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  • Writer's pictureJordan Whitefield

How to Market a Non-Profit in a Digital World

Updated: Jan 27, 2023

Laura Preece is a digital acquisition manager for blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan. Based in Devon, Laura has had a fantastic journey of exploration, both personally and professionally. Having traversed several sectors, Laura has found her niche working in the world of charity, contributing to a cause she truly believes in.

Communication is paramount when persuading your audience to get involved, sign up or show some interest. So how can you, and specifically non profit organisations, use digital marketing to make the most of the online opportunities available? There’s no doubt that your message is important, but how can you make sure it’s heard?

Laura shares her expertise on how to be successful in your pursuit...

Who are you and what’s your story?

Oooh deep. I’m someone who is very passionate about digital marketing within the charity sector but I left uni not knowing what I wanted to do. I started off recruiting students for an education company, then helped with some events-based marketing. I worked for an affiliate network as an account manager in Newcastle where I studied but it was very stressful and in the end it didn’t quite agree with me!

Laura at home by the seaside

I took some time out to go travelling which opened my eyes to other opportunities in life, and the fantastic challenges that being immersed in new cultures can bring. New ways of being, seeing and meeting new people. I really grew as a person as I had to solve problems for myself. After I came home I dabbled in a few other roles and my interest in marketing grew. No wonder, as it’s such a fun sector to be in!

After working within the corporate sector for several years I realised I wanted to work for something more meaningful, so I started working in the charity sector. It’s so much more rewarding working for a real cause you believe in.

Digital marketing is a broad term these days. What is your role within the industry?

My role is advising charities on how they can make the most out of every single penny online. With charities there are limited budgets and there’s more onus on demonstrating a good ROI.

I see myself as someone who brings an array of skills and experience from across digital marketing and sectors and I want to share my knowledge with people. Generally in the charity sector people are much more open about how to do things and sharing their knowledge and experience which I love.

You work for a charity and have had many years of experience in the third sector. What draws you to that sector in particular?

I’ve always felt that I’ve wanted to give back and do something for the wider community, however I can. It’s good to do good things. When I was a kid I volunteered at a local wildlife charity, and during the pandemic I made food for local elderly people who couldn’t get out and about. I don’t know, I can’t quite explain it… there’s something intrinsic in us as human beings that we want and need to contribute to something bigger than ourselves.

How do you measure success?

You can look at it in different ways. You can look at it in terms of targets, but also KPIs like page views/conversions etc. That’s the very obvious transparent one which is very important. But you can look at success in other ways. It’s not all about work and hitting targets. It’s about being happy. I hate this mentality that to be successful you’ve got to climb the ladder and have loads of money, have a big life plan etc. I haven’t and in the past it has got to me, there’s societal pressure to do those things. But I’ve learned to be happy with who I am and where I am. If you can go to bed pleased with what you’ve achieved that day, the person you've been, the people you've supported, making whatever difference you can to the world, that’s what really defines success to me.

A triumphant power ranger was an obvious choice at this juncture.

Do you feel that organisations need to focus on their digital marketing more than ever as we become an ever-virtual society?

Yeah definitely. 100%. Even prior to the pandemic a lot of sectors were under-utilising digital, including the charity sector. What’s been interesting about the pandemic is that it’s forced companies to embrace digital and look at it as an integral part of their business. Instead of saying ‘oh and where’s the digital marketing plan?’ as an afterthought. But actually digital marketing is an intrinsic part of a wider marketing strategy and it’s just going to grow. The capability of it has been tested and proven over the last eight months, and it’s shown people that they don’t always need brick and mortar stores, as people will move online if they have to, or they will donate online, if they need to. We’re just at the start of this. What will be interesting to see after the pandemic is what lessons companies and charities will have learned from this period that they can apply to future strategies.

What learnings would you apply to future strategies?

You’ve got to be reactive, flexible and adaptable. Even though you might have a strategy you wrote a year ago, on this occasion you’ve got to start again. You’ve got to be quick to change, especially in the charity sector. If you’re not then you’ll be behind the curve and miss out on opportunities. For example, Anthony Nolan developed The Big Virtual Quiz in just two weeks in response to COVID-19, and because we were so quick off the mark, and had great support from our Studio team, we were able to launch before a lot of other charities! Also, the volume of enquiries and the average raised per head was significantly higher than anticipated. If you have the right motivation and mindset then digital can be a brilliant tool for bringing things to market really quickly. It’s also cheaper than other channels and it lends itself to testing and optimising. Also failing. And things do fail but if you’re only paying out on a CPA (cost per acquisition) basis on a Facebook campaign then that’s not such a massive worry.

It gives people permission to try news things where previously they might have been scared of risk and change. There’s a real opportunity now to be more creative, test and learn.

Anthony Nolan Big Virtual Quiz graphic:

What’s the most effective method of digital marketing for non-profit organisations?

It completely depends on the size of the organisation, the type of organisation and what their main goals are. Broadly speaking, paid Facebook has taken off. It’s one of our main recruitment channels for new supporters now. It’s risk free as you’re only paying per conversion and you can learn so much from making slight variations to ad copy, CTAs (call to actions) or images. People aren’t going out right now and are spending more time on social media, particularly Facebook. This represents a fantastic opportunity for charities to invest more into this channel, at a time when many of us are second screening (aka watching TV/Netflix and looking at our phones), especially in the evenings.

Why is Facebook still so successful for fundraising?

Facebook still has such a big reach across lots of demographics. There are lots of different ages on there, and Facebook is often the first social media platform a lot of people signed up for. On other platforms such as TikTok there are younger audiences, and Twitter has a different demographic also.

Charities heart Facebook.

The world of digital marketing often seems to overload us with information as consumers. What are your top tops for standing out from the crowd?

First and foremost with any marketing strategy - digital or not, you need be clear about who you are, what you do and what you’re aiming for. At Anthony Nolan we’re very single minded with our branding - the messaging, imagery and call to actions that we have on key pages of our website are crucial. The message is usually to get people to register or donate.

Having a distinct tone of voice and brand is so important. Anthony Nolan has done it really well - it’s a young fun charity that is reflected in imagery and tone of voice. Although you do need to be conscious of your different audiences and be ready to flex your tone of voice when dealing with sensitive topics and/or more serious subject matter, such as patients and families and scientists/researchers in the case of Anthony Nolan'.

You need facts and figures to back up what you say. If you don’t, people won’t donate and will skim read it.

Target a market rather than appeal to everyone, and target them in the right place, at the right time, with the right message. You need to demonstrate that there’s a real need for what you’re asking for and that it’s going to make a real impact.

Be transparent, genuine and honest. Without that you haven’t got anything.

Thanks to Laura for sharing her journey and wisdom. If you'd like to chat about your marketing copy or discuss fundraising ideas, drop me a line! I have years of experience coordinating fundraising campaigns for nationwide charities, so you'll be in safe hands...

Email me here.

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