10 ideas for charity marketing

  • by helga
  • 27/07/2014

Last month I participated in the Big Advice Day – Small Charity Week organised by the Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI).  It was a whole day speaking to charities about their marketing and branding challenges, a marathon of five+ hours providing advice and guidance to help them improve charity performance.

This post is a summary of the topics that came up during the day – I hope it’s of use to other third sector organisations and social enterprises when thinking about their own challenges.

1 – Consider rebranding your charity only if you cannot achieve what you want by branding a single campaign

Branding is a very common issue and mirrors the difficulty of differentiating your charity from others in the same sector. Sometimes the legacy of a name is not quite right; sometimes the logo is clearly dated or not consumer-focused; sometimes the website or corporate image are not distinctive enough or representative of what the charity stands for. Rebranding comes up as an option on a very regular basis, not only at charities but in most organisations where the existing brand is not properly embedded in the organisation’s ethos.

My word of warning is:  don’t rebrand just because you can. Your brand is a long-term commitment. It’s part of setting long-term goals for the organisation. Think of a 10 year plan at least before you rebrand. If there is no fundamental change in direction maybe you could create a campaign with specific objectives and define an identity for that campaign, as an alternative to reviewing the overarching brand? This is the best solution for about 90% of the cases where people ask me if they should rebrand.

If after considering your long term needs you still think you need a rebrand, make sure you a) have support from the main directors b) are able to lead a consultation with key stakeholders; and c) have the freedom to choose a creative option without being bound to a ‘decision by committee’. Rebranding can be a lengthy, costly process and at the very least you’ll need to avoid the mistakes that led you to the wrong brand in the first place.

2 – Your website not only tells your story but it also drives people where you want them to go

Most commercial brands see their website as a means to an end. Telling a story is great because people like stories, and if it’s a powerful story like in the case of most non-profits then it makes perfect sense to feature it prominently. However your website should support your objectives in a very clear and direct way as well, even if they’re not always as straightforward as with commercial brands.

Get a sheet of paper and list the 3 things you’d like to achieve in the next 6 months. Is it donations? Volunteers? Is it for people to contribute in kind, or participate in a campaign? Now look at your website and make a diagram of how your pages are supporting these objectives. There should be a call to action in each single page. What do you want people to do next after reading the content on that page? Calls to action need to be visible throughout the user journey and must always relate to the objectives you have set.

Websites tend to grow and become unwieldy, and if you don’t do this exercise often enough your main objectives will become buried in layers of content. Content should be there to inform, engage and nudge people onwards.

3 – If your website is not optimised for mobile you may be losing out on 25% of donations

A recent research by Google with over 2 million US charity donors showed that about 25% of charity donations were made on a mobile. That’s how much you may be losing if you thought mobile was not a priority. Similarly, in another survey, 25% of mobile users reported that they don’t even use a desktop or a laptop anymore.

There are two main options: tell your web developers to create a separate version for mobile users (usually with a simplified one-button menu at the top, and less content than the desktop site) or ask them to implement a ‘responsive design’ template. Responsive designs are great because they adapt seamlessly to whichever screen or browser window size. Responsive design would definitely be my recommendation because ‘mobile’ is a spectrum, not a dichotomy – we’re talking about users that can easily switch between smartphones, laptops and iPads on the same day, and to iWatches and other wearables in a near future.

Many websites are now optimised for mobiles and smaller screen sizes as a default, and not the other way around – I would argue that any non-b2b organisation should consider this option seriously.

4 – Organise your marketing efforts by grouping your activity into annual cycles

This may sound like common sense but a lot of charities are not doing it yet. The idea is to organise your efforts into campaign cycles that you can focus on at a time and repeat every year. For example, from August to November you can have a campaign targeting corporate donors and focusing on the usual charity donations for Christmas/ holiday season; from January to April focus on individual donor fundraising efforts through sports and other ‘challenges’; from May to July organise an ‘Awareness Day / Week / Month’ in schools or at the workplace. This will make it easier to plan your activity, focus on your objectives, write relevant content and engage with people through social media.

5 – Show the impact you’re having – here’s a simple framework for demonstrating social impact

In the same survey by Google, a charity’s impact is mentioned by 81% of people as the most important factor in their decision to donate.

Always add information about the impact of the projects/services you run and facilitate, both with hard data and statistics but also through real stories of people in the communities you serve.

A good starting point about evidencing social impact is the NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) report Standards of evidence for impact investing. The five levels of evidence are based on the standards from the Greater London Authority’s Project Oracle and are straightforward and helpful even if you’re not applying for NESTA funds.

6 – Try pay-per-click and Google Adwords but test conversions before spending more time

Pay-per-click is usually a very flexible way of buying targeted exposure for your charity because you can set small budgets and test. There are numerous platforms and solutions on a pay-per-click basis, from Google Adwords and Google Display Network to LinkedIn and Facebook. It usually works for higher value contacts, where the cost can be recouped through repeat donations or a longer customer lifecycle. The key is to start small and test conversion from the very beginning, understanding which percentage of clickers then go onto doing what you’d expect them to. Many times the problem is not on the ad/content itself but on the landing page (or a combination of both).

Just a quick word about the Adwords grant – yes, Google Adwords has a £6k monthly grant for non-profits, but this needs to be managed really well to spend the budget and keep the grant.

To start, write down at least 10 different types of audience and/or objectives and define a different campaign for each. Then each campaign should have lots of keywords and ad groups to deliver on all possible objectives (donations, volunteers, in-kind, support, training). Use Google Trends and Google Adwords keyword planner to understand what people are looking for in the first place. Your aim is to show in as many search queries as possible for a really wide range of queries connected to your charity and your areas of action, and for people to be clicking on your ads so that they spend the £6k budget. Your ads need to be really good and the content in your website needs to be optimised to ensure relevancy for the bid. All in all, it can be quite a specialist area – you’ll need several hours to set up and weekly campaign management to optimise the results. At a quick glance I don’t think there are many charities that can manage this! I’d be really interested to hear case studies of where it has worked, drop me a line if you know of any.

7 – Other tips and options for marketing your charity through social media

Try the usual suspects like Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and also Pinterest and Vine. Youtube has features for non-profits. There’s a great article on Moz talking about this and more and you can check Grow your Charity Online as well, the result from a Google/ Media Trust partnership.

Always post your content on Google Plus as well as Facebook and Twitter. Google Plus is not very important as a social platform in itself, but insofar as Google tries to flog us their products it’s great for search engine optimisation and creates the ‘social signals’ that make your content and your website more likely to come at the top of search queries on Google.

Have you written down a list of all your supporters and directors and try to find them on LinkedIn and Twitter? This may extend your reach when you put out stories and updates.

You can also use Google Alerts to set emails that alert you for when people mention your brand online. You can then engage with them directly on social media, or use their contribution to show how people are talking about you or the impact your charity is having.

8 – Measure, measure and measure more

For a quick and easy way of understanding which channels (social media, search engine optimisation, pay per click, email and so on) are delivering on your objectives try this: get 10 people who you would describe as your perfect donor/client/volunteer and ask which channels they’ve engaged with before picking your organisation. This is self-reporting and so it has its limitations, but it’s a start and it can help with focusing efforts.

In terms of digital channels, you can basically track each and every page on your website, and each and every link you put out on social media, online advertising or even email signatures. You need only Google Analytics in association with Google Analytics URL builder to do this. They are free tools with a somehow treacherous learning curve but the good news is that you don’t really need to use all the features to measure the effectiveness of your marketing. Sometimes link shortening services like bit.ly can also do the trick, especially if you’re not doing an end-to-end campaign. There are specific ‘social listening’ platforms to measure social media effectiveness as well, but bear in mind that the free tools available are often poor quality and focus on ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ signals that don’t always accurately reflect the reality of what people are posting.

9 – Consider social enterprise business models to grow your organisation

OK, here I need to disclose my passion for social enterprise models, and my belief that to a certain extent ALL enterprises should have a social underpinning (not just charities, non-profits or ‘social’ enterprises).

Social enterprises are organisations with a clear trade and expertise, but that rather than accumulating and distributing capital to shareholders invest at least 50% back into the community or return it to beneficiary groups. So for those charities out there with a good product or service, why not explore social enterprising business models?

There are plenty of ideas: buy one/give one free; differential pricing; subscription services and long term contracts with a charitable underpinning; or micro-franchise models to bring your brand and concept to local communities where it could benefit more people.

If you want inspiration, have a look at this report by Reconomy with 20 UK case studies.

10 – Keep your feet grounded on results but don’t forget to challenge your own assumptions and explore new ways of doing things

Charities are no different from other organisations in the need to demonstrate value. I leave you with suggestions for further input and learning:

Don’t forget to find the time to get out and see the bigger picture, and try to look at the same problems from different angles. How about this alternative MOOC on Creativity, innovation and change to inspire.

If you’d like to discuss any of these topics just drop me a line.

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