In England during the 19th and early 20th centuries, drawing rooms were popular among members of the royal court. These were lavish rooms that existed for the lone purpose of entertaining guests, but were among the most important areas of the home. There, people could show what they were all about while socializing, conversing about matters of the day, and – perhaps most importantly – doing business with one another.
As times changed, so did architectural trends. The drawing room has mostly fallen out of favor since the mid-1900s, but in the brave new mobile age, today's digital presence – website, social media, mobile and tablet-friendly apps – is just as important as those drawing rooms were in the last century. Your online presence, particularly your website, can function as a place to visit, socialize, or learn – but it's also a place to conduct business.
It's almost a given that a web and mobile presence is an integral part of any company, especially since online giving is increasing even as traditional ways of donating are significantly dropping. But when it's done right, a strong digital presence can be more than simply a virtual billboard to asking for donations, or even letting donors and clients what you're all about.
For-profit businesses can probably get away with very little interactive digital presence, so long as they have already-existing strong brands and a strategy to drive potential customers toward them, but a good nonprofit marketing strategy should aim to do more than that: It can facilitate and inform, but a good online showing can also educate and empower – with an eye to trust and responsiveness.
Here are four nonprofits that are doing digital presence right.
This organization trains people to become citizen video journalists in order to expose human rights abuses in places that professional journalists can't always be, and then distributes the videos. Their website, witness.org, seamlessly integrates photos, video, and clear, powerful writing. Their site is easy to navigate on both computers and mobile devices, and makes their mission statement easy to understand. Their site and social media feeds function beautifully both as ways to convey Witness's message and vehicles to deliver its content: best practices for reporting torture, detention without cause, trafficking, and other human rights abuses, and the videos taken by citizens that Witness has trained. The website is streamlined and effective, the videos are available, and the donation button is just a few clicks or taps away.
Facilitation: American Heart Association
If someone already knows where they want to send their donation, they can still be stymied by bad design. The venerable American Heart Association's website, heart.org, is a wonderful example of making its online donation easy to find without being so overbearing as to seem like its only reason for existing – its “Donate” button appears directly in the middle of the homepage and takes you straight to where you need to go to give. The AHA's main Twitter account has adopted the #LifeIsWhy hashtag, which also works to raise awareness – and funnel donors directly to their site. It also has a strong education arm, helping people better understand their lifestyle risks and needs.
Education: The National Geographic Society
The National Geographic Society is one of the best examples out there of how education can be used to channel attention and funds to a nonprofit entity via its digital presence. It's so good at it, in fact, that people forget that the National Geographic Society is even a nonprofit at all – they just know about the magazine, its luscious photography, and its focus on science, culture, and geography. Its true aim, however, is to foster interest in the world, with an underlying current of conservation – both historical and environmental. Its website, nationalgeographic.com, is part newsfeed, part photography, and part online store. While you can donate, their online presence has such a light touch that you're far more likely to be caught up in its magazine store, its clothing line, or a DVD collection. National Geographic's social media feeds are masterful as well, highly responsive while staying true to its mission of education using all forms of media available.
Empowerment: World Vision
When faceless donations to a larger fund won't serve, calls for direct action will. World Vision, a 60 year old faith-based humanitarian organization, works to achieve its mission statement – creating a better life for children everywhere in the world – through a combination of collecting general funds and direct action: you can sponsor a child directly through the main page of its website, worldvision.org, which is easily accessible through the main page. You can search for a child to sponsor, and then stay in communication as much as you like. World Vision even encourages sponsors to visit the children they sponsor. If that isn't your cup of tea, you can fund microloans, give through a church or a catalog, or just donate. The website isn't flashy, but it is effective.
Each of these nonprofits has a strong digital presence, focusing on different aspects of marketing themselves and the particular needs they serve. While all of the nonprofits on this list have been large and successful for some time, their strategies can be adopted and scaled to whatever size you need. The key is staying on message and doing more than simply asking for funds. After all, you're a nonprofit because you want to fill a specific need that you don't already see addressed, so if you can do something for that need up front, people will be more inclined to trust you to stay on message.
And as with the drawing rooms of old, your digital presence can function as a way to trade information, socialize, show what you're all about, and do business. That's why strategic focus on what you're putting out online, and making sure it's delivered cleanly and clearly, is important. After all, your guests won't be able to talk to you if they're distracted.