Maximizing the Impact of Your Nonprofit’s
Digital Marketing Efforts
with Digital Marketing Expert, David Pisarek
Who is David Pisarek?
David Pisarek has been smashing the nonprofit sector for 30 years, and now he’s living out his dream: to design and build websites, lead design, and branding projects, and be a general technology guru for non-profits in Canada.
He’s a design and programming expert who has taught at the college level and found his passion for sharing knowledge at his clients’ businesses. Over the past five years, he and his team have completed 225 projects, so if you need some help, David and his team are the experts.
Breaking apart processes and tearing down department silos, David uses his background to effectively bridge the gaps between IT, Marketing, Communications, and Fundraising departments to align processes, streamline operations, and ultimately help his clients achieve digital success.
What you will learn in this interview:
David will share how nonprofits can make the most out of their digital marketing strategies to elevate their message and reach out to more people, who can possibly be volunteers or donors. He has over 20 years of experience in Digital Marketing and can give some great insights on how to leverage some tools to do just that.
Read the Interview Transcript
Hugh Ballou: Hello, everyone. It’s Hugh Ballou, founder and president of SynerVision Leadership Foundation. For 7.5 years, we have interviewed somebody, business specialist, nonprofit leader, who have a message to share. They have been there, done it, and learned from it. Maybe they have done some things they wish they hadn’t done, but they have learned from them and succeeded. We teach nonprofit leaders to adopt business concepts because in fact we are running a tax-exempt business.
Our guest today is David Pisarek from Toronto, Canada. David has some very unique insights and experiences with digital marketing, which covers a lot of things. David, welcome. First, tell people a little bit about yourself and your passion for doing this work.
David Pisarek: Thank you. Hi, everybody. Pleasure to be here. Glad to chat with Hugh and hopefully help everyone out a little bit. I hope there is some takeaway you can bring back to your organization and either employ or tell somebody about.
Hi, I’m David. I’m the CEO and founder of Wow Digital Incorporated. We work with nonprofits, charities, foundations, government groups, community-based organizations who are looking for an improved online presence and brand. Myself, I’ve got over 30 years of web design, development, marketing, and branding experience. With over 20 years of that in nonprofit and full-time web marketing/branding side of the business. I have been interviewed on a number of podcasts. I have taught web design and graphic design at two Ontario colleges in their full-time programs. I was the lead developer in a dot com boom startup in 1999, where my work raised over $1 million in capital funding in seven weeks, and we went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange. In a nutshell, that’s my background.
I love working with nonprofits. I care about giving back to the community. I care not necessarily about my legacy in terms of helping and being able to help on a larger scale, but more about caring about what the organizations are and helping them deliver value to the communities that they serve.
Hugh: Love it. We hear this word “nonprofit,” and we put our scarcity hat on. We think, “Oh, we can’t spend money on marketing. We’re a nonprofit. We can’t make money.” We put limits on ourselves. Why is it important for a nonprofit to have a really strong digital presence?
David: I love this question. I talk about this quite often. It ultimately comes down to this in my opinion. Nonprofit doesn’t mean no profit; what it does mean though is that you need to run your organization as a business. You need to make money to be able to serve the people that you’re trying to connect with, to be out there, whether it’s ads or running not so many events in the age of COVID, but you will be at a trade show or a booth at a community fair. You need to be able to staff it in a competent fashion. It’s very hard to run an organization solely based on volunteers. You need to be thinking more like a business and less like a small organization. You’re out there to help people. To do that, you need money. You need to fundraise, and you need donors.
Hugh: I spent a career as a music director in Protestant churches in America, mostly the South. There is a word we use that we don’t always utilize well, “stewardship.” We are in fact stewards of other people’s money. It’s not our money.
Investing in the proper systems. Let’s start with a website. People put up a website, and they get hits. I stole this acronym: HITS is How Idiots Track Success. You don’t care who comes; you care who does something. What are some of the big blind spots people have about websites?
David: One of the first things is it’s important to make sure your website has analytics installed on it. If you don’t know how many people are coming to your website, if you don’t know what content on your website is popular, which ultimately means if you can identify the popular content, you want to create more content that is similar to that or around that same kind of topic because that will help drive more traffic to your website. Getting traffic to your website is great. What do people do when they land on your website? That is in the business world called a conversion. In the nonprofit world, it should be called a conversion. How do you get subscribers to your email list? What are the calls to action that people are seeing on the pages they are landing on?
You want to get subscribers to your email list so you can push messages out to them. That is one of the best things you can possibly do. There are a lot of products out there you can leverage for that. There is Mailchimp, Constant Contact, Campaign Monitor. You can integrate in a donation platform or CRM if you want to get fancy with it. But you want to collect email addresses, push messages out to people’s inboxes. Some people think email is dead. Everybody that is listening to this has an email address. You have an inbox, and you use it. Email isn’t dead. People are using social more than ever now. Being able to get an email means that you can push a message directly into somebody’s inbox versus hoping it will show up in a Facebook or Twitter feed where everything changes so rapidly.
Hugh: You figure something out, and the algorithm has changed. I drive traffic. I have a nonprofit; SynerVision is a 501(c)3. It’s a for-purpose organization instead of for-profit. We have the Google Ads grant. We get $10,000 worth of play money. We drive a lot of traffic. We spend every penny. I’m a good recovering Scottish Presbyterian. We use it. I’m not sure we have this conversion thing down. Is that an area that you work in? We expect something. Is that what we’re expecting? Is Ads a really good effective digital marketing tool?
David: Google Ads is really great. It’s $10,000 a month for free from Google. How can you go wrong with that? Having said that, they don’t give it the same kind of relevance in the ads as they would for a fully paid ad. Still, it’s $10,000 for free. Leverage it. Use it. Spend as much of it as you possibly can every month. You know what? If February didn’t turn out well, March, tweak your ads, modify your messaging, change your color, change your image. Do some A/B testing with it. Play with different wording. Google has a great back end for optimizing your ads. You can load in a bunch of different images and copy for one ad, and it will adjust it and determine which works best. You can then iterate based on that.
When somebody sees the ad, they click through. What happens? They are taken to your webpage. Maybe your Facebook page if you don’t have your own website. What do you want people to do when they’re there? Theoretically, you should have a landing page that you direct people to that speaks exactly to what the ad talks about. You don’t necessarily want to take them to your home page. You want to take them, say, to the page for a big capital fundraising goal that you’re trying to hit, which is what the ad was for. Create a great landing page with all the information that somebody would be looking for right there. They don’t have to look around very hard for it. You want to make sure you have a clear call to action that you can see in the top section of the website.
Hugh: Above the fold, so to speak?
David: For about 10 years, above the fold was a thing everybody wanted. Now, especially on mobile, you can scroll really easily. Above the fold is still a thing, but it’s not as prevalent as it once was.
Hugh: It’s not the only thing.
Hugh: I do a webinar on the 10 reasons nonprofits fail. One of them is not finding a technology expert and delegating it. That’s not your strong suit. The other one is making decisions without enough data. You addressed those two very strongly. People can go to WowDigital.com. What will they see when they get there?
David: You’re showing it right here. First off, what they see is a clear message about who we cater to. We cater to people who are making the world a better place. What do we do? We will help you change more lives. That is our ultimate mission. We want to help people create an impact on the communities that they serve. Right off the bat, boom, book your free consult with us. You can click, book a call with us, and we get on from there.
We have a webinar that we run. It’s about every six weeks. We’re running another one on February 24. In our navigation, you can click on that. We have a $10,000 giveback program that we started in the summer. Depending on the size of the scope of work, we will take $10,000 right off. There is an application form there as well. It’s pretty quick to go through.
We talk about nonprofits and accessibility. Accessibility is something really important. Making sure that your website is available to people who don’t surf the web in a traditional way. If they have a visual impairment or physical impairment, they might not be using a mouse. They might have a different pointer. They might be using software as a screen reader. What does a website look like to them? There is a number of lawsuits that are constantly happening in the U.S., Canada, and abroad because websites aren’t compliant. We talk about that. If you’re interested, we can do a free audit for you. Go to WowDigital.com. Click on Accessibility. We will set up an audit for you.
Hugh: Love it. I’m glad you highlighted accessibility because many people have different capabilities. We say they are disabled, but they have different abilities. In my church music world for 40 years, Fanny Crosby probably wrote as many hymns as Wesley, 8,000. She was totally blind all her life. She had a significant contribution. In America, that represents 26% of our population. We have just limited our business by not making it accessible. It’s not rocket science either. What are some things we need to be mindful of for those who are hearing- or sight-impaired?
David: Some of the quick wins are making sure that there is enough color contrast. For example, you wouldn’t want to have white text on a light-yellow background. It will be hard to read that. That is just a quick top-of-mind thing.
If you want to be compliant to the W3C organization and their standards that they have created, for AA compliance, which is the global standard for accessibility, you need to have a 4.5:1 color contrast ratio. If you want to exceed that and do AAA compliance, it’s a 7:1 ratio. It’s a lot harder to hit AAA compliance. There is some great web contrast checkers out there. You can put in your colors and go, “Okay, yeah, this is too bright, or this isn’t dark enough to be able to have that contrast.”
The second one that I would caution people on in making sure that they’re taking care of is having what’s called alt text. When you put an image up on a web page, what does somebody who is blind see, or hear from the screen reader? When the screen reader goes past the image, it will tell them what that image is about. If it was a dog on a surfboard in a wave, you would want to put on the alt tag, “Dog surfing,” or something like that. If it was somebody holding up a sign saying “Peace,” you would type, “Person holding sign saying ‘Peace.’”
Hugh: I know its importance for SEO, but I never thought about screen readers. That’s profound. We are cutting off people who need what we want to share. We haven’t thought about it. The color contrast and particular colors, it’s harder to see blue for instance because of the bandwidth. I’m 75. Old people, too. We have tired eyes.
David: I didn’t say it.
Hugh: We have tired eyes. The contrast with the combination of certain colors is a challenge as well. What about fonts and font size and the size of the buttons?
David: For example, on a mobile device, you want to make sure that whatever you’re putting on your page is clickable with a regular-size finger. Whatever it is you’re putting on there, if it’s a button, if it’s an email link, if it’s a phone number, you can actually click it with your finger.
In terms of font size, that can vary depending on the style and branding that your organization has. Having said that, there are certain tricks on the programming side. You can set up your font size as pixels, which will keep it finite, or you can set it up as an EM, which will scale based on a number of variables of the page. Typically, we say try to keep your font over 12 pixels, which is usually equal to about 1 EM if you have set up the font size properly. Make sure your headings fall in the right order. H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6. You can go down and up through them, which also helps all the added benefits of accessibility. Also improves your SEO. They go hand in hand. They are synergetic in that way.
Hugh: SEO. Smoke and mirrors. What is SEO, and why is it important?
David: It’s an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. It’s the data that search engines use to rank your website. Key words that you will have on your website, the content of your website, the alt tags on your images, the headings that you have in your content, it all fits into an algorithm that the search engines go through to go, “Okay, this page, we should rank as #8 on the list of search engine result pages.” You will hear people say, “SERP.” That’s a Search Engine Result Page. If you’re on page five of SERP, you want to move up to page one. How often are you searching for something, and you are flipping through, you go to page three and say, “Forget this. I will run a different search.”
In terms of search, it’s sad and unfortunate. It is the way of the world. But Google is the search engine giant. Whenever we talk about SEO, it’s always what does Google care about? Their algorithm is really close to their heart. Nobody really knows the secret sauce to it. If you want to move up in your rankings, and you get an email or see an ad saying, “We guarantee you first place on search,” don’t buy into it. It can’t be done. You can’t fool the algorithm.
One of the things we know works with Google is producing content on a regular basis. Having new blog articles, new news releases, updating a bit of content. Even if it’s your home page and you just move something from the first spot to the second spot and swap them for a little bit, Google sees that as new content and revised content. It will help move you up in the search engine.
We have a content strategy workshop that we have run with a number of our clients. We have taken people from 200-300 unique organic visits a month over an eight-month period to 510% of their traffic just by producing a short bit of content every week. 400-500 words. If you talk to proper SEO and content strategists, they will tell you that the content needs to be 1,000-1,200 words. We are saying that is not actually the case. As long as you are producing relevant content that people are interested in, and you are getting traffic, that is more than enough.
Hugh: For this interview, I put your picture in. I created the alt tag and the description and the file name all with your name on them. Am I being excessive, or do those all contribute to good SEO?
David: In my opinion, what you did is perfect and exactly what you should do.
Hugh: You heard it right here, folks. Musician gone geek. I’m amazed at how many experts have websites, and it’s Image 3 with no alt tag. It’s like wasting a free asset. We have almost 1,000 pages on our website. 400 blog posts, and each one of them is on a particular topic related to nonprofit leadership. We do alt tags and tags on a WordPress site. How does that play in? I know you have the metadata and the description for the page. But how do the tags fit?
David: In WordPress, you have categories and tags for posts. Out of the box, you can’t do it on Pages, but there is a plugin you can do to install categories and tags to Pages as well. You can create sections of your website that show all of the content based on a category and/or tags. You can segment that content and display it in unique ways for your prospective visitors coming to your website.
In addition to that, WordPress, and if you’re using an SEO plugin like Yoast or Rank Math, they will create something called a site map XML file. It’s visible on the back end of the website. That’s what search engines use to index your website. What I mean by index is they look at this file, and it has all of the pages of your website listed. It will have the last updated or when it was created date in there. It takes that data and stores it in their database. It sends what’s called a spider or bot to your website to crawl the data, to look at all the content on it and store a local version of that so that it knows when somebody searches for this term, this is a relevant page. By creating the categories and tags, that adds extra flair to your SEO footprint.
Hugh: 20 minutes, I’m already smarter. This is great. You still can learn, people. Old people can learn. I’ve said it twice. What are some of the things that people do that actually have a negative impact on the search engines?
David: One of the things that we see quite often is, and we did a bit of a case study with this not with one of our clients but with the data we were able to pull out of the public domain. There is a very big hospital in Toronto. They did a full website redesign. They didn’t really think about the content of their website when they went through the redesign. They ended up dropping about 75% of their organic search pages out of Google because they didn’t properly redirect the pages or tell the search engine. There are ways you can do redirects on the back end to say that the page has moved from here to here so that the search engine can update. They lost a ton of traffic.
Imagine having a world-class organization, your operating budget is over $1 billion, and you lose 75% of your search visibility. What does that mean in terms of donations? What does that mean in terms of volunteers? Let alone helping the community and letting people know about the programs and services you have to offer.
Hugh: Let’s talk about money. I haven’t met a nonprofit that doesn’t need more funding to be able to fully implement and achieve their mission, which is important. I really applaud you for your support of our community and the work that we do that is really crucial. It’s more now than ever before. We can get donors, so why don’t we get more digital donations?
David: Anybody that is thinking of donating a big amount—in my opinion, a big amount is $1,000 or more—they want to have some kind of connection to your organization. They want to feel some kind of empathy. I talk about this quite a lot: being able to create a compelling reason for people to want to be involved in your organization either as a volunteer, an employee, or even a brand ambassador, to share your posts on social networks and get your message out there further, or be involved in an event that you’re hosting.
They want to be stewarded. You mentioned this early on. They want to know what the money is being used for. I’ll often get a piece of mail in December because there is the end of the year big push for tax receipts and donations. But I don’t hear anything from the organization during the rest of the year. Why is that something that I would want to donate to? Why is that a cause that I should care about? You want to have ongoing relationships, ongoing communications, not just a piece of mail with a self-returned envelope in it asking for money once a year. Having those touchpoints throughout the year, having that email list, even if you’re sending something every 6-8 weeks is better than nothing. Showcasing what it is that the money is being used for.
In Canada, healthcare is a different story up here than it is south of the border. If you’re a hospital, and you’re trying to raise money for more hospital beds or COVID ventilators, how many people were you able to help with that money? If it cost $5,000 for a ventilator, and you raised $50,000, so you have 10 new ventilators, how many people did that help? What was the impact? Being able to showcase the impact and how the money is being used to help people in the community will drive people to want to give more and care more.
Hugh: A fundraising executive who is watching said, “Go for it. Preach it, David.” You’re so spot on. There is just so many things to know. I want to encourage people to go to WowDigital.com. You offer a free consultation. Do you actually do an assessment of the website?
David: What we offer is a free consult. You can book right into my calendar, not my team. You will be meeting with me directly. As part of that, we will have a conversation about your website, and we’ll conduct in the back end an audit of your website. It’s a comprehensive audit. It’s usually about 10-12 pages. We will take a look at everything: the messaging, the tone, the quality of your website, how fast the website loads. That is a Google ranking factor if your site is slow. We will take a look at whether the site works on mobile or not, which is also a ranking factor with Google. There is a huge number of checkpoints that we go through. We will conduct that audit. We generate a PDF report, and we will meet again about that with you. It will be completely complimentary for listeners of this show.
Hugh: That’s very generous. We had a chat before we started. David talked about how he really wants to support those of us who are in the trenches doing this work. There is a wealth of information you have given us in this short interview. Of course, we can’t possibly cover everything, and we can’t cover it in depth. There is so much to learn, but what I am learning is I have to get out of the way and let professionals do some of my work. I have done okay, but okay today is not enough.
Is there something I have not asked you that you think is an important message to share?
David: I think at the end of the day, it’s important that everybody knows that they can handle this work, whether they want to do it themselves with a platform like Squarespace or Wix. I don’t recommend those, but they are decent platforms. My company is in the midst of launching a product. I wasn’t sure if I was going to talk about this or not. It’s an inexpensive product to have a website right away for your nonprofit. If anybody is interested in that, get in touch with me, David@WowDigital.com, and I can let you know when we are ready to launch that. It’s imminent, in the next couple months. We have been spending the better part of a year working on the back end of that.
You can handle this. You just need to know the right tools and have the right systems in place to do it. You all are doing amazing work out there, or you are about to do amazing work if you are thinking of starting a nonprofit. Your heart is in the right place. You just need somebody in your corner who you can ask the right questions of and get valuable insight from.
Hugh: I would like to point out this is not an expense; this is an investment in the effectiveness of your overall work. I heard loud and clear, David spoke about talking about the results, the impact of what you do. We get in the trenches and talk about how we do everything. People don’t really care until they know why it’s important and also know what results are going to happen from my donation or my volunteerism. David, this has been very informative. I’m inspired to go and do some things. This is great.
David, you’re so gracious in sharing lots of things we can do ourselves. WowDigital.com is where you can find David. Thank you so much for being our guest today.