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“If we develop tools that can effectively reach millions of people and give them pathways into the work of organizing… that’s where we can get to transformational results.”
– Sam Sinyangwe, Co-Founder, We The Protesters
In the social impact space, great marketing can mean the difference between reaching someone whose life could be transformed with your product and never reaching that person at all. When designed well, a marketing strategy serves as a magic lever that will drive not only user growth, but funding, partnerships, volunteers, and champions.
And the best part? It doesn’t have to cost a lot. In this chapter, we’ll walk you through how to design an effective tech nonprofit marketing plan that won’t break the bank. Marketing for nonprofits just got a whole lot easier.
Stop! Drop! And plan! A marketing strategy will guide all your initiatives. It should define your target personas, key messages, objectives and tactics, and goal tracking.
Now, use these personas to shape your key messaging – the message that conveys how your product fulfills the needs of your audience. Defining your value proposition first will help you do this.
With your messaging in hand, you’re ready to tinker with the specifics of your marketing strategy. There are a million frameworks that organizations with slim budgets can use to make sure they’re executing on the right marketing initiatives.
|OKRs (Objectives and Key Results)||Helps attain measurable progress on marketing initiatives that ladder up to your broader marketing goals.|
Objectives: High-level results you want to achieve over the long-term.
Key Results: A set of metrics that measure your progress on initiatives that help you achieve your Objectives.
|SMART Goals||Helps set concrete and achievable marketing goals. A classic framework in the marketing for nonprofits world.|
Specific: Define what exactly you’re trying to achieve.
Measurable: Make your goal trackable and numeric.
Attainable: Keep your goal realistic.
Relevant: Be clear on the why behind your goal.Time-bound: Set a timeline for meeting your goal.
Time-bound: Set a timeline for meeting your goal.
|The Hook Model||Helps drive user adoption, in addition to reach and awareness, through an iterative cycle.|
Trigger: Something that brings the user into the cycle.
Action: The action you want users to take. The easier, the better.
Variable Reward: A reward for the action they took.
Investment: An investment the user makes in the product now that makes them come back to the product later.
The Hook Model with Almost Fun
To attract new users, Almost Fun founder Lisa Wang designed a social media campaign to engage students through her SAT prep platform. Her goal? To give students an easy way to experience its core user journey once, which would then convince them to become an Almost Fun user. By capturing students through this initial engagement, Almost Fun fostered the habit of using its product.
Trigger: A funny image that highlighted Almost Fun’s differentiator: educational content in a context that feels fun and engaging.
Action: Lisa wanted students to swipe through, engage with the post, and finally, go to its website or download its app to practice more questions.
Variable Reward: The answer to the question was in the caption, because Lisa knew there was a natural reward to getting an answer correct. She chose an easy question so more students could experience the reward.
Investment: Early on, Lisa discovered that once students had a taste of Almost Fun’s content, they were eager to see what other questions would be like. It’s like reading anything funny or interesting, says Lisa – you want to read more. She relied on this pattern to leverage the first interaction to drive conversions.
Product Launch Strategy
One of your biggest marketing initiatives will be around launching your product (woo hoo!). A strong launch plan will help you reach the right people, including your users (most importantly), but also funders and volunteers.
A product launch strategy is a targeted execution of tactics driven by your thoughtful research on how to best reach and engage with your core user group. There are lots of ways to launch, so put the puzzle together based on the many tactics we’ll teach you in the sections to come.
CG Chen, Founder of Ample Labs, which builds chatbots for people experiencing homelessness, is a pro at tech nonprofit product launches. With two successful launches under her belt, CG breaks down her launch strategy advice into three categories.
1. Strategically identify channels to reach end users
Finding the best channels for reaching users is key, says CG. Chances are you already have a pretty good idea (see Chapter 2: User Research & User Testing). Quantify the ROI on potential channels and pursue those with the greatest potential for impact.
How To Do This IRL
The channels with the highest ROI aren’t always the easiest to pursue. Ample Labs determined that reaching users through homeless service providers had a high ROI, since these organizations come into contact with hundreds of Ample Labs’ target users on a daily basis. While building relationships with these providers cost CG a lot of time and money, it was worth it. This channel resulted in 11% of user traffic to the product.
2. Get scrappy and creative
If you’re like CG (and most tech nonprofit founders), you’ll have a pretty tight budget for marketing the launch of your product. But don’t let limited capital stifle you – leverage your social capital, says CG. The network of supporters you’ve already gained can do a lot to help you get the word out.
How To Do This IRL
Before launching Chalmers, Ample Labs’ first chatbot, CG laid out her resources for product marketing. She had a small budget, but 30 dedicated volunteers whom she knew she could leverage. Working within these constraints, she decided to focus on getting media attention. CG asked each volunteer to reach out to five press contacts about the launch of Chalmers. With their help, Ample Labs was able to secure press spotlighting the chatbot. This press coverage helped CG reach a broader audience, including donors and partners.
3. Be bold and try new things
Think outside the box! Work to reach your target users in creative ways by identifying unconventional channels and running experiments. Develop a hypothesis about your new strategy, dedicate a certain number of dollars to the experiment, and see what happens. If the numbers aren’t in line after a month (or however long you decide), pivot to another tactic, says CG. Knowing what doesn’t work is helpful too.
How To Do This IRL
When launching Chalmers, CG experimented with hanging posters with QR codes around Toronto (Ample Labs’ main service area). She had no idea if it would work, but decided to give it a shot. The posters only made up 10% of her marketing efforts, but drove a notable ROI: not only did Chalmers get an uptick in users, but the posters attracted interest from partners and press.
As you plan your launch strategy using these tips, try not to reinvent the wheel. CG spent a lot of time researching and analyzing what worked in other sectors, and used these findings as a template for her own product launch. To figure out what might work for you, talk to fellow founders who work in the same issue area or with a similar user base.
Content Marketing for Nonprofits
Ever heard the Bill Gates quote “content is king?” Well here’s why: content marketing is a powerful (and cheap!) way to drive awareness, grow your audience, and attract funders and volunteers. Focus your content marketing efforts on becoming a definitive thought leader in your vertical. Being the de facto resource for the area you work in makes you credible and will drive traffic to your site.
Content marketing for nonprofits is all about creating content that’s high-quality and relevant. It’s a key part of SEO (search engine optimization), which we’ll dig into later in this chapter. For now, know that great content helps you attract a higher quantity and quality of website traffic.
How to Create a Successful Blog
Get a blog. It’s cheap, simple, and highly shareable. Blogging improves your SEO, builds authority, and educates your audience about your work and impact. People share content they find helpful, relevant, or compelling. More shares = more reads = more users and funders…you get the drill. Some tips for creating a successful blog:
Tie your blog to your broader marketing objectives. As with all marketing initiatives, your blog should support your broader strategic goals. What messages are you trying to convey through your blog?
Create an editorial calendar. A key way to maintain a highly engaging blog is through frequency and consistency of (quality!) posts. Plan your content alongside other communications through an editorial calendar. You can keep this calendar simple – a spreadsheet will do.
Choose relevant topics. When possible, write about evergreen topics related to your mission and that your audience will find interesting (obviously). Keyword research is a great tool for discovering relevant topics and identifying what people are searching online and why (more on keywords in the SEO section).
Diversify your content and format. Keep your blog dynamic. Blogging about a range of (relevant) topics will prove to potential supporters that you’re knowledgeable! Consider sharing user and volunteer stories, interviews, and lists. In general, longer form blog posts (1,000+ words) do best.
Include CTAs (calls to action). Capitalize on your audience’s attention by including CTAs in your posts. From signing up for your newsletter, to becoming a volunteer, to following you on social media, give your reader a way to take action.
Make your blog easy to read. Deliver a great experience for readers by using subheadings, short paragraphs, and lots of blank space in the margins. Include eye-catching graphics that tell the story and break up the text.
Optimize your blog for SEO. Keep SEO in mind when you’re writing blog posts. The SEO section under Digital Marketing shares best practices for helping your blog rank higher in search results.
If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it really fall? If a product launches and nobody hears about it, did it really launch? It’s these questions that the thinkers of our time ponder, and as should you as you contemplate how important it is to communicate your value to the world. Like content marketing, the way you communicate with your community should be consistent and keep your audience informed, engaged, and in love with what you do.
Communications for nonprofits is all about reaching your audience where they are. As we’ve said, tech nonprofits often have to reach both users and donors – they don’t always use the same methods of communication. As you plan your marketing communications, be thoughtful about which channels will be most effective to reach your audience.
Email Marketing for Nonprofits
Email is here to stay, so be sure to pop into your audience’s inbox on a regular basis. Email marketing is a key tactic for keeping your community up to date and engaged through CTAs. Base your email marketing calendar on your newsletter cycle, and anytime you have exciting news or content to share. Be wary of sending too many emails – the line between engagement and spam is a fine one. Email marketing for nonprofits is similar to the for-profit sector, so take time to research email marketing more generally before getting started.
A newsletter serves as a primary touchpoint with your community. Send your newsletter quarterly, monthly, or weekly, depending on the cadence that makes most sense for you. Below are our tips for creating a successful newsletter.
Get inspired by other newsletters. What newsletters do you love? Why do certain ESLs (email subject lines) capture your attention, or certain intros hook you so you keep on reading? At what cadence do your most-looked-forward-to email newsletters arrive in your inbox? Use this inspiration to inform your own email marketing strategy.
Get creative with sections and content. Your newsletter doesn’t have to completely focus on your announcements. Rather, it should highlight what’s happening in your orbit. Consider including interesting or useful sections in your newsletter that center around your issue area, users’ experience, etc. #ThoughtLeadership
Include CTAs (calls to action). Engage readers by including CTA buttons along with your content. These buttons prompt readers to take an action, like to learn more, sign up, register, or join a community.
Make your newsletter beautiful and easy to digest. An eye-catching newsletter does wonders to keep your audience reading. Leverage brand elements to give your newsletter a unique feel, use beautiful images (or even a carousel of images), and organize content into sections to make your newsletter digestible.
Make it easy for people to sign up for your newsletter. Your signup form should be short (just a few fields will do) and easy to find on your website. Help people reach the signup form by including it as a CTA in your other marketing channels.
Be intentional about when you send your newsletter. Time and day of the week will affect your open rates. As a general rule, it’s best to send newsletters early in the morning (note that most email marketing platforms enable you to send your emails based on time zones). Test out sending on different days and hours, and go with the time that gets the highest open rates.
Social Media for Nonprofits
Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn, oh my! Done right, social media increases brand awareness, grows your audience, and engages your community. Growing your online presence takes time and persistence, but prioritizing it can pay off in the long run.
Consistency is key. Post frequently (but tastefully) to keep your social media audience engaged, and show those who come across your account that you’re worth following. In addition to posting, engage with other users by liking, re-tweeting, or sharing their content. They’ll be compelled to do the same for you!
Analytics and scheduling tools will help improve your social media strategy. For analytics, Twitter and Facebook’s built-in analytics give you all the basic stats you need, but if you’re looking for a more robust platform, there are a few great free tools out there. For scheduling, many tools allow you to map out your content by pre-writing posts, saving you time day-of. Analytics tools help you track reach, impressions, and account growth.
Here are some platforms you can use (again, not comprehensive). Many tools are paid only, but most have free trials.
- Wiselytics (Facebook and Twitter analytics)
- Likealyzer (Facebook analytics)
- TalkWalker (hashtag and campaign tracking)
- Keyhole (hashtag analytics)
- Google Analytics
You’ve got all you need to know (and more) about leveraging partnerships in Chapter 14: Sustainability: Partnerships and Revenue, so we’ll keep this short. For marketing, call on your ecosystem partners to help spread the word about announcements and initiatives. Make it as easy as possible for them to share by writing email and social copy, sharing graphics, and if possible, creating a simple communications kit. Offer to promote any of their upcoming announcements in return.
Digital Marketing for Nonprofits
No matter what your tech nonprofit is up to, digital marketing is the name. of. the. game. Digital marketing for nonprofits is a beast of a topic, so in this section we’ll share the basics with an emphasis on tips for tech nonprofits. To dive deeper, the internet is your bff – there are endless resources online about all things digital marketing.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Even a basic understanding of SEO can propel you on your quest to attract high-quality traffic. You can improve your site’s SEO in a variety of ways, from publishing relevant content, to creating a great user experience on your website, to building backlinks.
On the surface, it might seem that SEO is all about helping search engines find and rank your relevant content. What lies beneath is that it’s about understanding people’s behavior. Cracking the code of what people are searching, the answers they’re looking for, and the type of content they actually want to consume is key to practicing great SEO.
In a nutshell, keywords are about understanding what your target audience is searching for and how they’re searching, then taking those keywords and building content around them. As a tech nonprofit, people are likely looking for your product in a time of need. This means you should be trying to rank for the keywords that your beneficiaries are using in their searches. Keyword research can help you uncover what these are.
What’s motivating your target user to search for something that your product could help with? Once you unlock the needs driving their online searches, you can figure out the keywords to focus on to attract users. Enter these keywords into tools like the Moz Keyword Explorer or Google Keyword Planner to discover other keywords, questions, and topics you should be thinking about. Once you’ve done some keyword research, you’ll need to strategically implement your findings across your site – from your blog content, to your page titles, to your URLs.
Earning backlinks is a key part of SEO for tech nonprofits. Why? Your secret weapon, nonprofit judo. Leverage your nonprofit judo to entice other organizations to link to your site via backlinks, which helps you establish authority and rank higher.
Upsolve Founder and SEO wizard Rohan Pavuluri stresses that you should focus on link building from the websites that 1. Have high domain authority (meaning they rank highly themselves), and 2. Are relevant enough to your work that they have a high likelihood to link back to you. Whether you’re targeting media outlets, nonprofits, or bloggers, always be hyper-personalized in your outreach. “Your success in building links is directly correlated with your ability to quickly generate relationships, and you can’t generate a relationship without personalization,” says Pavuluri.
Make it as easy as possible for the other person to say yes to your backlink request. Provide a screenshot of exactly where on their website you’d like to see a link and what the copy should be. Offer to promote their content or, where appropriate, link back to their site. And, be persistent in your outreach – really persistent. Keep following up with anyone you reach out to about including a link, even after they’ve agreed to do so to ensure it gets done. Backlinks matter – don’t hold back.
In just a few clicks, you can buy Google, Facebook, and Twitter ads to reach more users with your product. Use ads to recruit more volunteers, attract donors and partners, and amplify your story across the globe.
Ads can be affordable as a nonprofit. Google Ads gives nonprofits $10,000 of in-kind advertising every month. If you have friends who work at Facebook, they can donate their monthly allocation of $250 in ad credits to your organization.
Create Effective Social Media Ads on a Budget
A small ad budget doesn’t mean you can’t create highly impactful ads that reach more users. Here are our tips for small organizations looking to make the most of their ad spend.
- Craft eye-catching ad headlines. Capture the fleeting attention spans of scrollers by writing eye-catching, actionable headlines. Keep them short and sweet, always include a clear CTA, and show your organization’s personality by infusing your brand voice.
- Use dynamic graphics. It probably goes without saying that your ad needs to be visually appealing. Get creative: use a GIF showcasing your product or a carousel of images.
- Get granular in your audience targeting. Platforms like Facebook let you choose who exactly they’ll show your ad to, so make the most of your budget by being detailed and strategic about selecting your audience. From age range, location, and gender to interests and behaviors, set up your ads so they get in front of the people who matter most.
- Leverage custom and lookalike audience tools. Certain platforms offer custom audience tools so you can upload a list of emails to show ads to specific groups you’d like to target. The lookalike audience feature helps you expand your reach by taking an audience you already have and finding new supporters that have similar attributes.
As a tech nonprofit founder, you know better than anyone that data and measurement are critical to the success of your organization. The same goes when marketing for nonprofits. Whether it’s analyzing site traffic through Google Analytics or measuring the success of a Facebook ad campaign, make analytics tracking a standard part of your marketing efforts.