How to Persuade Your Board to Invest in Nonprofit Digital Marketing

Lou
Kotsinis

You’re a tireless advocate for your cause—the Executive Director on the front lines, overseeing countless projects and deadlines, or the Director of Development, committed to raising the funds to accomplish your mission. You’re doing all the right things, making the right connections, spreading the word far and wide, but you also know that your organization needs to level up—with professional, nonprofit digital marketing.

You know you need a new website, or that you need to invest in paid social media. Maybe it’s overhauling an archaic donor management system or building that mobile app to improve volunteer coordination. You see the need, clear as day. But there’s something stopping you. Is it time? The right team? Funding? No. We both know what it is, so let’s just come out and say it. It’s…

The Board.

Okay, I’m being dramatic. Your board acts as a steward, providing experience and oversight. If they’re doing their job, they should be thoroughly questioning major expenditures of all sorts. But when it comes to making investments in digital marketing and technology, we’ve seen some nonprofit boards delay or even entirely put off necessary investments.  And that holds everyone back. 

Based on our experience working with non-profit leadership, here are the three most commonly cited board concerns we’ve heard—and that you might now be facing—and how you can address them: 

Why do we even need this?

What’s the ROI?

Why does this cost so much?

Each of these concerns requires its own discussion, and I’ll be dedicating a post to each as part of a series. Today I’ll be talking about persuading reluctant board members to make the investment in a nonprofit digital marketing agency in the first place.

nonprofit digital marketing agency

Why do we even need this?

Even though we’re living in a digital-first world, you will likely encounter board members that still might not see the need to invest seriously in digital infrastructure. There are multiple reasons for this pushback:

  • Complacency: (a.k.a., “we’ve always done it this way”): Perhaps the organization has thrived on the generosity of a handful of individual donors or grants and thus doesn’t see the need to fundraise online, or to put up a public, digital face to gain exposure.
  • Fear: Many people are still intimidated by technology and, given perhaps a lack of experience are reluctant to invest in something they feel they won’t be able to understand or control.
  • Concerns About Brand: We’ve had experiences where board members felt that digital marketing – seen correctly as promotion and advertising – was something “other” organizations did, and that might even damage their own organization’s reputation.

These are all different challenges, and your first step is to discover which one (or combination) is driving resistance. In our experience, it only takes a conversation to understand what the worries are.

In any of these situations, you’ll need to consider the individuals involved before making your case. Acknowledging concerns and ensuring that board members are heard and understood is a critical first step in order for these conversations to happen. If you’re not able to show that you relate to the board member(s)—even if you don’t fully agree with them—you’ll be at a disadvantage.

Persuading Complacent, or Risk-Averse Board Members

In persuading a complacent board to adopt digital tools and practices, you’ll by definition be rocking the boat—introducing a new and perhaps strange tool or program into what was a safe and comfortable space. Accordingly, your approach will need to provide reassurance and emphasize that everything will be okay.

Your job here will be to establish how this tool or program is mission-critical; i.e., that if the organization doesn’t proceed down this path, it will be left behind. There are many ways to establish this position, and your specific approach will depend upon your needs, but here are a few directions to consider:

  • Enumerate the risks of not proceeding forward
  • Are your fundraising efforts reliant upon a handful of generous donors? What if those donors go away? Make a case for developing an on-line fundraising strategy based on mitigating that risk and opening up a new revenue stream.
  • Is the organization reluctant to use email marketing as a means to court potential donors for fear of seeming intrusive? Cite statistics from sources such as convinceandconvert.com or wordstream.com or borrow successful campaign data from non-competing organizations to show how much revenue the organization is losing out on by not tapping this critical mechanism.
  • Show how the current ways aren’t working
  • A great way to build support for a new website is to illustrate how the existing one isn’t pulling its weight. A service like usertesting.com offers a simple and affordable way to provide third-party evidence that a poor design is causing potential donors to drop-off or that the mobile version of your home page is confusing users.
  • Show them what the competition is doing
  • Non-profits are in a continual fight for dollars. To that end, providing examples of how competing organizations are doing a better job of online fundraising – either through a vibrant social media community, better online positioning, or more exposure on the right digital channels – will go a long way to convince people that their organization, too must enter that fray.

Persuading Technophobic Board Members

If you’ve identified a fear of technology as the factor that’s preventing board members from embracing a digital investment, exposure is the key. By gently introducing the individuals in question to the proposed tool or initiative, you can begin to allay their fears.

  • Run a training and highlight the benefits
  • Consider running a workshop on the basics of digital marketing. This will have the added benefits of enriching influential individuals and raising your own stature and relationship with the board.
  • Show them where the pain is
  • That antiquated content management system that’s preventing your team from updating your website properly? Run it side-by-side with a proper CMS, showing step-by-step how this improvement will provide operational efficiencies.
  • Shine a light on how digital really works
  • It’s amazing to see how many people still don’t understand that Facebook limits organic reach to 5% – 10% of a page’s total fan base – and that accordingly, paid advertising has become a must. By taking the board through the basics of social, and then underscoring how those platforms actually work, they’ll learn the real-world application of these tools and may be more apt to consider investing in them.

Allaying Concerns About “Brand”

This last form of resistance is gaining in relevance, as the need for paid social media becomes necessary to counter declining organic reach. We’ve found that organizations that have grown organically in the past, without the support of marketing campaigns or online positioning efforts are most susceptible to this concern, worrying that a reputation that has been built over decades might be now be sullied by “advertising.”

Making the case that your storied organization needs a foothold in an increasingly competitive market, you can help sway reluctant board members by:

  • Showing results of successful campaigns
  • It’s hard to argue with results. Work with an agency or specialist that has a track record of success in using digital to raise funds, drive more traffic or create conversions and invite them in to share their work with the board.
  • (Again) Showing what the competition is doing
  • If other, similar organizations are gaining exposure at your expense by undertaking digital campaigns, capture those examples and build a case to show that your organization won’t be the “only one” – and that done professionally, a strong digital campaign can actually burnish your reputation.

Reassurance is the Way

As you hold these interactions with your board, it’s important to strike a gentle, optimistic and reassuring tone. Yes, many of the approaches I cite above focus on the opportunity cost of not doing something, but all are rooted in education and guidance. Throughout your discussions, it’s important to keep an open mind; recall that the board just wants what it feels is best for the organization.  You can meet that concern by underscoring that the “old ways” don’t necessarily need to end. Rather, they can be supported and supplemented through the latest technology and nonprofit digital marketing strategy.

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Lou Kotsinis

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