Reports and studies

Two New Reports Tell a Story of 2015 Nonprofit Communications Trends

1 Comment 30 March 2015


Two new nonprofit communications reports shed a light on how nonprofit organizations are strategizing, executing, and approaching both digital and traditional communications. The 2015 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report (#NPcomm2015), published by Kivi Leroux Miller and Nonprofit Marketing Guide, is a comprehensive look at trends in nonprofit communications, including staffing, marketing goals, communication priorities and time investment, calls to action, and direct mail activities. This is the fifth publication year, with 1,525 participating nonprofits.

The first 2015 Digital Outlook Report (#NPOutlook15), published by NTEN in collaboration with Care2 and HJC, focuses exclusively on the state of digital strategy within nonprofit organizations, with 473 nonprofit professionals responding. This report looks at dedicated digital strategy staffing, digital marketing techniques, communication channel plans, donor acquisition techniques, and challenges to planning new digital strategy. Together, these two reports offer a comprehensive overview of nonprofit communication practices, priorities, and trends in 2015.

Digital marketers will focusing on using visual media more in 2015

More than 60% of the Digital Outlook Report respondents plan to use more visual media in 2015, particularly video, images, and infographics.

Digital Outlook Report 2015 focus on images

The takeaway? This is consistent with sector-wide digital communications prioritization on visual media. Social media platforms are also optimizing their own algorithms to encourage more visual content.

Email marketing, traditional social media, and the website will dominate 2015

The NPcomm2015 report asked respondents to prioritize, from most important to least important, 13 communications channels. Website, email marketing, and traditional communications channels came out on top, with the website as the top channel. Interestingly, only 13% cited visual social media and video as very important, with 37% ranking it as somewhat important in the NPcomm2015 report. This is seemingly in conflict with the NPOutlook15 respondents, who are focusing more efforts on visual media in 2015.

This seeming conflict may reflect different job priorities within marketing communications: the NPOutlook15 focuses exclusively on digital practices and trends, while the NPcomm2015 report considers the entire sphere of nonprofit communications. It may also reflect a pivot point: are digital marketers ahead of the curve, or not?

Which social channels are most important?

The NPcomm2015 report confirmed that “the big four” social media platforms will continue to be important to communication plans: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Some potential future trends emerged: Instagram jumped from 7th to 5th place this year, and Pinterest fell to from 5th place in 2014 to 7th place in 2015.

The Digital Outlook Report confirms this trend for digital marketers. The survey asked respondents to identify which channels will have a concerted plan, or be integrated into a broader digital strategy in 2015: 94% responded that they will have an email strategy, as well as either a plan or integrated plan for Facebook (88%), Twitter (79%), Instagram (30%), and Pinterest (15%).

The takeaway? Nonprofit marketers are relying on, and creating digital communication plans for “the big four,” along with a growing interest in the strategic use of Instagram and Pinterest.

Comms Channel importance Digital Comms Trends Report 2015 Kivi

Most important communications channels #npcomm2015

Prioritizing engagement as a goal

The NPcomm2015 survey asked respondents to rank their most important communications goals. In order of rank, they are:

  • Engaging Our Community (57%)     In 2014, Engaging Our community was in 2nd place.
  • Retaining Current Donors (53%)     In 2014, Retaining Current Donors was in 4th place.
  • General Brand Awareness (51%)     This remains the same ranking as in 2014.
  • Acquiring New Donors (50%)          In 2014, Acquiring New Donors was in 1st place.
  • Thought Leadership (33%)

The takeaway? If you successfully engage the community, leads and new donors will follow. As a whole, nonprofit communicators are recognizing the importance of community engagement as a lead goal, even more important than acquiring new donors.

Challenges to success

Both reports highlight challenges facing marketers in the nonprofit workplace. The NPOutlook15 survey asked respondents to note their biggest challenge planning new and concentrated digital strategy. Across organizations of all sizes, staff shortages and budget restraints were the largest challenges. Some of the other challenges cited can easily be overcome with the right planning: lack of training on new digital strategies and tactics, coming up with new engaging content, and proving ROI internally.

Biggest challenges planning new and concentrated digital strategy #NPOutlook15

Biggest challenges planning new and concentrated digital strategy #NPOutlook15

The NPcomm2015 asked nonprofit communicators: “What are your biggest challenges?” The answers were remarkably similar to those reported in NPOutlook15, and ranked in this order from most to least important:

  • Lack of time to produce quality content (38%)
  • Lack of budget for direct expenses (38%)
  • Inability to measure effectiveness (28%)
  • Lack of a clear strategy (25%)
  • Produce engaging content (22%)
  • Produce enough content (20%)
  • Difficulty integrating communications channels (19%)

The takeaway? Many of the things that nonprofit communications staff cite as challenges are easily overcome: lack of a clear strategy, content production (engaging content relies on a clear strategy), channel integration, proving ROI, getting skills training. This is the great news with regards to challenges. Budget and staffing constraints are always a part of working in the nonprofit sector, but an appropriate communication strategy should allow for these constraints and maximize effectiveness and efficiencies with existing resources.

What will nonprofit communicators do in 2015?

As I noted in my writeup of the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference, we’re past “how do we do this thing?” and onto “how do we use this to do more?” These two reports confirm that staff are prioritizing community engagement and donor retention (another form of engagement), creating and integrating digital strategies for social media, bringing new social channels into their strategies, and thinking about how to integrate visual media to accomplish their goals.

Both reports are worth reading fully, as they cover much more than is summarized here, including: email marketing trends, lead generation strategies, newsletters, nonprofit staffing, time spent on social communication production, and more. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: I am a member of the NTEN Research Committee, which works with NTEN staff in an advisory capacity to develop its reports, including the 2015 Digital Outlook Report.

  • Michael Selissen

    Yes, both of these reports are valuable and it’s a good thing to see the focus beginning to shift from, “What’s Instagram?” to broader objectives like, “How do we turn donors into long-term advocates?”

    As an adjunct to these two, I’d suggest the Burk Donor Survey from Cygnus Applied Research:

    This report looks at philanthropy from the other side, specifically how donor interaction and communication affects satisfaction and sustained giving.

    To get the most out of their communication strategies, nonprofits will do well to address the donor perspective. This, I think, is the real and unspoken communication challenge: moving from “Look what we did” to “Look what you did.”

    The report’s executive summary is available for
    free with registration. Full US and Canadian versions of the report are available for a fee.



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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