By Julia Sellers, Community Boost
This article is part 1 of an 6-part series called “Digital Marketing Toolkit for Mission-Driven Organizations”. These articles originated from and were previously published by Community Boost, a digital marketing agency that works with nonprofits of all sizes and sectors to accelerate and scale online revenue and impact.
According to an article by Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, www.ssir.org, “A brand is more than a visual identity: the name, logo, and graphic design used by an organization. A brand is a psychological construct held in the minds of all those aware of the branded product, person, organization, or movement.” In order for non-profits and good-for-the-world companies to inspire, engage, and drive donations, a solid branding strategy is essential.
Still, there may be internal challenges regarding time, energy, and resources on branding. Yet statistics show that building a solid and recognizable non-profit brand can have enormous pay offs. The Harvard Business Review, www.hbr.org, noted an increasing number of high-profile non-profits have created brands that are worth billions of dollars. The work your organization puts into branding is well worth it.
“In the for-profit world, marketing professionals talk of creating ‘a total brand experience.’ In the nonprofit world, executives talk more about their ‘global identity’ and the ‘what and why’ of their organizations. But the point in both cases is to take branding far beyond the logo,” say Kylander and Stone.
This is not to say a good logo is unimportant. In fact, a good logo can say everything without saying a word, so choose wisely. Think carefully about colors, typeface and images, and how they reflect your organization. Vet the logo with trusted members of your board, team, and prospective audience, if possible. To land on the right one, and take your brand above and beyond it, it’s important to first 1) clarify your mission and vision, 2) streamline your story, and 3) make it personal.
- Clarify Your Mission and Vision
Your mission is a succinct description of your organization’s core purpose, while your vision describes the world that awaits if your mission succeeds. Mission and vision statements establish the internal foundation of your brand and guide programs, services, communications, organization, and culture. They also inspire and generate external support by helping you tell your story to potential funders, collaborators, and partners.
- Streamline Your Story
Once you have mission and vision statements, it’s time to draft some compelling and cohesive language. Branding and messaging guides for your entire organization will have everyone, from the executive director down, on the same page whenever and wherever they communicate about the organization. There are a variety of ways to structure your guide, but most include some combination of the following:
- Mission and vision;
- Logo and color choices;
- Rules for photography and graphic design;
- Tone for verbal and written communications;
- Tagline and elevator pitch, if you have them; and
- Your brand pillars, with messaging to support them.
This article contains numerous examples of non-profit brand guides.
- Make it Personal
Once you have refined your story, start telling it. A great way to make sure it resonates with your audience is to make it personal. Focusing on your work’s impact to one person, one family, or one community offers context and connection. Think about how words and images from your favorite charity or brand affect and motivate you to get involved. The emotions you experience are what you want to create in your audience. For a guide to non-profit storytelling, see this article on www.donorbox.org.
An eye-catching logo will stick in the mind of your audience as a signifier of your brand. But, it’s only one aspect of it. We hope this article has helped you understand how to build a solid and meaningful brand for your non-profit or good for the world business. By trying our advice, your brand can have the beyond-the-logo awareness-generating and fundraising impact of a simple pink ribbon.
Creating your organization’s mission and vision statements are an integral step toward building a strong non-profit brand and connecting with your audience and raising awareness and funds. To learn more about how to create a strong mission and vision, see this piece by www.bridgespan.org. You can create an “awesome” mission statement with this advice from www.donorbox.org. And this article detailing successful non-profit mission and vision statements can inspire you as you work.
More than 45% of nonprofits surveyed by Community Boost said lack of time was their No. 1 struggle when it comes to executing an effective nonprofit marketing plan, according to 439 nonprofits surveyed. Marketing for nonprofit organizations takes time, automation, and skill!
At Community Boost, we don’t want your organization to operate from a scarcity mindset about your available time and resources. Instead, we want your nonprofit to thrive. We want you on a track of an abundance mindset so your team will be effective and scale your organization’s mission and vision to make a more significant impact than ever before.
Keep reading for the top 21 strategies for nonprofit marketing.
What is marketing for nonprofit organizations?
The word “marketing” sounds like you’re in the business of selling a product or idea with the end goal of making a profit. So what does that look like for nonprofits and what is marketing for nonprofit organizations?
Think of “marketing” as a niched word for your organization’s overall communications. You’re creating messaging that involves community stakeholders, volunteers, donors, and those you serve. Awareness of a nonprofit’s broad communications will help establish a long-term communication strategy that is nuanced in how it creates and tracks goals across multiple mediums.
Why nonprofits should care more about marketing
Community Boost is here to help your nonprofit jump-start a successful communication plan in building awareness, broadening engagement, and leveraging stakeholders to optimize fundraising opportunities. Here are some questions to consider before embarking on marketing for nonprofit organizations
- What are your goals?
- What other organizations serve the same market?
- What is success? How will you quantify success?
- What marketing channels should you use?
- Who is your target market?
- What are your areas of opportunity?
Nonprofits struggle with nonprofit marketing plans because they are multifaceted in the audiences your organization engages. Couple that with a nonprofit mindset that most donations should go directly into serving a mission, and communication strategy usually ends up as an afterthought.
More than 40% of 2022 nonprofit survey respondents expected revenue growth up to 14% in the next year. 23% of respondents reported budget constraints as their biggest obstacle. We found nonprofits don’t want to waste money on untested strategies which prevent them from spending on marketing for their nonprofit organizations. Researching nonprofits that execute paid and organic strategies are one way to create buy-in.
46% of surveyed nonprofits reported that limited time was their biggest obstacle to achieving their marketing goals annually. Untested strategies also include additional time to create things like A/B testing and monitoring progress over a few months before tweaking strategy based on data.
Lack of education
When staff is short on time, there are also deficits in time spent on education to research and learn about best practices. For example, 12% of surveyed nonprofits reported a lack of education on how to use digital strategies effectively.
As nonprofits aim to put as many donations as possible directly into the mission, nonprofit roles often don’t offer salaries comparable to for-profit wages. So expecting staff loyalty by the task alone isn’t enough. Staff needs to make living wages, too.
Marketing for nonprofit organizations doesn’t have to involve creating ideas from scratch. We’ve compiled some of the best of what organizations have done in the last few years, including case studies on how Community Boost assisted organizations in reaching new fundraising and engagement goals.
1. Social media marketing for nonprofit organizations
Description: Targeting social networks and applications such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Pinterest, and more, to generate brand awareness and engage with constituents.
Example: Girls Who Code has built a TikTok following with more than 34,000 followers with popular content like “Day in the life of…” featuring young women embarking on the tech world. Learn more about TikTok’s growing nonprofit sector at https://www.tiktok.com/forgood and find a list of nonprofits leading the way on TikTok here.
2. Content marketing for nonprofit organizations
Description: Most nonprofits have blogs. However, most nonprofits don’t effectively leverage their blog to gain fundraising traction.
Example: Charity: Water has led the nonprofit field with innovative and moving campaigns to thank donors and show how donations benefit underserved communities. With more than 45,000 subscribers on YouTube, the nonprofit’s playlists are a master class on how to repurpose content and tie it directly back to its mission.
3. Influencer marketing for nonprofit organizations
Description: Connecting and encouraging key leaders with large followings to promote your organization and campaigns.
Example: Red Nose Day, a fundraising day about ending the cycle of child poverty, has grown ubiquitous among celebrity influencers and even has the support of large organizations like the Gates Foundation. However, nonprofits don’t need mega-influencers to gain awareness traction. Instead, nano-influencers with under 10,000 followers in your community can create a hyperlocal focus on your neighborhood’s needs.
4. Social media ads
Description: Leveraging social ad platforms like Facebook and Twitter can be a scalable way to reach new donors and remarket to past donors or customers.
Example: Upload an email list of past donors to Facebook to run hyper-targeted Facebook campaigns to both past donors and look-alike audiences. The California Shakespeare Theatre got an 8.9x return on ad spending with retargeting among the strategies.
5. Search Engine Marketing
Description: Search engine marketing (SEM) allows organizations to advertise to potential supporters searching on Google and other search engines. Most charitable nonprofit organizations can apply for a $10,000 per month Google advertising grant.
The Google Ad Grant does have some stipulations (such as the $2.00 max cost per click limit). However, Google Ad Grants are still the best way for nonprofits to begin running search ads, rank on the top of Google for non-branded keywords, and spend upwards of 5,000 or more monthly site visitors.
Example: Zero Breast Cancer increased site traffic by more than 448%, and it’s tied directly to their Google Ad Grant.
6. Search engine optimization
Description: Good SEO means free traffic from keywords that you organically rank at the top of Google, which in turn can mean a customer or donor acquisition cost of zero or near zero. Search engine optimization (especially for non-branded keywords) is a long-term game for new organizations with low website domain authority.
Example: Quality Start San Bernadino brought 568% new users to their website through intelligent SEO strategies.
7. Email marketing
Description: Email marketing sends informational, promotional, or transactional emails to segmented lists to re-engage and increase lifetime value.
Example: The Tenement Museum raised more than $40,000 from an email campaign with a 24-hr blitz focus.
8. Business development (partnerships)
Description: Business Development (BD) is the process of creating strategic relationships that benefit both your nonprofit and its partners. It is similar to sales, but instead of going one to one, you are partnering to go one too many in a way that benefits both parties.
Example: Rivers of Steel, based out of Pennsylvania, supports economic revitalization. The nonprofit leveraged a grassroots campaign to deepen community partnerships, promote heritage tourism, and preserve local recreational and cultural resources for future generations.
9. Speaking engagements
Description: Speaking engagements are a worthwhile tactic to increase volunteers and donors. However, organizations must be selective in determining which opportunities ensure their message meets the right audience interested in the mission and willing to support it.
Example: Joining the local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club is an excellent opportunity to get in front of community investors. Forbes.com offers insight into how for-profit speakers hone their message.
10. Public Relations
Description: Public relations (PR) is a communications practice that allows organizations to build relationships with the media further to highlight their brand visibility. PR professionals craft and share stories to local, business, and trade press about organizational offerings and distinct advantages in the market. The practice of reaching out to magazines, newspapers, blogs, and other media outlets to have them feature a story about your organization. If an organization has unique offerings, compelling results, or thought-provoking commentary from the executive team, its chances of inclusion in a piece are likely.
Example: When it comes to PR, nonprofits should implement a “ladder up” strategy where the focus is on gaining recognition in blogs and niche publications about your specific audience. Sites like Help A Reporter Out share daily calls for sources for many media outlets. Instead of getting bogged down in the list of opportunities, do a quick search for keywords that pertain to your organization.
11. Unconventional PR
Description: Unconventional PR is when organizations execute campaigns or activities that gain tremendous media exposure, such as publicity stunts.
Example: An animal shelter can throw a pet parade and invite the community to bring their pets dressed in their best or cutest costumes. Pet parades don’t happen every day, and it’s a way to have photos with interaction. In addition, the colorful and vibrant images are a straightforward feel-good story for local media to pick up and promote your cause.
12. Peer-to-peer fundraising
Description: Peer-to-peer fundraising leverages supporters to crowdsource and tap their networks on behalf of your organization. If an organization is looking to execute peer-to-peer fundraising effectively, we recommend the Classy platform at Community Boost.
Example: Classy used peer-to-peer fundraising to promote the 20th anniversary of the Tunnels to Towers 5K, which supports first responders and veterans. The campaign aimed to remove fundraising barriers, like having to click multiple times on a site to donate, so it could build a seamless campaign that engaged individuals and corporate donors.
13. Offline events
Description: Offline events, trade shows, and networking opportunities are an effective way to engage people, albeit less scalable. Creating events or hosting groups via Meetup.com allows your community to connect and share the mission.
Example: If your nonprofit is committed to ocean conservation and you start a monthly beach cleanup meetup group, you will undoubtedly attract like-minded individuals to your cause.
14. Webinars or online events
Description: Think about where your specific audience spends their time — that’s where you invest your marketing efforts. Knowing this, we need to consider how we will be relevant in those channels.
Example: The American Red Cross is known for being on-site when disasters strike. But the nonprofit has used TikTok to reach more than 781,000 followers by promoting volunteer opportunities and health and safety information.
15. Direct mail
Description: Despite the world transforming into a digital marketplace, direct mail is certainly not dead and performs very well still for many nonprofit organizations. Be careful not to send too much direct mail, however, year-end appeals are almost mandatory, especially when targeting Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation.
Example: Make your appeal remarkable by creating a unique package or postcard that tells a great story. QR codes can lead users to scan the code and visit a website video or a page with a clear Call-to-Action, creating a lot of year-end appeals. If your organization includes a return mail option, remember to use a paid postage envelope so donors can send a check without any extra expense.
16. Offline ads
Description: Offline events, trade shows, and networking opportunities are an effective way to engage people, albeit less scalable. Creating events or hosting groups via Meetup.com allows your community to connect and share the mission.
Example: Don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel to stand out during events. Pinterest offers many sources of inspiration on how to set up a booth that is attractive and interactive.
17. Community building
Description: Many for-profit companies use community building to drive impact and sales; Yelp and Wikipedia. Nonprofits can also build online or offline communities to engage supporters.
Example: Community Boost’s Digital Marketing for Nonprofit Facebook group is an excellent way to learn about successful campaigns to engage donors.
18. Phone banking
Description: Making outbound calls to potential and past donors and customers can still drive substantial revenue for your organization.
Example: During an organization’s year-end campaign, having board members call previous donors and share the past year’s impact, can be critical for success.
19. Donor stewardship
Description: Donor stewardship ensures high-quality interactions to foster long-term engagement and investment in the mission from donors.
Example: Donor stewardship extends from your organization’s welcome messaging to engaging long-time donors in a sustainer program. Show donors where their money goes to build trust. Use tips like 80/20 messaging, where only 20 percent of your materials have a hard ask for donations, so your donors don’t become weary about your interactions with them.
20. Board give/get
Description: This appeal goes straight to board members to ask them to pledge a certain amount of the year or have them sign a letter of intent. If an organization goes this route, there needs to be a committee that tracks the contributions to ensure everyone is accountable.
Example: A 2017 survey from BoardSource reports that 79 percent of surveyed boards participate in some form of giving. However, only 52 percent of surveyed councils had 100% participation.
21. Mobile messaging
Description: Mobile messaging is sending messages to mobile devices, typically text messages via SMS.
Example: DoSomething.org, a youth-led nonprofit, leveraged an SMS campaign to play a game of “Would you prefer?” Questions about financial literacy would link them to money-saving tips. There was a raffle for fellow friends. It’s a lesson in meeting your audience where they are.
22. Lead magnets
Description: A lead magnet is content your nonprofit shares in exchange for a user’s contact information.
Example: A lead magnet can be a fact sheet about your nonprofit. At Community Boost, we created a lead magnet that asked those with strong Facebook advertising to contribute to the Facebook blueprint as a guide. In exchange, Community Boost collected the nonprofit’s point-of-contact information, their email address, and short information about their organization. We followed up with those we felt would be good partners.
Description: Retargeting, or remarketing, can be thought of as capturing low-hanging fruit. Programs like Facebook ads allow your campaign to show up again with someone who cut their engagement short with their donation process or even not entirely watching a video.
Example: Daily shopping on apps like Amazon will trigger a message to remind you to return to your cart and complete your purchase. Use the same idea to get in front of a potential donor for whatever reason they didn’t complete their transaction.
The right nonprofit marketing plan may not look like other organizations. Tailor your plans for your audiences and your desired outcomes. Don’t feel compelled to recreate what other organizations do if that doesn’t fit your mission or brand.
Sure, you know your mission statement, but how is that quantifiable? Review your organization’s mission, vision, and goals. Then, use the organization’s initiatives to build actionable plans from 3 to 12 months.
Aiming to save money and focus on organic growth strategies is excellent. But also set budgets to experiment with paid digital media strategies like Facebook Ads. Of the 43% of respondents who expected revenue growth up to 14%, 45% of those people said they were “very likely” to try paid digital ads. Paid ads cut through the clutter online and get your organization in front of your desired audience.
Select strategies based on alignment
Marketing for nonprofit organizations is not a buffet where you try everything all at once. Instead, when creating a nonprofit marketing plan, the plan creation will reveal the best platforms and mediums for your target audience and goals.
If your audience skews older, maybe TikTok isn’t the platform for you. On the other hand, if your organization has a great open rate on newsletters, an email campaign is where to put efforts. And remember to track metrics.
Each month Community Boost partners with more than 200 nonprofits. Here are some examples of great wins we’ve seen our partners achieve.
Zero Breast Cancer promotes breast cancer risk reduction by translating scientific research recommended actions for every stage of life. The organization’s goal was to increase brand awareness and resource use. Optimization of their Google Ad Grants increased their overall site traffic by 111%.
Reach out and Read integrates tools and best practices so parents can maximize daily reading in their families. The organization launched a 7-day campaign to raise $50,000. More than 8,200 impressions led to the organization raising $66,737.
The goal for the Arizona Science Center was to boost ticket sales for a new exhibit using a multi-pronged marketing approach. The organization received a 3.3x return on ad spend and purchased more than 3,500 tickets for the Pompeii exhibit.
While achieving marketing greatness comes from being bold and agile, our 2022 Nonprofit Accelerator Report revealed that not all organizations have the bandwidth to spend time and money on a robust marketing plan.
We also provide a done-for-you model where we take our best strategies and create bespoke plans for your mission and goals.
How is marketing for nonprofit organizations different?
Marketing for nonprofit organizations is different from traditional marketing because the end goal isn’t always quantifiable the way profit on a product would be. Marketing involves many audiences, from those your mission serves to volunteers to donors. A nonprofit marketing strategy that addresses each touchpoint with separate audiences must have all communication work in concert.
How do I market my nonprofit?
Marketing your nonprofit means keeping your eye on the long game. A strategy won’t give a return in just a few weeks. While the process includes technical components like creating actionable goals, here are 13 other essentials for nonprofit marketing.
Do nonprofits need marketing?
Nonprofits need marketing for everything from building awareness to pulling off fundraisers. Every time a staff member shares the organization’s mission and how to get involved is a piece of marketing at work. Creating clear messaging for each touchpoint in your organization will bring you closer to achieving your mission.
How much should a nonprofit spend on marketing?
The percentage a nonprofit spends on marketing can include the salaries of in-house marketers to even your paid digital ad spending. Community Boost can offer recommendations on how to get you started.
How do I promote my nonprofit?
Nonprofit promotion varies from large-scale fundraising campaigns to building awareness through word of mouth. Having staff on board with brand messaging is essential to building nonprofit promotions; each person interacts with potential donors and volunteers. Here are some tips for creating a marketing plan for your nonprofit.
Why is marketing challenging for nonprofits?
Marketing for nonprofit organizations is challenging because budgets are limited, and staff time is over-taxed. Both scenarios make it difficult to build continuing education about best practices into the work day. Facing challenges should stop your efforts to build an effective marketing plan. In the last month, Community Boosts’ partnerships sent 650,000 visitors to nonprofit websites, created 154,000 conversions of impact, and brought in $1.5 million in revenue. Just last month, we directly served 214 nonprofits. We’re here to help you get a plan of action ready and provide the support to continue your education simultaneously.