Mapping your digital strategy for 2020

Why do we have a website?

Calendars are moving into a new decade, and so should your digital strategy. For years, your team has invested time and money into “the website” and online work with the assumption that this time is justified. But how do we know that these investments are leading to tangible actions, outcomes, and impact that serve your nonprofit’s mission?

Play the ‘5 Whys’ with your organization’s website by asking and answering the Why question five times. It may take a few rounds, but it will quickly reveal how different people at your organization view and value the work of the website.

Q1: Why do we invest in our website?
Because we need a web address to send people online to find us.

Q2: Why do we need people to find us online?
Many people don’t know our services exist and we need to show up in Google.

Q3: Why do we need to show up in Google?
If people don’t find our resources, they won’t learn and join our organization online.

Q4: Why do we want people to ‘join’ us online?
Joining our email list and advocacy network increases our power to change hearts/minds about this issue.

Q5: Why do we use this online network/email list?
It is the best way to reach supporters in a crowded digital world and remind them of our work.

Beware the Digital Impact Chasm

There is a Yogi Berra quote Whole Whale often references from Mario Morino’s book Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity. It reads: “We’re lost, but at least we’re making great time.” This line captures what many organizations with the best intentions may actually be doing: driving quickly toward a somewhat nebulous destination.

While most organizations have clarity on their mission and the programmatic strategies they use to achieve it, the path is not always as clear for the digital strategies and channels. Too often, we see a gulf open between the digital outputs organizations generate day to day — website content, email, social media posts, videos — and the outcomes we need to happen to achieve our impact goals. We call this the “digital impact chasm.” And it can easily be crossed with a simple road-mapping tool: the Impact Marketing Funnel.

Building your Impact Marketing Funnel

The Impact Marketing Funnel lays out a clear path for how your organization’s website and other digital channels lead to more awareness, engagement, action, and, ultimately, change. Each of these stages represents a key milestone in your user’s journey. By mapping your own impact marketing funnel, you can identify the priority digital outcomes that must happen at each stage of the funnel to progress your impact goals.

The four stages of the Impact Marketing Funnel:

  1. Awareness: How people discover you and your cause online
  2. Engagement: How people engage and stay engaged with you
  3. Action: What meaningful actions people take to support you
  4. Change: How the actions people take are leading to more results over time
An upside down triangle shows the four stages.
Image courtesy of Whole Whale

How is your website leading to more impact?

Think about all the actions people can take across your website and other digital channels. Do you know which of those actions best indicate success for your organization as you progress towards your impact goals? One way to know whether your digital strategy is working is by tracking 3-5 key metrics at each stage of the impact marketing funnel. By establishing and tracking these metrics at the beginning of the year, you can get a better overall picture of how you’re reaching and engaging more users over time, and whether these users are taking more of the actions that mean meaningful change for your organization.

The upside down triangle showing the four stages is now alongside success metrics.
Image courtesy of Whole Whale

Awareness indicates how effectively you are using your website to capture your audience’s attention and increase their interest over time. Some metrics you could track include traffic growth, source traffic (through which messages and channels you’re being discovered), keywords or topic areas driving organic traffic growth, and video views.

Engagement indicates how effectively you are meeting the needs and interests of your audience. In this stage, you start to get direct feedback from people that can help you build a relationship with them that lets you get them more of the information they want or need. Metrics like bounce rate (how many people are exiting a page without clicking onward), time on site, and scroll depth are good indicators of engagement level on your website. Engagement can also be shown in your audience giving you direct permission to engage with them further, such as signing up for your email list or attending an event.

Action indicates how effectively you are using your digital channels to motivate your supporters to take more of the meaningful actions that lead to a more tangible impact. Some website metrics that can indicate successful action include content downloads, pledges or petition signatures, volunteer sign-ups, and of course, donations.

Change indicates the impact of your digital channels across the preceding stages of the funnel at the macro level. How have they helped you move the needle overall? Are more people finding your website, spending time with your content, and participating in your campaigns or events? Have you grown your supporter sign-ups or donor base? Some specific website metrics that can help indicate change include: Organic traffic increase YoY, Campaign participation and success rate increase YoY, and One-time and recurring donations YoY.

In Conclusion: Will it make the boat go faster?

At the end of the day, all roads should lead to Rome — with Rome being your organization’s mission and overall impact goals. The Impact Marketing Funnel can be an effective compass for helping you achieve those goals by moving the needle at each stage of your user’s journey. As you make decisions for your digital strategy, consider: How are each of these strategies making your organizational boat go faster? The more effective you are with each stage, the more people you’re drawing into your funnel and converting over time, and the more likely your overall digital strategy will succeed in helping you achieve your goals.

The biggest advantage of quantifying these funnel elements is that you will be able to track the inputs that drive the biggest returns. This process will reveal the power law of the 20% of activity that is driving 80% of the marketing success.

When is doubt, just repeat this refrain:

  • Is this part of my [website, email, social media] building Awareness?
  • Is this part of my [website, email, social media] inspiring Engagement?
  • Is this part of my [website, email, social media] driving Action?
  • Is this part of my [website, email, social media] leading to Change?

Whole Whale was proud to write chapter 14 of the collaborative book, Nonprofit Management 101 (second edition), where we breakdown the Nonprofit Guide to Web Design and strategy.

Good luck!

Megan Anhalt
Megan is the Chief Strategy Officer and COO of Whole Whale. She has over 10 years of experience leading purpose-driven projects to help nonprofits, foundations, and companies create social impact. As a Strategy Director and Senior Strategist for Purpose, Megan drove several campaigns to address some of the world’s biggest challenges, including supporting the rights of low wage workers, fighting Parkinson’s disease, building a better food system, and improving jobs in America today — alongside many incredible partners like the SEIU, The Rockefeller Foundation,, and Unilever. Before joining the team at Whole Whale, Megan led digital communications for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, managing web, Facebook, and overall digital strategy for Priscilla Chan and the Zuck himself under CZI’s philanthropic banner.