How do other nonprofits communicate with donors?

While social media provides exciting new channels to reach and engage donors and the community, this complex communications landscape offers both many challenges as well as opportunities.

In a recent study, 81 percent of nonprofit participants ranked Facebook as their No. 1 social media site. Twitter was a close second, with YouTube following. Interest in Instagram is rising, while organizations are abandoning use of Pinterest.

The 2015 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report surveyed 1,535 nonprofits regarding their communication strategies, including use of social media.

About half of the respondents were from organizations with budgets under 1 million. Most (87 percent) were located in the United States.

Communication channels – Website was the top channel used by nonprofits, followed by in-person events, email marketing and social media. The majority of respondents used all of these top four channels, with social media nudging out in-person events as very important to 62 percent versus 54 percent of respondents.

Instagram allows users to take pictures with smartphones, edit and assign a hashtag identity, and upload photos to other social media sites. This use of social media comes with a cost, namely, staff time to keep feeds and content updated. About 70 percent reported spending between one and five hours per week just on their Facebook page.

Email marketing, especially for fundraising, is a key channel for nonprofits. The number of organizations planning to send appeals at least monthly rose from 33 percent in 2014 to 45 percent in 2015. The same increase is seen with email newsletters, with 62 percent planning monthly or more frequently, up from 59 percent in 2014.

In tandem, nonprofits are also increasing the frequency of direct mail appeals. Those using email as a fundraising tool should target and track results carefully. M+R found in its Benchmarks 2015 study that email fundraising response was down 12 percent. At the same time, online monthly giving grew by 32 percent.

Communication Goals – New low-cost social media channels are allowing organizations to reach out more frequently, for different purposes and to different groups of people. Just a decade ago, nonprofits were limited to email, print, in-person events and media coverage. Now, they have global reach in an instant. Adoption of social media is leading to a shift in the priorities and scope of communications strategy.

The top communications goal reported by survey participants was engaging their community. Providing static information isn’t enough anymore; instead, communicators seek to spur action or create a deeper connection. The beauty of social media sites is their interactivity – a reader can respond with comments or easily share nonprofit content with their own network. Social media posts can be used for calls to action regarding donations, volunteers or participation in events.

To engage viewers, content is key. This is where many nonprofits are feeling a pinch. Lack of time to create quality content was cited as a top concern by 38 percent of respondents. Quality content will vary by type of organization. For some, it’s heartwarming photos. For others, videos showing volunteers in action. Blog posts on timely topics can provide impetus for repeat visits. Simplicity can work well, too. The Girl Scouts got a notable response by asking questions on Facebook. Again, try to foster interaction rather than merely present information or images.

The goal of engaging community goes hand in hand with another top goal – that of retaining donors rather than acquiring new ones. For the first time in 2015, retention edged ahead of recruitment. A business maxim states that it’s easier to keep a customer than find a new one, and nonprofits are realizing the same thing.

In addition, repeat gifts are essential to stable long-term funding. The 2014 Fundraising Effectiveness Report revealed that, in general, organizations were losing slightly more donors than they were gaining. Communications is obviously important in creating and maintaining donor relationships. As mentioned above, monthly online giving is thriving and fundraising outreach should be maximized to take advantage of this trend.

Creating the right strategy for donor goals, whether retention or recruitment, tailoring messages and appeals, and diligently tracking response rates are all critical in maximizing fundraising success. Monitoring donor churn and conversion of new donors to repeat supporters are also essential.

More than ever, organizations need a comprehensive communications plan to develop the right mix of messages and channels. A scattergun or inconsistent approach won’t deliver results. Nonprofits have never had such scope and reach, and this is an opportunity not to be missed.