Prophets of Doom? How Nonprofits Can Deal With Changing Times

by Josh Cline

There is a crisis in the nonprofit world today as technological change and social media have become mainstream, and the financial crisis has wiped out the wealth of many organizations’ traditional donors.

Continued success requires new planning to reach key audiences. Proper planning pays off, especially when your large donors are spread too thin, and the digital divide means that the nonprofit may not have the knowledge to engage with the 20- to 45-year-old professional.

This is not your future challenge; this is today’s reality. While you may have a lofty history, a 25-year-old MBA is creating a new social startup with the cell phone because you are not reaching out or being relevant. To be successful today, you need to be where your audience is – or you will not be around tomorrow.

Instead of sending an e-mail or picking up the phone, people send messages on Facebook and post pictures on Twitter. When donating, it is done online or even with a cell phone. This is a fundamental shift in communication, yet too many Jewish organizations still see a static website as adequate.

There is still a need in many organizations to have newsletters, direct mail and print advertising, but the shift might be focused on the allocation of the overall marketing budget.

The great sage Yogi Berra once said: “If you don’t know where you are going, you are certain to end up somewhere else.” Without a clear integrated marketing and public-relations strategy, incorporating the explosive and shifting changes in digital communication, your efforts will not achieve their full potential.

Organizations will gain greater success if they analyze their overall branding and marketing strategy, and ensure that it reflects today’s online environment. To compete online, act more like Dale Carnegie and less like “Mad Men”: Listen first, then sell second.

Stakeholders consume information differently. The Gen X attorney may not know about the great print newsletter that your older donor basis enjoys reading. If your program is only advertised in print, did the college student who only reads the paper online see it? Are you unsure of what programs to implement, but not monitoring online buzz?

Good planning requires proper implementation. Some people are still tempted to leave their online marketing to an intern or recent college graduate. Yet these channels can be great strategic assets.

Just as a journalist is not just someone who knows how to read a newspaper, a digital marketer is more than someone who knows how to send a status update.

In order to succeed in today’s dynamic and digital environment, organizations should heed the following changes:

  • Recognize the Seismic Shift in Communications. Print is dying, and content is moving to digital. The newspaper still exists; it has just moved from print to online.
  • Your Name Is Not Enough Anymore. Someone is creating a new social start-up that challenges your organization. Are you embracing it, or are threatened by it? The answer may determine whether you remain relevant.
  • Listen First. Successful organizations today listen to what their target audiences want – and then provide it.
  • Don’t Put the Cart Before the Horse. Plan where you need to go in all core areas before implementing.

As the established Jewish community faces colossal challenges, engaging in strategic communications planning can ensure the future and relevance of your organization for the next generation.

Josh Cline is president of The Cline Group.