stories make your audience care about your organization and your mission. Stories about you give your audience a hero they can relate to, rally behind, and want to succeed. Here are some tips on the kind of stories you can share with your audience:
1. Share your milestones: When you reach a specific donation target, enter into new geography, or help a certain number of causes you are working towards, share that story. Also, share the journey you had to go through to get there.
2. Share your origin story: Tell your audience how you started, how your organization or your local chapter came to being, and what inspired your organization to work on the cause you support.
3. Share your challenges: Be honest and share with your subscribers the everyday challenges you face as a charitable organization. Doing this will evoke empathy and emotional support that will spur you further towards your mission and give your donors extra motivation to keep helping you along your way.
Wrapping it up
To wrap up this guide, let’s take a look again at what we learned.
Digital marketing, with its variety of channels and technologies, is essential to a nonprofit’s success. Marketing a charity, however, isn’t the same as marketing a for-profit business. Nonprofits require digital marketing to boost awareness, donations, and participation rather than aiming to increase revenue. Charitable organizations face unique challenges when it comes to developing a digital marketing strategy for their cause. Unlike products and services, donations come from an active conscience, which demands constant communication, conviction, and inspiration.
In other words, charities need to be highly vocal and active in marketing. Marketing for anything aims to identify, engage and connect with a target market. Knowing your audience and becoming knowledgeable about what’s important to them are fundamental to your success. Find the words and tone that most accurately describe your mission and why your patrons should support you. Once you’ve created stellar content for your organization, you need to distribute it.
Distribution can include both organic and paid forms like email and social media advertising. You need to constantly monitor your success metrics, assess whether or not you are moving towards your marketing goals, and evolve your strategies and tactics. Email programs open the window towards maintaining a personal dialogue and developing relationships with individuals who are interested in your cause. By implementing drip campaigns and email automation, you can effectively take someone from being a causal supporter of your mission to a pledged donor and ultimately become a champion and ambassador. Email automation saves you time by removing repeat steps for each campaign and enables you to send highly personalized emails at scale.
The more data you have about your donors, the more relevant you can be with your messages to them, which will boost engagement and assist in donor conversions. Automate the welcome and thank you emails you send to a new subscriber by setting up subscription form autoresponders. Integrate with your payment processing solution so you can send an automated thank you email every time someone donates. Set up a series of emails that onboard new subscribers.
And finally, good storytelling is genuine sharing of your organization’s everyday battles. Stories make your audience care about your organization and your mission. Be honest and share with your subscribers the everyday challenges you face as a charity. Do this will evoke empathy and give your donors extra motivation to keep helping you.