The time to shift to digital is now: nonprofit marketing in times of change

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A recent webinar – hosted by Third Sector in partnership with Salesforce.org – asked five digital marketing experts about how to transform how we engage, communicate and operate post-pandemic

The pandemic isn’t yet over, but the urge to return to the ‘new normal’ is actively upon us. On August 18th, with charities still suffering from Covid-19, Third Sector in partnership with Salesforce.org hosted a webinar featuring five digital marketing experts, aware of the digital revolution that’s affecting the non-profit sector. 

From planning for changing times to changing constituent expectations, the topics on the webinar echoed the concerns of charity organisations worldwide, and the panel offered proactive solutions highlighting a positive road forward. 

Salesforce.org is committed to empowering global changemakers, offering grants, technology, volunteer time and platforms to make important voices heard. Hosted by Third Sector editor Emily Burt, this latest webinar acknowledged the challenges ahead for nonprofit teams, whether it is digital transformation, social media, the constituent experience or measuring impact and return on investment (ROI) on their campaigns. 

Looking at how digital-first constituents now have higher expectations, the quest to make them feel connected to a charity’s mission is a real matter of urgency. As a result, nonprofits must have strategies to build lasting relationships with constituents and deliver personalised, relevant experiences to show them how they’re personally making an impact by using the channels the constituents prefer to engage on.

Lianne McGrory, the Regional Vice President of Nonprofit for Europe, Salesforce, said how recent years and data laws have made it harder to be connected with constituents.

“In thinking about acquisition and retention from a supporter base, it’s been a rocky few years for the nonprofit sector. GDPR has reduced the ability to contact people, and Covid reduced the ability to interact with people. So, during the pandemic, the only way for some organisations - that’s staff, constituents and owners - to interact with people is through online, so there has been a real big shift with how we’re communicating.”

Salesforce.org did a recent survey with 725 nonprofit marketers and 75 percent of them believed the constituent experience is a key competitive differentiator, enabling organisations to align unique messages with their specific campaigns and audiences. It can be easy to forget that nonprofit constituents are also consumers, and that today’s consumers increasingly expect a seamless experience with the brands and organisations they support. And simply collecting plenty of data on their audience and constituents isn’t enough if you’re not using the information adequately, or communicating effectively. 

The role of digital transformation is evident when referring to social media. There is an increasing dependence on free promotion and low-cost advertising across all sectors on social media, due to the scale of audience already engaging on these platforms. However, the volume of free speech and ethics has come into question for these giant firms, and with recent boycotts on Facebook, charities have been forced to question the usage of these channels. 

“Charities have an enormous dependency on Facebook,” said Zoe Amar FCIM, Director of Zoe Amar Digital. “There are good things that happen on the platform to help charities spread budgets further, helping them fundraise, market more effectively and recruit volunteers. They’re so huge that there isn’t a viable alternative. But the collective [boycott] action we saw from charities this summer is helpful in holding Facebook to account. We must not give up on making Facebook a better, more ethical platform.”

As social media is pertinent with every media campaign, and the reduction of spend across the economy, measuring the impact and return on investment has become more important than ever. Nonprofit marketers need to be aware of the importance of optimising budgetary spend to drive the greatest impact, and not simply focusing on the short-term investment. 

“Everyone’s approach to ROI is quite different,” Laura McLachlan, Director of Marketing and Fundraising, Worldwide Cancer Research. “It comes down to how it funnels all the way down through an organization. You need to take into account your full supporter journey and embedding that into your culture, so you can justify a higher spend if you can demonstrate your supporter journey will create long-term investment, and also show support of that journey in terms of cross-selling. Being upfront about that at the beginning will help deliver your ROI and not just focus on one particular campaign on its own, it’s about the long-term view.”

In conclusion, the speakers agreed that charities must not remain static, but learn lessons from each organisation about how to utilise the tools they already have and not feel pressured to make decisions they’re not prepared for. In Zoe Amar’s Charity Digital Report, she says: “Charities have to embrace remote working, digital fundraising and online service delivery as never before. The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic was one of the key changes we wanted to explore, whilst also measuring what long term changes are taking place behind the scenes.” 

For more information on Salesforce.org’s non-profit work and its Top 4 Trends Impacting Nonprofit Marketers, visit: https://www.salesforce.org/nonprofit/download-four-marketing-trends/

To watch the webinar on-demand, please see here: https://haymarket.wavecast.io/third-sector/nonprofit-marketing-in-times-of-change

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