It looks like COVID-19 may be here for a while, which will likely force arts and culture nonprofits to continue finding new ways to reach their audiences and patrons.
Since this means that in-person gatherings and programs will be curtailed for the foreseeable future, virtual and online offerings will be king. Of course, that also means that nonprofits which have previously neglected their websites and virtual platforms could be left in the dust, with less opportunities for collecting revenue and engaging community members hungry for cultural experiences.
Is your nonprofit positioned to deliver these experiences? And if not, do you know what’s needed to bring your org up to speed quickly?
Update your website (or create one).
You need a website. I’ve been saying that for years and although most nonprofits DO have one, there are still many that don’t or have ones that are seriously outdated in terms of content, speed, and interactive abilities. If this is something your org has procrastinated on in recent years, it’s time to get the organization’s butt in gear and get that puppy created or updated.
When people can’t come to your museum/gallery/concert hall/theater/etc. then that means that they are likely at home instead. As the colder months start to arrive, this will be the case even more often as people spend less time outdoors. And what will they do instead?
They will turn on a screen. It may be the tv, their phone, or their tablet, but you can bet screen time will increase. The nonprofits who will benefit during this time will be the ones who have set up offerings that their community and patrons can enjoy through these screens in the comfort of their own homes.
Now’s the time to do the foundational work necessary to give your audience a stunning, interactive arts and culture experience. Create a website if you don’t have one. If yours is outdated, it’s time to update or create a new, supercharged version from scratch that will wow your users.
I always recommend WordPress (.org version, not .com) because it’s an incredibly powerful platform that is relatively easy to learn, manage, can be kept low-cost, and is super scalable. It can handle anything you want to do – now and in the future. I don’t typically recommend Squarespace, Wix, or Weebly (you can read more about why here), but I will say in this instance that if those are your only options for some reason, then it’s still better to go that route than not have a website at all. Just know that your options will likely be more constrained on these platforms than on WordPress or even on a proprietary-built website without a content management system.
If you’d like to get started building a WordPress website, it’s not too difficult. You need to purchase a domain name and hosting plan (if you don’t have this stuff already), install WordPress (which is usually just a one-click operation inside your hosting platform), and then get started building the site into what you need.
Think about programming that can be taped or streamed.
These days, a good nonprofit website should be much more than a simple homepage, about page, contact page, and a donation button. If that's all you have to offer, then you should expect visitors to be less than impressed. You won’t have given them a reason to continue visiting the website and when virtual interaction is their only option, your organization will soon be forgotten in favor of organizations and companies with more interactive fare.
So start thinking about your programming. What can be recorded and posted to the website? What can be live-streamed? Can you create an exclusive online community (with a special forum and/or chat software)? Can you create educational offerings with real-time Zoom meetings or eCourse software that leads students through a learning progression? Can you take activities that you would normally offer as community outreach and convert them to kits that could be mailed to patrons (perhaps with a video on your website that walks them through how to actually do the activity)?
Good website platforms will allow you to do all of this with relative ease. For example, WordPress offers plugins that install with one click and allow you to create forums, embed videos, create entire courses complete with registration and membership features, and more.
Chances are if you can brainstorm a cool virtual program, there’s a way you could offer it on your website.
Convert events to online gatherings.
Fundraisers and events are going to be tricky propositions this season. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t hold them at all. It just means that you may need to be open to delivering them in a different way.
You could create a virtual happy hour fundraiser with a custom cocktail recipe and interaction via video conferencing software (which can integrate with your website and include donation functionality). You could create an online auction. You could even pre-record videos to create a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ video experience fundraiser. There are a million ways you can offer events virtually and they are limited only by your own creativity.
Again, come up with an idea and then look for a way to offer it up on your website or another virtual platform that can integrate with your website. It’s unlikely that the capability to pull off your idea doesn’t exist.
Create or resuscitate your social media pages.
As people spend more time on their screens, it’s almost inevitable that time spent on social media will increase, too. Now’s your chance to get in front of your audience, not only with an updated website, but with a relevant social media presence that can keep people entertained while communicating your message and engaging them with your fundraising and programming efforts.
If you aren’t sure how to create engaging social media apostles, here’s a great blog post to get you started!
And of course, use your social media posts to direct people back to your website, where they can gain more details, donate, sign up for things, and more.
Connect via email.
Email is far from dead and if your org either isn’t communicating with your audience or it hasn’t been a priority, this is a great time to change that! Think about it. You probably check your email at least once a day, every day. Most of your patrons probably do, too, especially those under the age of 50 which is actually the demographic you should be cultivating if you want to stay relevant and financially viable in the years ahead).
So set an email schedule, stick to it, and make sure you are sending your audience engaging emails with interesting subject lines that entice them to read and make them want to know more. These emails should ideally send them back to your website (just like your social posts) where they can interact more fully with your content and will be likely to then see other things on your site that they want to know more about.
Generate new online revenue streams.
Now is the time to think about new, virtual revenue streams that you can create, your patrons will love, and can help keep your organization relevant and afloat in the possibly difficult months ahead.
Again, this is limited only by your creativity and your org’s capacity, so dream big and look for ways to make it happen. This could include virtual concerts, drive-in theater productions, exclusive members-only access to archival videos of performances, virtual 3-D gallery tours, and more. You could even create a merchandise store!
Integrate ALL of this with your website for a one-stop experience.
No matter what you do, the key is to use your website as the hub for all the things happening with your organization. All roads should lead back to the website – social, emails, printed materials…all of it!
This will keep people coming and if you keep your website fast, up-to-date, and interactive then you will give people a reason to check in again and again. Since we know that it takes the average person 7 times of seeing a message before they act on it, their desire to continue visiting your website is key to how likely they are to purchase or donate.
If you make the effort to create an attractive website that allows users to quickly and easily find the information they want, become a member, make a donation, take a class, or sign up for an intriguing virtual arts opportunity, then your website will almost certainly become your nonprofit’s most important asset this year!