Inbound marketing for nonprofits: build influence in the digital age

Inbound marketing for nonprofits: build influence in the digital age

In an ideal world, NGO wouldn't have to compete with for-profit companies for our attention. They wouldn't need to waste precious resources by purchasing emailing lists or online media in order to promote their cause. In an ideal world, the right people would come to them, offering to lend their time or their money for a good cause.

It might sound too good to be true, but in this article we are going to argue that whilst the world will continue to remain far from ideal, NGOs can start attracting stakeholders without heavily investing in classical outbound marketing strategies like creating online ads, buying leads, purchasing emailing lists and sending direct marketing emails with a minute click-through rate.

However, before we dive deeper into how NGOs can accomplish such a remarkable feat, let's first get acquainted with the challenges they face and the resources they can use to overcome them.

In the outbound marketing paradigm, NGOs abide by the same rules as for-profit companies. In order to make their voice heard, non-profits need to invest in aggressive marketing tactics that reach a broad audience but resonate with few. Needless to say, NGOs are severely disadvantaged when it comes to budgeting if compared with large companies, and this is particularly true for the marketing budget.

For-profit companies can afford to test multiple solutions and afterwards move forward with those that perform well, but for non-profits this type of approach means wasting precious resources that could be used to serve the needy, in hope of accumulating more resources. However, hope is fragile, and outbound marketing offers few guarantees, other than sheer volume. Of course, NGOs can benefit from awareness campaigns, but they thrive on connection and engagement.

This brings us to our next point. The most powerful tool non-profits have in order to engage their audience is their message, not their budget. And Outbound marketing methods seldomly allow them to tell the whole story or build a lasting emotional connection. It's all about short interactions that either deliver or not. This type of solution is great if you want to sell a vacuum cleaner, but it won't help companies build a trusting community committed to supporting a cause. And this is precisely what NGOs need in order to have a lasting impact.

In short, outbound marketing strategies simply maximize a NGO's biggest weakness, its budget, and minimize its biggest strength, its powerful story. However, as we've previously stated, today, there is an alternative marketing strategy that can help non-profits build lasting relationships with stakeholders without intrusive marketing campaigns. We are, of course, referring to the inbound marketing methodology.

What is inbound Marketing

In 2006, HubSpot, a now popular CRM platform, presented the inbound marketing methodology, describing a new way to build relationships and generate conversions by creating content that naturally attracts the right audience. Inbound marketing strategies attract, connect, engage and inspire users by connecting all consumer interactions into a cohesive system. This system relies heavily on personalization and integration.

In order for brand content to command attention it should be personalized according to consumer interests, lifecycle stage and channel preferences. While creating content that responds to basic consumer questions is a great first step, as the relationship with stakeholders evolves, so should the message.

With inbound marketing strategies each interaction counts and is accounted for. Thanks to the CRM software, data is stored and transformed into actionable insights. Consumers have a personal profile that becomes more detailed with each opened email and each submitted form. This approach enables companies to pace their actions and successfully nurture leads through informative content.

There are many ways of adapting the inbound methodology to specific marketing challenges, but there's no denying that this more gradual approach to lead generation can enable non-profits to really highlight their message and mission.

Inbound Marketing for NGOs

If creating an inbound marketing strategy for your non-profit sounds like a complex process, you are spot on, it is. That's why we created these ten steps in order to help you create it.

1. Define your audience

If conducting massive surveys is way above your budget, consider creating fictional personas that embody the main characteristics that your current or potential community members share. Intuition can be misleading, so this persona should be defined using tangible facts and data obtained via interviews, forms, event-based research, publicly available databases or relevant market reports. If your website has been online for a while, also incorporate any insights from your analytics into your strategy. This step is crucial for identifying different audience segments and learning more about what content would best fit their needs and goals.

Your audience might change in time, so make sure to automate as many of these data collection processes as possible, in order to stay ahead.

2. Create a competitive SEO strategy:

Your SEO strategy is key to helping users find your content organically, and who doesn't need a helping hand from Google's algorithm? However, although it might be tempting to cram as many keywords as possible into each article or in every tag, it's best to start by defining what you believe to be relevant topics for your organization and only then identify relevant keywords that could be highlighted in order to make each piece of content more accessible. However, make sure you write for human readers not algorithms. Your goal is to create content that is true to your organization's values and also responds to your target audience's needs and Google searches.

Of course, Search Engine Optimization transcends content optimization and keyword optimization, but since our article revolves mostly around content creation and content strategy, we will not dive deeper into this topic. For more resources on how you can build a complex SEO strategy please check out our previous article here.

3. Create content and start connecting

Start publishing your carefully curated content on the channels your target audience is most comfortable with, be it social media, forums, websites and blogs. Your organization's blog can be a great source of information for users browsing the world wide web, so make sure the content uploaded here provides answers to the most common questions potential leads might have - What impact does your organization currently have? What are its long-term goals? What types of collaborations are you looking for? Why should people or companies donate their time and resources to your NGO?

It's also advisable to offer extra material in order to motivate users to learn more about your organization, while also enabling your organization to learn more about them. Use a simple sign-up form and provide added value through a relevant newsletter, case study, white-paper, webinar or e-book. Persuading users to continue learning about your NGO is no simple task so make sure you choose an appropriate CTA, that grabs their attention and highlights the benefits they stand to gain: Download our case study! Learn more about the importance of your CTA and how it can impact lead generation on our blog.

4. Nurture your leads

Inbound Marketing tactics enable NGOs to build automatic, yet personalized, communication flows that gradually build trust, instead of asking for donations right off the bat. At this stage, using a customer relationship management platform is essential. CRM platforms such as HubSpot allow organizations to create automated email series that adapt to user actions and interactions.

The key is to create content that adds real value to your subscribers' lives. If a person downloaded your e-book on the worldwide hunger crisis, your organization's subsequent communication should focus on other, perhaps less global aspects, such as the need for local food banks in cities or the impact of canteens that serve free food on struggling communities.  Last but not least, it's important to also let subscribers know what impact their work for your organization or their donation will have on the lives of others and on their own life.

Use analytics to learn more about your audience and further customize your content. When possible, your content strategy should include multiple formats: podcasts, long form articles, blog posts and useful templates, in order to adapt to your leads' content consumption habits. For instance, if a subscriber doesn't respond well to a long form article, try transforming it into a podcast he or she can listen to while driving.

5. Prepare for conversion

If your organization's email strategy is successful, then people will return to your website eager to make a donation or invest their time through volunteering. And it's important to be prepared. Make sure your landing page is designed for conversions. This means than when one of your prospects reaches the page, he or she should know in a matter of seconds what they should do and why they should do it. Optimizing for conversions is a complex topic, that we've covered extensively in a previous blog post, but it all boils down to providing a great user experience. Although there a couple of general guidelines that can help developers create a more effective landing page, testing different button placements or colors, different calls-to-action, different layouts and copy should always be part of the process.

6. Turn your donors into advocates

Creating lasting relationships through inbound marketing means that the first conversion is merely that, the first conversion, not the end of the road. There is no "mission accomplished moment". Quite the opposite. Nurturing a relationship with a donor is just as important as nurturing your organization's leads, or perhaps even more so.

A one-time donor can more easily become a recurring donor and even an advocate for your cause, helping you draw more attention. After all, a personal recommendation is still more powerful than any marketing campaign. By simply sharing content with their community, advocates help your nonprofit gain attention and trust in new groups. They can even start their own fundraising campaigns is they truly care about your cause.

There are several options available for improving retention. Your organization can reach out to them through surveys, custom content that showcases their impact, custom newsletters, educational content or by organizing networking events that can help them meet like-minded people.

Are you ready to implement an inbound marketing strategy for your NGO and grow your community? The Digital Entrepreneur team is here to support you throughout the process.