The good news is that spring has finally sprung. We’ve survived more than a year in quarantine, and with thousands of Americans getting vaccinated each and every day, we are slowly beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to COVID-19. I’m sure we can all agree that 2020 was a doozy of a year, from the pandemic, to protests, to extreme weather, to the election… need I go on?
As we enter a new, more hopeful era, there’s one question that we’ve begun to hear from clients and organizations in the nonprofit space: What now? What does this mean for our work? What changes? What stays the same? Once people feel like the world isn’t on fire, will they care as much about my mission? Will they be as interested, as engaged, as generous?
Of course this is different for everyone, and often dependent on the space you’re in. Some organizations saw a significant influx in supporters throughout 2020 as their issue area hit the mainstream. Others are still trying to assess what this new era means for their organization and how to adapt to a changing world.
While there is no telling what 2021 will hold, here are some considerations for your organization’s marketing strategy for this year and beyond:
1. Stay Digitally Focused
When the world shutdown last March, organizations had to pivot into the digital age overnight. That meant transferring conferences, galas and other events online, offering their services virtually and finding news ways to provide value to their supporters in a new format.
While there is still so much value in face-to-face interaction, there’s no doubt the digital alternative has some benefit as well. Last July, our client Ceres was faced with transitioning their annual gala event completely online and took the opportunity to make what was typically an invite-only event open to all Ceres supporters. This move helped them to not only exceed their fundraising goal, but also develop a deeper relationship with their wider network of supporters by offering a celebratory night of fun and entertainment.
From better accessibility and easier knowledge-sharing to lower costs and easier scheduling, there may be instances where it makes sense to stay digital moving forward, and it’s worth making it a habit (or asking your supporters) to evaluate whether you can keep things online and get the same impact (or more).
2. Keep Being as Authentic and Transparent as Possible
Perhaps one of the most impactful pivots organizations made in their messaging strategies this year (often by necessity) was pulling the mask off and showing their truest, most authentic selves.
The organizations that said “Hey, we’re in uncharted territory here, and we need your help” were typically met with much more support than expected and were able to better connect with their audience during a difficult time.
Data shows 90% of people believe authenticity is an important factor when deciding which brands to like and support (up from 86% in 2017). Your organization can continue to benefit from being authentic and making sure your supporters know there’s a human on the other side and we’re all facing similar struggles. As you develop new messaging throughout 2021, continue to find ways to be transparent and authentic about where you are as an organization and where and how each of your community members fits into the bigger picture.
3. Utilize a User-Centric Approach
Along the same lines as being “more human” in our messaging, another best practice that organizations emphasized more throughout 2020 was asking their audiences what they wanted to see more of. One of our clients, the Natural Resource Defense Council, saw a 1300% increase in impressions and 77% increase in engagement rate on its Facebook page when asking what its supporters wanted to see, and then following through.
This is a simple, yet impactful way for organizations to connect with their supporters, produce more relevant content and resources, and in general, shift their communications strategies to match their audience’s needs, instead of having them be dictated by internal stakeholders and program teams.
This has always been an important strategy — it shouldn’t take the world ending to ask our audiences what they want to see and hear. If you saw success with this tactic this year, awesome! Do more of it. If you haven’t tried it yet, now’s a great time to start.
4. Stay on Top of New Technology Trends
Technology is changing all the time, and nonprofits can often be the last to adopt new platforms. While it’s important to not jump at every new shiny object, make sure you have a process for evaluating new platforms or tactics to decide whether it has potential to reach your target audience in a new, innovative way and set aside a testing budget to activate new channels.
One example from this past year is the success of TikTok. While many brands struggled to adapt to a video-only format, those that did successfully were able to not only increase awareness and present themselves in a more authentic way, but more easily reach Gen Z and Millennial audiences. Our client, the American Kennel Club, tested the TikTok waters and found a great way to bring humor and awe to dog sporting and events and engage with a much younger demographic, garnering more than 133,000 new followers over the past year.
5. Be Prepared for Next Time
When it comes to potential threats to our work and the health of our organizations, I sincerely doubt many of us would have had global pandemic on the list. All we can do now is be better prepared for the next crisis, which means constantly asking “what if” and evaluating how we might pivot if plans change.
Organizations that are more flexible and willing to pivot and shift strategies more quickly are much better set up to weather the unknown. One way to do this is incorporate a contingency budget into your marketing plan for the year; this can provide a buffer for when plans go awry, and even better, serve as a bucket to pull from if a new opportunity arises that you didn’t plan for.
As we move to a post-pandemic era, all nonprofits can benefit from taking some time to reflect on lessons learned throughout the past year and identify which strategies, channels, tactics and budgets deserve to be a part of their longer term marketing strategy. So much of what we thought to be foolproof has changed, and the more perceptive, inquisitive and agile we can be throughout 2021 and beyond, the more impact we can make.
Katey Parker is the VP of Marketing Services at Media Cause. She started her career building online communities for a number of food policy and consumer education nonprofits, and after joining Media Cause in 2013, has worked with nonprofits of all shapes and sizes on designing and implementing multi-touchpoint digital marketing strategies. She is a strong believer in the power of digital media to influence social change. Katey now leads a cross-functional team and oversees marketing and advertising strategy for brands like the American Kennel Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, and Ceres.