Cosmic

How Fostering a Digital-First Culture Propels Your Nonprofit's Mission

Transform your organization with a digital-first culture. Learn how to initiate cultural and technological changes to scale your nonprofit's impact.

Eric Ressler
September 16, 2020
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In today’s digital-first world, the success of your program work is inextricably linked to your digital presence. In fact, there’s only one surefire way for your nonprofit to reach its full impact potential. And that is to invest in your digital marketing and communications as diligently as you invest in your program work.

Smart social impact leaders are ready to go all-in on digital. They understand that building and nurturing a digital media platform — a dynamic, action-oriented website complete with scroll-stopping content and multiple digital distribution channels — is a synergistic way of propelling their organization's work forward. The bigger challenge lies in figuring out how to make it happen.

Of course, it all starts with the right building blocks — the brand strategy, theory of change, digital strategy, technology platform, thought leadership content, and distribution plan. But you won’t be able to sustain even the best-laid plans unless your organization embraces a digital-first culture.

Building Your Digital Media Platform is the First Step — But You Don’t Have to Do it All at Once

When your nonprofit organization decides to adopt the digital media platform model, you are making a long-term commitment. Building the foundation — the strategic and technological infrastructure to support your digital media platform — represents the beginning of your efforts, not the end. In order to reap the rewards of what you build, you’ll need to invest in ongoing content creation, marketing, and maintenance efforts.

The Key Components of a Digital Media Platform

Use this checklist as an actionable roadmap to build your organization's digital media platform.

Once you’ve resolved to commit, the next step is to build your infrastructure and expand your team’s capacity for the ongoing work. Depending on where your organization is today with respect to its digital capabilities and culture, this may look like a small shift or a major evolution. Either way, you don’t have to do it all at once. It’s perfectly fine to tackle the task of digital-first culture-building incrementally.

Start by putting together a simple digital presence. At a minimum, this should include a cohesive brand, storytelling website, CRM, social media channels, and an email list. You can either build these components in-house, or, if you don’t have the necessary expertise, partner with an external agency. If you don’t have the resources to lay the foundation all at once, create a roadmap detailing how and when you will get there. Remember, these basic elements set the stage to amplify your mission, grow your email list, foster supporter engagement, and swell donations. Finally, don’t forget to spell out the “next-level” digital media platform components you’ll add in the longer term, such as an activist toolkit or an action center.

Once you have the basic pieces in place, it’s time to start creating and distributing thought-leadership content — content that establishes your organization as a leading voice in your niche of the social impact ecosystem. You’ll absolutely draw on your own team’s writing and video production skills. But it’s key to recognize that you aren’t limited by your internal team’s current capabilities. For example, you should plan to selectively crowdsource your content.

Your agency partner may be another invaluable resource. They may be equipped to act as an extension of your team in creating content for your digital media platform and executing your distribution strategy and marketing campaigns. Depending on your needs, you could choose to leverage their expertise and production capabilities in an ongoing way. Or you could simply engage their assistance in the early stages to “get the flywheel spinning,” so to speak.

The major takeaway? There’s no one right path or timeline to construct and nurture your digital media platform. While it’s good to have a sense of urgency, the individual elements can be accomplished in phases.

How to Create a Digital-First Culture at Your Nonprofit Organization

Take the following steps to foster a digital-first culture that sustains your digital media platform for the long haul.

Educate your team and build internal alignment

Creating a digital-first culture in your nonprofit organization is, first and foremost, about recognizing the role your digital media platform plays in scaling your impact. Everyone on your team needs to have a clear vision of how your digital media platform impacts your program work — and vice versa.

Educate your team. Explain that investing in the digital work will have a beneficial circular effect. Your digital media platform will lead to increased impact and engagement, which will lead to more funding opportunities, which will result in additional revenue that can be used to resolve your ongoing digital media capacity issue (in addition to funding program work).

Not only that, but by helping to generate awareness, engagement, and revenue, your digital-first culture shift will lead to a more sustained impact on the systems your organization is working to change.

Designate a digital media platform point person

While everyone in your organization should be on board with your digital-first approach, you should plan to assign “ownership” of your brand and the overall digital media platform to a single individual. Whether you handle everything in-house, split it between in-house and outsourced talent, or have an agency handle everything from soup to nuts, you will still need someone whose first responsibility is keeping an eye on your digital media platform.

This person will need to have a clear understanding of how your theory of change works. They should also understand the link between your program work and your digital media efforts. Their job is to keep the forward momentum going by managing your digital strategy and editorial calendar, planning individual campaigns, and delegating tasks to others. For example, they may plan a digital petition-signing campaign to influence policy makers and grow your internal list of supporters. However, your point person won’t necessarily actually produce the petition and related content.

Build Your Team’s Digital Skills and Competencies

Over time, give your team the resources and training necessary to develop new skills in support of your digital media platform. By empowering your team to confidently create and market compelling content across a range of digital channels, your digital-first culture will naturally grow and solidify.

Building and sustaining a digital media platform is a major, long-term undertaking, one that requires an underlying cultural shift to sustain it. By committing to a digital-first culture, you secure your investment in your digital media platform — and prepare a path forward to achieve your maximum impact.

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