As technology evolves and new generations arrive on the scene, it can be challenging to connect with your audience in the fresh ways that they desire and expect. Organizations often find that potential supporters and investors become less satisfied with the communications and options they’ve been offered over the years, and the risk of being “outdated” can suddenly threaten their brand. Without an effort to learn and adapt your strategy as the times change, your current efforts can miss the mark and go to waste.
To stay relevant, create an action plan to keep a pulse on what’s going on in the space. Below are several tips on how you can continue to resonate with your supporters in an ever-changing landscape. We also share a few personal insights from Kristine Breese, founder of nonprofit consultation firm Mission Impact Philanthropy, on how she strives to deliver consistent value to her audience.
1. Read, Read, Read
Jacqueline Kennedy said it best:
Reading is just as fundamental to learning as ever. In order to expand your horizons, understand the times you live in, and discover the possibilities that currently (and will soon) surround you, you should regularly set aside time to catch up on fresh, quality reading material that educates you and your staff on how to stay relevant in all aspects of your operations. The explosive growth of blogging and content marketing has enabled organizations to subscribe to tons of industry blogs, making it easy to keep a pulse on new fundraising and marketing strategies, leadership and management best practices, and current trends in the space.
Of course, it can be hard to keep up with all of the websites and content you want to track. This is where RSS (“Really Simple Syndication”) can help. With an RSS Feed Reader, you can compile, read, and share updates from the sites you subscribe to, all in one place. Check out web-based applications like Feedly to give RSS a go and keep track of your favorite websites.
2. Get Firsthand Experience
Reading might teach you how to stay relevant, but you won’t get very far if you just consume information passively. Nothing beats hands-on experience to put your studies into motion and get a better grip on how your space currently works.
Thrust yourself directly into the industry you want to be a part of. You might volunteer your time at an organization or networking group, or reach out to successful organizations and companies to see if you can shadow their employees for a day.
Classy’s marketing team members, for instance, aim to spend at least one day with a social impact organization every quarter. This enables us to stay immersed in the current nonprofit experience and learn firsthand what organizations are managing today. When you get your boots on the ground, you can come away with a lot more than what you find through a second-hand source.
3. Participate in Networking Events
In the same vein as getting direct experience, you should attend local networking events and groups to connect with others in your space. These opportunities can help you meet and build connections with people who are tackling similar problems, as well as discover the different approaches or technologies they might be using.
You can also make networking a regular part of your day by staying active in LinkedIn groups. Connect with like-minded professionals, start conversations, and gain access to helpful resources, all online.
4. Attend a Conference
Networking groups might limit you to local resources and colleagues, but conferences far broaden the scope of these benefits. Social impact conferences gather industry leaders, social innovators, and problem solvers from all over the world for a one-of-a-kind experience. They provide a space to dialogue about your current approach, share solutions, and spark new ideas. You can also learn directly from incredible speakers and panelists on how to make a greater impact in your space.
In the quest to stay relevant, there’s nothing like participating in these discussions to share knowledge and experiences. These conferences remind you that you’re part of a larger community with a shared purpose—to create meaningful change.
5. Start Lunch and Learns
On top of seeking learning opportunities outside of the office, you can also find them right within its walls. A fun way for your entire team to learn how to share knowledge and stay relevant is by hosting “lunch and learns” or “brain food Fridays” at the office. Once a month, over a team-wide lunch, different team members can give presentations relevant to your mission and sector to the entire staff. The point of these mini-brainstorms is to hear new ideas, so encourage people to think outside the box. Topics might include:
- Modern fundraising models
- Trending campaigns in the space
- New social media apps
- Industry news
- Why and how certain organizations adapted to the times
This fun exercise also allows you to take advantage of the diverse perspectives, experiences, and interests found among your staff—including younger employees. You can give them a platform to share their ideas, as well as their take on available tools and opportunities today.
“Most young people in the workforce have fresh ideas, and that’s always been true. But now they have a skill set and a comfort level with a whole new set of tools that, generally, older people are hoping to acquire.
What’s exciting about that is that it can make the value of new and younger employees so much greater, and it can make the partnership between people who’ve been working for decades and those who are new on the scene really vibrant.”
6. Make a Twitter List of Influencers
A great way to stay relevant is to follow industry experts and thought leaders on social media. On top of simply liking and following their social profiles, you can create your own Twitter list of influencers or subscribe to lists created by others. This allows you to view a feed of tweets from just the specific users on your list.
You can also create multiple lists to track different segments of Twitter users. You might curate a Twitter list of social impact organizations, social entrepreneurs, bloggers, or individuals who share an interest in a general topic. Note that you can’t respond from these list timelines; you can only read tweets.
Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to reach out in a professional way to strike up a conversation with those you admire. Let them know how their work has influenced your own and ask if they’d be willing to chat with you.
7. Leverage Modern Tools and Technologies
In order to stay relevant to your supporters, you need to connect with them in the ways that they expect. Millennials, especially, grew up with smartphones, social media, and the Internet, so they call for engagement through this evolving technology. They want to be able to use digital platforms to take action and share the causes they care about with each other.
Modern nonprofits are able to leverage new fundraising models that make this possible. Peer-to-peer fundraising, for instance, has become an increasingly prevalent model because it allows a supporter to share their personal story and passion for a cause with their friends and family. At the same time, this type of online fundraising empowers you to increase donations and reach, as well as track donor interactions with your organization and cultivate relationships more effectively. Breese says,
8. Lock in an Accountability Partner
In an effort to stay relevant, you need to continuously be a part of the action. It’s common to have a spurt of inspiration that eventually fizzles out, so you should come up with a plan that keeps learning and application top of mind throughout the year.
A good way to do this is to find an accountability partner. You can ask a colleague from a different department to meet up with you every two weeks or once a month, and you both can share something new about your work or what you’ve learned over that time. Or if you set a certain goal—whether it’s to reach out to an influencer, organization, or volunteer, or attend a networking event—your partner can check in on how you’re pacing toward it.
As technologies and tools evolve, what it means to “be relevant” will naturally change over time. But any step you take to understand and fulfill your supporters’ needs today will position your brand for better engagement and recognition tomorrow. Be willing to learn, experiment, and discover what tools surround you and your space.
Breese agrees that this is the key to staying relevant for any professional—especially in her own role as a consultant. She says,
“I want to make sure that my value proposition to my clients always stays true to bringing the best of what I know, but also the best of what’s available. The latter requires me to learn a few things. I should be able to implement and suggest the best strategies and tools.
There’s a need now, and I should be able to respond to that need in order to stay relevant.”