5 Keys to Make the Most of Your Nonprofit's Online Experience
When Jarid Brown joined the Hope Institute for Children and Families 18 months ago as manager of online interactions, the Springfield, Ill.-based organization dedicated to educational, residential and health services to children with disabilities had very little in the way of online communications.
A year and a half later, the Hope Institute now has a fully integrated online strategy that has seen remarkable growth in e-mail and e-newsletter subscribers, social-media followers, website visitors, and e-philanthropy. It was such a remarkable transformation that FundRaising Success will be sharing the Hope Institute’s online metamorphosis in one of the two remaining cover stories (August and November) in our four-part case studies series this year.
Here, Brown shares his keys to getting the most out of your nonprofit’s online experience.
Don’t follow the herd
It’s perfectly normal and even encouraged to look at what other successful organizations are doing and take a cue from them. But it’s foolish to blindly follow them without understanding why, having a plan to implement, and making sure it’s right for you and your constituents.
“What I’ve most commonly found with nonprofits — and it was certainly the situation here at the Hope Institute — is that we typically have a ‘follow-the-herd’ mentality,” Brown says. “We say we need to have a website so people can find us … but there’s typically not much planning that goes into it.
“Then we say, ‘Well, people are on Facebook so we need Facebook, people are on Twitter so we need to go on Twitter, or people are on YouTube so we need to go to YouTube. Oh, this organization uses Causes on Facebook and they’ve had success so let’s do something there,’” he continues. “So we build our online presence one step at a time without stepping back to look at the bigger picture.”
Look at your entire online presence as a whole
Integration is the key in online communications. You must have a consistent message across all online mediums so as to not confuse your donors and drive people away. The way the message is delivered will vary depending on the channel — e-mail, e-newsletter, website, social media, video, etc. — but everything must work in concert to keep your supporters engaged.
“I tell other nonprofits to take a step back and ask yourself, ‘What would you do today if you were starting over with nothing?’ How would you make everything look and work and operate together?” Brown says. “Then make all those pieces work together.”
Brown says one of the keys to the Hope Institute’s online turnaround and continued growth is its meticulous online planning. The organization plans its online strategy a year in advance, with room built in to make adjustments. That way, it knows what stories it will focus on each month, how that message will be communicated across channels, etc. This allows Hope Institute to map out its strategy and integrate it in every medium.
Focus on your story, not your statistics
“The content online for many nonprofits typically turns into an online brochure — it’s not designed to be a marketing and engagement piece; it’s designed to be an informational piece,” Brown says. “We focus on statistics and every in and out of the services we provide, and we forget to tell the story of the people that we serve.”
That’s a grave mistake. As great as your statistics may be and as wonderful as your history is, donors really don’t care much about all of that. They care most about the people you serve and how they can help them. They want to hear stories about how your organization and their dollars helped achieve the mission. Giving is emotional, after all, so make sure your content tugs at your supporters’ emotions and engages them to take action.
Know who your audience is
Many people first get introduced to your organization online, so tailor the messaging accordingly.
“When you’re working online, you’re not necessarily speaking to your specific nonprofit community — you’re speaking to the general public. You need to approach it like that,” Brown says. “That means simple messaging. People want to get to know your organization. They don’t want to get to know every in and out of your organization.
“So don’t focus on the numbers; focus upon the people who you serve,” he continues. “And do it in a consistent fashion.”