Digital marketing for nonprofits requires message, audience and context focus


There is one crucial factor that determines your donor retention rates and engagement when trying to scale success as a non-profit and that is communication.

If we look to the future of fundraising, there are many changes happening across the landscape. Between the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), budding usage of social media as major information sources, and the ever-changing needs among constituents, digital marketing isn’t just a for-profit tool. Instead it is for every organization that wants to grow and expand their donor reach, improve revenue and donor retention.

When it comes to digital marketing with for-profits, budget is usually the first thing that comes to mind, but it is the last thing some non-profits have available, which presents a challenge for digital marketers in the non-profit field. Here are a few points to consider when looking to improve donor retention and engagement through digital marketing for your non-profit:

Know your constituents’ needs

Making meaningful connections to potential donors and their networks is the key to maximizing donations, engagement and donor retention.

According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals, studies show that donor retention has been consistently dropping: -1.9% Year to Date (YTD) change industry-wide, as well as the revenue from major donors change by -8% YTD.

With that information, the question for your non-profit becomes: are your services and value communicated with the right message, in the right context, at the right time? Or are you just messaging without an individual donor-focused strategy driven by data? Retention has a disproportionately positive impact on your bottom line.

Building a robust CRM database is one of the first steps you can take to improve your donor acquisition and retention. Being able to communicate personalized messaging for different segments of your audience happens best with the right lists and tagging functionality within a CRM system. A connected CRM platform empowers you to understand current and past donor behaviour in order to develop the messaging that speaks to your donors’ specific needs at the right time, in the right channel. This is the key to improving your retention rates through targeted messaging.

Let’s look at an example: Say your non-profit has a retention rate of 41% and you have 5,000 individual donors who each contribute $200. After 10 years at that retention rate, you would have collected $820,000 (not including new donor acquisition). If your retention rate was 51%, that same donor pool would have netted you $1.2 million after 10 years (an increase in almost $460,000 by increasing your retention rate by 10%).

The future of fundraising: Millennials

Although Millennials may lack the financial resources to donate in larger amounts like their older counterparts, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to give more. In fact, 52% of Millennials have the desire to give more, according to The 2017 Burk Donor Survey Report, published by Cygnus Applied Research.

Clear pathways on how to take donor action on your website and social channels is crucial to scaling your non-profit success, as well as providing clear data on how donations are providing impact. Here are a few facts from a report on Millennials’ giving, published by the Eleventy Marketing Group, that reinforce why:

  • 80% of Millennials use their phones as major devices for reading non-profit emails and articles; 80% prefer viewing mobile optimized non-profit sites.
  • 46% of Millennials prefer monetary donation to a non-profit opposed to physical gifts.
  • Millennials often begin relationships with non-profits on their websites and then move on to their social media pages for updates.

Additionally, this report illustrates that Millennials support causes, not necessarily organizations. This makes the power of storytelling through digital content is essential for engaging future donors, as well as having unified messaging across all content channels to engage Millennials in those key micro-moments.

Micro-moments, macro-impact

Most donors, Millennials especially, switch between mobile and desktop devices when viewing different content from non-profits. While most Millennials use their phones for reading non-profit emails and social information, they might switch to a desktop for a full site experience to take action and donate.

This behaviour stresses the importance of micro-moments, which are the intent-rich moments when people turn to different devices to act on their decisions. In the context of a donor-centric mindset, it’s crucial to ensure that all of your content, from expanded text ads to web graphics to form fields, are mobile-optimized.

That way, all of your channels are optimized to deliver the right messaging in the right context; providing better experiences with your content on mobile to better reach and connect with potential donors.

The Importance of machine learning and AI

Achieving personalization at scale is the future of fundraising. But to do it you will need to leverage the power of machine learning and AI. By 2025, it’s estimated that AI bots will power 95% of all customer service interactions, according to Servion Global Solutions; if you implement them sooner than later, you’ll be ahead of the curve.

Rather than going off gut assumptions about donor behaviour, digital marketers make data-driven decisions that reflect how donors are actually engaging with your organization. Machine learning helps to accelerate the data collection process for donor engagement and provide faster, more targeted communication across your content channels to better engage donors.

Take Yeshi for example, a chatbot launched by Lokai and charity: water to bring awareness to the water crisis in Ethiopia. Yeshi is a bot you can interact with via Facebook Messenger to have a conversation to simulate what it’s like to walk two-and-a-half hours to find clean water.

This is not only an example of how to leverage machine learning and AI for effective storytelling with a hyper-connected generation, but how non-profits can bring the future of messaging to the present and significantly improve donor engagement.

Where do you start?

Having worked with hundreds of marketers over the last 15+ years, the most important first step is to truly assess and understand the current state of your marketing ecosystem, i.e. find your “Here” in order to build a realistic roadmap to get you “There” (your goals). Then you can prioritize marketing initiatives based on a 3-point ICE scale: Impact / Cost / Effort.

At Inbox Marketer, we walk our clients through a proprietary Scorecard framework to assess their “Here”, which covers 100+ points that help identify gaps and opportunities to build incremental efficiencies in their marketing programs. This framework forms the basis for how we’re helping non-profits amplify their donor retention and success through data-driven digital marketing.

Kim Arsenault is Senior Director of Client Services, Inbox Marketer

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Lloydmedia, Inc is based in Markham, Ontario, Canada, and is a multi-platform media company which delivers a total audience of more than 100,000 readers across four national magazines, three industry directories, and a range of events and online marketing.

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