What Is Nonprofit Marketing?

How and where to market a not-for-profit organization or charity

Nonprofit Marketing
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Nonprofit marketing is the use of marketing tactics by a nonprofit organization to promote the message and the organization, as well as raise donations.

Marketing is as important for nonprofit organizations as it is for businesses and uses many of the same marketing tactics to connect with donors and volunteers. It is also often challenging, as nonprofits must convince their audience to give money without getting anything concrete in return.

What Does Nonprofit Marketing Do?

Nonprofit marketing serves multiple functions in keeping charitable organizations functioning.

  1. Create awareness. Like any business brand, a nonprofit must make their audience aware of its organization and the causes it supports.
  2. Promote your cause and services. Donors and volunteers aren't the only ones who need to know about the work that nonprofits do. The group, or groups, that nonprofits work with also need to know about the work the organization is doing so they can put those services to use.
  3. Fundraise. Nonprofits rely on donations in order to pursue their charitable initiatives. Fundraising is an essential function of nonprofit marketing, and it can take the form of encouraging general donations or promoting specific fundraising events.
  4. Encourage memberships and recurring donations. In addition to specific fundraising goals, nonprofit marketing should be used to encourage long-term membership. This increases the relationships that the nonprofit can draw on for events and initiatives, as well as providing recurring donations that serve as a reliable and predictable budget.
  5. Engage volunteers. Most nonprofits need people to take action or participate in initiatives, as well as donate. Nonprofit marketing encourages volunteers to get involved, both in specific events and in long-term roles.
  6. Drive political and social change. Skillful nonprofit marketing can bring causes and problems to cultural prominence. This puts pressure on opinion leaders, politicians, and ordinary people to create social and political changes that address the nonprofit's causes.

Types of Nonprofit Marketing

No matter what specific goals nonprofit marketing is used to pursue, most campaigns fall into one of four categories.

  1. Traditional fundraising asks consumers to make a monetary donation to a cause or charitable campaign. It requires teaching consumers to care about the problem that the organization is seeking to address. Fundraising initiatives can be directed at individuals or organizations. Some businesses partner with nonprofits to create long-term fundraising around causes that their employees care about.
  2. Consumer charity is a partnership with a for-profit business that encourages consumers to use their purchasing power to assist charitable organizations. This usually takes the form of cause marketing, in which consumers buy products because part of the purchase price will be donated to a specific cause or nonprofit. This type of partnership with for-profit businesses makes it easy and appealing for consumers to donate by attaching that donation to a product they would be buying anyway.
  3. Message-focused campaigns attempt to build awareness, encourage political change, or affect consumer behavior. These campaigns may be focused on individual groups or more broadly at the general public, and they may be tied to high-profile current events. They are generally paired with or followed by specific fundraising or volunteer sign-up campaigns to take advantage of increased public concern.
  4. Event marketing is focused around a single charitable drive or promotional event, usually one at which donations will be collected or the cost of admission will go directly to the nonprofit. These marketing initiatives often combine the message of the nonprofit with the prestige of a special guest or celebrity partner whose public image and professional connections are used to drive attendance.

Challenges of Nonprofit Marketing

No matter what type of marketing campaign your nonprofit is using, you will face challenges that marketers at for-profit businesses don't have.

It is much harder for a nonprofit organization to gain an audience in the same ways that a business providing a product or service would. Nonprofits and charities must market ideas and values, which can be more difficult to sell to consumers than goods and services. And nonprofits typically do not have the same budget for advertising or level of attention on social media.

While nonprofits can use many of the same marketing techniques that for-profit businesses use, they must be adapted to fit the nonprofit model. For-profit businesses can structure their messaging around the benefit that their goods or services provide to consumers. Nonprofits must sell consumers on the benefit of being charitable without necessarily gaining anything in return.

Tips for Marketing a Nonprofit

In spite of the challenges, nonprofits can use and adapt many of the tactics that traditional marketers use. A solid understanding of traditional marketing techniques is as essential for marketing a nonprofit as it is for marketing a business.

  1. Understand your audience. Every nonprofit marketing campaign should have a target audience in mind. Knowing what demographic group you are trying to reach will inform every aspect of your campaign, including the platforms, messages, and language you use to communicate.
  2. Have a goal. Are you trying to raise money or awareness? Encourage volunteering? Promote a political cause? Every nonprofit marketing campaign needs a concrete goal in order to be successful.
  3. Make it personal. Consumers are more likely to respond to the stories of individuals than broad groups. Make your campaign feel personal in order to appeal to your audience's emotions and drive them into action.
  4. Segment your list. Like any business, you will be better able to communicate with your audience if you segment your list into groups based on demographic information and other traits. Consider having separate segments based on age, political leaning, donation history, geographic location, income, interest in volunteering, and more. Use these segments to tailor your messaging and calls to action.
  5. Use current events. Is there a story related to your cause in the news? Take advantage of that public awareness to create a timely marketing campaign. You won't need to do as much work to educate your audience about the importance of your work and can focus on fundraising or encouraging action.
  6. Follow up with donors and volunteers. Just as business shouldn't neglect current customers and market only to new customers, nonprofits need systems in place to keep up with people who are already involved. Use a variety of email, direct mail, phone calls, and other marketing tools to encourage past donors and volunteers to stay active.

Where to Market a Nonprofit

Nonprofits can take advantage of many of the same platforms for marketing that for-profit businesses use. The main difference is often that nonprofits have a smaller budget and must be strategic about how they contact donors and spread the word about their work.

Luckily, there are many free and inexpensive marketing platforms out there, and nonprofits should use a variety of them to create an effective marketing mix.

  1. Social media. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be used to share important information, keep in touch with your audience, and comment on current events.
  2. Online ads. Take advantage of programs like Google's ad grants to run targeted campaigns at no expense.
  3. Search engine optimization. Use SEO techniques to drive visitors to your website, where you can encourage them to volunteer, donate, or sign up to receive news via your email list.
  4. Partnerships. Corporate and celebrity partnerships allow your nonprofit to take advantage of another organization's brand or connections to drive publicity and build public involvement in specific events or campaigns.
  5. Email marketing. Use an email service provider to fundraise, welcome new subscribers, spread the word about initiatives, encourage involvement, and share success stories with your members.
  6. Events. Organizing high-profile events to raise money or awareness for your cause can create a surge of donations, along with generating press coverage and increasing public interest.
  7. Public relations. Like for-profit businesses, nonprofits can use public relations campaigns to spread the word about their work, as well as establish their authority and trustworthiness.
  8. Infographics. Use design tools like Canva to create informative graphics that can easily share important information with the public through websites, social media, and blog posts.
  9. Webinars. Use free webinars to educate volunteers, roll out fundraising campaigns, and answer questions about your work and cause.

Not every platform will be the right choice for your nonprofit. Each requires a different investment of time and resources. And each will appeal to a different audience. Before you begin marketing your nonprofit, take a page from traditional marketers and develop an ideal customer profile. The information you outline will help you decide where and how to effectively reach donors, volunteers, and more with your marketing plan.