November 16, 2015

How to Successfully Launch Your Nonprofit Online

Just getting started? Here’s how to make your new organization a success

The phase between “thinking about it” and actually launching your new nonprofit is crucial. What you do now can give you the boost you need for a successful launch.

Your list will be the heart muscle of your organization. So strengthen and build it as much as you can before you launch.

I’m talking about your list of activists and small dollar donors. Even if you’re starting from scratch, you have a list—friends that you know are interested in your issue (and the family that loves you).

If you’re resuscitating a former organization, try to reactivate any old digital properties and access to email lists that were around previously.

Reach out to other sympathetic nonprofit organizations. Maybe they will be willing to give you a boost by emailing their list about your launch. At least they can give you a social media assist.

If your issue is in the news, is it “petitionable” via one of the online sites, like or You can start to build up a list of people interested in your issue this way.

Now is also the time to get on Twitter and Facebook, if you are not yet already, and get active to build out your personal social media contacts. Read more ideas from our email list building guide for campaigns and non-profits.

Claim your name online. Buy your domain names now. If you develop some momentum, squatters could grab your domain and refuse to give it back unless you pay expensive prices. Or your issue-based opponents could buy it, which is worse. So buy them now.

What domains should you get? Get combinations of your issues (possibly with misspellings, or just the different common phrasings in use), and be sure to purchase the trifecta of common urls: .com/net/org. Domains are cheap; but not buying a domain can be costly. The last thing you want is to save $10 by not buying a similar .com, and have somebody else snatch it up and sell it at extortionate prices. Read more from our search engine optimization guide for political campaigns and non-profits.

Hopefully your organizational name is easy to spell. If it isn’t, be sure to buy misspellings.

For an organization, think about what combination of issues people will be searching on. Don’t forget about synonyms. Domains are relatively cheap, and you can always redirect some of them to your main domain.

Get a professional logo. Get it done right, at the beginning, and it will help with branding and last you for years. Make sure to get high-resolution and vector versions you can use for mail and print. It’s worth investing in the thing people will most associate with your organization, other than your name, as you develop your visual identity. But if you’re bootstrapping this organization, you could use something basic for now.

Get set up to accept online donations. Lots of options are available to you, from ActBlue to even PayPal that are free, or a full CRM, like NGP VAN, Salsa, BSD, or NationBuilder. But you must have a way to process credit cards online when you launch, or you are leaving money on the table. ActionNetwork is a great option if you’re starting out without many resources; it’s a full CRM and online processing option that is free for small organizations.

Get set up with mass email software. You need a way to email the hundreds (hopefully eventually thousands or tens of thousands) of people in your network about your organization. A professional CRM built specifically for activist nonprofits is important. Something cobbled together and built for private industry is just not going to work as well for your unique needs. Make sure that whatever you use will track metrics, like email opens, clicks, and donations, so you can see how well your emails perform over time.

Have a simple splash page up on your website at a minimum when you launch. It should say a little bit about the organization and have a donate button, email sign-up, and social media links, at a minimum. Also consider a volunteer sign-up, if you will need volunteers right away or need help to get your organization going.

That’s enough to get you started. You can work on a full website later, when your organization has money. When you’re ready for that, check out our guide to a successful website for campaigns and nonprofits.

Get ready for launch day. You want to be able to pull the trigger on all this stuff more or less simultaneously on launch day, with no dropped balls. So it will take some prep work beforehand.

You’ll need to have your social media accounts set up (make sure they’re private until launch day), have your website or splash page ready (but not public), and donation processing set up.

You should write your launch email and have it ready to send to your full list the day you kick off. (Note that perhaps your launch email should ask people to become fans on social media and/or spread the word about your organization online, to help grow your base… or maybe the first email should ask for money. You can best judge your organization’s hierarchy of needs.) Assuming you don’t have much of an email list to start with, be sure to reach out on your personal social media about this, too.

You need to get your press release ready and build your list of press contacts ahead of time so you have somebody to send it to.

Don’t forget outreach to appropriate national issue bloggers, state and local bloggers as relevant, and online personalities who care about your issue with large social media followings!

Good luck! Having all the pieces together will mean a smooth launch, lots of money and supporters raised, and good press — not bad for the beginning of a new organization.

If you’ve got the budget, you could also drop a little bit of online advertising in support of your new organization. Google AdWords would help people search for you (it will take a while for it to show up at the top of organic search results, so AdWords can be very important at launch), and social media advertising can build up your social media support base quickly.

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Laura Packard
Laura Packard is a small business owner and award-winning digital/communications strategist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She’s a partner at PowerThru Consulting ( , a growing national progressive digital consulting shop. At PowerThru, she helps nonprofits use technology to spread their message and organize and activate their supporters online, to create change offline. You can find Laura on Twitter @lpackard (