Just because your organization may be a nonprofit doesn’t mean it can’t take advantage of the same strategies for-profit organizations use every day to grow their businesses quickly and predictably.  In today’s digital world, there are numerous opportunities to generate awareness for your cause, secure important contacts, increase donations, and spread your message.  

Even more exciting news is that many of these strategies are open to organizations with small budgets who cannot afford large campaigns until they know 100% for sure a marketing channel is working and generating the desired results.

It is critical that two fundamental principles are followed before implementing any of the marketing strategies to be discussed.

  1. Give Value First
    You must give your target audience something of value that helps fix their problem.  No marketing channel will work if your offer does not match what your audience wants.
  2. Differentiate Your Organization
    You must differentiate your organization from your competition in a precise and easy to understand manner.  Companies and organizations that say they are the “best,” “most experienced,” “customer friendly,” or “trustworthy” fail to communicate effectively.  Lofty words like these sound great at first, but they are so broad it is hard for a potential prospect, customer, or donor to quickly understand why they should work with you.  Instead, work on honing your message so your audience can identify your mission: “We’ve helped 1,000 wishes come true in the last 12 months.  You too can make miracles happen.” or “For 5 cents a day, you can help save 7 children from dying from starvation.”

Assuming your organization has a clear message and a good offer, we’re ready to discuss several digital marketing strategies with great potential for helping your organization achieve its goals.  One important detail you want to consider with each strategy is what kind of time line it takes to be effective.  

As each strategy is discussed, I will explain what kind of expectations one might have for it to produce a positive return on your investment (ROI).  Another area I will tackle is budget concerns.  Some strategies are more sensitive to minimum budget levels so I will explain important factors related to that as well.

1. Paid Social Media Marketing

Paid social media marketing is quite possibly the fastest channel to launch. Within a couple hours you can have a campaign running that targets people who fit the specific demographic details you believe best fit your organization’s offer.  You can also limit your account to spend a few dollars a day to test concepts for audience reception in terms of clicks and engagement.  As you find audiences and ads that work, you can easily increase your budget to reach thousands, all the way up to millions of people, essentially with the turn of a switch.

Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn are big players in this arena.  Each network has its own criteria for how it allows you to target certain audiences.  Regardless of these differences, they all offer huge potential for you to quickly increase traffic to your website and identify segments that take action on your desired outcome.  This means over time your ad dollars go towards the people most likely to become a customer or donor.  

Elaborate sales funnels can also be set up to only target people who have viewed certain content and offers on your website.  This allows you to even better hone your follow-up offers and make sure your ad dollars are spent in the most efficient way possible.

Minimum Budget to Get Started on Network: Low

Time to See Results: Minimal
Ability to Scale-Up Campaigns: Easy
Limiting Factor: Growth limited to your budget and audience targeting

2. Paid Search Engine Advertising

Search networks like Google AdWords, Bing, and Yahoo come to mind here.  However, there are also smaller networks out there that offer similar services and sometimes discounted fees compared to the big networks.  The name of the game in all of these services is to bid on keywords so your ad shows up on the search engine results page.  Similar to paid social advertising, your organization can get started very quickly on any of these networks to start driving quality visitors to your website.  Many people complain that Google AdWords is very expensive these days for ad clicks.  

This is true for high-dollar industries where unsophisticated companies only bid on basic terms (also known as “fat head” terms) like “mortgage quote,” “remodel company,” etc.  Companies that go after longer, more descriptive terms (also known as “long-tail keywords”) can typically find opportunities for keywords that drive traffic at a more affordable cost that also provides ROI in the long term.  Companies that put effort in thorough keyword research and identify the right long-tail keywords may end up having tens, hundreds, or even thousands of keywords bringing in large numbers of quality website visitors.

Minimum Budget to Get Started on Network: Low

Time to See Results: Minimal
Ability to Scale-Up Campaigns: Dependent on keyword search volume
Limiting Factor: Growth limited to your budget and keyword search volume

3. Organic Search Engine Optimization

Everybody wants to rank #1 on Google. Who wouldn’t? It accounts for approximately 70% of all search engine traffic on the web.  With a number one ranking, your company gets an added bonus of essentially being vouched for by Google and you get the majority of clicks that all search results might receive. Being in that number one spot is certainly a nice place to be.  It has definitely served my own company and my clients well over the years.  Organic search engine optimization, however, is a more complex situation than paid advertising.  

As Google has become more complex to prevent low-quality websites from ranking high, more effort is now required to create web pages that Google deems worthy of the top spots.  As a basic rule of thumb, a new website will have a hard time ranking quickly in any competitive industry.  The reality is that a website owner will have to spend many hours themselves or pay someone to create top-notch, in-depth content addressing the concerns and questions of their target audience.

Once content is published, website owners: 1) manually reach out to other authoritative sites within their industry (or complementary industries) to try and secure back links, and/or 2) implement a paid strategy to generate the right kind of traffic that might provide back links to the website, which are ultimately the strongest signal for Google to boost ranking.  Organic search engine ranking also exhibits the same competitive profile as paid search engine ranking.  Broad industry terms are always the hardest to go after because they have entrenched major websites in the top spots with sometimes thousands of other websites giving them back links.  

With competition like this, a search engine optimization (SEO) campaign may not even realize trackable ROI for 8 – 12 months.  On the other side of the coin, organic search rankings for long-tail keywords can be more easily attainted with less cost and effort. Thorough planning and competitive research is absolutely necessary to pull off this type of campaign.  The most tantalizing aspect of a long-tail SEO campaign is that a website filled with a vast amount of quality articles helping its target audience can end up ranking for thousands of keyword variations that bring in significant traffic as a whole despite no one keyword phrase bringing in a large search volume.  Depending on the competitive level, tangible results in traffic may be realized from a long-tail SEO campaign within a month or two of publishing an article and doing the appropriate outreach.  However, at the end of the day, SEO is best viewed as a middle to long-term strategy.  If you need traffic today, it will not perform well under those conditions unless you already have a large content team and a well-established website in the eyes of Google.

Minimum Budget to Get Started: Low if do it yourself (DIY), otherwise moderate-high

Time to See Results: Months unless dealing in very low competition niches
Ability to Scale-Up Campaigns: Dependent on keyword search volume and ability to create content
Limiting Factor: Rate of publishing, current site authority, outreach methods

4. Organic Social Media Marketing

This type of social media marketing is probably more in line with what most people imagine. It basically amounts to posting on your profile, having conversations with friends and followers, and just generally being active on the network. The best organic social media marketing happens when you have a strong content marketing strategy behind it.  Your content might be blogs, videos, graphics, etc.  It’s very similar to what one might do for organic search engine marketing.  It boils down to having great, authoritative content on your own blog (ideally) or published on the social network itself.  The social network basically gives you an easy way to share your authority with your friends to build up good will and trust.  

People and organizations who create truly great content that matches what their audiences want can be rewarded with insane view rates if their material goes viral.  A good social media presence takes man-hours though.  Social media marketing campaigns that lack consistent quality content and engagement tend to fall on their faces.  Organic social media marketing is also limited by your initial friend or follower count.  For any new social media account, the number one objective is to grow your friend count so more people can see what you’re doing.  

Some people follow others who share the same interests for a potential follow-back.  Others may pay to promote their content and reach a larger audience than they can by their current follower count alone.  The great thing about social media marketing though is that once a high follower count is in place, it gives the company an extremely low-cost way to communicate quickly with vast numbers of individuals who already know, like, and trust them.

Minimum Budget to Get Started on Network: Low

Time to See Results: Minimal-Moderate
Ability to Scale-Up Campaigns: Quality of content, size of target audience
Limiting Factor: Ability to spend time interacting, ability to create great content

5. Email Marketing

This strategy is really a bonus tactic because it is hard to implement without one of those other strategies already being in place.  The key principle here is that whatever primary strategy you use to drive traffic to your website, your primary goal should be to get that person as either an email subscriber or a social follower.  I personally lean towards an email subscriber because he or she cannot be lost if, for example, my social media account gets deactivated for some reason.  Getting the person on your list is incredibly important because it allows you to continually communicate with that person.

Let’s look at an average ecommerce website converting 2% of its visitors into customers. While the site may be profitable, they are losing 98% of their traffic for no reason. Just because a person wasn’t ready to buy at an earlier time, doesn’t mean that he or she will forget about the website. If the ecommerce website instead implements a strategy for collecting emails it can greatly increase its profitability in the long run.  A few examples of good email address collection bribes include:

– Offering a coupon for a limited time
– Educational eBook or video that provides a solution to whatever pain they experience (mental, physical, or spiritual)
– Free tool
– Free trial
– Low-cost gadgets or accessories

Once the website is collecting email addresses, it now has the ability to alert its subscriber base of new content pieces, new products, new services, donation drives in a very easy and cost-effective manner.  A system like this has the potential to convert many more visitors into prospects or customers in the long-term than a website failing to collect this kind of information.  Illustrated with numbers, scenarios might look like this:

Scenario A: No Email Opt-In
100 visitors come to website.
2% buy a $50 product giving us 2 customers and $100 in revenue.
Depending on the nature of the product, the business may or may not have the opportunity to sell more units in the future.

Scenario B: Email Opt-In
100 visitors come to website.
2% buy a $50 product giving us 2 customers and $100 in revenue.
An email opt-in system in place can generate, for example, 30% opt-ins for a free give-away.  This gives us 30 visitors for follow-up marketing.  By staying in touch, this list may convert from 5% to 15% to buyers.  At the low end of 5%, it would equal 1.5 additional sales giving us another $75 in revenue (150% increase in revenue).  It may not seem impressive at these small numbers, but when scaled-up to numbers seen in healthy businesses, this seemingly small boost can add up to vast sums.

There are many ways to structure email opt-ins and this can bog people down as they struggle which route to go.  The most important thing to remember at the end of the day is to give people something of value and offer it in a clear and concise manner.  Some websites find pop-ups work better than sidebars and vice versa.  The right answer can only be found through split-testing, but one thing is for sure: if you give people what they want, opt-ins will follow. You can then worry about optimizing from there.

In this digital marketing strategy guide for nonprofits, we learned what separates paid social media marketing, paid search engine marketing, organic search engine marketing, and organic social media marketing from each other.  Each one has its own unique strengths and weaknesses.  Some can start working nearly instantly for you and others can take a bit of time.  They all offer great potential depending on where your organization is in its growth timeline.  This guide is just an introduction to each strategy and if you have questions on how to more deeply utilize and optimize a specific marketing channel for your organization, feel free to reach out and ask me.  There are numerous split-testing and tracking tactics that can be used in each channel to make sure you get the best results possible.



Frank Spohr, CEO of Clicked Studios, is dedicated to helping businesses and organizations grow using digital marketing strategies.  Notable achievements include starting a web design business at age 15 in the year 2000, forming St. Louis’s top Google ranked Clicked Studios in 2008, working with national brands like eBay.com to improve the home page data feed, Expressionery.com to increase its keyword and SEO-page footprint by 10,000 pages, and Midwest Recycling to dominate its region’s SEO rankings which helped fuel growth that lead to a multi-million dollar sale of the company.  In addition, Frank and Clicked Studios have helped small and medium size businesses implement digital strategies that bring in consistent traffic, quality leads and customers, and ultimately more revenue.  Frank is a life-time student of business strategy, sales psychology, search engine marketing, paid marketing channels, web design, conversion rate optimization, and data-driven analytics.





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