Just about every organization, from Fortune 500 companies to the smallest mom and pop businesses, are using online communications in one form or another to connect with stakeholders. It’s become a ‘given’ in this digital era we’re living in—if you’re not online, you’re missing out on business opportunities, period. This type of thinking when it comes to communications and stakeholder engagement is perhaps even more crucial in the nonprofit world.

As organizations that (while often quite large and far reaching, with hundreds of employees and enormous budgets) rely so heavily on engaging an audience of potential donors and volunteers, must be thinking creatively about online engagement every step of the way, or get left behind. There are some organizations out there raising the bar for this type of marketing, and we’d like to spend some time highlighting their efforts.

The Humane Society

Humane SocietyWhen your subject is so inherently visual (and cute), it’s important to get the visual aspects of social media and digital marketing right—and The Humane Society does this in spades. You could argue they have it easy—what animal lover wouldn’t immediately share a Facebook post featuring a sweet-faced dog in a special dog ?—but whether they have a leg up due to their furry faced subjects or not, The Humane Society is doing something right online.

Their Facebook page boasts nearly two million followers, and their posts are not only popular (routinely pulling in likes and comments numbering in the thousands) but feature some of the essential elements of engagement. They post not only cute animal pictures, but images accompanied by important calls to action. They also follow the cardinal rule for nonprofits seeking to engage with supporters online: say thank you and show your work and the donor dollars at work. A year-end Facebook post cited major animal rights victories and directly thanked supporters for their contributions.

Doctors Without Borders

Doctors without bordersA global nonprofit with a crucial mission of deploying medical staff to places where doctors are few and far between (or much-needed, as in times of natural disasters and other crises in developing nations), Doctors Without Borders (MSF)  has been quietly building one of the best presences on the social Web for years. They utilize a robust combination of smart advertising (this post from last month on Fundraising Success highlights their re-targeting efforts towards raising funds from website visitors) and viral-worthy social media content to drive their message online.

Of particular note is the group’s use of Pinterest. Pinterest is emerging as a must-have communications platform, particularly in the nonprofit space as organizations vie for attention from online users. MSF’s recent Pinterest board showing their heroic efforts to bring assistance to victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is another terrific example of “showing your work”.

Charity: Water

Water charityWe saved the best for last. When it comes to digital marketing, there probably isn’t a nonprofit out there doing it better than charity: water. A nonprofit with a simple mission, bring safe and clean drinking water to the people of developing nations, charity: water has not only raised millions of dollars to achieve their goals, they’ve done so while executing a world-class digital marketing strategy.

Beth Kanter highlights some of charity: water’s best approaches in a (long but must-read) recent blog post. She discusses their innovative use of peer-to-peer fundraising and social proof via their “birthday donation” program, as well as cataloging their success at using strong internal brand evangelists to carry their message on social media platforms. Additionally, she praises their strong use of content marketing, and telling compelling stories that people want to read:

“Paull Young, charity: water´s Director of Digital, explains their marketing strategy as such: ‘At our core we are an amazing content marketing shop… We don’t buy advertising. We 100 percent focus on word-of-mouth marketing. We create amazing content that we then distribute through the Web––through social media––and then we give that to people we hope are passionate advocates who will take the content and share it with their friends.’

While charity: water sometimes accepts donated advertising space, the majority of their marketing focuses on creating content that inspires and allows people to experience the work that the nonprofit does (and where their donations go) through beautiful design, compelling images and video.”

Kanter encourages other nonprofits to look within and determine what inspires the most devotion in their donors and volunteers. Whether it is personal stories, images, or creative multi-media, putting out amazing content is sometimes all the marketing you need.

What are some of your favorite nonprofits killing it online with their digital marketing and communications efforts? Hit the comments and let us know!