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Field of Dreams report reveals need for digital commitment, now

A recently released report, produced by Wiland, The NonProfit Times and The Nature Conservancy, highlights digital media spending in the nonprofit sector.

The report, dubbed Field of Dreams, highlights current investments in digital marketing and digital media.  The report also reveals three troubling realities about the state of nonprofit’s digital marketing maturity.

Lack of Ownership

Respondents to the survey outlined that digital marketing, further digital media, is a joint responsibility.  Since its launch in the early 2000s, digital marketing has been a shared activity with multiple points of ownership, somehow reinforcing organizational silos as opposed to a formidable, integrated approach.


If a group owns the task, then no one really owns the task.  This creates bifurcated and watered-down strategic focus.  Further, the Dreams report noted that only 45% of respondents said growing digital fundraising is a key initiative.


Less than half?  There are 7 billion people on Earth and 5 billion of them have a mobile phone2 billion have personal computers.  We are connected to these devices daily for how we live (online banking, e-commerce purchases), work (email, SMS) and play (social media).

How can more than half of those participating in this study not consider growing digital fundraising as a key objective?

Board members, Executives and Nonprofit Leaders alike need to reaffirm a commitment and interest in digital.  Our connectedness is not going away as individuals—and therefore our connectedness as people to nonprofits is not going away.  Now is the time to commit to a better strategic plan and focus for your digital marketing.

In July 2015, Tris Lumley penned this piece for NTEN’s blog, calling on nonprofits to advance digital transformation while acknowledging the barriers of resources.

Four years and six iPhone releases later, we are making baby steps.  But it’s time to start eating more solid food.

Lack of Resources

The vast majority of Dreams respondents implement the digital marketing strategy in-house.


If you have the resources to execute in-house—good for you.  The same respondents shared, however, having only 1.2-2.2 full time employees dedicated to in-house digital marketing.

2019-Bridge-Field-of-Dreams-Number-In-House-Digital-Staff-1024x576 (1)

What Does This Mean for Digital Marketers?

It would be far too easy to take the Dreams report as doom.

It’s not doom.  But it is a wake-up call.

First, the momentum is there.

Blackbaud’s 2018 Charitable Giving Report showed an increase in % of total fundraising from online, up to 8.5% in 2018.  Compare that to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s estimates that e-commerce accounts for 9.8% of total sales.


If you don’t see the value or the results, you won’t invest.  25-29% of respondents note that they have not seen the results needed to push for additional investment.


Lack of Vision

Lack of ownership and lack of resources do not create a road map for growth.  And the report validates it.  Half of Dreams respondents plan to keep their digital media budgets flat.


Plus, the potential is there.  As we mentioned earlier—consumers (aka donors) are spending more time and energy on mobile devices.  They’re more connected.  In the US alone, 20% of all ad revenues are on mobile devices.


Organizations who are aligning partners, applying resources and investing in strategy and analysis are seeing significant growth.

Take American Bible Society, for example.  RKD’s full-funnel digital media approach connected awareness, engagement and conversion to drive new donors.  The first full year with a digital media program increased new donors by 58%, optimizing cost-to-acquire to $41 and churning positive net from each new donor acquired.

And don’t forget about Children International.  This Child Sponsorship organization turned to RKD a year ago to help optimize its media program.  In only six months, RKD helped cut the cost-to-acquire a sponsor by 50%.

Field of Dreams is the wrong movie metaphor for the state of digital media.

Just building it won’t result in the coming of resources or results.

Digital media can be a force for net-positive acquisition, driving new audiences and donors into your program in droves.  But you can’t sit idly by like Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) in the movie.

You need the right team of experts.  You need the right perspective and expectations.  And you need the buy-in of leadership to be strategic.

With these things, your digital media program isn’t a dream.  It’s a reality.

Justin McCord

Justin McCord is the Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing at RKD Group, leading the sales and marketing teams. Justin oversees brand management, business development and content marketing for RKD, and he hosts the award-winning Groupthinkers podcast. He is also a regular speaker and contributor to nonprofit marketing events, helping shine a light on current issues and progressive strategies to align channels and improve connection.

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