Digital marketing for nonprofits: all you need to know

Strategic digital marketing for nonprofits to meet donor’s expectations, optimise all potential fundraising channels and income streams and engage supporters.
How to meet donors' expectations, optimise potential fundraising channels, and engage supporters?


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Strategic digital marketing for nonprofits is one of the most cost-effective ways to raise support and income. With an ageing population of the traditionally most supportive donors and a slow but steady decline in conventional forms of fundraising, such as direct marketing mailings, it’s imperative for all NGOs, no matter their size, to prioritise digital.

NGOs must be on the pulse of advancements in digital marketing to meet donor’s expectations and optimise all potential fundraising channels and income streams. As technology continues to advance, if an NGO does not prioritise digital strategy, it’ll most likely be at risk.

Most nonprofits know they need to engage with supporters and donors via digital channels, but it can be hard to know where to start or what to focus on. This article will explain what digital marketing strategies to focus on, and what common mistakes to avoid. Read on to find out tips and tricks on how to increase supporter base and fundraising income.

Digital fundraising marketing strategy 101: think like a corporate

Digital marketing for nonprofits is essential to growth and success, and relies on NGOs’ abilities to embrace change, be agile and keep pace with the new ways that supporters like to interact online. A strong and modern online presence is critical to acquiring new donors and maximising retention efforts, along with engaging all generations of donors.

A recent study by Google found that people’ decisions to donate are heavily swayed by how an organisation engages with them online.

One of the biggest mistakes nonprofits make is by dismissing whole generations of supporters. However, this is also why some of the largest NGOs are successful – as they engage younger generations as well as the traditional older generations. Most nonprofits target the ‘Dorothy Donor’ – a woman aged 45 to 60, who does not always positively respond to digital. This explains why some nonprofits overlook digital marketing.

Conservative NGOs may worry when some studies do not show that younger audiences donate to their causes, but this is because these studies are based on results from a strategy that does not target younger audiences in effective ways. There is a general misconception that younger audiences do not donate. However, new statistics are being released and proving otherwise.

84% of millennials give to charity. This should not be overlooked, as this generation already accounts for $200 billion in direct purchasing power globally, and are going to be the beneficiaries of a $41 trillion transfer of wealth from older generations. This is where the future of giving is, and smart NGOs are already implementing digital marketing strategies to attract this tech-savvy audience group.

For example, the social enterprise Thank You Australia is championing in this, by bridging between savvy digital marketing and cause. Also, Charity Water is well known in the nonprofit sector for its award-winning innovative digital approach to marketing and fundraising.

What these cases show is that knowing your target audience is critical for all marketing strategies, and so is testing and diversify new audiences.

Firstly, consider widening your standard audience demographic – the ‘Dorothy Donor’ is the most competitive to market to, as that’s where the majority of NGOs focus their efforts, so this group is being over-targeted on the whole, and many other age groups dismissed altogether.

It’s time for NGOs to move on from relying on marketing strategies from the ’90s and start thinking like their corporate competitors. This involves trying new and innovative digital marketing tactics that are proven to work across other industries, and investing in digital growth strategies.

How to increase fundraising income with digital marketing

Optimise websites and online donation pages

Many NGOs have seen instant income increases simply by optimising their website and online donation forms and pages. The key to digital marketing for nonprofits is to have an attractive online brand, highlighting the most important information, sharing emotive stories, and presenting clear and compelling calls to action. It’s imperative to make donating online as streamlined and easy as possible. Ensuring everything is mobile optimised will assist income increases also. This may sound very simple, but is a pitfall for many nonprofits and is a digital area that should be prioritised.

Be bold with storytelling and asks

NGOs have the opportunity to gather and share inspiring and emotive stories about the cause they support. Don’t be afraid of sharing emotive stories, even the most confronting ones, and asking for donations. If you don’t ask – you won’t get. Content marketing is one of the most effective ways to grow support for your organisation through storytelling and video content. Create content that is designed to be shared with others. This is the content that should be promoted with social media advertising. Also, don’t also forget to always show tangible results to give donors evidence that their giving has an impact.

Lead-generation works for NGOs

Lead-generation is a process which involves identifying and cultivating potential new supporters for an organisation. It’s not just for start-ups or corporates and is a simple way for nonprofits to attract new supporters, grow your database and diversify your current audience. Lead-generation can take the form of online value exchange, online petitions or surveys and is best marketed via social media advertising and clickfunnels.

When it comes to digital led marketing and fundraising, Pencils of Promise is a nonprofit that gets it right. Not only their campaign is based on digital strategies, but their whole brand embraces digital.

Direct email marketing for nonprofits

Streamline your email marketing strategy

NGOs still don’t prioritise direct email marketing as much as they should. Also, they often overcomplicate it. The trick here is to keep it simple! Remember: less is more when it comes to the length of emails, ensure you have a very clear call to action, and never forget marketing that works the best is always about the donor, not about your organisation. It’s best to assume those who read your emails are not interested in you or your cause, so your job is to convince them. Frame your copy with donor-centric messaging, positioning the donor as the ‘hero’ in the story.  

Segment your email database and develop onboarding journeys

A welcome email journey sequence is critical to nurturing new supporters through simple content marketing storytelling. Many NGOs overlook the importance of segmenting their email database. For the best results segment your email database and send different audiences on onboarding and retention journeys targeted to their demographic. The way you would speak to your grandma is different from how you would talk to a 25-year-old, so content should reflect this, otherwise you are alienating potential donors.

Use online value exchange to grow your supporter base

Ensure you have an effective way to capture new email addresses when potential supporters land on your website and consider offering something in return for their data. Investigate appropriate online value exchange options for your nonprofit. Examples of this could be an e-book, PDF of interesting facts or stories, access to a behind-the-scenes video, and training videos related to your cause.

ONE’s “Poverty is Sexist” campaign is an excellent example of online value exchange. ONE created social media campaign collateral, phone wallpapers, and an open letter, all designed to be shared to grow the momentum of the movement and increase their supporter base.

To sum it up

As donors become more and more unresponsive to traditional forms of fundraising, prioritising digital marketing is the best move NGOs can make to ensure success in the future, and also increasing income now.

Be open to thinking unconventionally like corporate competitors, test new and younger audiences, optimise your website and donation pages, develop value exchange and lead-generation, and optimise email direct market. Above all else – keep it simple, innovative and bold.

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