Sean Cushing, Director
Product and Vertical Marketing
Not every nonprofit organization can capture lightning in a bottle, but in the summer of 2014, the ALS Association (ALSA) did just that with their Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC). While there are different stories about the origins of the idea, it basically involves dumping ice water on your head or someone else’s head to raise money for charity. Individuals film themselves performing the activity, nominate others to take the challenge within 24 hours or make a donation, and share the footage on social media.
This was not just a gimmick. The IBC may be one of the powerful examples of the influence of social media over our behavior. In the year before the IBC, the ALSA received approximately $5 million in donations from July 25, 2013 to September 15, 2013. In 2014 during the same period, they received more than $114 million. When the IBC first went viral in late July 2013, the ALSA had 9,000 Twitter followers and 35,000 Facebook likes. Today the ALSA has 30,900 Twitter followers and 910,000 Facebook likes. (Note: Social media figures have updated from what is cited in the resource link.)
Clever copycat twist: An animal shelter came up with their own version of the IBC, calling it the Mice Bucket Challenge. Pet owners were encouraged to dump mouse-shaped toys over their feline companions or donate to their shelter. Not surprisingly, it didn’t generate the same results.
What lesson can be learned from the IBC?
Try a variety of tactics; one of them might catch fire. However, don’t count on lightning striking twice. It’s wise to follow a more traditional path when it comes to marketing your nonprofit. You must generate sustained support, not just a momentary peak. Your goal is to create awareness, acquire new donors and encourage participation. And that requires a marketing toolkit built on a strong foundation — a strategic plan — and supported by proven techniques, one of which is social media.
Here are 10 steps to building your nonprofit marketing toolkit:
1. Identify Your Target Audience
Develop a clear picture of your audience, including demographics and interests in order to build personas. You likely have several different segments of people including:
- First-time donors
- People likely to donate
- Corporate donors
- Previous high-level donors
- Influencers (like celebrities or local personalities)
2. Understand Your Unique Value
Nonprofits are in the business of persuading people to care and get involved. How is your organization different from groups who align themselves with similar causes? Because consumers often have limited funds for charitable contributions, how will you position your mission as the one they should choose?
3. Craft Your Messages
You should have a mission statement, as well as a vision statement, so your staff and volunteers can quickly explain why you exist. Be sure to consider your audience, looking outside in, rather than focus exclusively on your organization. Proactively address common questions or concerns potential donors may have and capitalize on motivational triggers that bring people off the sidelines.
4. Determine Your Channels
You’ll want to include a mix of online and offline tactics in your marketing toolkit. Check out three blog articles that address different aspects of marketing mix here. Your website is a critical component and should have a simple, secure way to receive donations. The IBC shows us that social media can be incredibly effective and far-reaching. Offline tactics often include special events, fundraisers, direct mail and public relations.
5. Drive Specific Actions
The importance of including a call to action (CTA) cannot be stressed enough. CTAs should be clear, specific and easy to follow. Consider the donor lifecycle actions: awareness, consideration and decision. How will you move people through those three stages in your marketing activities?
6. Set Measurable Goals
Network for Good defines a goal as a “‘statement of being’ for a plan.” Think of each goal as a pyramid, with the goal positioned at the top. Each goal is supported by objectives (focused and specific), strategies (where the rubber meets the road) and tactics (tools you implement) as you work your way down the pyramid.
7. Inspire Engagement
This tip comes from Sea Change Strategies. Most nonprofits have a compelling story about the struggle that gave rise to their organization’s existence. Tell it often, at least once a year. Solicit heartwarming stories from your donors and share those far and wide. Offer a real-life glimpse into the life of your organization to give authenticity to your marketing efforts.
8. Manage Schedule and Budget
They say the devil is in the details. Schedule and budget are important details of your marketing plan, and it often takes more time and effort than expected to manage them. If you don’t want projects to be delivered late and over budget, you need to keep an eye on them. Create a marketing calendar, assign responsibilities and ask for regular staff updates. Hold people accountable for completing tasks in a timely manner.
9. Analyze Your Results
Your goals (step 6) should have specific metrics that can be measured and tracked. Those might include visitors to your website, traffic from online advertising, social media activity, attendance at events, total of volunteer hours, newsletter subscriptions, lead conversions, corporate partnerships, testimonials and fundraising.
10. Make Adjustments
Any good plan can be made better by applying real-world learnings and making modifications for improvement. What’s working? What isn’t working? Fine-tune your marketing plan by sharpening — or even replacing — a few tools in your toolkit if something isn’t generating the desired result: Connecting with your audience in meaningful, memorable ways.