For regional social impact organizations, leveraging digital channels that transcend time zones and zip codes makes reaching more supporters possible. An at-risk youth organization in Orlando receiving donations from Ontario. A food bank serving Sacramento supported by someone in St. Louis. A migrant advocacy organization in Nicaragua empowered by donors from Nashville.
People have embraced a “we’re all in this together” mentality, reaching from their own communities to support organizations thousands of miles away. Geographical barriers to getting involved are eroding — thanks to digital platforms.
Whether your supporters live down the street or across the continent, balancing your digital efforts and real-world actions are connected. And there are more opportunities than ever before to widen your reach.
Real-World Actions Don’t Happen Without a Digital Component
The opportunities to spread your message, attract new supporters, and announce calls to action are endless. And the dance between digital efforts and real-world action is heating up.
Your communication, campaign, and fundraising endeavors have multiple digital touchpoints that reach out to your supporters. Email, social media, your website, even paid advertising.
As a result, your organization has plenty of options to get your supporters involved in real-world actions, all starting from your digital action center.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to influence your senator to act on a new piece of legislation that pertains to your organization’s mission. Through an email blast or social media post, you draw your supporters to your website where they can sign a petition and share it with their personal networks. With enough supporter participation, their efforts spark a conversation in the senator’s office, affecting a crucial vote.
In the same call to action, you prompt your supporters to write a letter and send it through the mail. And maybe that physical letter is more impactful because it’s tangible. But whatever the end result is, the original call to action came from your digital hub.
Here’s another scenario: Say your organization hosts a gala for high-net-worth individuals. Your communications about the event will be largely digital, with their information stored in your organization’s CRM. Ticket sales will live online as well as post-event photo galleries and wrap-ups. You’ll probably even post photos of the event across your social media platforms. Donations could come in the form of digital transactions or physical checks.
You see, your digital presence is inextricably linked to boots-on-the-ground action. There’s a constant, fluid exchange of actions and messaging happening between digital platforms and real-world actions all the time. Your digital presence must be on its A-game to complement the rest of your organization’s initiatives.
Where to Focus or Expand Your Nonprofit’s Digital Reach
Now that social impact organizations aren’t constrained by their location, possibilities for impact are everywhere. And if that seems overwhelming, it is. So where do you focus your energy and resources?
Go back to basics and start with your theory of change. Think about what you are trying to change and where that change is physically located. Then take the following steps to guide where to focus your efforts.
4 Steps to Size Up Your Social Impact Organization’s Digital Outreach
Step 1: Get to the heart of what you’re trying to change. Is your mission specific to your immediate geographical area? Even if your organization is locally focused, that doesn’t mean your issue isn’t affected by wider influences.
For example, your local water conservation group may need protection from statewide policies or be affected by climate change action. In other words, you are part of a larger conversation about systemic environmental approaches to water and environmental conservation. And it means your locally focused organization does have an opportunity to channel some of its energy to participate in that larger conversation in order to move the needle.
Local issues can quickly become a focal point for a larger conversation. National attention can often lead to donations and support coming in from places far beyond your community. Chances are, the issues and initiatives your organization is tackling at home are similar to efforts across the country. Tap into this broader community to garner more support.
Step 2: Dig into your database. Your immediate community will always contain the biggest concentration of supporters. However, when supporters move away they carry their investment in your organization with them. Don't forget about these transplants. Encourage them to use their influence in their new location to bring more attention to your organization.
Keep sharing your story through your various digital channels. Produce content that engages them and inspires their interaction.
Step 3: Reevaluate your digital efforts. Has your organization adopted a digital mindset? If it has, you’re already engaging with your supporters through online content, webinars, and activist toolkits. If not, it’s time to embrace digital transformation. Because using your digital platform is the most effective way for your supporters to share your message — no matter how spread out their network is.
Step 4: Define your differentiator. You're needlessly limiting your organization's efficacy if you think no one outside your area could invest in your mission. Focus on what makes your nonprofit stand out in the broader landscape, then own that.
If it doesn't make sense to expand your reach based on your differentiator, that’s OK. Sometimes your efforts are best kept at the local level. But that doesn't mean your digital efforts should be similarly limited.
Sometimes There’s No Place Like Home: Additional Considerations Before Broadening Your Brand’s Reach
No matter where these steps lead you, it’s crucial not to lose your brand awareness in the process. It can be far too easy to slip into mission creep, muddying your purpose and confusing supporters along the way.
While widening your digital scope could be the right move for your cause, there are challenges that come with leaving that word-of-mouth local space. If you decide to expand your reach beyond your physical location, know that word of mouth may be harder to come by.
- How will you sustain your outreach without people automatically recognizing your brand?
- Will you still reach the right people who will affect change?
- Does your organization have the means for a greater media plan and paid advertising?
If, after some introspection, your nonprofit isn’t in a place to expand, you can still increase your digital outreach while remaining close to home. Your digital hub should tie your digital and real-world efforts together.
Every Organization’s Cause is Connected to Something Bigger
So many of us have woken up to how interconnected humans truly are, not only in our corner of the world but across the globe.
If your organization has recently seen support from far outside the location you directly serve, is this moment just a flash in the pan? Or can you grab onto it and make it bigger?
Just because you’re trying to save a local bird species doesn’t mean your cause isn’t connected to something bigger. After all, loss of habitat is connected to climate change and land degradation. Is there an opportunity for you to join the larger conversation around those areas to bring attention to your cause?
Often it’s the little things that make people realize how real and dire the big issues truly are.
Solving today’s issues — from protecting voters’ rights to preserving local waterways — requires a collective effort. One led by organizations with a galvanized digital presence.
Are you ready to seize the moment?