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What are the current digital marketing trends in the nonprofit sector?

I am exploring the digital media/social media aspect in the nonprofit sector and wish to understand the career path in this field. What kind of skills are required if one is starting out fresh in this line? social-media-marketing social-media digital-marketing non-profit-organization-management non-profit-management nonprofitdigitalmedia nonprofits non-profit

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Ollie’s Answer

(I have a bunch of experience in nonprofit work.)

Nonprofit orgs have two major "departments," if you will. One is "program" in which they carry out their mission, be it care for sick people, playing historic music, teaching schoolchildren about Brazilian culture, or whatever. There are lots of great nonprofits with great missions.

The other is "development." This is a euphemism for "fundraising," or as I prefer to put it, persuading people to "dig deep, shell out, and fork over" lots of money to support the org's mission.

Social media in nonprofits is part of development. You're posting, blogging, tweeting, instagramming, etc, to raise awareness of the mission and how your org carries out the mission. You're sending email blasts and postal mailings soliciting donations. You're creating and distributing annual reports (to your donors and other stakeholders) thanking them and telling of your success.

You need to understand the org's mission really well, and why it's important. That probably takes some knowledge of history and politics in the area of your org's mission.

You need to be able to write clearly to tell the story. Photography chops help if the story can be told with pictures. Graphic design skills also help. Classes in marketing will give you the tools to understand and describe your audiences for your campaigns.

Here's a suggestion for a learning exercise. Read the book Mountains beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, and design a simple social media campaign for the org it describes, Partners In Health.

Then find a local org or two that interests you. (Not Partners in Health or the American Red Cross, they're too big to wrap your head around by yourself. Try a local music group or food pantry or domestic-abuse shelter or something.) Look at and critically evaluate their social media presence.

Ask the executive director of some local org for half an hour of time, and ask for specific advice about your career path. Maybe you can find an intership.

(You should also be aware that few orgs are big enough to have people dedicated to social media; you'll often need to do other development work too.)

Thanks Ollie for your insights. I will start looking at smaller nonprofit and analyzing their digital marketing strategies. Great info by the way. Vidya V.

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DEBORAH’s Answer

I am going to advise you on non profit view with limited knowledge on digital/social media.

Communication is key to any organization. Ability to present the company’s goal, activities, results and strategic direction to the society (beneficiaries, community, employees, and the general public) must be an important aspect of the organization.

Looking at non profit where the sole aim is to HELP (poverty eradication, economic development, youth empowerment, assisting the vulnerable etc.) and the uniqueness (objectives) of one non profit to the other, there is need to be able to communicate this to the populace. Many non-profit exist but we do not know what they do and how much they can help, while many lives need their assistance.

A career in this field is very good and can be fulfilling when you look at how much you are helping the less privilege. Of course, you need to have a degree (in Communication or Marketing) as this is mostly pre-requisite for employment. Also there might be some specific certification or courses in digital media but you might need to research more on that. You can search the net for some non profits interventions and how they have communicated this to people.

Hope this helps...

Best wished in your new endeavor!

Thank you! This was quite helpful. Vidya V.

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Bobby’s Answer

One of the most import skills to have in contributing to non-profits is the ability to read, write, and approve grants. I know that is not specific to your focus on marketing, but it is an instrumental function for most non-profits. Furthermore, the suite of tools available to people with degrees in marketing is becoming more and complex and useful. Studying design, graphic design, and data analytics may be helpful to developing a competitive edge in marketing and digital media that will help you drive your organization's goals.
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Grace’s Answer

Hi Vidya,

Excellent question. Often, the same skills that are required in the for profit sector are sought after in non profits as well. It largely depends on what kind of non profit organization it is and its size. As Bobby mentioned, having a strong understanding of grants is important.

As for digital marketing, data will always be king. I am manager in digital marketing, and am always excited to have people with some analytical background. I studied Economics in college and that foundation has helped me quite a bit. You'll need to have a solid understanding of analysis to figure out which posts are driving the best results or when your audience is most engaged. There are plenty of tools that can help you with this, but you won't be able to fully take advantage of them without understanding their underlying principles.

As with any career path, practice communication, problem solving, and constant learning.

Good luck!