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Creating an Effective Digital Presence for Non-Profits and Charitable Organizations

Going digital, whether willingly or not, is the survival mode of the times. Over the last several years, a shift of digital transformation is sweeping the NPO sector by surprise. Many small- to medium-sized organizations are scrambling to revamp their online identity, especially as remote work and internet technologies become the new normal. CanadaHelps notes that the acceleration to digital platforms across all sectors (government, industry, media, non-profits, research, etc.) is the emergence of the new digital economy[1]. In other words, digitalization is not going away.

The charitable sector often lacks the tech know-how and financial availability to contract expensive tech, savvy personnel. But an online presence is essential for any charity or non-profit organization to be successful in the twenty-first century. Online communication and engagement tools help to broadcast what your organization does and how it does it, most notably to partners and potential donors. For obvious reasons, this is important. In fact, many grant applications specifically ask for websites and social media links, and committees will assess grant compatibility, at least in part, by gauging your online identity.

Assessing your organization’s digital capacity is a good first step. We understand this may feel daunting for smaller organizations, many of whom may not have the resources to invest in tech-related set-ups. And let’s be honest—technology is expensive.

Here are four steps that we hope will help you focus on the outcomes of a digital platform.

1. Research Simple Content Systems

Getting started doesn’t have to mean massive operational shifts or huge investments. To start, there are lots of accessible and affordable content management systems for simple websites, such as WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. Not only are they simple to use, but they are very cost effective. The management system you choose will depend on the complexity and amount of content you need disseminated; it is best to start small and simple when just venturing out.

Additionally, the influence of social media should not be underestimated. Facebook is a relatively simple social media tool to use that allows an organization to broadcast events and updates on a regular basis. It is also the number one used social media app and provides lots of options for posting activity and updating in a much simpler format than most websites. Twitter and Instagram are additional apps that allow for different styles to broadcast information, including fundraising events, images, and community news. There are lots of demonstration videos and user-friendly tutorials to help get you started. But most important is to start simple. Take deep breaths. Do research on basic content systems. Seek advice from those you can trust.

2. Build your Online Brand

Your online platform and organizational brand should be prioritizing the message and identity you want broadcasted to the broader public. Start with the basics and grow your online pursuits from there. The basics should include your organization’s name and logo (if you have one), colour-scheme, and mission/vision statement. Taking a peek around to other charities and non-profits, you might notice they are consistent in using their logo and brand colours when posting pictures, news/events, and organizational stories. This is not accidental. Include your logo, colour scheme, and language throughout your website and social media posts. Not doing so will likely cause confusion.

You want to build familiarity with your audience, and being consistent is the easiest way to achieve this. Simple consistencies make your brand recognizable across multiple platforms. This allows people to learn who you are, what you are about, and to recognize you as you grow your online presence.

Additionally, being consistent also means being simple. Keep your messaging simple, especially on social media. Do not overwhelm your audiences with long-winded paragraphs, complex phrasing, and hasty postings. The extraordinary amount of information on the internet makes it especially important to tailor your messages so that they are clear, simple, and recognizable.

If your organization is about making accessible education for lower-income families—be exactly that. No postings of animal rescues or sharing news stories of recent climate change policies. Remember your social media is an extension of your organization.

3. Build Connections

Building online connections is often the most challenging part of building an online presence. It requires becoming somewhat familiar with social media and how to communicate effectively across multiple platforms. Building online connections helps get messaging out faster and to wider audiences, making it a vital step to building an online presence. But where to start?

In regard to social media, Facebook is the first go-to app. When adding your community to your profile, it’s a good idea to start with your real and local professional community. Build your “friends” and “likes” by inviting others to like your page. Add your already established professional colleagues, staff, and community members. A simple way to think about it is you are essentially just building your real-life connections onto a social media platform and allowing your connections to organically grow from there.

Updating your existing website—or creating an engaging and interesting website—that personalizes your organization is key. Users that find a webpage difficult to navigate, “broken,” or basically just uninteresting are unlikely to come back. Again, you don’t need to cram a page with lots of information—you just need the information you are presenting to be clear, easy to read, easy to understand, and, if possible, creatively presented.

4. Build a Communication Strategy

Many programs, businesses, and organizations develop a communications strategy that allow them to visualize their long-term goals and those corresponding activities, steps and engagement tools it will take to achieve those goals.

Your communication strategy does not need to be a long-winded and complicated plan. Start simple by focusing on the basics.

Step 1: Start by compiling your networks and contacts into a readable and easily accessible format. This is really important for targeting specific audiences. Your mailing lists, media contacts for press release, volunteer callouts, and funders should be organized into separate lists, which helps to be time effective. Update and add to your contacts regularly.

Step 2: Schedule your posts and sub-topic themes (events, fundraisers, news, etc.) into a weekly/monthly schedule. Ensure your logos, letterheads, organizational narrative, vision/mission/value statements, and photos are all in a neatly organized folder, easily accessible when needed. If you have an upcoming event, make sure you are updating your audience, sharing the websites of partners, and publicly thanking/acknowledging donors and volunteers before and after.

Step 3: Events and fundraising should be organized and well-thought out.

Two to three months before your event, make sure you are setting up your supports and sign-up forms, inviting your networks, confirming deadlines and participants, and advertising your event.
One to two weeks before your event, make sure you are sending reminders with event details, responding to questions, counting your ticket confirmations, ensuring all the pieces (caterers, speakers, photographers, payments, etc.) are confirmed and comfortable moving ahead.
Post-event—never forget to send thank-you’s, post pictures and highlight donors/volunteers, and ensure all due payments are confirmed. Use the successes of this event to promote future ones.
There are lots of websites on event organization for charities and non-profits which can provide checklists and to-do lists in a timeline format.

Step 4: There are countless platforms to reach people, including blogs, social media, press releases, email marketing, video marketing, websites, internet search engines, and more. For example, if your audience is younger, ensure you are using the most impactful social media channels to reach them. If possible, provide ways in which you can listen and learn from your networks whether that be by survey, questionnaire, or discussion board.

Streamlining your operations so that your company’s digital footprint is accessible and clear is not an easy feat, especially if you’ve never had to think much about it before. Luckily, there are lots of user-friendly, affordable, and accessible options out there ready to help.

Take the time to dream up what your organization’s identity should be. Then proceed to find the right options that help make that dream a reality. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or learn as you go. At the end of the day, you’ve got nothing to lose by showcasing the hard work you do in an online format that can help boost your following and potential donors.


Photo Credit: Emma Matthews –

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