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How to successfully market your non-profit online

It can be challenging running a charity or not-for-profit organization in the digital age. With so much information available on the Internet, how do you get your message across? How do you make people care about your cause?

Last week, Women’s Post attended Digital Leap 2016, a digital marketing conference for non-profits. The one-day conference was hosted by Stephen Thomas, a Canadian agency that produces and develops marketing campaigns for charities and not-for-profit organizations. The focus of the conference was three-fold: how to embrace the digital realm, how to be brave enough to think outside the box, and how to optimize and brand your work.

For not-for-profits and charities, the concept of a digital campaign can be difficult. Even more questions arise: Where do you start? How do you drive people to your website? How do you ensure people take more than 30 seconds looking at your work?

The first thing to remember is that it is all about content. A banner or square advertisement on a webpage doesn’t get nearly as many hits as marketed content. Peter Coish, founder and lead strategist of Toronto marketing firm Kuration, asked the following question at the beginning of his keynote speech: “How many people actually click on a banner advertisement…on purpose?”

The answer was almost no one. Curated and original content is the key to a campaign’s success. The content must be entertaining, but it also must inform and activate. Make a plan that outlines your organization’s goals, target audience, and campaign themes so that content isn’t being created in the last minute. Digital marketing takes time and if you don’t plan accordingly, it won’t be successful.

Fifty per cent of your content should contain relevant information about your cause or organization, but according to Alice Ferris, founding partner of GoalBusters Consulting, “sometimes, you just need a picture of a squirrel.” It’s important to make sure your content is entertaining and interesting. If you don’t, people won’t follow your work on a regular basis.

Now you have great content, what’s next? Getting your message across to the general public is the next challenge. There is so much noise on social media nowadays that organic reach is not really possible. It is necessary to spend some money pushing out your content on the Internet. This may mean buying Facebook advertisements and creating sponsored posts to bring new readers and donors to your cause. Knowing your audience is key: do they consume media on their mobile phones or do they watch a lot television? That will make a difference on how you spend your advertisement budget.

At the same time, Coish says that email is your biggest resource. Contacting your supporters directly — or people who are interested in your organization’s work — is the most productive and effective way to reach your audience. Don’t completely rule out traditional media as well. Mail is now considered a novelty, so if someone gets a personal letter with information about a specific cause, there is a higher likelihood they will actually read it.

Lastly, it’s important to be authentic. As Simren Deogun, Director of Digital Innovation at Stephen Thomas, says: “These are real missions and real causes and we are trying to create real change. Be real and authentic. That is almost more important than anything else.”

“Digital is not the future,” Deogun said in her panel. “It’s happening around you. From the small charity with three employees to the multi-million non-profit, it’s the fight. It’s not size that drives their bravery.”

It takes a lot of courage to approach your CEO or charity founder and propose a digital campaign. It requires a lot of creative thinking, knowledge of the return, and an ability to take a risk. While making your proposal, remember to take your audience into account and tailor your content to their interests. If you plan, write informative yet entertaining content, and drive your cause out on the appropriate social channels, there is nothing you can’t do!

Do you have any tips for digital campaigns? Post them in the comments below!