Whether you’re just starting up a fledgling email program, or you’re already deep into the world of remarketing, I have the same advice for just about every digital fundraiser: Treat your program like a garden.

It might sound a little crazy, but it’s true. Here’s why:

Best practice digital programs have long-term commitment.

You can’t just take a bunch of plants, pop them in the soil, and call it a garden. Those new plants need water and attention. You might need to move some around to find the perfect home. And it’s going to take time – sometimes years! – to get everything to fit together perfectly.

A digital program is the same. Your program will need a while (read: months or even years) to take root before it becomes really robust.

If you want to do digital well, you need to be ready for that commitment. Be patient! It will take time to grow your internal knowledge, your email lists, and your web traffic – but the payoff is there in spades if you commit.

The best digital programs are allowed to fail.

As your garden grows, it’s not uncommon to lose a plant or two – especially early on. Maybe it wasn’t getting enough sun, or the soil wasn’t right, or it was crowded by other plants. It’s possible it just isn’t a great fit for your climate.

But a loss or two shouldn’t mean you rip out the whole garden! And, it shouldn’t mean you scale back on digital just because a campaign or tactic performs poorly.

The best digital fundraisers will take the opportunity to learn from those failures, figure out what went wrong, and then re-implement. It’s totally normal for an organization to take a couple of tries at a given tool before they really get it down to a science.

Successful digital programs look at the big picture.

The beauty of a garden isn’t in the individual rosebushes and rhododendrons. It’s in the whole. Maybe that big maple tree provides much-needed shade for a sensitive plant, for example.

Think about your digital program in the same frame of reference. All the pieces need to work together, informing and building upon one another. A change in one place can make a big difference somewhere else, so you want to look at your program holistically.

You also want to have a vision. Are you planting a wild English garden, or series of carefully-trimmed topiaries? Do you care more about time spent on your web pages than bounce rate; would you rather have fewer clicks but more gifts to your emails? Decide what success looks like for you, and work towards it.