Check-Up Clinic: Marketing & Communications

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How Nonprofits Can Adapt Marketing and Communications During Turbulent Times

by Leeann Alameda

Between the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the recent civil unrest and protests over police brutality and racial injustice, nonprofits face a whole new array of challenges — and opportunities — when it comes to their communications, as well as a new set of rules for what works and what doesn’t. During this disruptive time, it’s critical for nonprofits to be sensitive to the current situation, to be agile and to be able to pivot while remaining grounded in their core values and mission.

What should nonprofits be doing to adapt their marketing and outreach efforts in this new landscape to be effective? Here are some key components to consider.

Get Clear on Your Goals

Clarifying our goals makes us purposeful. Make sure you have an expressed desired outcome for each outreach, whether it’s to grow your mailing list, procure donations, invite feedback, raise awareness, show thought leadership or ask for volunteer help. Try to keep your calls-to-action simple and singular — asking for one type of response at a time. With everything people have on their minds right now, you’ll get better results with easy, clear requests.

Be Empathetic in Your Message

More now than ever, people are responding to empathy in messaging and outreach from companies and nonprofits. Now is not the time for your organization to be the hero of its story; it’s time to focus on your beneficiaries and supporters and what they’re going through. Share how you are making changes: What is your plan of action as things open up? How will you keep your staff, beneficiaries and volunteers safe? How can people get involved to help? What resources can you share?

Demonstrate Thought Leadership

People are going to be watching how you manage crises during these challenging times, how you adapt and how you stay relevant. Consider how you’re contributing to the larger conversation of how to prepare for the new normal or address larger issues. If you haven’t had a content marketing plan before, consider putting one in place.

Have leadership write blogs, send more in-depth emails or have a webinar that discusses relevant topics, and find ways to highlight how your organization is taking action to continue to have an impact. Some organizations can be hesitant to speak out when something is viewed as more political. However, if you use your values and mission as a guide to craft your response, it will be authentic and sincere.

Grow Your Business Partnerships

Businesses and corporations are also looking for ways to express more empathy, including aligning with nonprofits that are doing good in the community. Take a look at business partners, sponsors or corporations you’ve wanted to target to see if they’d be interested in doing either a deeper engagement with you or to create a new relationship. Develop a pitch that communicates what the benefits are for them in partnering with you, how it aligns with their business culture and values, and what the positive impact this could have.

Look for Partners to Amplify Your Message

Now that traditional fundraising events are on hold and it’s harder to do face-to-face outreach and fundraising, it’s a good time to review your list of supporters and partners and connect with members of your board to see how they could help get your message out. Ask your key supporters and volunteers to do a social media post, share a story, invite people to like your social media pages or send an email to their network to raise awareness of the work you’re doing.

Go Back to the Archives for Content

Admittedly, creating new content is more difficult at a time when teams have dispersed and some direct service organizations have had to put their interactions on hold. How do you find those stories, photos, updates to share? Answer: Pull out the archive materials. Review past success stories, videos and annual reports for content. Find popular stories from the past that you haven’t promoted recently, but are still great examples of your mission.

Utilize All Your Channels and Measure Outcomes

If you have been inconsistent with your email list, now is the time to get it back up and running. If social media has been an afterthought, become more intentional with it. Look for the right mix of posts to add value to your followers. Make sure your website is up to date, including timely COVID-19 information, and that there is an easy and clear way for people to sign up for updates. If you have the budget and have not used Facebook advertising, now could be a good time to do so at a lower cost as Facebook is lowering its ad rates. With people spending more time online, using these channels will help maintain top-of-mind awareness. Given this is new territory for all of us, measure your tactics’ results and adjust accordingly so that you are putting resources toward the right approaches.

Staying relevant and effective with your communications will be at times challenging, especially as the situation changes and evolves. However, if you are purposeful and intentional in your approach, and your efforts are guided by your values and mission, you can stay ahead of the curve while continuing to build rapport and developing relationships with your supporters.

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