A lot of things that have been standard over the past 20 years in this field are going to be challenged.
Sam Zimmerman is Senior Vice President of Platform Partnerships at Blue State, a creative agency partnering with causes, companies and campaigns to build better organizations. They are also a WP Engine agency partner.
Blue State’s major nonprofit strategies include fundraising; grassroots mobilization; customer engagement; and web development. In fact, Blue State founders started off in political campaigning—including for President Obama—with a focus on leveraging digital to open up the democratic process.
Sam Zimmerman, a creative artist and filmmaker, oversees the quality and delivery of the agency’s website and digital platform work. “One of my professional superpowers is constructive paranoia,” he jokes. Zimmerman has worked extensively with UNICEF, The Global Fund, the City of New York, National Safety Council, and many other recognizable and mission-driven brands.
In this episode of Velocitize Talks, Sam Zimmerman shares his insights on branding, grassroots marketing, and open source.
Nonprofit Marketing Campaigns
Some people would say that not-for-profits don’t have a lot of money and so therefore they have limited resources around how to embrace new technologies to support their mission.
In order to encourage collective action around a nonprofit’s purpose, you need to mobilize your target audience. Although some nonprofits and associations may be operating with limited resources, strategic content marketing and storytelling can help create an engaging—and personalized—digital experience.
Many nonprofits rely on email marketing to keep in touch with their supporters and even to accept donations. However, according to a Duham+Company study, 37% of organizations fail to send emails to new subscribers within the first month of signing up. And the vast majority—88%—of nonprofits don’t send a welcome email at all. It’s also important to make your newsletters mobile friendly, as 66% of emails are now read on a mobile device.
Other content marketing goals for nonprofits, outside of fundraising, may include increasing memberships and social media followers; creating online communities; providing educational information; and showcasing member stories and testimonials. The reason why donors give, and people volunteer, is because they believe in your mission. They believe that their time and money can make a real difference.
Zimmerman says that Blue State focuses on consulting across all aspects of digital operation while establishing a framework of strategic priorities. “Think of how it powers your mission,” says Zimmerman. “From identifying the North Star priorities, everything else becomes easier.”
Show Me the Data
Most organizations we work with are running at least five to seven of totally different products to manage their online experience and that’s leading to a lot of data fragmentation.
According to a study conducted by HubSpot, “The State of Data in the Nonprofit Sector,” only 40% of nonprofit professionals report using their data very often in the decision-making process, while 46% say they do not consistently use data to make decisions.
Top factors preventing nonprofits from using their data include lack of analytics tools and not enough time and/or resources. The need to invest in data integration through new or existing tools to streamline the process, however, is key.
“The [nonprofit] needs to bring data from one tool in a spreadsheet over to the next tool to keep them synched,” says Zimmerman. “That’s actually causing a lot of inefficiency, and it’s a big pain point.”
Rethinking the Website
You really need to test the donation experience, the messaging, the images, the placement of the elements on the page to make sure that you’re getting the most performance out of each moment in the customer journey.
Websites tend to be overlooked as a powerful tool to communicate with your audience and potential donors. That said, half of Blue State’s clients showed an increase in revenue that was attributed solely to the website. It’s a strong argument for investing in your website.
“The website is not dead,” says Zimmerman. “It’s a must-have for any organization but the website is often dormant; it’s something that we have to have but it’s not a strategic driver. No one’s particularly passionate about it.” In addition, any boredom associated with your website can definitely impact your investment priorities.
Even exploring a different design strategy can renew your interest in your website. For example, WP Engine lists the top free WordPress themes designed specifically for nonprofit websites. These include such themes as Charity Help Lite and Benevolent.
The Mobile Experience
Even if you have a responsive website, the user journey and the experience of arriving on the site, and then being inspired to donate and going through the donation process, may actually be somewhat bumpy for a mobile user.
Around 60% of traffic to a nonprofit website comes from mobile users but only 36% of donations come from mobile. The fact that so much traffic is coming from mobile users reflects industry trends. Unfortunately, the mobile experience, and corresponding design, can be less than ideal.
A mobile-friendly design should be simple and easy to navigate, with fast page loading times and a straightforward layout. Designing specifically for mobile users can increase both your audience and donations.
Open Source & WordPress
The advantage of working in WordPress is that it’s such a democratized field. There are so many people that we can bring into the process to collaborate with.
Open source is considered the great equalizer of digital platforms due in part to its highly flexible and customizable framework. Blue State conducts 75% of its work on WordPress, which enables them to consult across all digital assets.
“WordPress really makes these cross-agency and client collaborations possible because there is not a lot of bespoke coding,” says Zimmerman. “It’s an open framework that is organized for multiple people to plug in to. That’s the beauty.”
The agency has partnered with WP Engine on a number of websites including World Bicycle Relief, Tobacco Tactics, and Growing Up NYC.
Blue State also works with JDRF, the leading global organization funding research into Type 1 Diabetes. (Its flagship website is hosted on WP Engine.) In their initial role, Blue State supported JDRF’s lifecycle communications, which led to the website’s navigation architecture, content strategy, and SEO.
Blue State continues to work extensively with JDRF on their fundraising program.