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How to Market a Nonprofit Organization

Many nonprofits struggle with the question of whether they should engage in extensive online marketing, asking themselves whether it might be too commercial for their missions. But the fact is that without proper marketing strategy, your campaigns most probably wouldn`t receive enough donations and would fail to serve your community as effectively as possible. Smart marketing endeavors allow your organisation to convince the public to buckle up, sign the petition, make a donation, work together for your causes, or help in other ways with your particular goals. As a nonprofit you are in the business of helping people, but it takes the right marketing efforts to motivate and convince the potential donors to let you help.

Now, How to Market a Nonprofit Organization?

The first step is to define your audience. Who are your constituents – who does your organisation come in contact with regularly? Create a list of the different categories of people, as this will form the backbone of what you should tell them, as well as how and when you should be contacting them.

Next you want to map out what you have been telling them so far. Look at your ongoing campaigns to date and determine what messages you have been putting out via what channels, and then go through them and ask some of your supporters and volunteers what they believe your organisation does and what is it that makes you stand out from other nonprofits. This will allow you to tell whether your messages have been achieving the desired results.

At this point you can start putting together your goals and objectives – this is the end result you wish to achieve, and it should be specific and measurable.

From your goals you can then plan out objectives (the “milestones” on the way to your goal), the strategies you will use to achieve these objectives, and finally the tactics (specific tools such as news releases) which you will deploy in support of your strategies.

What’s your unique value?

If your supporters and constituents believe your organisation offers nothing new or different, then there is no reason to give you any support. Of course you know better – there are many things which make your nonprofit one of a kind. But you must be able to put those differences into words in order to communicate them to your supporters, volunteers, staff members, and donors.

Start by breaking things down like a journalist: who are your constituents, what issue do you address, where are your constituents located, when do people need you, why are you so important, and how do you do things differently?

Now call someone who is somewhat on the “outside,” such as a volunteer or donor, and ask why they are involved with you and not another advocacy group. Often their answer will be vastly different than what you expect.

Finally, sit down and put your unique point of definition into a phrase by filling in the blanks: We are the only ___ that ___.

Creating your own marketing strategy

Always put your audience first in your marketing. Most organisations make the deadly mistake of talking only about themselves, when what your supporters care about is what matters to them. Talk about the people you are communicating with, and talk about things they are interested in. Nonprofit marketing is no place for selfish egotism.

Engage your audience. This means testing and devising ways to track results, as well as ensuring it’s easy for your supporters to feel they are in a conversation with you. If possible, send out appeals via multiple channels – contact donors via email before you send them a letter in the post, give phone donors your web address, and contact offline donors via email.

One thing you should not do is talk with all your supporters at once. Break down your donors depending on who they are and how much they’ve given, and ask them for different things.

What about social media?

Social media is as crucial for nonprofits as it is perilous. Your supporters probably spend more time on social media than they do anywhere else on the Internet. Facebook and Google expert Perry Marshall famously surveyed 57,000 professionals and found that while most of them were trying to make social media work… less than a dozen of them had figured out how to make social media reliably bring in money. (The rest relied on e.g paid advertising on social networking sites for their revenue-generating marketing.)

In other words, it is very easy to devote a great deal of time to social media and not get the desired results.

The first step in making social media work is to bring an expert into the picture. This need not be a highly-paid external consultant – check the ranks of your organisation and chances are you will find a young staffer or volunteer who is an expert in the field. If possible, you should have them devote all their time to managing your social media efforts.

While you should consider having Twitter accounts for your CEO and leadership team, ultimately you will want to leave it to this ‘social media’ person to set up and manage your organisation’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube accounts. They will also need to have ample leeway and backing within the organisation to create a steady stream of content to feed your audience. Ultimately social media success is largely determined by the quantity of engaging, addictive content you can put out. (Professional quality is not necessary, it is quite possible to do this on a budget.)

As a rule entering the social media sphere means losing a great deal of control over your message, so if you or your attorneys are not comfortable with losing the ability to vet every word said on pages associated with your organisation — perhaps social media is not right for you.

Effective cross-media tactics

Perhaps one of the most effective nonprofit marketing tactics is to develop a partnership with a high-profile group or celebrity.

Many organisations such as sports teams are very interested in associating themselves with a widely-respected charity, and by connecting themselves to the high-profile group the charity attains awareness in the public mind that is nearly impossible to achieve any other way.

For example, the Mater Foundation’s partnership with the Brisbane Lions has lasted more than eight years and brought in a great deal of vitally important money for medical research as well as patient care at Mater Foundation hospitals.

Measuring your results

Your nonprofit’s marketing should be driven by your audience, not your own pre-conceptions. This is why you start by defining and connecting with your supporters, and it is also why you will want to track your progress towards your goals. The exact methods you use to measure will vary depending on your marketing tactics, but the process is ultimately the same: try something, see whether it worked, and then adjust accordingly.

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