Welcome to the first in a series of digital advice blogs for non-profits, charities or NGOs. We have started with a general overview, which will be followed by more in depth blogs that take you into specific tools and techniques.

What can digital channels do for your organisation?

There is an overwhelming amount of information online, and it can be hard to rise to the top. Some information is dubious in quality and accuracy, and putting yourself online opens you up to forms of criticism and negativity that wouldn't be applicable in a face to face setting. The question that arises is, are there any real benefits for NGOs in engaging in the digital world?

We would strongly argue yes, as long as it is done with purpose and consideration.

Benefits of having an online presence for NGOs

Some NGOs are struggling to reach certain audiences using more traditional methods of communication, such as mail-outs and phone calls. Having an online presence is the best way for NGOs to speak to these potential supporters.

The benefits include the ability to:

  • Amplify word of mouth
  • Connect in new ways
  • Build communities of support
  • Fundraise
  • Make the formerly invisible, more visible (good and bad!)
  • Nurture and acknowledge donors, volunteers and supporters

Things to consider

Before jumping straight online, we would strongly suggest considering your approach carefully. This includes your full digital ecosystem, and how your online presence works overall.

We also recommend taking care with privacy of the data you collect online, and understanding the "rules of engagement" when connecting to others online.

For non profits and NGOs, the challenges are different from those who are running businesses online, and the benefits in many cases can be greater since you have no commercial intention.

Tools and platforms for amplification and engagement

There are a number of widely used tools that would make a great addition to your online arsenal.

  • Facebook Groups to grow your community of support in a safe and relatively private online space

  • Twitter and instagram hashtags to reach audiences who don’t currently follow or know about you, but who search these platforms via #hashtags or have regular feeds for those hashtags

  • Crowdsourcing and Crowdfunding, including platforms such as Givealittle and PledgeMe in New Zealand. There are also lobbying platforms like ActionStation to help raise awareness of the issues your organisation is working with.

  • Facebook Live video is a tool to communicate by live (or recorded) video with your community of supporters, for free. Use Facebook live within your Facebook Group to help communicate effectively, particularly for anything that is time sensitive and where you need support.

  • Email communication campaigns using tools like MailChimp

  • Marketing automation platforms like Hubspot, designed to keep in contact with your supporter base

Seven suggestions to maximise digital for your organisation

1) Put someone into a communications role – overlap with grant applications and sponsorship. We can’t emphasise the importance of this too much. It might be a volunteer role, but whether paid or unpaid, someone needs to build skills in this area and gain momentum – fundraising works on an annual cycle so it is important to carry over the information from each year and build on it. Building long term relationships with grant organisations and other potential donors is also essential, and this is largely a communications role. Don’t allow the only time they ever hear from you to be when you are seeking money – keep them informed of what your organisation is doing in the community, invite them to significant events and ensure their contributions are publicly recognised and appreciated.

2) Utilise the funding sources and other resources available to non-profits. This includes [Techsoup] who support not-for-profits in New Zealand and Australia, Google Ad Grants which provide free online advertising spend to not-for-profits, and the Spark Foundation's Give programme for payroll giving.

3) Build your community within a Facebook Group. Attach one to your existing Facebook page if you don’t already have a group. Set the tone for members, appoint or ask for volunteer admins to help moderate and maintain that tone and spirit of your group. Be prepared to be amazed at how members step up and contribute.

4) Be conscious that whatever you put out into the digital world can support or harm your position in your community.

5) Remember that the digital environment is dynamic - it is constantly evolving and the lounge room where conversations take place, not a street corner for you to shout your message by loudhailer.

6) Your online network can amplify your message many times over – don’t underestimate the reach and impact of your followers and members and ask them to help spread the word on your behalf. Make that process as easy as you can by putting your information, videos and posts in a format that is easy to share, for example ensure that Facebook posts are set to “public” so they can be easily shared.

7) Build up the “credits” of goodwill in your bank in advance, and they will repay you when you need help. So don’t wait until your next fundraiser or grant application to suddenly think about it again. Use it well, and it will be a vital resource when you are looking for community support.

This is the first blog post in our four-part NGO series. See our other posts on growing and diversifying the pathway to giving, encouraging donations online, and nuturing repeat donations.