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What Nonprofits Should Prioritize in 2019

Chris Wolz

CEO & President, Forum One

Another year, another chance to make your nonprofit even better. Over the past 22 years working with more than 1,000 nonprofits, I’ve seen significant changes in the digital landscape. I’m continually impressed by the ways nonprofits evolve to take advantage of new tools and trends to leverage resources, engage stakeholders and increase impact.

With a new year approaching, this is a great time to think through ways you can adapt and improve in 2019 to remain relevant and maybe even get ahead of the curve. I’ve asked our leadership team at Forum One to come up with their recommendations based on what they see day-in and day-out while working with our nonprofit clients. We’ve already highlighted design trends for 2019. Here are some of the most important strategies and tactics we think cause-driven organizations should prioritize in the coming year.

1. Get Personal

It’s 2019, and people expect their online experiences to be tailored to them. Don’t treat every user the same. Based on a user’s past interactions with your organization or site, offer digital content that’s most relevant to them. Create a strategy to deliver the right content to the right user at the right time. Readily-available information you can personalize includes:

  • Location: the geographic area where the user connected to your website
  • Browsing activity: what they viewed on your website
  • Search: what they searched for on your site directly; or if arriving from a search engine, what they searched by.
  • Referring source: how they came to your website

Ideally, you’ll need a website CMS that can publish conditional content, which is a functionality that allows your website to handle multiple personalized elements within a single campaign. And for your email, you’ll want an Email Service Provider (ESP) that tracks data about your users and can feed out versions of your content to them. As more and more organizations focus on personalization strategies, those that do not may give the impression that they don’t care about their users. If you are looking for a good way to get started, read “Web Personalization: the One Question Nonprofits Should Ask.”

2. Train your boss

You need your senior leadership to be smarter a year from now than they are today about digital strategies and ROIs. This is key for your digital efforts to be regarded as a strategic part of your organization’s growth and impact — and not just as an operational function.

How do you get your senior leadership to see your digital efforts as a strategic differentiator?  Find opportunities to educate leadership through existing touch points, such as providing regular status reports, sharing and reviewing KPIs, and explaining how you are interpreting results. Raise new topics in regular check-ins, and use quarterly reviews to assess progress and realign priorities. You can also organize peer-learning sessions, and bring in experts from comparable organizations to share experiences.

If you do this well, your leadership should know and understand what the 10 metrics of most relevance to your digital efforts are, how you are trending on those, and what investments you are making to improve them. They should also have better-than-average understanding of best practices in terms of things like online security, cloud services, user-centric design, online fundraising, agile or lean management, CMS, CRM, etc.

3. Automate your marketing

Directly tied to personalization is the need to have automated marketing that is tailored to the various people your organization engages. People are interested in your organization for different reasons, so provide them with opportunities to engage and receive tailored content from you in different ways. This could be in the form of segmented newsletter lists, email drip campaigns, and targeted social media advertising campaigns.

Alongside your automated marketing efforts, learn how to leverage a CRM as part of your nonprofit’s engagement strategy. A CRM is a really valuable tool to help you build relationships and engage your key audiences in new and creative ways.

4. Comply with global privacy standards

The European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), had many business and organizations scrambling to revise their online privacy standards in 2018. If you’re hoping to reach a global audience, GDPR compliance is crucial, so make sure you have a plan for how to make necessary changes in 2019. While you’re at it, add reviewing your organization’s privacy policy to your to-do list. Make sure your policy clearly explains how you’re protecting users’ data privacy rights.

5. Be inclusive

You will better engage and support your target audiences if your digital strategy is inclusive in the fullest sense. You want the people you interact with online to feel that you understand them, you reflect them, and that you have heard them. By doing this, you’ll in turn gain their trust. To create inclusiveness, a few key questions to ask yourself are: do you take an inclusive approach to marketing? Do you make content available in different languages? Are you designing forms and user interactions that mention gender in a thoughtful and respectful way?

In terms of web accessibility and 508 compliance, does your website meet accessibility standards? Accessibility means that anyone, regardless of whether they have the ability to manipulate a mouse, of how much vision they have or how many colors they can see, of whether they can hear, and of whether they have use of their hands, can use the exact same websites as a fully-abled person. If web accessibility is not already on your radar, I highly recommend that you prioritize it this coming year.

6. Keep your brand consistent

More than ever, online users are demanding clear and consistent experiences. A consistent brand is therefore vital to building trust and visibility. In 2019, focus on building brand consistency across your digital properties. If your brand voice or character changes across platforms or content, people won’t know what you really stand for, or who you’re trying to be, which may result in you losing credibility along the way. Practically speaking: is your content, tone, style, and design consistent across your various web properties, email outreach, and social media handles?

Make it your goal that if someone encounters your organization through a variety of channels or products, that they know instantly that it has all come from you. From the use of your logo, to the tone and language on your “About Us” page, make sure that you’re telling a consistent story about who you are. For more insight, watch our webinar on building a brand that engages your audience.

7. Refine your user journeys

Refocus your efforts on ensuring your digital platforms make it really easy for people to get the information they need and perform the actions you want them to take. If you are raising funds or awareness for a particular program, your most important actions — like “Donate”, “Join”, or “Take Action” — need to stand out. If someone arrives on your site looking for information on a particular issue, it should be really easy for them to find, whether they start from your homepage or a specific landing page. These are the user journeys that you should define, design, and develop content to support. And the journeys should flow really smoothly across your website, email, and social media.

8. Continue to track and optimize your progress

In 2019, focus your time on the things that matter the most to your mission and goals. To do this well, list your digital goals for the year, and make sure that you have updated Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for each. You should have a way to track, record, and report those KPIs, including sharing one version with your digital team, and a condensed version with your senior leadership.

Along these lines, be on the lookout in early January for an invitation to our next Forum One webinar that will focus specifically on which metrics matter most in 2019. In case aren’t already subscribed, sign up for our newsletter to ensure you’ll receive it directly in your inbox.

In closing, these are just a few things that my team and I are seeing as important to keep top-of-mind in 2019, especially as the digital landscape we work in continues to grow and shift. While these eight areas are a good place to start, above all, be nimble, agile and ready to start of the year with a clear idea of what you want to achieve, and make a promise to yourself that you will do it.

Thanks to Forum One colleagues and outside peers who helped me with ideas on 2019 priorities, namely: Melody Hood, Elisabeth Bradley, Courtney Clark, Jim Cashel, Sarah LeNguyen, Christina Crawley, Emily Culbertson, Lawrence MacDonald, Andrew Kolb, David Hobbs, and Tony Kopetchny.

Written By

Chris Wolz

CEO & President, Forum One