Unlocking the digital code for non-profits

Sep 2016

6 mins read

“A lot of champions have video, and they are telling the stories virtually and sharing their stories through Facebook and Twitter, reaching hundreds of new people…We’d need to be much bigger, and we’d need money for postage and to sponsor events to make this concept work without these new technologies.” — Bart Skorupa, Executive Director, Groundwork Opportunities

Just like every other business, non-profits are not untouched by the digital phenomenon. As they function in an increasingly complex, fast-paced digital world, they realise they cannot afford to remain behind in using digital tools to spread their message.  In the past, nonprofits have been using phone and event marketing, but online marketing is still a relatively new, dynamic domain  for them with little familiarity. However, this not to discount their progress in keeping pace – only they can do better.

Social media, content marketing, digital fundraising, mobile apps and landing pages present  diverse avenues and options for non-profits. The days of a non-profit having a boring website to merely disseminate information or garner donations are long over. Today, websites teamed up with digital platforms, have become the strongest points of communication for non-profits, presenting a very viable digital mix.

It’s also important to understand that non-profit sectors can vary greatly and so can their respective needs. Causes include animal welfare, disaster & international relief, disease & health services, environment & wildlife, education, performing arts & libraries and public affairs. Each cause will relate to a digital platform, strategy and it’s tactic, differently.

How digital serves non-profits

While the specific purpose might vary in a non-profit, depending on which cause it works for, the broad purpose remains more or less consistent for any non-profit. Among these purposes, awareness raising about the activities remains top-most priority for any non-profit. The work that they do must be shared widely among the masses to drive home their causes.

Over years, recruiting volunteers has become easier with non-profits recruiting from across geographies and promoting non-native volunteer programs and building local volunteer networks. Donations, too, are no-more in person, or door-to-door but increasing a media mix is being used, such as email marketing and social media ads. Live information and updates, including those for donation drives, particularly in the event of natural disasters and subsequent relief programs, have been advantageously deployed in the digital realm. The world has witnessed the praiseworthy role played by digital media in humanitarian aid in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti Earthquake.Thus, with the advent of digital marketing, non-profits have been able to reach a previously untapped audience that spans across countries and geographies but unites in causes.

Leveraging the digital code

Leveraging digital marketing for a non-profit usually involves using blogs, visual content and videos to the maximum. Each has it own advantages and is known to adapt well to  the non-profit sector to maximise impact.

These together, can help a non-profit communicate effectively to its audiences. The key question then is how to reach these goals?




When starting to execute a digital marketing strategy, it is not necessary that the goals be quantified. Qualitative goal-setting can and should take priority over quantitative goal-setting. This also depends on what stage of digital marketing maturity you are currently at. While getting increasing donors is important, so is awareness about a particular campaign at a national level which can then possibly generate diverse various leads from sales to partnerships.

Another key aspect is to focus on establishing credibility from the start. Ensure to partner only with credible organisations and individuals. Have them put out a message for your non-profit which will win the trust of your audiences. Messaging from influencers can greatly advance a digital strategy by having a positive, viral effect on your activities. Email list segmentation is yet another key aspect to minimise time wastage when disseminating a campaign and to also clearly identify your target audience so as to gauge outreach. For campaigns to be successful a fair play of digital media mix is also important. What works for a particular cause, say case videos for education access for all, might not work as cohesively for mental health causes, since many patients in particular might wish to remain anonymous.

Identifying landing pages, activity-wise or as per your priority, is also a prerequisite to identify who the target audience truly is, to analyse traffic locations, assess which marketing works best – mobile or social ads and plan campaigns accordingly. It is then necessary to measure – what worked and what didn’t. Did your SMS campaigns to sign up for a local donation drive do better than Facebook ads for the same campaign? What did the survey post the campaign tell you? Did most visitors come to know about the drive through Facebook or via SMS? Google analytics will tell you people from new locations reading up on your activities, who could potentially engage with.

With every goal that you set, it is essential to allocate metrics to each to help better quantify.

Developing a strategy

Often, overtly ambitious strategies are difficult to implement, due to lack of funds – a challenge most non-profits face irrespective of their sector. A such digital marketing is the cheaper, more viable option with more instantaneous results. Given the limited funds available, it becomes all the most necessary to design and implement a successful strategy.

Key elements of a good strategy would encompass,

  1.  (Pay-per-click PPC) with Google Ad Grants can be accessed for free if you’re aware of Google’s Ad Grants program. It is free money given to non-profits to advertise on Google once non-profits setup a Google Adwords account.
  2. Videos stir up emotions more easily in viewers than text does in readers. The power of video has only grown awakening one’s emotions shouldn’t be underestimated, especially when it comes to digital marketing, where your messages have the power to spread to enormously large groups of potential donators.
  3. Keeping a small budget for social media ads is good to start with. Keep your best content ready and prepare an editorial calendar so as to ensure consistent messages and frequency. Besides the ads, ensure you have a ‘donate now’ button on your Facebook page.
  4. Make email marketing your best friend and the more creative you are, the better. Crafting a compelling subject line, ensuring the content is light yet convincing are tips to ensure more people open your email. You can also try split testing your subject lines. Last but not the least, find an email marketing tool that serves your purpose best.
  5. As a non-profit, you might host many events and can also opt to recorded, snap and post them online. Event attendees  can create a momentary yet important buzz on social media. Encourage event hashtags to help reach a wider audience and more potential donors.

Content marketing for non-profits is indispensable. Advice columns for health-based non-profits, success stories of underprivileged children gaining access to school education, testimonials from high-profile donors, employee profiles that show the committeemen of passionate individuals who come together for a cause, announcement of key alliances and partnerships with government or corporate sector and facts and figures, is some content that audiences would like to hear from the non-profits they support.

A robust email campaign network is a critical component of any effective online marketing program. Successful organisations acquire new audiences who share the vision and mission of the organisation and begin as highly engaged supporters. Here, both, continuous addition of new subscribers and sustaining engagement with existing ones is essential.




Even though the challenges faced by digital marketers in the non-profit domain sound momentous, you can conquer these with the sheer passion for the cause. Not giving up, learning and ensuring best practices are applied, digital marketing for non-profits can be unique experience.

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