4 Lessons Nonprofits Can Learn From E-Commerce Holiday Planning

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It’s no secret the holiday season is an incredibly important time for online retailers. For example, 2013 sales on Cyber Monday topped $2B, and all signs indicate that this number will grow in 2014.

It’s also no secret the holiday season is incredibly important for nonprofits. Frankly, nonprofit organizations know the last two calendar days of the year are pivotal, as people are looking to make year end donations. These days often directly impact organizational initiatives for the next calendar year.

Yet with experience advising nonprofits, and Oneupweb’s extensive experience helping e-commerce clients succeed, I feel obvious common ground between e-commerce holiday planning and nonprofit year end giving is largely ignored, and nonprofits can look to e-commerce holiday planning to learn how to capitalize on year end giving opportunities.

Here are 4 lessons nonprofits can learn from e-commerce holiday planning.

Have a Plan

One thing that most impresses me about successful e-commerce projects is just how much planning and strategy is involved. This all comes to a quick boil during the holiday season, when holiday planning causes the stars to align for revenue opportunity.

And while recommending nonprofits have a plan seems a bit obvious, I’m not convinced nonprofit planning is strategic enough. How aligned is your communications plan with your development plan? Does your year end giving plan have a theme? Do you know why you are posting on Facebook? Do you know who your Facebook posts are reaching? How do all of these things serve the mission of your organization? Does your board know what your goals are for the end of the year? How is each board member contributing?

Put simply, nonprofits must ensure year end efforts are based upon a specific plan, and the plan serves the overall mission of the organization.

Brand Awareness, Revenue Later

In e-commerce there is a difference between branded ad campaigns and non-branded ad campaigns. Branded ad campaigns are ad campaigns which focus on the organization’s name and brand. Non-branded ad campaigns are ad campaigns which focus on the organization’s industry-specific keywords.

For example, if your organization is named Lifeline, and it runs an orphanage in Brazil, your branded ad campaigns would focus on “Lifeline,” as this is the branded keyword for your organization. Whereas, “orphanage” and “Brazil” (or “Orphanage Brazil”) would be non-branded keywords used for non-branded ad campaigns.

The point? During the holiday season it is important for online retailers to focus on non-branded keywords early, as in September and October, as a way to prospect for customers who will likely make a purchase during the busy holiday weeks in November and December.

I believe this is important for nonprofits to understand, as likewise they can use the fall to build brand awareness, introducing the organization to new people. Like e-commerce prospecting, this will then lead to new opportunities with those same people, later in the year, who may be willing to partner with the organization in the next calendar year. As a result, the end of the year should represent a shift to brand campaigns, capitalizing upon the work done earlier in the fall.

Intentional Storytelling

The holiday season is also a time when online retailers hone their storytelling skills. For example, a client may incorporate their holiday theme into their online ad copy, and then create a holiday themed landing page for people who click on those ads. They may also use retargeting to serve additional holiday themed ads to potential customers who added an item to their cart, but then did not follow through on making a purchase. In this example, intentional storytelling leads the way as a consistent holiday theme is shared with the potential customer.

Pushed further, as people are using a variety of screens to connect with companies, online retailers understand making a decision to purchase is often an experience that spans several screens and touch points. For example, according to a Forrester Consulting paper commissioned by Tapad, more than 70% of online retail customers use three or more devices in the process of making a purchase, and 71% of customers will react negatively if they experience brand inconsistencies.

And here’s the blunt reality: Many shoppers don’t even have a product in mind when they begin holiday shopping.

Online retailers use intentional storytelling to reach these customers, and nonprofits should use intentional storytelling to reach potential donors as well.

One of the hallmarks of effective nonprofit fundraising is offering an effective invitation, inviting people to participate in the fulfillment of a compelling mission. This mission should be the driver for year end giving, and it should not get lost in clunky strategy, evidenced by haphazard online interactions received as interruptions.

Nonprofits must ensure their online strategy is intentional, and is predicated on a desire to get people engaged and involved with the organization.


Nearly every article I’ve read about holiday planning includes some variation of the following – Don’t overlook mobile!

In March we issued the warning as well, calling out the disappearing desktop by saying, “If you haven’t already, it’s time to get serious about mobile advertising.” We’ve even said that you should, “Go mobile or go home

Nonprofits must understand that people will engage their sites on mobile devices, and they must plan accordingly.

And put simply, like Lionel Richie and The Commodores, the best approach to making sure your mobile site is going to succeed is to make sure it’s “easy like Sunday morning.

Easy to read. Easy to See. Easy to Swipe. Easy to Engage. Easy to Search. Easy to Connect. Easy to Volunteer. Easy to Donate.

In Sum

At the end of the day my hope is these tips are helpful to you and the organization you serve. I have a particular passion to see your nonprofit succeed, and if there is any way I can be of help to you, please email me at jyaple@oneupweb.com

Pushed further, we at Oneupweb have an incredible wealth of knowledge when it comes to all things digital marketing, and we have lots of experience helping nonprofits succeed online. If there is any way we can help, please connect with me today.

At minimum, leave a comment below, letting us know about your organization, and what your plan is for year end giving.

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