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Marlin Communications - digital strategy

How to create a digital strategy

— Written by Jason Ruffell Smith, Marlin Communications

To help organisations grow in their digital capabilities, Blackbaud invited some of the industry’s leading digital experts to share their insights in their new Digital Skills Toolkit. Marlin’s Digital Director, Jason Ruffel Smith contributed the following thoughts on creating the foundations of an effective digital strategy.

Download Blackbaud’s full Digital Skills Toolkit to uncover a wealth of other practical insights and ideas you can use immediately.

When it comes to creating a digital strategy that actually delivers results, it pays to think first and act second. Rushing into a digital strategy simply because everyone else is doing the same thing could lead you down an expensive path – costing both time and money.

1. Get clarity on where you are right now

Before spending too much time focusing on the future, it’s important to take a good look at where you are today.
Organisations should conduct a digital capacity and capabilities review every 12 months by asking some probing questions such as:

  • What is our current approach to digital marketing?
  • How are we using digital communications internally and externally?
  • Where are we at with digital fundraising?
  • Are we delivering any services digitally?

The list of potential questions is endless, and it’s only once you have a full picture of your current digital capacity and capabilities that you can then start working towards a digital strategy that focuses on the future for each of these areas.

2. Integrate your digital strategy with your overall business strategy

It’s often thought that a digital strategy is a static policy conceived and controlled by a single person or team within the organisation.

However, the most successful digital strategies are flexible, adaptable, and form part of an integrated business strategy focused on achieving optimal growth and efficiency throughout an entire organisation.

For that reason, it’s important that before digital strategies are created, organisations conduct in-person workshops where stakeholders from all levels are invited to come together to discuss the vision and mission of the organisation as a whole.

These workshops not only help ensure everyone is on the same page, but also offer valuable opportunities to ensure any digital strategy you create is understood by stakeholders and is also aligned with the wider vision of the organisation.

3. Set realistic goals for growth

Once you have consensus on what you are trying to achieve through your digital strategy, it’s important to set some concrete and realistic goals across all relevant areas of your organisation (e.g. fundraising, communications, data management and more).

For example, if your organisation is currently raising only a small amount in online fundraising, one of the specific goals within your wider strategy may be to set achievable growth targets for the next 12 months and then list specific steps for how to reach them.

Whether it’s in fundraising or other areas of your organisation, without measurable and realistic goals, it can be easy to adopt digital strategies and platforms that aren’t a good match for your organisation.

In the past, many organisations have adopted expensive enterprise-level software solutions, when they could easily achieve their goals with a more modest investment in something smaller and more agile.

On the other hand, some organisations continue with underperforming digital assets for too long, when they should be investing in enhanced solutions that are more suitable for achieving the growth they are hoping for.

4. Be prepared to invest long-term

After deciding on your digital goals for the future, it’s important to invest in technology, training, and teams that will help achieve them.

Your digital capabilities and capacity will be an increasingly important part of your organisation going forward, and your leadership needs to be prepared to make long-term investments in both technology and people that will pay dividends over time.

While some aspects of your digital strategy may yield some immediate results, others will take time to grow and to bear fruit.

For example, building a new website with enhanced online giving capabilities could lead to more online donations, however you will also need to consider other digital strategies such as how you will attract more people to your site, how you will grow your audience over time, and the digital journey you want donors and supporters to experience over the long-term.

By spending time getting the foundations right, you will be able to build a powerful and flexible digital strategy that will set you up for long-term success.

Jason Ruffell Smith Digital Director Marlin Communications

Meet Jason

Jason Ruffel Smith is Digital Director at Marlin Communications. Over the past 10 years Jason has led the delivery of digital campaigns and projects including strategy, transformation, peer-to-peer, acquisition, website and integration projects for Marlin’s nonprofit partners. Jason enjoys helping organisations on their digital journeys and enabling them to drive innovation through clear strategy and best practice approaches.

If you need help developing your charity’s digital strategy and capabilities, get in touch with Jason