Let’s face it: as people working, socializing, and communicating in the 21st century, we are almost always connected to the internet. While many of us have “gone digital” in our personal daily life, we can’t always say the same for the organizations where we work. In a world where most people have some kind of smart device, or several smart devices (you know who you are), within arm’s reach at all times, it seems only logical that digital is the best way to reach donors, right? And yet, diving in without a strategy for your digital marketing—or a limited strategy that doesn’t fit holistically with your current marketing channels may not reap the rewards you hoped for.

To that end, here are a five points to help your organization create an effective and integrated digital marketing strategy:

1. Build on what you have.

Don’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to your overall marketing strategy. Digital marketing should be integrated into your existing plan, not separate from it. It’s easy to set a new standard for the brave new online world, but be careful that you don’t establish entirely new data points and new metrics for success that become siloed from your traditional marketing channels. When deployed in concert, traditional and digital channels can be extremely effective. But remember it is important that each piece should serve a purpose and should fit into a cohesive overarching marketing strategy.

When deciding what channels to include or different tactics ask yourself a couple of questions.

  • What is the benefit?
  • Does this help my overarching goal?
  • Why this channel?

2. What’s trending isn’t always what works best.

Also known as “shiny new object” syndrome. . Snapchat seems really cool—and it is—for about a week until you realize that someone in the office has to maintain the account regularly in order to sustain followers and then… wait, why do my pictures keep disappearing? It seems that every couple of months there is a cool new way to connect with your supporters. And while social media apps like Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can each claim tens to hundreds of millions of active daily users, longevity should not be taken for granted.

Before jumping on any new bandwagon, consider the time investment of establishing and maintaining this channel as well as whether the new app or program’s users are part of your targeted audience. Email remains the largest source of online revenue, far outweighing text donations, social media petitions, and other newer channels.

3. Direct mail is not dead.

It’s already been stated, but it bears repeating: Do not abandon your tried and true marketing strategies in favor of the hot new trend. Every so often we hear someone else declaring that direct mail is “dead,” but the numbers simply don’t support the death knell. While digital donations do represent a growing segment of revenue, the lion’s share still comes from direct mail and telemarketing. And while younger donors may tend to be less responsive through traditional channels, snail mail remains a more personal way to connect with supporters, and can work with digital channels by leading them to online offerings through QR codes and NFC tech. Suffice it to say, we cannot sign the death certificate for direct mail yet, and when used in conjunction with digital channels can prove to be even more effective than digital channels alone.

4. Understand your donors.

You already know your donors—which channels they tend to respond best to, how they prefer to receive information, what they want from you. Don’t forget that you already know this when you expand into digital. It’s all too easy to silo this information, particularly when the online marketing department is a separate team, in another room, on another floor, or in different city from your traditional marketing department. Stay connected and keep your supporters in mind as you develop an online strategy. There are many different ways to connect with your donors in the digital world, but depending on how your donors typically use the internet, some channels will be effective while others simply miss the mark. Learn where your supporters are and what they like before making assumptions.

5. Plot your own course.

Don’t “go digital” because everyone else is doing it. Don’t go digital because that’s where the young people are waiting. Go digital because it makes sense for where you want to go as an organization. Before launching an entire campaign, figure out whether you are more interested in acquiring or retaining supporters. Identify which populations you want to reach and to what degree. This means shaping a strategy around a predetermined goal, taking into account who your donors are and how they use their digital technologies. Because even the snazziest banner ads can fall on blind eyes if they’re on the wrong webpages. And ultimately, while it’s cool to have the newest toy on the block, but even cooler when you know what to do with it.

We live in a digital world, so it’s no surprise that digital marketing is integral to growing your organization’s network and to connecting with your supporters. However, digital marketing cannot not stand on its own and won’t yield useful results unless you make sure your digital channels work in conjunction with your current marketing strategy. The best way to move forward is to take stock of what’s worked in the past and use that perspective to inform your next steps into the online world.


Lauren McCarthy has a passion for utilizing technology, data, and efficient processes to enable effective fundraising. Throughout her career Lauren has been fortunate enough to experience fundraising through many lenses – as a fundraiser, as development systems director at a large federated organization, and through various roles related to direct marketing fundraising technology at Blackbaud. In her current role at Blackbaud, Lauren is thrilled to be on the team leading strategy for new solutions that allow organizations to harness the power of data to drive effective identification and communication with supporters. In her free time Lauren can be found running, recovering from running, or complaining about running.

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