Digital Marketing Challenges And Opportunities For NPOs

Neil Henry / NPO Leave a Comment

Digital marketing is not the same process for all organizations. It needs to be customized, fluid and scalable as industry trends and customer demands dictate.

These are all great marketing buzzwords, but they hold true for one simple reason. For digital marketing to be successful, it must resonate with your unique audience. It doesn’t do that if it uses the same off-the-shelf strategies and tactics being applied by others.

In the world of charities and NPOs, this mindset is essential.

For an NPO, your approach to digital marketing has one unique selling point that provides a significant advantage. Your cause.

It establishes a natural connection with your target audience. Those people that deeply, passionately and emotionally care about what you are doing.

Selling your cause is not like selling anything else in the world, and it shouldn’t be marketed as such. In that regard, digital marketing is a great asset to any NPO in the world today.

However, the sector is extremely competitive. There are so many organizations vying for people’s donations and help. Budgets to spend on marketing are tight, and time and resources even tighter. This is why NPOs need to refine and personalize their digital marketing campaigns so that they don’t waste any such resources.

To do that they must pinpoint their core audience on the popular digital channels these people use, and emotionally connect with them in ways that get them to take action.

In a digitally-savvy society, these channels are your website, social media profiles, news and promotions. There must be a fluid approach to using these to project your message in ways your target audience wants to receive it – dynamic in delivery to establish your brand and cause in people’s minds.

Digital marketing can achieve this by driving growth, funding and prosperity in more engaging ways than traditional media. How? By offering two critical advantages over conventional methods: 1) better return on investment and 2) broader reach.

NPO Digital Marketing Example No.1

Water Is Life: First World Problems

  • A non-profit dedicated to bringing clean water to the world’s most impoverished populations.
  • Created an award-winning campaign in 2012 that to this day remains the most potent example of an organization hijacking a popular meme and entirely reinventing it.
  • Using the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems and powerful video to highlight the hardship for the poorest people in the world affected by water shortage.
  • Brilliant contextual psychology and digital marketing to touch on the triviality of “first world problems” in comparison to the real challenges faced by these people.
  • The viral nature of the video, #FirstWorldProblems hashtag and psychological thought provocation created considerable, positive brand awareness for Water is Life.
  • It resulted in over 7 million views on YouTube, more than 21 million Facebook views and global media coverage that continues to this day.
  • The campaign received enough donations to give one million days of clean water to those in need and won three awards at the Cannes Lions 2014 awards.

Target Market

Targeting those that genuinely care about your cause is the most critical challenge (and opportunity) for an NPO. The most successful organizations build web assets that target a set audience and develop campaigns that create an emotional response. They then distribute their values and message to vast databases of interested parties – would-be donors, volunteers, partner, and sponsors.

Every NPO needs to develop a digital marketing strategy that targets these audiences with timely insights to those that care, want to donate or help in other ways. In this regard, the charities and NPO sector has a major advantage over other industries. It is nowhere near as hard a sell an ’emotional connection’ with such a worthy cause. Done well, it sells itself if presented to the right people.

However, there is also a challenge that other industries do not see. You are asking for something for free – a donation, time, effort. That said – and this is the essence of exceptional NPO marketing – your cause, the impact of your message and the emotional response it inspires should override this.

Tapping into emotion is everything! Showcasing the good will of people around your cause, the impact any help brings, and the difference all this makes is essential.

It all starts with driving people to your online assets – a proud, credible, highly-respected website – where they can take further action. Here, digital marketing sets you apart from competitors, and offers several advantages over traditional marketing methods:

  1. Engages targeted potential donors
  2. Shares the company’s vision with those that care
  3. Builds awareness of the cause to a global audience
  4. Educates the general public and communities
  5. Reduces traditional media and marketing costs
  6. Nurtures relationships and partnerships with sponsors.

NPO Digital Marketing Example No.2

Best Friends Animal Society: Invisible Dogs

  • Since 1984 this society has been helping place dogs and cats that people consider “unadoptable” into caring homes.
  • Created a campaign called the ‘Invisible Dogs Campaign’ using powerful, user-generated content that was easy to create and share via mobile.
  • Using an app with facial recognition software people can take pictures of themselves and then find a dog match for you.
  • It has gone down a storm, encouraging users to share their photo matches on Twitter, Facebook, and the Best Friend’s generated Dog Wall.
  • By making all their digital assets easily searchable, with one voice, one brand, one hashtag to drive the cause, Best Friends Animal Society has seen significant growth.
  • A modern digital marketing approach has created a community feel for people to interact with the brand, write testimonials, share awareness of dogs needing homes and donate online.
  • They have inspired those passionate about animals in need of a loving home, to engage would be adopters and spread the word of animals in need of a home in a highly entertaining way.
  • To date it has resulted in over 2000 online donations.

NPO Digital Marketing Challenge

Where many charities and NPOs get it wrong with their marketing efforts is that they choose a generic approach and/or choose a generic marketing partner that doesn’t leverage the power of their cause as a unique and inspiring entity that has an extremely powerful message for a distinct audience.

As a result, their efforts fail to deliver positive results – be that brand awareness, sponsorship, help or donations. The very essence of choosing an off-the-shelf approach doesn’t talk specifically to the pain points and benefits people need to see, to take action. It is why we always advocate bespoke digital marketing for NPOs that centers on your cause to refined target audiences.

For NPOs, these refined audiences are 1) those who want to give – sponsors, partners, donors – and 2) those who want to help – volunteers, supporters, government aid.

By refining your audience focus and creating a unique digital strategy to cater for them specifically, you also solve another problem with the generic approach as is blandly done by others.

You constantly – and consistently – need to promote your brand because there are many, many charities and NPOs, all of which have very worthy causes, and they are all trying to pull on the heart strings of people that have money or time to give. By using a unique approach – focused on a refined audience and your USP – you stand out from the crowd.

Charities and NPOs typically don’t always have the same in-house budgets for digital marketing as similar sized organisations in other industries, and blindly choosing direct advertising is not an effective strategy (as the biggest players in the NPO sector have the mega-budgets to always come out on top).

As such, non-profits need to be ultra-savvy in their digital marketing strategies, using tactics and channels of marketing that don’t cost the earth but offer sustainable ROI. i.e. ‘What will deliver the best use of our budget and resources when we have little to play with, but such a powerful cause to promote.’

NPO Digital Marketing Example No.3

ALS: Ice Bucket Challenge

  • Involved pouring a bucket of ice and water over a person’s head to promote awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS,  Motor Neurone Disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease).
  • Arguably the most successful and well known awareness campaign of the past decade.
  • Resulted in 17 million videos of many celebrities and other high profile people such as Stephen Curry, Bill Gates and even Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed with the disease in 1963.
  • Public awareness was huge and saw rapid growth in a very short space of time, with 1.2 million videos shared on Facebook and 2.2 million shared on Twitter from June to mid August 2014.
  • By encouraging donations to research, the campaign saw contributions double to $40 million in less than 2 months, coming from 739,000 new donors.
  • Distribution of funds raised by percentage were, 67% to research, 20% to patient and community services, 9% to public and professional education, 2% to additional fundraising, and 2% to external processing fees.

The Power Of Emotion

Creative Mindscape has a proud history of working with non-profits across the globe. We are proud of such associations because they bring a sense of purpose and balance to what we do that other industries cannot replicate.

It is a privilege to work for empowering causes and in doing so we have seen how a tailored approach to digital marketing elevates the awareness and appeal of each NPO we work with.

NPO marketing is a unique challenge and an incredibly exciting opportunity as the core message and values of each organization’s cause are very different.

It is our mission to help those in the sector build the right approach to digital marketing. One that at its core reaches out to your primary audience through digital channels that encourage them to donate, help, share or contribute to your vision in a positive way.

NPO Digital Marketing Example No.4

The National Trust: 50 Things To Do Before You’re 11¾

  • The biggest conservation organisation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, protects and maintains places of historic interest or natural beauty.
  • Had a goal to attract more families with children to its parks, so the National Trust created a series of videos around the theme ’50 things to do before you’re 11¾’.
  • Created a kid’s council – a panel of 10 children recruited by the National Trust to advise on how to get more of Britain’s children outdoors.
  • They presented a series of how-to videos on topical subjects such as cooking on a campfire and taking long bike rides, making the parks fun to explore.
  • By creating personable action points for children, it has created massive stimulus for their target audience to take action, try new things and embrace the parks in ways that are fun.

Final Thoughts

Digital marketing as an NPO working to gain awareness and support for a cause is much harder than it is for a business providing a tangible product or service in any other industry.

Making digital marketing the pivot point of your entire sales and marketing pipeline is a smart move because it allows you to reach exponentially more people, in ways they want to be reached.

It does so much more cost effectively than any traditional lead generation or marketing methods. In so doing you create a significant USP to deliver brilliant cause marketing, grow consumer fundraising and establish deeper program sponsorship.

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COO and co-founder of Creative Mindscape. Lover of marketing, psychology, tech and all things sport. Family man with a passion for living life outside the rat race and chasing your own dreams.