Online Marketing Gives Back to the Community

In the holiday spirit, people often think about helping others through not-for-profit (NFP) organizations. Online marketers can provide much needed support to deserving NFPs.

NFP organizations are usually long on worthy ambitions and short on resources with which to face complex marketing challenges due to the diverse target audience, including users of the organization’s services, volunteers, donors (individuals and corporations), and the government. Online marketers bring dynamic experience to these issues. They know how to use the power of new media to get maximum buzz from minimum resources.

A notable example is the American Cancer Society’s partnership with Yahoo Health to create the “Blog for Hope,” in which highly visible individuals provided personal insights related to cancer for one month. The promotion was a win-win. Both the American Cancer Society and Yahoo Health received media coverage and extended their reach.

As a marketer, you and your company can help NFP organizations in ways that give back:

  • Devote a special or sponsored section of your Web site to an NFP and drive traffic to it. Remember, the NFP area’s functionality and content must make sense in the context of your business.

  • Offer NFPs unused ad inventory to promote their organization, which can be rotated based on availability. Since readers see live ads rather than house ads, your site appears more attractive as an advertising destination.
  • Make a donation for specific product purchases or for sales during a specific period. Share the amount raised with customers to spread the sense of helping a cause and to reinforce your relationship with them. To support victims of Hurricane Katrina, an online retailer I patronize donated profits from a sale and sent an email detailing the exact amount raised (to the penny!) while featuring new products.
  • Use NFP opportunities such as New York Cares or the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer to promote team work by encouraging employees to participate in a group activity. This can also be done on an individual basis.

At a minimum, give some of your time to a cause you support by helping an NFP cost-effectively leverage some of the newer online marketing formats. Although many NFPs have sites, they may not have the expertise or budget to leverage online marketing. Among the cost-effective tactics you can help with:

  • Set up a blog and establish a strategy for it related to the organization. NFP organizations know consumers go online for information and support, such as with the Steve Rubel’s personal skin cancer blog, which offers an individual consumer perspective; and Lisa Spodak’s blog about her volunteer’s experience with breast cancer fundraising activities. Since their target market blogs and communicates online, NFPs must be part of the conversation. The March of Dimes’ Share Your Story site is a good example. As part of the strategy, consider:

    • Helping extend the blog’s reach through RSS (define) feeds and podcasting

    • Creating ongoing promotions existing staff can implement

  • Tap into social networking sites. This may be done in a variety of ways. The American Cancer Society hosts a proprietary social network to support cancer survivors. A number of smaller NFP groups use Yahoo Groups to communicate and exchange ideas. Alternately, PETA leverages its members’ strength and community on MySpace to build a destination that draws visitors through its contacts.

  • Use online PR to spread word about the NFP. At minimum, use online tools to extend PR value, including the following:
    • Use relevant terms to make press releases search-friendly. Add links to appropriate site pages.

    • Use online placement services to distribute releases.
    • Employ RSS feeds for press releases to reach various target markets.
    • Use the organization’s email list to extend reach of either press releases or actual placements.
    • Have a link or online press center with an email address and phone number for media.

As NFPs tend to have limited budgets and the ROI (define) of each promotion is carefully monitored, check the following to assess NFP promotions’ impact:

  • Track key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine trends in Web traffic, net additions to email lists, memberships, donations, and so on.

  • Measure branding impact through surveys. Using its Q3 2005 MarketNorms data for 28 NFP online campaigns, Dynamic Logic saw a 10 percent (4.7 percentage points) lift in aided brand awareness and a 17 percent (or 5.5 percentage points) increase in message association versus a control group.
  • Monitor PR and buzz in terms of placements and blog postings. As blogs can aid search results, track the impact on natural search as well.
  • Include the tax impact when considering the cost of donating services or products. For the specifics of how to handle this, consult with your accounting department.

NFPs need our help year round. Consider how you can incorporate them into your online marketing calendar. This is a gift that gives back to your community and utilizes your own unique skills. Your online infrastructure can do good in a way that may benefit your product or brand. Of course, any incremental benefits from association with a good cause could allow you to be even more generous in the future.

Best wishes for the holidays,


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