“Online marketing is too confusing, too expensive, and too time-consuming for our nonprofit organization!”
I hear you. But stay with me. I promise to leave you with easy-to-implement ideas to up your nonprofit’s outreach game and branch out into the online world.
First, though, let’s consider a few assumptions about who is active online, and who is active in the community.
Is it really worth it to do communications online?
Yes. Even if it’s just to make the most of the in-person community you already have. Your volunteers and community members are likely already interested in engaging with you online.
Now consider the Corporation for National and Community Service report that volunteerism in the U.S. is at an all-time high, with 30.3 percent of our adult population volunteering through an organization. The report goes on to say that volunteers are out in the community, engaging in real life. “They more frequently talk to neighbors, participate in civic organizations, fix things in the community, attend public meetings, discuss local issues with family and friends, do favors for neighbors, and vote in local elections.
Oh, and “one in three volunteers raises funds for nonprofits.” Just saying.
Busting myths about online marketing for nonprofits
So if online marketing is so great and nonprofits can exponentially expand their reach online to find more donors, why isn’t everyone doing it? Here are some common reasons I hear:
“It’s too confusing!”
Yes, there is a learning curve. Maybe this is an opportunity to engage a few of those millennial volunteers. To keep things simple, my advice is to focus on a manageable, three-part strategy:
- A simple one-page website that can accept online donations
- An easy-to-use email marketing system
- A primary social media profile
“It’s too expensive!”
Actually, it’s not. For a nonprofit with a mailing list of fewer than 500 contacts, an email marketing plan will cost less than $200 a year. And guess what? You can actually build a website for free.
If you do your email marketing with Constant Contact, you’ll also get a free website and social media management tools as well. When you accept donations online, the service you choose to process online donations will charge a modest fee for each transaction, but if you are able to increase donations by even 10% as a result, your net gain will be well worth it.
Tip: Try Constant Contact’s easy-to-use online marketing platform free for 60 days.
“It’s too time-consuming!“
Once you get past the initial learning curve and set up, maintenance is a breeze. There are lots of ways to automate your outreach on email and social media, and many of those tools are included in an online marketing platform.
Bridging your in-person communications with an online strategy
I think that the secret to online marketing success for small nonprofits lies in using simple strategies that connect your platforms—in-person, print, digital—to each other. Here’s a little cheat sheet to explain what I mean:
Printed materials – fliers, brochures, letters, newsletters, business cards
I encourage clients to include their website address, instructions for joining the mailing list via text, and a QR code that people can scan with their phones. Depending on what we are promoting, I’ll set the QR link to a donation page, a social media page, or the registration page for an upcoming event. You can generate a QR code for free here.
Include your email list sign-up form, donate button, and social media links on every page. Also consider including links to printable flyers and forms for anyone who needs them.
Emails are an awesome tool for promoting events. I make sure that emails include multiple links (and a button!) directly to the event registration page. Again, I’ll link to a printable flyer too, in case someone needs it.
I will also include links to the website home page, donation page, and to other resources that the reader might find useful.
Although it might seem redundant, I like to include a button to an email sign-up form—you never know when your email is being forwarded to someone who is not (yet) on your list.
Don’t forget to link your Constant Contact account to your social media page so that you can schedule your emails to be shared on social automatically (see how I saved you time there?).
Social media is a great way to boost awareness—and attendance—at your live events. Post, re-post, like and share, and encourage your followers to do the same.
I make sure that clients’ social media profiles link to their websites, donation pages, and email sign up pages. Tools like Hootsuite.com make it easy to schedule posts in between emails.
Post and like content from other organizations, as long as it relates your mission focus. Social media is about sharing, right?
Make sure that you are pointing out to the people you meet how easy it is to follow your organization through your mailing list, website, and social media.
Putting it all together with examples
Last year, a small consortium of history organizations asked me to help them use online marketing to build their audience. We built a simple website, set up an email account with Constant Contact, and established a Facebook page.
Early on, we made sure that each of these digital platforms included prominent links to each other. Every printed flyer makes it easy to loop back to the digital platforms, by including text-to-join instructions for the email sign-up form and QR codes that point to the website and Facebook page. We are pleased with the results.
In the past year, their mailing list grew by 19 percent. Their emails are averaging an open rate of 39 percent, with a click-through rate of 16 percent. That’s well above the industry average!
I help a nonprofit consultant use a combination of strategies as well. Whenever he is speaking at a meeting or conference, he includes his Constant Contact text-to-join information in his remarks and on his slides. His emails include links back to his website, upcoming event pages, and other resources that his followers might find helpful. I use a social post scheduler to promote his speaking engagements and other content to maintain a daily flow of communication with his audience. I make sure that his printed brochures include his text-to-join information as well as a QR code to his website.
In 2019, he added nearly 700 contacts to his email list, and seats for his online webinars fill up quickly.
About five years ago, my church launched a website, a Facebook page, and a Constant Contact email account. At a Sunday service, the pastor asked congregants to turn on their cell phones (gasp!) to sign up for the mailing list using the text-to-join feature. Weekly emails include a brief reflection, links to the church website, and a donation button. Members forward them to friends and family who are not part of our church, but who might benefit from a particular message. Online marketing tools are helping us “spread the Word” in new ways.
A few final pieces of advice
When getting started, keep your online marketing simple and use tools that are beginner-friendly. Read a few reviews of products you are considering. The tech world is very generous with opinions! If you are impressed by the website or emails of another organization, reach out to see what products they like to use.
Document your account information, including URLs for your tools, login credentials, etc. Keep this information safe, but don’t be the only person who can access and update your digital profiles.
Take advantage of free information. Constant Contact’s on-demand webinars and marketing guide for nonprofits are a great place to start. The more you know, the more you will get out of using online marketing for your nonprofit organization.