When asked how they are doing digitally, charities and non-profits often describe themselves as being ?behind the curve?, comparing themselves unfavourably with other sectors.

We believe however, that a key issue is less about ?keeping up? with other sectors, but more about developing and executing a sustainable plan in a world in which digital marketing is the norm. Over the last decade, longer even, the digital environment has come to affect nearly everything we do socially, economically and politically.

The pressure that that non-profit organisations now feel to create ever more creative campaigns, a continuous stream of engaging content and glossy, high performance websites, can lead to a chaotic marketing strategy, or a business model that cannot be maintained, based on available resources and funding.

So what are some of the challenges and how can charities overcome them?


Leadership roles

Some leaders do not feel equipped to make the crucial decisions involved to steer their organisations to a digitally-enabled future, because they lack relevant knowledge and understanding of the rapidly evolving digital landscape.

While CEO?s and Directors do need to have a broad understanding of what is happening online and relevant trends, it is actually more important that they recognise how to apply existing leadership skills within their organisation to drive digital success. This is likely to include engaging people or teams who have specific digital skills and experience to support the creation and roll out of a realistic strategy.

To be effective, this process, which could be described as ?mobilising digital?, requires the leadership to maintain a strong connection with whomever they assign to design and roll out online activities and ensure they are clearly connected with the overall ambitions of the organisation. What do I mean by that? Regular, open communication in language that everyone understands (minimal digital jargon) that facilitates discussion and ongoing review of how digital is impacting the ?bottom line?. That is, measuring what effect ? positive or negative ? digital marketing activities are having on the goals of the enterprise. This could be a weekly chat between 2 people. It could be a monthly presentation from a team, to the Directors.

The size of organisation does not actually matter, but digital must be incorporated as infrastructure, not just marketing. Investing in digital literacy – giving your staff time and space to acquire knowledge about effective use of digital platforms and devices, is therefore also essential.



The age-old issue for any business, particularly those who are required to be transparent or accountable to stakeholders and supporters.

How much is enough to spend on digital in a year? How do we decide how much to invest in a website? Or an agency? Or an employee with specialist skills? How do we measure value for money?

Go back to the beginning. What are the goals for the coming 12-24 months? What are the absolute priorities? What needs to be in place to make that happen? What tools, resources, people, time? How will you measure success? Look at past efforts and apply some analytical thinking. What did you spend money on previously? What worked? What didn?t? Think about allocating money based on what was achieved in relation to goals, not just the actual cost.

Roughly speaking, your total marketing budget should be around 10 per cent of your total revenue ? of this, it?s expected that up to 50 per cent should be digital marketing. You may also be able to allocate some operational budget to supporting digital within your organisation, for example, investing in tools such as new software or a digital support person. This highlights the earlier point around investing in digital as infrastructure, not just marketing.

Think about value and quality. This is your brand, your voice, your requests to and conversations with, your audiences and donors. Overestimate and of course where possible under spend, but do not dismiss the importance of digital investment. Avoid cutting corners, opting for ?cheapest? or adding workload to those ill equipped to deliver what?s needed. Do less, best.


Put a plan in place

It might feel like social media and viral PR is spontaneous and casual, but that appearance is often deceptive and can backfire. High quality, consistent content is carefully thought out and delivered.

It is really important to have a digital marketing plan based on your objectives. It sounds so obvious but it is very easy to become distracted on trying to be everywhere and ?talk? to everyone.

The plan doesn?t need to be a 50-page document, but it does have to be something that details how your digital marketing will be:

  • Focused and clearly communicates your values
  • Authentic in content and tone of voice
  • Tailored to your carefully profiled audiences.
  • Easily understood by your entire team, including their roles or what they are expected to deliver, within it.

Be realistic about what you can achieve based on resources and funding. If you genuinely cannot invest in external help, then equip someone in-house to own part or all of your digital activities. Offer some training but keep it centred on platforms and content that will help to achieve your most important goals. For example, if you know that your average donor spends most of their time on Facebook, that?s where you invest in training. If improving fundraising is a key objective, then reviewing all your calls to action across multiple platforms and measuring their effectiveness, is where you funnel time and effort.

Measurement is important but don?t get bogged down with fancy or complex analytics that are hard to interpret or don?t mean much to you, because generally, especially smaller charities, you are looking for depth of real engagement, not volume. Focus on your top 3-4 goals and find the best way to measure how/whether you are achieving those. Gain some internal intelligence on what tools to use and how to interpret them. Work out how to attach meaning to the measurement ? what constitutes success? How can you do better? How can you use this insight to make changes or decisions? Be sure to share wins with the team and do more of what works.


Acquire knowledge

Maybe you are ?Charity of the Year? for a company or would like to be, or have connections within your business community. If you don?t, reach out. Many organisations would be more than willing to offer time and support to share and teach skills and knowledge that would better equip you and your team in a digital environment. Invite a digital mentor to be a member of your board or committee, this can also be a great way to understand how digital can help you achieve your goals at a broader, ?bigger picture? level. It can also help to get together with other third sector organisations and people to share digital best practice, ideas and innovation. There are sector specific associations that offer such events and opportunities to improve skills, or local businesses and networks hosting skill led workshops and other get togethers, specifically to improve digital understanding and expertise.

To summarise, it?s not easy being a not for profit organisation in an incredibly fast paced online world. However, there are steps that can keep you on track without requiring unrealistic budgets and resources.

– Leaders should lead and drive digital at an organisational level.

– Budgets should be assigned according to priority goals, value and quality and previous successes. There should be investment in digital as infrastructure.

– Have a plan! Focused, realistic and measurable. Get help with putting this in place if needed.

– Improve digital literacy – ask for help, share knowledge and ideas.


Watch this space for more digital marketing advice and tips for charities and not for profits.