My last job was in the communications department for a performing arts nonprofit. When I say “department” I mean it was the Communications Manager and I working together on our nonprofit’s entire marketing strategy—you name it, the two of us did it. It was thrilling having so much creative responsibility, but it could also be overwhelming. This Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit Marketing is a summary of everything I learned during my six years there, alongside the best practices from other successful nonprofits.

Working in a nonprofit is often a labor of love and usually you are wearing many hats to keep the organization afloat. So, having a marketing strategy helps your brand to grow faster, leading to increased awareness and donations. We’ll identify the most effective strategies for your nonprofit to achieve your goals and avoid spreading your team too thin, especially if your marketing budget or staff is limited.

Pastel colored illustration web browser
Illustration by OrangeCrush

We’ll cover the following topics from a nonprofit marketing perspective:

  1. Branding basics
  2. Soliciting major donors
  3. Identifying goals
  4. Marketing platforms & tools
  5. What content is worth sharing?
  6. Grants

1. Branding basics

The first step is to define your brand. A clear style guide maintains consistency in all your marketing efforts, no matter the medium.

Poster design for a benefit for arts students
Benefit poster design by nevergohungry
Bottle label illustration design
Bottle label by Jeff Purnawan
Nonprofit album cover in gradient effect
Nonprofit album cover by Ben Howes. Via Dribbble

Identifying your audience

For any marketing strategy, it’s important that you understand your demographic and how to communicate with them. Successful nonprofit marketing campaigns are targeted towards very specific audiences so ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are the folks that your mission really touches?
  • If you already have an existing supporter base, identify the commonalities.
  • Research the audience of similar organizations.
  • Try surveys and focus groups to find out what makes your target audience tick.

Employ multi-segment marketing to pinpoint your people; if you want something faster and cheaper, Google analytics can provide you with useful information about your current supporters. Adding a survey question like “how did you hear about us” to the donation page or volunteer application is a great way to uncover the connection between your followers and your mission.

Marketing personas

Once you know who your target audience is, create a “persona” to better connect with them. Personas are fictional characters that help marketers envision someone who might respond to your content and humanize your marketing message. It is easier (and more effective) to imagine you are speaking to one person vs. the entire world.

You can have multiple personas, but make each one specific. As Jason Grunberg from the Sailthru marketing agency says, “Ozzy Osbourne and Prince Charles are both British men in their late 60s, but they aren’t necessarily interested in the same things.” When creating your personas, consider details such as:

  • Location (local, national or international)
  • Demographics (age, gender, occupation, income level, marital status)
  • Psychographics (values, hobbies, lifestyle, personality, attitude, behavior)
  • Industries (medical, education)
Marketing persona example
Example marketing persona by Maria Kudrow. Via Dribbble

Give them a name, think about what they ate for breakfast and imagine their hopes and dreams for the future… if they’re cute, give them my number.

To appeal to your audience you need beautiful, consistent and professional looking branding. That means you’ll need a great nonprofit logo, brand voice, website and other visuals. Learn more about the process of branding here.

2. Soliciting major donors

It’s true that major donors can find you due to your awesome marketing efforts. But, as those in nonprofit development know, there’s more that goes into soliciting and stewardship of major donors. The best first step is to be sure that your organization is out there.

Your website and social media presence is key, but you can also cultivate good ratings on Charity Navigator, GuideStar, CharityWatch, GreatNonprofits, even Yelp! Be sure your supporters, especially board members, are following you on social media, engaging with and sharing your content to optimise your reach to potential major donors.

3. Identify and fine-tune your goals

Like with most plans (or when I start any home improvement project) the problems start when you try doing too many things at once. You spread yourself too thin and don’t put enough energy into making any one thing successful. This is especially true with marketing for nonprofits. Small nonprofits typically see the best results when they choose one priority goal per quarter. Of course, for larger organisations, it’s possible to be more ambitious.

The SMART Framework

A helpful technique for identifying and reaching your goals is to use the SMART objective framework. SMART stands for:

  • Specific: choose an objective with one key result.
  • Measurable: ensure you can track your progress along the way.
  • Achievable but ambitious: given your current position (time, money, staff capacity), choose something you know you can accomplish, but is still a reach.
  • Relevant: good objectives increase the success of the organization and overall objectives.
  • Timely and time-based: create a realistic deadline.
Web design by kellijayne
Poster design by annayang

The most common nonprofit marketing goals are:

  • Increase donations
  • Deepen engagement
  • Raise awareness
  • Grow membership (if your nonprofit has a donor club)

Ok, so you’ve worked out your brand identity, found your audience and pinpointed your goals. Now, how to connect all three?

4. Marketing platforms & tools

Your marketing messages should clearly support your goals and your mission in an authentic and transparent way. This is also a great time to create a marketing calendar. Work backwards from deadlines and special events to consider what materials to create, copy to write and when to program them. Especially if you’re taking a multi-platform approach, it helps to look at the overall picture to direct and allocate energy.

But which platforms will work best in your nonprofit strategy? Below are some of the most popular digital marketing platforms to share your nonprofit marketing message. Each has its strengths, so the key is to choose which is most effective at reaching your target audience. Avoid a blanket approach and tailor your messaging accordingly: work smarter, not harder.

Website

Your nonprofit’s website is the most important marketing piece. Clearly state your mission and use as a home base for any news, contact and donation info. This is a great place to establish an emotional connection and trust with your audience, which is vital if you want them to become supporters.

Amnesty International] screenshot of homepage
The website home page for Amnesty International, a human rights NGO, is very clearly laid out. The imagery is dramatic, the language compelling. Via Amnesty International

Email

Research by Hubspot found that 73% of millennials prefer to receive communication from organizations via email.

Donation email
A very informational donation email. By thecreatv

It is an intimate medium and allows you to speak with those who’ve already connected with the mission. Building a robust email list is an important first step for new nonprofits because it allows you to make direct requests to interested audiences, like inviting them to special events or requesting larger donations.

It’s important to find a good customer relationship management (CRM) email platform so you can see how your emails are performing, adjust content or subject lines accordingly, and see what donors are most (or least) engaged to help clean up your database. You’ve probably heard of MailChimp and Constant Contact, but there are CRMs that offer pricing and unique features for nonprofits like Salsa CRM, Aplos, NeonCRM. Just be sure to find email templates that are mobile-friendly!

Blog

Managing a blog may seem like a lot of work, but don’t be intimidated. One way to think of consistent blogging is as a free publicity tool to share information on and interact with potential donors or volunteers. Regular, original and authentic blogging gives your nonprofit authority on a subject by providing more content for search engines. What’s more, it’s shareable, which means interaction with your audience.

Check out the Rainforest Alliance, pictured below. As an organization wanting people and nature to thrive together in harmony, actional tips about sustainable travelling is on-brand and therefore perfect content to be sharing.

Rainforest Alliance sustainable tourism
An easily digestible list of eco-friendly tips makes this compelling reading for anyone with wanderlust. Via Rainforest Alliance
Educational blog
By Estúdio Guayabo, by Valquiria Rabelo and Thula Kawasaki . Via Behance

Content ideas for nonprofit blogs:

  • Milestones and announcements
  • Breaking news (and your organization’s take on it)
  • Upcoming or past events
  • Behind the scenes footage
  • On-brand success stories featuring supporters
  • Stats in digestible infographics

Be sure to also create evergreen content, or content that is continually relevant and valuable over a long period of time. Think about your organization’s history, the people behind it and how to get involved.

Social Media

Social media directly connects followers with your mission. It encourages interaction, ideas and information; so show off what you’re up to! TikTok has become a popular platform for nonprofits as a way to fundraise and grow awareness for their cause.

UNICEF, also known as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, has been using Tiktok to launch campaigns about child rights, including equality, bullying, and child labor, encourage children to share their views. “You need to meet young people where they are…the platform that had a lot of young people and children was TikTok,” said Sandie Blanchet, director of the UNICEF office for relations with EU institutions. If you share this audience with UNICEF, a targeted TikTok approach could be perfect for you!

UNICEF uses TikTok to share bite-sized informational messages to their young audience. Via UNICEF

A note about Facebook donations:

Facebook has made it easy for nonprofit donations. Followers can create fundraisers for special events like birthdays while you can add a donate button to your nonprofit’s page or posts. This is great, right? Yes…

…but, the donations are filtered from Facebook through Network for Good and are automatically deposited into your nonprofit’s account. The thing is, they show up as a donation from Facebook, so you never know who or why they donated. Without being able to collect their information, you can’t invite that person to become a returning donor. You’re also none the wiser on what went right in your marketing message meaning you can’t tweak it accordingly. So—yes—celebrate easy donations but don’t forget you need donor info for sustainable fundraising.

5. What content is worth sharing?

With any content you create, first ask yourself:

  1. How does this help reach my goal?
  2. What actions do I want my audience to take?
  3. How does this support or promote my organization’s mission?
  4. Is this content on brand?

Include compelling visual content

Posts with images and videos get shared up to 230% more than those without. The visuals you include should support your nonprofit’s mission and impact; shed light on the inner workings of your organization and encourage emotional connections with more people.

Social media card designs with photography
Social media cards by Carl Spencer. Via Dribbble

Stay relevant…

…via newsjacking

In our ever-changing world, it can be hard to cut through the noise, maintain the limited attention spans of your audience and feel current. Yet, the fast pace of trends and news can always work to your favor. Especially as a nonprofit organisation, you have to portray an authentic social and environmental conscience.

Newsjacking is the practice of leveraging common keyword searches to let your audience know you’re current and engaged. This means publicly responding to controversies and disasters; it’s a brand awareness tactic that appeals to followers through morals and transparency.

Or, go viral

A fun way to be relevant is to hop on viral trends. Before Tiktok’s tidewave of memes and dance challenges, viral videos like the “Harlem Shake” were the thing. As of February 2013, about 40,000 “Harlem Shake” videos by students, families, sports teams—and nonprofits—had been uploaded with over 700 million views. If it works with your brand identity, jumping on viral trends is a fun way to show your nonprofit has a sense of humor and knows what’s up.

Shake shake shake with purpose. Via American Heart Association, Illinois.

Better yet, start your own viral campaign. 2014 saw the Ice Bucket Challenge go viral on social media, accumulating over $220M in worldwide donations to support and raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) disease. People (and muppets) were challenged to post a video of themselves pouring a bucket of ice water over their head, making a donation to the ALS Association and then nominating the next person to take the challenge.

Even though 40–50% of the new donors were likely to only make one-time gifts, the challenge led to increased public awareness for a previously unheard-of disease with more than 2.4 million tagged videos circulating on Facebook. So, how do you recreate this success? Find a gimmicky, fun activity, encourage the participation of influencers and share, share, share online to engage with supporters and garner easy donations.

Kermit the Frog is the perfect public figure to support any viral marketing campaign. Via The Muppets

Holiday messages

For a fuss-free approach to trending content, schedule posts around holidays or international celebrations. The Instagram scheduler app called Later has a fun social media calendar, while Nonprofit Tech for Good offers a comprehensive cause awareness calendar. You can find on-brand holidays that connect with your audience or support your marketing strategy goal.

For instance, on “Take Your Dog to Work Day” share Instagram stories of all your adorable office dogs or on “World Emoji Day” invite your Twitter followers to describe your nonprofit only using emojis.

Blue footed boobies make for a cute and creative Valentine’s message. Via World Wildlife Fund 

Campaigner toolkit

It’s every nonprofit’s dream to have their supporters advertise and fundraise on their behalf! Consider creating a campaigner toolkit made up of downloadable assets oozing out logistical fundraising info. Include ready-made social media graphics that can be easy customized for a campaign and make things easy for you supporters. This can only increase your reach on social media and, ultimately, spread your message.

Reuse and recycle

Don’t be afraid to re-share content. Creating inspiring content to unveil to your social media audience takes valuable time and energy, so why not reuse it? Not only does it give your content more exposure, but it saves you time in filling up your social media feeds. This goes for high performing social media posts, blog articles and news updates.

Often your audience will not have seen your post the first time but it’s worth making minor adjustments each time, like swapping images, hashtags or descriptions. Working particularly well for this technique is archival content. Special events, historical photos and charming success stories all show followers who you are and what you’re about, so don’t be bold enough to assume they’ve already seen it.

World of marketing
Recycling content will make you feel so much lighter. By Evelyne Krall

6. Grants

If I know one thing about nonprofit marketing, it’s that you could always do with an extra boost.

If you haven’t heard about Google Ad Grants, hear this: qualified organizations can get $10,000 a month to spread the word about their cause. Optimize the grant money by using effective keywords and pay-per-click practices to make the most of your advertising dollars and reach the right audience. YouTube Nonprofit Program is another fantastic advertising grant to reach a global audience and amplify your cause.

Marketing dogs
Finding new grants are such a treat. By Spoon Lancer

Last but not least, your organization can take advantage of the generosity of Facebook each GivingTuesday. GivingTuesday is the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. In line with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, GivingTuesday is the global day of giving. Facebook matches millions of dollars in qualifying donations made on Facebook during the special giving day. GivingTuesday is also brilliant because it offers so many helpful tools and tips for making your fundraising campaigns as successful as possible.

Wrap-up:

As with any marketing strategy, remember to measure your performance. Just as important as executing your plan is evaluating how well it performed, so you can refine, and optimize your tactics accordingly. I hope this guide to nonprofit marketing helps create a strategy for success, impacting your organizations’ growth and ensuring that you avoid overwhelm and burnout. To all those in nonprofit marketing—you got this! Your work is crucial to getting your organization’s message out to the world.

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