Getting Your Digital House in Order Part I: Laying the Foundation

JanelHave you ever undertaken a major home improvement project or renovation? If so, you are all too familiar with the myriad of decisions that must be made, the planning, schedule and budget considerations, compromises and trade-offs, setbacks, frustrations, and then, at long last—voilà, your new creation!

And so it goes with your organization’s digital “house.” When it comes to online fundraising and integrated programs, sometimes you need to renovate. But what goes into a digital renovation? How do you know when it’s time? Homeowners renovate to enjoy their home more and to improve their home’s value; likewise, you are trying to boost value and get more out of your fundraising program. Copywriter and strategist Lisa Kaneff cautions, “It’s important to remember that this is a renovation project, not a demolition project. We’re taking the good, strong bones of your fundraising house and using that solid infrastructure to introduce a fresh, new way of fundraising in a sustainable way that will add value.”

Assess the Situation
You can’t dive in and start your renovation until you know exactly what you’re working with. Some questions to ask as you assess the current situation might be:

  • What’s there now?
    Honestly evaluate your current program. Are you emailing (consistently)? Are you engaging on social media? Is your house file stagnant or growing?
  • What do you like?
    Is there anything worth salvaging in your current program? Does it have “good bones” like consistent response rates or generous donors?
  • What’s broken and what needs to change?
    There’s always room for improvement. Consider what you need to “fix” versus what just needs a fresh a coat of paint. Should you completely redesign your donor form and user experience? Or just test some new imagery or copy?
  • What’s missing?
    Are there any obvious holes in the roof or essential rooms that must be added? Look to your data and to other organizations for clues about potential improvements you can make. A strong social strategy is a good thing, but if you are pushing new visitors to a site that is less than welcoming, the letdown results in lower engagement and fewer donor dollars. On the other hand, having a gorgeous site that no one visits is also a problem. Find what’s missing so you can properly plan your expansion.
  • What’s your style?
    Traditional, contemporary, shabby chic? Do you have a consistent style and way of speaking to your audience? Your organization’s voice is a subtlety that often goes overlooked, but it is part of the curb appeal of your digital house.

Draw Up the Plans
Before you grab that sledgehammer and start knocking down walls, take time to create a blueprint. Start with these basics: Who, What, When, Where, How, and How Much. Defining and clarifying these at the outset will pay off in the long run.

  1. Who
    First, determine your audiences. (Yes, plural.) Are you bringing in new donors? Are you connecting and reactivating lapsed donors? Are you finding young supporters who could be great advocates now and donors in the future? Knowing who your audiences are will give you insight on how and where to reach them. Taking it a step further, developing personas for segments of your audience will help you understand what motivates them and what needs they might have in interacting with your organization.
  2. What
    Define your objectives, strategies, and goals. What, exactly, do you want to accomplish? If there are multiple things on that list, prioritize them. Set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound. So Instead of something vague like “grow email giving,” you could say “Increase net revenue from email campaigns by 12% in the fourth quarter, year-over-year.” Now we have something to aim for! It’s the difference between telling a contractor, “I want a new kitchen” and handing him a blueprint and saying “build me this kitchen by December 15th.”
  3. When
    The “when” really depends on the kind of renovations you are undertaking. Some goals will be short-term, and some longer. But there are guidelines and dependencies. Just as you wouldn’t install countertops before the cabinets, or cabinets before flooring, you wouldn’t press “send” on a big campaign before cleaning your email list and making sure your donation form is working. Once the basics are in place and you have achieved a certain level of consistency, you then have freedom to improvise and experiment. Create a calendar of projects that makes sense and stick to it!
  4. Where
    This is the fun part. Like picking out paint colors, fixtures, and appliances, choosing what platforms you are going to employ is exciting and requires sifting through a lot of choices!

    Email is a great channel for direct response online fundraising, as well as advocacy and cultivation. Social media helps build engagement, educate about your mission, increase your reach, reinforce campaign messaging across channels, and potentially get some incremental donations. Search engine marketing is great for new donor acquisition, helping current donors make repeat donations, and branding. Display ads are great for brand awareness, with the possibility of some new donor acquisition. YouTube is amazing for storytelling with video and helps with search engine rankings.

    You don’t have to be everywhere! And you don’t have to invest equal time across platforms. You just have to understand the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities of each channel, and figure out if it’s worth the time and energy. In other words, will you get a good return on your investment?

  5. How
    An important consideration when you contemplate a renovation is “Who will do the heavy lifting?” Are you the DIY-type or do you call on outside help? Often, a hybrid solution—a blend of in-house and external resources—is the right call. Can your in-house team realistically bring your vision to life? If not, working with a strategic partner can reduce the workload and fill in skills gaps on your staff. Assembling the right team makes all the difference when it’s time to implement the strategies that will take your digital environment to the next level. Let’s face it, some improvement projects are easier to tackle than others—know when to call in the master plumber or electrician.
  6. How Much
    Estimate what the project will cost and determine how you will pay for it. If the renovations are more than your budget can immediately sustain, can you develop a phased approach? Depending on the amount of work to be done, it can be helpful to create a project plan that staggers key aspects of your renovation and allows for the cost to be predictable and spread evenly over the course of a year. In considering cost, also consider value. Remodeling magazine publishes an annual Cost vs. Value Report in which they survey thousands of contractors and Realtors to get the average cost on major home renovations and the average increase in value when those renovations are completed (ROI). Unfortunately, they don’t include things like adding a welcome series or migrating to a new eCRM platform. Nothing is set in stone, as marketing is part science, part art, and part alchemy, but looking at the price tag of a digital renovation won’t be as daunting when you realize the value that awaits on the other side of it.

Now that you have a plan, let’s roll up our sleeves and rip up that shag carpet…

Look for Part II of this article in the next PS Insider.

Thanks to Lisa Kaneff, Content Consultant, and Jeff Kost of Capital Caring for their contributions to this article.

Janel Clement

Director of Digital Services  |  Email Us

Janel is a digital communications expert with 20 years of industry experience, primarily in digital strategy and web design for nonprofits. She's passionate about world-changing, proper grammar, cheese, and her border collie, Maisie.

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