Should Your Nonprofit Offer Online Courses to Engage Donors?

Should Your Nonprofit Offer Online Courses to Engage Donors?

Guest Blog by Asaf Darash

While those outside the nonprofit sector commonly think of nonprofit revenue solely as donations and government grants, the truth is that many nonprofits earn a significant amount of their revenue from services. In fact, in 2019 it was reported that 49% of nonprofit revenue was earned through fees for services. 

As nonprofit fundraising strategies change, your organization should be prepared to adjust to meet new expectations, and that might include providing services. While different nonprofits are equipped to offer different services, remember that your supporters are also having to adapt to a rapidly changing world. This means that there is an opportunity to help your donors by offering courses. 

Your courses can be about a variety of topics and skills depending on your organization’s focus. Of course, before launching a new course service, you’ll need buy-in from your nonprofit’s board and leadership. To help you demonstrate why nonprofits should offer courses, this article will explore four key reasons:

  • Give donors new ways to get involved. 
  • Teach important skills. 
  • Expand your nonprofit’s network. 
  • Diversify your revenue. 

Remember that building out a new service offering is an investment of time and resources. However, keeping these benefits in mind will help you stay focused and motivated throughout your courses’ development. Let’s get started. 

Give donors new ways to get involved.

Donors want to do more than just donate. If you only ever get in touch with donors to ask for money, their interest in opening your messages may begin to falter. By contrast, getting in touch to share something that you can do for them, like a course offering, gives them a new way to engage. 

Use your course registration tools to track which of your donors participate in your courses, just like you would for when donors attend your events or participate in other opportunities. This will allow you to create more personalized communication and further tailor your messages to reflect their interests. 

For example, if you notice that a donor hasn’t been growing their regular gifts but is participating in several of your courses, it may make more sense to direct them towards your next course offerings. After all, giving donors more ways to engage may even result in them finding a way to support your organization that they enjoy as much as donating. 

Varying your options can also help avoid burning out your donors with the same offerings every year. While the same annual events can be a source of comfort for some donors, others may feel that they’ve seen and done everything your nonprofit has to offer. 

Teach important skills. 

Your nonprofit can offer donors a variety of courses, but teaching valuable skills can be a core method for engaging them. Your courses will vary based on your nonprofit’s focus and available teachers, but going the extra mile to provide courses with tangible benefit to your supporters’ lives will only increase their investment in your organization. 

When designing your courses, consider offering:

  • Community education programs. Community education, adult education, and youth enrichment programs all provide your community with added value. These types of courses teach your supporters practical skills, while also providing them with a chance to connect with others in their community. 

 

  • Micro-credentials. Micro-credentials and certificates are awards given to learners who complete a short, skill-focused course. Micro-learning courses allow learners to focus on one or two key skills for their field, providing the opportunity to learn exactly what they need to advance their careers. 

 

  • Specialized skills. Is there anything your nonprofit is uniquely qualified to teach? If so, and that skill is in demand, you can fulfill a previously unanswered niche in your community. For example, animal shelters might offer courses on dog obedience, while a nonprofit that builds playgrounds for schools could teach workshops on basic construction skills. 

By offering high-quality courses that meet your supporters’ needs, you’ll only increase your current supporters’ commitment to your nonprofit while also building your reputation in your community.

Expand your nonprofit’s network. 

Your donors give to your nonprofit because of their connection to your cause. Many of them likely have a personal investment in your mission due to their own experiences or through witnessing their friends and family’s. While these connections can be powerful, it’s also limiting to only appeal to that same group of supporters over and over again. 

With a service like courses, you can grow your community to include new supporters outside of your core donor base. These supporters will vary depending on your nonprofit’s specific offerings, but can include:

  • Young professionals. Young professionals entering the workforce want to improve their skills. As mentioned, teaching important skills related to your sector can positively impact your donors’ ability to gain jobs and move forward in their careers. 

 

  • Retirees. Retirees tend to populate interest-based courses as they have the time to devote to new skills and many may also want to connect with others in their community who are also taking your course. Older generations are also a valuable audience to convert into donors, and your courses can potentially act as the first touch point in their journey to becoming donors. 

 

  • Hobbyists. Hobbyists, community members, and those who just have an interest in your subject matter will enjoy the opportunity to attend a course hosted by a local organization that relates to their interests. For example, an environmental group might host a course about botany and identifying different types of plants, which may appeal to nature-lovers, survivalists, and gardners. 

By expanding your potential audience, your nonprofit can also further market your brand. Getting Attention’s guide to nonprofit branding strategy explains the importance of continually updating your brand as you gain new audiences: “No good branding strategy is developed once and then never looked at again. As with any marketing effort, it’s important to collect data and track its success to learn if there’s anything that needs to be improved or optimized.”

By growing your audience through course offerings, you have an opportunity to redefine your brand and show off a new side of your organization. Stay responsive to incoming data from both your courses and regular fundraising activities to ensure your brand identity is moving in the right direction for all of your supporters. 

Diversify your revenue.

Nonprofits rely on a variety of revenue sources including donations, grants, and sponsorships to name a few. However, it’s possible to experience fundraising disruptions in one or more of these channels. For example, if you’re undergoing a major website redesign, it may be more difficult to attract donors through your usual digital marketing strategies for a while. 

By offering a service like courses, your nonprofit will diversify its revenue streams, creating a potential safety net if one revenue source suddenly becomes less reliable. 

Additionally, while many of your participants will attend your courses due to their belief in your organization, others may attend solely to learn new material. Because of these differences in demand, issues that would prevent one group from giving will not impact the other’s interest. 

For example, if your nonprofit planned to launch a new initiative but it ended up getting delayed due to unforeseen circumstances such as weather or a partner organization falling through, both donors’ and grantors’ giving levels might be impacted by the disruption in your mission. By contrast, your course attendees first priority will be their education, so while they have an interest in your programs, it won’t affect their continued participation. 

Regpack’s guide to selling online courses also emphasizes how as you build out your courses, you can further diversify their potential audiences. For example, content that you create for your first courses can be recorded and converted into evergreen lectures for your content library. Then, for future course members, you can offer access to that library as part of your course package or as an optional add-on.

Courses are an opportunity to teach your donors new skills, while also reaching brand new audiences who might one day become donors. Creating a course requires understanding your target audiences, creating educational materials, and investing in the right resources, but the results are often well worth it. 

About the author: Asaf Darash is the founder of Regpack, an online registration system used by more than 6,000 organizations and 25+ million users worldwide. Regpack’s technology is based on Asaf’s Ph.D. research that dealt with computer data connections and networks and is the foundation for the flexibility of the Regpack system. Asaf also has extensive experience as an entrepreneur and investor.

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