Nonprofit Marketing Tips from 70 Industry Leaders, Part 1
Nonprofit marketing is constantly evolving, so we asked 70 leaders of nonprofit organizations across all sectors for their best tips. Here are a few of the most striking, curated and categorized for your use.
Feel free to print this article and check off each tip as you put it into practice, if you'd like an easy way to hold yourself accountable to implementing new best practices!
These tips contain the compressed insight from decades of nonprofit marketing experience… enjoy!
A number of professionals commented on specifically on the power of knowing your audience. We placed this section first because all of the other tips build on this foundational knowledge.
"In the online era, positivity sells. Young people don't want nonprofits talking to them about the problems they are addressing. They want to hear about the solutions. Everyone is too busy, there's too much bad news and, in an era where information is a clickable commodity, it's more necessary than ever to provide feel-good content that is encouraging and uplifting." — George Jacob, Self Help Africa Inc.
Go to the Social Platforms Your Audience Uses, Not Necessarily the Ones You Use!
"I would say to use social media. It's free! Gen Xers and Millennials, as well as other generations, are on different social media platforms boasting about where they are and what they're doing. Go where they are. Take tons of photos of what they are doing for your nonprofit and post photos of them in action. Don't forget to tag them! People usually love seeing their name, company and photos pasted on your wall and theirs." — Kimber Scott, Promise for Haiti, Inc.
“Know your audience. When communicating, whether through email, social media or print, the more you can speak to your audience, the better you'll be heard. Knowing your audience means understanding: Why are they in touch with you in the first place? What content can you give them that will be a resource for them or inspire them to action? Who are they? What do they want to hear from you? The more directly you can speak to these points, the more clearly your message will resonate.” — Andrew Keaveney, Art of Living Retreat Center
“Leverage your networks, and also make sure volunteers know they are appreciated. Try to post or send blasts when you have relevant and/or original content that your readers want to read instead of flooding the newsfeed and people’s inboxes. Know your audience, and spend quality time crafting messages that are relevant to them. Try to keep it short and sweet. And know that working for a nonprofit, you will be stretched thin, and that there are tons of mediums to communicate through, so evaluate what works best for your organization and your audience.” — Kaitlyn Kohl, Midwest Renewable Energy Association, Inc.
Your Audience Counts
“It is essential you know your audience, so you can respond to their needs and communicate with them in a way that resonates with them. Craft different messages for each audience you have in mind.” — Tiffany Caton, Trail Blazer Camps
Encourage Supporters to See Themselves in Your Vision
"As we share our story with supporters, we focus on connecting with their passions and hopes for the world—with what already sparks their heart. This approach is strongly influenced by priest and author Henri Nouwen, who once wrote, "Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission." Whether we meet someone in person or through an online post, we want them to see themselves in our vision for a more just society." — Jill Stoltzfus, Association for a More Just Society
“It may be tempting to send every marketing product you create to your entire list, but proper segmentation is key to donor retention and engagement. Ensure that your team has created a catalog of online engagement opportunities for donors at different gift levels while ensuring that higher level donors get exclusive access when necessary.” — Brad Sugar, American Jewish World Service (AJWS)
Always Target Your Audience for Feedback
“Don’t assume you know everything, and always ask your target audiences for feedback. Investing time, money and energy will not only provide invaluable information but can ultimately help you identify and build genuine relationships with your brand champions. This is how we created appropriate marketing collateral for each of our audiences. It’s not about us; it’s about them. —Jaime Moreno of Nurse-Family Partnership
"Google Analytics can seem overwhelming if you're on a small (or even one person!) team at a nonprofit. Despite any hesitation... sign up for a free account, track your website data for several months and determine which pages are your website are most trafficked. Once you know where people are visiting, you can work on making sure those top pages are the best and more informative on your site. If you only have the capacity to utilize Google Analytics in this way—that's OK!" — Katie Brooks, Alexandria Soccer Association
Build Personal Relationships with Targeted Audiences
“Compressed budgets result in true priorities for your marketing. For 2019, our strategies are refining our messaging to make every opportunity count, maximizing SEO through our Google Grant and going regional with conference participation to build more personal relationships with targeted audiences.” — Vicki Worden, Green Building Initiative
“Listen to your audience: If you’re the person responsible for choosing what content goes up, you can’t afford to not read the comments, as nice as that thought might be. Some may disagree with me on this, but I believe seeing the sentiment in reaction to what you send out is just as important as analytics. Listening requires getting the full picture, not just the part that is easiest to obtain.
Recognize your capacity when looking at channels: There’s pressure to be on every channel, but if you’re not going to be able to maintain the channel, what’s the point? This is especially true for animal shelters, where those managing social media often wear 10 other hats. While it’s great for a shelter to be on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for example, what’s not great is if two of the three channels aren’t really checked on or maintained. If you’re not able to monitor and respond to people on twitter for example, it may be worth reconsidering if that’s really a channel you should be on, given that it’s entire premise is based on having conversations.
One size doesn’t fit all: Just because you can easily auto-post an email you’re sending to every social media channel, doesn’t mean that you should. Adapt your content for the channel you’re sharing it on, and do what you can to track it’s performance. Otherwise you’ll have no idea if your audience is even interested in the topic.” — Sarah Barnett, Humane Society of the United States
After you know your audience, the marketer’s task is to build a deep emotional connection with them. As empathy deepens over time, you can invite the individual to get involved in your work in increasingly significant ways.
“Leverage the power of your organization’s mission by infusing emotion and impact into all marketing materials. In today’s digital world, people are inundated with competing messaging. Therefore, to be effective, marketing must be connective. By delivering the right mix of emotion and impact to the right audiences, we can create a lasting connection that translates into support and engagement.” — Elizabeth Kunz, Girls on the Run International
“Practice telling your results stories well! People need to hear what you have accomplished. Vision and goals are not enough, results are essential. Tell everyone about your results in interesting and compelling ways. Put a human face on your results. Weave a narrative with those results that the donor can be proud to be a part of.” — Ron Houp, Go International, Inc.
“Mix it up with fast, easy reads. Some marketing pieces should have an emotional pull, some should inspire people and some should have humor. You want people to enjoy reading your message and if every message is sad and pull at the heartstrings, people will eventually stop reading your messages.” — Jodi Polanski, Lost Our Home Pet Foundation, Inc
“Know your audience, and you should have several. There are so many categories of potential donors and knowing which audience or audiences your marketing piece will reach is key.” — Vickie Martin, Christian HELP Foundation
Make Your Marketing Scheme Customer-Focused!
“My marketing tip would be to make sure the marketing materials you create are written with your intended audience in mind. It is easy to get caught up in promoting what we do while subtly, but not meaning to, excluding the people we serve, our donors and the community as a whole. Making your marketing more customer-centric will increase engagement, referrals and donations.” — David Tinker, ACHEVIA
"Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. Our entire communications and fundraising strategy is built around expressing thanks and building community. When we share the story of a kid from one of our programs, we include gratitude for the child for giving our work purpose and bringing it all to life, for the partners who create successful environments for our work to have impact and for our donors for laying the groundwork that makes it all possible. We always strive to stay authentic in our storytelling and when we are targeting communications to specific groups, whether they are program participants or donors, we make sure they feel like the heroes and the authors of the story." — Dorothy Lee, LitWorld International Inc.
“Fundraising is about developing relationships, individuals are more likely to give to individuals and causes they have a connection with, therefore, developing and cultivating the donor relationship is paramount! Within this relationship, it is important that you gather the courage to make an explicit ask, follow-up and thank the donor for their gift, and then stay connected! Donors don't want to be bombarded with information but they do want to hear about how their contribution has made an impact” — Chantelle Daniels, ReDefiners World Languages, Inc.
“Never underestimate the power of a personal touch. Taking the time to write a brief handwritten note on a regular printed mailing is a meaningful way to connect and make a donor feel treasured. And isn’t that what we all want in life?” — Annie Brown, Rodale Institute
"Relationships are a key factor to success in the nonprofit sector. You need to provide a great service that the community needs, and your organization must be operationally well run. However, without solid relationships developed through your board, staff, donors and others, the results can fall flat and your ability to serve more people will diminish. Relationship marketing ensures the long-term engagement and interactions that make nonprofit organizations strong and sustainable." — Vanecia Kerr, College Track
“It’s always better to provide a personal story that illustrates the work you do rather than data.” — Ken McEldowney, Consumer Action
Storytelling Is the Secret Ingredient
“Here at BeadforLife, our marketing efforts have revolved around high-touch one-on-one human connection. We have found that storytelling is the secret ingredient that connects compassionate world-changers to our mission. As such, we continue sharing our stories in unique and specialized ways that create direct and meaningful connections to the resilient women we serve in Uganda.” — Amy Yanda-Lee, BreadforLife
“Connect with your constituents on social media. This is an easy and free way to inform donors about missions your fulfilling, programs that are running, events that are happening, volunteer opportunities and any other goings-on! Not only will they be more informed, but it allows them to share information with their personal networks, ultimately spreading awareness.
Invest in opportunities. Know your donors and where they are. Are there opportunities to interact with constituents? What are they involved in, and how can they contribute to your organization? These opportunities may include attending conferences, lunch talks, networking events, educational workshops or other community events.
Communicate with donors. Let them know what their money is going toward! Send emails, newsletters, letters in the mail. Depending on your organization, this may be best to go out monthly, quarterly or annually. It's beneficial to also ask for feedback from donors: What do they want to hear about, what auction items would they bid on, do they have a preferred giving format?” — John Mullins, Web FX
Humor, Double Giving and Peace of Mind
“Animal Humane New Mexico has found that playing on the humor that pets bring to our lives, offering avenues for supporters to double their giving and providing pet owners peace of mind are three marketing avenues that actively engage our passionate audiences.
- Witty social Media: Unconventional copy and playful pics have increased our reach!
- Small matching-gift opportunities: Attainable goals have led to greater donations—sometimes 10x the match value!
- Capturing pet profiles: Pertinent details allow our team to expertly care for and re-home beloved cats and dogs when needed—and keeps pets in our donors’ lives longer. That’s a win-win on every front!”
— Donna Stumpf, Animal Humane New Mexico
“Our marketing efforts focus directly on the priorities of our members and customers. Rather than highlighting specific qualities of our products and services, we accentuate how they can help customers reach their personal goals. For example, in marketing our educational courses or personnel certification programs, we emphasize how our customers will directly benefit with increased employment marketability, higher pay and job satisfaction. The same approach works well in our membership promotions, publication sales and other marketing efforts. Starting with the member or customer experience at the center is an approach that touches every aspect of marketing and product development while making it easier for our members to extract tangible value from our society. It also helps to create stronger brand advocates.” — Sofia Samuels, American Welding Society
“Find passionate staff, volunteers and influencers in the community to take your nonprofit to places it has never been! They will create a marketing message and support that can’t be refused.” — Doreen Thorne, International Soap Box Derby, Inc.
Messaging is a critical component of your marketing and often the foundation of the emotional connection that is built between you and your audience.
"I'd say one paramount tip from my perspective is to be careful about trying too many things. Especially for smaller nonprofits, time and resources (both financial and human) are limited, so take your time to pick a few strategies and tactics to try for the year and practice the discipline of saying no (or wait) to other exciting ideas that emerge in order to make sure the few you committed to are done well and given ample time to be proven effective or not. In this digital information age, we have an oversaturation of good ideas (and many even compete against each other), not to mention the colleagues who come to your office with their latest and greatest marketing idea they think you should try. Sometimes we get excited and try too many new things without giving the last things we tried enough time and energy to be successful. So my tip is to take your time looking at strategies and tactics, pick three to five to focus on for the year and really flesh them out well—how to unroll them, how they will be perceived by your target market, how you can measure their effectiveness and how you might even be able to adjust them down the road (if needed). Then create a folder called "ideas bank" (or something like that) where you can save articles or ideas you stumble upon you like and want to try later, but resist the urge to try them right away at the expense of the things you are already doing." — Tim Ainley, Forward Edge International
Take a cause you are passionate about and share it! — Nancy Rivard, Airlines Ambassadors International, Inc.
Your Mission is Your Best Connection!
“The most important thing you can do is lead with your mission. Too often a nonprofit’s focus is internal, what the organization does, rather than why they do it. Nonprofits will promote events by stating that they are having an event to raise money for a cause (e.g. ‘We’re hosting a golf tournament to raise money for cancer patients.’). But to better engage your audience you need to state what the need is so people understand how they can get involved in a solution (e.g. ‘One in four cancer patients do not fill prescriptions due to the costs. To support those struggling, local cancer patients, we’re hosting a golf tournament.’) By always focusing on how you’re providing a solution, donors will feel a stronger connection to the organization and the audience served.” — Len Rubel, Angel Foundation
“The key to effective grassroots engagement is compelling storytelling—and a simple message using real world examples and providing concrete action items. In the age of hyper social media, attention spans are breathtakingly short, so it's essential to grab people's attention right away and get them excited about how they can make a difference. While the commitment and passion amongst the grassroots community is more powerful than ever, the time available to capture people's attention is the shortest it's ever been. It goes without saying that a full spectrum approach—including direct mail, email blasts, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—using consistent messaging and suggesting identical or similar action items is the most effective way to engage and galvanize people." — Ramsay Adams, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Inc.
“A brand is the story that other people believe about our organization. It is a combination of perception, understanding and an assessment of whether or not our story aligns with their story—in other words, ‘Does it matter?’ A brand should also reflect the values of an organization through visual and verbal brand identity, and it should be consistent. This builds trust and credibility amongst key audiences. We believe these are the primary factors that determine whether someone learns about, supports, collaborates or engages with Friends of the Children.” — Terri Sorensen, Friends of the Children
“We have just seven people on staff, and I'm the director of marketing, press, social media, partnerships and more (all encompassed in my public engagement title). So for me, it's important to simplify. We don't generally do paid advertising—a lot of places rely on that but for us, we've found it's better to focus our attention on press listings and local partnerships. Those are the things that have gotten us good buzz in the past, but it'll be totally different for another place and another team! I recommend finding the few marketing avenues that are important (and manageable) for every nonprofit and focusing on those. We can focus on getting really good at in those arenas—and it leaves my brain less scattered!” — Chelsea Dowell, Museum at Eldridge Street
It’s All About Your Value—Make it Stand Out!
"Today's nonprofit universe is extremely crowded, and it's imperative that you break through the clutter and stay relevant to your donors and potential donors. When creating content, think about the value you can bring to your audience members (donors, volunteers, etc.) and how your content will reinforce that value. It's not just about creating content for content's sake." — Angie Davis, Lakeview Pantry
Know Your Mission
“Know your mission, and stick to it. Don't stray from your mission. Don't let money lead you. Be honest and keep high integrity.” — Julie Rawson, Northeast Organic Farming Association Massachusetts Chapter
“Make sure you know who you are trying to reach when creating your marketing plan and content. Marketing is not one size fits all and if you want to be successful, you need to be persistent and make sure you are creating the right content.” - Mandy Martin, Northwest Michigan Habitat for Humanity
Speak to the Head and the Heart in Your Message
“I remember some advice I heard from a grantor that I try to use in all communication situations. She said, "Always speak to the head and the heart." I took this to mean that some people need facts and figures, while others need stories. In marketing, the goal is to balance your messaging to captivate any type of audience.” — Dallas Bonavita, Note in the Pocket, Inc.
“Keep your message short, clear, concise and actionable. Give one call-to-action, and point people in one direction. It’s easy to get sidetracked with other content, but in light of short attention spans, get to the point and stick with it.” — Tara Collins, Rupco, Inc.
Integrity Is Still Important
Embrace Your Mission and Live It!
“As a marketer, it is important to embrace your mission and live it… every minute of your work day. It is up to you to be authentic, whole-hearted and transparent with your customers. You are the example that the world sees. You are the ambassador and have the power to shape the way others view you and your organization.” — Annalisha Perez, Volunteers of America, Inc.
Action Cures Fear
“Nonprofit leaders and especially marketers spend too much time worrying. We worry about the donor call, so we procrastinate and worry some more. We fear making the staff change the organization needs. We worry about time and especially money. Often the action we fret about isn’t as bad as we imagined. All the more reason to move ahead quickly. Action cures Fear.” — David Barringer, Council of Pensacola Tallahassee, Inc.
“My only advice is to diversify… do not put all your marketing eggs into one basket as you diversify make sure your message is consistent. Make sure it always has three ingredients:
- Compelling (They feel it is a worthy cause.)
- Urgent (It needs funding now.)
- Truthful (Do not exaggerate in an effort to attract donors—that is the biggest discredit any nonprofit can do to themselves and the rest of us out here.)
Keep it simple—while finding a way to make them feel their support can and will make a difference. Audiences these days do not allow much time to consider what is being offered, because they are barraged by several requests for support every day… so do your best to make the most of your outreach by remembering these three ingredients and finding a way to express all of them in a short punchy style that captures their attention!” — Raine Howe, Polly Klaas Foundation
“For me, the most important thing to remember for marketing can be boiled down to two words: consistency and planning. Pretty simple! It is so important to sit down and have a plan—try and plan the social media out as well as any kind of emails you have planned. Making sure you have content published consistently is super important and also goes back to the planning as well. Lay out any deadlines, holidays or messages that are important and plan around those. You will gain a tribe and audience if your content is consistently out there, and planning helps you be consistent!” — Heather Mcculloch, Christian Leadership Alliance
Look for Your Next Great Story!
“Find the right ‘voice’ and tell your story well. Tell it over and over again. Always be on mission. And listen harder, because you don't know where your next great story may come from. — Terri Forman, First Graduate
Focus on the Low-Hanging Fruit
“Because most of us have limited resources, it's better to pick the low-hanging fruit and knock a few things out of the park instead of tackling everything you could possibly do in digital marketing. Look out over the next three years. What can you do this year to build a foundation? Where do you want to be in three years, and what will it take to get there? What are the trends? We started 2017 and 2018 with building a content strategy that unified messaging for Camp Fire National HQ and our 53 councils, providing monthly content around a brand message/theme that was engaging, conversational and fun. We saw organic growth in several areas (like email sign-ups, blog page views) by 200%. Next year our goals are around partnership and social media influencers to achieve new levels of growth and brand awareness. Where do you want to go? — Erin Risner, Camp Fire National Headquarters
“A key step towards our mission to transform the justice system is to change the way that people think and talk about justice, especially as it relates to trauma and violence. So we always have to think about our audience—what they already believe, what assumptions we might tap—so that our messages speak to what they need to hear, rather than what we find compelling as experts. Amplifying the personal stories of people who have been impacted by our issues really helps to bridge that gap and make the issues come alive.” — Shari Silberstein, Equal Justice, USA
Building Community Through Marketing
"Storytelling is one of your most powerful tools, transparency is in high demand and data-based decisions are more effective—but you already know this to be true. What isn't talked about as often is the valuable role marketing plays in building community within your organization. That's important to recognize and cultivate to ensure everyone is working towards a shared vision." -— David Campbell, All Hands and Hearts
Grant Hensel is the founder of Nonprofit Megaphone, an agency focused exclusively on acquiring and managing the Google Ad Grant for nonprofits. His team takes pride in their 100 percent success rate helping nonprofits receive the grant and in helping dozens of organizations use the funds to make a difference.