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Take the Leap: 3 Key Digital Marketing Lessons from Digital Leap 2017

TrendsDigital StorytellingCommunications

On April 25, social sector marketers, fundraisers, thought leaders, and other nonprofit professionals from across the GTA convened at the Art Gallery of Ontario for Digital Leap 2017. Hosted by Stephen Thomas Ltd and CAF America, Digital Leap provided participants with invaluable insights, ideas, and resources for creating effective digital marketing strategies.

TechSoup Canada was there on the ground, and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to learn from such a talented group of people. Here are a few of the lessons that stuck with us:

Strike the right balance between reliability and experimentation

Great storytelling is the cornerstone of successful nonprofit marketing and fundraising. Through stories, we convey our organizational values, capture our impact, and establish emotional bonds with our stakeholders. However, because we end up telling our most compelling stories on repeat, the fear that we may be boring (or worse, alienating) our supporters is common.

Not to worry, says author and marketing executive Ron Tite. Your best stories are your most powerful marketing assets, so it’s absolutely necessary to share them again and again. Your marketing efforts should therefore function like an assembly line -- the path from story creation to distribution and repurposing should be as seamless as possible.

At the same time, you do need to adapt and innovate. So Ron suggests balancing reliability and experimentation through an 80x10x10 budget. Spend most of your money (80 percent) on the assembly line, telling and retelling the stories that have proven themselves to generate a reliable return on investment. Then dedicate 10 percent of your budget to improving the assembly line, ensuring that your systems and processes are set up for optimal flow.

The final 10 percent is for all-out experimentation. Use this money to push the limits of your storytelling. Explore new channels, strategies, and creative approaches without worrying about analytics, ROI, or failure. Ultimately, according to Ron, “stories are more important than data” -- and it is here in this creative sandbox that you’ll encounter new, engaging ways to share the stories that make your organization special.

Harness the new shared economy of PR

Karen Mazurkewich heads up marketing and communications for one of Toronto's most prestigious startup incubators, MaRS Discovery District. With nearly a thousand ventures receiving MaRS support, there's no shortage of compelling source material for marketing content. However, the saturated media landscape has made it difficult to deliver the stories coming out of MaRS to the organization's target audience.

To overcome this challenge, Karen has begun harnessing the interlocking needs of what she calls "the new shared economy of PR." Entrepreneurs need media coverage. Journalists need interesting stories (and professional opportunities to write them). Media outlets need contributed content that will foster dedicated readership. Karen connects these dots through MaRS Magazine, an in-house journal centred around trends in innovation.

The magazine employs respected journalists to write high-quality stories that spotlight MaRS entrepreneurs. Now, if these were fluff pieces or simply advertisements masquerading as journalism, nobody would read them. But that’s not the case. The writing is insightful and thoroughly researched, and the stories speak directly to an audience that cares about social innovation -- which is why the Toronto Star publishes MaRS Magazine articles in a special section of its paper called Innovation Edition. This isn’t a sponsored content agreement. The Star is cross-promoting MaRS’ stories to build a thriving readership base in a sector it does not regularly cover in its business pages.

The result is a win for everyone involved, all while exponentially increasing the reach and impact of MaRS marketing efforts.

Take a look at your media and PR networks. What dots can you connect? Whose needs can you fulfill?

Follow the Golden Rule of email fundraising

Brock Warner, development manager at War Child Canada, is a firm believer that email is the most important component of a digital fundraising strategy. “Email is where fundraising happens,” says Brock. It’s a simple equation, according to Brock -- send more emails, generate more funds.

But volume is only part of the equation. To truly be effective, you need to embrace Brock’s golden rule of email fundraising: you must always be valuable.

"Your organization does not create value by asking for donors for money." - Brock Warner

You create value by fighting to make the world a better place. Invite your donors to take part in this fight. Demonstrate the impact of their funding and what it will enable you to do. Help them understand that, by donating, they are making change happen. Do this at scale and the impact on your fundraising efforts will be immense.

That’s why it’s imperative to make signing up for your email list as easy as possible. Brock points to Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign as a benchmark in simplicity. Throughout 2016, visitors to the campaign website were greeted by a large photo of Bernie, a few words of copy, and two simple text fields: email and zip code. By minimizing the sign up effort, the campaign was able to convert 23 percent of all website visitors into email subscribers by July 2016.

Ultimately, the Sanders campaign generated an unprecedented 8.1 million contributions, 60 percent of which came via email. While the sheer size of the list (estimated to be in the millions) was certainly a factor in achieving these numbers, the campaign couldn’t have done it without the golden rule. “They treated each subscriber as a member of the team, not as an ATM,” Brock says.

What is the impact of your email campaigns on your donors? Are you pursuing financial investments at the expense of emotional ones?

These are just three of the many lessons from Digital Leap that continue to resonate with us. Were you there? Let us know what you learned in the comments!