A Quick Guide To Marketing For Nonprofits - Part 1 by Hillary Weeks



By the time I left my job at the nonprofit I’d worked in for almost five years, I had the answer to “Where do you work?” memorized by heart. It didn’t matter who I was meeting or where they came from, 99% of the time, they’d never heard of the place.

That might not seem like a huge deal… but the fact that it had been around for almost 40 years made it slightly problematic!


Don’t get me wrong, our name was out there. We had an excellent marketing team and a fantastic reputation, yet few in our community knew who we were or what we did. “Oh, I thought that building was a church!” was the resounding cry once they discovered where we were located.

Of course, if your child had a learning disability, there was a good chance you’d heard our name whispered in dark corners of classrooms or far-flung coffee shops. Word of mouth was never our concern. Neither were success stories. We were great at what we did, and our programs genuinely helped our students. But each fiscal year would come around with yet another hustle to bring in more funding and awareness for our programs.

This doesn’t seem to be a problem for Ronald McDonald House or The Red Cross (even though I’m sure they’d disagree).


Why Marketing Matters, Especially for Nonprofits

Anyone who works in the nonprofit world knows the feeling of having to constantly push for visibility. When your money goes back into helping the people you serve, you don’t always have the budget for massive brand awareness campaigns.

But marketing is just as important for small organizations as it is for the big ones with the big bucks. Without it, you’re operating in a vacuum, with only the work you do to use as your calling card. This is especially true when an organization lives or dies by the generosity of individuals and corporate entities.

Expanding your reach is hard for even the most established nonprofits. You’re all going after the same people with the same limited resources.

So what exactly can you do about it?

Like that strategic plan you agonized over for months or even years before solidifying your goals, all good marketing starts with a strategy.

Socially conscious organizations have a mission. You know what you do and who you help, but that doesn’t mean the words you use in your media are clear about these things. Marketing is so much more than writing a single Facebook post or creating a pretty flyer to hand out at events.

In this multi-part blog series, we’re going to be talking about the key concepts your organization needs to know in order to produce a real foundation for your marketing efforts. Each part builds on the one before it to help you create a complete roadmap that will grow your visibility and success.

Our first topic is the most basic element of marketing - Know Your Audience

When it comes down to it, marketing is all about knowing who you’re trying to attract.

The messages used to attract potential donors are going to be different than if you’re talking to people in your community who need your services or volunteers for events. Unlike typical businesses, nonprofits usually target multiple groups of people, sometimes with widely different agendas.

So what are some things nonprofits can do to make sure they’re on the right track when it comes to their “audience”?


Talk to real people

Big companies spend thousands of dollars and countless hours putting together “customer avatars.” Basically, customer avatars are detailed descriptions of a specific person they’re marketing to. These fictional composites list all kinds of personal details, like if the customer is married or not, what field they word in, or where they shop for groceries. Sometimes they’ll even be given a full name.

This character-by-committee works for some organizations, but there will always be a bit of distance between who you create and who you’re writing to.

A-list copywriter Parris Lampropoulos says that the best way to think of your target audience is to write like you’re talking to someone you care about.

You know your community best. Who would benefit the most from your product or service? Maybe think about the first person you ever helped. What are concepts that would resonate with them? What kind of words do they use when they talk about certain issues? What do you provide that solves a problem for them?

Writing with these specifics in mind makes it easier to think of words for your website or topics for social media posts that your target audience would enjoy.


You don’t have to guess - Ask!

A quick way to get to the heart of your audience is to ask them what they want! Surveys work wonders when it comes to market research, and they also help to bolster engagement with people who might have fallen off your radar.

If you’re not sure about the demographics or interests of your members or your donors, find out from them directly. Putting together a Google form is a simple and straightforward way to survey your community.

Just don’t abuse this privilege. You might lose some goodwill if people on your email list start feeling like they’re being spammed with survey requests too often.


Create different content for your different audiences

In the nonprofit world, there are buzzwords you hear all the time. Talking about capacity building, thought leadership, or transparency might work in your annual report, but will suck the life out of your social media posts.

Think about the group of people you’re trying to help (going back to the “writing to someone you care about exercise”). Are they going to get excited when they hear you talk about external stakeholder representation? Probably not. Just as your donors might not care so much about a recap of the food truck rodeo you hosted last week.

In traditional marketing, this is called “segmenting.” Not everyone is going to get value out of each piece of content or product you produce. By tailoring your email lists by age, interest, and activity level, you’re providing more chances for engagement and involvement.

Take a look at what is already attracting audiences to your organization. Do you get the best donor response with data-driven content? Try sending out emails with infographics that showcase positive metrics to current and potential donors. It will help them visualize where their donations go, supporting their desire to give again in the future.

Maybe stories work best when trying to recruit new volunteers. By filling your social media with photos and anecdotes, people looking for volunteer opportunities will be attracted to what you have to offer.

In the end, it all comes down to the goal of each piece of marketing. What are you trying to achieve with this email or that Facebook post? Once you have a good idea of the outcome you want, it’s easier to create the content and send it to the right people.

How to put this into practice today

If you’re feeling like this is a lot of information, don’t panic. There are some easy ways to implement these concepts into your marketing.

  • Go through your Instagram or Facebook content for the past month and look for jargon or buzzwords that might be turning people off. Make sure to note these for future posts.

  • Have a look at your email client. Are you currently using segmentation for best results? If you’re not, think about ways you can split up your list to get more engagement.

  • Take a look at your Calls To Action in your marketing materials. Do they make sense for your target audience? Are you spamming your volunteers with calls to donate?

At the end of the day, you want to make sure you have a clear idea of who you are speaking to and what action you want them to take. We’ll be touching on more ways marketing can improve your visibility and capacity in the next part of our series. Please keep an eye out or subscribe to our newsletter.

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