Precisely because so much of our lives is now lived digitally, the distinction between online communication from nonprofits and for-profit companies has gotten fuzzy: Constituents and advocates want mission-driven organizations to communicate with the sophistication they come to expect from the businesses they engage with each day. Longtime donors are used to personalized messages from their favorite brands, not generic ones that go to every contact in an email system. And policy makers, bombarded by demands from well-funded interest groups, have even less time for outreach that doesn’t directly match their priority areas.
To meet these high expectations, your web, email, and text communications should be working together seamlessly—ideally through a smart, interconnected model that integrates audience data and unlocks segmented messaging. Unfortunately, most nonprofits are still a long way away from this. Instead, many organizations struggle with a complex tangle of siloed systems that are keeping their marketing professionals and fundraisers from collaborating effectively or hitting the mark on outreach.
Why is the dream of integrated audience engagement so often just that: a dream? And what can you do to make it more of a reality? We find that there’s at least two common challenges to work through in the process of harmonizing outreach systems in our sector. Fortunately, there are ways to work through each of them.
Challenge #1: “The way it’s always been done”
A generational gap exists at numerous mission-driven organizations. Many long-time communications and fundraising professionals have staked their success on an organic, high-touch approach to cultivating supporters. Powered by personal relationships and immense institutional knowledge, these people (often extroverts) do mission-critical work.
On the other hand, members of a “new guard”—often younger and more recently arrived at their organizations—see digital operations as the way of the future. They can grow easily frustrated by organizational silos and inefficiencies that hamper their ability to make big things happen quickly.
We agree that digital transformation in our sector is inevitable, and in many cases overdue. At the same time, it’s not wrong for professionals who’ve invested years in personal relationships to be nervous about deepening collaboration with internal partners they don’t fully trust. Not all data on audience members should be democratized, for example: the copywriters who develop your weekly newsletter certainly do not need access to the giving history, speaking commitments, or home addresses of your high-net-worth donors.
When veteran team members express qualms about giving up favored systems, it’s a sign that a methodical, carefully signposted approach may be desirable. You can start carefully planting seeds for change by making use of relevant data and anecdotes already at your disposal. Think of the big-pocketed foundation who recently sent an email through your organization’s generic Contact Form, instead of picking up the phone to call a development officer. Or the funder who faithfully follows your organization on Instagram, clicking “♡” whenever a client success story is posted.
Also, don’t underestimate the value of an outside consultant in helping overcome resistance to change in your audience engagement practices. A trusted third party creates a safe space for divergent opinions and joint problem-solving. By identifying areas where departments align in their interests and goals, and helping reluctant stakeholders feel fully heard and understood, an effective consultant moves mission-driven organizations towards productive change much more quickly than would otherwise be possible.
Challenge #2: The need to pool funds across departments to pay for big-ticket system improvements
Let’s be honest: it’s far easier for 10 teams at a global nonprofit to each spend a little bit on their siloed software platforms, than getting departmental leads to pool funds into a big-ticket reimagining of Engagement Architecture that unlocks fresh capabilities across all corners of an organization. The status quo seems less pricey. Yet it creates immense anxiety and a need for endless manual workarounds for overloaded staff trying to get the data they need to be successful.
Many mid-level managers see the need for a better approach. But it can be challenging to marshal support when it requires collaboration with internal teams without a strong history of sharing resources or coordinating work streams.
You’ll need at least one champion in your executive team (and ideally two or three) to encourage—and perhaps even prod—departments with an independent streak to work holistically to improve outreach operations in a way that lifts all boats. If you already have one, great! If not, you may want to consider developing a business case for consolidating systems that you can share with forward-thinking senior leaders.
A technology roadmap can help you build the internal case for change
In order to dislodge the status quo, it’s really supportive to catalogue all of the ways in which business as usual does not serve your organization’s needs. It also helps to paint a vivid picture of the future state that becomes possible with practical, concrete steps that iteratively upgrade your organization’s technical systems and capabilities.
PTKO specializes in precisely this kind of deliverable. We call it an Engagement Platform Roadmap. They’re specially engineered to be effective tools of persuasion for senior executives, laying out a clear case for change, and detailing how to marshal political and practical support to make this change happen.
Roadmaps help you supercharge the cumulative impact of your technical investments. While you can spend months developing a comprehensive roadmap, even a modest bit of effort to capture current systems and practices, and compare them with the strategic goals of your executive team, goes a very long way. You can learn more here about how Engagement Platform Roadmaps work (and reach out directly for a 1:1 chat on this topic if that’d be valuable).