Like any other business, nonprofit organizations must develop and maintain an effective online presence to be successful. Surfing the web is the new national pastime and an unprecedented opportunity for nonprofits to gain support and build loyalty to the organization. Because the internet provides a multitude of opportunities for marketing and fundraising, it is critical to incorporate these ideas into the organization’s overall strategic plan from the start.
Thinking about internet strategy begins as early as choosing a name for the organization. The process of selecting the right name includes identifying and securing an appropriate domain name (web address) that coincides with the nonprofit’s name. If the name you like the best is already in use online, you should probably consider another name. The more closely the web address matches the organization name, the easier it is for others to find your nonprofit.
Before the organization’s website is developed and launched, it is essential to clarify the specific objectives for the site. Whether the intention is primarily fundraising, recruiting clients, or providing information to the public, the website should be designed with those ideas in mind. In all cases, there are tried and true methods for showcasing the nonprofit’s work to enhance the specific outcomes the organization is after.
Regardless of the targeted objectives, every nonprofit website should include a clear description of who you are, who you serve, and the mission of the organization. There should be a way to capture interested viewers — donors, clients, and volunteers — through an opt-in email list (at a minimum). Include useful information on the site as well. Relevant statistics, anecdotes, and details regarding your programs will grab a web surfer’s interest, and frequent updates to the site will keep them coming back.
Once your website is launched, the work has just begun. Search engine optimization (SEO) efforts should start immediately and continue through the life of the organization. This work should target both improving your standing under the right search terms and drive the right traffic to your site. SEO includes a variety of tasks, from behind-the-scenes work on web pages to article marketing to securing good backlinks. None of these efforts are particularly difficult, but SEO is an ongoing necessity, requiring consistent, quality work to ensure those who are looking can find your site.
Of course, the most recent necessity in online marketing for nonprofits is engaging in social networking. Facebook, Twitter, and smaller, specialized communities provide an opportunity to reach a captive audience and build your contact database. In addition to posting reasonably frequent updates about what is going on in the organization, relevant news, and the like, engaging in appropriate chats or forums can increase exposure. The better the content of your posts and comments, the more likely your contacts will forward on to everyone they know.
The stories you hear about “viral marketing” where a nonprofit gains national attention through the internet buzz can and do happen, but only if the right foundation is established. Your nonprofit’s online presence should be a priority from day one and continue to be a top priority through the life of the organization. With just a bit of effort and time committed to the organization’s online presence, your nonprofit can reap the benefits of the internet in your fundraising, volunteer recruitment, and programs.