Blog Insights
Applying CX for Nonprofits: An Expert Shares Her Experience

How can a focus on CX help nonprofits to better connect with their audiences online?

Customer Experience, or CX, has long been a focus of digital strategies in the for-profit world. To drive sales or brand engagement, every digital touch point is optimized and analyzed to create a frictionless, consistent, and appealing experience. 

Forward-looking governments are also adopting CX best practices, as service-centered agencies increasingly understand that the process to acquire a passport, for example, should meet citizens’ expectations for transactions.

Nonprofits don’t typically have customers, but they can still apply the lessons of CX in digital strategies. In fact, as people conduct more and more everyday interactions online, nonprofits risk being left behind or disregarded if they deliver a less-than-stellar digital experience. When someone seeks information, ways to contribute, or opportunities to engage from a nonprofit website, they’ve come to expect as smooth of an experience as shopping for clothes or researching flights.

To dig into how some nonprofits are leading the way with CX, we were pleased to speak with Ernestine Benedict, Chief Communications Officer at ZERO TO THREE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring that all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life. We’ve edited our conversation, below:

How do you think about CX for a nonprofit like ZERO TO THREE?

We think, “What’s the journey for this person?” Our constituents are our customers. We want every single touch point to result in the information or action they’re seeking to find, but to also go further, to build community. 

Ultimately, we are aiming for every interaction to lead to one of our primary calls to action, which are:

  1. Make a donation. We’re a nonprofit, so: no money, no mission! Every interaction matters in building a relationship to the point where a visitor will actually donate.
  2. Advocate. We are researching and advocating for policy change that specifically impacts early childhood development, and beyond informing, we need to give people the tools to make their voices heard, whether that’s personalizing social media, writing a letter, or signing up to meet with their elected representatives.
  3. Become a member. We offer professional development, trainings, and conferences: in this way, we do have true customers, and we need to meet their expectations for paid content and experiences.  

CX underlies every step of getting constituents to convert to one of those actions. It can sound unexciting and scientific to be this focused on three outcomes, but the creativity comes in actually delivering an omnichannel approach that deepens relationships online.

Do you see attitudes shifting at nonprofits, toward more sophisticated CX?

I do see a shift. As technology continues to evolve, all segments of a nonprofit’s audience need to engage through rich experiences online, whether they are individual donors, members, volunteers, funders, and even policymakers and other advocacy targets.

Nonprofits are used to approaching new needs through new websites, but the life of a website is not as long as it used to be. CX needs are shifting all the time. Technology demands a more integrated strategy: not just the website, but also apps, social media, surveys, and chatbots. We have to put our thinking caps on just like corporations and governments, to help people get the information they want and seek. Organizations have to be visible, and constantly accessible.

What does it look like to prioritize CX at a nonprofit?

We want to be able to personalize content. Our policy agenda is quite wide: everything from paid family leave to early childhood education, and constituents have specific interests within broad ranges. So we want to be to see what information constituents are accessing and be able to lead them to the most relevant content and actions.

But we have to be honest and say that using data is not easy and not cheap. Business intelligence tools are expensive. We need to acknowledge that for nonprofits it’s not that we don’t want to use data, but how to operationalize it.

My main message is feedback loops: find every way possible to create them. Use surveys, which are generally affordable and accessible for analysis. Simply ask people: How is this working? What do you need? Can you tell us about your experience? Surveys can provide positive and constructive feedback; they’re dynamic and adjustable to help you experiment and revise quickly.

We use all the data we can: Google Analytics, Semrush, social media analytics, and even tools that capture video of anonymized user journeys. If we find people consistently dropping off after a particular page, or responding more to a tone or type of image on social media, we can make quick tweaks. We’re setting up dashboards and designing analytics before we launch a campaign, so we know where to look for adjustments.  

We have also streamlined our team and approach to be hyper-focused on a seamless content marketing strategy for the whole organization. Many nonprofits, including ours, are used to program-based communications, which tend to communicate what we did, and why it matters. Too often this leaves out the audience! We are making the shift to be more constituent-focused, to build relationships and community, and ultimately loyalty.

What’s an example of CX innovation you’re proud of?

At our annual conference, during a panel discussion on policy, we asked a full room to text a keyword as part of an SMS strategy. We said after you text, hold your phone up and wave it, and we cut the lights in the ballroom: a fully dark room with hundreds of lights in the air. This created such a tangible experience for the audience; it was a unity moment and a community moment. We can follow up on this, and build more opportunities to communicate, because we shared that experience, blending online and offline experience. It creates a journey!  

Written by

More like this directly in your inbox

Sign up to the Forum One newsletter to receive more content like this as well as invitations to upcoming events and training for digital communicators.