Ask any seasoned digital marketing firm, and they’ll be sure to reiterate the unique challenges and propositions that come along when working on a Non Profit Marketing campaign. Their goals are different and therefore, a lot of the traditional marketing ideas don’t have much relevance for them. This blog post is about our work with a major CSR Foundation which specialized in offering vocational courses to aspirants. From paramedical sciences to Information Technology, Web development to logistics and supply chain management, they cater to a large student base. 4 years ago, when I began my own agency, I would have never thought that a Non-Profit would become a major key client, though I am not complaining!
Let me take you through our rather exhilarating journey with them, where I will be revealing some of our achievements, but not without highlighting the struggles and challenges. My aim is not to toot my own horn, far from it. What I really want to convey is that there’s no code you can’t crack if you persevere, consistently. With passion, grit and patience, massive results can be achieved. All of this sounds great but by now you may be wondering, how does one actually do that? Don’t worry, this post is not just jargon, I will delve into real strategies too!
Disclaimer: I will steer clear of mentioning brand names or actual program names due to the privacy of the data. The behind the scenes information will not be revealed.
Solving a problem works better than any sales pitch!
One fine day, I got a call from a frazzled ex-colleague who was now working with the above mentioned CSR Organization. They required a small change on the website and their current website development agency was giving them a lot of headache. Not just that, they were also asking for a lot of money to make said changes. Without much thought, I asked her for credentials, and helped her resolve the issues in less than 2 days, pro-bono. She was delighted. She called me again after a few days and asked if we would be interested in pitching for a website redesign and maintenance contract. I immediately jumped at the opportunity and began ideating wireframes, structures, navigation, UI flows, content flows, and marketing opportunities.
14 days later, we successfully signed the contract and thus began our journey in the non-profit segment. Little did I know that this would expand into a full-fledged assignment which entailed complete non profit marketing on digital.
The Complexity of the Problem(s)
At that point, this nonprofit had just 1 main corporate site and were struggling to communicate the vast body of work they were doing, across multiple educational and skill development initiatives, on the same site. We were keen on exploring if a new site could be built for one of their major initiatives, and marketed online, for onboarding new students. They were essentially offering skill development programs to the allied healthcare staff (paramedical staff) that you meet if you have ever visited a hospital. The nurses, attendants, technicians, receptionists, ambulance drivers, etc. The support system for doctors. This sector was woefully underdeveloped, underskilled and understaffed across the country and needed a strong focus. I was quite impressed and inspired by the scale and complexity of the problem that the organisation was solving.
The primary challenges we identified right at the beginning:
- The target audience of students belonged to a segment of society which (at least on the face of it), was not very active online or might not enroll in a course by seeing a website, or clicking on an online ad.
- The enquiries that the organisation was receiving were starkly low.(about 10-15 per month ) despite the strong brand, and an excellent product offering.
- The organisation was heavily dependent on traditional offline media such as newspaper ads, community mobilisation drives, pamphlets and flyers. 95% of all the enrollments were coming through these channels.
The challenges we didn’t foresee, but faced nonetheless:
- Because the client is a big name in the Tech and IT space, a string of approvals was needed at every level. Hence, the development cycle was considerably longer.
- It was relatively uncharted territory for me and my team as well. We had to learn and un-learn methodologies and new ways of working.
As a true believer in the power of digital, I was keen on exploring opportunities for scaling this organisation (and our account along with them).
Here’s what I did:
I began researching on the various digital marketing strategies that would work for the. Lots of mind maps, brainstorming and sleepless nights went in. The challenge was that not many CSRs in India or USA who were actively implementing digital non profit marketing for organisations hence there were no reference points. However, this project would determine if digital marketing strategies so commonplace in internet businesses, could apply to a CSR Foundation. Our plan was simple and consisted of the following strategies:
- We began by building a website not just for information, but for creating a solid marketing engine.
- We created course specific landing pages with testimonials, success stories, and detailed information about placements and job opportunities.
- We built a mobile friendly website design as most of the target audiences would only have access to a smartphone to access the site.
- Search engine friendliness was kept in mind, knowing that this would be pivotal in generating the right enquiries.
- We advised them to apply for Google for NonProfits, a 10000 dollar per month search advertising grant for helping non-profits, while the website was being designed and developed.
Good things come to those who wait
Having worked with several nimble startups, I was used to agile and rapid testing / iterative approach towards digital marketing and website development. As a result, the constant back and forth, multiple levels at every level as well as incessant emailing for the most minor details was tiresome. We took 4 months to finish what would have otherwise taken only 25 days. In marketing, and in life, time is money, so I began to doubt the success of this project. I lost my patience but the results kept me going. Slow and steady, we were winning the race!
In hindsight, I am quite grateful to this organisation for teaching me a detail-oriented, process-driven approach towards executing and managing projects. The constant interactions also helped me advise them on various unrelated items such as the look and feel of their offline banners, the bland FB page cover photos, or the lack of proper titles and meta descriptions on their Youtube Channel.
All these activities were outside the scope of work, but they helped in building a bond that went beyond an agency/vendor relationship. I was truly vested and invested in their growth.
The Moment of Triumph
3 months into the project, we finally managed to convince the client to go live with 50% of the website done. The remaining sections could keep going live as and when the modules were completed and approved. Thankfully, they awarded us with a complete mandate for non profit digital marketing which consisted of managing their Google Ad Account (which was now live) and promoting the new website through SEO (which basically meant doing whatever it takes to grow the presence).
We started setting up search campaigns and within a matter of weeks, the online enquiries started growing! From 10-15 enquiries a month, this organisation was now receiving 10-15 enquiries a day from students all over the city, and even in multiple cities. This was the breakthrough moment which tipped the scales, and eventually led us to massively grow this new website! I realised that not all success is measured through numbers. Being able to help students find courses of their choice and build careers was the bigger picture that we were looking at. What we were generating was not just a lead but a career waiting to begin.
Digital Non Profit Marketing – It Simply Works!
It has now been over 3 years since we began working with this client, and they are our most successful project till date. From an infant, to a well-developed presence, the organisation now has 7 training institutes across the country (when we started they had 3), and have plans for many more. They are receiving 1500-2000 enquiries each month from all different digital channels, and have hired 4 in-house digital marketing professionals to manage the brand. That’s a growth on leads generated of almost 200X!
My biggest satisfaction however, has been that together with these organisations, we have helped bring strong paramedical education to 1000s of students across the country, contributing to the healthcare infrastructure in our own way. When it comes to non profit marketing on digital, this joy of creating long term impact in society at large which perhaps is the biggest reason!
The Endless Possibilities
This experience has built my conviction that if used correctly, digital platforms and a tech-enabled approach can transform and scale, even the most traditional businesses. For Non Profits, CSR Foundations and other organisations working in the development sector, digital can be used for just about anything:
- Fundraising, whether its retail or institutional
- Creating awareness and reach around programs
- Generating engagement opportunities with target audiences
- Developing tech-enabled systems for information collection and dissemination