“Relevance” is perhaps the most overused buzzword in the nonprofit and ministry space. It has gone from being a noble goal to the cornerstone of jokes told at the expense of modern churches and charities. But, perhaps the biggest joke is that, even though the word “relevance” has become so closely associated with modern churches and nonprofits, chasing the concept of “relevance” has led to organizations adopting things that are “cool” (like social media or cool digital tools) without thinking through how those “cool” things tie into their overall strategy. This is especially evident when it comes to their digital properties and presence. Unfortunately, the disconnectedness and disorganization that plagues modern organizations when it comes to their digital operations costs so much money and manpower that it’s hard to laugh about it anymore.

Relevance really IS crucial to success – we have to be able to connect to our target audiences, after all – but, more and more, we’re finding that relevance isn’t enough. It’s not enough to have the cool toys or to have a presence in the same digital spaces as your audience. All of those toys and channels need to be pointed in the same direction and at the same goals. In a modern nonprofit and ministry environment, where multiple technologies and communication platforms (your digital properties) are in play, you don’t just need to be relevant – you need to be digitally aligned.

The greatest benefit to digital alignment is a dramatic increase in efficiency. When all of your digital properties are aligned, it takes less time to get things done across those digital properties. The old saying goes, “time is money” but, for ministries and nonprofits – many of whom are running on a skeleton crew – time is limited and more precious than money. When all of your messaging is aligned, there is less confusion (and less work) and your communication – both internal and external – is more effective. When all of your digital properties are connected and aligned, you can actually automate a significant portion of the day-to-day work, saving precious manpower and allowing you to reallocate that time and get more done. Processes that were, at one time, fully-manual – like donor nurturing email campaigns, lead scoring, lead remarketing, success reporting, and even social media interactions – can be set up to run automatically, intelligently, and largely unaided.

The second, and nearly as important, benefit to digital alignment is the ability to see the big picture when it comes to your day-to-day processes. When you have a combined vision and universal organizational goals across all of your digital properties, and when all of your systems are interconnected, you start to see trends in the data that are invisible when everything is siloed. This data is powerful and can help you to not only explore new avenues for income and action but, perhaps more importantly, will let you see which avenues have dried up or are simply not working.

As leaders, strategists, ministers, and marketers, we tend to rely heavily on our gut feelings to make decisions. The unfortunate truth is that, even with all of the experience and knowledge at our disposal, our guts are often wrong. This is why we have to measure and respond to data even when that data tells us that we need to STOP doing things that “make sense.” Though a process or tactic may have seemed like a good idea when we implemented it, it may not be producing the results that we need. If we stop directing our efforts down paths that aren’t working, we can save our organizations time and money that would otherwise be wasted. When we take a scientific and data-focused view, our efforts can and will become more refined and more effective over time. Sometimes, things just don’t work. That, in itself, is data to be used to make better decisions. But you have to be able to SEE what does and doesn’t work in order to move forward efficiently and effectively.

“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.” – C. S. Lewis

Modern ministries, churches, and nonprofits use a lot of modern technology – but they don’t all use the SAME technology. Every organization has its own mix of systems, tools, programs, websites, and networks that are tied up in their everyday operations. Because of this, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution for digital alignment. Every organization has to be evaluated individually and an alignment plan needs to be created specifically for that organization and its unique goals.

That said, here is a list of digital properties and processes that should be considered when putting together an alignment plan.

The Personal Experience

Ironically, the most important part of a digital alignment plan is your people, from your leadership all the way to your volunteer and street teams – the people in charge of your donor experiences and your member engagement. Yes, we know that people are not digital. But, in the modern nonprofit environment, more and more of our relational engagement is done online – via chat, email, social media, online forums, or text messaging – and, while nothing can replace person-to-person interaction, those communication channels are digital and have to be a part of your alignment plan. That is going to require “buy-in” from your team members. They need to not only understand the goals of the system but believe in them and work towards those goals. They need to be aligned along with everything else otherwise the whole system will fall apart. All nonprofits and ministries revolve around people – your donors, members, staff, and volunteers – and people must form the core of your digital alignment plan or it is doomed to fail.

3
The nonprofit sector ranks third in the US in terms of people employed (11 million).

Source: Nonprofit HR

Customer Relationship Management Software (CRM)

Your CRM contains (or should contain) the most important and detailed data about your donors and potential donors. This is the information that your staff uses to understand their leads – the people that they’re trying to convince to support your efforts. A CRM allows you to track warm leads, donations, open conversations, and successes along with vital, personal information such as name, organization, past donation history, etc. Now, imagine if you could augment that data with information about that particular donor’s interests, research patterns, possible budget, and interest level? Most donor development staff will start salivating at the mere thought of having this kind of ammunition. With digital alignment, data from other tools such as marketing automation, social media, SEO metrics, and even your internal donation tracking tools can all be brought together to give you a clear picture of your individual clients and customers.

17
of all online revenue for Nonprofits comes from monthly Recurring Giving

Source: M+R

Church Resource Management Software (ChRM)

Your ChRM contains (or should contain) the most important and detailed data about your members and ministries. This is the information that your ministry staff uses to understand the people that they serve. A ChRM allows you to track membership numbers, attendance, ministry engagement, volunteer activity, and more along with vital, personal information such as name, age, family members, etc. Now, imagine if you could augment that data with information about that particular member’s interests, skills, giving history, and spiritual growth? Most ministers would LOVE to have access to this kind of information – it allows them to understand their members. Once they understand them, skilled pastors and ministers are able to engage with people in a way that’s less intrusive and more helpful. With digital alignment, data from other tools such as marketing automation, social media, SEO metrics, and even your internal church tools can all be brought together to give you a clear picture of your individual members and their unique spiritual needs.

78
of churches use cloud-based church management systems

Source: Leadership Network

Your Website

Every website exists for a reason. Some websites are purely informational – they exist to provide contact information and a bit about the organization for those who are curious. Some websites are complex information and resource delivery platforms designed to serve the needs of their users. Some organizations use their websites to sell products or solicit donations. Whatever it is, you had a reason for building your website. But is that reason aligned with your overall organizational goals? Often, we find that people have a reason for their websites but their websites don’t have purpose. By integrating technologies like responsive design, marketing automation, user chat and text support, website analytics, assimilation platforms, or digital advertising, we can use the website to support ministry and donor development teams and nurture the user relationship. When a website is aligned with an organization’s goals, it starts to become a viable tool for driving engagement and generating donations – it starts to serve a purpose.

8
Monthly nonprofit website visitors increased 8% in 2015 and, on average, 1.1% of visitors made a donation.

Source: M+R

Content

There is a common marketing adage that says that you should be creating approximately 3,000 words of unique content per month spread across all of your marketing channels. You may even be producing this volume of copy. But what are you doing with your copy once you’ve created it? If your marketing channels are all aligned, this content can be used to maximum impact. Creating 3,000 words of unique content takes time, money, and effort – get the most out of it! If content that starts on your website also feeds your email communication and social media presence, you get three times the traction out of your investment in content. But that only happens if your content strategy utilizes integrated content platforms and is aligned with your overall corporate goals.

62
Content marketing is 62% less expensive than traditional marketing

Source: Demand Metric

SEO

A great website and killer content aren’t worth much if potential members, users, or donors can’t find you online. Paying attention to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is crucial but making sure that your SEO efforts are aligned with your overall digital strategy is even more important. Using keywords and unique content that are in line with your target audience and organizational goals makes the difference between being found and being found by the right people. It’s the difference between wasted money and high-value conversions.

14
SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate, while outbound leads (such as direct mail or print advertising) have a 1.7% close rate.

Source: Search Engine Journal

Marketing Automation & Email

For a few years there, every marketing blog on the internet seemed to be predicting the death of email marketing at the hands of social media. The truth is, the reports of email’s death are greatly exaggerated. Email is stronger than ever when it comes to engaging audiences and measuring that engagement. According to M+R and NTEN, nonprofit email list size grew by 14% in 2015 and, according to McKinsey & Company, email conversion rates are three times higher than social media, with a 17% higher value in the conversion. A solid marketing automation and email strategy, when aligned with your overall digital strategy, can increase audience engagement faster than almost any other marketing channel.

44
The average nonprofit raised $44 for every 1,000 fundraising emails delivered

Source: M+R and NTEN

Social Media

Communication gurus have been preaching the value of social media as a marketing channel for years but very few nonprofits have a comprehensive social media strategy in place – and even fewer understand HOW to maximize their social media channels to generate engagement. This is partly because audiences are constantly changing how they engage with social media, but it’s also partly due to a mistaken impression on the part of communications staff that people will engage with organizations over social media in the same way that they engage with each other. The fact is, most people see social media as a news source or as a customer service channel rather than as a marketing channel. An integrated and aligned digital strategy takes this into account and maximizes this expectation to increase positive interactions with their target audience.

On average, for every 1,000 email subscribers, nonprofits have:

355
Facebook Fans
132
Twitter Followers
19
Instagram Followers

(Source: Connect Mogul)

Digital Advertising

Even though people may not necessarily trust branded posts on social media, the value of social media advertising can not be ignored. It’s been said that, if Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populous country in the world. Gaining access to that wide of an audience is invaluable – as long as you engage with them correctly. And Facebook is not the only online community that’s worth pursuing. Whether you’re reaching out to a social media channel, a blog audience, or an online special-interest community, making sure that your digital advertising tactics are targeted while remaining aligned with your overall digital strategy will help you avoid wasting time and money.

3
Promoted Tweets have shown average engagement rates of 1 to 3 percent—much higher than traditional banner ads.

Source: Adweek

Google AdWords

Google is the undisputed king of search engines. It’s also the reigning champ when it comes to pay-per-click and pay-per-impression advertising. With Google single-handedly raking in 33% of all online advertising revenue, ignoring AdWords when putting together a digital strategy for your church, ministry, or nonprofit is shortsighted at best. The Google Display Network includes more than a million websites – that means more than a million places where potential donors, volunteers, or members could encounter your brand and messaging. On average, businesses double their money spent on AdWords advertising and studies show that brands using Google display ads gain a 63% increase in brand awareness with their target audience. Ensuring that AdWords is not just a part of your digital strategy but that it’s an aligned and integrated part of your strategy will open up whole new audiences and donor pools.

The first AdWords ad ever bought and run was for live, mail-order lobsters.

Source: Business Insider

(You just can’t make this stuff up.)

Text Messaging

Mobile marketing is critical to the success of any digital strategy. The statistics don’t lie – more people own a mobile phone than a toothbrush (5.1 billion versus 4.2 billion, respectively). 60% of that 5.1 billion people use their smartphone as their primary connection to the internet. But, even with this information in their hands, most organizations don’t have an aligned plan for text message (SMS) marketing. Text messages are, by far, the most immediate and powerful way to engage with audiences via mobile. But SMS marketing has to be used correctly or it becomes invasive and can actually work against you. It’s CRUCIAL that SMS marketing be a part of – and aligned with – your overall digital strategy.

13
of online gifts were made via mobile device in 2015
Source: M+R and NTEN
98
open rate for text messages, while email has only a 20% open rate
Source: Mobile Marketing Watch 
90
of all text messages are read in under 3 minutes
Source: Connect Mogul 

What’s Next

Take Stock

How do you not only integrate but align all of your digital properties? Well, the first thing you have to do is take stock of what pieces and parts you already have in play. Make a list of all of your marketing and communication channels, all of the day-to-day business software that you’re using, and all of the content that you’re generating. After you’ve made your list, you have to figure out how well they’re integrated (or whether they’re integrated at all) and how well they’re aligned with your overall business goals.

Make a Plan

Once you know where all the pieces are and what state they’re in, you’re ready to start creating a plan to get everything aligned. The first step of the planning stage is basic triage. What’s the most crucial piece to your digital strategy? What is in the worst shape? What will take the least amount of effort to get on track? You’ll need to create an action plan based on this information and your available resources. Once your implementation action plan is in place, you can start rolling out updates and changes to bring everything into alignment.

Implement

Implementation is where most alignment plans fall apart. It’s important that you set challenging – but achievable – goals for each step of the implementation plan. Identify milestones and set due dates for each step leading up to those milestones. Make sure everyone on your implementation team is aware of his or her tasks and responsibilities. Set regular touch-base meetings so that there are no surprises and so timelines can be adjusted if necessary. Efficient implementation ultimately leads to effective alignment.

Measure and Evolve

Creating an effective digital strategy isn’t a “set it and forget it” scenario. Your donors, staff, and the people you help will all change over time – your digital strategy will have to change too. You will have to measure your results, determine what works and what doesn’t, track effectiveness and change tactics when they stop delivering the results that you want. And they will. Change is constant and quick in the digital world. If you’re watching your data, you can respond just a quickly and create more effective strategies than you started with.

As with any machine, pieces will drift out of alignment. You will have to get in there and realign things from time to time. But if you’re proactive about measuring, adjusting, and tweaking, you will find that your digital strategy will become more and more efficient and effective over time and your organization will grow because of it.

Digital alignment is no easy task. We’re here to help you make the most of your digital ecosystems in order to achieve your organizational goals. Reach out today to set up a time to discuss your digital strategy.

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occaisonally look at the results.” – Sir Winston Churchill

Give us a call today at (817) 503-8870