Digital Marketing

Digital Marketing

“So I notice that you include ‘Marketing’ on your list of practice competencies. Could you do a workshop for us on Marketing in the Digital Age?”

I’ll bet I get two or three requests each year to do a workshop like this, and for the most part, I politely turn them down. Frankly, I am probably not the person they really want anyway. The truth is that I suck at digital marketing, and it’s probably because I’m really old.

In my (old school) view, marketing differs from other forms of communication because it contains a specific call to action. Marketing services to potential clients, volunteer opportunities to people with time to give, and funding needs to potential donors/members are three examples, but these three audiences do not respond equally to digital solutions.

Marketing is important for all organizations in bringing new people to the table. You raise money from existing donors. Marketing helps increase the number of donors you have, so you can raise more next year.

Digital marketing projects with fundraising objectives seem attractive because they are often cheap(!), because every once in a while you hit the viral lottery, and because Obama made it work bigtime in 2008. But I have never personally witnessed any kind of significant fundraising success with this type of marketing, and consider the time invested as not worth the potential return.

Now don’t get me wrong. The first place nearly everyone goes to “validate” an organization is their website. You need to have a website, and it needs to be fairly high quality. Your website is your front door. It’s your first impression. It’s your credibility source. And you should also invest in the yellow, blinking DONATE NOW button that allows interested people to give on the spot.

You could create a video, or start a crowdsource campaign, or use Facebook or Twitter to draw people to the website. Ask everyone to give, and some people will. But, let’s face it – most of the time, not very many and not very much. Meantime, what are you NOT doing that could mean much more in the long run?

Here’s an example: I’ll give you two weeks. Develop and distribute a marketing message that goes viral and raises $25,000. No restrictions on the type of digital media. Believe me when I tell you that there are people in the country who could do this. They make $100,000 a year and DO NOT WORK FOR SMALL LAND TRUSTS. While you’re doing that, I will coach someone else to go meet face-to-face with their top 20 donors. Thank them for their past support. Tell stories where the donor is the hero. Make the case for giving $10,000 while emphasizing that all gifts are equally appreciated.

OK, that might not work either, but which strategy do you think holds the greater potential for a successful outcome? I think you can guess my answer, but that’s not even the most important question. How many donors from the digital strategy are still giving a year later? How about five years later? Let’s say you need to raise $100,000 ten years from now. Which strategy will you wish you had invested in ten years ago?

Adventures in digital marketing can be effective when the purpose of the marketing is to reinforce core messaging delivered by other channels: mail, events, website, and so on, but this assumes that you already have all this other stuff going on.

This is what I tell anyone who will listen: Raise money first. If you suck at raising money, investing time and energy in digital marketing will not help. It will only distract you from getting better at raising money.

So, I don’t think you want me teaching your Marketing in the Digital Age workshop. Got another topic? How about: Why You Always Want to Meet Donors Face to Face – Even Younger Donors?


Photo credit: Heartleaf Arnica courtesy of Walt Kaesler.

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