Moving from Print to Digital Communication: A Nonprofit Guide

Many nonprofits struggle with moving from print to digital communication.

We understand direct mail. We know how to measure it, determine what’s worked and find a cost-to-acquisition ratio.

But digital communications are vast and complex. Compared to direct response, digital seems dizzying and difficult to measure.

I’d like to share 15 insights on how digital and print communications are different and, often time, surprisingly similar.

1. Digital Talk is Cheap

The biggest difference between digital and print communications is the price. The paper’s gone. No shipping costs. Just click a button and connect to me directly.

This means it’s a lot easier to ship. I can send out an email blast, a blog post or a tweet the same day I dream it up. And it’s also easier to test my campaigns and measure without committing a huge amount of resources.

2. The Website: The Center of Your Nonprofit Solar System

Hopefully you already have some kind of website for your nonprofit. But the website shouldn’t just tell people your hours of operation or give them a phone number to call. The perfect nonprofit website is the center of all your fundraising operations. Make sure it’s a powerful tool for your organization.

3. Permission is Your Biggest Asset

The awesome part of being online: the people who find you usually want to hear more from you! Think about it: if I search for your nonprofit online, I’m already interested. I’m not a random name and address you purchased. So why not ask for permission to keep in touch?

When someone comes to your website, they should find a clear, obvious path to an invitation to grow the relationship. And that usually means you have to…

4. Call Them to Action!

Like a good direct mail piece, each page of your website needs to be driving visitors to take action. A call to action could be “Donate now!” It could be “Sign up for a free email newsletter.” “Get our free impact report.” “Tell us your story in the comments below.”

Each of these options gives you permission to deepen the relationship with your constituents. You get to add value to their lives, tell them about why your work matters and about how the donors are the most important part of that work.

5. Email is Your New Best Friend

Email marketing is the closest analogue to direct mail. You can write your appeals, use variable data to personalize them and immediately measure results. It’s like direct response but with a major dose of caffeine. Furthermore, email also has the strongest fundraising results and drives 33% of all online donations.

6. Stop Putting Your Communications into Boxes

As a donor, I don’t think of your nonprofit in different boxes—digital, direct mail or social. I just experience the whole dang thing. Your story should be consistent across print and digital, because at the end of the day, your nonprofit is one brand.

If I get your direct mail, my next step could be looking up your nonprofit on my smartphone, and then head to Twitter to mention that mailer. This is called multi-channel marketing and it’s increasingly the way the world works. Forget your boxes.

7. Create Stuff that’s Built to Last

If you send a direct mail piece, it happens once, with a select group of people. If you write a blog post, anyone could find it, even years later. Write evergreen content, the stuff that will apply to anyone interested in your organization, either today or in 12 months.

8. Your New Audience: Anybody Who Uses Google

Once you’ve built content to last, it’s time to worry about how people will find that content. If you publish high-quality digital communications, search engines will bring new traffic to those posts over time. Don’t forget to optimize your content for future search traffic.

9. The Scarcity Mindset is Bunk

On the web, nonprofit communications are not scarce. Everyone is communicating all the time. It’s like direct mail if the mailbox was infinitely big and everyone had the same addresses.

What’s scarce online is connection and trust. The way to get donors and traction isn’t more email, more tweets and more noise. It’s making donors feel valued. Growing relationships. Telling a story that resonates with the people who might support your cause.

10. Don’t Try to Reach Everyone

It can be intimidating to know that your new audience is anyone who finds you on Google. The temptation becomes to write generic, mass appeals to everyone. But you’ll never be everyone’s friend. Some people will never donate. Instead, hone your message for your true fans.

11. A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

Everyone’s vying for our attention online. And while words are important, what we really pay attention to online tends to be more visual. Don’t underestimate the power of an image to tell your story, or you might not get noticed in the first place.

12. One-Way Communication is No Communication At All

You don’t have to include return postage anymore. It’s as simple for your audience to respond as it is for you to talk to them. Why make your communications one-way advertisements when they could be so much richer? Respond to tweets. Invite comments on blog posts. Start a dialogue via email. Ask for input in a survey.

Respond to your constituents. Ask them what they care about. Learn from them.

13. Your Audience Has a Megaphone

Word of mouth has always been important. I’m more likely to listen to my friend talking about how great a nonprofit is than I am a television commercial.

But now your audience has a megaphone. Thanks to social media and the web, your biggest advocates are the people who read your blog posts and follow your campaigns. Make every interaction count.

14. Be Scared of the Shiny Objects

There are no silver bullets for nonprofit communications. Most success online happens by slowly building a trusted brand, one interaction at a time. Getting a mobile-responsive website won’t help your nonprofit if it isn’t doing remarkable work in the first place.

15. Direct Response with a Different Name

Direct response marketers should feel right at home measuring the impact of their digital efforts. You can A/B test emails or analyze your social media metrics to see what content is moving the needle for your organization. Data matters, but only if it helps you make important decisions.

What other challenges should nonprofits expect crossing the chasm between print and digital? Weigh in below.


Marc Koenig

Marc Koenig is a regular contributor of Nonprofit Hub. Marc believes smart, ethical marketing can make the world a better place, and strives to create content that helps nonprofits tell better stories, push their organizations to excel and do work that matters. You'll find him writing Nonprofit Hub featured posts, brainstorming infographics and tweeting up a storm at @npmarc - follow him and say hi!

July 12, 2013

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