The Great Convergence: Digital Marketing For Nonprofit Fundraisers

Olivia James
Olivia James

Education at CauseVox

For years, nonprofit fundraising has been moving further and further online. But 2020 saw it take a great leap in that direction as the COVID pandemic radically changed our options.

In the last six months, the landscape of nonprofit fundraising has changed completely: no in-person fundraising events (goodbye galas), no more meetings face to face, no more in-person walks and races. The sudden change has forced fundraisers to learn how to become digital fundraising experts, and fast.

What many fundraisers don’t realize yet is that it has also forced us to become marketers. 

With the trend towards digital, we were already moving in that direction.

But COVID took the slow intersection of marketing and fundraising and smashed the two together. Many of us are finding that our jobs look a lot different than they did six months ago.

The best digital fundraisers are really the best digital marketers.

This is what we call The Great Convergence: marketing and fundraising are blending together.

And as nonprofit fundraising has made a huge leap to digital, fundraisers are finding that they need new tools to become great digital marketers. We’ve compiled some foundational strategies to help you build your marketing skillset during this Great Convergence of fundraising and marketing.

Event And Project-Based Fundraising Is A Thing of the Past

Historically, many fundraisers have organized their year around specific projects at specific times. We’ve relied heavily on events that use in-person interactions to inspire giving. In short, we were “project-style” fundraisers.

“Project-style” fundraising refers to more traditional methods of fundraising, such as sending direct mailers a couple of times a year, hosting an annual gala/event, writing grants, etc. This style of fundraising can leave many nonprofits stuck: locking themselves into only fundraising at specific times of the year.

Of course this year those in-person events and campaigns are suddenly unavailable to us. Auctions have become more challenging than ever as businesses struggle and can’t donate items. Galas and events are all cancelled. All of us are working to move our fundraising online, and “project-style” fundraising approaches don’t always translate when applied to raising funds digitally.

This huge shift is what has created the Great Convergence. But how do we as fundraisers fill the gap left by the loss of our in-person events? Digital Fundraising.

So What IS digital Fundraising? 

Digital fundraising is all about building a community to raise money online – while it follows a lot of the same principles as offline fundraising, it is not a “project” or “appeal” style approach.

Just like digital marketing, digital fundraising is about reaching the right person, at the right time, with the right message. Through digital, you can target specific people with specific messages, and really personalize the donor experience.

Digital Fundraising is a cycle of attracting, nurturing and converting donors. It’s continuous and fluid rather than segmented into projects. This cycle is what will fill the prior gap. It’s also what is changing the role of the nonprofit fundraiser.

Today, digital fundraising comes in many forms, including peer-to-peer fundraising, online crowdfunding campaign, social sharing of your campaigns or messages, or interactive online and offline fundraisers, and special events.

What many fundraisers don’t realize is that the work of digital fundraising looks very similar to the work of digital marketing: 

  • Telling great stories
  • Leveraging peer networks and engaging with the community
  • Building relationships
  • Finding the right message for the right time

The best part is that you simply have to look one office over to your friends in marketing to learn how to do this.

Without your in-person events the only way you can source potential donors is online. That shift alone has moved Digital Fundraising and Digital Marketing closer together. 

If you don’t have a background in marketing, you don’t need to despair. There are some basic principles and strategies you can learn to kickstart your move to Digital Marketing. And of course, we’re going to tell you all about them.

Digital Marketing For Nonprofit Fundraisers To Help Source The Best Prospects

Obviously we can’t condense all of marketing into a single blog post, but we can give you a crash course in the most important elements of Digital Marketing. Let’s start with the first step of the digital fundraising cycle: attracting. 

This is where Digital Marketing will really shine for you as a fundraiser. Marketing is all about finding new people and telling them what they need to know.

Basic SEO Strategy For Nonprofit Fundraisers

SEO is one of those buzzwords that I ignored for a long time, thinking “that’s just some flash in the pan jargon”. Well it’s been almost ten years since I said that, and SEO is still king in the digital marketing field.

The basic concept of SEO is creating your website so that it ranks high in searches for phrases that connect to your organization. It’s what sends organic traffic to your site, which means that you’ll be getting more eyes on your website simply by existing. That in turn translates to more donations.

In order to do this, you’ll first want to think about what key phrases are important to you. For example, Stupid Cancer probably wants to rank for ‘young adult cancer’ and ‘cancer survivor conferences’ in search. Brainstorm your key phrases before you try to implement an SEO practice to improve your results.

There are a few main elements to good SEO:

  • Publish content that includes your key phrases in the URL, text, image alt text, and titles. Use clear and concise keywords.
  • Update your content regularly
  • Have quality content that people stick around and read
  • As part of your SEO strategy, ensure that wherever your organization is mentioned online, that there is a backlink to your website.
  • In each post on your own site, link to other content from your own website as well to spark more traffic. 

To learn more about SEO strategies, check out the Hive Digital presentation Search Engine Optimization 101 from the Digital Fundraising Summit. You can download the full summit for just $60.

One hot tip: Google provides an ad grant that can be used by not for profits, up to the value of $10 per month. See here for more information about getting and using a grant for your organization. You can also work with third party sites and publishers to get articles or mentions about your organization. Make sure these always link back to your site.

Remember though: you must have good content to begin with for SEO to benefit you.

This might sound like a lot of work for you and your staff. If you’re not up for creating oodles of new content each month, there are some other options. 

  • You can hire a freelancer to write you content: these professionals will make you beautiful content and you still get editing control.
  • Use a writing service like TextBroker. This is less expensive than a freelancer, but can take more time to find a good fit.
  • Crowdsource through your volunteers and donors. Crowdsourcing gives you personal and trusted content. These stories come from real people who have credibility in their networks, increasing the likelihood of sharing. You get lots of free content quickly.

Once you’ve got a clear strategy in place, your SEO practices should feel sustainable and easy. Over time, you’ll start to rise in those search rankings and you’ll see the results in your website traffic.

Make sure you’re also checking your Google Analytics to measure things like bounce rates, page views per visit, and time spent on your site. These all factor into your search ranking, and can always be improved upon by delivering quality content presented in a user-friendly format.

This can also help you see how well you’re performing with SEO and make adjustments.

Email Newsletter Marketing Strategy For Nonprofit Fundraisers

An email newsletter is a great way to bring your potential donors to the next step in the digital fundraising cycle: nurturing. 

According to McKinsey, email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter. Pew Research says that 92% of online adults use email, with 61% using it on an average day. If you want to reach your potential donors and tell them about your organization, email is the way to do it.

The newsletter is a particularly useful email because it’s not asking for anything: it’s all about building your audience. Typically sent on a regular basis (such as weekly or monthly), these are more graphic based updates about what’s happening with your nonprofit as well as any of your current campaigns. 

The first step to a strong newsletter is to make it incredibly easy to subscribe. One great option is to have your e-newsletter sign up on every page of your website. No matter what potential donors are doing, they’ll see it and share their information. You can use a pop-up or prompt to get them to subscribe in key places. It’s also a good idea to have a dedicated landing page (or two) on your website that encourages viewers to sign up. 

Now that you have their email, you can share all the important information about your organization: what are you currently doing? Who is it impacting? Why is it important?

Your newsletter should be easy to digest, with lots of pictures or graphics. If that sounds intimidating, take a look at some of the mass mailing programs that can help you with easy templates:

  • Drip 
  • Mailchimp 
  • Infusionsoft 
  • ConvertKit 
  • iContact 
  • Constant Contact 
  • Emma

A few things to consider as you build your email strategy:

  • Keep your subject lines short and engaging
  • Think about your brand voice
  • Include one call to action in each email
  • Try highlighting staff members/volunteers, share a movie/picture or link relevant studies/news that are impacting the nonprofit: tell a story

With some practice, you’ll start to notice which emails get a better open rate. Hone in on what’s working for your audience to get more eyes on your content.

Social Media Marketing For Nonprofit Fundraisers

Social media is a great tool to help organizations stay top-of-mind. Most of us spend a LOT of our time scrolling through those feeds, and seeing the name of your organization will help donors to become a part of your community. Your first step when it comes to social media is deciding which sites actually make sense for your organization. If it’s hard for you to get images and graphics, Instagram might not be a good fit. Choose a couple to focus on first so that you can do it well.

Next, keep your social media accounts active, updated, and respond to every comment. Mix up what kind of content you post: some of it can be promoting your programs or services, some of it can be asking for donations, but it’s always a good idea to have a healthy number of posts that provide something to your followers for free. That can be educational information, fun and interesting content about your organization, tips and tricks, or ways to connect with your community.

Social media stories evoke emotion about your cause. Once donors have engaged emotionally, you just need to tell them what they should do next. It only takes a second to link to your donation page right within your social media profiles. You evoked emotion in your donors. Now, you just need to tell them what they should do next.

Of course all the great content in the world won’t help if you don’t have people looking at it. How can you build your audience?

  • Share content from other pages
  • Engage in the comments of your own posts
  • Tag other popular pages in your posts
  • Make sure your social media pages are easy to find on your website and in your newsletter
  • Use social media ads

Let’s spend a minute on that last bullet. Advertising on social media can be a bit overwhelming when you first start, but it doesn’t have to be. If you have a business page on Facebook, you can start advertising right away, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.

Check out our complete guide to social media advertising for a deeper dive into how to get started. However I will highlight one way of advertising on Facebook that’s a great option for increasing your reach: lookalike audiences. 

Facebook describes lookalike audiences: “When you create a Lookalike Audience, you choose a source audience (a Custom Audience created with information pulled from your pixel, mobile app, or fans of your Page). We identify the common qualities of the people in it (for example, demographic information or interests). Then, we deliver your ad to an audience of people who are similar to (or “look like”) them.”

This is a great way to reach people who are similar to your current supporters. It can help you target a smaller dollar amount (even as low as $50) to reach the right people quickly.

Social media can easily grow into a full time job, so pick a few strategies in advance and stick to them carefully for strong results.

Marketing Communications Best Practices For Nonprofit Fundraisers

Rallying the public around a cause is no easy feat. To build an emotional connection with your audience, your brand needs a strong message, good design, and effective communication. This is true in your newsletter, on your social media, throughout your website, and anywhere your supporters may see your brand.

Relationship building is paramount. This means sharing what you’re actually doing and how you’re fulfilling your mission. If donors don’t know what you’re doing with their money, they don’t want to give.

Digitally, you can use a few strategies to really build up that relationship with donors:

  • Tell them you’re thinking about them, ask if they’re OK, and make sure they know how much you appreciate them especially during challenging times.
  • Send thank yous of all kinds
  • Share content that tells your donors what you’re doing through stories and images

Of course not every donor is the same, which is why one of the hallmarks of digital marketing is segmentation. Segmentation is simply separating the whole of your donor base into smaller groups in which members share similar qualities (e.g. geographic area, age, type of donor, donor status, donation amounts, etc.).

You can do this by creating a few “personas” of the types of people who support your organization. Let’s say you work for an organization that provides mental health care. You might have one persona for your clients. Think about their values and priorities, what kind of information they might want from you, and how they prefer to hear from you. You may also communicate with family members of your clients. Perhaps you create a persona for funders, and one for other providers. Each of these personas should be a concrete person you can imagine and imagine speaking to.

When you send out communications, think carefully about which persona you’re targeting. Imagine that you’re talking directly to that person in order to craft a message just for them. Use segmentation to match personas with the right donors.

Finding And Telling Stories

No matter how you’re communicating or who you’re communicating with, stories play a huge role in digital marketing. But how do you turn your message into a story? 

Here are four essential questions that, if you can answer them in relation to your message, will help you inject an element of story into any piece of information.

  1. Who is the hero? We want someone to root for.
  2. What is the plot? We need to see movement.
  3. What is the setting? Specifying a setting makes it real and relatable. It’s not just happening in limbo.
  4. What’s the conflict? Conflict adds tension, which gets us emotionally involved, and it also gets us invested in someone’s success or failure

When sharing your story with donors, stay true to reality and don’t be afraid to switch up your storytelling methods to cater to your audience.

Your stories, whether they are about clients being served, volunteers that were mobilized, or another facet of your organization, should be accurate and specific. You can still respect the privacy of your clients in your stories by avoiding identifying information.

It is essential that you focus on not just the problem, but the solution. Your audience needs to be shown exactly how your organization is working toward the common good.

Then, depending on your audience, consider different story platforms like movies, music, pictures, podcasts, and short stories. For example, older donors may still love a short and impactful written story while millennials are bound to respond to a moving movie or podcast. Don’t be afraid to incorporate visuals that your followers can share. This will boost your reach even further.

The more stories you create, the easier it gets. You can build up a bank of stories to pull from for any situation adn any donor.

Nurturing Donors

In addition to reaching new donors, digital marketing is also an incredibly important way to nurture the relationships you already have. 

There are tons of ways to do this, but here are a few strategies to try:

For a serious look at building long term donor relationships, take a look at moves management, the process of moving donors along a predefined path to increase their giving. If you want to become a true expert, you can take the CauseVox Donor Retention and Engagement course to get the scoop on nurturing all your donors.

Using Your Data

Digital marketers have always known that data is our lifeblood. Having quality mailing lists means that we aren’t creating beautiful projects that end up in the trash (and let me tell you there is nothing sadder than receiving a pile of returned mail due to bad addresses). As fundraisers make the leap to digital, they’re going to have to learn the benefits of good data (and the pitfalls of messy data).

When you’re fundraising online, up to date data is the ONLY way to reach your donors is with solid and up to date data. That means that we’re all seeing a shift to greater emphasis on having clean and up-to-date data management systems that integrate well with our emailing systems. 

The data you capture and track can help streamline your fundraising efforts and aid in creating donor-specific engagement opportunities. Seemingly insignificant information like a donor’s occupation, average gift, or frequency of giving helps you determine things like how much to ask for and when to ask for a donation.

Data provides you with the opportunity to give your donor a truly personal giving experience.

In addition, strong data is what allows you to segment your donors, taking advantage of the personas we discussed above. The best part of this is that it allows you to prioritize who you focus on. 

Let’s say you create one persona that is a client of your services. Your database will help you to know which of your supporters fits that persona. Maybe you know that most of your clients tend to be in a lower income bracket: you also know that those people shouldn’t be your highest priority when asking for donations. 

In contrast, you may be able to segment your donors and see those who attended your high end gala. Those would be high-quality prospects who potentially have good ability to give.

Spending time up front to make sure that your CRM works for your needs will make your job much easier down the line. Think about what data you want. How will you use it? How will you get it? Set it up now, and reap the benefits when you can easily pull a streamlined, up to date list of the best potential donors.

Converting Donors

Remember when we talked about the digital fundraising cycle, and the different stages it includes? We’ve made it to the final stage in that cycle: conversion. In many ways, conversion is the single most important piece of your digital fundraising. It doesn’t matter how much you invest in building your audience and nurturing potential donors if they reach your form and don’t make a donation.

A digital marketing-optimized donation form by CauseVox

A few fun facts about conversion:

  • Donors are 38% more likely to give on responsive websites.
  • Conversion rates increased by 50% when form fields were lowered from 4 to 3. And
  • Supporters are 70% more likely to give again if they gave on a branded donation page the first time.

These give you a good idea of how you can improve your conversion rate. Run through this list to make sure you’ve thought about each area and your donation page is as beautiful as possible:

In addition to setting up your page to convert, there are a few other strategies you can use to make this “convert” step of the online fundraising process work for you. One of the best ways to make online fundraising more efficient is to set up recurring giving.

The retention rate of recurring donors is 90% (Bloomerang) so even though they may cost more to acquire, they are your best donors.

In comparison to a 46% retention rate for one-time donors, when you acquire recurring donors, you double your retention rate. That makes a huge impact on how much you raise throughout the year and for years ahead.

Consider setting up a recurring giving campaign so that your work pays off more over time.

Start Using Your Digital Marketing Skills For Fundraising With CauseVox Today

You need a systematic approach to digital marketing to build your audience for fundraising. You also need the right tools. 

CauseVox has easy to use donation pages that you can brand and embed on your own site. Less hassle so you can focus on your mission. Plus, with stellar customer support, you’ll never have to talk to a robot when you have a question.

If you’re ready to start optimizing, let CauseVox make the process more simple with less clunk. You’ll find yourself a master marketer in no time.

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