How To Create Better Online Experiences for Your Supporters

When you have a strategy for engaging your donors online, your nonprofit immediately has a leg up on organizations still figuring out their web presence. While you can connect with segments of your supporters offline through events and direct mail, the majority of your contact will be digital, and how you engage with supporters virtually can determine whether they support you long-term.

Developing a digital strategy requires both technical knowledge and an understanding of your audience. Consider how your supporters would like to connect with you online, and what platforms, websites, or communication strategies you can focus on to engage them.

To help your nonprofit build a stronger digital presence, this guide will explore three ways to create better online experiences for your donors.

1. Create a membership portal

Let donors connect with you more deeply by allowing them to become a member of your nonprofit and access online content through your membership portal. While the content you offer members will vary depending on your supporters’ interests, many nonprofits use membership portals to provide the following features:

Self-service tools

Make it easy for donors to take a more active role in their engagement by giving them the ability to adjust their gift size and frequency, their communication preferences, personal information, and any other information you feel comfortable letting donors control.

Self-service tools make donors feel like participants in your nonprofit, rather than passive contributors. Additionally, allowing supporters the ability to update their contact and payment information saves your team time.

Members-only content

Some nonprofits create membership programs where donors who give a certain amount each month gain access to unique content. While you can share this content in a variety of ways, online spaces are particularly effective for housing content and quickly providing access to new members.

Create online spaces for your digital video library of past webinars, exclusive research articles and news content, or members-only online events.

Community spaces

Joining a nonprofit should involve joining a community. Donors who bond with other supporters are likely to continue engaging with your organization in order to connect with their new friends.

You can help build a community around your nonprofit by creating online spaces where supporters are encouraged to talk to one another. This might include comment sections on articles, live chats during events, or discussion boards that invite supporters to ask questions and have open-ended conversations.

When creating your membership portal, decide which of your supporters will have access to which features. For example, you may make online events accessible to everyone but require non-members to pay a fee. Or, you may create membership tiers and allow higher-tier members access to an exclusive chat where they can more freely interact with the event.

2. Work with a nonprofit website developer

Once you know what type of online experience you want to offer supporters, consider how you will design it. While some nonprofits may have an internal web development team, most others will need to look for external help.

Nonprofit technology consultants specialize in a number of nonprofit-specific technical concerns, including CRM implementation, software integrations, and website design. When looking for a consultant to help build your online experiences, consider what resources you already have, how you would like your experience to be hosted, your budget, and anything else that may impact the type of consultant you need.

To find a technology consultant, here is a quick overview of the hiring process:

  • Research developers. Once you have an overall goal for your project, start researching technology consultants. Look at developers’ past projects and assess what type of online experience they usually create, what type of organizations they usually work for, and what size organizations they typically partner with. Try to find consultants who have past projects that are as similar to yours as possible, and reach out to their past clients to confirm the success of those projects. 
  • Draft a request for proposal (RFP). Consider the finer details of your project to create an RFP you can share with consultants. This document outlines the basics of your project, including its overall purpose, your technical needs, restrictions, budget, and any other information that consultants may require to explain how they would go about completing the project. 
  • Assess responses. Contact your top potential consultants to introduce your nonprofit and discuss sending an RFP for their consideration. Once you submit your RFPs, give consultants the time they need to form a response and answer any questions they may have about your project. After consultants provide responses to your RFP, you can assess them to determine which consultant is right for your project. 

Additionally, when working with a consultant to build an online experience, consider not just the initial project, but long-term maintenance and future projects. For example, if you have a positive experience with the consultant who helped you create a searchable library of past webinars for members, you might also work with them to build out a donation page for a new campaign you’re launching in a few months. 

3. Use digital badges

You can create rewarding, cohesive experiences for your supporters online by acknowledging their completion of various online programs. One of the top ways nonprofits can do this is with an increasingly popular technical solution among associations called digital badges.

Here is a breakdown of digital badges for nonprofits interested in implementing them:

  • What are digital badges? Digital badges, also known as digital credentials, are essentially online icons indicating that their owner has completed a certification or earned an online reward, usually related to continuing education or workplace advancement.
  • How do digital badges work? For nonprofits interested in offering educational or workplace training services to members, digital badges can be distributed to learners after they complete a set of designated courses. The participants can then present these badges on their member profiles and share them via email with interested parties.
  • Why should nonprofits use digital badges? Nonprofits interested in offering credentials to supporters should have some system in place that acknowledges their members’ accomplishments. Publicly displayed badges not only encourage members to see courses through to their completion but also serve as marketing for your credential program. Supporters who see badges displayed on other members’ profiles are likely to investigate and may decide to earn a badge themselves.

When considering whether to use digital badges, think of both your audience and your technical capabilities. Does your nonprofit have an audience that is interested in earning credentials? If so, does your learning management system include a badge creation or authoring tool? If it doesn’t, does it integrate with a platform that allows you to add badges?

Additionally, you’ll need to consider the design of these badges and how you’ll enable members to show them off to the rest of your online community. 

Online experiences can vary widely, from emails and blog posts to live events and interactive content. No matter the scale of experiences you’re offering, make them more memorable and meaningful for your supporters by giving them greater control over their involvement and working with professionals to develop effective online tools for your website.

September 7, 2023

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