If you’re a nonprofit professional or volunteer, you probably spend a good deal of time reaching out to members of the public. Once upon a time, this meant soliciting donations over the phone or canvassing your neighbourhood with a clipboard. While these methods may still work in some circumstances, nobody can deny that, when it comes to businesses, brands – and yes, even charitable organizations – communication is happening increasingly online.
Nonprofits are aware of this cultural change. According to the Content Marketing Institute, in 2013, 92% of North American nonprofits were disseminating content through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. Unfortunately, according to the same study, only 26% of these organizations believed they were effective at content marketing. Small budgets and insufficient manpower (especially in smaller organizations) mean many nonprofits struggle to make an impact in the online world. This is a problem. As Ottawa communications student and nonprofit co-chair Marley Lewington puts it, “if no one hears your voice, what’s the point?”
Luckily, there are a growing number of free and low-cost tools available to help even the most novice marketer achieve her goals.
Online Advertising Tools
Though advertising and marketing are separate fields, placing online ads very often falls to a business’ marketing department. In the case of small and medium-sized nonprofits, the marketing department may consist of one person with little direct experience and several other sets of responsibilities. Unlike her corporate counterparts, this person may not have the time look into online advertising; she may be unaware that it’s one of the best ways for nonprofits to reach their intended audiences, including potential donors, volunteers, and stakeholders.
Luckily, there’s Google Ad Grants, an online advertising system specifically for nonprofits. Google Ad Grants is easy to use, and it can greatly increase an organization’s exposure. Consider this: 3.5 billion searches are carried out through Google every day. Best of all? It’s free. Once you’ve qualified for Google Ad Grants you’ll receive $10,000 advertising dollars per month (this credit is so generous that many nonprofits have difficulty using it up).
The downside? Some say the application process can be confusing. Complaints about the consequences of filling out forms incorrectly are not infrequent, so it’s best to be pay close attention while performing these tasks.
Once an account is set up, all the nonprofit professional has to do is master the art of copywriting (no small task, of course, but there are resources out there to help you out).
Educational Content Creation Tools
One of the primary goals of many nonprofits is to raise public awareness through education. Whether a group advocates to end gender inequality, civil rights abuses, or AIDS, the dissemination of educational content plays an important role in correcting negative misperceptions and fostering support.
While informative pamphlets and explanatory online write-ups still have their place, newer forms of content are, in many circumstances, more effective. Shortened attention spans may have played a role in the shift towards short, punchy videos and sleek infographics, but so has our understanding of how people learn. We now know, for example, that 65% of the population is comprised of visual learners.
There are a wealth of tools out there for creating infographics that will engage the visual learner (and put the cheesy clipart some small nonprofits still use to shame). Piktochart is a great one; it’s stylish, easy to use, and free accounts are available. For videos that are both elegant and inexpensive to create, it doesn’t get much better than VideoScribe (the best bet for those looking to create a small number of videos might be to use the product for a month at a cost of $29).
And I haven’t forgotten about blogging. Nonprofit Hub dubbed 2014 the “year of the blog”, and the practice isn’t going anywhere in 2015. WordPress is well-known for helping those without technical know-how create professional-looking websites for free (and for just $24 a year, you can register your own unique domain).
Email marketing management software
First, email reduced (and in some cases eliminated) the need for nonprofits to spend money on printing and distributing their communications. Newsletters and fundraising materials could be sent to many supporters at the click of a button. But this new style of communication came with a new set of challenges, including unwieldy subscriber lists and (more recently) anti-spam legislation. It can be hard for busy nonprofit professionals to stay on top of these details.
In general, automation helps level the playing field for organizations with insufficient manpower. Automated email-marketing software – which streamlines the process of designing, distributing, and monitoring the progress of email campaigns – is no different. From catching duplicate and invalid email addresses to tracking the engagement of individual subscribers with content, programs like MailChimp can help nonprofits get more done in less time.
Budget-friendly options include the aforementioned MailChimp, along with Constant Contact and AWeber. I’m partial to MailChimp. It integrates well with other programs, advises users on spam legislation compliance, and compares the performance of user campaigns with industry standards (including nonprofit averages). Last – but certainly not least – there is a free version of MailChimp, which is available to those who send out less than 1200 emails to fewer than 2000 subscribers per month.
Nonprofits monitor the media for the same basic purpose as professionals in other sectors – to find the most up-to-date news on issues that affect their operations. Once this information is collected, it can be used in a variety of ways – to track an organization’s reputation, mobilize its stakeholders, find potential donors, and educate the general public about the social issues it represents (among other uses). All of these activities have communications components, and most are closely tied to answering one of the questions central to marketing: who am I trying to reach?
Like email marketing, media monitoring benefits greatly from the addition of automation. Automated media-monitoring software can bring charities up-to-date on the stories that affect their communities in a fraction of the time it takes to monitor manually. Unfortunately, many of these organizations don’t even have a manual-monitoring plan in place, let alone an automated solution. Pressed for time, they rely on the disordered efforts of all involved.
Most companies provide free trials, so you can test the benefits before you make a commitment. Some even offer significant discounts or extended periods of free use for nonprofits. Look for software with sophisticated filtering features (big time-savers) as well as an intuitive interface, which is important for volunteers and professionals who may not have experience monitoring the media. As with any service you use, it’s a good idea to find a company that values the work of nonprofits. This will ensure your organization always receives the support it needs.
If you fill a leadership role at a nonprofit, I’m about to tell you something you already know. The single greatest resource at your disposal is the group of volunteers and employees who devote their time to your organization. In the world of nonprofits – especially small nonprofits – there’s a sense of interconnectedness and dedication that’s rare in corporate culture. A sense that “we’re all in this together” can prompt people to look to their pasts for transferable skills and experiences – anything that might be helpful.
A nonprofit’s board of directors (or steering committee) is usually comprised of successful professionals, each of whom has her own talents and business connections. Dedicated board members can be called upon for advice related to relevant areas of expertise – and, chances are, somebody on your board will have worked in communications in some capacity. Even better, board members can provide mentorship to staff (nonprofits often attract students and recent grads – individuals who may not have a lot of “real world” experience in the field).
Telling Better Stories
When it comes to marketing for nonprofits, many of the basics apply. Understanding who you’re trying to reach is essential. Marley Lewington, the student and nonprofit co-chair referred to earlier in this article, points out that the key to online marketing success is “being active, engaging, and genuinely involved with your audience”. Involvement can mean many things, and it’s absolutely crucial.
But the real aim of getting to know your audience, at least from a marketing perspective, is telling better stories. Nonprofits – organizations that have a whole lot of heart and many obstacles to overcome – have an advantage here. The narratives running through these organizations are compelling. They need only to be tapped into.
Feature Image courtesy of OTA Photos