5 min read

Digital marketing is essential for nonprofit organizations—and increased digital traffic during the pandemic makes it of utmost importance. Today and tomorrow, find our tips for reaching and engaging donors digitally.

If you are like most Americans, you spend too much time on social media scrolling though endless communication. And since the various lockdown measures and shelter-in-place orders have begun, you’ve likely only increased that time online.

If you’re not like most Americans, then you should know that the rest of us are spending too much time online and on social media—especially now.

What does that mean for you as a fundraiser?

It means that social media and digital marketing outreach that is thoughtfully integrated with your other communication, including direct mail, is essential for building brand recognition, promoting your mission, and (downstream from that) generating charitable gifts.

There are three core principles for social media and marketing efforts that hold true all the time and across all channels, especially social media—and even more so during these uncertain times:

  • Integrate

  • Involve

  • Inspire

Tomorrow we will walk through these three principles in detail. Today I want to explore an overarching rule for digital marketing: all of your marketing materials and outreach need to educate or entertain (or both).

Mission-driven marketing

Most importantly your marketing should always stay focused on your core mission. This means articulating what you do and how you it and why you do what you do. As Simon Sinek puts forth in one of the most-watched TED Talks of all time, people won’t truly buy into a product, movement, or idea until they understand the “why” behind it.

The nonprofit sector would be wise to heed this advice. If you only talk about what you do and how you do it, you leave a huge gap in the story. But if you can fill that gap with the right message, you will endear your supporters to your organization and provide a deeper sense of identity and belonging between them and your organization.

It should go without saying, but as you engage social media platforms to reach current and new audiences, you need to constantly remember your mission and why your mission matters. With so many of us scrolling endlessly through social media feeds looking for something meaningful and engaging, this a crucial opportunity for you to engage and interact with your target audience(s).

Today, you should strive to provide comfort, hope, and stability in the midst of these uncertain times. As Katharine Janus wrote, you want to provide “some good news” to your audience. Focus on your mission, its enduring significance, and your enduring commitment to improving the world by advancing your mission—before, during, and after a global pandemic.

This message won’t hide from the uncertainty in the world or over-promise the importance of your organization (i.e., you might not be “solving” coronavirus)—but it will show that the pandemic is not all-consuming, it is not the only thing that matters, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel and you’ll be there to keep doing what you do to make the world a better place. That might be feeding hungry children or providing instruments to impoverished families or creating elementary-school curricula or … anything else. Share that mission and why it matters in your marketing efforts.

Educate about your organization

Marketing that educates (or informs) is providing information about your organization and how you are impacting the world (whether that means your community, your school, your state, your nation, the globe) in a positive way. By taking this approach you are bringing value to the conversation.

For the most part, we are always educating and informing, but your digital marketing needs to be self-reflective about this. Are you making a connection between your mission (what you do and why you do it) and your vision (what the world looks like if you are successful)? Are you affirming your audience’s identity with this mission? Are you cultivating a sense of belonging, i.e., making them feel like an active part of your mission?

Here are two examples:

  • Feeding America has a social media campaign amplifying their mission and using images and stories to show how they are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their marketing shows that they matter and tells donors that they are a part of this mission. They have a problem, a solution, and a hero—the donor.
  • Charity:Water just held a live online conversation between CEO Scott Harrison and Simon Sinek. The conversation subtly promoted the mission while also providing value to their audience—a sense of context, hope, and optimism in the midst of the pandemic.

These aren’t the only ways to educate and may not apply directly to your organization. But when you release content on social media, it needs to draw people into your mission—and the best way to do that is to make sure your audience understands (or better understands) what you do (and why).

Entertain your audience

For many organizations, “entertainment” may sound like a distraction from the mission. But with a little creativity, you can probably find a way to be “entertaining” within the context of your mission. The goal is to provide a way for donors to engage with you right now, to spend time with your organization in order to promote a sense of “belonging” with a community of individuals concerned with these things.

Here are two more examples:

  • Shedd Aquarium has a livestream of their penguins and are frequently posting videos on multiple social media channels and people love it! The streams engage enormous numbers of people, while offering them a sense of wonder and optimism, giving them a few minutes of fun and happiness in the middle of the day… Most importantly, it communicates that Shedd is a place that cares about wildlife and is the kind of place you probably want to visit as soon as you’re able.
  • Equine Advocates is a sanctuary for horses, and they’re creating plenty of resources to stay in front of their constituents right now. They have a “kid’s corner” on their website with videos, coloring books, and other fun horse related educational resources for kids. How does this promote their mission? Does it actively rescue horses? Well, no, of course—but it keeps people interested in the sanctuary, it keeps them top of mind for their audience. The horse-themed games also keep kids interested in horses, concerned with the same things the sanctuary is concerned with. And in their case, they are both educating and entertaining.

When you are thinking about “entertaining” your audience, think about what Equine Advocates is doing. Their “entertainment” may not directly advance their mission, but it’s related insofar as it promotes interest in horses and their wellbeing. How can you engage an audience digitally to promote an interest in the kinds of things your organization works to promote? Think out of the box!

Social media and digital marketing may be something of a new frontier for your organization. It may seem like a distraction from your mission—but that’s only the case if it’s done poorly. Digital marketing for your nonprofit is a key strategy for advancing your mission, and a little bit (or maybe a lot!) of creativity will go a long way toward strengthening your organization and advancing your mission.

As you enter this space, remember the use digital marketing to educate and entertain your audience.


If you have questions about growing your digital marketing efforts at your nonprofit, please feel free to email me at eric@americanphilanthropic.com.

For the next several weeks, Philanthropy Daily will be a resource for fundraisers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Check back daily for new articles addressing news about coronavirus and philanthropy and providing strategic and practical recommendations for weathering this storm as a fundraiser.

And please join us on Thursday afternoons at 2:00 Eastern time for a webinar on “Fundraising During Uncertain Times.” American Philanthropic leadership and Philanthropy Daily authors are hosting this weekly webinar to discuss the impact of the pandemic on fundraising and to answer your questions. Sign up here.


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