While we at Vision2 specialize in church-centric software, we’ve noticed that there are many similarities between the needs of a faith-based organization and nonprofits in a more general sense. So, when we saw that religious organizations were struggling with digital engagement, it was clear this was something to be addressed for the nonprofit sector overall!
There’s no doubt that society is becoming increasingly digital. You can handle work communications through email servers, you can communicate with your friends and family en masse through social networks and you can even buy your groceries online through Amazon.
It should come as no surprise that engagement between nonprofits and supporters is going digital. With half of Americans reporting being civically active on social networks, and two thirds reporting that they feel digital outlets are important for “creating sustained movements for social change,” it’s clear that members are interested in digital methods for change.
With that information in mind, we started brainstorming ways for nonprofits of all kinds to increase digital engagement. We’ve pulled together five simple steps that any nonprofit — religious or not — can use to increase digital supporter and member engagement:
- Bolster your digital knowledge.
- Define what digital engagement means to you.
- Research your member demographics to optimize communication.
- Create clearly established digital engagement spaces.
- Bring your fundraising to the digital sphere.
These five steps will encourage your members to engage with your nonprofit’s digital spaces, as well as make sure you’re prepared to handle the influx when they do. Read on for a breakdown of each step.
1. Bolster Your Digital Knowledge
The quest to increase digital engagement between your nonprofit and its members must start with an in-depth research session on your end. It can be difficult to increase engagement in the digital sphere when you’re not well-versed in what that technology entails!
For example, did you know that you can digitally collect cash and check contributions using a payment processing and merchant services platform? Or further, that artificial intelligence is on-trend in the nonprofit sector?
At one point in time, nonprofit digital capacities were limited by locally-installed software that underwent time-consuming updates semi-annually. Now, any nonprofit technology you encounter will more than likely be cloud-based, ever-evolving and significantly more cost-efficient!
In looking to increase your digital engagement, you’re going to encounter a plethora of technology solutions promising to help you in your cause. From CRMs and online giving platforms to AI chatbots and social media networks, there are a ton of different avenues to help you increase your digital member engagement — and they’re changing every day!
By doing your research and staying up-to-date on the latest technologies, you’ll be able to effectively utilize these tools to increase engagement.
2. Define What Digital Engagement Means to You
Next, after researching your technology options, you can decide what exactly you want to accomplish using them. Sure, you want to increase engagement — but what does that mean?
For most nonprofits, engagement is synonymous with inspiring supporters to directly participate with the organization and take action to benefit a cause. This action can mean a variety of things, from volunteering to spreading the word, to simply signing up for your emails.
If your focus is on fundraising, digital member engagement most often means making gifts through your online donation tools.
After defining your digital engagement goals in general terms, you need to consider what it will look like for your nonprofit in particular. There are three questions you should ask yourself to help guide you through the process:
- Are there supporters already active in your online spaces who aren’t giving?
- Are there traditionally offline donors who you can attract to digital giving?
- Are there new audiences or members you can reach using digital means?
By evaluating which segments of your population are not currently giving through online spaces, you can clearly identify where there is room for growth in your member engagement through digital means. In our experience, this is a big opportunity for many churches and faith-based organizations, and there might be for your nonprofit, as well.
If you’re just getting started with building your nonprofit’s membership, check out Double the Donation’s primer on nonprofit membership programs.
3. Research Your Member Demographics to Optimize Communication
Did you know that you can often gain invaluable insight into your member’s giving habits just by considering which generation they belong to? For example, 84% of Millennials give to charity, averaging $481 per donor. Further, 59% of GenZ, or digital native, contributors have been inspired to give to a charity just by the messaging they encountered on social media!
This means that if you have a large Millennial base in your audience, you know who you should be targeting with fundraising requests. Further, if you’re looking at reaching the younger demographics in your membership, social media is probably the way to go. These insights, and many more, can be acquired through your organization’s ongoing donor research.
Donor research is the process through which you take the information you’ve gathered on your contributors and use it to guide your gift-raising strategy. Simply paying attention to the demographics interacting with your nonprofit can provide valuable insights to guide your future actions!
Even more interesting is that you can take this examination a step further, through a process called social discovery. This type of donor research looks specifically at members’ social media platforms to help you learn more about their passions, their digital influence, their professional connections and their contact information.
Even further, it tells you which social platforms your members are interested and how they interact with others in those spaces. Considering the typical adult regularly uses at least three social media platforms — you’re sure to find useful information that help to guide your outreach!
For more information on how this research can help raise your digital engagement rates, read up on social discovery here.
4. Create Clearly Established Digital Engagement Spaces
If you plan to ask your members to interact digitally with your nonprofit, it’s important that you have clearly established online spaces where they can do so! Before making a big push for digital engagement, you must make sure your website and social platforms are optimized for this increased participation.
Your website functions as your nonprofit’s digital home, and it’s vital that your site is both welcoming and helpful to your members! There are a few best practices to make sure your website is up to par:
- Incorporate familiar design elements that reflect your organization and its values.
- Feature clearly labeled information regarding how to get involved in your organization.
- Include a call-to-action and an easily navigated, integrated giving platform.
After following these steps, your website will essentially function as a one-stop shop for your members. They’ll be able to find information on your organization and how to get involved, and be encouraged to give while doing so through a giving platform that’s directly integrated with your webpage.
Further, you’ll want to look for tools that are designed with your specific type of organization in mind whenever possible. For example, a church would benefit from using a faith-based giving platform, and a local recreation center would benefit from a community center management program.
As mentioned before, many adults are very online — so social media is another space you’ll need to optimize for clear communication. There are a few best practices to make sure you’re utilizing social networks like a pro:
- Use a variety of social networks as each reaches a different audience.
- Understand the limitations of each platform — what works on Twitter might not work as well on Instagram.
- Prioritize your visual elements as that type of media is well-accepted across platforms.
- Keep it personal, sharing stories of your nonprofit’s work and member successes.
- Use social networking to further build community by inviting donors to interact with one another.
- Include links to your organization’s website and giving platform for easy navigation.
When handled tastefully and strategically, your nonprofit’s social networking presence can serve as a community builder within your organization. By engaging members and pointing them back to your website, which you’ve already optimized for giving, you’ll definitely see an increase in digital engagement!
5. Bring Your Fundraising to the Digital Sphere
Considering how digital engagement is continually on the rise — online contributions to nonprofits increased by 23% last year, up from 15% the year before — it’s clear that members are interested in this type of participation. In many ways, your audience already expects easy ways to engage with your work digitally. Therefore, one of the most effective ways to increase digital giving is simply to make it easier for your members to do so.
You should choose a giving platform that makes online giving as easy as possible for your membership. There are a few features to look out for in an online giving platform:
- Online giving allowing members to give from wherever they may be, whether that’s in person or across the nation.
- Mobile-optimized giving allowing members to access a giving page that’s optimized for mobile devices, providing easy viewing regardless of technology type.
- Text-to-give allowing members to give through simply sending a text message.
- Check and cash gift processing allowing you to process and track paper gifts through the same secure system you’re using for digital payment methods.
- Familiar branding ensuring members feel comfortable giving digitally to your cause due to recognizing elements with which they are familiar.
By bringing your gift collection processes online and optimizing the platforms utilized for ease-of-use, you’ll certainly encourage members to contribute digitally. For more information on introducing digital contributions to your membership or community, read Vision2’s best practices of online giving.
So many of our day-to-day functions are increasingly moving to the digital sphere, and that includes our interactions with nonprofits!
While it may seem overwhelming at first, your organization is primed for a digital renaissance. By following these five steps, you’ll not only encourage members to engage with your nonprofit in the digital realm, but you’ll also be prepared to handle the increased participation when they do!
Kingsley Allen has been involved in designing, developing and operating software for over 25 years. Much of his recent career has been invested in helping churches leverage technology to grow and reach people. Kingsley worked with the Fellowship One church management system for 10 years, leading the product and development teams from startup mode through the acquisition by ACTIVE Network. Post-acquisition, he served as general manager of the Faith business unit and and strategy and partnerships for ACTIVE's Communities division.
As VP of Product Development at Vision2, he helps guide the continued development of Vision2 into a world-class giving engagement platform.