10 Nonprofit Digital Marketing Resolutions for 2021

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As we bid a not-so-fond farewell to the past year, I hope that you were able to spend some time in the past few days to rest and rejuvenate.

Our work — nonprofit digital marketing, digital fundraising, and storytelling were integral pieces of the puzzle last year — and will remain vital going into 2021.

However, we cannot continue to “do digital marketing” like we did it in years past.

We have to conduct ourselves in a brand new way.

Before we begin, I encourage you not to rush things. The New Year tends to be a time for new plans, new goals, and shiny new tools.

I want us to take some time for reflection — true reflection on the events of the past year and what they meant and continue to mean for you, your work, and your life.

Take a few hours to write down what you are grateful for, what you learned, and what you want to remember.

Then roll your sleeves up, grab that third cup of coffee, and take a look at my top 10 nonprofit digital marketing resolutions for 2021.

You know the famous JFK quote from his 1961 inaugural speech: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

That quote defines how we as nonprofits need to shift our thinking around digital platforms, including email marketing, our websites, and our social media content.

We need to stop thinking about what it can do for US, and we need to start figuring out what we can ADD, contribute, and provide to our online communities.

Building a movement and a community in the digital age requires strategy, innovation, creativity, and consistency.

With more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the U.S. putting out messages every single day, there is no way to compete on volume and noise.

They key to marketing success, according to marketing expert and entrepreneur David Meltzner, is to “be more interested than interesting.”

This means rather than focusing on how interesting we are, how great we are, and how special we are, we should always be listening to others more than we talk.

Keep asking: What else do we need to learn? What else do we need to know?

I am completely guilty of using this phrase.

The problem is, you can’t. See Exhibit A.

The idea of “cutting through the clutter” is misleading — and even selfish.

Jeff Brooks spells it out succinctly in this post — just telling people you exist is not fundraising.

Hint: It’s not good marketing either.

The old ways of grabbing (stealing) attention do not work now. We simply have too many options.

You cannot magically Don Draper yourself to success by interrupting strangers via billboards, purchased email lists, random mailings, and the like — it doesn’t work.

Manipulating people into spending their most precious resources — time and attention — isn’t effective. And it certainly won’t build long-term relationships with donors, the lifeblood of most nonprofits.

Stop screaming into the void, and creating content designed as click bait.

So what should nonprofits do instead?

Embrace, acknowledge, and cultivate the people who have raised their hand and said, yes, we want to hear from you.

We want to go on this journey with you.

We are interested. Show us more.

And, if you give this community of people the stuff that they want, they will be more likely to share it with other like-minded people.

This brings me to resolution #3.

Nonprofit digital marketing should be leveraged primarily for online community building, not blind promotion and advertising.

How do you build a true community using social media?

  • By constantly positioning yourself as a trustworthy, go-to source of information.
  • By sharing evidence of your impact in compelling ways, i.e. storytelling.

Seth Godin writes that “trust is endangered” and he’s absolutely right.

Especially in today’s culture of “alternative facts” and aversion to truth (even proven truths), nonprofits need to function as a beacon of light.

Give your supporters what they crave — information that they can actually use.

Helpful, useful, relevant information on the topic that they care so much about.

A great example is up on Dennis Fischman’s blog, where he gives an example of “the value of being informed” — “make donors feel smarter, wisers, more in the know when it comes to public issues.”

Remember that people are not going to share your content just because you ask them to, or even because you REALLY want them to.

They are going to share your content if it reflects well on them, their values, what they stand for, and what they believe.

We only spread the word when it benefits US.

Your promotions do not benefit us.

How can you create posts, videos, blogs that resonate with your supporters in a way that reflects their worldview and makes them proud to be associated with your organization?

It takes work to build trust and create engagement.

The most successful digital marketing strategy is to show up consistently for your community, even when you don’t want anything from them.

To make them miss you if you were gone.

Persistence is vital. Don’t give up because you sent one email and it didn’t get the number of opens that you want.

Or because you posted a few times this year and no one engaged.

Digital marketing effectiveness is a marathon, and not a sprint.

The good news is that despite not being easy, the principles are fairly simple to grasp and to embrace.

You have to show impact, tell stories, and bring your community along a path with you. This is a strength of digital platforms.

After you have earned the attention of your followers and earned their trust, you can ask them for money.

I mean, sure — you can ask them for money at any time!

But it won’t yield the kind of results worthy of you, your work, and your donors.

Building trust by showing up, week after week, providing helpful and useful information, sharing stories, and creating a compelling narrative — those are the strategies that work in nonprofit digital marketing.

You cannot expect participation off the bat from complete strangers. You have to earn it.

Complete strangers are the large numbers of people who have no idea what you do, what you stand for, and what you are trying to accomplish.

This is especially true if you are a small, local or even regional nonprofit, without an international scope and without a huge board of directors filled with celebrities.

The only causes that get complete strangers to act en masse are ones that:

  1. Have celebrities behind them asking their supporters for money.
  2. Have causes that are in the news frequently, like racial justice, natural disasters, pandemic relief.

But for your small nonprofit that doesn’t benefit from national news coverage or tons of visibility?

It’s not too late. You can start today to plan your nonprofit marketing calendar for the year.

Do the work, build the community, gather trust, share valuable information — all using digital platforms in conjunction with other forms of communication.

Then do it over and over again.

If you have consistently shown up for your community month after month providing them with the resources, stories, and info that they want, you have earned the right to ask.

Be sure that you’ve set the stage so that when you ask them to complete an action, to participate, to donate, to sign up — they will be happy and proud to step up.

Nonprofit digital marketers need to do a better job explaining the nature of the work and advocating for it to their supervisors and their colleagues.

Let’s eliminate the inferiority complex and be assertive about what we need to do our job.

If you need stories, photos, videos — create a strategic plan of action to change the culture at your nonprofit so that it supports the work you are trying to do.

Hold an information session inviting staff, volunteers, and board members to offer ideas and content for your social media accounts.

Explain what works on social media and what doesn’t, and why.

Showcase your Content Calendar at staff meetings and ask for input.

Only by knocking down silos can we get buy-in from others in the organization.

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes about the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence.

The Circle of Concern encompasses all the things we care about from our personal concerns (health, career, relationships, etc.) to our global concerns (social justice, war, recession, etc.).

The Circle of Influence includes the things we have the power to affect. It’s a smaller circle within the other circle.

While not a perfect model, it’s a good place for nonprofits to start.

Focus your energies as much as you can in the Circle of Influence — over the things that you can control.

The martyrdom mindset has taken over the nonprofit sector, and it’s no wonder — we are always expected to do more with less, to never complain, and to always find new ways to be resourceful and thrifty.

All while saving lives, animals, the environment, culture, and society as we know it. Reasonable.

I’d love for nonprofit digital marketers (and everyone in general) to make a pledge to stop glamorizing busy.

We think that if we don’t say we are busy that we will be seen as failures.

Think about how we talk about time and attention — we waste it, spend it, save it, maximize it, reclaim it.

Instead of being busy and spinning around like tops, let’s be focused on working on the right things.

Remember: “It’s not always that we need to do more. But rather that we need to focus on less.” — Nathan W. Morris

Three necessary must-read books for every nonprofit digital marketing manager, to help you focus and stop the damaging cycle of busy:

CALM not BUSY: How to Manage Your Nonprofit’s Communications for Great Results

The ONE Thing

Essentialism

First tip: Do not have a NO REPLY email address on your email communications.

Second tip: Do not disable comments or direct messages on social media.

Both of these are basically saying, “Hey we don’t care what you think, so shove off because we don’t want to hear from you.”

Third tip: Use your email newsletters to actually build a relationship with supporters not just promote to them.

Fourth tip: Please, show that there are humans behind your social media accounts.

One example of how to be open, transparent, accessible, and HUMAN on social media than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram.

The polarizing congresswoman from the Bronx has taken social media by storm via an innovative, but very intuitive, use of Instagram Stories.

She made us all feel like insiders by sharing behind-the-scenes moments of congressional orientation, something that I personally had never seen before or even knew what took place.

She shows her human side, as well humor and honestly that has thus far been unparalleled by mainstream politicians, by making pot mac and cheese, taking questions about politics, and listening to Janelle Monae on a Friday night.

She shows her commitment to accessibility and inclusion by using a closed-captioning tool called Clipomatic so that anyone deaf or hearing impaired can follow along.

From The New York Times article: “What she’s saying is, ‘Hey, develop these skills alongside of me and we will be a community, we’ll be a force,’” Professor Grygiel said. “She’s not just saying, ‘Hey, support me, support me, support me.’”

Listen to that statement — it’s powerful.

“We will be a community.”

“We’ll be a force.”

Now, that is something that you — and others — would be proud of creating, engaging with, and promoting.

How can you build a movement using digital platforms, rather than just promoting your stuff?

How can we collaborate with others in the sector, in the community, and in other groups instead of guarding what we perceive to be our little piece of the pie?

How can we continue to stay in the good graces of those who support us? How can we sustain the trust and affinity from our online community members?

There are three key motivating factors that most people share when taking an action:

  • Purpose — Do work that is meaningful and most of all, deserving of their time and energy.
  • Growth — Learn things and feel challenged.
  • Connection — With others that they respect, admire, and trust.

Let’s focus more on highlighting the other organizations that we work with and showcasing their work to our supporters.

They want to know how we do our work, who we work with, and why.

Stop thinking of your nonprofit partners like competitors!

If you are doing it right, then there is MORE than enough funding to go around.

The always insightful Vu Le talks about this at length in his blog Nonprofit AF: OMG, can we please stop saying “there’s only so much funding to go around”?!

There is no doubt that 2021 will be another transformational and disruptive year for nonprofits.

Throw the perceived rule book out the window. Listen to your gut. Do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.

And make sure that you let us know how it’s going inside the Nonprofit Social Media Storytelling Facebook Group. Here’s to a fantastic 2021!

Nonprofit digital do-gooder. Social media evangelist. International speaker. Author. Get my Digital Storytelling Workbook: www.jcsocialmarketing.com/workbook