Marketing Automation for Nonprofits: Definitions, Strategies, and Value

Marketing Automation for Nonprofits: Definitions, Strategies, and Value

By Mckenna Bailey, Writer and Strategist, Virtuous

There are a few things that we know to be true about generosity. The first is people want to give. Whether it’s time, money or resources, most everyone wants to do what they can to help the causes they care about. The second is that generosity is extremely personal. Everyone is driven by their own values, morals and interests. 

In order to increase generosity, nonprofits not only need to understand what motivates their different donors, but also how to use that information to connect with each individual. The way to do both effectively, without adding hundreds of hours to your team’s workload, is marketing automation. 

At Virtuous, it is our mission to explain what marketing automation for nonprofits looks like while also providing the right tools to make each organization successful. 

What Is Marketing Automation for Nonprofits

Marketing automation in the for-profit space is transactional — it is personalized, but not usually motivated by a cause. But marketing automation for nonprofits is different (when it’s done right). It helps create ways for nonprofits to connect with their individual donors. It has to be personal and cause-driven. At its core, marketing automation for nonprofits is a way to take the strategies you use to grow your relationships with major donors and apply them to everyone else. 

Let’s say, for example, you collect the name of a potential donor from an event you hosted. Using your email marketing platform, you start sending them a nurture sequence. You might send a survey asking about the initiatives in your organization they’re most passionate about, a video highlighting people on your team, a few milestone goals you reached in the last year and a few you want to hit in the next 6 months. 

The new potential donor then sees one of their connections on social media post about their commitment to your nonprofit and a sponsored post about your current need for giving. They make the decision to give their first donation and immediately your team gets a notification to call the new donor. On the phone, you ask about their interests, what other communities they’re part of and how they see themselves making a difference in the future. After you enter that information in your donor management system, the new donor immediately qualifies for a new nurture sequence. They get a different campaign full of information for people who want to organize a group of volunteers in their area. 

Throughout that entire process, that donor was sent up to 10 engagements, but the only staff time required was a single phone call from one person on your team. Your nonprofit now has a new, loyal donor who feels appreciated and important to your cause — exactly what you were hoping for. But it didn’t take 3 years of work. It was efficient and personal. 

That’s the right way for nonprofits to do  marketing automation. 

We know that high-touch, personalized engagement inspires loyalty and advocacy. But, until now, nonprofits haven’t found an easy way to duplicate that model for their biggest audience: the individual donor. Using the right tools and a dedicated marketing automation strategy, nonprofits can guarantee growth and successful fundraising campaigns for decades to come. 

Marketing Automation Best Practices for Nonprofits

Creating a marketing automation strategy often sounds intimidating to nonprofits. We understand. We’re here to simplify everything for you. Follow these 3 best practices for getting marketing automation started at your nonprofit. 

1. Keep Your Data Clean

The success of the marketing automation program at your nonprofit hinges on the data you collect. However, that doesn’t mean you should collect all the data you possibly can the first time a potential donor submits a form. Instead, set up your workflow so that you learn something new every time you engage with your donors. 

Do not collect any data unless you know exactly why you’re asking for it. It is not enough to say, “because we might need it in the future.” That’s the best way to clog your donor management system with useless data, burying the real insights. Remember, when you meet a new friend, you don’t learn their entire life story in the first day. It takes months of intentional interaction to learn most things. Treat your donors the same way. Only collect the data you want when you need it and always have something valuable to provide them after they’ve given something of themselves. 

2. Be As Responsive As Possible

Marketing automation for nonprofits will create new ways for your donors to engage. They will see new messages from everyone on your team, advocate for your organization across different communications channels and give feedback on the different initiatives you announce to them. That holistic experience of your nonprofit is what will grow generosity and loyalty. 

As you’re planning each of these touchpoints, make sure that you schedule a response. Whether a donor comments on your social media posts or encourages a friend to donate to your cause, you should have an automatic response ready to acknowledge their commitment and thank them for being a loyal member of your community. The faster and more personalized your responses can be, the more genuine your relationship will be with that donor. Over time, marketing automation will help you create these deeply personal connections with all of your donors, regardless of generosity amount. 

3. Start Now, Expand Later

The most important step to implementing marketing automation at your nonprofit is getting started. The only way to have the data you need to implement strategic, personalized workflows is to start collecting it. 

Whether you have a dedicated marketing automation tool for improved donor relationships or you do it all manually, the more historical data you have, the more intelligent your strategies can be. Start with simple automation, like a personalized thank you, and then add sophistication over time at your own pace. 

Defining the Value of Marketing Automation for Nonprofits

Finally, we arrive at the most important piece. How can your nonprofit define the value of marketing automation. Up until now, you might be thinking that it sounds expensive, complicated or too involved for your organization. But let’s take a second to think about how donor expectations are evolving. 

Technology has transformed the world completely in the last 15 years. Every time your donors sign on to their Netflix account and see a list of shows they assume were made just for them, their standards raise a little higher. When they check their inbox and see hand-selected clothing items they’ve been searching for, their expectations of all other organizations grow a little more. 

Essentially, every day your donors are growing more accustomed to being in charge of the way they experience organizations. They will no longer accept mass emails from your nonprofit. To earn their generosity, you have to provide it first — in the form of a personalized, valuable experience. 

Yes, it does mean more strategic planning and buy-in from everyone in your organization, but it also guarantees that your nonprofit will continue to grow and connect with the donors of tomorrow. The real value of marketing automation for nonprofits is not just more hours in your day or increased email open rates. It’s not even the increase in generosity (although that is a huge benefit). The true value of marketing automation for nonprofits is ensuring that you have what you need to create a network of people committed to doing more good. 

Get More Information on Marketing Automation for Nonprofits 

To learn more about the value of marketing automation or how to adopt the tools you need to implement it at your nonprofit, visit the Virtuous website. We have downloadable resources, on-demand webinars and product tours to help you connect with the donors of today and tomorrow. 

Explore the marketing strategy and execution services offered by CGC.

Mckenna Bailey is a writer and strategist at Virtuous. She uses empathy and storytelling to help nonprofits connect to their most committed donors. 

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