I’ve always admired people who work in the nonprofit space…
…and I’ve always thought that business owners could learn a little something from the nonprofit mentality. NPOs exist to provide support for communities in need, and because of this, their marketing strategies are inherently more “inbound.” Every product, program, campaign, or piece of content an NPO creates is made with the specific needs of their audience in mind.
Despite the important role they fill, resources for operating and promoting NPOs are often an afterthought. When it comes to things like digital marketing strategies, NPOs usually have to adapt traditional for-profit wisdom to their needs.
I was curious about the specifics of SEO and digital marketing for nonprofits.
I wanted to learn how that work is different from the work I do for my clients here at webFEAT Complete. So, I sat down with my friend Michael Bishop, who is the Web Specialist for the Hemophilia Federation of America, to talk about his work and how he makes SEO and digital marketing work for an NPO.
NKW: So, to start, what does HFA do?
MB: Our organizational mission focuses on assisting, educating, and advocating for bleeding disorder patients and their families.
NKW: As HFA’s Web Specialist, what sort of digital marketing work do you do?
MB: I’m the front end web developer for the website, and I find the best ways to promote our educational events and materials.That looks like social media promotion, as well as digitizing our educational materials and our quarterly magazine, publishing them to the website, and driving as much traffic to them as possible. We utilize email blasts to our community that include relevant links to our site, which is a big source of traffic for us.
NKW: It makes sense that email marketing would work really well for you all, since you have such a specific and dedicated community. Do you still actively try to grow your email list?
MB: A little, we have a sign-up form on our website that we track, and we also sign folks up at our events. We aren’t too concerned with growing the number, though. We realize that there is a finite number of people who would be interested in the information we provide. Engagement with our pre-existing community is more of a priority for us. If we launch a new program, we want to know how many of “our people” are looking at that.
NKW: Is it a challenge to have to keep creating content for the same audience?
MB: A little, because it’s like, If we already haven’t attracted those people, what are we going to say? But, because the needs of the community are constantly changing, we never run out of stuff to create, or topics to talk about. It’s more about figuring out the needs of the community at the time, and presenting them with the most helpful information or tools.
NKW: In the for-profit space, the goal of our SEO work is to increase organic visibility so that our clients see more conversions and sales. What are the goals that drive your SEO work for HFA? What does SEO success mean for your organization’s goals?
MB: I think a huge difference is that part of your job working for businesses is figuring out the market you’re delivering to. For a nonprofit, your entire organization is built around serving the needs of your market, so there is intrinsically a lot less need-uncovering to be done, and our focus can just be on reaching people in a way that supports our mission to assist, educate, and advocate for them. We’re also a lot less focused on overall visibility and name recognition, so we have no problem putting all our energy into very specific campaigns. For example, say it’s the time of the year where the insurance marketplace is opening, and we know that people in our community are going to have questions, so we drive traffic to the materials that will help them. We already know the audience, so the job is just sending them to the right place to keep them as educated as possible.
NKW: Do you think it’s important that nonprofit organizations commit to an SEO/digital marketing strategy?
MB: Yes, because It is competitive, in a way. We might not be competing for our audience’s business, but we are competing for their attention. Our audience might not know that we serve a niche part of the community, or that our focus is more on teaching people how to advocate for themselves, and education. Our digital marketing strategy helps highlight how we are specifically different from other organizations, and that helps us to serve more people.
NKW: I noticed that the blog posts on the HFA site are categorized into several recurring post types, including “Word from Washington,” “Infusing Love,” and “Dear Addy.” How did all these different blog categories come to be, and how do they work together? How does engagement differ between the different types of posts?
MB: They all happened very organically, we didn’t sit down and decide exactly how we were going to dice up our blog. Word from Washington is the most recent series, and it came to be because we have awesome lawyers on staff, and we wanted to give them a way to directly educate people about insurance changes and how political changes might affect their access to care.
We started categorizing them because we had our audience, but we wanted to drill down even more. “Infusing Love” is a blog written by moms, for moms, which we thought was great because we serve both our patients and their families. Through these blogs, Moms can read something specific to the experience of being a mother to a bleeding disorder patient. Plus, we recruit moms to write them, which gets a lot of people excited, and that creates very genuine engagement.
NKW: I think it’s such a cool way to get your community involved. The HFA blog is a great example of a blog strategy that supports your organization’s mission, and I think people could learn a lot from the outside-of-the-box methods you use to create this content. How do you generate blog topics?
MB: For “Infusing Love,” we recruit mothers to write about their experiences all at once, usually the beginning of the year, and then we’re able to curate what to post based on what we think will do best at the time. For other types of posts, topics about insurance or general health news are always coming up and always relevant. We try to do an interesting mix of community based posts and recent news.
NKW: What are your go-to tools for managing HFA’s digital presence?
MB: We use Yoast on our WordPress site, which works well enough for us. We always make sure our blogs are tagged and categorized appropriately, and we use a few specific hashtags on social media that are relevant to our community and important to making sure we’re part of important conversations.
Google also has some pretty awesome tools for nonprofits. We get support through Google Ad Grants for our different campaigns.
NKW: We’ve had some people inquire about Google giving ad money to NPOs. Is that hard to set up? Do you put any other money into Google Ad spend?
MB: Nope, it’s all through the grant. I can see where it might be a little intimidating, but it’s actually fairly straightforward as long as you’re a 501c3.
NKW: What kind of campaigns do you run? We touched on this earlier, but it seems like a brand awareness campaign probably wouldn’t help you much.
MB: Yeah, we don’t really need to focus on getting our name out there, because that wouldn’t do much to support our mission, you know? If someone knows about us, that’s good, but we don’t want to just tell them that we exist, we want to tell them that we have something specific to offer them. And what that might be changes all the time, so that’s how we design our campaigns. We have different campaigns for different events we put on, or different sets of information that might be applicable at the time–for example, we ran a campaign about health insurance open enrollment during the months when that was relevant.
NKW: Are there any other ways that HFA is using digital strategies to further their mission?
MB: We recently launched hfalearning.org, which is a huge educational service where people can take quizzes and learn about bleeding disorders. It’s a really special and unique portal for patients to learn.
NKW: It’s interesting that you chose to put this service on it’s own domain, rather than build it out as an extension of your main website. What was the reasoning behind this? Do you think that decision has resulted in difficulty with getting people to it?
MB: When we decided to move forward with building this service, we really wanted to do it right, so I think that was the big factor behind that decision. We knew that it deserved to be its own thing. We outsourced the design, and wrote all of the content to be really cohesive and stand on its own. As far as getting traffic to it, it’s been pretty successful. That’s a big thing we link to in our email newsletters and something we promote at our events.
NKW: What exciting things does HFA have coming up?
MB: In addition to hfalearning.org, right now we’re promoting early registration for a marathon bike ride through our Gears for Good campaign! We also have our annual symposium coming up in April. Should be an exciting year!
I learned so much from my conversation with Michael.
As someone who is constantly trying to develop empathetic strategies for B2B and B2C clients, I learned that SEO work and content creation for a nonprofit has to take that a step further. For them, marketing is all about serving their audience, because serving their audience is why they exist. In a way, the same can be said about a for-profit business. After all, a business wouldn’t exist without customers, which is why every organization could stand to take a page from the NPO playbook, and should center the needs of their audience in their digital marketing strategy.
I want to extend a huge thank you to Michael and the Hemophilia Federation of America for sharing a behind-the-scenes look at their digital marketing tactics.
If you’re a nonprofit organizer looking for digital marketing inspiration, HFA is a fantastic example of a digital presence that uplifts the work of their entire organization. It can be a challenging task, but the right team can get it done. webFEAT Complete is a team of experienced digital marketing and web design experts that specialize in understanding and supporting your mission though our work. We’d be happy to chat about developing a unique strategy tailored to you and those you serve. Get in touch today!