The Future of Engagement | npENGAGE

The Future of Nonprofit Engagement Strategies

By on Nov 13, 2017


The changing landscape of nonprofit engagement strategies.

Sometimes, when we’re focused on the tactics of digital fundraising or communications, we can lose site of big trends which require a new strategic approach. And paying attention to the trends gains urgency as things change much faster than they used to. While we had a decade to adjust to websites being important, we’ve had a lot less time to adjust to social media, and even less time to adjust to the increasing dominant power of smartphones.

If it feels like everything is moving faster these days, that’s because it is.

So I want to share with you two trends that require you to pay attention and begin adjusting how you engage your constituents. While corporate marketers have had the edge in the past, this is an opportunity for you, one where the trends actually favor the meaningful and motivational stories on which nonprofits run.

In other words, it’s finally time to fully unleash the power of your story.

The Decline in Brand Trust and the Rise of Peer Influence

There was a time when a newspaper editorial board had impact. And there was a time when brands could engender generational loyalty and deep trust. Those days are over.

The evidence for a general decline in authority is all around you (ask any parent!).

Donald Trump lost nearly every editorial board in the United States but won the election anyway. It seems almost quaint, but there was a time when people paid attention to the gatekeepers, the erudite, the elites. Not so much any more.

You know, there was a day when brands would hire a celebrity to endorse their product. Consumers would see an ad about that product, with the celebrity, and then go out and buy it. And it was that simple and it was that easy. Well unfortunately, with the decline in authority, those days are long gone. Today, consumers are looking for brands to speak with an authentic voice. — Matt Biespiel, former Sr. Director Global Brand Development, McDonald’s

There was a time when brands could speak of their benefits and people would believe them—and buy. Today, check Yelp. Or YouTube. Or Trip Advisor. Or your network on Facebook. A brand’s messaging means a whole lot less than it used to. The smart brands are using “real people” in their advertising to give authenticity and power to the messages they create.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer is at an all-time low and the marketing and PR experts at Edelman says that what was left of trust has imploded in 2017.

Edelman Trust Barometer

In this environment people trust people much more than brands.

  • They trust their friends.
  • And their friends of friends.
  • And people that look like them and share life experiences with them

Oh, and they happen to be connected to these friend networks all the time. In their pockets. On the bus. Waiting in line.

Example of how nonprofit's can harness the power of their people and donors

This is actually the same power that fuels peer-to-peer fundraising. The concept behind peer-to-peer — using the trust of one donor to recruit others — is something that needs to break out of the silo it’s in and be incorporated into the entire fundraising operation.

If you want to power your engagement work for the next decade, you’ll start by thinking about how to empower your constituents to become ambassadors for your cause.

The hot new celebrity endorser is everyone.

Raising the voices of your constituents is the strategy to build all of your engagement tactics around.

Video Video Video

Speaking of tactics, the second trend is that video content has come to dominate people’s attention. You may have noticed.

Cisco estimates that by 2020 video will account for 82% of consumer internet traffic—it’s already over 70%. The second largest search engine online isn’t a search engine, it’s YouTube.

Facebook, in the last year, has come to be dominated by video content. The amount of video in Facebook newsfeeds has increased 360% in the last year — meaning you are much likely to get your content in front of someone if it’s video. Video, in fact, is the only thing working for brands on Facebook.

There are loads of stats about how impactful video is. Here are a few:

  • When video is used in a subject line, open rates double. (Experian Digital Marketing Report)
  • Click-through rates increase 2-3x when a video is included in an email (Digital Sherpa)
  • When a company uses video on their website, it takes 37% fewer site visits to get a conversion (Aberdeen)
  • People who watch video are 87% more likely to purchase (Kiosked)

You probably already know that video is important, but face the common struggles in creating more video:

  • Professional video is expensive to produce
  • Video is time consuming to create
  • Individual videos don’t always get attention commensurate with the investment in creating them

And yet, we have to figure this out. Like websites or mobile responsive content, we simply don’t have the choice to opt-out.

Think of it this way: If I told you in 1995 that you needed a website for your organization you probably would have seen it coming. But if I told you in 1995 that you’d have a whole department focused on that website you’d say I was crazy. You’d wonder where you would possibly find the resources to make that happen. And yet, it happened.

We’re past that moment for video. You have a great opportunity with video. And you have powerful stories to tell. It’s time to figure this out.

Video + Peer Influence = User-Generated Video

When we look at these two trends together we come to an unmistakable conclusion—we must get our best donors and our most engaging volunteers and advocates on video. We need them to tell people like them why it’s so powerful to be involved in our organizations.

User-generated video—video made by people and not companies:

  • gets 10x the views as brand video on YouTube
  • is authentic and not manufactured
  • carries the implicit trust of people-to-people communication, and
  • social networks are favoring this kind of content.

User-generated video is the modern word-of-mouth, and it’s the future of engagement.

A screenshot from Gather Voices’ GV-One, a technology that’s integrated with Luminate Online and that makes it easy to collect, manage and publish user-generated video from your supporters.

Imagine having hundreds (or even dozens) of your best donors saying in their own words how being involved in your organization has given them meaning and purpose and enabled them to do good in the world. How powerful would that be?

In this era, nonprofits have the edge in marketing over brands. The consumer brands may have more money, but we have meaning and passion, which increasingly drives consumer behavior.

Luckily, there are new tools and emerging technology to make it easy collect, manage and publish user-generated video. And these new tools solve a major problem you’ve had with video all along—how to get more of it within your budget constraints.

These aren’t some far off future trends. This is your right now opportunity and I’m excited to see what happens when we gather the voices of the most passionate advocates for our causes to influence our culture, raise more dollars, and achieve mission success.


Michael Hoffman is the CEO at Gather Voices, a video software solutions a Blackbaud partner. They are spending their days helping organizations create more video from more people to dramatically increase online engagement.

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