How to (Non)Profit from Marketing

As noble as your nonprofit’s mission is, it won’t be successful if nobody knows about it. Promoting a nonprofit can be a major challenge, one that is completely different from conventional marketing. It’s important to focus on the right things in order to be successful.

In the business world, the goal of marketing always the same – drive sales. 99% of conventional ads attempt to get their audience to do something; “buy these skinny jeans,” “lease this car you can’t afford,” or “visit my cheezy website.” In the nonprofit sector, the opposite is true. The goal is generally to raise awareness and many of the calls to action are actually trying to get their audience not to do something. “Stop smoking,” “don’t be so fat,” “don’t get heart disease.” You get the picture.

As an organization fighting for a cause, you have a lot to say. That’s awesome, but too often this leads to a shoot-from-the-hip mentality. Trying to say too much in too few marketing pieces can leave the overall message scattered and ineffective. As sad as this is to say, communicating to the public is like playing peek-a-boo with a toddler – it’s all about repetition.

That’s why it’s important to have a solid plan from the outset. Take a step back and look at your organization as a whole. Ask yourself some fundamental questions. What is our primary goal? What is the single most important thing we want people to know? Who do we want to talk to? Settle on a few simple messages and goals that can be used throughout your marketing efforts. After that, you’ll have a good foundation to build your strategy.

Don’t just plan for the short term. Try to map out at least a year’s worth of marketing all at once. Look at your events, your projects, and everything else to build a plan that will achieve your objectives. The best piece of advice we can give you is this: take the time to think and plan before you act. You can never get started too far in advance.

Most nonprofits have two major goals: increase awareness about their cause and drive donations.

The first one is a no-brainer. Nonprofits exists to carry out their mission. If you’re not communicating about your cause, then you’re not doing your job. Oh yeah, we went there.

Driving donations can be a little trickier. It’s tough to ask people for money, no matter how good your cause is. Instead, try to think of ways to create revenue streams and operate more like a business. Sell products, offer services, and become more self-sufficient. You can then promote these items and keep your organization self-sustaining for years to come.

Just because you don’t turn a profit, doesn’t mean you can’t make money, right?

If you don’t have a marketing budget at all. You need to get one. The simplest way to get a big influx of marketing dollars (besides winning the lottery) is a grant. Grants totally rock. They’re basically free money given out to good causes. What’s not to love?

Getting one grant to kickstart your marketing can go along way to helping your organization across the board. Showing outwardly successful progress, such as marketing pushes, events, and community projects show that your organization is effective and that leads to more grants, more donations, and a greater ability to deliver on your mission. We know writing grants is an art in-and-of-itself, but it can be well-worth the time if utilized correctly.

We’re not going to get too much into specific marketing ideas and strategies here because the truth is, there is no one answer. It really depends on you. Who your audience is, what your goals are, what your budget is, what type of time you have, and a hundred other factors that can influence the right direction. What we can tell you is that it’s crucial to be able to track the results of your efforts.

This goes for all businesses, but especially for those operating on a tight budget, knowing the results of your marketing is a must-have. Online, you can use your website analytics or social media insights to track your success. That’s pretty easy. In other mediums, you might have to get creative. Send out a survey to see if people saw your billboards, ask people how they heard about you, or provide a specific coupon code with your print items. Whatever you decide, make sure you can quantify your efforts.

Don’t be discouraged if a particular tactic doesn’t work out how you hoped. That’s the nature of the beast. Despite all of our efforts, marketing isn’t an exact science and sometimes you can learn a lot more from a failure than a success.

With these tips in mind, now it’s time for you to get your marketing kicked into high-gear. Let us know if you need help getting started. 


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