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Nonprofits, Master the 3 Pillars of Digital Engagement for Maximum Social Impact

Your nonprofit must focus on digital engagement just as you do program work. That’s the best way to increase revenue, drive action, and spread your message.

Eric Ressler
April 22, 2021
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Giving your supporters a transformative digital experience doesn’t come easy. But if you want to create a sustained level of supporter and donor engagement while reaching more people to fight for your cause, that’s the challenge you’re up against. To succeed, you have to think and act like a digital media company.

In the midst of your organization’s normal program work, you must consistently generate compelling content. Plus, you need to create an energized digital presence and nurture a dynamic digital culture to boot.

For many nonprofits, the amount of work it takes to create and maintain this kind of digital presence takes a backseat to the program work. But here’s the thing. When you create a digital presence that fortifies your revenue, drives your supporters to act, and spreads your message, you are doing the work.

Cultivating your nonprofit’s digital engagement is entirely possible with consistent effort in three pillars: technology, content, and culture. They all depend on each other, like a three-legged stool. Here’s what they look like separately and the potential they ignite for your organization when working in tandem.

Pillar One: Technology (More Than a Pretty Website)

Social impact organizations, your website is the foundation for all you do. It calls supporters to action, drives readers’ attention to important news, and provides an easy way for your supporters to donate and get involved. But these days, to maximize your impact, you need more than an attention-grabbing landing page and flashy logo.

To truly take advantage of today’s tech, you need the one-two punch of a do-it-all, modern website and a robust, integrated donor engagement platform (also commonly known as a CRM for customer relationship management).

Your website isn’t just a conduit for your compelling, interactive digital content. It’s also a digital hub that connects your supporters to real-world actions they can take. If you champion climate change, you can encourage supporters to sign petitions or call legislators through your digital hub. If there’s a rally for social justice your nonprofit is leading, your digital hub is the perfect place to amplify your rallying cry.

The more immersive and interactive your website, the more reasons your supporters will have to come back.

Besides displaying your captivating content, your social impact website should also make it simple for supporters to fill out forms (volunteer, contact, and otherwise). A dynamic website will facilitate donation submissions, as well as provide a personalized experience that makes repeat visitors feel recognized. To make this a reality, implementing a JAMstack approach is imperative.

JAMstack, which stands for JavaScript, API, Markup, benefits your social impact organization by:

  • Improving performance
  • Enhancing security
  • Increasing flexibility
  • Making way for greater scalability
  • Reducing costs

By using a JAMstack, you can build a digital hub that best supports your organization’s present and future goals.

In practice, JAMstack allows your website developer to integrate multiple third-party tools on your website to boost your supporter engagement and analytics. This is where tools like your donor management software come into play, giving you key insights into your website’s visitors and their behaviors. And when you know what behaviors drive your visitors, you’re better able to hook them to engage with your cause.

Lastly, implementing a JAMstack philosophy improves your website’s ability to handle unforeseen spikes in traffic. Such as when your scroll-stopping content goes viral and your visitor traffic resembles rush hour.

Pillar Two: Content That Cuts Through Digital Noise

As the 24/7 news cycle dominates the digital landscape and social media noise fills in the cracks, nonprofits have to work extra hard to break through and communicate their message.

To rise above the din, your social impact organization needs to create content that does more than pings your supporters with mission updates. While keeping your supporters tuned in, you need to give them compelling content that attracts them to your digital channels over and over again. So too must you build and foster a sense of community through your content to give your supporters a place to connect with like-minded people.

Your content should be created with the goal of inspiring your supporters to increase their commitment and engagement with your organization. You can turn supporters into longtime committed donors and champions of your cause with content.

You’ll know you’re creating quality content when it mobilizes your supporters to take action, pushing your nonprofit’s work forward.

So what does content encapsulate? Essentially, everything you create across your digital hub. This includes:

Not only must you create the content, but you must also own and generate as much content as possible. Ideally not depending so much on social media to do it for you. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are faltering as reliable platforms to spread your message because of mounting restrictions and threatening legislation. Therefore, you need to own broadcasting your message as well as where your content lives (i.e., not just on your Facebook page).

Creating your digital hub — where your digital and real-world efforts come together — is the ultimate way to increase community action, build awareness for your cause, and keep your supporters engaged.

How to Plan a Social Impact Action Center

Use this step-by-step guide to begin planning a digital action center and start scaling your impact.

Pillar Three: Capacity for a Digital-First Culture

The overall amount of time and effort it takes to function as a digital-first organization can stall many nonprofits from fully embracing a digital-first strategy. But when you understand that creating and maintaining your digital presence is critical to the success of your program work, you realize program work and digital presence work are the same.

It’s all about shifting your organization’s mindset to embrace the synergy between your real-world actions and your digital identity — and cultivating a capacity for this kind of change.

To incorporate a digital-first culture in your organization is to make a shift in your broader organizational culture. Through habits and workflow changes, your team can find ways to integrate content creation and management into their day-to-day work. One idea is to work in sprints, which break the work into smaller, more manageable chunks that push your progress forward without overwhelming your team.

At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask for help from your community to come up with great content for your organization. Crowdsourced content can be used to fuel your overall content strategy, allowing you to maintain a healthy editorial calendar while not putting too much stress on team members. Between board members, individual supporters, and experts in related fields, you have many options. Solicit volunteers to write blog articles, produce videos, or write marketing emails.

In the same vein, look outside your organization for photography or video talent to produce the vital, impactful images and videos that support your emotional storytelling.

Putting the Three Pillars Together: Track Your Nonprofit’s Digital Engagement Progress

Your technology, content, and culture should seamlessly integrate in a way that invigorates your digital engagement. But to know if you’re truly succeeding in pulling supporters in, you need ways to measure your efforts.

Here are three methods for your digital engagement strategy and tracking your organization’s progress:

  1. 1.
    Create editorial calendars. Plan out your editorial calendars for six months to a year. For your tech-heavy pieces, like your scroll-stopping content, plan to produce two or three immersive pieces a year. Working in sprints should help move the editorial calendar along without putting too much strain on your team.

  2. 2.
    Perform regular system audits. Schedule regular reviews of your database, your list segmentation, and membership updates. Keeping your data up to date will enable you to take advantage of opportunities for large donor asks or reconnect with straying supporters.

  3. 3.
    Get analytical. Use your metrics to find out where your digital presence has the most impact on your supporters. Do your supporters respond to scroll-stopping content? How many subscribers click on the CTAs in your emails? Look at trends in donation giving levels and time of year, the impact generated by your volunteers, and when your website sees the most traffic. Your metrics should be defined by your theory of change. If you don’t know what you should be measuring, dive into your theory of change for guidance.

How to Effectively Communicate Your Theory of Change

Your social impact organization has a unique and powerful story to tell. Use our step-by-step plan to road test, refine, and effectively communicate your theory of change to your stakeholders.

To achieve your nonprofit’s mission, joining the digital revolution is no longer optional. But weave technology, content, and culture into your digital engagement strategy, and making the leap to becoming a digital-first social impact organization is well within reach.

Overwhelmed?

It might be time to consider bringing on an agency partner to help guide you through the process. We'd love to talk.

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