If Your Digital Strategy is Nonexistent…Join The Crowd

Posted: May 5, 2017

Digital StrategyEvery once in a while, amidst the articles, posts and reports I read daily, I’m genuinely surprised.   That happened recently, in quick succession, on the same topic: nonprofits and digital strategy.

A 101 Fundraising post (by Meg Gardner) highlighted a report that over 60% of nonprofits globally lack a digital strategy. In the Nonprofit Quarterly (by Jeanne Allen) she addressed a study of nonprofits in the United Kingdom, of which 50% have no digital strategy. Of course, the caveats: the figures are international and not solely U.S. based.

Still, what hit home to me was quantifying what I see anecdotally and recognizing the scale of this issue. If you’re feeling that your digital strategy is not as refined as it might be—or, essentially, that it’s nonexistent—now you know: you’re far from alone. Yet a look around the cyber world, and any physical setting where people are glued to their devices, and there’s no safety in numbers for the majority on this one.

Every nonprofit needs a digital strategy to make it long term.

Developing an Online Presence  

If you’re in catch-up mode—or if you want to revisit your digital strategy – where and how do you start?  Consider the elements of a digital strategy. It begins with your online presence as an organization.  Another article in Nonprofit Quarterly jogged my thinking on the power of social media (“Social Media Capital for Nonprofits: How to Accumulate It, Convert It, and Spend It”).

The focus is using social media strategically to target an audience you want to reach and define the role you want to fill for that audience. Naturally, your audience should include current donors. But what specific new audience might you attract to expand your donor profile? How can you craft social media output to draw in those individuals?  Note, it’s not about any output.

The complementary component of building social media capital is offering followers your services in a specific role. Expert recommendations include acting as a thought/opinion leader, go-to information source, or community builder of the like-minded who can connect through your organization. Determine which would be the best match for your mission.
Or, you may already fill one of those roles, or may want to reinvent your role. The goal is using social media to significantly enhance your effectiveness, and in the grand scheme, to build trust in and loyalty to your nonprofit. It’s those emotions that motivate people to respond to online giving appeals with actual gifts.

Planning for Digital Giving

Realistically, the ultimate purpose of a digital strategy is fundraising online, with its vast possibilities to engage far more individuals than a nonprofit can reach through other means. Developing that leg of a strategy can be tricky. Consider this quote:

“Building an excellent online [fundraising] program isn’t a science; it isn’t an art. It is alchemy.”

Yes, there is some magic to finding what works. Yet the quote is from the report, M+R Benchmarks 2016, which provides plenty of concrete guidance based on analysis of online fundraising of successful nonprofits. These numbers from the Benchmarks 2016 report offer a fairly clear to-do list for planning a digital strategy (information in italics is from the report; non-italics are mine):

  • Overall for nonprofits in the study, 13% of online donations were made from mobile devices—a case for having a mobile app giving capability;
  • For every 1,000 email subscribers, nonprofits have 355 Facebook fans, 132 Twitter followers and 19 Instagram followers—stats that confirm the rising importance of social media capital;
  • The average nonprofit in the study sent the average subscriber on its list 49 email messages (in 2015)—which requires planning a well-thought-out, ongoing email campaign of information, updates, news alerts and appeals;
  • Nonprofits received $44 in donations for every 1,000 fundraising emails—a reminder that volume matters;
  • Monthly giving accounted for 17% of all online revenue—an argument for promoting monthly giving as part of a digital strategy.

For the top 25 nonprofits in the study, those with the largest growth in total dollars raised online, these stats point to success tips:

  • 34% of online revenue tracked directly to an email appeal;
  • 27 fundraising appeals (on average) per subscriber per year.

If You Do or If You Don’t ….

If you take away one idea from this blog, make it the need to have a digital strategy. And, if you have one already, certainly congratulate your organization on being among the forward thinking.  Then give your strategy another look to be sure it’s as effective as it can be.

And if you lack a digital strategy, waste no time in developing one. You’re missing out on who knows how many donors and donations by being absent online.
M+R Benchmarks 2016 is available to download at