February 6, 2024

Digital marketing can be a challenging and overwhelming task, especially if your association does not have a dedicated team or has limited resources. However, using free or low-cost online tools can have a significant positive impact on your digital visibility and membership engagement. Working with as many associations as we do, we know that your organization’s dollars are valuable, and funding your cause is always your board’s priority. Often this results in a limited marketing budget, making it difficult to hire a marketing agency or invest in paid advertising. However, there are several low-cost options available to associations.

The first is everyone’s favorite (insert sarcasm), social media! By making the most of Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, associations can reach their membership base without any added costs. Most people tend to forget that social media platforms have very high-ranking search results. So if you were to Google your association, the first link that might pop up is your Facebook page or your LinkedIn page. Social media platforms have extremely influential online rankings so it's important to take advantage of those if you are a smaller organization or lack digital presence. Make sure that you have links on your website that direct visitors to your social media accounts and vice versa. That will help you with referral traffic.

Keep in mind, social media accounts are free and require very little setup. It's also one of the easier tasks to delegate to a volunteer since most people are on social media. If you have volunteers who are technically savvy, leverage their ideas on what content to post and how to increase engagement, no matter what platform you're on. Determining which platform to use is a topic we discussed in our blog post about marketing audits.

Another great free resource associations can use is your members’ experiences and personal knowledge. Testimonials, blogs, or articles from your current members explaining their first- hand experience and the benefits they receive from your association are extremely impactful. This rich and engaging content allows you to leverage these peer reviews and provide valuable information that will attract new members and retain your current audience. This type of information can be posted on your website or included in an email newsletter.

Even when you’re utilizing all these marketing strategies, it can be difficult for associations to measure the return on investment (ROI). This can make it challenging to determine the effectiveness of your hard work, especially if it's your volunteer group evaluating results. Google Analytics is a free tool that will track website traffic and conversions, user behaviors, and the overall health of your website. Social media platforms also offer easy-to-interpret analytics to users, when your accounts are considered a business. When using email marketing, your email service provider will supply open rates to see how many members open your emails.

It’s really important to stay on top of marketing trends so you know what your association should be looking to do next. But going back to college for your marketing degree can be extremely costly. This is where free industry newsletters and blogs come in handy. We recommend reading the articles posted by your online tools (think MailChimp, Hootsuite, or even Google) or watching the free training and webinars. There is a lot of competition and different platforms from which to choose in the marketplace, so companies provide these resources so you receive the best results from their platform and stay with their product. Nonprofits are often provided with free or low-cost fees to attend marketing conferences and workshops as well.

So take some time to do your research on free online tools, and remember AH is always here to help with our free Digital Marketing Toolkit!