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The Digital Transition

For the past few years, I’ve been speaking, posting, and climbing on my proverbial soapbox to talk about the importance of digital initiatives for nonprofit organizations. In fact, it’s the topic of my recent book and my personal passion. But back in December of last year, I wrote about the digital imperative and how crucial it is for organizations to be cultivating audiences online for future growth, diversifying revenue for operational sustainability, and providing transparency and connection with supporters utilizing online tools.

Now in a global pandemic, with millions of people working remotely and the world operating under minimal physical interaction, we’ve seen the urgency of communicating with our audiences and supporters through online channels rise dramatically. While the need to transition to digital activities may have been viewed by some as a casual effort and fairly low on the totem pole of priorities, the ability to pivot quickly has become critical.

The most interesting aspect of our new reality is watching the rise of digital communications and the swift adoption of these channels from all levels of the generational spectrum. This presents a myriad of opportunities for testing new strategies to engage with supporters.

Zoom Is King

I remember last year when my publisher wanted to hold a Zoom meeting with me, rather than the common conference call. Being fairly unfamiliar with the platform, I was a little apprehensive about my camera and audio. But look at us now. Zoom calls are a dime a dozen. Along with video chats and webinars, I had over 25 virtual meetings and events last week alone.

Nonprofits can capitalize in this area by hosting creative virtual events, and Zoom is inexpensive and accessible. These include:

  • Behind the scenes activities or virtual tours
  • Informative presentations or helpful learning sessions
  • Panels or towns hall with leadership or local community advocates
  • Screenings of video content or programs
  • Fitness activities such as yoga or workouts
  • Trivia events or virtual bingo

A few weeks ago, I attended a virtual writing group event on Zoom. We literally introduced ourselves and then went on mute for two hours (with one intermission) and just sat there and wrote. Can you imagine how absurd that sounds? But it was great! I got so much writing done in that short time.

Try out different ideas. Everything is game right now!

The QR Code Comeback

It was about 10 years ago when QR codes came on my radar. I was excited to include them on warehouse tours to provide additional photos and videos to our visitors. Unfortunately, the steel beams of the building blocked cell signals and no one could get online. Eventually, the use of QR codes seemed to fade into the background.

Until now!

Now, QR codes are used to view menus and place orders at restaurants. They are used to pay for street parking. Doctor’s offices are using them for quick access to forms and grocery stores are using them for contactless checkout. Recently, I found a street musician accepting tips with a QR code linked to his Venmo account.

So, dust off those old ideas for using QR codes in your future plans. As the country starts to slowly reopen in the coming year, QR codes will play a big part in reducing unnecessary contact.

Text to Engage

Of course, we are all familiar with the text-to-donate options made popular by disaster relief organizations many years ago. Back in the day, nonprofits attempted to follow suit (including yours truly) but the set up with lengthy, expensive, and provided little to no donor cultivation capabilities.

Now, however, a new type of texting has emerged to provide communications and valuable information to our online audiences. These can include event reminders, support services, and notices of new initiatives. I receive notifications from my church a few minutes before the service is set to stream, as well as receiving short, uplifting messages during the week.

Organizations can blend these timely communications with their campaign requests, membership renewals, or pledge drives.

Benefits Through Digital

As we navigate these new waters, it’s become clear that some of the benefits we previously offered to our supporters and members are simply no longer applicable, especially if they are tied to events, dining, or travel.

However, there are plenty of things that offer value during this time. Consider these unique approaches:

  • Partnerships to offer discounts on food or meal delivery services
  • Cocktail kits delivered to a supporters home, or a take-out offer for coffee, tied to a virtual event
  • A special download such as a screensaver, Zoom backgrounds, helpful tips, or other useful resources
  • Special access to bonus content videos, early releases, or behind-the-scenes clips

Recently, our organization had a special event planned with the symphony. For anyone who made a contribution, they received a link to an exclusive interview with the conductor and a download of the musical score to follow along with the concert.

There is tremendous opportunity for nonprofits to extend their digital reach and connect with new audiences during this challenging time. While we might be uncertain of what our daily life will look like when we come through this pandemic, there will certainly be aspects that will change dramatically.

Digital consumption was already on the rise before the virus and has now been accelerated. Nonprofits need to adapt to the changing landscape. We can no longer sit idly by and hope that we return to “normal.” Now is the time implement new initiatives, create new partnerships, and meet our audiences where they live. And, right now, our lives are online.