Since social distancing requirements began in the U.S., organizations have needed to leverage technology to keep their doors open. Many teams have had to quickly adapt to video calls, virtual events, and working from home. Though vaccine distribution has begun and the end of social distancing measures seems to be in sight, the digital transformation is here to stay.

Around the world, organizations are learning from their experiences in 2020 and making permanent changes. Now is the time to ensure your organization is adapting and preparing for the increasingly digital future. Here are a few ways we have seen organizations rise to the challenge and set themselves up for success.

1. Upgrade Your Website

Especially now, your organization’s website is most likely the first line of communication with prospective and current donors. If your website has not been recently updated, consider working with a web developer or marketing firm to make some upgrades. As you are making these improvements, keep in mind these foundational concepts: user experience, responsive design, and search engine optimization.

  • The user experience should be highly prioritized when designing your website. Similar to a donor-centric model, prioritizing user experience in your website entails examining how visitors interact with each part of your website, taking into account their needs, values, abilities, and limitations.
  • Creating a responsive design should also be at the top of your to-do list. It is estimated that half of all visits to nonprofit websites are on a mobile device. A responsive design will allow your content to adjust to any screen size or orientation (smartphones, desktop, or tablet), which will enhance the overall user experience.
  • Your team should also consider working with a search engine optimization (SEO) expert. SEO is all about making sure that your organization can be found easily on the internet. An SEO expert can analyze how visitors are currently getting to your website and identify modifications you should make to your content to improve your search visibility.

2. Master Virtual Gatherings

At this point, it seems that many organizations have embraced video calls as a method to hold team meetings and prospect solicitations – and most are successfully connecting and securing philanthropic gifts through this method. Many organizations have also successfully pivoted in-person events to virtual gatherings, such as virtual galas, conferences, fundraisers, and other stewardship events. Here are our top suggestions to master video call etiquette and make the best use of your virtual meetings and gatherings:

  • Prepare for and run a virtual meeting like you would an in-person meeting. Have an agenda prepared and share it with attendees ahead of time. At the beginning of the meeting, facilitate introductions with everyone on the call to replicate, as best as possible, an in-person meeting environment.
  • Do a practice run. Technology is our friend – until it isn’t! Make sure that you understand how to use the virtual platform, know how to help troubleshoot if your guests have any technical issues, and always have a back-up plan in place in case the technology does not cooperate. We recommend including instructions for logging onto the platform in any materials you send beforehand. Also, build in some “buffer” time to account for any potential technical difficulties that may delay the start of your meeting.
  • Keep your attendees engaged. Whether you are hosting a one-on-one virtual solicitation or a 1,000-person webinar, make sure to pause, ask questions, and ask for feedback from your guests. You may also want to consider poll questions, music, and breakout rooms. Video call fatigue is real, so we challenge you to find ways to keep your attendees engaged.

3. Optimize Email Communications

While virtual calls and events are critical to master, do not forget to pay attention to your email communications as well.

Although many nonprofit organizations have been utilizing mass email communications for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed new areas for improving digital communications systems. For example, in a time when you felt the need to email your constituents, were you able to deploy your emails quickly and efficiently to your target audience? Are there communications you previously mailed that might be better off as an email this year and in future years? Now is an opportune time to evaluate if your current email platforms, strategy, and schedule are still working for your organization or if you need to adjust for an increased volume of virtual communications.

4. Leverage Social Media

Your organization should do its best to build a presence on social media.

To decide which platforms to devote your time and attention to, reflect on where your target audiences spend the most time online. This may include LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and even TikTok and Pinterest, depending on who you want to reach. Social media may seem like a fun extra, but it should be managed with purpose and methodology. You need to be consistent with your brand across all platforms and create a dedicated schedule to develop and share content. Social media platforms offer your team the opportunity to interact with industry-adjacent content and remain relevant by staying on top of trends. Staying active on social media allows your organization to stay top of mind for those already close to your organization while also creating opportunities to be discovered by new prospective donors.

5. Get Creative

Finally, dare to dream! If you have a creative idea to interact with donors digitally, explore it. At this moment, organizations have the license to veer away from traditional engagement and solicitation methods. We have seen several organizations embrace this creative freedom with virtual events, in-house thank you and promotional videos, and interactive digital proposals.

The pandemic has changed the way we all operate both personally and professionally. As we launch into a new year, commit to building your digital presence. Take this opportunity to set your organization up for success and growth by testing out new digital strategies. Your donors and colleagues will thank you!

This article was originally published on the AFP Greater Philadelphia Chapter Blog on January 21, 2021.

About the Authors

An Associate Director with CCS Fundraising, Julia Dignam has experience with foundations and nonprofits across multiple sectors located around the globe. Julia has specific expertise in education, healthcare, religion, child welfare, and public housing. Julia has advised several transformational campaigns and specializes in nontraditional and emerging nonprofits. Prior to her time at CCS, Julia served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps at an emergency homeless shelter in Philadelphia. Julia graduated from Georgetown University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in International Affairs with a concentration in Global Health.

Chris Polito is a Senior Vice President at CCS, the leading strategic consulting and fundraising management firm to nonprofit and social impact organizations worldwide. Chris has designed, advised, and directed more than 50 strategic initiatives and capital campaigns that have raised collectively over $500 million, dramatically impacting the constituents they serve. Chris has also conducted feasibility and planning studies and development assessments; guided Annual Appeals; and implemented leadership and major gifts fundraising for numerous clients in faith-based, healthcare, human and social services, and primary and secondary education sectors.