To List or Not to List: Should Your Nonprofit be Listed in Online Directories?
And for those of you who have dipped your toes in these digital waters I say, go you! Give yourself a big thumbs-up for creating your organization’s online presence. You’re ready to push your organization even further into the vast conversation that is happening online all day, every day.
Your potential clients and donors are online. Pew Research Center reports that 90 percent of the U.S. population used the internet. According to Statista, 77 percent of adults access online content daily, with 25 percent reporting that they are accessing the internet almost constantly (guilty as charged).
I think it is safe to assume that data being collected during and after COVID-19 quarantines and shutdowns will show these numbers trending even higher. People who had previously avoided or found little need to use internet-based services are now going online for everything from doctor visits to entertainment.
Once you have your digital storefront (website) up and running, you are communicating consistently with your loyal followers via email marketing, and you are making the most of virtual “word of mouth” via social media, you are ready to promote your work through directory listings and review sites.
Why listings and reviews sites matter for nonprofits
Online directories and review sites have pretty much replaced phone books and yellow pages as the go-to resource for people seeking goods and services. There are a lot of them (here are 50!), and many of them will let you list your organization for free – great news if you’re working with a modest nonprofit marketing budget.
In fact, there is a good chance that your organization already appears on a directory or two, because listings can be generated automatically by the internet. In these cases, you want to be sure to “claim” your organization’s listing. This way you can make sure that the information, such as location, hours of operation, website, and email address, is accurate and current.
A volunteer or intern could be tasked with checking directories (here are another 25!) to see if your nonprofit is listed and to claim the listing. Keep a log of every listing you are aware of and review them once a year to make sure they are up to date.
Out of these, select a few – maybe three to five – for more attention and active engagement. Choose directories that offer something of value to you, such as:
- Broad reach. What platforms will help you reach the most people, all the time?
- Audience-specific reach. Who are you trying to reach and where do they go when they look for organizations that can help them, or that they want to support?
- Geographic-specific reach. If you cover a specific geographic service area, how can you position your organization front-and-center when your neighbors are online?
- Nonprofit presence. If your organization regularly seeks philanthropy contributions (or plans to), what platforms can help you position your nonprofit as a worthy recipient of donations?
Keep your organization growing with expert advice and all the tools you need, all in one place.
Go big with Google My Business and Yelp
Google for nonprofits
It’s hard to beat Google and Yelp for sheer reach. Google processes 63,000 searches per second. Let that sink in for a minute. When people go to their computers, tablets and phones to look for a service that they need, odds are great that they will go to Google first.
Google My Business is a free service that allows you to create a business profile. You can include your address, which will automatically generate a map of your location, as well as your phone number and email address, link to your website, hours, images, video, and even a 360° virtual tour of your facility. You can also engage directly with your audience through the review feature and can use the site to promote special events.
Yelp for nonprofits
With 142 million users per month,Yelp is another powerhouse in the land of online directories.
While restaurants, shopping and home services comprise the lion’s share of reviews, 12 percent are categorized as “Other,” 8 percent are “Health” (which likely includes not-for-profit providers) and 4 percent are “Arts, Entertainment & Events.” Your Yelp profile can include photos, a link to your website, and your hours, address and contact information. Yelp.com allows you to communicate publicly and privately with your clients.
Directories specific to your audience
In addition to Google My Business and Yelp.com, you might also want to be part of a directory or two that speaks directly to your target audience.
For example, Homeless Shelter Directory is a national directory of organizations that provide shelter and social services for the homeless. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains a list of resources, searchable by state, that provides services to women suffering violence. Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com offer databases of animal rescue centers. That’s how we found Daisy (cue cute puppy photo).
Take a look at the directories that others in your field are using and choose one or two that make sense. For some directories, especially those that deal with human services and animal welfare, you may have to complete an application process that includes proof of licensing and other credentials, but it will be worth the effort to raise your profile among those who have a particular interest in what you do.
If your organization serves a specific geographic area, it would be a good idea to have an online presence there as well. A good place to start is with the local or regional chamber of commerce in your community. Most maintain directories that are now online. Membership fees can vary, but you can always ask if there is a special rate for nonprofits.
While not a directory per se, Alignable.com is a national business networking platform that builds business-to-business connections on a local level. With five million users, it is worth exploring as a way to meet and begin a conversation with professionals in your geographic community – neighbors who are potential volunteers, sponsors and donors.
Build credibility and promote your transparency
Finally, claim and complete your GuideStar profile.
GuideStar, which merged last year with the Foundation Center to form Candid.com, is a database of more than 1.8 million IRS-recognized organizations. If your nonprofit organization files an annual tax return, anyone can find and review it through the GuideStar database. This might not be a go-to process when your average donor is deciding whether or not to support you, but you can bet that foundation and corporate giving executives are taking a look at your tax returns as part of their due diligence before making a funding decision.
Since funders are looking up your tax return on GuideStar, why not give them something extra? If you claim your organization’s GuideStar profile and provide key information, you can earn a GuideStar Seal of Transparency. There are levels, from bronze to platinum, that demonstrate your organization’s commitment to responsible service in the public trust. Once you earn a seal, you can promote it on your website, in social media, in your directory listings, and in printed materials.
Managing the conversation
Opening the door to your directory listing also opens the door to comments and, for better and sometimes worse, ratings and reviews.
It is important that you assign at least one (preferably two) people to monitor your select group of directories. Make sure that clients who leave a good review are thanked publicly. When someone leaves a bad review, resist the urge to argue or go on the defensive! The best strategy is to apologize publicly and encourage the complainer to connect off-line so that your organization can work to address the issue. Task someone with ensuring follow-through on reported problems.
And don’t be shy about inviting good reviews! When a client has a good experience, follow up with an email or text with a link for leaving a rating.
Put it all together with this free guide
Promoting your nonprofit through directories and listings is only one piece of a comprehensive digital marketing strategy. Be sure to check out Constant Contact’s free guide, The Download: Making Sense of Online Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations. It covers everything from setting up a website to getting started with email marketing and getting the most out of social media platforms.
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