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Marketing Your Nonprofit Online - Where to Start

No Longer Optional for Charities

By

Photo of an iPad
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Online marketing is no longer optional for nonprofit organizations. Even the smallest and most local nonprofit must reach out to the public through an online presence.

In fact, having a website helps to validate the legitimacy of your organization. It may be unfair, but when people search for your website and find nothing, they begin to wonder if you are really who you say you are. Having a website is one of the costs of admission for a nonprofit.

Online marketing for a nonprofit is very similar to what a business does. You must have an appealing website that can easily be found by people searching on the Internet; you must have a way to collect email addresses of those who visit so you can follow up; and you must have a way for people to donate online.

Who Is the Audience for Online Marketing?

Every generation can be reached through online marketing. Even if your organization is aimed at older people, it is likely that a good percentage of them will be using a computer. It is estimated that more than half of people over the age of 65 are online, and they account for about 13% of online donations*.

Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1962, are quite active online. They are online at home and at work, and provide about 50% of overall online giving*. GenX, born between 1963 and 1980, tend to be highly responsive to online marketing. They are not interested in receiving mail or phone calls. The Millennial Generation is the most wired group. These young people are going beyond traditional computer use to mobile communications where they respond to online marketing via their smartphones and tablets.

Direct mail and telemarketing are far from dead...in fact such offline channels still account for more than 90% of charitable donations*...but our organizations and supporters will spend increasing amounts of time online. Learning how to use online marketing to thrive in an online environment is something every nonprofit must do.

Fortunately, there are best practices that are well developed for online marketing. Get the basics down, and you will be well positioned for whatever comes next.

An attractive and dynamic website is at the heart of your online marketing.

We can no longer throw up an amateurish website. Everyone expects to see an attractive and interesting site. They will click right out if they don't see something compelling on your site. You will likely need professional online marketing help if you are in the beginning throes of setting up a website. If you already have an established site, reevaluate it frequently to make sure it is meeting current online marketing standards. Install a content management system so that staff can easily update the site and keep it dynamic.

How do you find great website design that will provide effective online marketing for a reasonable cost? Look at your peer organizations that have good sites. Ask them how they did it. What professionals do they use? Start researching, talking to people, contacting website designers until you find what you need and can afford. Join nTen, a membership organization that specializes in technology issues, including online marketing, for nonprofits, and tune in to Techsoup, a great resource for tech guidance for nonprofits.

Great content drives your online marketing.

Websites are no longer just fancy business cards that show who you are and where you are. They are busy hubs of information. Your organization has expertise on an issue. Use that expertise to provide background information, breaking news on your topic, advice, guidance, and support. Mix up the content...include articles, photos, video, a podcast, and a blog. Effective online marketing means changing content frequently so there is always something new.

Effective online marketing requires optimizing your website for search engines.

Learn about keyword marketing. Use Wordtracker and Google AdWords to find keywords and keyword phrases that pertain to your organization, and that are popular with Internet searchers. A word of caution though: search engines don't like people or organizations that try to "game" their systems. Always write for the reader, not the search engines. That means using natural language and using keywords only sparingly. If you "stuff" your content with keywords, search engines will penalize your content rather than promote it.

Write press releases and put them in a press room on your website. Provide lists of resources, start a blog, send out email newsletters and then archive them on your website. All of this will give the search engines reason to crawl your site frequently, boosting your online marketing by making your organization more highly visible on their search pages.

The Internet has becoming highly visual. Readers love videos, so check out the YouTube Nonprofit Program, learn how to share photos on your Facebook business page, on Pinterest, and how to use Instagram.

Great online marketing means being personable and transparent

Provide a list of people to contact at your organization.

Give names, email addresses, and phone numbers. Indicate who does what. Say, "Contact Mary for volunteer opportunities, "Contact Mark for information about giving to our organization," Contact Theresa if you would like a speaker to come to your meeting." Avoid contact forms. These are anonymous and give the impression of sending a message into a black hole. I would much rather email a real person. In a world of impersonal contacts (think about the cable company with its run-you-around phone system or contact forms that are faceless and nameless), it is to a nonprofit's advantage to be as personable as possible. Outdo even corporate online marketing by putting a face and name on everything you do.

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