3 Big Digital Marketing Mistakes Nonprofits Need To Avoid

4 min
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Today, nonprofits can reach massive audiences with the help of digital marketing and powerful communications platforms behind them. That doesn’t mean promotion comes easy, though.

Whether you’re hosting a fundraising campaign or simply advertising your nonprofit online, you cannot expect people to only find it organically. A lot of organizations overlook the basics of digital marketing, like web design and search engine optimization (SEO), social media presence, and content marketing.

Moreover, 49% of organizations sometimes go into the realm of digital marketing without a sound strategy. With little research and less experience, nonprofits may make big marketing mistakes. Further, these slips can set marketing efforts back significantly, and your cause can suffer as a result.

Below, we’ll walk you through three of the biggest marketing mistakes nonprofits often make. Then, we’ll offer some tips on how to ensure you avoid them and keep your digital marketing on track.

1. Conflating Strategy and Tactics

One of the most common marketing mistakes made by nonprofits is the assumption that any digital marketing activity carried out by their team is automatically a strategy.

Your approach to marketing should be akin to constructing a well-oiled machine. Each individual component—every post, video, blog, and photo—should contribute to your end goal. If that isn’t the case, you might not be approaching marketing in a strategic manner.

Maybe your goal is to drive more supporters to your website, inspire people to talk about your cause on social media, or use an email newsletter to recruit and retain more active donors and volunteers.

Whatever your objectives, a multi-stage digital marketing campaign can help focus your efforts. Establish milestones that you can use to mark progress towards your overall goal and ensure you have some means of measuring the success or failure of your marketing tactics. Some measurable objectives could include:

  • An increase in donations, either through a specific channel or overall
  • Larger average gift sizes
  • More recurring donors
  • Mailing list or newsletter signups
  • An increase in volunteer engagement
  • Engagement on social media
  • Higher traffic to your nonprofit’s website

You need to be concentrated, deliberate, and set timelines for these goals. If you simply post content blindly, you’ll likely get nowhere.

2. Audience? What Audience?

In 2017, Americans gave $286.65 billion to nonprofits. In order to capture a piece of this pie, you’ve got to ensure that your digital marketing resonates with your donors in a way that appeals to their specific, personalized interests.

It’s important you know your audience because a lot of nonprofit branding and marketing involves storytelling. This includes the story of your cause, the people you’re helping, your organization, and stories about your donors and volunteers.

How you tell that story is every bit as important as the story itself, maybe even more so. Thus, you need to create content and tell stories that resonate with your donors’ interests, and you can’t do that if you don’t know who they are.

It’s possible to simply fire off inspiring videos or blog posts and get a positive response from your audience. Yet, that response could be even better if that content properly targeted. The good news is that it’s not that difficult to do market research of this nature. You can go about it in a number of different ways:

Research Similar Nonprofits

Research other organizations that work in a similar field or cause category to your nonprofit. Who are the most active and engaged donors and volunteers with these organizations? More importantly, what sort of content do those nonprofits share with said donors and volunteers? This can show you what types of content may resonate strongly with your own supporter base.

Be Data-Driven

Examine Google Analytics data for your website, Facebook Insights for your Facebook page, and any other data metrics you can get your hands on. This will not only give you information about some of the people who interact with your nonprofit, but also the kind of content that they love: and what they maybe don’t like as much.

Survey Your Donors

To start, ask your donors direct questions about who they are, their donation habits, personal interests, and core values. You can even take this a step further and directly interview your most generous donors, something which can also help generate content for your website and social media profiles.

Free Download: 100 Donor Survey Questions

Tap Online Communities

Examine online communities that are relevant to your cause. For example, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting victims of child abuse might look at Reddit communities like Raised by Narcissists, Adult Survivors, or Survivors of Abuse. The insights you uncover reading their stories might help you tell better stories yourself.

3. A Bad Website (Or No Website At All)

If you aren’t maintaining a navigable, mobile-friendly website, you may not be realizing the full potential of your nonprofit. Further, having a low-quality website is almost worse than not having a website at all.

Imagine two people are asking you to give money to their cause. The first is well-dressed, well-groomed, and well-spoken. The second is the total opposite. Which of the two would you be more willing to talk to?

A bad website is the digital equivalent of the second person here. If you aren’t willing to put the work in to establish a professional online presence, it signifies to donors that you don’t care about putting their money to good use: even if that isn’t the case.

People want to know you’re trustworthy. They want to know you’re actually dedicated to making the world a better place before they’re willing to give you their time and money. If your website is poorly designed or appears outdated visitors might assume you aren’t trustworthy.

To that end, you’re going to want to put together a website with the following qualities:

  • Mobile optimized and friendly
  • Easy to read and understand
  • Makes it absolutely clear who you are, what you do, and how a visitor can get involved
  • Fast load times on desktop and mobile
  • A design that’s neither too minimal nor too busy
  • Secured with HTTPS
  • A good domain name with a clear identity

Read Next: 5 Basic Must-Haves for Every Nonprofit Website

Going Digital

Digital marketing can be an incredibly powerful tool in the right hands. That’s especially true if you’re running a nonprofit that fundraises online. Now that you know a few of the most common marketing mistakes you can make, you’ll be that much better at avoiding them and that much better-equipped to excel and change the world for the better.

Download the interactive SWOT Analysis worksheet below to help level-up your marketing efforts, evaluate your internal strengths and weaknesses, and map out your external opportunities and threats. It may even turn up some additional marketing mistakes you can easily solve for.

Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton, a site with high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts.


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