There is no magic wand! There are no easy solutions. Little remains constant. With that said, I learned two lesson for low cost or no-cost marketing for nonprofits. Along with these there are a few other tried and true ways to market a nonprofit on a shoestring. Here’s what’s we’ve done right and what we’ve done wrong over the past 12 years.
The Right and Wrong Ways for Low Cost Marketing a Nonprofit
When I first explored starting a nonprofit in 2009 I was totally naive. I had absolutely no idea how to market online… well, not much idea about marketing in general.
Prior to launching our nonprofit I was an independent management consultant with clients pretty much handed to me on a platter. My specialty was building highly productive teams. How I got from there to here is totally another story!
My husband and I started Nikela in the spring of 2010. At a networking function for my ‘day job’ I met a fast talking marketer, named Mike, I decided to get him involved in our non profit start up.
Within weeks we had 3,000 followers on this new-to-me social media platform called Twitter. Wow! We were excited. He spoke of growing our followers in leaps and bounds and getting Nikela’s name out there. But wait! Our follower numbers kept increasing, but! The donations didn’t start pouring in! Followers were supposed to translate to donations. But they didn’t. Why not?
Lesson #1: Know what the Social Media Numbers Really Mean
A few months later, after we’d disengaged from Mike, a digital marketing student volunteered to help. He offered to use our situation as a case study. He wanted to understand Twitter and its use for our fledgling NGO.
He waded through the 3,000 plus followers. He identified each one. At the end of his analysis he concluded that our followers were entirely random folk. they had no connection to our cause. Some followers where even trophy hunters, a practice we in principle don’t agree with.
Take away: We learned that it’s not about how many followers we had, but that we had the right followers… the ones who cared about our cause.
Lesson #2: Know who really jumps on your Lead Magnet
Fast forward about five years. We’re introduced to a group that handles Google Ads for nonprofits. They talk a great line. They’ll spend the allotted $10,000 Google Grant moneys to grow our email list in leaps and bounds. It sounds marvelous! After all, we know by now that every time we send out an email to our list we get donations.
Well, they spend the Google Ads monies. Our email does grow, but nothing like projected. However, that’s not even the real problem. What happened? The lead magnet they recommended we generate and use to attract website visitors to sign up for our newsletter, “Five Top Ways to Save African Wildlife” backfired! It mainly attracted students. And not only that, they were primarily students from India.
Take away: We learned that the lead magnet must appeal to a clearly defined target audience. Growing a list of students with no interest, or means, to donate is a waste of effort.
A few other tidbits I’ve learned over the years of running Nikela
ONE: The Google Ad Grant. For us it helps drive our YouTube views at no cost to us. With that said, its the strategically crafted videos that work. For example: Despite going viral, three fascinating wildlife behavior videos gained us tons of views, but no direct donations. It’s also important to remember that to use the Grand the targeted videos must be hosted on your website.
TWO: Be consistent. For us it’s been creating and sticking to a rhythm with two things. YouTube videos and blog posts. Both pay off organically bringing in new donors and new email sign ups. I have not been consistent on posting to Facebook page or other social media like Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. Better said, I have not been consistent in interacting with people on these platforms. Interaction is key. Engaging people is key, which is hard for a couple of old introverts like my husband and I. Old meaning our age… we grew up and spent most of our careers pre social media.
Take away: Get young people involved.
THREE: Follow the crowd … mostly. It’s not easy to keep up with the latest trends. After all there is so much that needs attention when running a nonprofit pretty much on your own. However, don’t be afraid to simply do it your way too. We’ve found that our donors are people more like us… they don’t need recognition they simply like to feel part of the solution. They want to know you the founder/leader of the nonprofit. They want to relate to your story.
Writing a story that captures hearts is very popular right now. However, be sure you’re authentic. Be real. You don’t have to be fancy. At first I felt embarrassed to turn the video camera on myself. However, I’m old, and that’s reality, and so be it.
Unless your bi-laws are restrictive, have fun, follow your passion, put your heart and soul into your cause and you will do some good for those you’ve chosen to serve. Our 12 year ride has been a blast. However, it’s also important to know when to call it quits … before you wear yourself out, or get disheartened or calloused by the hard knocks.