Nonprofits and NGO’s that embrace strategic digital marketing will undeniably see a boost in donors and memberships this year while driving awareness of their organization both online and offline.

Digital marketing offers not-for-profit organizations a tangible and viable solution to a future at a time when the state of the nonprofit industry is in flux. Recent trends such as donors becoming increasingly more conscious of programmatic outcomes, limiting funds to excluding administrative overhead, and their desire for greater organization transparency have impacted the way not-for-profits do business.

At Blue Surge Marketing Agency, we’ve dramatically bolstered the success of our nonprofit clients’ objectives, whether they were to improve donor loyalty, increase memberships, or enhance organizational awareness through our digital marketing strategies. We’ve outlined below a few cost-effective tactics your staff can implement this quarter that will assuredly strengthen your marketing efforts.



One of the Internet’s oldest communication forms, electronic mail isn’t an archaic form of messaging. It’s a superior way to tell your story. Email marketing still reigns supreme when it comes to digital marketing. According to Campaign Monitor, email marketing generates $44 for every $1 spent. With such a high return rate, using emails to deliver messages and drive actions is a crucial tool to nonprofits and NGO’s everywhere.

Did you know that just mentioning the word “video” makes people open your emails by 19% more?

The Nonprofit Beginner’s Guide To Digital Marketing

Making It Count

In 2015, Microsoft published the now infamous report stating that “the average human attention span is 8 seconds”. For comparison, the average attention span of the common goldfish is 9 seconds. Perhaps we should start marketing to our aquatic acquaintances instead? The point here is you want to make sure you are crafting emails that grab attention immediately. Keep it short and sweet. Learn to create a sense of urgency.

Automating Email Campaigns

Now let’s take it a step further. You can create automated email flows built to nurture donors and opt-in subscribers. Let’s say you have a page on your website where visitors can subscribe to your newsletter for updates on your organization. That is a relatively common feature amongst most sites today, but now what? You’ve collected a lead, but now your aim should be to get that subscriber to take a specific action.

What exactly do you want them to do? Well, that’s for your staff to decide.

It all depends on what your not-for-profit does. Maybe you’re an animal shelter looking to get local people interested in adopting homeless kittens and puppies. You can create a series of automated emails that guides them through the adoption process. Perhaps your cause focuses on civil rights and advocacy? Consider sending a collection of emails that outline resources on how to take action if you notice liberties and freedoms are being infringed upon. What about if your organization’s goal is to find a cure for a chronic illness or ravenous disease? One idea might be to send an email campaign series informing people about the pathology of the disease and what research is taking place to provide treatments. The theme here is using email to inform. People who make gifts today feel more comfortable donating money when they understand more about what they are giving to. If donor retention is vital to your mission goals, keeping them in the loop with emails is an effective method that works.

With such a high return on investment, it would be prudent for nonprofits, particularly those that rely on government funding to take an extra look at using email marketing to maximize their revenue base since they are more at risk of funding changes due to shifting interests in the political ecosystem.

Download your free guide for nonprofits on 5 Ways Nonprofits Can Turn Instagram Audiences Into Content Heroes here.


What’s In A Website?

Sadly, when it comes to websites, nonprofits oft decide to allocate too few resources to build a robust foundational site. Or they elected to have an intern or family friend design it because he said he “took a course on Adobe Dreamweaver back in college in the ’90s. Whatever the reasoning is, it’s a flawed model. When developed and designed correctly, a website should be the central hub and digital backbone of a charity, nonprofit or NGO organization. A professional site will help sell to prospective corporate partners that your organization is not just aligned with their objectives, but also worthy of support.



Content Management Systems

Without delving too much into website anatomy, every nonprofit based entity needs a content management system. “A content management system (CMS) manages the creation and modification of digital content. It typically supports multiple users in a collaborative environment,” as defined by its Wikipedia page. The use of a well-built CMS allows an organization to update its content independently without the use of a web developer. The last thing you would want as a not-for-profit is to be unable to create calendar events on the state of the industry conferences or be unable to publish annual reports in a timely manager because your webmaster is busy with other clients.

There are many CMS options out there, each with its pros and cons. Great consideration and research should be taken when selecting a platform. Not all content management systems are built alike — once you choose one, it may be difficult and cumbersome to transfer to another platform should you outgrow your initial choice. Therefore, a wise charitable organization will elect a content management system platform that is flexible and allows for scalability in the future. If you need help deciding on choosing what works best for you or if you’re considering making a change to a new one, we can help.

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Donation Pages

The way your website collects funds for donations and memberships is frequently an overlooked aspect of you meeting your organization’s bottom line. To take a page out of the for-profit business book, think about the rise of Netflix, Hulu, Birchbox. What do all of these businesses have in common? They all use the subscription service model to guarantee their revenue streams. According to OrderGroove, the subscription model is at an all-time high. By making it easy for those to gift to make recurring monthly contributions through automation, you lessen the chance of them not donating. You also can predict revenue coming in better, which improves financial stability. By designing websites for donors, digital marketing for nonprofits helps charities create the revenue needed to run their programs and service the communities they serve.

Take St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital for example. Their donation page is highly optimized to make it as frictionless as possible for anyone who lands their to make a philanthropic gesture. They included preset gift amounts of $25, $50, $100, $500 and $1,000 to take the guesswork out for the giver. On top of that, the $100 donation button is colored in their signature red, which stands out in heavy contrast to the grays on the other donation amounts. By drawing attention to the $100, they are consciously suggesting for website visitors to select that amount, without explicitly saying so. This simple tweak of changing one color is a textbook example of color psychology, which is, “the study of how color influences how we feel, behave and interact with ourselves and others, according to Karen Haller, an expert Color Psychologist.

Next, the site has a Secure Sockets Layer, or an SSL certificate that helps prevent hackers from seeing their credit card information, something may have concerns about when making gift donations online.

They have their credit card fields built directly on the page, which reduces the chances that a donor won’t complete the transaction.

By making it easier to donate natively on your website, you give your cause a chance to buck the trend of diminishing returns offline.

Small tweaks like these are no-brainer do-ables that can help any charity build a sustainable organization for the future.


Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization, or SEO “is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.”

SEO is one of the more nuanced concepts of digital marketing that could significantly improve the organizational awareness of a nonprofit group if they correctly knew how to implement it. It is composed of several different practices, ranging from link building, keyword optimization, internal linking, sitewide, on-page and image optimization, site mapping, content creation and more.

Steve Hammer of Rank Hammer laments that the “O” in SEO shouldn’t stand for “optimization,” but rather, “orchestration.” SEO isn’t something you can turn off or on with a button, or with a plugin. It’s a series of integrated, everchanging, moving parts that require diligence but when done correctly, pay substantial dividends in the long run. Digital marketing for nonprofits means making accessible content your audience is already looking for.

The key takeaway here is the simpler it is for potential corporate partners and people to find your website, the more likely you may be able to turn them into contributors and supporters of your cause.

Content Marketing

The adage, “Content is king,” still rings true in 2019. If one of the primary goals of your nonprofit is to advance philanthropy through education and advocacy, then you should ask yourself, “Does the content we make reflect that?” Merely making a text post on Facebook or Twitter is not going to cut it anymore. This is not like the early days of social media 101 when all you had to do was make a post, and everyone would see it. With everyone these days posting content online, it can be tough to stand out from the crowd. To differentiate from the masses, you should be posting a myriad of types of content. This includes podcasts, infographics, listicles, case studies, testimonials, quizzes and more. When you work with Blue Surge, we focus on creating a variety of meaningful, actionable, and measurable content that genuinely reflects your nonprofit’s mission goals.


Video Marketing

Still images are cool, but video reaches people in a way that pictures could never. After all, why do you think gifs are so much fun? While video can sometimes be seen as intimidating, nonprofits can truly leverage video marketing in a unique way that other industries cannot. For as long as television had commercials, we’ve all been subject to the sounds and sights of somber music and imagery of disparaged, impoverished children with calls-to-action to donate. For their ubiquity and often repetitive storyline, why are these commercials still so effective? Simple. Video conveys more emotion in its messaging than a standalone picture can. With much of the world shifting their attention from widescreens to mobile screens, knowing how to publish video content that supports and reinforces your mission goals is a win-win for everyone.

Video can assist in explaining common misconceptions or simplifying concepts that may be difficult to grasp at first glance in a text.
Topics can be as specific as educating wealthy donors on the best practices of how to incorporate large gifts in their estate plans or as basic as letting people know what services and programs you offer in their area.

Digital marketing for nonprofits means creating video, because you can lower hesitancy or remove barriers that may be stopping your charitable group from reaching its peak.


Social Media

Finding new donors can be compared to having a “Champagne taste on a beer budget,” says Maureen Egan, Senior Consultant at American City Bureau. Luckily, the birth of modern social media networking platforms created a new medium to source not just donors, but volunteers and even champions of your nonprofit. While not everyone who shares the content you post on social media actively donates, the free exposure they provide to your organization should not be understated. Social media is also essential because it is how a tremendous number of people consume media nowadays.


Cultivating The Next Generation

Social media and youth culture are intertwined, so groups that wish to reach these audiences should place additional emphasis on millennials and Generation Z. Both of these cohorts are especially motivated by social responsibility; more so than previous generations. They reflect the overall progressive themes of the country, concerning being more aware of their surrounding environments and what is going on beyond their borders. These attitudes correlate with the rise of the ubiquity of the Internet and subsequently social media.

With that knowledge, Project Managers and Directors must be able to effectively reach these audiences in the way that they consume media. While they may not be the most prominent donors due to their limited financial means, by getting them interested and involved early, you can set your organization up to have invested supporters already familiar with your cause as their financial situation improves. Digital marketing for nonprofits means garnering the attention of consumers that are increasingly becoming mobile-centric, and social media is no exception.


A Word About Quality

Nonetheless, just like any other marketing tactic, social media marketing is not validated unless it is measured and provides quality to the end user. In this case, it would be potential donors, past donors, and audiences likely to support your cause. Ask yourself this, how many times have you checked out another not-for-profit’s Twitter account, to see that their posts were exactly compelling? Or more specifically, only to see that their feed is a replica of their Facebook feed, except the tweets are all Facebook links? Or that their recent tweets are all cluttered with “instagram.com/RaNdOmChArAcTeRsHeRe…” links? This is an example of poor use of social media. Using social media automation tools are commonplace in 2019, and they can be immensely helpful to overall productivity. However, their usage can contribute to lazy or downright bad habits.

In the examples mentioned earlier, nonprofits and NGO’s are just using cross-post options now popularized by Facebook. The problem with these options is that followers recognize them for what they are, reposts of content found elsewhere on social media, and therefore will not engage with them. Worst yet, followers may unfollow these accounts since they feel that they are not contributing anything relevant to their feed.

Fundraising professionals need to be mindful of the frequency and the quality of the things they post on social media. Failure to do so can result in a lower engagement and a subsequent gradual decline of their organization’s social media presence.


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Thanking Donors In The Digital Age

Social media can come into play even after the gifting has taken place. After donating, nonprofits should strive to ensure their donors feel positive about what they did. With social currency trading at an all-time high, nonprofits should make an effort to make their donors feel applauded for their efforts. The idea around thanking the person or corporate sponsor who made a gift isn’t novel, its expected. In the past, it has taken several forms, such as sending a thank you card or publishing their organization name in a mailing or print brochure.

But what about today? Nonprofits seeking to leverage the digital landscape should take into consideration the value social media has. New donors, especially millennials and Generation Z love to be “shouted out” on social media networks. Something simple like creating a graphic with the donor’s photo and name can go a long way. The donor can be encouraged to share said graphics with their feed, which can influence their followers to be incentivized to donate or take action as well. These sharing actions can lead to a cascade effect that can increase memberships and revenue. This approach isn’t too far from the viral nature of the brilliant 2014, “Water Ice Bucket Challenge.” The virality of the challenge directly led to such an increase in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis awareness and an astronomical $115 million in donations that scientists discovered a new gene tied to ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.


Digital marketing for nonprofits is the new way they and other philanthropic groups can continue building long-lasting relationships with their communities, donors, and stakeholders. However, we still acknowledge that traditional outbound marketing strategies are sometimes useful, especially for older audiences who may not be as technologically savvy. Phone calls, personal handwritten letters, radio, TV, and direct mail all still have a place when it comes to fundraising and outreach.

“Being able to have online and offline marketing coalesce efficiently is paramount to being successful in the nonprofit sector,” says Godson Michel, expert digital marketer. Nonprofits would do well to balance their outreach efforts with both forms and see what works best for them. We believe that as the world continues to make consumer-level technological leaps, the not-for-profits that embrace emerging digital trends have the best chance at victory in the future.

At Blue Surge Marketing Agency, we focus on specific digital strategies tailored to the overall mission objectives of nonprofits and NGO’s. We believe that cash is not this sector’s greatest resource, but rather hope, optimism and empathy. For more information on how we can positively impact and transform your marketing strategy, increase donations and drive memberships, contact us for a free digital marketing consultation and audit on your current outreach efforts.

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Being able to have online and offline marketing coalesce efficiently is paramount to being successful in the nonprofit sector.

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