Nonprofit marketing: the four key steps to connection and engagement

Nonprofit marketing: the four key steps to connection and engagement

audience engagement process

The audience’s engagement process goes through four distinct phases, and understanding each is key to communicating your message.

Phase One: The Unaware Prospect

Phase one: The unaware prospect

Without an effective, mission-driven, marketing communications strategy the potential target audience remain unaware of the purpose, aim, and goals of the organization—and the benefits that your mission offers.

Connecting your mission to an audience that’s unaware of it requires a personal approach. We have found that one of the most powerful and cost-effective way to make the unaware aware is to engage the people who support you to help make these introductions.

The key is to make sure you offer many different points of connection with which your supporters may link you to interested parties.

To help facilitate these introductions, you need two important components:

  1. The ways supports can spread the word (both the tools and opportunities).
  2. The messages themselves: the clearly written, high-level communications that convey the purpose, aims, and goals of the organization, and how you achieve your mission.

There are many ways supports can spread the word about your organization. For example:

  • Social media
  • E-news
  • Original, expert, thought-leadership content
  • Stories about the work you do
  • Your website
  • Events
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • On-site tours

No matter what, your organization needs a well designed, responsive website rich with killer content. Having clear and persuasive mission, vision, and values statements along with stories of impact is key; make sure they are not buried on your website.

Social media only works as a way to connect if you have a website that meets potential and current stakeholders where they are. When it comes to the unaware, don’t underestimate a good, old-fashioned personal invite to an event or in-person engagement opportunity, either.

The messages

If an enthusiastic stakeholder reaches out to a potential stakeholder about your organization, it should look something like this:

“Patty, I thought you would be really interested in _____ organization because _______.”

According to Robert B. Cialdini, who wrote YES! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive, the single word that will strengthen your persuasion attempt is “because.” The word gets its persuasive power from the continually reinforced association between “because” and the good rationales that typically follow.

Being well positioned is also key to helping people easily fill in the “because” blank. Ask your supporters to reach out, whether it’s through an in-person conversation or any form of electronic communication they use to connect to their friends.

Other ways to reach the unaware

If it’s not a personal introduction, potential interested individuals should be able to locate you through an online search.

Search engine optimization helps people find you through Google and other search engines. This is an enormous topic, but for our purposes keep in mind that a key driver to showing up on web searches is original, expert content—the kind that addresses a specific want or need. This is what we call “shaking hands with Google.” As Google improves their algorithm, serious, expert content will increasingly become king. Mission-driven organizations have an advantage here. Practice humility; don’t let the organization’s talking heads, jargon or data get in the way of the personal stories of impact, and how you are leaders in your field.

Aim for 3000 words of expert content per month. This content should bring to life the work you do, the impact you have, and why it matters. Three thousand words could break down as one 500-600-word blog per week, and one 1,000-word thought-leadership piece per month. Three thousand words is hard work, but manageable if a few people share the responsibility.

Phase Two: The Aware Prospect

Phase Two: The aware prospect

They’re aware, now what?

At first, the potential stakeholder will be in “listen-only,” passive mode. Let’s say they are driven to your website. What will their skimming experience be like? (link to Ryan’s blog on browsers) What are the points of connection they can make between their values and yours? Are you being clear at a very high level about what you do and how you do it? Is your mission clearly stated?

Say they come to an event: are they greeted and recognized? How can they get to know you better? When someone speaks at the event, does it involve restating your mission? Do you focus on compelling storytelling about the work you do and how you do it?

Once you’ve piqued their interest, you need to transition them to active-listening mode. It is at this point that you need to give them a first point of connection. How can they gather more specific information about your organization?

Can they sign up for your blog? Follow you on Twitter or Facebook? Come to your next event? Are you using a content strategy to make sure that these platforms are working to your advantage?

The same tools and opportunities in the unaware phase come into play here:

  • Social media
  • E-news
  • Original, expert, thought-leadership content
  • Stories about the work you do
  • Your website
  • Events
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • On-site tours

Phase Three: Inspire The Interested

Once a potential stakeholder has made a connection with some part of your purpose, aim, and goals, you need to inspire them to connect on a deeper level.

It’s important to connect to their beliefs and to build awareness and trust. What are the more personal interaction opportunities your organization offers? Events and volunteer opportunities are common, but a personal welcome email can also be a great tool.

Beyond a personal interaction, storytelling is key in making more of a personal connection. What stories do you tell? How do you tell them? How to these stories paint pictures of what you do, how you do it, and the impact you have? Do your stories communicate relevance to a specific want or need of your audience? Is your content worth linking to, or sharing? Put persuasive storytelling to work for you.

Understanding your audience is important. Are they a busy mom or an active teenager? Do they work 70 hours a week, or 20? How much free time do they carve out for themselves? What phase of their life are they in, and how does that relate to your organization? Do your research. Ask your supporters why they believe in the work you do—their answers are key to understanding how to reach more people like them.

Phase Four: Taking Deeper Action

Phase Four: Taking deeper action

It is only after these three stages in the engagement cycle that you can effectively ask a potential stakeholder to take bigger, deeper action.

In order to get them get there, show how their action will connect to your mission, and how they will help you achieve it. How they will benefit from the work you do? How they can connect others who can benefit from it, too?

Some actions:

  1. Donate.
  2. Volunteer.
  3. Get the word out.
  4. Write a government official.
  5. Sign up for services.
  6. Adopt your new process.
  7. Refer someone to your services. 8. Come to an event.
  8. Work for you.
  9. Write an op-ed.
  10. Promote your new process or research.
  11. Raise money for your organization.
  12. Partner with your organization to achieve your mission.
  13. Educate others on your mission.

Now that you understand each stage of the engagement cycle, gather all of your marketing materials and review them closely to see where you can utilize the cycle better.

I have found that it’s hard to see aspects of this when you are so close to your information and materials, so it can be better to gather a small group of 3-5 people who you know fit your target audience. Have them look over the materials and tell you what you do, how you do it, and why it matters—and ask them to find your mission.

Additionally, ask the group to look at the materials and name three things that make them more interested in the work you do, then have them name three ways that they can engage with your organization. Have them name two things that really connect them, at a personal level, to the work you do. Finally, ask them to identify ways in which they can act—beyond donating.

Taking the time to step back and listen often gives us the best insights, and allows us to truly see what is right in front of us.