Five Trends Shaping Nonprofit Marketing in 2021

By Lautel Okhio | February 12, 2021 | , | Donor Experience, Nonprofit, Nonprofit Marketing

The year has barely started, but nonprofits are well into planning, strategizing, and executing on plans for 2021. As the world continues to struggle with the ongoing pandemic, delivery of healthcare and vaccines, flagging economies, and political instability, the work nonprofits are doing — and the successful execution of plans designed to maximize impact — is increasingly critical.

When it comes to engagement, these global concerns will continue to drive supporter behavior. And while it would be ideal to plan for the year as though things will resolve quickly, having a strategy in place that accounts for unforeseen events is a good course of action when so much is still uncertain.

Below, we’ve outlined some of the strongest trends we’re seeing so far this year as nonprofits prepare for the healing, rebuilding, and unknowns of 2021.

Two people leading a brainstorming session by putting post it notes on the wall

Supporter experience is the fuel that powers a good supporter journey.

1) Supporter Experience Will Remain a Powerful Differentiator 

We know that the supporter experience is the fuel that powers a good supporter journey. In fact, a journey consists of a chain of personalized, seamless, and impactful supporter experiences. The experience that supporters have with a nonprofit is what turns individuals into allies and advocates. And in troubled times, it can function as a powerful call to action for donors, volunteers, and members — as well as those who are brand new to your organization and eager to get involved. 

Creating a good supporter experience starts with understanding its core components:

  1. Scalability: No supporter experience is effective unless it can be scaled for all supporters externally, and across teams internally 
  2. 1:1 Personalization: Supporter experiences that are memorable and impactful also generally carry the feeling of being 1:1, even though they are in fact 1: many. An example of this might look like an email campaign that targets individuals based on their specific interests, like an animal shelter reaching out to dog lovers with opportunities to sponsor a litter of puppies. 
  3. Relatable and Timely: Supporter experiences work best when they feel just a little bit serendipitous. For example, a young person who follows your organization on twitter shortly after a major political incident. They might feel a little hopeless or a little helpless. Seeing this, you might tweet a message encouraging them not to give up and to get involved, and list out some volunteer opportunities that aim to serve the impacted communities.

2) Data Will Drive the Best Experiences 

The examples above require a certain amount of data to be collected, shared, and accessible, so organizations that do not yet have a way to track this kind of supporter data will want to consider implementing ways to do so. But what kind of data should organizations be focused on collecting that can drive supporter experience? 

There’s an entire constellation of options, but some useful ones are: location, interests, preferences, preferred channels, social media audiences, and activity.

These types of data are relatively easy to collect using social listening, capturing survey data, and form page responses, and can give nonprofits a lot of insight into what drives their supporters at an individual level. And that’s important for creating those 1:1 experiences that are both scalable and relevant.

3) Empathy Will Be More Critical Than Ever

And that brings us to empathy. This year, empathy isn’t just a matter of understanding where supporters might be coming from — it’s also a matter of transparency. As we all grapple with the next new normal, being authentic and transparent with supporters about both the impact they have and the impact your organization has can help drive deeper connections. 

Television sometimes ‘breaks the fourth wall’ and speaks directly to the audience, removing the invisible barrier between the show’s narrative, and the audience consuming it. For a nonprofit then, breaking the fourth wall is about removing the invisible barrier between organization and community, and inviting the community in.

Oftentimes, we see this done by utilizing impact data: sharing precisely how many gallons of water, pounds of food or clothes, or how many educations and school lunches are sponsored. That data is great! But personal stories about why people volunteer, and the passions that drive the work of nonprofit employees can really open up the narrative and allow the community to become more than just the audience.

4) Short-Term Planning Will Be the New Normal 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change at eye-popping speeds, trying to plan a year in advance will become more challenging — if not downright impossible. All organizations, large and small, will likely want to think long-term, while planning for the short-term. When planning campaigns — even those around popular and traditionally predictable occasions like Giving Tuesday — asking short-term questions like these can help ensure that organizations have contingency plans in place:

  • Where will the organization be in three months?
  • Will everyone be back in the office in the next few months or is it unlikely until next year?
  • What will our supporters be focused on in the next three months?
  • What are we focused on as an organization for the next three months?
  • What major possibilities are there for our area or region sin the next three months? 

Planning for the short term can help you stay nimble — especially since it’s likely that even if things went back to normal in six months, we’d still need a big shift to get everything back up and running at standard capacity again.

Brainstorming session showing ideas on sticky notes

Long-term planning is necessary, but planning for the short term can help you stay nimble.

5) Digital Will Continue to Dominate 

We’ve all said it repeatedly over the past nine months: everything is digital. But as marketers, we need to heed the implicit warning. Everything really is digital, and it’s likely to continue that way for some time to come. Nonprofits were already implementing digital methods of engagement at a rapid pace, but now it’s making the difference between being operational and being unable to engage at all. Digital channels — particularly social media, but also web and email — are lifelines to many while in-person gatherings are still limited. But they’re also key channels for nonprofits who still need to engage an increasingly digitally fatigued audience. 

While we can’t take our supporters offline just yet, varying the type of digital communications, and simplifying access to them will help individuals stay connected to the causes they care about. Video also has emerged as a key tactic among for-profit organizations that have historically struggled with digital fatigue. Video content can help attract audiences that are fed up with emails, as can social media. Leveraging these types of tactics in innovative ways is the name of the game for a year with so much still in flux. 

And while it may seem like it’s not a good time to go off the rails and think outside the box, there couldn’t be a better time for digital innovation.

Learn more about the four trends in nonprofit marketing in 2021.


About the Author

Lautel Okhio, Product Marketing Manager for Salesforce.org Nonprofit Cloud

Lautel is a Product Marketing Manager at Salesforce.org on the Nonprofit Marketing and Engagement Team. In her spare time, she likes reading, dance music, and studying Japanese.