Managing a nonprofit is anything but easy. Fundraising, marketing, developing programs, and initiatives to support community outreach are all challenging enough.
Trying to do that during a pandemic can be downright overwhelming. We’re all navigating this pandemic period for the first time ever, without a playbook, and without a clear idea of how to do it “right.” And we don’t know when things will return to normal, or what normal will look like in the future.
So much of your work is community and volunteer-driven. It’s not the type of thing that can easily be replicated with an internet connection and Zoom calls. But you still have a mission to work towards.
There are no perfect responses, but nonprofits across the country are finding ways to adapt. Joan Garry shared a post recently on her blog with some awesome ideas/suggestions, highlighting six different things that actual nonprofits are doing right now to stay focused and motivated.
What they’ve all got in common is that they’re leveling up their community outreach.
What does that even mean? Well, they’re adjusting how they reach their supporters and connect with their team in order to stay productive. So don’t let these circumstances get the better of you! Professionals just like you are learning to adapt, through online fundraisers, volunteer engagement, hyper-targeted marketing, and more.
Right now, you’ve got some pretty major (and obvious) challenges ahead of you. I wanted to tackle three specific methods of outreach that will make life more manageable. Identifying ways to improve your outreach efforts helps a lot of other objectives fall into place.
Here’s what I’ll cover in this post:
- Asking for donations during a pandemic
- Identify marketing strategies to boost your community outreach
- Setting long-term goals for your community outreach efforts
1. Asking for donations during a pandemic
Everyone is struggling—your organization, your volunteers, the community you serve, and your donors. You may feel uncomfortable asking for donations, but you need to.
Here’s what not to do: Reach out to donors and ignore what has been happening.
Ignoring the current state of things will only distance your supporters. Also, keep in mind that after this pandemic is over, people will still be dealing with residual problems the pandemic brought about. Learning how to ask donors for help in a considerate way will be essential in the short-term and long-term!
So how do you acknowledge what’s happening and in the same sentence ask people to help you?
Not too long ago, I was chatting with Rachel Bearbower, founder of Small Shop Strategies. She’s worked with, and continues to work with nonprofits big and small. When we got to talking about fundraising, she pointed out that donors want to give. They care about your cause, your mission, your organization. But you have so many problems to tackle, and your donors can’t help with all of them.
You need to give your donors a very specific way to contribute, clarify where that contribution goes and reassure them of the impact it will have. Don’t be general, be as clear and honest as you can be.
Listening to NonProfitPro’s podcast, the topic of asking for donations also came up. Julia Campbell provided a pretty helpful answer, too.
She suggested that community outreach lead with compassion. Acknowledge what donors are likely going through, and then sharing what your organization is experiencing as well. People are understanding, they won’t feel offended that you’re reaching out to them.
She also said to be clear about what you need. Don’t provide a dozen different ways people can help. Be specific, ask for an amount that covers a particular expense that continues to support your organization and the work it does. It’s less work for you and your donor, when you are clear and direct.
Finally, Sean Kosofsky frames asking for donations in a really reassuring way. As fundraisers and nonprofit professionals, you’re doing donors a favor—you’re helping them contribute to a cause they support. You’re the doer; you’ll get the work done so long as donors can support your organization’s efforts.
You both have overlapping interests at heart, and the donor needs you!
2. Identify marketing strategies to boost your community outreach
We can all agree, nonprofit marketing is fundamental to the growth and success of any nonprofit organization, big or small. While some nonprofits are exceptionally skilled at marketing their cause, in recent times, every organization has had to make adjustments.
What are some ways nonprofits can improve their marketing approaches now to still connect with their audiences? Well, you need to improve your storytelling, repurpose existing marketing materials for social media, and harness the power of good infographics (if you don’t already). These are effective marketing strategies to boost the impact of your community outreach.
Sharpen your storytelling approach
Nonprofits do great work, and it’s always important to highlight that work. In ordinary, non-pandemic times, that can be just what your audience needs to see.
But during a pandemic and all the other things that are happening in the world today, it may not be enough. You’ll need to go the extra mile to really capture your audience’s attention.
The key to nonprofit storytelling is emotion. You don’t need to bring people to tears, but you want people to really connect with the content you’re sharing. Using the right language, focusing on a particular experience, and using an effective framework (like the hero’s journey) to convey your story all work really well.
But just stirring emotions is not enough. Tatiana Morand, Content and SEO Manager at Wild Apricot, recently wrote about nonprofit storytelling.
She pointed out that: storytelling needs to be intentional.
Effective nonprofit community outreach zeroes in on a very specific ask across all your channels. That means deciding what the goals behind your stories are.
These goals can focus on raising money, driving conversations on social media, increasing click-through-rates, improving conversions on a landing page, and so on. Once you have specific goals in mind, you can work your way back to the types of stories you need to share, and with whom to share them.
Repurpose print marketing collateral for better community outreach
I’ve noticed that brochures and informational pamphlets are important marketing collateral for many nonprofits. They’re great to hand out when canvassing, during events, and meeting with potential donors. Print collateral is very much alive in today’s digital age.
But right now you’ve got wonderfully designed content, and no one to hand it out to. Don’t let it go to waste! Go back to these designs and repurpose that content into social media visuals. Pull the copy and designs from those pages and recycle them for social media posts, blog content, email blasts, and more.
You already have the designs and copy ready to go. The purpose behind your print collateral is already set. Recycling what you’ve got is a simple and expedient way to post engaging content. This allows you to still work towards the same goals, just online.
Take advantage of infographics
Infographics should play a central role in any nonprofit content marketing strategy. Using visual content to help you communicate your message is an effective way to deliver content.
Infographics are among the most effective, engaging, and shared pieces of content online today. Our brains are wired for processing images quickly, involving as much as 50% of our minds to process them.
Infographics are also versatile. You can design the perfect nonprofit infographics to break down complex content, or large sets of data. You can incorporate infographics into blog content and social media posts, dramatically improving how much time people spend on your content, how they engage with it, and the likelihood of them sharing it. They are also excellent ways to help frame your community outreach within a very specific context instantly. A social media post that shares an alarming statistic and an ask can be very effective.
You can also use infographics in other forms of content you already design. Infographics can be included in your annual and monthly reports, posters, brochures, and other types of marketing collateral, as well.
Finally, infographics are effective storytelling tools. With a simple set of visuals, you can pair human experiences to insightful data, providing your audience with every bit of information to feel motivated and take action.
3. Setting long-term goals for your community outreach efforts
A Commongood Careers survey showed that individual responsibilities and decision-making processes are not clear within nonprofit organizations. Traditionally, it’s difficult for nonprofit professionals to understand who has authority over specific areas within their organization. Add to that, everything else that’s going on in the world today, and the inability to act decisively and effectively is amplified.
So how do we still set goals and develop strategies in a time of uncertainty and unpredictability? Now, when our teams are working remotely, how do we truly connect with them and keep them motivated?
Coming back to the conversation I had with Rachel, we also spoke about goal-setting and implementing strategies. She pointed out that a lot of nonprofit leaders are experiencing decision paralysis.
When you’re overworked (as many nonprofit professionals are), experiencing drastic changes in a short time frame, and dealing with a high volume of uncertainty, the ability to process an entire situation and make a decision is greatly reduced.
Making decisions during a crisis can also become reactive, rather than reflective and responsive. This is the opposite of decision paralysis, but still a result of fatigue and cognitive overload.
So what do you do?
First things first – get some rest
It’s important to get some rest before you’re caught in a cycle of constant indecision and constant planning. It’s a one-way ticket to burnout-ville, and at that point, you won’t be of any help to yourself or anyone else.
Get some distance from the problems at hand, and time to clear your head. Then once you’re recharged, take a deep breath and hop back into the fray.
Start big and work your way down to a simple, specific goal
When it comes to goal setting, start with broad goals, and accept that you’ll need to revisit them periodically. Still, all your nonprofit’s activities should be geared towards these goals. Remember, you’re adapting existing approaches to marketing and fundraising – not starting from scratch.
How you choose to ask for donations and what you decide to ask for, matter right now. The stories you share with your social media audiences, the emails that go out, the phone calls that you have with donors, the blog content that you publish, all of these interactions need to be aligned and specific.
That’s how you can maximize your effort. Don’t be vague, don’t be general, and don’t be shy. If a hundred donations of $22 today from your donors would have the necessary impact – make that the goal.
Take this time to experiment
Everyone can get complacent with how their marketing performs. Over time, you accept that your average open rates for emails are 17%; that social media posts typically get X number of impressions; that your landing page has a 4% conversion rate and so on.
But now, what’s normal anymore? There are so many unknown variables.
That brings us to another valuable insight from my conversation with Rachel: it’s a great time to run experiments.
Try new approaches to your email outreach—new subject lines, new formats, new calls-to-action, new content. Post more frequently on social media, post longer Twitter threads, post slides on LinkedIn, share more candid video content on Facebook – there are so many possibilities.
You might discover a way to connect with your audience that resonates. When you discover that, iterate on it, figure out what makes it work, see if you can scale it or replicate it across channels. The results may surprise you!
Leveling up in these forms of community outreach can lift your nonprofit’s output and productivity. I’m positive these approaches will help you down the stretch, but you’re the real expert! As you learn ways of navigating this time of crisis, feel free to share your insights in the comments below.
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Jeilan Devanesan is a content marketer at Venngage, the online graphic-design tool. He researches and writes on content marketing strategies, nonprofit marketing, and visual communication. He has written for CMI, Clutch, Classy, Nonprofit Hub and other publications. You can connect with him on Linkedin.