Nonprofit Marketing: Leverage the Internet for Outreach and to Boost Donations
Standard marketing principles apply even to nonprofits; however, in the nonprofit world we use more suitable terminology, like Outreach, and Communications to describe the activities necessary for furthering the nonprofit’s mission. The web provides, along with an effective offline marketing strategy, an efficient platform for reaching target audiences, whether they are well-wishers, brand/mission evangelists, or donors. The starting point is a solid website that serves the same purpose that brochures, leaflets, and public service announcements do – to comprehensively inform various publics about the organization and to convert supporters into donors. The nonprofit’s website also offers a handshake between the website viewer and the organization, presenting a “Get Updates” button that offers a minimal incentive in exchange for the viewer’s information. This information becomes the online base for outreach efforts.
Always ask information-seekers and supporters for their e-mail address at a minimum. With e-mail addresses collected we develop a simple e-mail outreach campaign that provides a channel to send out quarterly newsletters, promoting events, and publicizing hot button issues or donation campaigns. In the email be sure to include the best material at the top of the e-mail, just like the print world’s “above the fold” principle. This would be a good time to invite e-mail recipients to “Like” the nonprofit on Facebook and “Follow” it on Twitter. A link that offers to “share with a friend” would be an added feature of the e-mail.
The social nature of the e-mail is very important to the success of email communications. When someone reads your email remember that they made a concerted effort to sit in front of the computer to read their new emails, or the most hyper-digital of them set their phones to notify them for each email. This low-pressure environment provides the reader with a summary of the nonprofit’s latest achievements, and also calls for a donation or support by following the nonprofit on their Facebook page. This isn’t where the e-mail outreach campaign stops though.
An appropriately structured e-mail outreach campaign provides meaningful performance metrics that help us make better, more calculated decisions in developing follow up campaigns. There are several online tools for creating and managing e-mail marketing campaigns, including Constant Contact, Vertical Response, and MailChimp. The latter offers a free plan that is full of features and benefits, including a reporting dashboard that lets you know how many people received the e-mail, how many of those people actually read the e-mail, and what links were clicked on the e-mail. This helps us determine what content was the most popular, allowing us to focus on that specific content type in the future to enhance results on future campaigns.
While there are many online tools for running e-mail campaigns you need to choose the one that fits your organization’s needs, most of them offer free trials and some of them have basic plans that are affordable and sometimes free themselves. To summarize, the most important factors of an e-mail campaign are effective e-mail design and meaningful reports; furthermore, the capability to integrate with your organization’s constituent relationship management (CRM) system can be quite important if you rely on that CRM for day-to-day operations.
A CRM system made specifically for nonprofits will help you manage just about every part of your nonprofit’s operations, from communications to events, and finances to donor/membership management. Popular CRM systems produced by Blackbaud/Convio. StratusLIVE, and Sage will allow you to import the results of your e-mail marketing campaigns, often in .CSV and .XLS formats; in fact, these CRM systems may also contain their own e-mail campaign management tools, allowing you to develop and launch e-mail outreach efforts from within the CRM system itself. Nonprofit organizations face the same principle challenges that corporations must deal with; nevertheless, nonprofits have much more limited resources and are forced to do more with less.
I have a lot of experience working with nonprofits at their early stages – if funding is available it’s important to invest in a CRM system to help organize all of the disparate data that often gets lost in Excel spreadsheets or at worst, physical documents spread about the office. An option we’ve frequently entertained is the implementation of an affordable, open source nonprofit CRM called CiviCRM. This CRM is built to run directly on your existing website built on an open source platform like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla.
As you can see, the internet offers the nascent nonprofit organization, and the established one, the ability to reach out to diverse publics in a cost-efficient, measurable manner. The most important part of using the web for nonprofit management is to actually get started. Don’t be afraid to get your feet wet, and don’t let the “technical” nature of these web-driven campaigns hold you up from starting. Often times these web applications provide excellent documentation and there are an increasing number of nonprofit management professionals that understand how to leverage the web to forward the organization’s mission – seek these folks out or start on your own now.