Note: The following article is posted on GuideStar.com  and was also featured in the July 2010 edition of its monthly newsletter. GuideStar seeks to revolutionize philanthropy and the nonprofit practice by providing information that advances transparency, enabling users to make better decisions and encouraging charitable giving.
Today, marketing isn’t so much about the “big sell” as it is about the way in which you communicate with your audiences. Of course, big-budget ad campaigns for TV, radio, print, and, now, online will cease to go away entirely, but realistically, most nonprofit organizations do not have the budgets to invest in traditional advertising, let alone any other kind of costly marketing campaigns.
Through technology, marketing has grown another branch that involves establishing and maintaining ongoing conversations rather than a one-way push of messages. This shift presents more cost-effective and do-able ways for your nonprofit organization to promote your cause while actively engaging your audiences in the process.
Let’s say your nonprofit organization is planning a big fundraiser. How do you announce and continually update your volunteers, staff, board of directors, patrons, and donors while encouraging others to get involved, solicit ideas, and provide feedback? To spread the word, incorporate these five online tactics to communicate your event to your existing “followers” — and attract new ones:
- Social Media
Update your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts and any other online platform that allows you to interact with your “followers” and for them to interact with you and with each other. Announce your fundraiser with a “save the date” invitation and a link to your Web site for more information. You can use social media to solicit feedback, respond to criticism, incite action, and predict trends, to name a few useful benefits. Don’t worry if you don’t have a presence in social media. It’s easy to create accounts, and social media is probably the most cost-effective way to promote your organization. And there’s no better time than the present to make yourself seen and heard in the social media space.
- Social Media Press Release
On that note, send out a social media press release to get the word about your fundraiser out to the masses or to targeted groups. A social media press release  reaches traditional media audiences as well as bloggers, online media, and consumers. You can distribute a social media press release that will house your YouTube video, photos, audio, and other digital assets you may already have on hand (video clips from last year’s fundraiser, photos, etc.). You can also make your social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) easily accessible, encourage readers to visit your site or sign up for your RSS feed (explanation to come) — and more! A social media press release is a one-stop shop where all of your organization’s social media avenues can be found in one place. And, with the ability for your readers to share the release among their social networks in a single click, the potential for your messages to spread virally increases significantly.
If your organization has a blog, it’s essential that you announce the fundraiser and provide details about the event to those who read and subscribe to your blog. You can enrich your blog posting with some historical data on your cause or organization, images of last year’s event, and back links to additional resources. If your company doesn’t have a blog, how do you start one? Easy. There are a number of blogging providers that are free (i.e., LiveJournal , Blogger , WordPress , Xanga ) or that charge a nominal fee for more options (i.e., TypePad , ChoseIt ).
- RSS Feed
That familiar little orange and white symbol found on almost all Web sites that carry news and information is the RSS icon; RSS stands for “really simple syndication.” Chances are good that you already subscribe to an RSS feed and already know the benefits of being on the receiving end of the information being pushed to you. But if you have a blog, or post press releases or other information to your Web site, it’s a great idea to feed your content into an RSS feed and push your news to interested readers that way as well. Create an RSS feed so that interested parties can “get fed” updated information that pertains to your organization. So, if an individual subscribes to your RSS feed, your RSS feeder will automatically send a link to that person every time you update that source, whether it’s your Web site, your Facebook, or your blog. Creating an RSS feed might require a little technical agility, but you can find a number of online resources that provide an easy step-by-step  list that will guide you through the process.
- Web Site
All roads lead to Rome, or, in your case, to your Web site. If your nonprofit organization has a Web site, use this platform as a basis for the four previous tips — social media, social media press release, blog, and RSS feed – to promote your fundraiser, and your organization. Think of your Web site as the headquarters that all of your marketing and communications efforts lead back to and the place where your followers can get more information on the event. In turn, you can provide links to your social media accounts, blog, and RSS feed, encouraging people to engage in other ways. For instance, if they found you via Twitter, they might prefer to subscribe to your RSS feed to get updates. Once people click to your site, there’s a good chance that they’ll go to other pages within it, giving your organization even more exposure and yet another way to communicate with your audience.
Communicating with new and existing audiences is more important than ever as you compete with other organizations for funding, volunteers, donations, and sponsorships. More and more nonprofit organizations are utilizing online measures to connect with interested parties, but do they ensure that their content is fresh? In order to be successful with these five tactics, the trick is to a) update often, b) make it relevant, and c) respond in a timely manner (for social media and blog comments). If you’re able to do all three, your organization will be more in tune with your audience – and them with you.
Throughout the year, Marketwire contributes useful information and content, based on our expertise in the public relations and marketing communications ecosystem, to assist GuideStar’s audience in their own communications needs. Look out for future GuideStar postings!
Previous articles include:
- The Power of Voice: Effective Communication Strategies to Weather the Economic Storm (July 2009)
- Tips for Entering Your Nonprofit into the Social Media Environment  (March 2009)
- Public Relations, Investor Relations, and Marketing Professionals: Do More with Less in Tough Economic Times  (January 2009)
- 10 Tips for Writing Features Releases  (November 2008)