According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), there are more than 1.5 million non-profit organizations registered in the United States. Supporting causes from academic through zoological, some seek donations, others simple awareness of an issue. Regardless of the mission they have or the action they want visitors to their sites to take they play a crucial role in the missions that they serve. However, most nonprofits have a problem and this problem tends to grow the larger these nonprofits or associations get. That problem is this – their websites and marketing efforts usually aren’t cutting edge. While the frontend of their sites make look nice, the backend usually leaves a lot to be desired. The same can be said for their marketing channels both acquisition and awareness channels as well as retention channels – nonprofits simply aren’t staying ahead of the digital curve. Below are the top 5 reasons nonprofits are struggling to keep pace in the digital world. In addition to describing what these problems are, I am also going to provide you with some solutions that you can utilize in your nonprofit to eliminate these issues and bring your nonprofit or association into the 21st century.
Lack of Innovation Within Marketing
I have had the privileged of working with a number of nonprofit organizations and I can tell your from firsthand experience that their marketing teams are usually very lackluster. That certainly isn’t an insult to the marketers themselves but, the culture within the team has essentially zapped any sense of creativity or innovation. The reason why this culture has developed is relatively simple. In the traditional business world a standard business has competitors that force them to keep themselves nimble and cutting edge in terms of their digital marketing and web presence or risk losing marketshare. Many large associations simply don’t have many, if any, competitors. This is especially true for the large nonprofits. Because of this, the need for innovation plummets and this lack of innovation becomes ingrained within the culture of the marketing team itself. They end up doing things the “tried and true” old fashioned way because it is what has worked and it is what they have always done. The more this happens, the more innovation gets squashed. This results in an antiquate tech state through the use of dated technology and very little if any digital marketing beyond a few emails and maybe some social media. A even worse situation is when this culture creates a perception of a failed, unreliable or stale marketing team and I have seen organizations outsource their marketing and creative design to outside vendors even when they have the resources in-house just because of the perception of the team. Associations have not experienced the digital transformation that most in the business world have. Many still rely on clip art and print to get their message across and their websites are more often then not something more resembling a website found in the early 2000s. Most completely lack any sort of data or analytics as I will get into more detail a little later on. Their level of comfort involves not “shaking the cart” too much. If your organization has lost its hone your marketing team has too. So if your marketing team consists of people who look like extras from Night of the Living Dead, its high time to give them a wake up call and provide a breath of fresh air.
How To Fix It: To fix a lack of innovation within your marketing team you need to instill a sense of innovation within your organization. The fact of the matter is that in most cases it is because the organization simply has not had a digital guru to show them the path and lead the way. It is unknown territory to most within an organization so creating a culture of innovation will be key. How do you do this?
- It isn’t easy but it almost always begins with creating a digital transformation plan for the organization as a whole to allow them to really up their online game. There are many great resources on what digital transformation actually is and how to accomplish it but in the end it all boils down to one thing – planning. Planning is the one thing that I guarantee everyone within a small or large nonprofit organization understands and appreciates but, unlike most of the plans they see, which usually don’t get off their feet, you are going to push ahead with yours and start racking up some of those small quick wins – it could be as simple as updating the site CMS to give it some better functionality or to create a process to ensure site updates are done in a timely manner. If you have no competitors you must create one and there is no better competitor than yourself. You will become your own competitor and your goal is to do better than the competition year over year whatever your goal or conversion metric is. Wondering how to create this digital transformation plan? Don’t worry, I have you covered:
- Identify what digital transformation looks like for your organization. A good way to start is by auditing all existing processes and projects and identify the proverbial low hanging fruit. Most nonprofits have plenty of these quick wins and while it can be something as simple as establishing a process for marketing requests those littler wins add up fast and gain some serious momentum. As you conduct your audit you will most likely find a few big projects that have either been put on the backburner due to lack of internal resources or stalled for one reason or another.
- Once you have conducted your audit and uncovered those quick wins your next goal is to develop a plan or timeline to address those low hanging fruit. Here it is best to think like a software or dev team. Think agile and processes. Look at each of your quick wins and identify the impact each would have on the organization and the ease it would take accomplish. Prioritize them by these two factors and create your battleplan. Think in terms of quarters and have 4-5 small projects and one large project each quarter. I have found that even with a small marketing team this is a realistic timeline
- You can’t change the innovation indifferent culture without spreading your message within the organization. As a marketer you are used to spreading your message to outside audiences. In this case, you will be marketing to your marketing team and beyond to higher level stakeholders. In every meeting and communication you need to continuously stress the direction of digital transformation. Show them how it will allow the nonprofit to do a better job at meeting their mission goals more effectively and efficiency. Digital transformation is a topic that is very easy to get people interested in and what will separate you from the rest is that you have a plan and action guide to help you accomplish it.
Highest Paid/Feared Person’s Opinion
Though seen in the business world as well, the concept of the highest paid or most feared person is far more prevalent in nonprofits and associations. With the highest paid person you are typically dealing with someone high up in the food chain – either a Director, VP or President. With the most feared person you are dealing with someone who usually has the political power or trust of the higher ups that leads them to be feared within the office. What they both have in common is that they usually give them opinions quite readily, possibly even demand it and everyone usually jumps to their orders. Nothing kills marketing innovation faster. While I despise both concepts I realize that it is unfortunately a reality many must deal with though I would stress that if this person ever goes beyond the pale into being unprofessional or insulting than nothing can be done for the organization as it lets someone like that stay and your talents would be better utilized somewhere else. I digress, with both types you are typically dealing with professionals who have been at the organization a long time and have political power or organizational power and aren’t too shy about saying what the organization should be doing online and with their websites. While their experience and insight are incredibly valuable, I value testing more. Unfortunately in most of my experiences I have seen very little online testing of either marketing channels or websites in the nonprofit world. It usually devolves to the concept of “I think this so do it” from one of these two types of people. Nothing kills digital marketing faster than someones constant demands based on what “they think” should be done.
How To Fix It: Once again this is a tough challenge but one that can be easily side stepped if you are clever and the situation not too severe. The key to neutralizing this threat is relatively simple and that key is testing and process development.
- Testing – Testing will be your solution to addressing this issue. The people giving their ideas are usually very detailed driven and somewhat ego-centric so they would most likely have no problem conducting a test on their belief. Now, I will caution that this isn’t the time to put them on the defensive by saying that you are going to test their ideas but you can position it through something like “I think this is a good idea to test on the site/channel” This not only acknowledges their contribution but also allows you to do your job as a marketer and test everything that can be tested. I haven’t had a single person ever argue with me on that point. Testing is the great equalizer. It takes the “I” and “Me” out of marketing and web design and puts it in the hands of the people we want to take action (our visitors). There are many great tools out there that will allow you to do website testing such as Optimizely or Google Optimize.
- Process Development – I would recommend that you take it a step further by developing a process to integrate into your plan which would allow your plan to process and accommodate this person’s “demands” into your schedule. I once had a senior VP who was notorious for his last second, ad-hoc requests. While I worked on changing his mindset and fitting him into our overall strategy I developed a plan with built-in flexibility to accommodate his last minute needs. Over time the individuals will change and sometimes by having a formal process in place these individuals are more than happy to integrate themselves into the process. Most people who are demanding are usually very data driven and detailed focused. By having a plan, a process to accommodate them and data driven testing you should alleviate all of their concerns. Someone people will never change but armed with a plan, a process for taking their demands and turning them into tests and having testing capability itself will quickly turn this challenge into a resource of ideas.
Disjointed Marketing and Lack of Analytics
Associations are notorious for operating in silos. This is a direct result of the organization of many of them though it is typically found more often in larger nonprofits than smaller ones. This is what it looks like – branding, creative and digital marketing may all be within the same department but, because of organizational and political issues they are basically pigeon-holed into their own little worlds rather than using the learning and insights of the entire team to grow the organization as a whole. It can even get to the point of excessive use of outside vendors to fulfill roles that would otherwise be easily completed in-house. I’ve seen a branding team utilize an outside design firm even though their is a graphic designer sitting right next to the brand manager and the reason it was done was because the designer was on another team. This creates disjointed marketing and communications and even Frankenstein like websites that look patched together with different messaging and sometimes completely different looks. To maker matters worse is the usual lack of analytical data. I have see large internationally known nonprofits that did not even have Google Analytics set up. Once again, this is primarily because they don’t have competition that requires them to continuously monitor their analytics. They may keep track of the end goals such as total donations or membership but that’s about it. By not having any sort of data or analytic, nonprofits are not only conducting marketing and web updates in pigeonholes but they also do so in an analytics vacuum. Data is how you are going to run tests and see the minute improvements as the result of your actions. Data will be your arsenal against those who prefer to act without the backing of sound analytical data and will be the great integrator, not only between marketing channels but between teams. In many case, most of your teams will have never seen the numbers before or at least, didn’t see them in a way that was helpful to them and their departments. This is a crucial step in transforming an association into a modern digital colossus and a major milestone in integrating your marketing efforts together.
How To Fix It: If you are anything but the marketing director this is a challenge. If you are a director this is as easy as looking at your org chart, sitting with the team to see where efficiencies may be had and putting those recommendations into affect. Here are a few key items you might want to address:
- Integrated Teams -In my opinion, marketing teams, while divided by function (social, email, ppc, etc) are best when they are an integrated team where each member knows what is going on across the department so if there is a release that the PR person is working on the social media person knows that they should check with them about putting it up on the social profiles instead of finding out about the release after the fact.
- Frequent team meetings – once again this increases the transparency and is usually the first step in correcting disjointed marketing efforts. As a director it is your job to shape the strategy for the organization’s marketing and website efforts. This is your opportunity to drive an integrated strategy with the teams working together as one. A process for handling things such as email requests, creative requests, etc makes all the difference in keeping things from spinning out of control.
- A marketing unicorn – a marketer with experience across multiple functional areas would be an invaluable tool to identify where and how certain channels should and can be integrated.
- Analytics – If you don’t have analytics set up, get it set up. That should be the first thing on your list of low hanging fruit. Google Analytics is free and simple to set up. You really don’t need much more than that. If you have analytics set up already start benchmarking your data to identify trends and baselines that you can compare your tests to. I would recommend reaching out to the various teams to see what kind of analytics and data that they would find helpful to their goals – Google has automated reports that serve perfectly in this capacity
- If you are marketing manager or anything other than the marketing director I would recommend sounding out the director on their feelings about a more integrated approach, if they are all for it drive the point home and get some sort of follow up or action item from them – drive it home, if not I would seriously consider looking else where because that director will likely drive it into the ground. Rome wasn’t built in a day so don’t expect overnight changes but baby steps is how an empire is built.
Lack of Communication
This is probably one of the worse issues regarding digital marketing within a nonprofit association and it usually extends far beyond the marketing team. Communication is usually completely hampered by lack of processes or too much process which meetings upon meetings for relatively simple items. Its easier getting a piece of legislation through Congress than it is to make a small update on a nonprofit website. On the other hand, you have nonprofits without any sort of process or flawed processes in place. This leads to a massive influx of ad-hoc marketing requests which creates confusion and severely hampers keeping track of ongoing marketing tasks which increases the likelihood of making errors and mistakes which further lower the perception of the digital marketing team. Both of these issues go along with the siloed organization that I spoke about earlier with different teams working in similar areas not working together because they are different teams. So close yet so far. So how do you improve communication not only within the marketing team but also far beyond your department?
- Internal Communication – Communication within and beyond the team is key to any successful marketing or website effort at a nonprofit or large association but it is often overlooked. Many teams don’t know something is happening until it is happening and all of a sudden it becomes a hot priority 1 item that requires their attention yesterday. Having weekly team meetings usually resolves most of these internal issues. I have found using a tool such as Basecamp with its own internal messaging system is worth its weight in gold.
- Intake Process – There are also serious issues concerning communicating requests to the marketing teams. This is related to the processes mentioned earlier. Most have some basic form of intake process for marketing requests from other teams even if is just as simple as email but, the problem becomes crazy when some use the system in place while others don’t leading to mass insanity for the marketing team (I’ve been there) talk to the team and see where improvements could be had with the existing system, sometimes a new system is what is needed. There are some great software out there such as Zoho project or Basecamp that are easy to use and integrate into your intake process. Don’t have an intake process – create one! Once the system is refined, the point of its use by anyone within the organization needing marketing asistance must be driven home across the organization to keep everything in a nice and tidy process.
Culture of the Organization
All of these aforementioned items are the result of one major thing – culture. Associations as a whole tend to be old-fashioned in their outlook. This one area leads to all of the issues addressed above. Without a change of culture to the entire organization your digital transformation would not be complete. While I am certainly not suggesting that you start off trying to change the organizational culture right off the bat, I suggest it come last -built up upon all the previous wins but, in the back of your mind it should be a key goal. By successfully completing all of the areas mentioned previously you are giving yourself the momentum required to change the culture of the entire organization.
- Promote your efforts -Use every meeting and every opportunity to cheerlead your digital transformation efforts. large associations usually have frequent all-staff meetings – use them to give updates on your digital transformation efforts and over time you will find that the organization that was once so backward and old-fashioned has changed into a nimble, digital organization truly in line with its mission.
Managing the digital marketing efforts of a small to large nonprofit or association is no easy task but, I believe by following these suggestions you can help move your organization forward through digital transformation in as painless a fashion as possible. These suggestions provide a broad guideline for what should be done. MarketingModo provides a wide range of marketing and design services and consulting for nonprofit organizations and we would love to hear from you on how we can help you reach digital transformation within your nonprofit.