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2020 Digital Marketing Ideas, Tips, and Trends for Nonprofits and Mission-Driven Organizations

Happy New Year!

You’ve likely been gifted plenty of 2020 trends and predictions articles in your inbox over the last couple of weeks. Just as likely, very few of these articles were devoted to your industry. It’s a full-time job sifting through all of the general marketing content out there and deciding what applies to your organization, and under what circumstances.

It’s easy to write a lot of it off as “only making sense for for-profit companies.”

Try to fight this urge. When we let our creativity get boxed in too tightly by funding and resourcing limitations, we cease to be effective marketers. Instead, try approaching each new digital platform, advertising format, and tech advancement you learn about with a marketing agency mindset: “How can we use this unconventionally? How can we flip this on its head to grab people’s attention?” Then, you can follow it up with the more practical question, “Could this replace something we’re doing now that’s not working?”

Let’s use an example: the blossoming augmented reality (AR) capabilities retail companies are using to let you try on lipstick shades and place new couches in your living room with the swipe of a finger. This is definitely not useful for a nonprofit, association, or university…

Or is it?! Could you use AR to let incoming students see what their bedding and wall art will look like in their new dorm room? Or to let donors virtually adorn accessories with your brand and share their new looks on social media?

Here’s our list of marketing trends that should be on your radar in digital advertising, fundraising, social media, email, and SEO. While exploring this list of digital marketing trends and ideas, and as you carry out your marketing plans throughout the year ahead, give yourself the space to ideate. Imagine everything is on the table. You can always box yourself back in!

Digital Advertising

Give Instagram Story and Facebook Messenger Ads a Try

If your organization is on Instagram but you’ve been shying away from Instagram Stories, 2020 is your year to bust the fear! Mission-driven marketing is all about storytelling after all, and this is a prime format for doing so.

Instagram Story ads and Facebook Messenger ads are two formats that gained popularity in 2019 and are providing powerful results, generally converting more than traditional newsfeed ads. It can be intimidating to learn and test out these new ad formats, but lagging behind is not the answer. In fact, so few not-for-profit groups are taking advantage of these ad formats, you can really stand out and pleasantly surprise people.

Stay Up to Date on Google Ad Grants Changes

First off, if you’re an eligible nonprofit that doesn’t have a Google Ad Grants account, you could be flushing $10,000 a month down the toilet. Gasp! Google Ads aren’t right for every organization, though. If your organization doesn’t see great value in showing up in search results, then it may not be worth the time and effort required to spend the grant money effectively.

We put out an updated guide to Google Ad Grants in 2019 that covers the changes Google released to the program last year. One big improvement was introducing an exception to the $2 bid cap. Now, using the Maximize Conversions bidding strategy, you can excuse yourself from the kids’ table where you were previously only able to bid on the cheapest and least competitive keywords.

Our Google Ad Grants Guide walks through the steps to set up and successfully maintain a Google Ad Grants account.

Run Responsive Display Ads, No Design Required!

Now, you can create Google Display Ads (the image and video ads that show up virtually everywhere online) without a graphic designer. With the new responsive ads Google released in 2019, setting up a display ad is very similar to setting up a social media ad. You input your headline, ad text, and a logo or image, and Google does the work to serve it up in multiple shapes and sizes all over the Internet. This is great for nonprofit and mission-driven marketers who don’t have much time or access to good graphic design.

Don’t You, Forget About YouTube

Many marketers have cast YouTube away into the darkest shadows, and we know why. A deep fear of video. It’s costly, time-consuming, and what if no one watches it?!

If you’re still thinking this way, snap out of it. Think about how much you appreciate a video that makes you laugh, cry, or best of all, both. Recall how relieved you were when you searched for step-by-step instructions to assemble the complicated thing you got for the holidays and a clear video tutorial awaited. You can provide this same delight and relief to your users. Plus, YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world, owned by the largest.

Beyond producing video content, which is a good idea for most mission-driven organizations, YouTube advertising is an underutilized opportunity. It’s affordable, has unique targeting options, and when done right these ads tend to outperform other platforms. You don’t even need video content; there are image ad formats on Youtube that don’t require video at all. This is also the case on TikTok, a tik-topik for another day!


Get Ready for Mobile Donations to Surpass Desktop

Online donations are still primarily made on desktop, but the percentage made on mobile continues to creep up. Fundraising studies have shown that we are nearing a 50/50 split, and the large majority of younger donors are comfortable donating on mobile:

Blackbaud 2018 study on the percentage of generational donors willing to give via mobile device
Source: Blackbaud, 2018 Next Generation of American Giving

We preach about this a lot. Digital natives are increasingly impatient with technology that doesn’t look and work great on our lifelines—I mean, our phones. So if your website isn’t mobile-first (meaning a whole different design, not scrunching your desktop design down to just-barely-fit on a phone), you’re frustrating users and missing out on donations. If your online giving experience links out to a third-party site or includes a third-party form, the same truth applies.

Gen Zers Are Becoming Adults! Ask Them to Give and Get Involved

The eldest Gen Z-ers are 24 years old now. More than 30% of this generation has donated to at least one cause and they’re projected to make up 40% of the world’s consumers this year. We know they’re fired up about cooling the earth, and they can mobilize around social justice issues like nobody’s business. What we’ve seen from Gen Z is only the beginning.

The future of your organization relies on tapping into these young people and their energy. This means seamless technology, great design, and consistent invitations to contribute to your brand. Here’s an on-demand webinar packed with examples, stats, and more pointers to engage younger audiences.

Put Instagram’s Fundraising Features to Use

The Instagram Donation Sticker launched last spring. By adding these stickers to your Instagram Stories, you can now collect donations directly within Instagram:

Series of screenshots from an Instagram story that demonstrate the functionality of the donation sticker

Here’s a guide to using Instagram Donation Stickers.

Then in the fall, Instagram also made it possible to add a donate button to your profile. This offering will likely prove more impactful than the Donation Sticker because of its permanence. Both features prompt a donation experience that stays within the platform, so people can donate to you without ever visiting your website.

We have yet to see stats on the usage or effectiveness of either feature. It’s worth adding the donate button to your profile at the very least, and testing out the Donation Sticker if it ties in nicely with a campaign you’re running this year.

Note that Facebook Donate Buttons Don’t Work Like They Used to

Another example of social media changing the fundraising game: Now, users posting about your nonprofit on Facebook are prompted to add a donate button directly to their posts. And the donate button on your organization’s Facebook page can no longer link to your website.

Facebook is intent on keeping people on Facebook for as long, and for as many activities as possible. Whether a user clicks on your page’s donate button or a button shared by a friend, they’ll be pulled through Facebook’s native donation processing tool, which means they’ll never hit your website and you’ll miss out on some important donor data. There are big pros to encouraging donations on social, but it’s also important to weigh the cons!

Social Media and Email

Note that Instagram Likes Have Gone into Hiding

You may have noticed something different in your own Instagram feed recently: no like counts! This worldwide A/B test started with Canada and expanded to include the U.S. later in 2019. The negative implications for influencer marketing are huge, as are the positive implications for users’ wellbeing. We’re waiting to see how this plays out in 2020.

Mighty Insights

Insights, delivered.

If You’ve Always Filmed in Landscape, Flip Your Camera

Buffer did an experiment in 2019 with a $6,000 ad spend to test the performance of vertical versus square video content on social—having already determined that square videos beat out the landscape format. Their test confirmed that we are li-i-iving in a mobile world, and our users want ve-ertical.

Make Sure Your Emails and Subject Lines are Top-Tier

We know we’re not the only ones who did a New Year email cleanse, unsubscribing from many-a-newsletter! And now, Gmail actually prompts people to unsubscribe from the senders they haven’t interacted with in a while. As Gmail and the other big providers focus more heavily on making inboxes highly personalized and less overwhelming, it will become more challenging to show up.

You’ve probably noticed the risks people are taking to get noticed. More emojis in subject lines. More personalization. I even received a sales email last month that had my name listed as the sender’s name—a prophetic message to me, from myself, about how my biggest regret in 2019 was not purchasing their marketing tool. Apparently, I’m deeply disappointed in myself and never even knew it! We’ll surely start seeing more of these clickbaity tricks. No need to reinvent a good thing here, but if you don’t feel confident in your email marketing strategy, this should be a top priority for you. Might we suggest running a re-engagement campaign to start? Think of it like the Whole30 cleanse for your email list. Bye-bye toxins/spambots/people who don’t care about you.

SEO (Showing up in Search Results)

If You’re Ranking on Page One, Go for Position Zero

The featured snippet = Position Zero. A featured snippet is the answer box Google serves up at the top of 23% of search results pages. It’s a great help when you’re Googling; your question gets answered without visiting a single website. Featured snippets are also what feeds voice search responses.

Many mission-driven organizations don’t have the SEO chops or time to build a strategy for targeting featured snippets. That’s probably OK, but it’s important to note how Google is evolving: putting users’ needs first, while also conveniently prompting them to spend more time on Google.

Use AI to do Your SEO Work For You

If you’re someone who has never really understood SEO, you’ll like this one. There are now artificial intelligence (AI) driven tools that can do a lot of the work for you, far better than you ever could.

Tools like Clearscope, MarketMuse, and others are using AI to make writing optimized content easy. If you’re marketing a school, association, or nonprofit that really needs to be found in Google search results, a tool like this could be a worthy investment. It’s still important that you understand the SEO basics, though, so you know how to get the most out of these tools.

Keep Delivering the Best Content on the Internet

Last year, we created some long-form content about creating long-form content. Should you put out a digital guide, whitepaper, ebook, video series, or other type of robust content in 2020 that will provide a ton of value to your audiences? This is the content that will show up in Google search results even if you don’t have a big, popular website, as long as it fills a gap or does a better job than what already exists.

We Have Three 2020 Marketing Wishes for You

Above all else, we hope you’ll commit this year to make our three wishes come true:

Take Some Risks

Test new content types, formats, and messages. Not-for-profit marketing is only as stodgy as we let it be!

Nix What Didn’t Work Last Year

If no one was clicking through your e-newsletters last year, it’s time to try something different!

Deliver True Value

This requires listening to your clients or users, knowing what they want, and trying new things.

Grant us these three simple wishes and you will reap great rewards in the form of impressive marketing metrics and increased efficiency. For you, this really means connecting more people to critical services, educational opportunities, or professional communities. And this is why we think you’re the coolest. (It’s our resolution to give you more words of affirmation in 2020 because you deserve it.)

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