While most of the world seems to be moving on from Covid-19, the financial and staffing challenges brought on by the pandemic persist, within the nonprofit fundraising sector. A survey conducted by the Nonprofit Leadership Center revealed this ongoing and alarming trend: an 83% decline in revenue and contributions and a collective reduction of 47% in employment across the sector.
Concurrently, the demand for nonprofit assistance within communities has surged, thereby exacerbating the strain on organizations operating with limited personnel. In this context, the imperative of devising quantifiable, scalable, programmatic marketing strategies takes on heightened significance. These strategies should be meticulously aligned with precise stakeholder targeting to ensure longterm effectiveness. In the current scenario, nonprofit marketers' focus needs to pivot towards sustainable solutions that optimize accuracy and impact.
As we enter the end-of-year fundraising homestretch, nonprofit marketers will need to refine their digital strategies, enabling them to channel their resources effectively and fulfill their pivotal roles in supporting communities.
A Solid Marketing Foundation
It’s old hat at this point to remind nonprofit leaders how critical a clear, concise, and meaningful mission statement is, but developing a “marketing mission” of sorts, is just as important to ensure all channels and campaigns are working toward a common goal. Before deciding which channels to spend your hard-won marketing budget on, make sure the stories and stakeholders you’ve chosen to highlight - both internally and externally - are the same across your organization.
A Marketing “Mission Statement”
The real challenge, in this case, is to develop a broad and simple enough narrative that your colleagues, donors, and constituency can all recognize themselves in, while keeping it meaningful and easy to differentiate from other organizations. More than ever, audiences expect highly customized messaging relevant to their immediate needs, so leave yourself some wiggle room in the wording of your “marketing mission.” It may even help to develop a short term and long-term statement, keeping in mind a large spectrum of stakeholders. A clear mission that genuinely reflects the current state of your organization's development will ensure that donors, voters, volunteers, policymakers, and others understand how they can participate in your mission in a meaningful way.
Defined Audience Segments
Beneficiary, donor, media, and internal stakeholder segmentation is crucial to optimizing your digital marketing budget without wasting thousands of impressions or worse, devaluing your brand with excessive repetition or muddled messaging. Simple audience segmentation serves as a guiding framework for shaping marketing priorities by partitioning stakeholders into discrete segments based on demographics, demand trends, interest or specific needs. Make sure to work with digital vendors who can facilitate segmented audience outreach.
Here’s how it works:
- Use your CRM to help you define relevant attributes that characterize your various stakeholders, encompassing demographics, geographic considerations, needs, desires, and their level of engagement with your nonprofit.
- Cluster beneficiaries, donors, media contacts, and industry contacts into distinct segments that hold meaningful and quantifiable traits, ensuring each individual falls within a single segment.
- Look for common key metrics or outcomes within segments in (e.g., beneficiary attendance or academic performance, donor recurrence of contributions, etc.).
- Establish priority segments based on needs, mission impact, or critical competencies.
- Allocate resources to tailor outreach and messaging, aligning with the requisites of the highest-priority segments.
While this process can feel daunting, almost all CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools offer simple segmentation tools, and the rise of AI technology has only accelerated things. Once those segments are established, make sure you are working with digital channels that can leverage them properly, like CTV, Google Ads, and email marketing. There are many channel mix options to choose from, but remember your strategy has to subsist with the budget and staff you have on hand. Build a solid foundation for your digital marketing campaign to sustainably build upon.
Here are the main digital channels to focus on for scalable and integrated omni channel campaigns.
Email Marketing for Nonprofits
As simple as emailing may seem, recent studies show that it continues to offer one of the highest return on investment (ROI) of any outreach strategy. TruConversion recently reported that email marketing campaigns can deliver a return of $40 for every $1 spent, as long as data collection, customization, and engagement efforts are maintained long-term.
Nonprofits are uniquely positioned to deliver especially effective campaigns thanks to the data they are able to accrue from their various programs and events. If 1st party data collection is not part of your program intake, make it a priority! And here are some ways to leverage that information.
Welcome Series. Design a series of simple, automated messages for new subscribers introducing your cause and outlining ways for them to participate actively. Bring your cause alive with short form videos and quick links to join your online community.
Automated Transactional Emails. These can include gratitude expressions towards donors for their contributions or offering guidance to program participants and volunteers on steps to further their involvement with your organization. As simple as it may seem, individual recognition of donations and volunteering consistently comes back as one of the most meaningful interactions stakeholders have with NGOs.
Regular Newsletters. Consistently share valuable content about your organization's progress. Unlike commercial newsletters, nonprofit newsletters can emphasize their programming impact before soliciting donations and volunteer support. Even if subscribers don’t open your newsletter every week, consistently returning to their inboxes is important to remain top of mind. Make sure to feature newsletter sign up links in as many places as possible (various web pages, social media pages, QR codes at events, etc.)
Preference Center. Allow your newsletter subscribers to tailor their email preferences, specifying content categories and frequency of communication. Customization is a simple and incredibly effective way to deepen communication impact.
Newsletter Promotion. Consistently promote your newsletter across your website, blog, and social media platforms to expand your email subscriber base. Make sure to leverage seasonally appropriate incentives like donation matching, custom merch, or exclusive event invitations to increase your lists quickly.
Social Media for Nonprofits
Social media marketing can be especially confusing for nonprofits that want to capitalize on its relatively low price point and massive reach, but spread themselves too thin, trying to engage audiences on too many platforms, without a cohesive message.
It’s crucial for the excitement generated by a successful social media campaign to translate into a robust web or email data collection effort in order to nurture long-term relationships with your stakeholders. Make sure your CRM, landing pages, and program outreach systems are solidly in place before spending any real time or money on a social media campaign.
Regardless of the social media platform you choose to work with, here are some of the most effective and scalable ways to enhance your social media strategy in 2023.
Jumpstart viewer Engagement with Short-Form Video
Video marketing content has become ubiquitous and can make a big impact across channels (website, search, social, etc), so it’s worth investing in, especially now that the technology has come such a long way, driving prices down and quality up.
Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, X, TikTok all have a short-form option for video content. Simple video taken with a smartphone can make just as big of an impact on these platforms that are used to delivering user-generated content. The key is authenticity. Your short-form video should reinforce that human connection that makes people invest in your cause.
Don’t be afraid of AI
While it is crucial that your social media presence remain authentic and relatable with a real human feel behind it, there are great ways to leverage Artificial Intelligence to facilitate content creation and customization. Tools like ChatGPT can help you generate hundreds of social post ideas, fun poll questions, conversation-starters, or witty captions. Meanwhile, tools like Podcastle and Synthesia can transform captions into audio or video files in minutes! It may take a bit for your team to get comfortable figuring which AI tools work for them, but it will be time well spent.
Promote Interactive Content
At the end of the day, the key to any successful nonprofit marketing campaign is customized audience engagement based on solid data and one of the easiest ways to gather that digital data is with fun, shareable, interactive content. Here are some ideas (and remember, you can always use AI to generate more!)
Quizzes. Use quizzes or activities related to your cause to engage viewers. For example, a children’s literacy nonprofit could create a “which comic book character are you?” quizz, with results available once viewers enter their contact information, or a science-focused organization could ask folks to create a new constellation based on a map of the night sky on their website.
Virtual events. Live video streaming technology has grown by leaps and bounds since 2020, with platforms like Instagram or LinkedIn connecting folks seamlessly across time zones and levels of tech savvy to share information and start meaningful discussions. This tactic will require some personnel, but the cost is insignificant while the reward could be a reengaged constituency.
Testimonial campaigns. Keep close tabs on all posts mentioning your organization and ask for permission to repost it as they appear. Once enough content has been flagged, it can be repurposed for a full blown storytelling campaign on other channels like streaming TV or podcasts.
Contests. Photo campaigns are probably the most common example of interactive social contests. You could challenge your followers to submit a photograph under a specific hashtag related to your cause or one of themselves participating in the types of behaviors your nonprofit promotes (cleaning up a neighborhood, planting trees, reading with children, etc.) These photos could also be helpful later on in a testimonial campaign.
Surveys. Surveys are a great way to understand how your users prefer interacting with your organization. They can concern your organization as a whole or specific campaigns or activities. You will get the opportunity to ask them how they think you’re doing and what they wish you’d do more of. That can help you guide the future of your organization while gathering more 1st party digital data.
Connected TV Advertising for Nonprofits
Connected Television advertising has taken the marketing world by storm, bringing together the granular targeting power of traditional digital channels with TV’s premium length and format. As of today, 94% of US households with TVs own at least one connected device. Especially exciting for nonprofit marketers, streaming ads are finally accessible, both financially and technologically, to businesses of all sizes - not just the Fortune 500 companies of old.
Nonprofits working with the right CTV ad platforms can set their own budgets - as little as $500/month in some cases, target the exact audiences they are looking for (by income, by ZIPcode, by interest, by gender, by channel, and more), upload a simple .mp4 file and launch their TV campaigns in minutes optimizing as real-time results come in.
The nonprofit sector especially should pay attention to this rapidly evolving medium as a majorly impactful channel for audience discovery and emotional storytelling. It will allow your nonprofit to get your most compelling messages in front of the right audiences, build a connection, and eventually increase engagement and conversions that support your mission.
CTV advertising allows digital advertisers to reach new audiences they haven’t found on social or Google search, but also reengage donors and volunteers thanks to pixel tracking, retargeting, and Google Analytics integration.
Recent studies have also shown that CTV ads lift campaign performances across channels. One report noted a 22% lift to search and social results when combined with a CTV campaign. Though results vary by organization and goal, one nonprofit recently saw a 13-times lift in conversions from users who viewed both CTV and lower-funnel ad formats. After viewing a CTV ad, your audience will be more prepared to interact with other communications they see from your organization. And they’ll also be more likely to proactively seek you out.
Here are some best practices to get started:
- Focus on an audience that you already have success with to test out different types of messaging on a warm target before spending more.
- Consider launching in high-interest areas before going nationwide.
- Include a strong call to action in your content.
- Keep your name and url on-screen throughout the ad.
- Ask for nonprofit discounts.
- Make sure your search presence (search engine marketing and search engine optimization) is strong so that viewers who are interested can find you easily.
- Set a pixel on your website to track CTV attribution.
- Explore retargeting strategies, if applicable.
Many demand-side platforms (DSPs) allow advertisers to buy CTV ads in real-time whenever a viewer in their target audience comes across a CTV ad slot. The best way to access this type of ad buying is with reliable, self-serve platforms with a large channel inventory. Here are some questions to consider before hiring a CTV vendor:
- Are they able to reach your target audience?
- How large is their channel inventory?
- Do they integrate with 3rd party measurement platforms like MMPs and GA?
- Do they offer retargeting?
- Do they have budget minimums?
- Do they offer frequency capping?
DOOH (Digital Out of Home) for Nonprofits
While Out Of Home advertising (aka billboards) may have a reputation for smarmy lawyer ads, it’s come a long way and can now target specific audiences, areas, times of day, and more. They also have some of the most advantageous nonprofit policies around, since surrounding businesses typically prefer having a nonprofit billboard than one for pawnshops or hit and run litigation next to their businesses.
Media owners are the network operators of outdoor digital signs that can be seen in a range of different environments, from screens in malls to restaurants to the side of the highway. These media owners are uniquely positioned to help local non-profit organizations reach a large and diverse audience.
Some of the main issues plaguing traditional Out Of Home advertising industry are its archaic onboarding format, which often still requires marketers to select ad locations from unwieldy maps and very little flexibility once the creative is up and running:
- The media used in traditional OOH advertising tends to be static, so marketers need to take into account indeterminate variables to see a return on investment, including the physical location of the display, its design, and the amount of time that the consumer is exposed to it.
- Production fees associated with updating or changing printed ads can prove expensive.
- Billboard material can fade, peel or weather, leaving your firm’s brand image tarnished.
- Wait time when you want to change ads or messaging can be extremely protracted.
That’s why nonprofit advertisers interested in keeping their ads on billboards should switch to Digital Out Of Home (DOOH) providers or self-serve hybrids like Blip which allow you to optimize, target, and track your campaign KPIs much more efficiently. More importantly, purchasing advertising space on billboards and other Out of Home inventory can be a cumbersome, time-consuming process, with middlemen negotiating prices with ad space owners, which can increase cost many times over.
Control your cost and scale your campaign fast with programmatic digital billboard campaigns that can deliver relevant ads to targeted audiences at the perfect moment when they walk or travel past the digital signage, and respond coherently to your ads running on other, complementary channels.
Website Optimization for Nonprofits
In order for any of the above channels to make an impact, your nonprofit’s website needs to be ready for visitors, which can mean a lot of things, but there are some basic principles to follow. Most web platforms should allow you and your team to automate basic functions like SEO, header tags, etc. Let’s look at what really matters before launching a website.
- Load time. Today, over 85% of website visits come from tablets and mobile devices, which means visitors are even less likely to wait around for a page to load. Video content is crucial to an engaging website, but keep them short and make sure to save them in .webp format so it’s not too heavy.
- SERP rating. Publish content with keywords related to your cause, organized in hierarchical headers, with meta tags and appropriate links, so search engines can actually find them. If you don’t exist on the internet, do you exist anywhere?
- Backlinks. Excellent, relevant content is the best way to develop a long-term backlink campaign for your website, but nonprofits can also bump their backlink volume by working with community partners and donors who will return the favor. This approach will not only benefit them but also strengthen community bonds.
- Landing pages. Make sure every digital channel you leverage, whether it’s for brand awareness, donor nurture, or performance marketing, has a clear place to send prospects, tailored to their needs.
Whether you’re working with Wordpress, Squarespace, Wix, or another similar platform, most of these functionalities should be available through plugins or simple coding, and they are key to long-term success.
Content Marketing for Nonprofits
Content marketing can take many forms – blog posts, ebooks, videos, podcasts, or webinars — but either way, the point is to lead prospects further down the funnel so they can get involved with your programming, donate to your cause, volunteer, etc. How?
- By ranking for relevant keywords and improving your search engine optimization (SEO)
- By reaching audiences who are searching for your services or want to contribute to your cause without having to look up your specific url
- By establishing your organization as an authority in your field
SEO is a low-cost way to discover and nurture audiences across the stakeholder spectrum. While other channels might make more of a splash, SEO is a long haul effort that needs to build over time. When producing content, keep in mind the questions your audiences often have, and answer them clearly and concisely to keep viewers on your page. Keep them even longer with internal links to other related articles on your site.
Another benefit of content marketing is that once you create a piece of content, you can repurpose it for a variety of channels. For example, if you publish a video on YouTube, you can post short clips on Instagram or a 30 second clip on streaming TV. Or you can turn the most important insights from a blog post or podcast episode into an infographic on LinkedIn.
Your content can take any shape you want it to, but remember it needs to be valuable to the reader by providing important information, impactful stories, or tools and resources, organized in properly organized headers and sub-headers to keep readers engaged and rank on search engines.
Paid Search Advertising for Nonprofits
Similarly to email marketing, paid search is intent-based, responding to users’ actions; in this case, further up the funnel than email prospects, but still based on a stakeholder taking action first and researching keywords you’ve bid on. Your target audience has to take the first step to seek out information before your ad will display. This approach ensures relevance and viewer engagement, but makes audience discovery more difficult. Make sure you are also working with higher funnel channels for initial stakeholder touch points, like CTV or Out Of Home.
Most importantly, don’t forget to apply for Google’s Non Profit Ad Grants program, which offers up to $10K in ad dollars per month. The conditions for the grant to apply are relatively stringent, so plan to use some of your own budget to run your own ads alongside Google-funded campaigns. With a little upfront investment to apply for the program and learn how to manage the requirements, you can gain access to monthly marketing funds that can be used for a variety of purposes, and this Comprehensive Guide to the Google Ad Grant can help you get started.
Digital Marketing Measurement
A recent survey of nonprofit marketing leaders revealed that many organizations still operate digital fundraising programs at a level far below their potential, not because of a lack of ideas or interest in being successful but because of fundamental misunderstandings about their digital data. “Mystification about gift attribution in a multichannel environment slows decision making or leads decision-makers to faulty conclusions, so focus on tracking “good enough” metrics that are repeatable campaign to campaign rather than holding out for perfect attribution and tracking tools,” says Cameron Popp, director of solutions and innovation at Wiland
Make sure you’re gathering all of the data you can and storing it in ways you and your team can understand. Too often, data management and targeting is relinquished to outside experts or confusing platforms the organization itself doesn’t fully understand. What’s more important than complex data management is data you can manipulate well enough to test early and often, optimizing and customizing as you go.
As privacy regulations continue to become more stringent, proprietary 1st party data will become as good as gold. Make sure to capitalize on what you have and continue to gather more. A 1st party digital audience is one independent and critical piece of any campaign, and it can be targeted in a platform-agnostic way.