Preserving tradition in a digital world.
Despite all the changes to the media landscape in the last 20 years, the fundamentals of marketing haven’t changed much. You still need to get people’s attention, and hold it long enough to make a positive impression that leads to interaction. It’s still about creating opportunities to start a conversation. And it’s still not easy.
Service organizations, once the cornerstone of community life, face the additional challenge of a rapidly changing America. New attitudes, lifestyles, expectations, goals and rituals — All threaten to erode club traditions, membership, and community influence. Can effective marketing help turn this trend around?
- Digital Channels
- Website Framework
- Website Marketing
This presentation was originally produced for a workshop attended by members of a local community service group from Northern California. Some of the details may be specific to that industry, but the fundamental marketing principles will apply to any organization — nonprofit or otherwise — that seeks to improve their membership or sales using digital channels.
To be clear, it’s not our purpose to lecture you on marketing, or point out problems in your organization that you’re already aware of. The purpose of this article is to outline a simple digital framework — using websites, social media, and email — that you can use to increase awareness, generate interest, and provide a clear and easy-to-use path for supporters to connect and learn.
Volunteer civic organizations — once the backbone of community life in America — have been in significant decline over the past three decades. It’s not so much that the clubs have changed, but that America has changed. It’s imperative for service organizations to reinvent themselves for a new “digital” America.
Some topics to consider:
- Is the issue recruitment or retention
- Set higher expectations for members
- Is the weekly lunch format outdated
- Create less formal atmosphere
- Enable members to involve their families
- Offer more family-friendly events and environments
- Review arcane rituals and meeting formats
- Emerging generations want to have an impact now
- Emerging generations now define community by their affinities
- Poor use of marketing technologies
- Outdated club management platforms with poor user experience
- Outdated leadership policies
04 Digital Channels
There are dozens of digital marketing channels available to reach your audience, but none are more powerful — or give you more control — than your own business website. Whether it’s products, services, news, membership, politics, or education, if you’re conducting any type of sales today, your website is the zero moment of truth. That’s where it all starts.
The sole purpose of every marketing endeavor — paid advertising, social media, email marketing, whatever — is to drive people to your website and encourage them to interact with you. So, the first thing you need to get right is your organization’s primary website. There’s no sense in pushing potential members to an obsolete and irrelevant location that has no clear purpose or call to action.
A Facebook page is not a website.
A Facebook business page can help an organization engage their audience, grow their membership, and provide “social proof,” but it’s no substitute for a dedicated website. Remember:
- A Facebook page is a tool, not a business website.
- Facebook pages belong to Facebook, and they make the rules.
- Your website belongs to you.
- Facebook owns your audience, you don’t.
- Facebook is temporary, websites are permanent.
05 Website Framework
Website development has been called “the most hostile engineering environment imaginable.” That sounds scary, but it’s accurate. Websites are complicated — they have lots of moving parts. To build an effective online presence, you first need to recognize and define six elements of a website framework that work together to meet your business goals. These six elements will:
- Establish your position in the marketplace
- Help you find and engage qualified customers
- Make it easier for customers to do business with you
Note: If you already have a website — or are subject to certain organizational constraints or commitments — carefully review your site’s content and functionality to see what can be improved.
Why do you want a website?
Most organizations assume that they need a website because everybody else has one. That may be true, but if you want a successful online presence you really need to focus on your audience and business goals.
- What do you want it to do?
- How do you expect it to work?
- What are your business goals?
- How will your website help achieve these goals?
- Who are your members?
- Why would new members want to join your organization?
What kinds of content will you need to fulfill your purpose?
Explain your business and services in easy-to-understand terms. This sounds much simpler than it really is. Not only does your copy need to be unique, relevant, and authoritative — Google has to like it.
- What kind of content will you need to meet your business goals?
- Do you need a blog or news section?
- What type of media will you be hosting: Text, images, audio, video, documents?
What type of design will you need to hold your content?
The web is made of content, and design is what holds all that content in place. You not only want your website to look nice, you want it to be useful, usable, and easy to navigate.
- How will it be organized?
- What colors and typography would be most effective?
- How will visitors be able to interact with it?
What technology is required to serve and store your content?
A stunning design full of wonderful content won’t do you much good unless you have a way to deliver it quickly, reliably, and securely.
- Where are your members?
- Are they local or global?
- What privacy laws do you need to comply with?
- Who will manage your website?
- What kind of access will they need?
- What maintenance tasks will they need to perform on a regular basis?
How will you promote and advertise your website?
Okay. You built the perfect service organization website and filled it with original and authoritative content. Unfortunately, nobody knows about it. Nobody can find it. Nobody cares. Now what?
This is where marketing comes in. You’ll also need some sort of lead generation plan, an active social media presence, and some solid search engine optimization (SEO).
How will you manage and pay for your website?
You’ll never accomplish tasks 1–5 unless you’ve got the people, time, skills and money. If you build a website you can’t manage or promote, you haven’t solved a problem — You’ve created one. Launching a website isn’t the end of this process, it’s just the beginning.
06 Website Marketing
Does your website work? And if it does, how do you know? Whether you promote products, services, or memberships — online or off — your website is probably a prospect’s first interaction with your business. This means making sure that your website is relevant to your target audience, and that it’s highly visible in your market.
Unfortunately, the “If you build it, they will come” theory no longer applies in the modern business world — Least of all online. It’s no longer possible to build a website that magically attracts profitable customers (or worthwhile members).
As mentioned above, the primary purpose of your marketing strategy should be to drive people to your website and encourage them to interact with you. But before you invest in a multi-channel marketing plan, let’s explore your options first and figure out what’s best for your organization.
The dynamics of this ancient channel haven’t changed much. Networking is directly interacting with other people to exchange information and develop contacts — especially to achieve a certain business goal.
2. Digital Marketing
In simple terms, digital marketing (sometimes called online marketing) refers to advertising delivered through internet based channels such as websites, social media, forums, search engines, email, and mobile applications.
- Content marketing
- Lead generation
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business) (local search)
- Online ads
3. Social Media
Despite any personal feelings you may have, when it comes to marketing you have to use what’s available. And social media can be a highly effective marketing channel for nonprofit organizations. Not only can it be free, but it provides an avenue for groups to show their personalities and engage with their followers and supporters.
Currently, these are the most popular social media channels — but there are always new platforms being added to the list:
- Groups and forums
When it comes to the impact your social media marketing will have, I can’t overstate the importance of engagement. That means your posts must generate likes, shares, comments, and replies — Anything that indicates interest and interaction with followers. Just randomly posting items in your club’s Facebook feed isn’t enough. Your entire membership needs to get involved and actively participate in the online conversation.
4. Email Marketing
Email marketing is the act of sending a commercial message, typically to a large group of people, using email. In its broadest sense, every email sent to a potential or current customer could be considered email marketing.
And despite all the hype about TikTok, Facebook ads and YouTube videos, there’s still no better way to connect with your members and grow your organization than through email. Yet the vast majority of businesses aren’t using it effectively.
You might be using email sporadically to call for members or solicit support, but that’s not enough. Email marketing can be a very effective marketing tool, especially for nonprofit organizations. Why? Because when done properly, it’s personal, powerful, and can be highly automated.
Email is the best way to effectively share just about any organization news:
- Blog posts
- Mission and story
Own your audience.
On any other platform, whether it’s Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, or even Google search results, you don’t own your audience — they do. They control who sees your content and who doesn’t. And, when they decide to change their policies, strategies or algorithms, you could be toast.
With email, you own your list. When someone signs up and willingly gives you their email address, you get to keep it. You can contact customers and prospects directly using personal information they freely gave to you.
Plus, if you ever decide you don’t like your email marketing software, you can just download your list and move to a different platform. Your audience goes with you.
5. Traditional Advertising
This is good old-fashioned “outbound” marketing: Newspaper, radio, magazines, billboards, TV, banner ads. The downside, of course, is that you have to pay for it. And it can get painfully expensive in a hurry. Depending on the media, reach, and frequency, it can end up costing you a large chunk of change.
Contrary to popular belief, traditional advertising isn’t dead, it’s just been sleeping. With all the new privacy laws ond online tracking restrictions, I think traditional advertising may be poised for a comeback. There will always be a need for old-fashioned interruption marketing tactics:
- Direct mail
If you build a digital marketing system that you can’t sustain, you haven’t solved a problem; you’ve created one. So, before you tackle website management and social media, you need to have a clear picture of what long-term resources are available to achieve your marketing goals. This typically includes:
If you really want to leverage all the web has to offer, you need to connect all of these elements together to form a lead-generating business tool — Not just a website, but a marketing machine.
To accomplish that you need a carefully considered online marketing strategy that will inform how all of these elements should be integrated to best suit your business goals.
If you don’t currently have a marketing strategy — or the confidence to create one — a talented web designer can help you. The best designers can even point out flaws in your thinking, and help prevent expensive marketing mistakes.
Ultimately, this is what you want to accomplish:
- Build and maintain a better organization website that’s current, relevant, easy to find, and easy to use.
- Use social media, email, and other marketing channels to drive potential members to your website.
- Use lead generation tools on your website (forms, newsletter, calendar, blog, etc) to begin an exchange of information that builds trust, awareness, and engagement.
- Nurture these leads into relationships that can lead to long-term membership.
- Take care of your members.
To get your marketing program started, try to accomplish the following 10 tasks as soon as possible:
- Make a list of all online assets (websites, social media accounts, email accounts, applications, online storage, etc).
- Collect and verify all login credentials for all online assets.
- Appoint a website manager.
- Appoint a social media manager.
- Define a marketing budget.
- Define your marketing goals (retention and recruitment).
- Define your ideal member.
- Review and improve your website.
- Review and open social media accounts.
- Explain importance of social media engagement to membership.
Build something that does something.
If you build a service organization properly — and execute a well-conceived online marketing strategy — it will naturally develop an enviable reputation. Build your organization poorly, and all of your recruitment efforts will only spread the word that your club is no longer relevant.
To be clear, just about anybody can build you a website. You could even do it yourself. But building an online membership center instead of a sinkhole is a different enterprise entirely. In terms of website cost, $1,000 may get you an online brochure, $5,000 will get you closer to a business tool.