Ads on X (Formerly Twitter) Are an Untapped Opportunity. Here’s How to Make the Most of Them

Learn why this expert marketer thinks X is one of the best advertising platforms right now, and see how to get the most bang for your buck.Nonprofits: Steal These Marketing Practices from Tech Startups

Think nonprofits and Silicon Valley startups have nothing in common? Think again.

I started my career working in a nonprofit setting, and now I’m a fractional marketing director for nonprofits. From higher education to arts and literacy organizations, I’ve seen it all. 

As a tech writer and editor, I’ve also steeped in the “rocket fuel” of the startup world. From my experience, nonprofits and startups have startling similarities: Both have small teams of employees who wear multiple hats, and both depend on outside funding for operations, whether it's from investors or donors. 

One key difference between nonprofits and startups comes into play when launching a marketing initiative. In nonprofit culture, an executive mindset is “Who can I ask?” This question is instinctual because few donors will readily give to support a software purchase. But passionate volunteers, staff, donors, and funding partners are willing to contribute their time, even if it’s not the most efficient or effective way to get things done.

Meanwhile, when successful startups face a challenge or growth goal, execs don’t ask, “Who?” They ask, “What can I leverage?” And they grow quickly.

If you’re a nonprofit leader who wants to become more efficient, grow your audience, and deepen trust in your organization long term, you should steal a few marketing strategies from startups. 

Conserve your people resources

Depending on people sure feels nice, but it doesn’t always work well. 

Unlike software, your staff, board members, interns, and volunteers have finite attention, energy, and emotion. You might offend someone by asking them to do a task they view as beneath their skillset or above their pay grade. You risk asking for too much time from your talented, generous people, who may eventually switch off their “yes” in favor of a less demanding role. Or you may ask too much from someone who doesn’t yet have the talent or expertise to tackle the project.

Yes, people are extremely important in nonprofit marketing. But they are an increasingly precious resource. And when it comes to growing your organization, asking more and more from your people is not sustainable.

The "who can I ask" mindset further depletes people resources that are already struggling. Here's how:

  • Unfilled positions. Nonprofits, just like every other employer today, are vulnerable to labor shortages and may struggle for months to fill positions with the right candidates. 
  • Limited staff resources. Nonprofit boards don’t often champion creating more positions, which means that most employees are already filling two or more roles. 
  • Knowledge gaps. A wave of turnover in the form of quitting or retiring employees means a loss of institutional memory, which hurts organizations that depend on legacy relationships. 
  • Manual errors. No matter how talented or passionate they are, busy people are prone to typos and mistakes when tasked with too many repetitive or menial duties.
  • Crankiness. Constantly asking for more time and energy from employees and volunteers leads to cynicism, in-fighting, and burnout, which can cripple operations that depend on teamwork and positive vibes.

Startup strategies to steal

When it comes to nonprofit marketing, channel your inner tech exec: Leverage data, technology, and digital content so your people can focus on strategy, sales, and growth.

Make data-informed decisions

Before you embark on your next volunteer, fundraising, or outreach campaign, research your audience’s preferences. Which emails, social posts, or web pages are people viewing and interacting with? What’s your most popular newsletter or blog? How are people finding out about you? 

Yes, you should ask this in one-on-one or general staff or board meetings. More importantly — and more quickly — you can get a comprehensive picture using one of the following marketing tools:

  • Google Business Profile (free): How many people interact with your profile, what device they’re using, and what they’re searching for when they find you.
  • Google Analytics (free): Your most popular web pages and how people are landing on your site.
  • Google Search Console (free): Your website’s speed and performance, its most popular pages, what countries your audience is from, and the number of clicks and impressions your website is getting. 
  • Email marketing platform reports (varies): How many people are opening and clicking your emails, and which emails are most popular.
  • Social media platform analytics (varies): How many new followers you have, and which posts they like most.
  • Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (free): What people search for before they land on your site, how much traffic your website gets, your site’s main competitors, and other sites that are linking to yours. 

Once you have the data, use it to craft your content, ads, and fundraising talking points. 

Sound complicated? Sure. Yet, it might surprise you to know that in every startup I’ve worked with, even execs know how to use Google Analytics and SEO tools. No matter how strapped for resources, they want to keep their finger on their business’s pulse so they can pivot quickly when needed, and they won’t invest in a strategy if it doesn’t promise to deliver growth.

Startups know that research pays off. Case in point, I wrote a guide for a fintech startup that still ranked on page one of Google Search results a year later. 

Nonprofits: Steal These Marketing Practices from Tech Startups

How? Our team conducted careful keyword and audience research before starting the writing process.

But you don’t have to use a fancy SEO tool to get good info. An easy way to begin this type of research is to see the“Searches breakdown” in your organization’s Google Business Profile Performance. Last year, I used this keyword data to craft a Google search ad in multiple languages for one of my clients, Lincoln Literacy, a local nonprofit that teaches English to immigrants and refugees. 

Nonprofits: Steal These Marketing Practices from Tech Startups

The hyper-local Google Search Ad campaign earned an average click-through rate of over 10% and reached thousands of prospective students — much more than they would have reached by handing out brochures one by one at a fair or outreach event. 

Nonprofits: Steal These Marketing Practices from Tech Startups

Embrace platforms that make processes more efficient

Startups love to brag about their tech stack, and for good reason. Today’s marketing platforms do more than just organize your work. They automate repetitive tasks. (Looking at you, donor address updates!)

Technology can help personalize emails. Make social media collaboration faster and easier. They even generate ideas and blog content, saving staff time to focus on emotional appeals and donor relations.

Rather than posting random Facebook content from your car between donor meetings (which, let’s be honest, is like throwing spaghetti at the wall), automate your processes for maximum, intentional exposure on all channels.

Wanna know the best nonprofit marketing platforms to use? These are the ones I personally recommend: 

  • Buffer (free for 3 channels, or $6/month/channel with nonprofit discount): Plan, approve, and post your social media content all from one place. 
  • Canva (free for nonprofits): Easily create, resize, and collaborate on designs for social media, direct mail, and flyers. No Adobe experience required.
  • Constant Contact (from $8.40/month with nonprofit and prepay discounts): Send mobile-optimized emails that you can segment by click.
  • Bonterra Guided Fundraising (varies): Manage all fundraising activities, donor contacts, and communications from one place. Quickly send video messages to engage your supporters.
  • ChatGPT (free): Quickly generate feel-good content, end-of-year letters, and video scripts based on existing material or to overcome writer’s block.
  • Rev (from $0.25/minute): Seamlessly transcribe video and audio recordings with AI to make your content more accessible to all audiences. Add closed captions or use the built-in AI bot to generate blog content, social posts, quotes, or summaries. 

When working with nonprofits, I always use Canva and Buffer for social content. You can easily set up design templates and a branding kit in Canva for Teams, which integrates seamlessly with Buffer’s scheduling platform. Executives, staff, and contractors can collaborate on both platforms, which makes the content scheduling and approval process much easier. 

Nonprofits: Steal These Marketing Practices from Tech Startups

After 18 months of using both platforms, Lincoln Literacy massively grew its social presence. Page & Post Engagements went up 585% on Facebook. New Followers went up 21,600% on Instagram. Impressions went up 2.63m% on X (formerly Twitter). And Engagement went up 652% on LinkedIn. 

Nonprofits: Steal These Marketing Practices from Tech Startups

Lincoln Literacy attributes its social media success to the ease with which it can share content, images, and links across all channels simultaneously, as well as plan ahead to maintain a consistent posting cadence during its slower summer months.

“Buffer is like an aircraft carrier,” said Lincoln Literacy’s executive director, Bryan Seck. “We can load all our content in one place and distribute it to all the channels it needs to go without logging into five different platforms.” 

Prioritize your digital presence

Having a sleek, user-friendly website is no longer an option. It’s a necessity. That’s why most startups have an awesome website, blog, newsletter, and user journey — not just a Facebook profile. Nonprofits should follow suit. 

When was the last time you shopped online or signed up for a service? You probably saw an ad on Facebook on your mobile device, clicked the link to go to the company’s website, and may have added that product to your cart. The whole process took less than a minute. Maybe two if you read the reviews.

Now try signing up for a nonprofit’s newsletter or learning about their services from their website. It often takes a few more minutes and involves multiple clicks. Here’s one that requires visitors to email staff to subscribe. 

Nonprofits: Steal These Marketing Practices from Tech Startups

Today, a website is just as important as the physical space you occupy — it’s the online space you own and control. And just like the functioning furnace, roof, and ADA-accessible stairs we’ve all come to expect from a physical building, your website should also have certain features to attract and convert donors and volunteers. These include:

  • Responsive web design, so no matter which device they’re using, your audience will see and understand your content.
  • Interactive features like videos and animated graphics to engage your audience and keep them scrolling through.
  • Clear call-to-action (CTA) buttons so your audience knows what they should click and why.
  • Helpful blogs and resources to share stories, events, and news. Save time by publishing these first on your website. Then, link to them from social media and emails.
  • Accessible features like language translation drop-downs, larger fonts, and high-contrast colors.
Nonprofits: Steal These Marketing Practices from Tech Startups

If people know they can get all the information they need from your website, your staff can spend less time answering calls and emails and more time on service and fundraising. 

One nonprofit executive I worked with this year said, “[Even though] we served a record number of people, the phone rang less — I looked. People are either going to our website or showing up in person.” 

That’s the power of a more informative, easier-to-navigate website.

Grow your nonprofit like a startup

Startups grow quickly with small teams and outside funding. Nonprofits can grow like them, too, using data, technology, and digital content. 

This is not an empty promise. In 2023, Lincoln Literacy served 50% more adult learners than the previous year. 

Just don’t lose your organization’s heart in the growth process. The very best aspects of a nonprofit are its stories, emotions, and community. By using the tools in this blog, you can set them free.

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