Effective Online Organizing: Leveraging Digital Communications to Drive Action

The goal for many nonprofits, particularly social advocacy organizations, involves moving their audiences to action. But how can you and your NGO achieve the same outcome as notable viral movements, that include the Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised awareness to the neurodegenerative disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and the March for Our Lives, aimed at changing the global discourse on gun control? These successful online campaigns tapped into the power of social and online media to advance their cause through original hashtags on Twitter, petitions, calls to action, and more.

“Supporters of nonprofit organizations really only want to know two things: What do you do with the funds that you raise, and are you creating change and moving the needle in terms of the issue that I really care about,” explains Julia Campbell, nonprofit digital marketing and online fundraising consultant and author of Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide for Nonprofits. “If you can provide these two critical pieces of information with your social media and online communications to donors and potential supporters, you will succeed.”

To attain the success Campbell mentions, you need clear, concise, and transparent messaging, ensuring that your nonprofit’s mission and focus areas are easy-to-understand. This messaging, which should be showcased on your website and other online channels, needs to be set up before proceeding to any next steps. If supporters are drawn to your website from your social media or other online campaigns, but your organization’s mission and scope of work seem ambiguous in any way, supporters will be discouraged from rallying behind your cause.

In addition to impactful storytelling, this blog post will inform you of two other tried and true strategies that your organization can employ to successfully encourage your supporters to take action. The desired action can take many forms – including but not limited to signing a petition, protesting, or making a donation.

Showcase Stories

According to Convince & Convert, building trust and rapport are vital in driving engagement, the first step to taking action. Accomplish this by drawing off of your online community's emotions. Highlighting the work of real people is a fantastic way of doing this. This enables your supporters to connect a face to the important work your NGO is doing.

“Authenticity is the key to good storytelling [for any nonprofit or cause],” shares Devin Thorpe, author, educator, speaker, and founder of the Your Mark on the World Center. “Transparency is a superpower because it creates authenticity and allows for accountability.”

This authenticity that Thorpe is pointing to stems directly from your organization’s effective storytelling. Ensure you are always introducing the who, what, and why of your NGO. You do this by showcasing your organization's impact. Featuring stories from those who you serve will humanize your organization and the work it does, in turn emboldening your online supporters to take action. Also, to learn more about Thorpe and his truly commendable work in philanthropy, you can check out his website.

Leverage Online Tools

As an article from Local Victory points out, it is most beneficial for any well-run NGO, specifically those calling for grassroots or tangible action, to use every tool and online platform at their disposal. This of course includes social media and your website and/or blog, but in today's digital age, calling attention to important social issues and building online communities for the change you want to usher in have never been easier. Because of free sites like Change.org and Care2, anyone can quickly create and share petitions, and even facilitate donations. Additionally, there are many crowdfunding sites available for free usage that are specifically tailored to nonprofit audiences, including CausesCauseVox, and GlobalGiving.

"Starting with a story is the key to capturing the attention of your network, and the next most important thing is to provide a clear call-to-action,” notes Alison Carlman, Director of Impact and Communications at GlobalGiving. "A call-to-action might be to sign a petition, become a member, or donate. Crowdfunding platforms make it easy and compelling for individuals to give in response to the story they've heard."

In further explaining crowdfunding, Carlman adds, "Crowdfunding is about raising small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically online. Usually the funding is tied to a specific project or outcome, and on some platforms like GlobalGiving, it’s easy to send donors photos and updates about how their funding is put to work.”

GlobalGiving is a nonprofit organization that provides a global crowdfunding platform and community for grassroots charitable projects. For additional tips on crowdfunding, you can check out GlobalGiving's top seven tips from their most successful crowdfunders, including a link to the downloadable Crowdfundamentals beginner's guide to help nonprofits get started.

Offer Options to Show Support

As outlined in this post by HubSpot, it is essential to provide multiple options when crafting a call to action. Not all of your supporters will be able to join a march or have time to conduct calls, so provide them with flexible ways to express support, and ensure that helping you is easy and quick-to-follow. For example, provide clear instructions, and do not muddle your call to action with too many steps. When asking them to sign a petition, simply provide them with the link they need to follow. There is no need to send them to your website, which then prompts them to click on another link to the petition site.

An effective call to action can be seen on the “Ways to Advocate” landing page from Girl Up, the adolescent girl campaign from the United Nations Foundation. The page equips potential supporters with a mix of choices for how they can champion their cause, including easier tasks like writing an email to elected officials (with draft messages already queued up) to more time-intensive ones such as creating a fundraiser.

In conclusion, charities can maximize impact and spur the most action by focusing on all the work that their supporters are already doing and broadcasting these results through their online channels. If your social impact organization is new, shine light on your staff and what they are doing, and then utilize social media and your organization's website to start spreading the word. Emotionally connect with your audience before following up with an ask. Even if your organization may be limited in terms of resources and staff capacity, make sure to also tailor your message differently depending on the digital platform that your content is being published to. For example, produce short, catchy messages on Twitter, and draft more personalized posts for Facebook. Spending a little extra time crafting your message and call to support will help you amplify engagement, support, and ultimately action!

For other resources to hone your social media and online communications skills, I would encourage you to check out some of the self-paced eLearning offerings on GrantSpace.org. Specifically, our Build a Social Media Strategy course is a fantastic introductory course for social media beginners, and Storytelling for Social Media is filled with practical, useful tips and strategies to execute effective storytelling on social media.