The Three Elements of Nonprofit Digital Strategy

Lou
Kotsinis

We hear frequently from organizations about their nonprofit digital strategy, and the conversation usually goes something like this:

“We need to raise X dollars in donations in the next fiscal year, so we’re launching a Facebook Fundraiser and a crowdfunding campaign. What do you think?

or

“We’re posting a new initiative on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn to get in front of all our stakeholders. How many times should we post each week?”

or 

“End-of-year is approaching so we’re emailing our biggest supporters to drive them back to our donation page. How many emails should we send?”

Although these efforts are well-intended and indeed often produce some success, they rarely lead to truly impactful outcomes simply because they’re too limited in vision and execution.  

Man facing a planning board, thinking about nonprofit digital strategy

Real campaign success results from comprehensive planning. In other words, you need a nonprofit digital strategy.

A thoroughly-conceived marketing plan will expand your online reach while supporting your organization’s top-line budget and donor engagement goals. To be effective, the individual pieces of your strategy should work in concert with the others to reinforce all your marketing efforts, digital and non-digital, with a unified message.  

There’s a lot involved in building and delivering a nonprofit digital strategy. But you should emphasize three key areas to frame and develop your plan: Infrastructure, Execution, and Optimization.

Infrastructure

Before you begin to plan the ways in which you’ll reach your audience, think about what awaits them when they arrive at your doorstep. Now is the time for a thorough assessment of your digital tools and assets. Review your current marketing infrastructure to ensure you’re positioned to greet, inform and guide that visitor to take an intended action. 

Typically, a nonprofit’s digital engagement with its supporters happens via its website, social media channels and email outreach. The key assets in your digital strategy should provide your audience with the right messaging and user experience to guide them to the intended action.

  • Do you have the tools and accounts you need or are there gaps in your arsenal?  
  • Is your messaging consistent and does it align with your overall mission and fundraising goals? 
  • Does your website reflect the same message and experience that your advertising does? 
  • Are your social channels in-line with your campaign messaging and are your social tools in place to accept new stakeholder activity?
  • And, internally, is your CMS (Content Management System) up-to-date and ready to handle the volume of traffic you’re hoping to receive? 

Your technology and digital assets should work together, integrated in a cohesive overall message, look and feel. If your assessment reveals weaknesses, then investing in new tools might be necessary to scale up your presence. 

Execution 

Once you’ve assessed and addressed your digital assets and infrastructure, it’s time to think deeply about who you’re hoping to reach, and how you’ll best reach them. 

Audience targeting goes beyond the scope of this post (do though, check out our guidance on building a nonprofit audience), but we’re strong advocates for developing audience personas to help you home in on your ideal prospect.

In terms of actually reaching your intended audience, ensure that you are of course considering the big three:

Your website is the first place your audience will turn to learn more about your organization’s mission and campaign. Aside from the need for a consistent message as discussed above, you’ll need to ensure that any data collection (forms, etc) and auto-responses are calibrated and working properly to engage your audience members. 

Focus your social media efforts on the channels that are most relevant to your audience and specific campaign. Work closely with your community manager and paid digital advertising expert (who may be the same person) to develop a cadence and voice that builds a community around the campaign’s goals.  

Plan your email marketing efforts to deliver segmented, personalized communications that are, ideally, targeted specifically to a donor’s history and level of engagement with your organization.   

Overall, be intentional about the tactics within your strategy. When is crowd-funding a campaign a better fit for your organization than driving supporters to your online donation page through email? Which social media outlet can better broadcast your particular message to a particular audience? How and where will you focus your strategy to get results? 

Optimization 

A key advantage of digital versus traditional forms of marketing is the ability to assess the progress of your initiatives based on real-time data. 

As you’re developing your plan, it’s crucial to establish the various benchmarks that will measure the success of your campaign (and this should be more than just the bottom line goal). For example, you might use conversion metrics such as number of completed donations, volunteer applications, email open rate or email registrations, or measure website traffic to specific pages to assess your progress. All of these factors will help tell a story; one that allows you to adjust your efforts accordingly – i.e. to optimize – and move more efficiently towards your main goal. 

Make the most of the reporting features offered with most software systems to compare data both before and after the campaign to determine what’s working and what’s not; you’ll then build on this in your day-to-day marketing and future campaigns. 

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Modern digital marketing technologies allow us to launch campaigns quickly. But to create value with an eye towards significant, long-term results, you’ll need to focus on strategic, rather than tactical planning. When developing your next campaign, keep these three pillars in mind: Infrastructure, Execution and Optimization; build your strategy along those frameworks and ensure that you’re checking boxes along the way.  The effort you put in in advance will pay benefits down the road.  

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