Making decisions about technology for nonprofits has always been a bit of a minefield. Competing priorities, tight budgets and concerns about the effective implementation of new tools can put an unwelcome wrench in your plans to expand your marketing toolbox.

And then: a pandemic. COVID-19 pushed nonprofits to work and communicate in a more digital world, and organizations found themselves making hurried and short-term decisions about technology. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that some marketers found (and still find) themselves drowning in a sea of new technology without clear ownership or strategy.

Sound familiar? There’s never been a better time to take stock of your marketing technology. If you’re wondering how and where to make changes to your marketing tools in the year ahead, read on to learn about conducting a basic audit and analysis.

Common Parts of a Nonprofit Marketing Stack

For years, I thought about marketing technology as different tools that I can simply pull out of a toolbox. Email campaigns, social media platforms, websites, texting services… these are just some of the tools that marketers use depending on who they are trying to reach and the big picture goals they want to accomplish.

But in recent years, technology for nonprofits has shifted to what we call a “stack.” And if, like me, the only stack you think about is of the pancake variety, don’t worry. Thinking about layers upon layers is the right frame of reference.

Similar to the toolbox analogy, a marketing technology stack refers to all of the pieces of technology that your organization uses to do your marketing and communications work. For example, common parts of a nonprofit marketing stack include:

  • Website with a blog
  • Email marketing service
  • Event registration system
  • Online payment processor
  • Constituent relationship management (CRM) software
  • Online form or survey builder
  • Website popup builder
  • Social media scheduler
  • Graphic design software
  • Digital file storage
  • Virtual meeting or event platform
  • Project management tool
  • Google Analytics
  • Google Ad Grant

That’s a tall stack. And more importantly, looking at the list is a reminder that these tools don’t operate independently of each other when used effectively. They aren’t (or shouldn’t be) just thrown together in a box. 

A great marketing technology stack works across the layers to track and share information—making all of the pieces more powerful over time. 

The impact of COVID-19 on marketing tech

With the rapid changes that happened to daily life, work operations, and budgets during the pandemic, it’s no surprise that big changes happened to the world of technology for nonprofits. While some groups accelerated their digital transformation, others have stalled making investments of time and money in tech or couldn’t think long-term about their technology decisions.

Maybe you hit pause on a new website or moving to a different CRM? Signed up for free tools that don’t completely solve a problem? Started using software that isn’t integrated with other tools in your organization? 

The uncertainties and challenges of COVID-19 destabilized many areas of nonprofit work, and now’s the time to check in on your marketing technology to see if the stack is feeling a little shaky.

Assessing Marketing Technology for Nonprofits

Ready to start untangling the different pieces of your marketing and communications tech? The first step is to compile a list of the tools that make up your stack, similar to our list above. 

Get the ball rolling by thinking about the normal tasks in a given week and the software that you use to complete them. Working with a colleague, especially from another part of your organization like fundraising, can also make it more comprehensive.

When your list is ready, it’s time to do a deeper analysis of how you’re using each tool and where there are opportunities to improve how you’re using them.

Evaluating individual tools

With so much variety and complexity across marketing tools, it’s easy to get bogged down in your analysis. To keep things simple and consistent, these are the key questions to focus on as you evaluate each tool. Be sure to save your notes for future reference, like in our downloadable worksheet below.

  1. Who are the stakeholders? Identify the people at your organization that are responsible for the decisions and everyday use of the tool. And if there’s not a clear owner, be sure to note that as well.
  2. What are the most valuable features of this tool right now? Note the different pieces of functionality that offer the most bang for their buck in terms of meeting your marketing goals. For example, the ability to accept online donations would be critical for a website.
  3. What are the problems that it doesn’t solve? If you wish that the tool could do something more to save money, free up staff time, or give you greater insight, add those here. Thinking about a website again, you might have a built-in event ticketing system on your wish list.
  4. How does (or should) it integrate with other tools? If your online donation form isn’t connected to your CRM, or if you’re manually importing email subscribers into a newsletter tool, you have some integrations to work on. Note how you want the tool to interact with other technology in your stack, as well as what’s already connected.
  5. Does it need maintenance, an upgrade or a replacement? Thinking back over the past year, what improvements or changes were put on hold and why? Note any errors that need fixing, opportunities to get more out of your existing tool, or other tools that might better fit your needs.
  6. What kind of training is needed to make the most of it? Sometimes, especially when a tool is new to your team, it has a lot of potential that you haven’t unlocked because it’s a little intimidating or complex. Consider if training or other learning would help you better deploy the technology.
  7. For the time and money it takes to manage, are we seeing results? While using actual data for this question is nice, even a gut-check on the tool’s ability to deliver results is helpful to note. Using the website example, you might say that it’s driving a good amount of traffic but you’re having a hard time getting donations from mobile visitors.

Download the Evaluation Worksheet

Use our free download to assess each of your marketing tools using our set of seven key questions. When you’re done, you’ll have the information you need to talk about your strategy going forward.

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Refining your big picture strategy

Once you’ve made it through the evaluation process for each tool, you’ll have the notes and insights you need to have a bigger discussion about your marketing technology and how it’s working (or not) to support your marketing strategy. The goal of this exercise is not to give a thumbs up or down to each tool but rather to outline the next steps you want to take given all of your other priorities.

To help guide the conversation—or self-assessment, for all you solo marketers out there—consider the following questions:

  • Which tools are actively helping us meet our goals (e.g. awareness, donations, signups)?
  • Which tools will continue to grow (or shrink) with us as our needs change?
  • Is there anything we could be doing differently with our tech to build more capacity, like automating more processes?
  • Are any tools perpetuating issues related to accessibility, inequality or user experience?
  • How are we doing when it comes to security and protecting and storing data?
  • What’s not on our list of tech right now but should be?

Fair warning: this discussion doesn’t really have an end, and neither does the evaluation of your marketing stack. That’s because when it comes to choosing and using technology for nonprofits, nothing ever stays the same. Features, policies, best practices, staff capacity, marketing priorities and pricing are all subject to change.

Even if you only check in on your tech once a year, it’s worth doing the exercise to keep your marketing in a pattern of continuous improvement with the tools to get you there.

Looking at the year ahead, what marketing tools are you planning on adding or removing from your nonprofit’s stack? Do you evaluate your tools using additional criteria or processes? Feel free to share your experiences with others in the comments.

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