COVID-19 / Nonprofits / Resources / Social media

The pandemic has revealed a lag in nonprofit digital skills

Some orgs, lacking significant online presence, were left in a bind when in-person events went off-limits, found this Tapp Network-TechSoup report.

Nonprofits need a digital presence. (Photo by Andreas Levers with Creative Commons license)
Wilmington’s Tapp Network and partner TechSoup noticed that some nonprofits seemed to be struggling during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Not just because of the economic impact on donors and the shift to working from home: Many of them seemed to have been slow to adapt to doing business digitally.

According to the Blackbaud Institute’s 2019 Charitable Giving Report, only 8.7% of total fundraising came from online giving. It’s a shocking number, considering how easy it is to give online, and how often social media is used to raise funds, from small virtual rent parties to the nationwide Giving Tuesday.

“If you’re a nonprofit that has one big event a year — a charity dinner of golf event — you were not prepared to have to cancel that event due to COVID,” Joe DiGiovanni, cofounder of marketing and tech agency Tapp Network, told Technical.ly.

To better understand the issue, Tapp and TechSoup surveyed 267 nonprofits on their digital marketing habits between April and July 2020 (i.e. once the pandemic was in full swing), and released the results in their Nonprofit Digital Marketing Benchmark Report.

Among the surveyed nonprofits, which were small-to-medium in size (one to 99 employees), 64% do not have a digital marketing plan, 70% do not have an outlined email marketing strategy and over 50% are not using a customer relationship management tool (CRM) or marketing automation tools.

“I was most surprised that half of the nonprofits don’t have a CRM,” said DiGiovanni. “Without a CRM, you’re not able to segment your donors and other contacts — everything you send out just goes to everyone. So that’s a Marketing 101 thing that needs to be addressed.”

Read the full report

The report also found that 77% of the surveyed nonprofits are not spending money on digital advertising. Most nonprofits, of course, want to put as much money as possible toward their causes or programs, not advertising; four out of five of the 23% of surveyed nonprofits that do use paid advertising spend less than $500 a month.

That suggests that hardly any of the nonprofits surveyed are using Google Ad Grants, Google’s program for nonprofits that offers grants of up to $10,000 a month in digital advertising. To qualify, the nonprofit must own its website’s domain, and the site must be “high-quality,” with clear navigation, updated events, a call to action and no commercial activity unless the use of the funds is fully disclosed.

The pandemic may have already started spurring digital change during the survey: More than half of the respondents said that they planned to launch a new website within two years, with 43% saying they planned a relaunch within the next year.

They might want to consider including a blog — often called a news or updates page — when they relaunch, as a the vast majority (nearly 70%) do not blog at all. That’s a missed opportunity to drive awareness, showcase impact and be a thought leader, the report notes.

Social media appears to be more popular than blogging with the surveyed nonprofits, with nearly all of them (97%) using Facebook, followed by Twitter (55%), Instagram (45%) and LinkedIn (37%). Most post between one and four times a week, usually some kind of announcement about the organization, and rarely do posts seek donations. When it comes to online fundraising, 41% have used Facebook Fundraising, and 57% of that segment found it to be at least somewhat successful.

Similar to the way the digital divide was exposed when schools went virtual to slow the spread of COVID-19, the pandemic has exposed the nonprofit sector as one that has been slow to adapt to technology that it really should have been using, pandemic or not. Online fundraising is easy and cost effective.

“You don’t have to rent a big venue,” DiGiovanni said, also noting that the expensive galas preferred by some nonprofits, while likely to return as soon as it’s safe, are not accessible to everyone the way online fundraisers are.

“One silver lining is that the virtual events have a greater reach,” he said. And, as with many things, it’s likely that any newly adopted digital practices nonprofits pick up out of necessity during the pandemic will serve them well long-term. “When they go back to in-person events, they’ll have a better digital platform for people to sign up. And virtual events aren’t going away with the pandemic.”

If you want to know more, Tapp Network offers some free resources on TechSoup to help nonprofits step up their digital games.

Companies: Tapp Network
Series: Coronavirus
People: Joe DiGiovanni

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