Transforming Nonprofits

As some have noted in recent years, the embrace of marketing concepts and practices has transformed the nonprofit landscape. I read recently about a push for the donation of unused frequent flyer miles and was struck by what a great and clear-headed example of the alignment of marketing and fundraising this was. Clearly nonprofits have learned some major lessons—most important among them that nonprofits are a business before they’re a charity.

Additionally, the miles donation program works for any major nonprofit just as #GivingTuesday—which I wrote about last year and which continues to grow—applies to the nonprofit world as a whole. I assume this means that some well-funded marketing departments have discovered that the various organizations are more successful when they work together as a group.

Yet still, it all amounts to an unsettling predominance of previously successful and well-known nonprofit brand names. Smaller outfits can’t seem to compete as well. And when it comes to basic essentials like retaining talent, major companies have been out-performing them on the Three Millennial Musts: positive culture, work-life balance, and interesting work.

Losing talent means you’re losing donors—which means, my nonprofiteers, that you have a messaging problem on your hands. So here is some advice for modest but up-and-coming nonprofits that want to elevate their message, align their marketing goals, and expand brand recognition.

Virtual or Visual Storytelling Is Cheap and Necessary

Content marketing is king these days. That means photos, videos, infographics, vlogs, testimonials, digital or hand illustrations—these things make a huge difference to busy, ordinary donors. And if you have a tight budget but the right talent, you can make visual storytelling work for you in a truly transformational way.

True quality content that is also inexpensive, like those Ice Bucket Challenge videos, will skyrocket engagement and expand the reach of your brand message. Plus, there are plenty of affordable or free digital tools out there to help you edit your images and videos. In the end, however, a simple concept done in an efficient and thoughtful way should do all the real work for you.

Drive Home a Simple, Personal Message

You have less than six seconds. Give people a reason to care (and then land that call-to-action). Imagine that ordinary donors are as busy as you are and figure out what it would take to make you stop in your tracks and pull out your wallet.

Sure, it’s not really as easy as all that—but nonprofits often make it so much harder than necessary. Abstraction is still a major issue in the nonprofit world, a phenomenon that happens when a charity struggles to communicate overly complex ideas visually. As I tell small and medium-sized nonprofits and as I’ve written in my book, the message does not need to explain the existence of a social ill or the origination of the nonprofit itself—it just needs to be simple, personal, emotional, memorable, actionable, and clear.


Consider Being Uncool and Old School (Sometimes)

As Judi Friedman wrote recently on this blog, it often pays to be out of fashion when it comes to marketing. Digital overload means people yearn for the personal touch. That’s why shopworn old tactics can get more attention and even work better now than they did in the past. Plus, mailing newsletters, flyers, mailers of all kinds, this appears to be working for recipients of all ages (not just baby boomers).

But more importantly, research shows that nearly half of donors (of any age) prefer personalized letters to follow-ups of other kinds. Thank you letters make huge impressions on donors and increase the likelihood that they will donate again. That’s why I always advise, for nonprofits especially, that handwritten cards be a central part of a marketing push.

Your Mobile, Social, and Digital Strategy

But that doesn’t mean that digital strategy can be ignored. Donors and supporters want to interact with companies and nonprofits directly. That means through their cell phones—60% of all emails are now read on mobiles—so make sure your email or social media marketing campaign can function properly in terms of size, shape, and receptivity on a smartphone. Your calls to action, websites, and donation pages also need to be mobile-responsive.

 And do your audience survey research. Put the right objectives in place for your marketing teams and make sure they cooperate with your development people. Your strategy should be based around the goal of your brand name still being around in a 100 years!

Track and Publish Impact Metrics

People want to see how their donations make a difference, and they want to know that the organization they donated to is using it properly. You can get creative with this too! The American Red Cross has created an app that shows blood donors exactly where their blood goes and who it helps, plus providing alerts for appointments, rewards, events, and more. So smart!

Many who are getting their start with a nonprofit don’t think about things like this. But analytics, apps, metrics, and measures—this stuff really does matter. Google Analytics, HubSpot, and the embedding of conversion rate tracking links can offer you information that will be critical for expanding your brand and growing your overall presence on- and offline.

Learn how to inspire collaboration and alignment in your nonprofit by downloading our latest whitepaper: Striking the Right Balance Between Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Teams. Or learn much more about digital campaigns, direct mail, strategy, tactics old and new, and the customer buyway in my book, Marketing, Interrupted.