As 2021 ends, nonprofit organizations (NPOs) find themselves facing challenges new and old. On the one hand, as more and more NPOs emerge, it becomes harder to gather substantial visibility among one’s peers. In turn, many emerging NPOs fail to truly realize their potential, in part because inexperience leads to understandable oversights. However, at the same time, younger, tech-savvy, socially conscious audiences do rally behind causes at much higher rates than before. Indeed, GivingUSA reports that 2020 saw an increase in total charity giving, despite the pandemic’s hardships. Given that fact alone, a successful nonprofit engagement strategy may make the difference between success and failure.
 
How to Kickstart Your Nonprofit Engagement Strategy
 
Initially, we should note that a nonprofit engagement strategy is, in essence, a marketing strategy. It does differ fundamentally in purpose and tone, and one may argue it differs on ethical grounds as well. Nonetheless, engaging audiences of any kind and for any reason requires a marketing approach. This article approaches it on those terms and will have hopefully explained this stance by the end.
 
1. Segment Your Audiences
 
The very first element of any engagement strategy is personalization. Whether it’s fueling a customer journey or driving volunteer work and donations, it must speak to its intended audience. The only way to do so effectively comes with audience segmentation.

Audience segmentation holds a simple truth at heart; that different audience segments respond differently. Thus, it requires that NPOs accurately identify their primary audiences, through such means as:
  • Demographic segmentation; what are your audience segments’ age, gender, race, education, and so forth? Do such identifiers factor into donors’ and supporters’ engagement history?

  • Psychographic segmentation; what values and interests do your audiences hold? What leads them to engage with you?

  • Behavioral segmentation; what do your existing donors’ and supporters’ behavioral patterns say? How many of them engage, support, or donate frequently? How many among them are at risk of lapsing or have lapsed?
In much the same way as for-profit organizations or businesses would use these insights to create buyer personas, NPOs can use them to craft supporter and donor personas. The ultimate purpose does differ, but both ultimately intend to optimize outreach and secure engagement through personalization.
 
2. Optimize Your Website To Support Storytelling
 
The next step toward kickstarting your nonprofit engagement strategy can come through storytelling. Visual storytelling has long fueled creative ways to raise money for NPOs and comes in a wide range of forms, such as:
  • Beneficiary stories
  • Impact pages
  • Campaign and donation pages
Of course, social media offers tremendous opportunities for visual storytelling themselves, as I will delve into below. But even in that case, the majority of your engagement strategies will still ultimately lead to your website. Thus, you may begin to proactively optimize your website through such means as:
  • Technical health. First, examine your website’s technical health; security, XML sitemaps, robots.txt, and more. Doing so will help earn your audiences’ trust, as well as allow your website to rank higher in search engines.

  • Ease of navigation. Once audiences find you, easy navigation across your content will help acquire and retain their engagement. Not all audiences come determined to rally behind your cause, so easily accessible content will matter for them.

  • Transparency. Finally, while NPOs do enjoy more general trust by audiences, transparency is always invaluable. Examine how your website’s existing content serves to clearly define your operations and impact, and create more if need be.
3. Leverage User Generated Content (UGC)
 
For that matter, you may very effectively leverage the creativity of your users to benefit your nonprofit engagement strategy. UGC offers immense value for NPO strategies or otherwise, for a plethora of reasons. The most noteworthy among them include:
 
  • Authenticity. First and foremost, UGC is created by users who don’t belong to your organization or represent it. It follows that other users will perceive it as authentic, genuine, and honest. In effect, UGC serves as social proof, as it often carries the testimonies and stories of your most engaged supporters.

  • Polyphony. Similarly, UGC offers polyphony; different authors offer different perspectives and deliver them in different tones. This does not simply amplify your message, nor does it just reveal different approaches you may adopt yourself. Most importantly, it showcases your cause’s and operations’ real-world impact through organic polyphony.

  • Investment. Finally, UGC contributors will, in many cases, become loyal advocates and staunch supporters. This is in no small part because of their emotional investment, as they see their content incite engagement. Naturally, cause advocates are immensely productive as regards engagement.
UGC does come with a practical downside, however, in that it may require careful monitoring to ensure quality. Many contributors may not follow your guidelines to the letter or match your expectations. You will thus need to invest some effort in this regard, but the benefits will justify it.
 
4. Engagement in Social Media
 
Having mentioned social media before, social media may offer one of the most effective ways to kickstart your nonprofit engagement strategy. Still, despite the benefits of a robust social media presence, many new NPOs make the mistake of approaching them carelessly. What’s more, many such mistakes remain unaddressed throughout the organization’s lifespan.
 
Hubspot’s data on this subject explains this assertion very well, noting that:
  • 38% of nonprofits spend between 1-2 hours a week on social media
  • 44% of nonprofits have only one person monitoring their social media
  • 53% of nonprofits are not measuring their social media
  • 81% of nonprofits are not tracking the social media accounts of donors and volunteers in their database
  • 67% of nonprofits have no social media strategy, policies or goals documented
All of these findings reveal room for improvement, if not outright oversights. To effectively engage in social media, you will need to invest effort and time, before and after:
  • Carefully pick your platforms. 98% of all NGOs are on Facebook, but other platforms remain in flux. Carefully examine your audience analytics to identify which platforms they prefer.

  • Spend time on them. Automation tools and other solutions may make social media activity easier, but it still requires effort. For reference, Statista found that, in 2017, almost half of all small US businesses spent between 3 to 10 hours a week on social media marketing.

  • Clearly define your goals. Time spent with no clear goal in mind is rarely time spent well. As with all marketing and outreach endeavors, remember to clearly define your goals from the start.

  • Monitor your campaigns. With clear goals in mind, it will be much easier to consistently monitor your campaigns. Doing so will allow you to make swift adjustments as needed to ensure maximum efficiency.

  • Engage meaningfully. Finally, remember that social media audiences are actively looking for engagement. Respond to their comments, answer their questions, and inspire them.
5. Leverage Influencer Marketing
 
On the subject of social media, influencer marketing undoubtedly deserves your attention. Should you find an influencer that is a good match to your cause, they will typically work wonders for engagement. The reasons for influencer marketing’s continued prominence are many, but the primary ones are:
  • Authenticity. Influencers are typically regular people who share their lifestyle and interests, not marketers with ulterior motives. Audiences thus perceive them as authentic and value their endorsements as a type of social proof.

  • Engagement. Similarly, influencers engage with audiences more directly and on more personal levels. They offer a level of human connection and communication that few others do.

  • Visual focus. Finally, influencers are typically highly visual in their content. As highlighted above, visual storytelling spearheads outreach and engagement much better than traditional means.
However, influencer marketing requires due diligence as well. As you pick your influencers, remember such factors as:
  • Niche. Not every niche will serve to promote your cause equally effectively. In some cases, they may even be distinctly incompatible with your cause.

  • Size. Similarly, their audience size bears significance. A larger audience may, by all means, offer more opportunity for engagement, but it also entails a higher price tag.

  • Engagement rates. What’s more, audience sizes don’t matter as much as engagement rates do. In fact, smaller audiences will often be more engaged and easier to connect with. This is why many smaller for-profits and NPOs alike opt for smaller influencers; not due to budget concerns but due to actual engagement.
Conclusion
 
To conclude, whether you’re crowdfunding or peer-to-peer fundraising, ways to kickstart your nonprofit engagement strategy abound. Segmenting your audiences will ensure outreach personalization, and optimizing your website will help leverage your content. Then, UGC will bolster your NPO’s image as an authentic, transparent entity and help foster trust. Finally, social media campaigns and influencer marketing alike will allow you to attract and engage with vast audiences, effectively rallying them to your cause.