Developing a Digital Plan

Developing a Digital Plan

It’s time to do some digital planning! Whenever I begin working with a new organization, I start by taking stock of where they’re at. I’ve walked into a campaign before to find out that email signups on the website are going nowhere! Or that fundraising is a separate system and online donors are not integrated into your mass email stream. Perhaps the campaign has an old Twitter handle from four years ago, and nobody knows the password anymore. Or somebody is squatting on the domain name of your organization because nobody renewed it. Without taking a thorough top-down look, it’s easy for things to slip through the cracks – especially if the organization or campaign has been on autopilot for awhile.

You’ll want to start by cataloguing all your digital assets, and making sure you have passwords to everything (or start reaching out to Facebook, Twitter etc. to try to get access back to old social media properties).

Here are some basic questions to ask to help build that digital inventory.

Does your campaign or organization have a website? What technology is it using – it is using one of the popular CMSs or is it custom-coded? How easy is it to manage and update? Is it mobile responsive? Is it secure http, i.e. https? Is your website meeting your needs: who is your intended audience, and can they easily do the things they need and want to do? How much are you paying for regular maintenance, domains, and web hosting? How are backups being handled? What does your typical amount of traffic look like, and are you prepared for surges? Do you have full admin access to the site, or are you dependent on outside consultants? What domain names do you have registered, are they under your name, and how long is the registration good until? Where is it being hosting, and do you have the logins? Does the website include an easy way to sign up for email and text updates, make a donation, and find your social media accounts? Is your website impressive and professional-looking, and does it do a compelling job of telling your story? How is your search engine ranking, for the name of your organization and also for key search terms?

CRM (Mass email, online donations, online activism)
Do you have an email list or lists? What CRM are you using, if any? What does your contract and costs look like? Does that include tech support? Does your CRM meet your advocacy and donation needs? Do you have full admin access to the list? What data is in your CRM besides email address – do you have full names, zip codes, full addresses, mobile and/or home phone numbers, donor history? What’s the size of your list today, and how does your email list perform over time? When’s the last time an email was sent to the list? (If it’s more than a month or so, expect a pretty large drop-off from bounces/unsubscribes the next time you do an email). Do you have orphan lists, left in non-integrated donation systems, on paper (such as volunteer sign in sheets or meeting attendance sheets), or in old CRMs?

Social Media
What social media properties do you have? Do you have passwords and full admin access to everything? Do any names of pages or accounts need to be changed or updated? What do your audiences look like in terms of raw numbers, and in terms of engagement level? Are there duplicate Facebook pages out there, personal Facebook profiles instead of pages and so on?

Online Advertising
Are you running any online ads now, on Google, social media, or via display ads? If so, what are the goals and what does the response look like? Do you have full access to those ad accounts to look at stats? Does your 501c(3) have a Google Adwords grant? (If not, why not.)

Online Fundraising
If possible, figure out how much you are raising now through all your channels – the website, email, social media, SMS, online ads and more. This will help you identify your areas of strength and weakness. Have you taken full advantage of the tools out there for c3 non-profits, such as a Facebook donate button for Facebook fundraising, and donor cards for c3s on YouTube?

Setting Goals
Once you’ve taken stock of where you at, and noted what needs improving, you can start to set numeric goals for the campaign (benchmark average website traffic, email list size and open/click rate, social media followers and engagement rate, average amount of donations per email, average size of donation etc.). You can start from a yearly outlook, and then break that down to quarterly and monthly growth goals.

If you’re wondering how your numbers compare to other non-profits, check out M&R benchmarks, the latest benchmarks study comparing online fundraising, advocacy and organizing for 105 nonprofits around the country. There isn’t anything so transparent for political campaigns, but you can observe your opponents’ social media counts and engagement levels (and their campaign finance filings) to get a sense of how their digital operation is running.

If you’re trying to figure out what are realistic goals on how big you can get, Facebook advertising can be a good tool for this: you can pull counts of how many people across the country are interested in your issue, or how many voters of your party live in your city, region or state. What % of your target audience have you already engaged with? Is it realistic to double that this year, or are you already reaching most of your intended audience? You’re never going to reach 100% of the people you want to reach, but 10% or more might be doable.

Make sure your goals don’t live in a vacuum and contribute to your overall mission. What is your campaign or organization trying to accomplish? Political campaigns care about votes, volunteers and money (and the volunteers and money are in service to getting you votes). In the end, the amount of social media fans you have or the amount of website traffic does not matter unless it gets you votes, volunteers or money. You could wind up missing the forest for the trees, which is why digital is only a part of a successful campaign and not the entirety of it.

Same thing for non-profits: if you’re trying to solve a problem, do all these numerical things get you closer to a solution or not? Sometimes we fall back on tracking the things that can be easily tracked, and missing the more important parts. Funders care about metrics: they want to make sure their money is being well-spent. But try to align the things you report on to what really matters in achieving your mission.

Note that your digital plan should only a part of your larger campaign or organizational plan (sample campaign plan available via Wellstone and resources for creating a non-profit business plan).

Write the Plan
Once you set these goals, be sure to WRITE THEM DOWN in the form of your digital plan. Also check in monthly or so on the metrics to see how you’re doing, and if you need to adjust your strategy along the way.

Your written plan should include what your goals are (and how they tie into the overall mission of the campaign or organization), where you’re at now, who you’re trying to reach, the methods you’re going to be using, the costs associated with that, and the money you think you’ll be able to raise online to help pay for it. When you have a digital plan in place, it will be easier to resolve conflicts between different forces in your organization or campaign – if field wants you to do one thing online, but fundraising needs you to do something else. You can always go back to the plan to show why something is needed, or why it would be a bad idea.

Now that you have an idea of how large you could realistically grow, you’re probably wondering how to get there. For your reading pleasure: how to grow your email list.