Setting a strategy for on-line communications with your constituency is absolutely critical. Without a defining strategy, on-line efforts can actually have a negative impact on the existing communications/development stream. In extreme situations, it can cause confusion with donors and those who would become donors if they were not diverted to other activity.
The overarching question that must be asked is, “What do we hope to accomplish by having a web presence?” I would hazard a guess that many charities do not aske themselves that question. Everyone has a website so we should to is at least the subconcious response. Here are some possible answers to that question.
- Provide information to those who are searching.
- Provide a mechanism to accept gifts easily.
- Provide a means for creating community.
- Provide an opportunity to engage our constituency.
At least by asking the question, the development of an internet strategy can begin. But I would challenge you to think beyond the basic answers (1 & 2 above) and start thinking about answers 3 and 4.
There are five fundamental building blocks on which your strategy should sit. Consider the following:
- Coordinate and integrate all your communication streams – both off-line and on-line.
- Provide your constituency with a reason for coming to your website.
- Engage your constituency and provide them with reasons and ways to interact with you.
- Utilize multiple online mediums to connect with your constituency. Each person has a preference for how they want to interact online.
- Always measure performance and adjust as needed.
Integrate Your Communications Streams
E-mail is most effective when used in tandem with traditional development methods. The wholistic approach to communicating with your constituency will necessitate a re-thinking of both off-line and on-line approaches. Synchronizing the message will improve your overall results.
Give People A Reason to Visit Your Website
Your constituency controls the level of interaction they desire. Just like direct mail where they can choose to read your newsletter or appeal (or not), your constituency will choose to visit your website – and when. Keep information relevant, up-to-date, and give them reasons to come back. Engage them in some way that makes them want to return. Make it convenient to make a contribution (avoid a “sticky” experience). Give them a reason to be “proud” of the fact that they support you and a way to share that experience with their circle of influence. And provide a visitor with enough information that their research needs are satisfied.
Engage Your Constituency
The internet is evolving from “brochurenet” to “involvenet”. The explosion of social networking sites like digg, youtube, myspace, etc. demonstrate the new power of the engaged constituent. Your e-mail and website should provide your constituency with the opportunity to take action, engage their circle, and/or advocate on your behalf. Consider utilizing sites like FirstGiving.com to allow your constituency to raise funds on your behalf. Even eBay has a process whereby sellers can designate a portion of the proceeds of a sale to their favorite charity.
Utilize Multiple Mediums
Some people are auditory processors. Others are print processors. Some will like visual media like vlogs. Others will like basic text media like e-mail or blogs. Provide a coordinated message through all mediums and remember to meld that message to what is occuring through your traditional streams.
Invest in the tools necessary to evaluate performance. You should be able to track your e-mail response rates, website visitors, on-line gift income, new name acquisition rates, etc. This information will allow you to assess your performance and adjust future campaigns accordingly.
I hope this helps. I highly recommend the following book: Nonprofit Internet Strategies: Best practices for marketing, communications, and fundraising by Ted Hart, James Greenfield, and Michael Johnston. Published by John Wiled & Sons, Inc.