Where nonprofits wasted time in 2017 — and how to shift focus in 2018

We hate waste here at Whole Whale (just look at our name) and the most valuable resource one can waste is time. The new year is not only a time to reflect on the past, but to set goals for the future. New year, new focus. For 2018, we’re looking at setting organizational goals that reduce wasted time. These resolutions don’t have to be grand in scope and are allowed to change over time if there are internal shifts or tech developments.
At Whole Whale, we work in 2-week increments known in project management terms as “sprints.” This allows us to focus our work on small goals that help us reach our larger goals. During each sprint, we set “Start, Stop, and Continues,” where each team member identifies what they want to start, stop, and continue doing for those 2 weeks. These goals help us focus on where we can be more efficient to move the needle forward and drive impact.
So, where did organizations waste time or energy in 2017, and how can they work to make the most of 2018? Below are our suggested Start, Stop, and Continues for nonprofits.


UTM tagging campaigns

For any campaign where you are running cross-platform promotions, you need to campaign tag your URLs. Whether it’s a fundraising campaign, awareness month push, or educational email series, if you are promoting it on social media, email,or ads, you need to add tags. These will help you to see how many people got to your site from those promotions, and what they did when they got there. How many people donated? How many people read your resources? You can find all this data and more by campaign tagging these URLs. Check out our downloadable UTM builder to make it easy for your team.

Automating emails

Every email marketing service offers some kind of automation component, and all nonprofits should take advantage of it. Have regular updates that you resend every few weeks? Set up an automation to do it for you. Want to send more emails in 2018 but don’t have time? Set up a welcome series or another kind of automated drip campaign so your subscribers get emails regularly without you having to write new ones every week. There will be an extra lift at the beginning, but after you set up these automations you can sit back and work on other projects.

Using a project management system

Speaking of sprints… If your desk or desktop is a mess of to-do lists, forgotten email threads, and missed memos, you can bet someone else on your team is also struggling to keep all their plates spinning. Project management tools can help you organize and prioritize tasks. They are collaborative, too, which means you can share across the organization. Creating transparency around the work that needs to be done enhances teams’ ability to work together, holds them accountable for their tasks, and allows the manager to assess progress. Check out our list of free project management tools to get started.

Speaking differently to different audiences

Your followers on Facebook and Twitter are different from each other, and are also different from your email subscribers. All of your audiences differ in terms of their relationship to you and what they are looking for on each platform. Not all followers, subscribers, or donors are the same. So, why speak to them the same way? In 2018, focus on segmenting your lists and switching up your communications strategy to speak the same language as your constituents, depending on where you are. Send or post tailored content, A/B test subject lines, and experiment with whatever is trending on social media. You’ll see your click through rates and engagement increase.


Not integrating tech tools

Why have tech tools if they don’t speak to each other? The effort it takes to integrate your database with your email platform might stress you out, but it’s time well spent. Think of all the time you will save down the line when you don’t have to cross reference spreadsheets and lists anymore. Think of all the awesome segmented emails you can send and the increases in click through rates, and reduced bounce rates… oh my! In 2018, connect your current tech tools and stop adding ones unless you know there are integrations available that will allow them to speak to one another.

Measuring metrics that don’t matter

What is moving you toward your achieving your organization’s overarching goals? No more measuring “vanity metrics” or numbers that look good but do not indicate impact. Sure, your Facebook post got a lot of likes, but did anyone click through to read the article, to donate, or to take another action? First, identify which metrics matter: Those that take your outputs (what you do) and measure the outcomes (what you impact). Next, build a funnel of engagement detailing your measurable goals at each level, from aware to interested to engaged to committed. What does it mean for someone to be “interested” in your cause? How does that differ from “engaged”? Survey members of your team to see what matters to them, and distill those finding into an actual graphic funnel (feel free to steal ours below). Finally, whenever you are pulling data from Google Analytics or running a campaign, you can focus your energy towards achieving your goals at each level and increasing those numbers. When you know where you are going you can get there faster.

Writing content (or making any design or content decision) based on gut feelings

You know the old saying, “If a tree falls in the woods, and no one reads about it on Google News, does it really matter?” (Just us?) When developing a content marketing strategy, we abide by the harsh but true sentiment that stories only matter if people read them. SEO-focused content that will increase your organic traffic and drive impact is not the same as a blog. A blog is where you write about whatever interests you, and it may or may not reach people. SEO-focused content that boosts your bottom line is data-driven, meaning each topic is chosen because people are searching for it. Use Google Trends, AdWords Keyword Planner, and other SEO tools to find keywords that are relevant to your organization and that are highly searched.
A stop within this stop: Beware of the “curse of knowledge.” A company may internally call their product a “writing implement” but more people are searching for “pens.” Using those keyword research tools, you can find topics to write about, and the language you should use when talking about them so you can connect to new audiences.

Thinking you can’t “do data” because you are a team of 2-5

We hear this one a lot. It is very common for nonprofits to have small digital teams that may or may not include an analytics-focused employee. This does not mean that you can’t “do data,” optimize Google Analytics, or devise a data-driven digital strategy. You don’t have to be an expert or have one on-call; everyone can swim up the learning curve on analytics to build it into the culture of your nonprofit. We call this building a data culture. Read up on analytics, attend events, and watch our webinar with the Nonprofit Hub to start implementing a data culture at your organization.


Writing (data-driven) content

Now that you have stopped writing content based on gut instinct and you’ve done your keyword research, you can start writing SEO-focused content. Build this into your workflow, and though it will take time to acclimate (many of us haven’t written essays or resources in awhile) it will get easier with practice. Operationalize content and track your organic traffic. Soon enough, a 20% organic traffic increase year-over-year will be expected, rather than a stretch goal.

Analyzing data

There is so much data out there, from Google Analytics to social media insights. It is always well worth your time to review and analyze your traffic sources and campaigns. Run frequent “fire checks” to make sure your Google Analytics account is tracking accordingly, and that no traffic sources are dipping significantly. While you’re at it, run “fire checks” on your AdWords account to ensure that you are optimizing it to maintain the grant. Continue measuring the metrics that matter and distilling your analyses into actionable insights for your team.


Always be testing. We can always be improving and growing IRL, the same is true in our digital strategies. A/B test emails, pop-up copy, subject lines, landing pages, and ads. Push the boundaries and try new things. You’ll have a few flubs along the way, but you’ll get closer to those breaching moments where conversion rates soar.


As we mentioned above, we can always be growing. Build learning into your routine, and you’ll find more ways to efficiently improve your digital marketing chops. Attend conferences, read resources, sign up for webinars, and invest in digital trainings. Assign each member on your team to learn up on a topic, and have them present and train everyone else on it. When they have ownership over it, they will be more motivated to pursue it, and you’ll save on conferences tickets and training subscriptions.
Where are you going to stop wasting time in 2018? Share your Start, Stop, and Continues with us @WholeWhale.