Life never goes as planned. You may set out on one specific path and quickly find yourself on another, drastically different path—maybe even going a different direction. Why should we expect anything different from our marketing? We plan for our audience to hear one message, but what we don’t plan for are all the things thrown at our audience which can throw that message completely off it’s path. Nonprofit marketing is not immune to this and the changing ways in which our donors communicate is all but guaranteeing that the path of successful nonprofit marketing will go through many twist and turns.
Before we all became connected around the clock to the global online community, we relied on advertising companies to lead us to their product. Nonprofit marketing was like a crossword puzzle in the newspaper: a very rigid and crafted set of blocks that guided you from A to B with no room for interruptions (or adding extra letters).
This outdated Nonprofit marketing approach was static and one dimensional. Tell the donor the story you want them to hear, control the medium, and dictate the interaction. Send solicitation mailer with catchy slogan, powerful image, and captivating story. Send Thank You note for donation. Send invite to yearly big dollar gala with beautiful venue and hometown hero as the guest speaker. Rinse and Repeat.
Engagement marketing, on the contrary, is fluid, constantly evolving, and never disconnected from your network. Your message is being shared, reconstructed, and reacted upon constantly. While there is a level of control of the message that has been lost by the messenger, the payoff is that much greater—the donor is engaging and participating with your organization and your cause more than ever before.
So what does engagement marketing look like? It can be vast, layered, and very descriptive and targeted, but it all comes from acting and reacting with your donors. This includes email, an interactive landing page, social media posting and sharing, and data compilation and analysis. Before, data on donors usually just consisted of home addresses and the last time they gave. On the other hand, engagement marketing tells us what aspects of your cause is resonating and, on a more detailed level, what else your donor cares about outside of the organization. You may think that this shouldn’t matter to you—who cares if Joe Smith is excited to watch the Super Bowl? You do!
Think of it this way: when some mainstream event or trend happens, is your nonprofit seizing on this opportunity to engage? Take a step out of the box of “this isn’t related to my organization’s cause” and bear in mind that everything is intertwined now—our donors aren’t compartmentalizing their engagement with the world and neither should you. Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? This viral sensation is a perfect example of engagement marketing—challenge your network to do something interactive; record a video and SHARE it on social media! This challenge not only raised $115 million for the organization, but it brought in millions of new email addresses, social media likes, and traffic to the website of the ALS foundation. There is no direct mailer that could ever accomplish that.
This type of engagement marketing is the process of personalizing your relationship with your network, which in turn creates a deeper and more qualitative network of supporters that stand behind your organization. By engaging your donors on a more interactive and personal level, you are building relationships that are stronger than the superficial “Please buy a ticket to our gala.” These are the type of relationships that will become the legacy and endowment gifts of the future.
So let’s break down how all of this comes together in a successful engaged marketing plan for your nonprofit. Start with the basics. Do you have a webpage? Are there calls to action on the webpage? This goes beyond the donate button. For a lot of supporters, your website is often the first place they go to connect with your organization. It’s also the foundation for building your engagement.
Let’s check out www.PAWSChicago.org for an example. Every piece of their homepage is a call to engage. Every corner invites you to learn, to act, to support, to be rewarded with affirmation of the work being accomplished because of your support. Or look at www.ThatsNotCool.com, which heavily integrates various social media platforms into the use of their website so that your engagement is happening across multiple platforms at once. As you build your page, maintain engagement as your mantra and your website will get there.
While communication continues to evolve, the power of your engagement marketing goes hand in hand with the long term sustainability of your network. As content flows in and out (both to and from your network—initiation of great ideas and content starts on both ends), engagement with that content should flow in and out in response, maintaining a constant presence in both the world of the nonprofit and the world of the donor. You can begin to see how sending a few direct mailers or hosting a yearly gala can no longer sustain a nonprofit long term in this rapidly changing landscape.
As your engagement with current and prospective donors grows, so too should the sophistication of how you engage. You already know that donors take into account different vectors when they give, and this should be reflected in how you interact. You can begin understanding this by simply looking at what is working and what isn’t. What emails were opened? What Facebook posts were shared? What was the message of this content that drew more attention? Over time, your donor profiles will become much more multifaceted and three-dimensional and this, simply put, is what sustainability looks like.