This is what is wrong with your digital strategy.

I’ve read and written hundreds of nonprofit digital strategy documents. As a former consultant for the nonprofit space, “I need to create a digital strategy” was something that I heard almost daily.

The problem is that you don’t need a digital strategy. You need a strategy.

“Digital” has become a buzzword of sorts in the past several years. Google Trends shows steady search growth for both digital strategy and digital marketing strategy since 2007.


google trends digital strategy


With any buzzword comes the flurry of self-proclaimed expert consultants and agencies aligning their products and services to that new market interest.

But you don’t need a digital strategy. You need a strategy.

The problem with creating a digital strategy is that it easily becomes divorced from the organizational strategy as a whole. Today, we can’t look at digital as something separate from the core purpose of your business or organization.

Nonprofits often ask for “a digital strategy that aligns with our broader organizational strategy.”

What you really need is a business strategy enabled with digital tools and solutions.

When you focus on strategy in a vacuum, by domain or medium, you lose site of your end goal. New online tools enchant you and distract you from your real tangible business goals.

So let’s talk a little bit about strategy. When I work with nonprofits to develop a strategy, I run into many of the same problems. You’ve probably experienced some of the same, and hopefully I can help reframe some of these problems so that you can better prepare your organization for success.

Problem #1: You think your audience is the general public.

Maybe Beyonce can claim that the “general public” is her audience, but you cannot. Your audience is not the world.

At the Net2Van Annual Meeting – The Digital Nonprofit 2014 – that was recently held in Vancouver, two speakers from OpenMedia discussed the Engagement Pyramid. The gist of the engagement pyramid is that you’ll have many different audience segments, from the least engaged people (people who don’t know who you are) to the most engaged people (regular donors).

But that least engaged segment is not the general public. It is the group of people that actually have a reason to care about you and your mission. To define this group, you need to understand the origin of your most engaged supporters. How did they find you and where were they looking?

As you begin to collect that information, you’ll start to see patterns in behaviors, demographics, and interests. This group of unengaged people is your “general public” audience. Know them, love them, talk to them.

Problem #2: Your goal is to build awareness.

Every nonprofit in the world wants to build awareness, but often awareness is difficult, if not impossible to measure. The problem with building awareness as a primary goal is that the awareness you are building could have zero impact on your business goals.

Rather than build awareness, focus on driving action. Once someone becomes aware of your mission or cause, what is the next step you want them to take? If people become aware of you but then never take an action, that awareness won’t help you create real change.

Problem #3: You think you want engagement, but you are not really sure what it means

Engagement is another thing that everyone wants; yet no one seems to know what it is. Digital engagement and engagement marketing both have seen steady increase in search traffic since 2007 as well.

I’ve read hundreds of nonprofit RFPs that include “building engagement” as a primary goal. Yet very few organizations define what engagement means for them.

Engagement should be defined and designed. The trick here is that engagement isn’t the same for your entire audience. If we return to the Engagement Pyramid, you have to segment your audience and define what engagement looks like for each segment.

A new supporter likely won’t donate $50, but they may be willing to share a piece of content. Figure out what your Engagement Pyramid looks like and create measurable goals for each step.

Problem #4: You have no outcomes to measure success.

In 6 months, what are you specifically going to look at to know whether you’ve been successful or not? What are you going to look at in 3 months? 1 month? 1 week? You see where I’m going here.

Without measurable outcomes, you don’t know what works and you can’t learn from your experiments. The only way you’re going to scale your impact as an organization is to learn as quickly as you can from your successes and failures. And that’s impossible without measurable outcomes.

Remember, you don’t need a digital strategy. You need a strategy.

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