Thanks so much to my friend and colleague Kivi Leroux Miller for surveying 780 nonprofit communicators like you on your habits, practices and preferences, and then sharing what you reported in the new, free 2011 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report.
I found the report incredibly useful as it compiles data I’ve never seen before, including what most excites and scares nonprofit communicators. I was pleased to grab Kivi for a few minutes to ask her a few questions on the findings:
Nancy: What single finding is most vital for nonprofit marketers to pay attention to, and how should they respond to it?
Kivi: We should continue to experiment; we’re all learning. What I think most nonprofits will find comforting is that everyone is excited about all of the new communications tools available these days and how they create new opportunities to connect with supporters. At the same time, they are intimidated about not having the time and skills to use them well.
Everyone is in the same boat: We are all learning and trying to figure out how to integrate the tools well. I hope nonprofits of all sizes will see that they aren’t alone in that, and that they should feel free to experiment right along with everyone else.
Nancy: I was surprised to see Facebook ranked as a more important tool than print marketing/communications materials. Of course a strong Facebook presence definitely offers significant reach if an org has many likes.
But how can you really compare the value of two such very different tools? Is there a more productive way to look at these tools?
Kivi: Cost and purpose are the determining factors: I believe the cost of print marketing compared to online marketing is a significant factor in these decisions. At some level, the effectiveness of direct mail becomes irrelevant if you simply can’t afford to send it out. That’s especially true for communications that are more informational or rapport-building in nature, as opposed to a direct fundraising appeal.
Nancy: Most survey respondents email supporters monthly but is that really enough? I think that it’s tough for a supporter to feel connected with any organization it hears from just twelve times a year.
How do you recommend that nonprofits ensure they do connect with their supporters if they email just monthly?
Kivi: I was actually thrilled to see 75% emailing at least monthly, because many of the small organizations that I hear from, especially those who are transitioning from a print newsletter, often think monthly is too often!
But I agree with you; I think monthly touch points are the bare minimum. If email is well integrated with other forms of communication, including print, in-person contacts, PR, and/or social media, I think a monthly email schedule can work just fine.
Nancy: What nonprofit marketers identify as exciting them and scaring them in 2011 is fascinating. How can they put these findings to work?
Kivi: I think nonprofits can use this report, and this section in particular, to benchmark themselves in some ways against the nonprofit sector as a whole.
I think nonprofit communications staff often feel alone in the wilderness, and even alone in their own organizations. The report validates some of their concerns, and I hope it encourages them to reach out to each other to find solutions and support.
Nancy: You note that more than half (51%) of nonprofit organizations have a marketing plan but, in digging into the responses, I see that just 32% have a formal plan that’s approved by leadership. That’s startling to a marketing planning advocate like me. Which of the other findings do you think are related to a lack of a formal, approved plan? And what is the best way to help nonprofits close the planning gap?
Kivi: I think the stats on marketing planning are closely related to the “what excites you” and “what scares you” responses. The organizations with written plans are more excited about finally getting organized and integrating their communications; the ones without plans are more scared about not knowing what to do or how to do it.
The realization that you really do need to pay attention to marketing and that a marketing plan is the must-have framework to work from is just now hitting many organizations, and I think it comes directly from having an overwhelming number of choices in ways to communicate. When all you had to do was produce a quarterly print newsletter and send out a few press releases, the marketing plan was pretty clear cut. But the sheer number of communications channels now available to even the smallest nonprofits requires more strategic decision-making. I’m looking forward to seeing those planning numbers rise in the coming years.