31 October 2014

Not For Profit Digital Communications

by Simon Richards

The past number of years has seen an unprecedented wave of creativity applied to not for profit digital campaigns and social channels.

As marketers in the online world increasingly recognise that digital and the role of social channels is much more about the company ethos, adding value and working on the peer-level to ‘give back’; it is perhaps easy to understand why not for profit Digital Communications are resonating with audiences and winning awards. 

But let’s take a closer look at why (good) digital not for profit communications and strategies often seem more ‘organically effective’ than many of their commercial counterparts targeting the same types of audience:

1. By the very nature of being a not for profit organisation, the ‘societal goal’ is absolutely central

  • Less need for supplementary and supporting ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ or ‘Mutual Social Responsibility’ efforts
  • Not for profit organisations are formed around a social cause – providing power to resonate with audiences on a level beyond capitalism and profit

2. Merely surviving year-on-year highlights the ability of the organisation to connect and engage audiences

  • It’s a crazy competitive space, not helped by economic downturns and negative attention often tarring entire charitable sectors
  • Organisations focused on a cause that has little or no societal appeal simply don’t survive. Those that survive, have a ‘social truth’
  • Similarly, those who don’t have the understanding required to motivate and put people into action will also fail. In many ways, the not for profit sector embodies commercial ‘survival of the fittest’

3. So, with a socially appealing mission, a loyal following willing to involve themselves without physical reward, and understanding what motivates their patrons. Digital. Just. Fits

  • Digital mediums are being employed to cost-effectively identify audiences and broadcast extremely creative, engaging messages to the masses
  • Digital channels are being expertly utilised to broaden the reach of not for profit communications, often with viral consequences that are the envy of other sectors
  • Social media is enabling us to tell more of the brand story, to personalise the experience for individuals (after all – social giving is at least to some degree about the ‘feel good factor’) and create a longer-lasting impact
  • It is becoming clear that those having the most online success have really begun to master ‘storytelling’ in the not for profit digital communications space

4. All the while working better to reach and involve ‘youth’ audiences – the future of any not for profit organisation

The 2013 Millennial Impact Report highlights just how active a new breed of patrons can be in driving not for profit digital communications:

  • 65% of receive email or newsletters from ONE TO FIVE nonprofits
  • Donation sums are smaller, but we’re more likely to get active for a good cause (77% have)
  • Interestingly, 65% of learn about your cause via your website, vs. 55% through social media (18% print
  • But 75% won’t hang around for a poor website experience, and you must be mobile optimised with penetration high at 77%
  • Our action on your website looks like this: 51% use it as a platform to connect via social media, 46% to donate and 46% to read a blog post.
  • Get your website structure right and remember that Content is KING.
  • 70% of Millennials prefer to give online, but it might be surprising to learn that we aren’t that in to text-giving (only 15% have done so). Yet we do like to act immediately – these points combined highlight a preference for ‘giving recognition’. Perhaps text-giving doesn’t adequately promote my good deed?

So, moving on from and otherwise accompanying the TV commercial, the flyer door-drop and the high street coin/direct-debit collection; here is how some forward thinking not for profit organisations are leveraging the data, the reach and all the creativity associated with digital channels:


Last year, UNICEF re-invigorated the hugely successful ‘Tap Project’ whereby restaurants would ask patrons for a $1 donation to help provide clean drinking water in Africa. Now, while the updated campaign does not have the beautiful and direct correlation regards ‘my water, for your water’, it does talk to social behaviours and asks us to question what we’re focusing our time on by challenging us to give up access to something far less vital than water–your cell phone.



To our point about the necessity to engage younger audiences, how about empowering them instead? Really empowering them. After all, it is the younger ‘digital native’ audiences who understand best how this all works. The UK’s RNLI demonstrates how you hit a home run with content marketing, blogger outreach and leveraging online mediums – and it’s a far cry from collecting pennies in boat-shaped boxes at the dry cleaners.

Cancer Research UK

If you don’t already know this, it might give you pause to consider that No Makeup Selfies raised £8m for Cancer Research UK in six days. Despite the fact that Cancer Research UK did not create the #NoMakeupSelfie movement. Here’s how that happened:

First up, the hashtag #nomakeupselfie started to trend on twitter. Why? Because it spoke an organic truth to the demographic.

Ground had already been broken by movements in anti-airbrushing and brand campaigns such as Dove’s ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’, so a level of empowerment and duty was already in place and it’s no surprise that all such examples have powerful imagery and tones of ‘anti-establishment’ or ‘anti-societal-norm’. That’s empowering stuff.

Nobody could identify the source of the hashtag. However, the empowered twitter folk were now already so engaged and so motivated that they themselves began asking ‘how to donate’.

Step up Cancer Research UK to put themselves forward.


Following a barrage of retweets, PR coverage and consumer donations, the organisation expertly followed up with celebrity stories and local activations all documented online via the existing hashtag and the new conduit: #NoMakeupSelfieForCancer – whether initiated or not, the pace at which the organisation joined in is to be admired and respected, as too are their sincere (now viral) ‘thank you’ messages.

Cancer Research UK

Girls not Brides

I came across the movement a while ago and recently, it has been getting more and more attention and started to pick up awards. Aside from the primary point that this is of course a mission worthy of everyone’s attention, I’m raising the point that a really well-honed content strategy. The simple, informative information that often gets missed.

At www.girlsnotbrides.org, the mission is clear and the stories are real. Add to this tools for visitors, students and teachers to get involved and you’re well on the way to a long-lasting platform that can truly be the daily catalyst to changing something that needs changing.


In Summary…

We’re all aware of the reach and engagement uniquely presented by digital and online channels. The challenge now is to:

  • Be creative, draw on the social truth at the core of your organisation
  • Allow room for audience personalisation, but be careful not to demand too much or add unnecessary complexities (‘Keep It Simple Silly’)
  • Uncover who are most likely your key influencers online
  • Identify how you’ll engage these and future campaign participants
  • Be prepared to keep fuelling and to follow-up in an agile manner
  • Leverage EVERY touch point (and that includes offline and PR)

For more information on direct engagement, see:
5 steps to developing a compelling fundraising campaign