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Digital marketing and continuous improvement are part of the big picture for nonprofit

Although the term may sound intimidating, "marketing analytics" is simply the practice of studying your own marketing campaigns. Which are working the best? Which give you the highest return on investment in your community?

The big picture

Marketing analytics considers the bigger picture: how your organization's social media, web presence and fundraising capacity work together. Understanding analytics will help you streamline and customize your initiatives — both so that your marketers can be more efficient and so that your organization doesn't waste valuable capital on unnecessary campaigns.

Take time to reflect on what you hope to discover from the process of studying analytics. What question are you trying to answer? Taken broadly, a successful study will have at least one of these three main objectives:

  • Studying the past. Which marketing initiative from last year had the highest return on investment? Should you invest more time in your presence on Facebook or Twitter this spring? What do the numbers tell you? Studying what worked (or didn't) in the past is the gateway to making thoughtful, educated choices for the future.
  • Dissecting the present. Marketing analytics enables you to take a snapshot of how people are responding to your organization in real time. Are you meeting the needs of your community? Are you struggling to engage with social media? Analytics will tell you who's talking about your organization right now and what they're saying.
  • Planning for the future. The data you collect on the success (or lack thereof) of your current and past programs will help you make strategic decisions for the future. If your email campaign was a huge flop, analyze what went wrong — and test what can be improved for the next one. If you had amazing success with a donor trivia night, consider adding more evenings to the schedule next year.

Continuous improvement cycle

Rather than a one-stop shop, marketing analytics is an ongoing process that will naturally grow in scale with the size of your organization. The emphasis is on continuous improvement over hard targets — which can be especially important for nonprofits who provide intangible benefits to the community. Break down the process with these four steps:

Define and develop

What are you already doing in the marketing world? Do you have business cards? A street sign? How do you typically connect with participants and donors — via a large website forum or through handwritten notes? How do most people first hear about your work? Consider all visual, electronic and social mediums. Every point of contact your organization has with the outside world is a potential marketing moment.

In the end, marketing really just means getting your message out. You want every person who comes into contact with your organization to know what you do and why. Marketing analytics will simply help you make that message as clear as possible.

Collect data

What do you want to know? Are you trying to cut the budget and need to choose between monthly newsletters or a yearly open house? Which initiative garners more goodwill and loyalty to your cause? Studying the results of past campaigns can also play an important part in determining the success of any one program over time. An initiative that began 40 years ago might lack modern relevance, which is why it's important to collect data directly from the population you're trying to serve today.

As you consider what data to collect, also consider how you'll collect this information. There are many options — everything from having participants fill out a survey in person to door-to-door campaigns to raise awareness. Ultimately, what you want to know will determine the data collection method you select.

Study the results

Now that you've collected so much data, what does it mean? At this point you might feel ready to make changes. Or you might feel like you still need more information. If you suspect more data will help you determine the best course of action, return to step two and collect the additional information needed before implementing your plan.

As you study the results, analyze if your campaign is working by providing a strong return on investment. If you spend three days at an informational fair, do you then see a corresponding uptick in donor donations or participation rates? Consider if your resources are being spent based on where they're proven to do the most good for the most people. Do you need to reallocate human or financial capital?

Implement and analyze

The final step is to actually make change happen. Switch to electronic newsletters or throw your energy into building an amazing Twitter campaign. Focus your time where it's most important — where you have the best chance of making a strong return on investment. What worked? What didn't? How can you optimize strategy in the next campaign to hopefully achieve a better result?

This step can also help you establish useful metrics. If a donor commits $500, describing the specific impact of the donation on your overall mission can be powerful. Where is that money going? What's it doing? Who are you helping?

Tips for digital marketing

Most nonprofits — especially small ones — don't have sizable marketing analytics budgets, which is all the more reason to maximize resources where they'll count the most. If you're struggling to get started, consider focusing on web analytics. The digital impression your organization makes on the world is one of your most important assets. Consider free or low-cost resources, such as open-source web analytics platforms, to help you get started today.

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Disclaimer

MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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Writer and firm believer in using business as a tool for positive change