When most people talk about webinars, it's usually in the context of the for-profit world. They talk about using webinars for brand awareness, lead generation, and bottom-of-the-funnel sales conversion. But many nonprofits are discovering that they can use webinars to accomplish very similar goals—and to fulfill very nonprofit-specific needs, too. Here are five ways that nonprofits are successfully using webinars and why webinars just might be the perfect tool for nonprofit outreach:
1. Brand Awareness. The need to increase exposure isn't limited to the corporate space. Nonprofits need to generate buzz, too, and many organizations are using webinars in much the same way that for-profits are using them to drive interest in their brands.
Today, it's all about inbound, or content, marketing. Instead of traditional outbound marketing methods like advertising, where you try to initiate the conversation and hope that people come to you, inbound marketers create relevant content that people find on their own and that draws them in like a magnet. For example, this blog post can be considered a form of inbound marketing. You found me; I didn't find you.
Many companies have realized that if they offer relevant and valuable webinar content, their prospective customers are more than happy to register for and attend those webinar sessions. It's a win-win situation. The attendees get something of value and the company introduces (in a subtle, no-pressure kind of way) new people to their brand. Nonprofits have caught on. They're offering educational and thought leadership webinars aligned with their missions and germane to the interests of their constituents and would-be supporters. Some organizations rely on internal staff to give these presentations; others invite notable social sector thought leaders to present on topics of interest. In the process, these nonprofits generate awareness and stimulate interest in their brands and missions.
2. Lead Generation. Of course, lead or prospect generation goes hand in hand with brand awareness. Regardless of whether you're a company looking for new customers or a nonprofit searching for new donors or volunteers, you won't generate many new leads unless those leads are first aware of your brand or mission. Therefore, the brand awareness webinar mentioned above is also a lead generation webinar. As is the case with for-profits, nonprofits are using valuable webinar content to draw people in and make them aware of their brands and are then nurturing those people over time and working to convert them from leads to new supporters. In fact, there's no reason whatsoever why a brand awareness webinar shouldn't also be a lead generation webinar. Unlike with visitors to a website or most other ways of driving brand awareness, you'll get contact information for every single one of your webinar registrants and attendees.
This new digital-age methodology of inbound marketing really works. In its 2016 State of Inbound report, marketing software company HubSpot says that inbound marketers are four times as likely to be satisfied with their marketing strategy than outbound marketers (81 percent vs. 18 percent). What's more, HubSpot reports that 54 percent more leads are derived from inbound marketing than from traditional outbound methods like paid advertising and e-mail blasts and twice as many marketers say that inbound methods cost less per lead than outbound tactics. In other words, inbound marketing is more effective, and it's cheaper to boot. Are nonprofits listening? The Content Marketing Institute reported in its 2016 Nonprofit Content Marketing study that 76 percent of surveyed nonprofits use content, or inbound, marketing methods.
Today's inbound marketing practitioners distribute their content in myriad ways: blogs, whitepapers, case studies, videos, e-books, podcasts, infographics, research reports, newsletters... But there's one dissemination method that, pound for pound, outshines all of the others. According to a study by Forrester, webinars are second only to an organization's own website for driving awareness. It's obvious that your website might be where a new prospect first heard about your organization or learned more about your mission. But, after that, webinars rank higher than any other means of driving brand awareness. And it gets better. When it comes to lead and prospect generation itself, Forrester found that webinars are the number one tool that marketers have, ranking higher than telemarketing, one-on-one conversations, industry conferences, and even an organization's own website.
These findings may seem surprising, but when you understand what webinars bring to the table, it all makes perfect sense. No other type of marketing or mode of remote communication is more interactive and engaging than a webinar. Most webinar platforms offer a wide range of multimedia options that let you engage with attendees in various ways during a webinar, keeping them interested in your content, giving you multiple touchpoints, and allowing you to track their level of interest and what exactly they're interested in—important lead-scoring metrics that will help inform future follow-up. In its 2016 Webinar Benchmarks Report, webinar software vendor ON24 cited the average webinar viewing time of its customers' attendees as 57 minutes! Think about that. With what other form of communication or marketing do you have a captive audience for nearly an hour? It doesn't matter whether it's inbound or outbound marketing: nobody is spending an hour reading your e-mail blast or perusing your blog. Then again, no other form of communication offers anywhere near the level of interactivity and engagement and even entertainment—live Q&A, streaming video, real-time polling, feedback tools, group chat, social media integration—that a webinar does.
3. Fundraising. Most companies and nonprofits that have incorporated webinars into their outreach plans are using them in the aforementioned ways: they're offering valuable and relevant information, education, and thought leadership in order to drive brand awareness and generate leads. But there is a time and a place for selling.
Of course, most nonprofits don't sell products or services like for-profits do. But the concept of using webinars to "sell" easily translates to the nonprofit sector and the need to fundraise, recruit volunteers, enlist new members, or whatever an organization's particular call to action might be. Nonprofits that are using webinars to fundraise or drive some other type of action understand that the webinar format, with all of its multimedia capabilities and engagement potential, is a powerfully effective way to convert prospects into supporters.
4. Storytelling. We've talked enough about how nonprofits are using webinars to accomplish goals that run roughly parallel to the sales and marketing objectives of for-profits—brand awareness, lead generation, and sales. Let's discuss some uniquely nonprofit applications for webinars.
Sometimes, the most important current mission of an NGO is, well, the fulfillment of its nonprofit mission. For advocacy organizations, webinars are an ideal communication platform. The multimedia options available to webinar hosts offer countless combinations of ways to tell a story and promote alternative perspectives. There are environmental organizations using webinars to champion conservation, public policy groups using webinars to promote new legislation, social justice charities using webinars to stimulate systemic change... Really, every nonprofit is an advocacy organization in some way. And one of the best ways to persuade others to think differently or support a cause is by eliciting an emotional reaction through storytelling. Through the use of audio, live and recorded video, screensharing, and, yes, even the traditional PowerPoint slide presentation (simple slides with eye-catching images and photos have been shown to be one of the most effective ways to tell a story), nonprofits are using webinars to tell their stories to audiences that can provide real-time feedback, ask questions, and participate in a two-way conversation with the presenter.
Even for non-advocacy organizations, storytelling is an important component of a nonprofit's ongoing communication with its donors, members, volunteers, staff, and the general public. Some organizations host "insider-only" webinars to keep their supporters current on new and ongoing projects. Others offer regular forums to provide updates on issues of public or community interest. Some use webinars to share progress on current initiatives with internal staff. According to the Content Marketing Institute, nonprofit content marketers say that engagement is their number one goal. Whatever the use case may be, nonprofits seem to be recognizing the versatility and convenience of webinars to tell engaging stories to audiences located anywhere, at any time, for any purpose.
5. Training and Education. Many nonprofits have started using webinars to conduct ongoing training with volunteers, onboarding with new staff, and continuing education with members and constituents. Certainly, the applications vary widely from nonprofit to nonprofit. But it's the inherent efficiency and effectiveness of webinar technology that makes it an attractive vehicle for nonprofit training and education.
Yes, you can hold in-person sessions. Yes, you can host traditional audio and video conferences. And sometimes, depending on the circumstances, an in-person gathering is vital or anything more than a teleconference is overkill. But webinars do offer flexibility and cost-savings if you need to train a group of far-flung employees or don't have the facilities to accommodate large groups of supporters or stakeholders. Plus, the functionality offered by webinars is exponentially more robust and feature-rich than that offered by teleconferencing, or even videoconferencing, systems.
Some webinar platform vendors take training and education to an even higher level of sophistication with special "learning" or "training" versions of their software that incorporate features like breakout rooms, testing and grading, and on-demand course libraries. Depending on the use case, these more classroom-like features may be useful to nonprofits that provide training as a core organizational function or provide certification or education credits. Most nonprofits, though, find that the standard web conferencing features of most webinar platforms meet their training and education needs just fine.
Granted, there's sure to be a lot of content and style overlap among the five nonprofit webinar use cases—brand awareness, lead generation, fundraising, storytelling, and training and education—presented here. As already noted, a brand awareness and lead generation webinar may be a single, intertwined event; there may be some subtle calls to action embedded into a storytelling webinar; and a brand awareness, lead generation, or fundraising webinar may very well include lots of storytelling. There aren't really any rules, except common sense ones like not engaging in bait-and-switch tactics such as inviting people to a thought leadership webinar and then blatantly fundraising.
What I usually tell nonprofits when they ask me why they should consider using webinars as part of their outreach strategy is to think about webinars as an extension of the marketing and communications they already do. It's another way to generate interest and drive new supporters to your organization; it's another way to communicate with your stakeholders and tell the story of your nonprofit's work; it's another tool in your arsenal. But, above all else, it's a tool that enables you to provide compelling content like none other and a way to interact and engage with your audiences like never before.
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