With less than three months until the start of the new year, now is the time to start planning ahead. The world of marketing, particularly digital marketing, is always changing. As you build the budget and promotional strategy for your nonprofit organization, you need to plan as much as you can.
That’s easier said than done, especially in an environment as volatile as this. As with so many other industries, COVID-19 has turned the nonprofit sector on its head. That adds to the already rapid change of pace in online marketing to make predicting this coming year more challenging and complex than ever.
We’ll give it our best anyway. Below are our top 10 trends and predictions for nonprofit marketing in 2021, all based on both external research and our own experience in the field. Let’s dive in.
1. COVID-19 Turns the Nonprofit Sector Virtual
Despite an economic crisis that so far shows little signs of full recovery, COVID-19 has actually increased charitable giving in America. The intent and execution behind those gifts, though, is changing:
- Giving is more closely connected to COVID-19 related efforts, as well as efforts to help those in need with health and personal care.
- Men and married couples have especially increased their share of donations, opening up new audience opportunities.
- Volunteering has become impossible or difficult in many cases, turning more efforts into financial contributions than previously.
That last point, especially, is significant. The lack of in-person volunteering and event networking opportunities has made the virtual aspect of nonprofit marketing more important than ever. In 2021, that virtual component will become an essential part of any marketing strategy.
That means building virtual tours that immerse your audience into your physical spaces. Virtual events and meet-and-greets take center stage, as does a comprehensive digital communication plan to reach and engage your audience behind a screen.
2. Gen Z Enters the Nonprofit World
Charitable giving increases are also driven by a new generation entering the audience mix. Generation Z is growing up and ready to contribute to society.
Gen Z refers to the generation born in 1996 and later, meaning its oldest members will turn 25 next year. That, of course, is the prime age to become regular donors for charitable contributions to their organization of choice.
Another factor: most social scientists believe Gen Z to be the most socially conscious generation yet. If they believe in you, they’ll become loyal members and contributors.
Are you ready for this generation to make a tangible difference in your audience mix next year? You’ll need content that’s accessible to them, including short and succinct statements of value and worth. This is the time to make sure your channels and messages are prepared for Gen Z.
3. The Digital Advertising Mix is Changing
Speaking of Gen Z: with new audiences come new marketing channels that are important to leverage. Yes, your website remains your centerpiece online, and Facebook is as relevant as it’s ever been. But what about going beyond those channels?
Consider the new channels available to you:
- Instagram, which (after it broke 1 billion active users this year) is no longer just a niche channel.
- TikTok, whose rapid growth saw it break 100 million active users in the U.S. this past August.
- SMS marketing, with 75% of consumers now saying they are comfortable receiving texts from brands.
And those new channels don’t even consider the significant shifts and updates in the major channels like Facebook and Google. Put it all together, and it’s clear that as we move into 2021, nonprofits need to take a close look at their channel mix and make tweaks that continue optimizing their budgets and efforts for their environment.
4. Audience Segmentation Takes Center Stage in Email Appeals
You know about email as one of the core ways to communicate with your audience online. But email marketing for nonprofits is rapidly changing, and we predict that 2021 will be the tipping point for separating the good from the bad in the nonprofit world.
The driving factor: audience segmentation. Simply sending push emails to your entire database no longer yields results. After all, we now send more than 300 billion emails every day. Get this channel wrong, and you’ll get lost in the clutter and noise of the average email inbox.
Instead, relevance is the name of the game. Each email you send should be personally relevant to the people receiving it. That, in turn, is only possible through effective email list segmentation. And you can start that process now.
Take a look at your database, and begin to split up your audience into relatively homogenous groups. Current and frequent donors may be one group, but don’t be afraid to go deeper. Similar demographics (like the Gen Z note above) can further help you segment your lists to personalize your appeals.
5. Personalization Goes Next Level
Speaking of personalization, segmentation is only the first step. If you’re not personalizing your nonprofit marketing messages in 2021, you might be in serious trouble.
It’s not just about entering a first name in your email salutation, either. Three-quarters of consumers now feel frustrated if their website experience isn’t personalized to their needs. Meanwhile, 72% of them only engaged with messaging personalized to them.
How can you speak directly to your audience? The closer you get to that one-on-one conversation, the better. That’s especially the case given the other trends mentioned in this article — Gen Z expects personalization more than any other generation before them. The new virtual nature of marketing has taken some of that personal touch away.
So this is it. Invest in systems that allow you to build customized messaging for your audience, regardless of channels. Then, build out strategies and communication plans specifically designed to speak to on-the-fence members of your target audience.
6. Videos for Your Website and Advertising Are No Longer Optional
Similar to personalization, video has been a nonprofit marketing trend for a while, but 2021 will be the year when we finally reach the tipping point. If you don’t leverage video messages as part of your marketing mix, you’re missing the mark on fulfilling (and exceeding) audience expectations.
Here’s the thing: According to Cisco, video is expected to make up 82% of all online traffic next year. That’s probably why a clear majority of people want marketers to produce more video.
It’s time to keep up with and ride that trend. Nonprofit is an especially relevant sector for video, with its moving visuals being a perfect match for emotional and personal appeals. You can share behind-the-scenes video or showcase the impact of donations — all powerfully conveying your organization’s mission.
Don’t forget about the power of live streaming, either. More than 150 million people watch live stream videos every month. For inspiration, check out the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals’ Extra Life campaign, which has generated millions of donations through the power of live streams.
7. New Opportunities (and Expectations) for the Donation Process
How easy is your donation process for both new and existing members of your nonprofit? The answer to that question could change the way you’re thinking about the process. In the recent past, we’ve seen drastic improvements to the process, including (but not limited to):
- Social media fundraisers that allow you to donate without ever leaving the platform.
- One-click buy opportunities similar to Amazon’s button that leverage technology like PayPal and Apple Pay.
- Donations via text messaging, right from mobile devices.
Here’s the challenge — can you meet your donors on their favorite channel, and make donating take 30 seconds or less? That’s what your audience expects.
8. Re-Engaging Lapsed Donors Limits Audience Variability
It’s easy to forecast that your existing donors will matter more than anything else through the rest of this year and into 2021. As COVID-19 has limited financial flexibility, donors tend to return to their “comfort zone” and give to the institutions they’re already familiar with, and whom they know can make a difference.
But what about those that have given to you in the past, but no longer do? Now is an opportunity to build a strategy for them. They may have been short on money, or have turned their attention to other nonprofit options. And yet, at some point in the past, they recognized you as worthy of their attention and money.
Re-engaging these lapsed donors is a crucial way to limit your variability and rely on audiences that have proven to bear fruit in the recent past. But you’ll need to have a few pieces in place to get there:
- A database or platform that easily identifies your lapsed donors and segments them into a single audience group.
- Analytics and reporting tools that allow you to find the unifying characteristics of this lapsed donor audience group.
- A compelling message at the ready that prompts lapsed donors to start considering you again.
- An easy check-out process that remembers their past information and moves them through the process at their preferred pace.
9. Growing Sustainers Builds Predictability
Lapsed donors will be among your most important audiences in 2021. However, it still doesn’t quite reach the highest priority group — your sustainers, the reliable every-year givers who make up the foundation of your fundraising strategy.
As audiences narrow, this group should become your bread and butter. That means two things above all:
- Keeping your current sustainers engaged to ensure they will remain loyal and close members of your core audience.
- Spending significant effort to grow new sustainers from your occasional donors.
That last piece might be the most difficult. It means locking donors into multi-year commitments, turning them from one-time to regular contributors in the process. Only a succinct value proposition, coupled with consistent, engaging communications specifically to these audiences across channels, can make that possible and realistic.
When you get there, though, the benefits are significant. The more sustainers you can count on your side, the more predictable your revenue will become. A large percentage of this group in your overall donor mix even makes it easier to weather the storm that is COVID-19.
10. Quality Content Moves From Desirable to Essential
According to one survey, 92% of nonprofit marketers use at least some form of content marketing, while 65% of them have increased their content production pace.
In other words, nonprofit content is crowded. It’s no longer enough to simply build it; instead, high quality content is becoming essential.
We’ve begun to see leading nonprofit content marketers leverage storytelling through some options mentioned above, including video and platforms like TikTok. The rise of tools like Facebook and Instagram Stories has further aided in that capability.
But at its core, it’s even simpler than that: no matter what content you publish or what channels you leverage, quality comes first. Every piece of content should give your audience some insight about your cause and organization, or some takeaway that actually helps them solve their pain points. If you can accomplish that in 2021, you’re already winning.
Moving Into 2021 With a Strong Marketing Strategy
It’s not quite Christmas in July, but October means that it’s past time to start considering your 2021 marketing strategy. Especially in the nonprofit sector, which can be slower-moving when it comes to decision-making and budgeting, a strong framework now can make all the difference once that Times Square ball has dropped.