Building a Nonprofit Digital Strategy: Key First Steps

With the growing prevalence of the internet, the necessity of developing a digital strategy is not something nonprofits should overlook. Over the past several years, many nonprofits recognized this opportunity and began shifting to digital outreach. The pandemic accelerated that transition, and with social distancing guidelines in full effect, organizations can no longer interact with supporters face-to-face. In other words, having a digital presence is more important than ever.

To strengthen your online presence and connect with supporters during social distancing, you’ll need to develop a nonprofit digital strategy. In short, a nonprofit digital strategy is a plan to expand your organization’s reach online. It involves any outreach that takes place online, including your website, social media accounts, and any other marketing materials.

With many of your supporters already online, digital marketing is one of the most effective ways to reach them. However, with all its nuances, it can be difficult to know where to start (especially if you’re not particularly tech-savvy). To help, this guide will cover the essential first steps to improving your online presence:

  1. Upgrade your current technology.
  2. Define your overall goals.
  3. Develop a communication plan.
  4. Analyze performance data.

Developing a strong digital strategy will offer ongoing value to your nonprofit, both with fundraising and sharing your mission. If you’re ready to learn the necessary first steps, let’s get started.

Step #1: Upgrade Your Current Technology.

To truly maximize your online presence, you’ll need a dependable online fundraising solution. You likely already have a platform (or several) that you use, but it’s always worthwhile to check for potential areas of improvement.

Analyze your organization’s current toolkit and determine where it’s falling short. For reference, these are the core features your tech stack needs in order to ensure success:

  • Customizable donation forms. Your donation form is the core of your online fundraising strategy. In order to accept donations online, you’ll need a donation form located directly on your website. Further, you should be able to customize it to match your brand and collect the information you need.
  • Web development tools. A dependable content management system (CMS) will help you create a beautiful website that engages visitors and encourages interaction. Make sure your CMS is nonprofit-specific so that it includes all the fundraising functionality that generic website builders don’t offer.
  • Marketing tools. Proactive communication with supporters is one of the most important parts of fundraising. With software that offers dedicated marketing tools, you’ll be able to automate data from your CRM, segment your supporters into email lists, and schedule emails so you can stay connected and steward strong donor relationships.
  • Data and analytics. When used effectively, insightful analytics can inform future decision-making and improve fundraising efforts. Ensure your software allows you to monitor the most important data to your team, so you can visualize your efforts and locate areas in need of improvement.

Your online presence can mean the difference between exceeding fundraising goals and falling short. Especially as social distancing remains in effect, it’s important that you have a centralized system that allows you to continue fundraising and to connect with donors from afar.

Step #2: Define Your Overall Goals.

After you’ve solidified your toolkit, it’s imperative that you determine your desired outcomes for your digital strategy. Setting measurable goals prior to taking action will serve as a strong foundation and guide your strategy development.

If you’re struggling to determine which objectives to set, start with more general ideas, such as:

  • Increasing digital event sign-ups
  • Increasing member satisfaction scores (determined via surveys)
  • Raising a certain amount of money

Once you’ve set more general goals, you’ll want to nail down the specifics and make them concrete. To accomplish this, there are a few key steps to take as you set your digital goals:

  1. Analyze your current strategies. What gaps exist in your current digital process? Your updated goals should address any shortcomings, whether it’s an issue due to ineffective use of staff time or underperforming technology.
  2. Talk to key stakeholders. Those who are directly involved in executing your digital strategy may be able to provide insight into areas that need improvement. Ask your director, board members, and any other leadership for feedback on goals they think are worth considering.
  3. Review your long-term priorities. Each of your goals must align with your nonprofit’s long-term priorities, whether they’re financial, program-related, or mission-oriented. Take the time early on to ensure your digital strategy goals don’t contradict your broader goals to avoid conflict down the line.

Walking through these steps will guide you toward more concrete, actionable goals from the start. Whichever goals you choose, make sure they’re quantitative so that your team will be able to measure progress toward them. You’ll start off on the right foot by setting smart, achievable goals with realistic checkpoints along the way.

Step #3: Develop a Communication Plan.

Once you’ve implemented efficient technology and defined concrete goals, you’ll need to develop a communication plan to help you reach those objectives. Starting with your target audience, select the platforms that will likely yield positive results.

Let’s explore three digital marketing outlets that any nonprofit digital strategy should take into account along with tips for successfully using each:

  • Your website. Your nonprofit’s website is likely the first stop on anyone’s journey to learn more about your cause. It houses information pertaining to your programs, your work, and involvement opportunities. The best nonprofit websites include valuable content that can be shared across all outlets to drive traffic back to the site itself. This includes a well-designed donation page, your volunteer form, blog content, and more. Any outreach (e.g., emails, social media, etc.) should direct users back to your website, so the onsite content must be optimized to convert them into donors, volunteers, or advocates.
  • With all the hype surrounding social media, it can be easy to neglect a tried-and-true method: email. Use your emails to promote new content on your website as well as involvement opportunities. Adjust your messaging and target email subscribers using segmentation, which involves grouping your supporters into meaningful groups (e.g., major donors, recurring donors, volunteers, etc.). Learn about this strategy in depth with Doubleknot’s ultimate donor segmentation guide.
  • Social media. With an estimated 6 billion social media users worldwide, there’s a good chance some of your existing supporters and future prospects have social networks. Harness the power of the share button with digital content such as engaging videos, powerful imagery, inspiring donation appeals, and content on your website, such as informational blog posts. Interact with followers in the comment section and invite them to share your posts with their personal networks for an even greater reach.

For the best results, you’ll want to implement a combination of various channels, which is a popular strategy known as multichannel marketing. However, investing time in several platforms may ultimately turn into a waste of resources.

Instead, you’ll need to select the digital channels that make the most sense for your team and its conversion goals. This allows you to refine your messaging, instead of sending mediocre outreach across several platforms. To explore this concept further, take a look at CharityEngine’s multichannel fundraising guide, which provides tips your team can implement.

Developing your digital plans with each specific outlet in mind will allow you to create effective messages. Doing so in advance will give you sufficient time to create content that’s optimized to attract attention from each outlet’s audience.

Step #4: Analyze Performance Data.

Once you’ve reached your marketing or fundraising goals, it can be easy to stop there. However, to solidify your digital presence, you’ll need to continuously analyze performance and update your strategy as you go. Identifying which conversion metrics you’d like to track early in the process will help you determine progress and overall performance as your strategy unfolds.

The specific metrics your team will need to gather and analyze depend on the type of campaign you’ve hosted. Specifically, these are common data points that can be used to inform your future outreach strategies:

  • Donor Acquisition
  • Donor Retention
  • Volunteer Applications
  • Event Registrations
  • Email Subscriptions

If you’re struggling to determine which metrics to track, base them off of the goals you set early on. From there, break down the quantitative metric that measures that specific outcome. For instance, if your goal was to increase the effectiveness of your email campaigns, you may consider measuring open rates, conversion rates, and unsubscribe rates.

Without analyzing progress, the time and resources you’ve invested in developing a digital strategy will go to waste. By taking this extra step, you’ll continue improving going forward and maximize your potential.

There are many steps involved in creating a nonprofit digital strategy. Remember, the right technology will serve as the foundation for your plans and will open the door to a number of possibilities. Go into it with a strategic game plan, and you’ll be sure to expand your audience and reach your conversion goals.

If you’d like to learn more about developing a strong digital presence, check out DNL OmniMedia’s nonprofit digital strategy guide. You’ll learn about a range of steps your team can take to solidify your digital outreach plans and improve outcomes. Best of luck!

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