Exclusive: Leveraging Nonprofit Web Sites for High-Impact Marketing

Five years ago, surveys conducted with nonprofit organizations indicated that only a mere 15 percent had a Web site. With the exception of very large groups like the World Wildlife Fund, nonprofit Web sites were “online brochures,” rarely updated and, invariably, managed by IT staff.

Today, virtually all nonprofit organizations recognize a Web site as a necessity. Many have moved beyond online brochures, building custom Web sites that allow staff members to update content on a regular basis. Unfortunately, many organizations find these custom sites inflexible, difficult to evolve and ineffective at capturing and using data for marketing purposes.

Nonprofits still commonly focus more on Web site aesthetics than marketing efficacy. However, now the communications department often manages an organization’s Web site, with modest input from the fundraising and/or marketing functions.

In contrast, many for-profit organizations such as American Airlines have, for years, used their Web sites in conjunction with outbound e-mail to drive tangible marketing results. Through their Web sites, these companies have systematically registered subscribers; used aggressive promotions to drive impulse travel; promoted loyalty programs; and personalized content according to a consumer’s profile, e.g., their travel preferences.

More recently, political campaigns (like those of Howard Dean, John Kerry and George W. Bush) have used their Web sites to systematically capture e-mail addresses, promote fundraising appeals, build community, recruit volunteers and mobilize constituents to take action.

A few nonprofit organizations also have started to fully embrace the Internet for marketing. For example, Chicago-based Mercy Home for Boys & Girls recently launched an initiative to enable online outreach, fundraising and constituent relations. The communications and fundraising teams have worked closely to define an integrated strategy and add online marketing programs to their traditional mail appeals and special events.

In the first five months of operations, Mercy Home grew its e-mail file four times and raised 8 percent of all appeal funds online. The organization has even started to explore how it can leverage its Web site and online relationship management capabilities to support major gift efforts.

What accounts for this evolution? Nonprofit market software vendors have introduced online constituent relationship management, or eCRM, technology. Now, nonprofit organizations can easily turn their Web sites into robust marketing tools. These solutions are available “out of the box,” so nonprofits no longer have to build custom sites from scratch or invest money and IT staff time in customizing — really retrofitting — content management tools intended for for-profits. Today’s eCRM-powered Web sites:

* Effectively capture constituent e-mail addresses through online registration, polls, etc.

* Have a database that collects all e-mail address data.

* Track each online visitor’s additional Web site interactions, e.g., return visits, clicks on specific content (which provide insight on his or her interests) and store that information in the same database.

* Share the same online constituent database with other online tools for fundraising, e-mail marketing, advocacy, event management, directories, etc.

* Share data with offline systems such as donor databases.

* Use the data in the constituent database to personalize content for different audiences.

* Have content management tools that make it easy for non-technical personnel across the organization to create and post content, with the appropriate controls and testing procedures.

Nonprofits also may want to reconsider how they measure Web site effectiveness. Most organizations measure success in simplistic terms that include the number of visitors and page views. Others look to online donations, without necessarily analyzing what really drives these numbers. Alternatively, a nonprofit assessing the success of its eCRM-powered Web site should look at:

* Unique monthly Web site visitors — the most effective measure of Web traffic.

* Rate of conversion of new visitors to e-mail subscribers.

* Rate of conversion of visitors and subscribers to supporters (donors, activists, other).

* Average duration of stay on site — a measure of how compelling content is.

* Amount of support generated online (donations, advocacy, etc.).

* Impact on offline programs; for example, the identification of major donors and planned-giving prospects; enhanced retention of mail or telemarketing donors, etc.

As more people move online and weave the Internet into their lives, fundraisers and marketers need to act now to transform their organizations’ Web sites into highly effective marketing tools.

Play an active role in the design, layout and management of your organization’s Web site. Set tangible marketing goals to measure success and impact. Don’t reinvent the wheel by building custom technology that is expensive and difficult to use when robust, easy to deploy and “out of the box” software exists today.

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