Creating a Nonprofit Digital Strategy: 7 Steps for Success

February 17, 2022
Posted In Guides, Strategy
Explore this guide to learn about creating a nonprofit digital strategy.

Contact Team DNL today to revitalize your nonprofit digital strategy.

Your organization already understands the importance of having updated and adaptive techniques for all its digital tools and marketing outlets. After all, the days of making your online marketing or social media presence secondary priorities are long gone. Not only are most nonprofits conducting some form of online fundraising, but many are even conducting fully virtual and social media-hosted fundraising campaigns.

What your team might not realize, however, is that each of your separate digital marketing efforts should actively support the others. A comprehensive digital marketing strategy is the single best way to successfully reach and retain wider audiences online:

  1. Your nonprofit’s overarching goals, marketing goals, budget, other constraints, and technology infrastructure will inform your digital strategy. Your digital strategy defines how you use online marketing.
  2. This digital marketing content directly impacts the success of your online fundraising strategies.
  3. Lastly, donor engagement with online fundraising generates valuable data, which your team then cycles back into the process and uses to continually refine your digital nonprofit strategy.

It all comes full circle.

This guide will cover an overview of what a nonprofit digital strategy is and how you can plan one for your organization. We’ll review the following points:

If you reach the end of this guide and determine that you could use some additional help getting started, consider partnering with a nonprofit marketing consultant. This team member can help you conceptualize your digital marketing efforts and how they can be used to further your online fundraising goals, ensuring you have a cohesive strategy behind both.

Explore Team DNL’s nonprofit marketing consulting services to learn more.

What is a nonprofit digital strategy?

What is a digital strategy for nonprofits?

At its core, a nonprofit digital strategy is an overarching plan for furthering your nonprofit’s fundraising or donor acquisition goals using digital marketing.

Modern nonprofits use a wide range of technology tools and software in their digital marketing efforts, including but not limited to:

  • Their websites
  • Social media profiles
  • Online giving software
  • Text messaging automation tools
  • Email marketing software

These tools all serve different purposes in a nonprofit’s digital marketing strategy. For example, a website can be used to share educational and scheduling information, social media can be used for broadcasting updates widely, and text messaging and email marketing software can both be used to share specific information with individual supporters.

The digital environment is a loud and busy landscape; competition for donor attention is at an all-time high. Most nonprofits use a number of interwoven tools, each of which works together to reach supporters on the right platform, at the right time, and with the right message.

Orchestrating the efforts on these various platforms can be a challenge without an overarching strategy to unite them. With a coherent, unified digital strategy, these platforms build upon each other. Without one, your digital marketing strategy can become a confusing echo chamber that risks losing donors’ attention.

What are the steps of creating a nonprofit digital strategy?

7 Steps for Creating a Nonprofit Digital Marketing Strategy

Given the importance of a cohesive nonprofit digital strategy, let’s walk through how your nonprofit can create such a plan. The process of outlining your nonprofit’s digital strategy can be broken up into four phases for a total of seven steps, as follows:

These are the 7 steps of creating a nonprofit digital strategy.

  • Phase 1: The Identification Stage
    • Step 1: Determine your nonprofit digital marketing goals.
    • Step 2: Examine your nonprofit’s online audience and digital brand.
    • Step 3: Define any constraints on your nonprofit digital marketing strategy.
  • Phase 2: The Planning Stage
    • Step 4: Equip your team with the tools your nonprofit digital strategy requires.
    • Step 5: Craft your nonprofit communications plan.
  • Phase 3: The Execution Stage
    • Step 6: Integrate your nonprofit digital marketing and online fundraising strategies.
  • Phase 4: The Analysis Stage
    • Step 7: Measure the success of your nonprofit digital strategy.

Let’s begin with an overview of the first phase.

This is phase 1 of creating a nonprofit digital strategy.

Phase 1: The Identification Stage

During The Identification Stage, the goal is to evaluate your current digital marketing strategy (if any) and discover areas for improvement. You might consider questions such as:

  • What are your current nonprofit digital marketing activities?
  • What do you want or need to accomplish with your new strategy?
  • What audience are you targeting in order to increase their engagement with your marketing and fundraising efforts?
  • What constraints (physical, technological, budgetary) could limit your strategy?

Developing a strong understanding of your current digital marketing standing, your goals, and any roadblocks to reaching those goals will set you up for success when you begin planning and executing your strategy later in the process.

Step 1: Determine your nonprofit digital marketing goals.

Your team must employ a systematic approach when defining your digital marketing strategy goals.

You likely know what it is, generally, that you need to accomplish. Begin with writing out these goals in somewhat general terms, such as:

  • “We’d like to raise X amount of money.”
  • “We’d like to increase public awareness for our mission.”
  • “We’d like to grow our online audience.”

Once you’ve written down your broad goals, it’s time to develop them into more concrete and actionable resolutions. Use the following steps to do so:

Determine the goals of your nonprofit digital strategy.

  1. Identify gaps in your current approach. Consider why you’re not currently reaching your general goal. Is there an issue or shortcoming in your current digital strategy that is leading to underperformance? Your actions will need to address this gap.
  2. Analyze key metrics in your database. Develop a quantifiable target for your overarching goal. For example, if you’re seeking to boost online fundraising revenue, you might study data on past online campaigns and set a target of raising 10% more with your upcoming campaign. Set an ambitious but realistic goal.
  3. Speak with stakeholders. Your director, board, and high-level staff members who will be directly involved in executing your new digital strategy should be fielded for feedback and impressions. Depending on the nature of your mission and prospective goals, you might also consider asking major donors, constituents, or community members for their thoughts.
  4. Review long-term priorities. Your digital strategy goals must align with your nonprofit’s broader mission-oriented goals, long-term programming plans, and concrete financial targets. Chances are your long-term priorities will inherently influence the development of your digital strategy, but take the opportunity early on to ensure there are no contradicting priorities at play.

Running your core goals through the above steps will ensure that they’re well-thought-out, achievable, and aligned with your nonprofit’s priorities from the very start.

Take your time with this step; it’s incredibly important that you start off your new strategy or project on the right foot by setting smart goals and targets.

Step 2: Examine your nonprofit’s online audience and digital brand.

Your nonprofit’s external image is a significant part of why donors feel comfortable giving to your organization over and over again. The direction of your nonprofit’s new digital strategy can’t come out of left field — it must align with your existing audience and online branding to remain cohesive with your previous efforts.

Examine data from your past digital marketing efforts to understand trends in how your existing audience engages with your web presence. Use your data to answer these questions:

  • What was your most successful online fundraising campaign, and what digital marketing strategies did you use to promote it?
  • What was your least successful online campaign, and what differentiates it from your successful efforts?

The answers to these questions can help you further refine and build upon past efforts, rather than replacing them entirely with new strategies.

Data should be your first resource in learning more about your existing audience members, but a large part of developing a new digital strategy involves refining your messaging to better target them and attract specific new segments of online audiences, too. Use your engagement data and the goals that you’ve previously established for your nonprofit digital strategy to develop several distinct audience personas. These are imagined online donors who fit into a general category.

Defining donor categories will help your team better target its efforts towards attracting and converting new supporters. Identifying their interests, needs, and wants will help you to sort out your marketing priorities and refine your strategies.

The most immediate way that donor personas can benefit your nonprofit digital strategy is by helping you better tell your nonprofit’s story to appeal to particular audiences. For instance, your email appeals can target mid-level donors, and viral social media marketing campaigns can target first-time supporters. Adjusting the tone of your appeals depending on the wants and needs of those audiences can drastically improve the effectiveness of each outlet for securing donations.

Step 3: Define any constraints on your nonprofit digital marketing strategy.

This step might be fairly self-evident, but it’s crucially important that you take the time to complete it.

Even if your team is familiar with the constraints that will shape your digital projects and efforts, we rarely need to think of all of them in concrete terms. These will most likely include:

  • Budgets. Your team’s budget for developing, implementing, and executing new digital marketing and fundraising strategies is probably the first constraint that comes to mind. Identify a concrete financial limit early on.
  • Expertise. If your team lacks experience in a certain area, you might need to hire an expert to ease your workload. For instance, many nonprofits operate without a graphic designer on staff. In this case, you may need to outsource some of the work to a low-cost, professional graphic design agency. This will result in better designs and less time wasted on learning the intricacies of nonprofit graphic design.
  • Stakeholder interests. The goals of other stakeholders in your organization should be considered, particularly those of your core constituents. Mission drift is all too common during large-scale projects and strategy development, so double-check to make sure your new digital strategies don’t contradict or violate the interests of those you serve or who generously support you.
  • Technological constraints. What is the current state of your organization’s technological infrastructure? Do you already know that a new database platform or custom support from a technology consultant will need to factor into your budget? Make those considerations and estimates now before moving forward with planning your strategies.
  • Offline goals and campaigns. Consider the non-digital events, techniques, and campaigns that your organization will be pursuing concurrently with your new digital strategy. For instance, if you know that your new, comprehensive digital marketing campaign will overlap with planning and hosting your annual gala, plan accordingly.

After identifying your goals and developing donor and audience personas, sit down and consider all of the constraints or dependencies that will shape and define the development of your digital strategy. Consider any other moving pieces that could possibly impact your ability to carry out a new project, even those that don’t necessarily fit into one of the categories listed above.

This is phase 2 of creating a nonprofit digital strategy.

Phase 2: The Planning Stage

During The Planning Stage, your goal is to outline concrete plans for bringing your digital marketing and fundraising goals to life. This is where you’ll use the foundation from the previous section to craft the digital marketing strategy that you’ll execute in the third phase.

Start by ensuring you’ve got all the tools you’ll need, and then lay out specific tasks and strategies you want to pursue for each communication channel.

Step 4: Equip your team with the tools your nonprofit digital strategy requires.

More than likely, your nonprofit digital strategy will require you to invest in (or divest from) new tools or digital platforms— especially if you noted technology-specific constraints in step four. You’ll need to take a systematic approach to understanding your tech needs before diving into the buying process.

If you’re ready to truly overhaul your technology lineup, consider conducting a full nonprofit technology assessment with the help of a technology consultant. This process involves taking a comprehensive inventory of your technologies and how your team is using them to determine where there are opportunities for improvement.

Specifically with regard to your nonprofit digital strategy, this means thinking about where your digital brand exists online and where your donors interact with it. These digital locations include:

  • Your organization’s website
  • Digital advertising campaigns
  • Your social media pages
  • Email marketing campaigns

Then, list out the software that you currently rely on to pursue your digital goals on each of these digital properties. Your CMS (or website builder platform), marketing software, social media marketing tools, and email marketing platforms likely all already play important roles for your organization. But are there any gaps in your toolkit, or are there ways in which your existing tools could work better together?

Implement any new technologies and processes needed to set a strong foundation for your nonprofit digital strategy. Make sure to train your team to use any new solutions to ensure that these tools are used to the fullest.

Step 5: Craft your nonprofit communication plan and materials.

After identifying what new tools, platforms, and software you’ll need and implementing them, it’s time to craft a plan for using the various communications tools in your technology stack. You’ll need to understand how they interact and rely on one another in order to craft a sustainable nonprofit digital strategy that drives enough traffic to help you hit your fundraising or other goals.

All of the communication channels in your nonprofit digital strategy should work together to support your fundraising and marketing goals. This includes:

This graphic shows how your nonprofit digital strategy can drive traffic to your website.

  • Your organization’s website. It should be well-designed, informative, useful, and fully integrated with your online fundraising and CRM platforms whenever possible. Use it to create and post valuable content that can then be leveraged across your other digital outlets.
  • Social media platforms. Focusing on just a few of the most relevant platforms, promote your donation appeals, informational blog posts, and other digital content like videos and viral challenges. Encourage followers to share your posts.
  • Email marketing. Use it to promote similar informational content and donation appeals as you do on social media, but take special care to target your readers more closely. Your donor database is useful at this stage for segmenting your mailing lists, which can then boost open rates and click-through rates to your website.
  • Digital advertising. Online ads can direct viewers to your site and even re-target those who have visited your site in the past. Google AdWords (available to nonprofits through Google Grants) can significantly boost your site’s traffic flow. Search engine optimization techniques, when implemented into your website and blog posts, can also help boost your campaign’s visibility in organic search results.

From here, you can create marketing materials that align with your plans. For example, you might create flyers to share with your social media followers, newsletters to share with your email subscribers, and infographics to post on your website.

Develop your plans with each specific outlet in mind, and consider how you’ll use each to promote the other. For instance, if you’re conducting a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, focus on creating content that’s optimized to attract a lot of attention on social media. Promote your blog posts to Facebook followers, encouraging them to get involved. Then, use the engagement metrics and donor feedback you generate to promote the campaign to email subscribers.

This is phase 3 of creating a nonprofit digital strategy.

Phase 3: The Execution Stage

The Execution Stage involves bringing your marketing plan to life and connecting your efforts to your online fundraising goals. You’ve invested in the necessary tools and crafted a plan for spreading the word; now, it’s time to use this foundation to generate and direct more web traffic to your online fundraising infrastructure.

Step 6: Integrate your nonprofit digital marketing and online fundraising strategies.

Remember that the core purpose of any new nonprofit digital strategy you develop should be to create a unified support system to boost the impact of your online fundraising, awareness campaigns, or other engagement goals. For most nonprofits, these goals typically revolve around online fundraising, so we’ll focus on that aspect of strategy development.

It’s important to choose the right online fundraising channels for your campaign. This differs from the digital communication channels outlined above. While your website, social media, and email can be used to effectively promote and support any online campaign, the actual method through which donors will initiate their online donation transaction should be chosen based on the specific nature of your campaign or project.

The most common and effective fundraising channels include:

  • Online donation pages or forms. Hosted directly on your website, these forms allow donors to easily enter their payment information and complete a transaction, ideally without needing to be directed to a third-party service.
  • Crowdfunding platforms. These fundraising services allow nonprofits and individuals to set up timed campaigns and promote them online. There are all types of platforms that offer varying levels of flexibility, but these platforms are best suited for smaller-scale fundraising projects that can quickly attract a lot of attention online via social media. Larger organizations typically don’t use crowdfunding platforms.
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising software. Leveraging the power of social networks, these campaigns rely on the goodwill and social connections of existing donors to reach new ones. Online platforms, standalone software, and integrated peer-to-peer tools in your CRM can all host and manage these types of campaigns.

The idea here is to consciously consider which donation outlets are best suited to your overarching campaign or project goals.

Your communication strategy should actively direct supporters to the most appropriate online fundraising outlet to keep your campaign’s energy focused. We recommend using integrated solutions whenever possible to keep your strategies more focused and your data more centralized.

This is phase 4 of creating a nonprofit digital strategy.

Phase 4: The Analysis Stage

Once you’ve integrated your digital marketing techniques with your online fundraising outlets, created digital content, promoted your campaign, and attracted support, it can be easy to feel like all the hard work is over. However, post-campaign analysis is one of the most important steps in the entire process!

Step 7: Measure the success of your nonprofit digital strategy.

Measuring the successes of your online fundraising campaign or other digital project is always essential, but it’s particularly important when you’ve put in so much thought and work into refreshing your overall digital marketing strategy. It all comes down to building robust data management protocols and practices for your campaign.

The specific metrics that you’ll want to measure will depend on the nature of your campaign. Typical nonprofit conversion metrics include:

  • Completed donations
  • Volunteer applications
  • Email subscriptions
  • Pledge signatures

You should identify your conversion metrics early in the planning process and then think about the steps that will lead donors or readers to those actions. For instance, if you’re focusing on measuring and analyzing completed donations, the donor’s process will look something like this:

  1. The user lands on your donation page after being directed from a different page.
  2. They fill out the donation form and enter their payment information.
  3. They complete the donation and are taken to a confirmation or thank-you page.

It’s a simple exercise, but breaking down your conversion goals into steps like this will help you identify individual elements that should be measured and collected. The objective is to break down and analyze the performance of your nonprofit digital strategy at each stage in the conversion funnel. Understanding why donors don’t complete their donations, applications, subscriptions, or other opt-ins is essential for learning both the strong and weak points in your digital strategy.

Work with a nonprofit consultant to ensure your technology, from your website to your CRM, is configured to record all the essential nonprofit analytics you’ll need on hand to make smarter decisions going forward.

Review these final tips for a successful nonprofit digital strategy.

6 Final Tips for a Successful Nonprofit Digital Strategy

The previous seven steps walked you through creating a nonprofit digital strategy from start to finish. But remember that the digital marketing landscape is more cluttered now than ever before — simply creating a cohesive strategy internally may not be enough to help your marketing materials stand out from the crowd.

Keep these five final tips in mind to create content that truly appeals to your nonprofit’s audience:

Maintain a cohesive brand.

Visually, tonally, and messaging-wise, your nonprofit’s brand should be consistent on each channel that you use. Create a brand guide (learn all about this in our guide to nonprofit branding) that defines what your brand will look like on different platforms.

For example, how will your logo change when it’s on email vs. on social media? It’ll probably look nearly identical for each platform but have slightly different dimensions. You might simplify the social media logo by removing a few elements to make sure it’s not too cluttered-looking on smaller screen sizes.

Once your digital brand guide is ready, ask staff members and any external vendors to follow it when creating marketing materials.

Spend time creating powerful designs.

The design of your marketing materials is a crucial component of your nonprofit marketing strategy. From your website to your social media posts, well-designed graphics will capture prospects’ attention, keep them reeled in while reading your outreach, and help communicate your message.

When creating your marketing materials, use these best practices as a guide:

  • Infuse elements of your brand. Stick to your brand guidelines and make sure any marketing materials you create are clearly associated with your organization. Incorporate your logo, official fonts, and any other elements associated with your brand.
  • Choose an attractive color scheme. The hues you choose shouldn’t overpower one another. Otherwise, you risk creating an overwhelming design that tires readers’ eyes. Too many neon or oversaturated colors will likely clash and distract people. Instead, choose a few colors that go well together and bring users’ eyes to certain parts of your graphics.
  • Use legible fonts. Even if you include all key details, your marketing materials will be useless if they’re illegible. For instance, a cursive font may look fancier, but if it’s difficult to read, users may skip over it and miss crucial information. Beyond choosing a legible font, make sure any text you include is also large enough.

From digital fundraising flyers to graphics on your website, every marketing material your team creates should follow these core rules.

If you’re operating on a slim budget or simply don’t have design expertise, consider turning to a professional nonprofit graphic designer. These individuals have the expertise to communicate your message through powerful visuals while you focus on other aspects of your marketing.

Personalize your messages.

Make donors feel like you’re addressing them personally in your messages. For example, address email communications with the donor’s name rather than “Dear Donor.” Consider also including information about past engagement, such as:

  • Including a line about how much the donor has already given to your nonprofit that year
  • Sharing updates on a specific program they gave to
  • Providing tailored recommendations (e.g. donate to a specific project, attend an upcoming event, etc.) based on their engagement history

Pull this information from your CRM system, a task that’s greatly simplified if your marketing automation software is integrated with it.

Aim to make channels complement one another.

To avoid creating an echo chamber, avoid sharing the same content (messaging, graphics, images, etc.) on multiple channels. This will result in supporters seeing the same message over and over and eventually tuning it out.

Instead, adjust your messaging to align with each unique channel. Let’s say you’re marketing a fundraising campaign using constituent testimonials. On Instagram, show a video interview with the constituent. On your website, transcribe the interview in a blog post with additional information. On Twitter, tweet a few main quotes.

Prioritize mobile-accessible content.

At this point, it’s likely that at least half (or more) of your digital marketing content will be viewed on mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets) versus desktop computers. In fact, Double the Donation’s nonprofit fundraising statistics page estimates that half of all nonprofit website traffic comes from mobile devices.

Because of this, you should make sure that your content is responsive and adjusts accordingly to be viewable on all screen sizes. The goal should be for supporters to have a similar experience regardless of which size screen they’re using to access your materials.

Work with a nonprofit technology consultant.

Rather than just partnering with a nonprofit marketing team, consider bringing in a consultant that has expertise in both nonprofit marketing and technology. This way, you can access marketing services such as:

  • Digital strategy development
  • Social and organic content management
  • Copywriting
  • Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing

They’ll also be able to create the tech infrastructure for your online fundraising efforts and ensure that it’s well-connected and intertwined with your marketing efforts. To learn more about nonprofit technology and marketing consulting, reach out to Team DNL today.

Wrapping Up

Creating a nonprofit digital strategy can seem extremely complicated for organizations that haven’t yet devoted a ton of energy or resources to conducting full-scale campaigns. While online fundraising platforms have made it easier than ever to get up and running fast, actually scaling up those efforts into concerted and well-organized digital campaigns takes a little more effort.

Your digital strategy is an essential part of the equation.

By supporting your goals, generating web traffic, encouraging engagement, and tracking conversions, your digital tools and techniques can set you up for success and help your organization grow more consciously with every new campaign you conduct. For more information on online fundraising technologies and strategies, continue your research with these resources:

Contact Team DNL today to revitalize your nonprofit digital strategy.

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