In our recent blog post featured on NTEN’s website, we encouraged nonprofit organization’s to become Digital-First organizations. Digital-First is a methodology—a new way of thinking and working—which acknowledges that the digital landscape, and your audiences’ expectations, will always be changing. Today, we’re going to revisit the Digital-First methodology, and talk about how you can use it to think about, and categorize, your online presence.
An important part of understanding this new approach in the nonprofit world is to consider the different types of digital properties available to your organization. We are big fans of the Home Base/Embassies/Outposts model, which can be used as a tool that helps nonprofits wrap their heads around a Digital-First mindset. The combination of these internal and external digital properties provides your organization opportunities to interact with your audience in an infinite number of ways, but more importantly, helps you gain valuable insights into individuals' attitudes, motivations, and behaviors. That collected data will then help to build comprehensive profiles, and can be fed into more automated, personalized supporter experiences through a combination of better segmentation, stage-specific content, and engagement opportunities.
The home base is at the core of the digital experience that your organization offers online. It consists of your main website, any microsites, and outbound communications, such as an email newsletter—all of which are controlled by you. With ultimate control, your organization decides not only the content that is presented, but also how to strategically move people through that experience in a way that maximizes engagement and action, or some other desired outcome. You have a lot of latitude within your home base, but it may not be where your supporters spend much of their time.
Beyond the safety of your home base, you can enter the world of embassies. These are digital platforms that you don’t own or control, but where you have a presence that you have created. Think of embassies as a defined space where your supporters already live, and where your organization’s presence exists in parallel to that of other organizations. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Tumblr are just a few examples of the many embassies that are at a nonprofit’s disposal.
Although you do not control the design of embassies, the dialogue that transpires, or how people move through them, embassies present amazing opportunities. They allow your organizations to meet people where they are, as opposed to having to drive these individuals to your home base through a combination of search terms, content, and diverse lead generation activities. In order to leverage embassies effectively, you need to moderate the content as best you can to show responsiveness and engagement in a topic that is of interest to your target audience.
Outposts are places that typically have some tie-in to your brand or mission. As such, people may perceive outpost as associated with your organization, but they are not primarily controlled by you. For example, you might write a guest post for another organization, contribute content to a media outlet, or have some of your organization’s advocacy work featured on a partner site. However, you do not have a page or other type of micro-property on the site where the content is featured. Co-branded websites, such as medium.com, are increasingly popular outposts where organizations can easily contribute content, but with decreasing control over it. Your best bet with outposts is to provide great, value-add content that presents your organization, its mission, and efforts in the most positive light possible.
Prioritize your Properties
Now that you have an understanding of these different components, you need to think about how to prioritize your investment in each of them. Obviously, being ‘everywhere’ isn’t achievable, nor is it necessary for a nonprofit; the notion of quality of quantity is more important. With this in mind, prune your ecosystem to a finite number of properties where you are most likely to have the greatest impact, and then pick two or three channels or tactics that you can test for a predetermined period (e.g., one year). Once that period is over, assess the results from the time frame, and use this valuable data to make informed decisions about plans for the upcoming year.
Pruning is one way to manage your presence across digital properties; another way is to leverage the COPE model: Create Once, Publish Enthusiastically. This smart approach to content production enables organizations to focus on producing high-quality content, which can then be published across multiple channels. By using COPE, nonprofits can reach more of their target audience in diverse ways, thereby reinforcing their key messages and extending their reach.
Where the Rubber Hits the Road
So, what does it look like when a nonprofit embraces the Digital-First methodology, along with the concept of home base/embassies/outposts? Just ask the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). For the past several years, NRDC has embarked on a Digital-First transformation, moving away from their fragmented approach to communications.
Join NRDC’s Deputy Director of Marketing and Engagement, Michelle Egan, and Jackson River CEO, Alice Hendricks, to learn more about Digital First and hear NRDC’s story at our upcoming webinar, The Modern Digital Team, on July 13 at 11 a.m. PT / 2 p.m. ET. Register today.